Definitions

Docetism

Docetism

[doh-see-tiz-uhm, doh-si-tiz-]
Docetism [Gr.,=to appear], early heretical trend in Christian thought. Docetists claimed that Christ was a mere phantasm who only seemed to live and suffer. A similar tendency to deny Jesus' humanity appeared in the teachings of Simon Magus, Marcion, Gnosticism, and certain phases of monarchianism.

In Christianity, Docetism (from the Greek δοκέω [dokeō], "to seem") is the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die. This belief treats the sentence "the Word was made Flesh" (John 1:14) as merely figurative. Docetism has historically been regarded as heretical by most Christian theologians

Christology and theological implications

This belief is most commonly attributed to the Gnostics, many of whom believed that matter was evil, and as a result God would not take on a material body. This statement is rooted in the idea that a divine spark is imprisoned within the material body, and that the material body is in itself an obstacle, deliberately created by an evil, lesser god (the demiurge) to prevent man from seeing his divine origin.

Docetism can be further explained as the view that since the human body is temporary and the spirit is eternal, the body of Jesus must have been an illusion and, likewise, his crucifixion. Even so, saying that the human body is temporary has a tendency to undercut the importance of the belief in resurrection of the dead and the goodness of created matter, and is in opposition to this orthodox view. Docetism was rejected by the ecumenical councils and mainstream Christianity, and largely died out during the first millennium A.D. Gnostic movements that survived past that time, such as Catharism, incorporated docetism into their beliefs, but such movements were destroyed by the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229).

Ignatius of Antioch wrote very harshly against docetism in around the year 110 AD in his letter to the Smyrnaeans. In 7:1, he said, "They [the docetists] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes". Since one of the main beliefs of docetism was that the body of Jesus was an illusion, docetists could not accept that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist were the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Other detailed criticisms were given by Irenaeus and Tertullian.

Earl Doherty and Timothy Freke have suggested docetism arose from Christ mythicism.

Texts including docetism

Non-canonical Christian texts

Qur'an

  • The Qur'an teaches that Jesus was a fully human prophet, but also asserts that Jesus' crucifixion was an illusion: "They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them...".

See also

External links

  • Docetae in the Catholic Encyclopedia

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