When Innovation Was A Crime

Emma Green traces back the word “innovator” to when it wasn’t such a positive buzzword:

According to [Canadian historian Benoît Godin], innovation is the most late-blooming incarnation of previously used terms like imitation and invention. When “novation” first appeared in thirteenth century law texts as a term for renewing contracts, it wasn’t a term for creation — it referred to newness. In the particularly entrenched religious atmosphere of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe, doctrinal innovation was anathema. Some saw this kind of newness as an affiliation with Puritanism, or worse — popery. Godin cites an extreme case from 1636, when an English Puritan and former royal official, Henry Burton, began publishing pamphlets advocating against church officials as innovators, levying Proverbs 24:21 as his weapon: “My Sonne, feare thou the Lord, and the King, and meddle not with them that are given to change” (citation Godin’s, emphasis mine). In turn, the pot-stirring Puritan was accused of being the true “innovator” and sentenced to a life in prison and worse — a life without ears.