The battle for doctrinal control of Christianity began with the declarations of St. Paul in the New Testament. In the religion's first three centuries, numerous sects, many arising from Gnosticism , were in conflict. The first Council of Nicaea (AD 325), which addressed the challenge of Arianism , was among convocations at which a Christian orthodoxy was established.
Excommunication was the usual method of dealing with heretical individuals or small groups. The medieval church undertook military action (as against the Albigenses , in 1208) and extensive legal and punitive campaigns (such as the Inquisition ) in striving to suppress large-scale heresy. The Protestant Reformation created new churches that at first campaigned against heresy from their own doctrinal bases; over time, however, the Roman Catholic church has remained the only Christian body that has continued with any frequency, on the basis of canon law , to prosecute heretics.
See also blasphemy .
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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