After the Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century under Constantine the Great, its spiritual authority merged increasingly with the power of the state. Refusal to believe as the church dictated–heresy–became a crime punishable by imprisonment, torture, and death. Although heresies were often crushed with great violence, they continued to emerge in different parts of the world, usually named for their founders. Major heresies included:
- Arianism. Arius (c. 256-366), an Alexandrian priest, rejected the Trinity, insisting that the Son was less divine than the Father because he is part of God’s creation.
- Manichaeism or Manichaeanism. Mani (216-76), a Mesopotamian ecstatic, taught a dualistic philosophy with elements of Jewish and Buddhist belief. He divided all life into a kingdom of light overseen by a spirit of goodness and a kingdom of darkness, or matter, emanating from Satan and his angels. Manichaeans saw matter as evil and spirit as good, and their leaders, called the “elect,” condemned marriage, sex, and animal food.
- Pelagianism. Pelagius, a British monk of the 4th-5th centuries, taught that man was not tainted by original sin as a result of Adam’s fall, and, so, baptism wasn’t necessary to wipe away original sin. Pelagius was opposed by Augustine, his contemporary, who believed in original sin and in death as the penalty for sin.
- The Bogomils. Balkan sect c. 1000-1400 denied that Christ had founded an organized church, and rejected Church doctrine on clergy, saints, the Virgin Birth, images, and infant baptism. They believed that God the Father had two Sons: Satanael (Satan), who was thrown out of heaven for his sin of pride; and Jesus Christ (the Logos). Satanael created humanity, but God gave them their souls; He then created Jesus who overcame Satanael.
- Waldensianism. Around 1175, a wealthy former merchant in Lyons named Peter Waldo, transformed by the sudden death of a friend, gave all his possessions to the poor and taught a literal application of the communal poverty practiced by the apostles and early Christians. Some Waldensians opposed bloodshed in any form, including “just wars” and capital punishment.
- Albigensianism. Named for the town of Albi in Southern France where it originated in the 11th century, Albigensian doctrine was basically Manichaean, and, like many other heretical sects, railed against the corruption of the clergy. The Church organized persecutions of them in the 13th century that are legendary for their mercenary cruelty. Crusaders were offered the confiscated lands of the heretics, whom they mutilated, tortured, and slaughtered by the thousands.
- Jansenism Cornelius Jansen, the Catholic Bishop of Ypres, published his Augustinus in 1640, in which he based a doctrine of justification by faith and predestination on the writings of Augustus, much as Martin Luther had. Jansenism was progressively condemned from 1653 to 1713, but Jansen’s deeply pessimistic view of life, particularly of sexuality, continued to pervade French Catholicism for centuries. Many Irish clergy who were trained in France (because they were unwelcome in England) absorbed the Jansenist viewpoint and transmitted it to America during the great Irish emigrations, after which the Irish dominated the Catholic Church in America.