Docetism is a Christian heresy that originated in the early centuries of the religion. It is based on the belief that Jesus Christ was not fully human, but rather a divine being who only appeared to be human. According to docetism, Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, and he did not truly suffer or die on the cross.
This belief was opposed by the early Christian Church, which maintained that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and that his death on the cross was a real and necessary part of God’s plan for salvation. The Church saw docetism as a denial of the truth of Jesus’ humanity and the reality of his suffering and death, which are central to the Christian faith.
Docetism was one of several heresies that were discussed and condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325, which was the first ecumenical council of the Christian Church.
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At the Council of Nicaea, the Church affirmed its belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, and rejected the idea that Jesus was merely a divine being who appeared to be human. The Council also affirmed the full humanity of Jesus, including his real suffering and death on the cross. These beliefs are reflected in the Nicene Creed, which is still recited by many Christian denominations today.
Docetism persisted for several centuries, and various forms of it have reappeared throughout history. It has been rejected by mainstream Christian denominations as a heretical belief that undermines the fundamental teachings of the faith.
Docetism is a belief that is often associated with Gnosticism, which is a religious movement that originated in the early centuries of Christianity. Gnosticism is a diverse and complex movement that includes a variety of beliefs and practices, but one of the key features of Gnosticism is a belief in secret knowledge (γνῶσις / gnosis) that is necessary for salvation.
Gnostics rejected the idea of a physical resurrection and maintained that the material world was evil or inferior. They believed that the divine could not fully incarnate in the material world, and as a result, they tended to view Jesus as a purely spiritual being who only appeared to have a physical body. This belief is similar to docetism, which teaches that Jesus was not fully human, but rather a divine being who only appeared to be human.
As a result, docetism is often considered to be a form of Gnosticism, and it is one of several heresies that were rejected by the early Christian Church.
Key tenets of docetism:
- Jesus Christ was not fully human, but rather a divine being who only appeared to be human.
- Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, and he did not truly suffer or die on the cross.
- The suffering and death of Jesus were not necessary for the salvation of humanity.
- The divinity of Jesus was the only aspect of him that was real, and his humanity was merely a facade.
- The teachings of Jesus and the events of his life were intended to reveal the nature of the divine, rather than to provide a model for human behavior.
Historic proponents of docetism:
Valentinus was a 2nd-century Christian Gnostic who taught that Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human. His teachings were considered heretical by the mainstream Christian Church, and he was excommunicated.
Marcion was a 2nd-century Christian heretic who believed that Jesus was a purely divine being who did not have a physical body. He rejected the Old Testament and the Hebrew God, and taught that Jesus came to save humanity from the wrath of the Old Testament God. His teachings were also rejected by the mainstream Christian Church.
The bottom line:
The heresy of docetism outright denies the essential Christian doctrine of the hypostatic union. This doctrine, which is derived from Scripture, teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully man, united in one person, with both a divine nature and a human nature. The hypostatic union asserts that these two natures are united without any confusion or alteration. Docetism, on the other hand, rejects the truth that Jesus was truly human and instead claims that he was only a divine being who appeared human. This belief goes against the central teachings of Christianity and has been rejected by the Church throughout history.