Orthodoxy and Heresies of Early Christianity – Quick Overview

In the first couple of centuries after the emergence of Christianity, it became clear that the messages of the new religion were not always interpreted in the same way. Several Christian communities held vastly different opinions on the “correct” understanding of the Scripture (and other texts of religious authority). 

With the acceptance of Christianity by Constantine and its ever-growing importance for the Roman state from the 4th century onward, even the emperors became heavily involved in theological discussions – organizing ecumenical councils and supporting their preferred side in the ongoing conflicts (or simply the side which they believed had the highest chance of restoring the unity of the empire).

The nature of Jesus became the most problematic part, with possibly vast implications not only on the liturgy but also on the everyday life of a Christian believer. Was Jesus simply a man or a God? Can he be both? If he is God, how is he connected to the Father? 

We tried to provide the list of most important theological (mostly Christological) heresies that occurred in Antiquity. The aim of the comparison was not to provide detail about each but to highlight the main differences. Therefore, a lot of simplification was necessary. The heresies and the opinions that became orthodox are not listed randomly, but (roughly) by their view of the nature of Christ. We are starting with the high Christology of docetism, claiming that the human form of Christ was a mere illusion and ending with Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian movement completely denying the divinity of Jesus.

DocetismJesus is absolutely God, the human body is just an illusion.Gospel of Peter (non-canonical)
Modalism/SabellianismJesus (the Son), the Father and the Holy Spirit are only different forms of the same God (same person).Sabellius
Nicean ChristianityGod is of one substance (ousia) in three distinct Persons, Jesus is of the same substance as the Father („homoousious“).Athanasius of Alexandria
NestorianismJesus has two completely distinct natures and personsNestorius
Chalcedonian ChristianityJesus is one person with two distinct natures (divine and human) – is „in two natures“,  Jesus is still consubstantial with the Father as well as with the humans one (fully God and fully man).Pope Leo I
MonothelitismJesus has two natures, but only one will.Sergius I of Constantinople
Dyothelitism(Orthodox teaching for most of the contemporary Chirstian churches)Jesus has two natures and two wills.Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church
MiaphysitismAt the Incarnation, the two natures of Jesus united into one – „from to natures one“, “The Word was made flesh”,  Jesus is still consubstantial with the Father as well as with the humans (fully God and fully man).Cyril of AlexandriaOriental Orthodox Churches
Monophysitism/EutychianismJesus has one nature (divine), that absorbed his human nature, so Jesus is no longer of one substance with humans.Eutyches
ApollinarismJesus has a human body and one divine nature, he doesn’t have human thinking.Apollinaris of Laodicea
Semi-ArianismJesus is divine, not of the same substance as the Father, but of similar substance (“homoiousious“)Basil of Ancyra
Macedonianism/PneumatomachoiJesus is of a substance similar to the Fater; the Holy Ghost is not similarly divine, but just a servant. Macedonius I of Constantinople
ArianismJesus is divine, but less divine than the Father (is of different substance/“ousia“) and was created by the Father („There was a time when he was not“).Arius
MarcionismJesus is a savior sent by God, but not by the vengeful „God“ of the Old Testament. He was sent by a well-meaning God of the New Testament.Marcion of Sinope
AdoptionismJesus was born a man but was later “adopted” by God to become the Son of God.Theodotus of Byzantium
EbionitesJesus is the Jewish Messiah, but just a man, not God.The sect of Ebionites 
Scroll to Top