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When was it first said in Christianity by a Church Father that heretics must be put to death? Who was the first one of the Church Fathers who came up with this idea and presented it?

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Related: Is burning heretics biblical? – Andrew Leach Sep 27 '13 at 17:41
up vote 18 down vote accepted

Technically, the first ecclesiastical authority to say that heretics should be persecuted was Pope Gregory IX in 1229. The first Church Father to say that heretics should be compelled to recant would be Augustine around 400 AD.

The first heretic actually put to death (385AD) was killed by the Emperor - and the Pope was very annoyed at the development. It wasn't for another 800 years that the church followed suit.

That said...

The church typically did not execute heretics. Rather, the state, sometimes at the behest of the church or other times of a monarch desiring no discord amongst his subjects, would carry out such persecution and executions.

The earliest Christian heretics were not put to death by the Church, but rather by the Roman Empire. Note for example, the first "heretic" to be executed - Priscillian - was put to death not by the church, but rather the state. Furthermore, those responsible for getting the state to put him to death were subsequently excommunicated by the Pope for their actions.

Per this article:

  • The first person to define what heresy was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (2nd Century). He simply warned about the dangers of a multitude of opinions on how God works.

  • The first person to make heresy a crime was Emporer Constantine (320s). He made the assembling of heretics an offense, the penalty of which was the confiscation of property.

  • In 380 AD under the Christian Emperor Theodosius I laid down the rule that only the Catholic Christians could define orthodoxy within the confines of the Roman Empire. As noted already, it was under his reign that the first heretic was put to death.

  • Augustine (AD 354-430) taught that error has no rights. He cited biblical texts, notably Luke 14:16-23, to justify the use of compulsion

  • Emperor Justinian issued severe laws against heretics in AD 527 and 528. (It should be noted, this was in the aftermath of a severe series of riots that left thousands dead.)

  • Pope Paschal II (Pope from 1099 and 1118) was the first to say that anyone who disagreed with the apostolic see was a heretic.

  • Pope Innocent III (1199) was the first to declare heresy to be high treason against God, having already called for the execution of those who persisted in their heresies after being excommunicated.

  • It was not until 1229 that Pope Gregory IX declared that it is the duty of every Catholic to persecute heretics.

From Justinian:

"Henceforth those who dissented from the authorised line were debarred from public office, forbidden to practice certain professions, prohibited from holding meetings, and denied the civil rights of a Roman Citizen. For them, said Justinian "to exist is sufficient" - for the time being. In the middle of the fifth century Pope Leo the Great commended the Emperor for torturing and executing heretics on behalf of the Church."

Per Wikipedia on heresy:

The first known usage of the term heresy in a legal context was in AD 380 by the Edict of Thessalonica of Theodosius I,[12] which made Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire. Prior to the issuance of this edict, the church had no state-sponsored support for any particular legal mechanism to counter what it perceived as "heresy". By this edict the state's authority and that of the Catholic Church became somewhat overlapping. One of the outcomes of this blurring of church and state was the sharing of state powers of legal enforcement with church authorities. This reinforcement of the church's authority gave church leaders the power to, in effect, pronounce the death sentence upon those whom the church considered heretical.

Within five years of the official criminalization of heresy by the Emperor, the first Christian heretic to be prosecuted, Bishop Priscillian, was executed in 385 by Roman officials.

However, his accusers were excommunicated both by Ambrose of Milan and Pope Siricius.[13] For some years after the Reformation, Protestant churches were also known to execute those they considered heretics, including Catholics. The last known heretic executed by sentence of the Roman Catholic Church was Cayetano Ripoll in 1826. The number of people executed as heretics under the authority of the various "ecclesiastical authorities"[note 1] is not known.[note 2]

NOTE 2: ^ Only very fragmentary records have been found of the executions carried out under Christian "heresy laws" during the first millennium. Somewhat more complete records of such executions can be found for the second millennium. To estimate the total number of executions carried out under various Christian "heresy laws" from 385 AD until the last official Roman Catholic "heresy execution" in 1826 AD would require far more complete historical documentation than is currently available. The Roman Catholic Church by no means had a monopoly on the execution of heretics. The charge of heresy was a weapon that could fit many hands. A century and a half after heresy was made a state crime, the Vandals(a heretical Christian Germanic tribe), used the law to prosecute thousands of (orthodox) Catholics with penalties of torture, mutilation, slavery and banishment.[14] The Vandals were overthrown; orthodoxy was restored; "No toleration whatsoever was to be granted to heretics or schismatics."[15] Heretics were not the only casualties. 4000 Roman soldiers were killed by heretical peasants in one campaign.[16] Some lists of heretics and heresies are available. Thousands were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Inquisition, which lasted for nearly seven centuries.[17] From time to time, heretics were burned at the stake by an enraged local populace, in a certain type of "vigilante justice" , without the official participation of the Church or State.[18] Religious Wars slaughtered millions. During these wars, the charge of "heresy" was often leveled by one side against another as a sort of propaganda or rationalization for the undertaking of such wars.

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As a little bit of a side-note... There is a correlation between putting heretics to death and burning them to death. The only thing that was ever supposed to be carried out by the church was excommunication, which technically is the same thing as being put to death in the spirit, which is simply what being put to death by fire actually means.

Let me explain: When a person received the "Word of God" and joined the church, they were received not only by baptism, but they were also received by the "laying on of hands". This procedure is what Jesus had the disciples do for those who desired to have full fellowship in the congregation of the Saints. This is the same thing as receiving the "Gift of the Holy Ghost", receiving "spiritual rebirth" or receiving "spiritual resurrection". This is in fact the resurrection that Jesus brought and established for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. First to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.

So, for a person to be "excommunicated", they were officially cast out of the congregation of Saints, which brought with it the revocation of the laying on of hands and their baptism by fire. Thus, they were "denied the Holy Ghost", so to speak, because it is the reception into the "true church" that brings with it the gift of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, they lost their "spiritual life" or "resurrection" and became "spiritually dead" which is the "second death" or being cast out into a lake of fire and brimstone, etc.

By virtue of the church eventually burning people at the stake for heresy, it is clear they had lost their pure original understanding of their mission and purpose as the early apostles were ordained and commissioned. This leads up to the many prophesies that speak of a time in the future when there would first come a period of falling away and that people would have to be willing to "lose their lives" for the sake of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. There would come a day when in order for individuals to hold true to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ that they would have to be willing to be excommunicated from the orthodoxy who would usurp the seats of authority in the Church of Christ.

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