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A Nicodemite ( /ˌnɪkəˈdmt/ ) [1] is a person suspected of publicly misrepresenting their religious faith to conceal their true beliefs. [2] [3] The term is sometimes defined as referring to a Protestant Christian who lived in a Roman Catholic country and escaped persecution by concealing their Protestantism. [4] [5]


The word is normally a term of disparagement. Introduced into 16th-century religious discourse, it persisted in use into the 18th century and beyond. Originally employed mostly by Protestants, it was usually applied to persons of publicly conservative religious position and practice who were thought to be secretly humanistic or reformed.

Friedrich Heer in his book The Medieval World (1961; English translation published in 1962) refers to the 12th-century circle at Chartres as past masters of nicodemism, which he describes as "dangerous thoughts, dangerous allusions to topical ecclesiastical and political affairs, and above all to ideas hard or impossible to reconcile with the dogma of the Church or the maxims of the prevailing theology". [6]

In England during the 17th and 18th centuries the term was often applied to those suspected of secret Socinian, Arianist, or proto-Deist beliefs. [7]


Nicodemus meeting Jesus secretly at night. Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 181.png
Nicodemus meeting Jesus secretly at night.

The term was apparently introduced by John Calvin (1509–1564) in 1544 in his Excuse à messieurs les Nicodemites. [8] Since the French monarchy had increased its prosecution of heresy with the Edict of Fontainebleau (1540), it had become increasingly dangerous to profess dissident belief publicly, and refuge was being sought in emulating Nicodemus.

In the Gospel of John (John 3, John 3:1-2) there appears the character Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. Although outwardly remaining a pious Jew, he comes to Jesus secretly by night to receive instruction. Although he was eventually made a saint, his dual allegiance was somewhat suspect.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

Notable suspected Nicodemites

See also

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  1. "Nicodemite". Merriam-Webster Dictionary . Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  2. Overell 2004, pp. 117-118.
  3. Livingstone 2000
  4. "Definition of NICODEMITE". [...] a secret follower or adherent[;] specifically : a 16th century Protestant Christian who lived in a Roman Catholic country and escaped persecution by concealing his or her Protestantism
  5. "Nicodemism". The term Nicodemite, derived from Nicodemus, who visited Jesus by night, generally denotes a secret or timid adherent. J. Calvin applied it to those converts to Protestantism in Catholic France who outwardly continued RC practices. In modern times Nicodemism covers all forms of religious simulation.
  6. Friedrich Heer: The Medieval World. Cardinal, London, 1974, page 114.
  7. Snobelen 1999.
  8. Eire 1979
  9. Overell 2008, passim.
  10. Overell 2008, p. 207.
  11. Shrimplin-Evangelidis 1989.
  12. Snobelen 1999.
  13. Overell 2008, p. 7.