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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Initially used to define “holiness as a profession”, the term sanctimony, short of a century later, was ironically used to describe hypocrites within a religion.[1] The term derived from sainct and sant, earlier variations of saint in Old French translating to virtuousness, and earlier from Latin, sanctimonia, with its suffix taken from alimony (to denote a state, condition or action)[2].  Sanctimony was prominently used in religious worship as well as sacramental ceremonies; the term was primarily written in a religious context in 1548, by John Calvin, a French theologian, after his development of the Christian theology of Calvinism.[3]  Though previously used as a broader term for sacredness, Calvin applied it directly towards sanctity in people, as opposed to ceremonies and objects.[4]
Additionally, an alternate definition of sanctimony occurred in 1618, where Walter Raleigh, an English literate, used the term insultingly as a reference to hypocrisy in robes.[5] Over a century later, a Bishop of Exeter, George Lavington, mentioned the "various appearances and arts of sanctimony” in his comparison of the Enthusiasm of Methodists & Papists, using sanctimony as a deviant term.[6] Now unlimited to its initial use as a vocation of sanctity, sanctimony recurred in 19th literature strictly as an expression of hypocrisy, and was directed towards more than just religious organizations, but public systems as well. However, in 1846, Walter S. Landor took a new approach to the term and used it in his poetry, parallel to chastity: “while I admired, with a species of awe, […] the majesty and sanctimony of Livy”. Landor directly connected the term to sanctitude – the “state of being holy or saint-like”.[7]
Between sanctimony and sanctitude, the two similar terms may differ by broader definitions – sanctimony, in addition to holiness as a state, is also the suggestion towards the discipline of sacredness (as evident through canonization and sainthood), whilst sanctitude merely implies the entity as a quality. Nonetheless, Lander’s poetic use of the word is considered rare and usually dismissed. Complications of misinterpreting the term inevitably resulted in the misuse of the word. In 1630, an English poet and dramatist, Thomas Randolph, in writing a phrase for Aristippus, had intent to reference a nun; unfortunately, failing to use the proper term, sanctimonial, Rudolph’s Medico de Campo ridiculously “extracted (…) chastity from a sanctimony” instead.[8]
Despite its lack of contemporary use for religious reasons, sanctimony continues to emerge in political situations as a synonym for hypocrisy and corruption. Typically, it is used to describe the lack of supported beliefs or righteousness within an individual or group, as accused by an external party. “’Republicans ride the sanctimony pony’”, a quote from a democratic supporter in regard to female “first time voters”, displays sanctimony as a weak attempt, intended to expose infidelity within the present American government.[9]  Clearly, modern uses of sanctimony have altered dramatically from its religious origin and results in a commonly, crude use of the term.

[1] "sanctimony, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/170489?redirectedFrom=sanctimony& (accessed November 19, 2012).
[2] "-mony, comb. form". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/121864 (accessed November 20, 2012).
[3] "saint, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/169847?redirectedFrom=sainct (accessed November 20, 2012).
[5]  “Walter Raleigh”. BBC. 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/raleigh_walter.shtml (accessed November 20, 2012).
[6] “Enthusiasm of Methodists & Papists Compared”. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/enthusiasmofmet00lavi (accessed November 20, 2012).
[7]  “Walter Savage Landor” .Poetry Foundation. 2012 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/walter-savage-landor (accessed November 20, 2012).
[8] "sanctimony, n."
[9]  “Face it, Republicans: You’re the ones who hate women”. CURRENT. October 2012. http://www.dictionary30.com/meaning/Sanctimony (accessed November 20, 2012).

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