Sample Religious Studies Paper on Theological Controversies of Christianity

Religion has been in existence for many centuries. The last 400 years have seen
Christianity evolve from a sect within Judaism to an organized religious outfit that today stands
on its own. It is worth noting that Christianity is a major religion in the world which has had
people criticized, killed in wars, but it still stands to date. Christianity grew due to the missionary
work that was initiated by Apostle Paul, who travelled the Mediterranean region, and the larger
Roman Empire to preach the good news of the Lord. The stability of the church was however
threatened by theological controversies which were as a result of different heresies.
The first attack to the teachings of the early church was influenced by a world view called
Gnosticism. The root of the name Gnosticism is gnosis, to mean ‘knowledge’. It was based on
fundamental dualism that prioritized logic and spirit and assumed Neoplatonic metaphysics
while interpreting the relationship that exists between God and his son Jesus Christ (Oxtoby and
Amore,179). Gnostics aimed to separate God the creator, from God the supreme being. They
believed that the ‘creator’ was a lesser being. The Gnostics idea, however, contradicted the
orthodox teachings which believed in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Pelagianism otherwise referred to as Pelagian heresy, held that the first sin that was
committed by Adam and Eve while in the Garden of Eden was not the sole reason why human

beings are tainted. Pelagius was the man behind this heresy. He believed that human beings
could achieve perfection freely without soliciting for divine grace. According to orthodox
teachings, Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, the reason why their
descendants are suffering (Oxtoby and Amore,179). Augustine and Hippo opposed Pelagius’
argument claiming that his argument did not promote dependency of man to God. Pelagianism
was considered heretic salvation. Such heresies particularly addressed the ways through which
one can attain salvation: actions of God or human beings. The orthodox teachings held that
salvation was God’s function.
In the late 14th century, Apollinaris of Laodicea claimed that Jesus’ humanity and human
beings’ humanity were distinct, what was called Apollinarianism. According to Apollinaris,
besides having a human body and soul, Jesus also had a divine mind (Oxtoby and Amore,179).
This position was classified as a Monophysite heresy because it denied Jesus’ two full natures.
Apollinaris was therefore declared a heretic by the First Council of Constantinople.
Donatism was an institutionalized heresy that was existent during the 4th and 5th
centuries and was linked to the authority structures within the early church. The Donatists
distanced themselves from Rome as they refused to recognize consecrations done by traditores.
According to Donatists, the church should only be made up of saints and not sinners (Oxtoby and
Amore,180). They further argued that sacraments that were administered by traditores were not
valid. Jesus declared that the sacrament and a chalice of wine symbolized his body (Van,303).
On the other hand, the Roman church believed that sinners can seek for penance and
reconciliation and receive full communion afterwards and that sacraments administered to
penitents were valid.

To wrap up, theological controversies were a significant challenge facing the early
church. The controversies were caused by various heresies such as Gnosticism, Pelagianism,
Docetism and Donatism. Different ecumenical councils were held to address the heresies and
protect the dogma of the church.


Works Cited

Oxtoby, Willard Gurdon, Amir Hussain, and Roy C. Amore, eds. World religions: Western
traditions. Toronto, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1996):179-180
Van Voorst, Robert E. Anthology of World Scriptures: Eastern Religions.