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Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile different schools of thought, most notably religions. Syncretism takes place when foreign beliefs are introduced into an indigenous belief system.

Syncretism can be also defined as the union of two opposite forces, beliefs, systems or tenets so that the united form is a new thing, neither one nor other.[1]

In the modern world, religions such as Unitarianism could be considered syncretic in that it is a blending of differing belief systems that are constantly evolving.

Syncretism should not be confused with the adoption of formal elements of other religions into Christianity for missionary reasons.[note 1] It is not just simultaneous practice of two unrelated religions motivated either by external pressure or inner anxiety but it rather equates heterogeneous religious elements and thereby changes their original meaning without admitting such change.

An attempt to penetrate deeply into the heart of the Christian doctrine by applying the process of syncretistic assimilation was performed by gnosticism.[1]

Semantic Origin

The Word ‘syncretism’ does not explicitly occur in the Bible. Still, the reality of it was an ever-present phenomenon throughout the biblical history. According to Plutarch, the semantic origin of the term relates to the island of Crete. The rivalling Greek tribes there were usually involved in minor warfare against each other. However, as soon as the island was attacked by a common enemy from outside, they suddenly were able to agree on formation of military alliance. Since then the word ‘syncretism’ carries a note of an opportunistic fraternization without a deeper conviction.[1]

Forms of Syncretism

Hendrick Kraemer, the late missiologist, distinguished between two forms of syncretism that could be found in biblical times as well:[1]

  • spontaneous primitive syncretism as a popular religious tendency and
  • conscious, philosophical construction of syncretism attempted typically by religious thinkers or by political rulers.[note 2]

Unmasking Syncretism

The objective criteria to recognize the pseudo-Christian syncretism are:[1]

  • the falseness of prophets is identified by their behavior violating Christian ethics
  • lack of genuine Christian love
  • pseudo-spiritual arrogance leading to strife and hatred in the Christian community
  • promoting and defending the open indulgence in sin
  • the person of Christ is the chief target of the heretical attack
  • God is replaced by other object(s) of worship

Christ vs. Syncretism

When talking about certain teachers as "false prophets," Jesus clearly showed that he was not a syncretist, i.e. a combiner of contradictory lines of thought, who would teach that opposing opinions are in fact just complementary views of the same truth. On the contrary, he held that truth and lie are mutually exclusive, and that those who proclaim a lie in God's name are in reality false prophets whom His followers must beware of.[2]

Syncretism in the historical literature

In his book Itinerarium (Travel diary from 1708 — 1709) written in Latin, Lutheran theologian Daniel Krman described the Lutheran seminary in Königsberg as being infiltrated by theologians siding with syncretism. He pointed out that if doctors of theology would honor values expressed by Latin phrase Diligite veritatem et pacem (love truth and peace), there would be not so many syncretists in academia, who were enlisted and criticized also by the chief orthodox opponent of syncretism[3] and doctor of theology Abraham Calovius in his work Examen theologiae novaturientium. According to Krman, syncretists attack faith in Virgin Birth of Christ and Creation of the world ex Nihilo that are beyond human comprehension, thus, in more general terms, syncretism makes an effort to replace God's wisdom revealed in the Bible with human rationalizations.[4] Many years later G.K. Chesterton maintained that these human “rational” solutions are less satisfying than the riddles of God.[note 3] Still, it is perhaps not a wonder that the syncretistic atmosphere in academic institutions of Königsberg formed the worldview of Immanuel Kant, a forerunner of evolutionism[note 4] with Protestant roots, who was born in this town and who in 1740, aged 16, enrolled at the University of Königsberg, where he spent his whole career and where he, on March 31, 1770, aged 45, was appointed Full Professor of Logic and Metaphysics.[5] Among Kant's syncretistic works are The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (German: Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes) where he attacks ontological argument for God and the argument from design. In his neognostic assimilation of Biblical message he argues that matter itself contains the principles which give rise to an ordered universe hence for him the God as Creator is reduced only to an idea.[note 5] The empiricist Alfred Nobel found Kant's metaphysics hard to digest and ironically concluded that "Kant's style is so heavy that after his pure reason the reader longs for unreasonableness."[6]


  1. cf. Acts 17:23
  2. cf. Attempts to manipulate (edit) the Scripture by Nazis and proponents of LGBT ideology described in section Gnosticism Today.
  3. See notes and references in: Singularity
  4. cf. Philosopher of Evolutionary thought
  5. cf. Docetism


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Peter Beyerhaus (1975). "6:Possesio and Syncretism in Biblical Perspective", Christopaganism or Indigenous Christianity?. South Pasadena, California: William-Carey Library, 17, 126–127. ISBN 0-87808-423-1. 
  2. John R.W. Stott (1992). Kázání na hoře: Poselství Bible pro dnešní svět (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Christian Counter-culture) (in Czech). Praha (Prague): Návrat, Creativpress, 152. ISBN 80-85495-01-5. “Když mluví o některých učitelích jako o „falešných prorocích“, Ježiš jasně ukazuje, že není synkretistou, t.j. slučovatelem protichůdných směrů, který by učil, že protichůdné názory jsou ve skutečnosti doplňujícími pohledy na tutéž pravdu. Nikoli, zastával, že pravda a lež se navzájem vylučují a že ti, kdo rozhlašují lži v Božím jménu, jsou falešní proroci na které si jeho následovníci musí dát pozor.” 
  3. Timothy R. Schmeling. Lutheran Orthodoxy Under Fire: An Exploratory Study Of The Syncretistic Controversy And The Consensus Repetitus Fidei Vere Lutheranae. Retrieved on 11 June 2016. “It is fairly safe to assume that Abraham Calov(ius) (1612-1686), the Consensus Repetitus Fidei Vere Lutheranae (hereafter CRFVL), and Georg Calixt(us) (1586-1656) are not household vocabulary in much of contemporary Lutheranism. Yet, all played a prominent and important role in the 17th century syncretist controversy. History has hardly been kind to Abraham Calov, the chief orthodox opponent of syncretism.”
  4. Daniel Krman (1708 — 1709). Itinerarium (in Latin (original), Slovak (translation)). “Najprv sa však treba vrátiť k mestu Kráľovcu, skutočne kráľovskému. … Je tu luteránska akadémia, ale niektorí na nej žičia synkretizmu. Rektorom magnifikom bol vtedy verejný profesor matematiky ... Pri tejto príležitosti sa onen profesor pustil do rozhovoru. Medziiným povedal, že reformovaní[93] nemusia veriť to, čo je proti rozumu, ale že veria to, čo je nad rozum. Rozprávali sme sa totiž o sviatostnej prítomnosti Kristovej, z čoho som vyrozumel, že on sám spolu s reformovanými nadŕža synkretizmu, a povedal som, že takto nemusia reformovaní veriť ani v narodenie Kristovo z panny, ani v stvorenie sveta z ničoho, lebo toto je nielen nad, ale aj proti všetkému ľudskému rozumu. … Keď som teda bol navštívil pána doktora von Sandeho, vyzvedal som sa na pomery na akadémii a v cirkvi, a čo sa týka onej večere Pánovej, porozumel som, že tohto synkretizmu sa nedopustilo nijaké veľké zhromaždenie, ale len niekoľko osôb, vari pätnásť z každej stránky, a viacej si cenili lásku k blížnym ako vieru. Od iných som sa potom dozvedel, že doktor Deutsch, prvý teológ tejto akadémie, súhlasil s týmto synkretistickým prisluhovaním sviatosti večere a že doktor Pesarovič pre obranu ortodoxie upadol do nenávisti u ostatných kolegov teológov a radšej odišiel inde. Na kazateľnici však je nápis zlatými literami: Diligite veritatem et pacem. Anno 1595.[102] Kiežby veru všetci doktori na tento nápis pamätali, nemali by sme na tejto akadémii toľkých synkretistov, ktorých v Examen theologiae novaturientium doktor Calovius[103] menuje a karhá.” 
  5. Карль (1924, 1991). Кант и старый Кёнигсберг (Kant and old Königsberg) (in German (original), Russian (translation)). Битекар, 7+. “Кант...отклонил все приглашения в другие университы...крепко держался он за своих кенигсбержцев...” 
  6. Åke Erlandsson (23 July 1997). Alfred Nobel and his interest in literature.; The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize. “However, like the empiricist he was, he found Kant's metaphysics harder to digest: "Kant's style is so heavy that after his pure reason the reader longs for unreasonableness."”

See also