From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Were the Pilgrims heretics?

(Painting by Robert W. Weir)
“Heresy” is a word that has been bandied about in this modern day and age.  Although historically it has been associated primarily with religious matters, these days it is often used in tongue-and-cheek ways to describe anything from genius to fraud. 

Wikipedia reports that the word “heresy” in the original Greek meant “choice.”  It is also defined as “a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma.”  Wikipedia points out that “heresy” is distinct from “apostasy” (“the formal denunciation of one’s religion”) and from “blasphemy” (“irreverence toward religion”).

Although “heresy” was originally not a legal offense, Theodosius I’s 380 C.E. Edict of Thessalonica put into
place a means by which the Church could prosecute those whom it deemed to be heretics.  This also meant
that the Church, in conjunction with the State, could now legally execute those who were pronounced
“heretics” by “various ecclesiastical authorities.”  According to Wikipedia, these types of Church (later including both Catholic and Protestant Churches) executions took place from 385 until 1826 C.E.  In fact, these practices poisonously mushroomed to include the elimination of entire groups of believers.

One of these was the group we today call “Pilgrims.”  Back in not-so-merry old England, King Henry VIII
(yes, that one) broke away from the Roman Catholic Church (why has been the fodder for many other far-
from-religious discussions) to form his own national Church of England.  Although this changed some Church rituals here and there, there were those who thought that way too much remained the same. These “heretics” (you decide) were the “Puritans” (who wished to purify the Church) and the more-radical
“Separatists” (who thought the Church of England was “beyond reform” and therefore “demanded the
formation of new, separate church congregations”).

According to, it is the Separatists who fled European persecution and eventually established
Plymouth Colony in New England.


Copyright November 21, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment