Word of The Day for Sunday, November 14, 2010


hen•o•the•ism (HEN-uh-thee-iz-uhm)  n

the worshipping of a single god while not precluding the existence of others

henotheist noun; henotheistic adjective; henotheisticly adverb

Related Words: atheism, the lack of a belief in a god; monotheism, the belief in only one god; kathenotheism, the belief in one god at a time; transtheism, a religious philosophy which is neither theistic nor atheistic - and many others of this type

Sentence Examples:
• On the whole it seems wise to distinguish some things which are here confused, the henotheism (as it is called) of the earlier period of Jewish history which regarded Jehovah only as one among many Gods, the one who fought on the side of the Israelites, and who ought to be worshipped by them; and, contrasted with it, the later and truly monotheistic ideal of the prophets, which emphasised the solity of Jehovah. -Nature, Sir Norman Lockyer, 1906

• In conformity with the law governing the development of paganism, the Semitic gods tended to become pantheistic because they comprehended all nature and were identified with it. The various deities were nothing but different aspects under which the supreme and infinite being manifested itself. Although Syria remained deeply and even coarsely idolatrous in practice, in theory it approached monotheism or, better perhaps, henotheism. -The Oriental Religions in Roman paganism, Franz Valéry Marie Cumont, Grant Showerman, 1911

The Storyline
She had met Andy, now an expert on early Christian henotheistic sects, through her brother when both men were at seminary.

Greek heno-,  comb. form of hén  one (neut. of heîs ) + theism 
The term was first coined by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854) and was later brought into common usage by linguist Max Müller (1823–1900).

Sources: Wikipedia, Dictionary.com

Why This Word:
To understand the concept of henotheism, we need to contrast it both with monotheism and monolatrism - the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity.  The monotheist worships one god and precludes the possibility of any other. The monolatrist allows that there may be many gods, but worships only one. And the henotheist worships the one, but neither allows nor precludes the existence of others.

To be sure, these are academic distinctions not likely to be discussed outside of seminaries. However, what's interesting to me is that this term coined to describe a stage of the early transition from polytheism to monotheism is becoming relevant again today. In an age of spiritual searching, I've heard people describe to me their pantheism, process theism, universalism, syncretism and an ecumenicism bordering on henotheism or monolatrism. People are trying to reconcile discrete and exclusive beliefs with knowledge of and respect for other beliefs in an increasingly interconnected world.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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