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.[1][2]


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 a form of early Christianity, developing around 70 AD, which was most prominently espoused by Gnostic sects.[3] Its origin within Christianity is obscure and it has been argued that its origins were in heterodox Judaism or Oriental and Grecian philosophies.[4] Some of the books of the New Testament condemn docetic teachings and the early creeds developed to counter docetic beliefs.[5] 1st century Gnostic Christian groups developed docetic interpretations partly as a way to make Christian teachings more acceptable to pagan ways of thinking of divinity.[4] Docetism largely died out during the first millennium AD. 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 against docetism around 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 (representationally or ontologically) 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 the nonexistence hypothesis.

Texts including docetism

Non-canonical Christian texts

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Peter Kreeft, Everything you ever wanted to know about heaven – but never dreamed of asking, p. 25, 
  3. ^ Strong, A.H. Systematic Theology. 1907
  4. ^ a b Paul L. Gavrilyuk (20 May 2004). The suffering of the impassible God: the dialectics of patristic thought. Oxford University Press. pp. 80–. ISBN 9780199269822. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  5. ^ Justo L. González (15 April 2005). Essential theological terms. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 46–. ISBN 9780664228101. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 

External links

  • Docetae in the Catholic Encyclopedia

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • docetism — DOCETÍSM s.n. Erezie de la începuturile bisericii creştine, care susţinea că Iisus Cristos nu ar fi fost om decât în aparenţă. [< fr. docétisme, cf. gr. dokein – a părea]. Trimis de LauraGellner, 25.02.2005. Sursa: DN  DOCETÍSM s. n. erezie… …   Dicționar Român

  • Docetism — Doc e*tism, n. (Eccl. Hist.) The doctrine of the Docet[ae]. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Docetism — 1846, heresy of the Docetae, who held that the body of Jesus was a phantom, from Gk. Doketai, name of the sect, lit. believers, from dokein to seem, have the appearance of, think, related to doxa (see DECENT (Cf. decent)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Docetism — [dō sēt′iz΄əm] n. [< Gr(Ec) Dokētai, name of the sect < dokein, to seem, believe (see DOGMA) + ISM] a belief among some early Christians that Christ merely seemed to have a human body: it came to be considered heretical docetic [dōsēt′ik]… …   English World dictionary

  • Docetism — Docetic, adj. Docetist, n., adj. /doh see tiz euhm, doh si tiz /, n. 1. an early Christian doctrine that the sufferings of Christ were apparent and not real and that after the crucifixion he appeared in a spiritual body. 2. Rom. Cath. Ch. an… …   Universalium

  • Docetism — noun Date: 1846 a belief opposed as heresy in early Christianity that Christ only seemed to have a human body and to suffer and die on the cross • Docetist noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • docetism — noun /dəʊˈsiːtɪzəm/ The belief that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body and was ultimately of celestial substance …   Wiktionary

  • docetism — The view that Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human, explicitly branded as a heresy by Ignatius (d. 107 CE), though it may have existed earlier. It derives from Hellenistic [[➝ Hellenists]] dualism: the idea that what is created… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • DOCETISM —    a CHRISTIAN HERESY which maintained that CHRIST did not actually suffer and die on the Cross but only seemed to do so because Christ was a SPIRIT whose incarnate FORM was unreal. This view seems to have influenced MUHAMMAD and is found in the… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Docetism — n. early unorthodox religious belief that claimed that Jesus Christ was a spirit and not a real person …   English contemporary dictionary

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