Apostasy (ἀποστασία, revolt), a forsaking or renouncing religion, either by an open declaration in words, or a virtual declaration by actions. The Greek term is employed by Paul to designate the "falling away" (ἡ ἀποστασία), which in his time was held in check by some obstacle (τὸ κατέχον, ὁ κατέχων), 2Th 2:3. It means one of two things: (1) Political defection (Ge 14:4, Sept.; 2Ch 13:6, Sept.; Ac 5:37); (2) Religious defection (Ac 21:21; 1Ti 4:1; Heb 3:12). The first is the common classical use of the word. The second is more usual in the N.T.; so St. Ambrose understands it (Comm. in Luc. 20:20).
This ἀποστασία (apostasy) implies ἀπόσταται (apostates). An organized religious body being supposed, some of whose members should fall away from the true faith, the persons so falling away would be ἀπόσταται, though still formally unsevered from the religious body; and the body itself, while, in respect to its faithful members, it would retain its character and name, might yet, in respect to its other members, be designated an ἀποστασία. It is such a corrupted religious body as this that Paul seems to mean. He elsewhere describes this religious defection by some of its peculiar characteristics. These are seducing spirits, doctrines of daemons, hypocritical lying, a seared conscience, a forbidding of marriage and of meats, a form of godliness without the power thereof (1Ti 4:1; 2Ti 3:5). The antitype may be found in the corrupted Church of Christ in so far as it was corrupted. The same body, in so far as it maintained the faith and love, was the bride and the spouse, and in so far as it "fell away" from God, was the ἀποστασία, just as Jerusalem of old was at once Sion the beloved city, and Sodom the bloody city — the Church of God and the Synagogue of Satan. It is of the nature of a religious defection to grow up by degrees. We should not, therefore, be able to lay the finger on any special moment at which it commenced. St. Cyril of Jerusalem considered that it was already existing in his time. "Now," he says, "is the ἀποστασία, for men have fallen away (ἀπέστησαν) from the right faith. This, then, is the ἀποστασία, and we must begin to look out for the enemy; already he has begun to send his forerunners, that the prey may be ready for him at his coming" (Catech. 15:9). SEE MAN OF SIN. The primitive Christian Church distinguished several kinds of apostasy; the first, of those who went entirely from Christianity to Judaism; the second, of those who complied so far with the Jews as to communicate with them in many of their unlawful practices, without making a formal profession of their religion; thirdly, of those who mingled Judaism and Christianity together; and, fourthly, of those who voluntarily relapsed into paganism. SEE LIBELLATICI; SEE SACRIFICATI; SEE TRADITORES (Farrar, s.v.).
At an early period it was held that the church was bound, by the passages of Scripture in which the sin of apostasy is referred to, either entirely to refuse absolution to those excommunicated for it, or at least to defer it until the hour of death. Later, however, this rigor against apostates was modified, and they were restored to the church on condition of certain prescribed penances. Subsequently ecclesiastical usage distinguished between apostasia perfidice, inobedientice, and irregularitatis. The two latter were reduced in the Roman Church to two species of defection, so that apostasia inobedientice was made identical with apostasy from monastic vows (apostasia a monachatu), and apostasia irregularitatis with apostasy from the priesthood (apostasia a clericatu). Both apostasy from monastic vows (when a monk left his monastery without permission of his superior) and apostasy from the priesthood (when a priest returned to the world) were punished by the Council of Chalcedon with the anathema, and later ecclesiastical legislation threatened them with the loss of the privileges of the order and the clerical rank in addition to excommunication, infamy, and irregularity. It required the bishop to imprison such transgressors; but apostates from vows he was required to deliver over to their superiors, that they might be punished according to the laws and customs of their orders. The state governments lent the secular arm to execute these laws. With regard to apostasy from the faith, an ordinance of Boniface III determined that apostates to Judaism should be dealt with as heretics, and this ordinance afterward regulated the treatment not only of such, but of all apostates. Toward apostates to Islamism, or so called renegades, the church exercises this discipline to the present day. Toward the apostates to modern atheism the same discipline could not be exercised, because generally they do not expressly renounce church fellowship. The Roman empire, as early as under the first Christian emperors, regarded apostasy as a civil crime, and punished it with confiscation, inability to give testimony or to bequeath, with infamy, etc. The German empire adopted the provisions of the ecclesiastical legislation, and treated apostasy as heresy. The German criminal practice knew, therefore, nothing of a particular penalty for this crime; and after the criminal code of Charles V abolished the penalty of heresy, the punishment of apostasy generally ceased in the German criminal law.' In Protestant Church disciplines no mention is made of apostasy from the Christian religion to Judaism or Islamism, because this kind of apostasy was little to be expected in the provinces for which they were designed. The national churches pursued, however, defection from their communion through the customary stages of church discipline to excommunication. SEE APOSTATE.
We, in these latter times, may apostatize, though under different circumstances from those above described. The term "apostasy" is perverted when it is applied to a withdrawal from any system of mere polity; it is legitimately used only in connection with a departure from the written truth of God in some form, public or personal. — Bingham, Orig. Eccles. bk. 16, ch. 6, s.v: SEE BACKSLIDING.