Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 February 2010
In order to make heresy or heretics, you need at least two things: a belief or idea available to be labeled as “heresy,” and a body of other ideas whose status as “orthodoxy” is threatened by that idea and/or established or confirmed through that labeling process. Of course, the existence of the belief or idea also implies the existence of persons or a group to originate or propagate or perhaps merely to believe in it. “Orthodoxy” similarly implies the existence of other persons wishing to protect and enforce their beliefs as “orthodox.” To successfully create “heresy” is in fact to create “orthodoxy,” and successfully to label and punish someone as a heretic or to proscribe ideas labeled heretical is also to create or to mobilize claims to, and structures of, authority.
To talk about the relationship of English Puritanism to such processes is, of course, to open a can of worms. During the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods, the relationship between Puritanism and the structures of authority in England that defined and enforced “conformity” and “orthodoxy” (and therefore made heresy) was notoriously ambivalent and complex. Indeed, one might argue that Puritanism was that ambivalent and complex relationship between a certain strand of reformed Protestantism and what came to be regarded as “authority” in the English church and state after the Reformation.