This post began in my head a few weeks ago - and it is an attempt to bring together a few disparate events that served as a lightbulb moment for me.

I love history.  And on top of that, I love English history.  Within that, I love learning more about English royalty.  Not that modern-day, glitz and glam, but the good ole boys and gals.  In particular, I've just finished up the final season of The Tudors (event #1) - and while I'd say it was 60% accurate - it was a damn good story.

The sentiments we still hold in our language today with reference to kings and power come from Henry VIII and the other French kings (all those Louis's) that followed him in France (historically speaking).  These guys (and on occasion gals) were gods.  Their whims and moods and lusts and glut were what formed the day to day lives of millions of people.  As long as the King was happy - everyone else was as well.

In the last season of the show the topic of heresy came up again and again.  Without even needing to look up the definition one could realize that to be a heretic (one who espouses heresy) all you had to do was upset the King.  (Or at least this was true for Henry.)

This got me to thinking about the polarization that we all see and feel when we tune into the news media today - anyone with an "out there" opinion, one that "contradicts" another group, one that is different in any way - many cry out, "Heresy!"  (They don't actually say "heresy" - but their actions and words reek of it.)

So - I got up off the couch and grabbed the nearest dictionary (event #2).  Do you know what heresy actually means?

1. opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system.
2. the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.
3. Roman Catholic Church . the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.
4. any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

Now, none of this surprised me.  But I still felt that there was something more to this concept of heresy.

I also have a deep love and respect for Parker Palmer.  One of my favorite things about his writing is that he always skips over the definition of a word and jumps straight to its etymology.

So, here's what I found from
"an opinion of private men different from that of the catholick and orthodox church" [Johnson], early 13c., from O.Fr. heresie, from L. hæresis, "school of thought, philosophical sect," used by Christian writers for "unorthodox sect or doctrine," from Gk. hairesis "a taking or choosing," from haireisthai "take, seize," middle voice of hairein "to choose," of unknown origin.

The root of heresy is in the act of choosing.

A heretic is one who practices choice.

Something to think about before Part II.


  1. Interesting thoughts. Not so sure I totally agree that heresy is the act of choice. I think there is a strong connotation of moving against society writ-large. I do agree that this term could easily use some more unpacking in the modern sense of the term. How, for example, can two members of the same religion interpret things so differently as to cause a feeling of heresy? Is one of of the parties missing the point? I think this is important, especially because the group calling "heretic" seems to be the group most often missing the point.

  2. I love that I have one faithful reader. ;)

    You bring up perfect questions to help me clarify some of what I was saying/eluding to. A few days ago I wrote about those who think they have a "monopoly on the truth" - and, at least in today's understanding of the term, a heretic is someone who has an idea/thought/belief that goes against society writ-large... and one of them is WRONG. Of course it depends on who is interpreting the situation on who gets classified as wrong. ;) If you are challenging my conservative beliefs, then you are the heretic because I am right! And you are wrong! If I'm pushing your buttons with my different ideas that - for whatever reason - offend your thoughts/beliefs/attitudes/truth, then I may be the heretic. You may experience me as being wrong while holding on to your "right" opinion.

    So - at heart - my reflection on heresy is to point out that maybe it isn't about either/or. Maybe there is validity in both... and the act of labeling something as heresy shouldn't be so crippling and diminutive.

    Does that make sense?

  3. Makes perfect sense...

    for a heretic. ;-)

  4. [...] is a follow up to my first post “Heresy!!” from a few days [...]


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