I'm looking for an English word or phrase that sounds better than 'enemy of faith', which is my almost literal translation of the German word Glaubensfeind.
The text is about pagan reactions to Christianity in the late antique period. The specific context is a series of statements by the early church fathers which show such a degree of intolerance towards non-Christians that if the pagans had quoted them, they would (later) have been accused of misquoting for the sake of propaganda. Is there a better word -- or phrase -- for 'enemy of faith'? I like 'adversary', for instance, but I don't think it works as 'adversary in faith'. Here's the sentence:

Numerous statements by the early church fathers come to mind which, had they been quoted by the pagan philosophers, could easily be dismissed as malicious parodies of their ______________(enemy of faith).

Note: I changed 'the' to 'their' in the above sentence to avoid the earlier ambiguity.'The enemy of faith' in the above example refers to the pagan's religious enemy, i.e. the Christians. Another way of seeing it (in the plural form) is the antagonistic relationship between the two parties. The Christians and pagans were ______________ (enemies of faith).

  • Looking at your edit, is the word intended to mean "enemies with faith" (perhaps, even, "enemies because of their faith")? As in the phrase "people of faith" (or "of color", etc) If so, this changes things a lot....
    – user184130
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 21:18
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    After reading some comments, I've realized I might have been interpreting something incorrectly. When you say "parodies of the _____" is the group you're trying to identify the subject of the parodies, or the creator of the parodies? Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:09
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    It's actually simpler than that. The author of the book quotes a bunch of early church father (1st to 4th century) statements on what they believe is "the only true belief". He says that these Christian statements are so intolerant that if they had been reported by the pagans, the pagans would (later) have been accused of exaggeration -- or of distorting the beliefs of their (the pagan's) XXX. Sorry if I didn't explain this clearly enough.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 18:23
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    When a word request attracts a long list of ideas, that is a clear signal that either the criteria are unclear or the question is more of a poll or request for a list of things, neither of which are a good fit for the Stack Exchange model. The word request must be specific enough that it has a clearly correct answer. It must for example identify the desired connotation, register, and part of speech, and the context in which the word is to be used.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 18:46
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    At the same time, a question about translating to English must meet the special requirements of the translation tag. In particular, you cannot assume that your reader understands the original language. So if your question is essentially, what is the correct English translation of Glaubensfeind, it's off topic. A good approach to turning such a translation question into a good ELU question is to drop the translation part and turn it into a word request. See the word request tag.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 18:51

12 Answers 12


How about "sectarian foe"? I think that's appropriately ambiguous - it doesn't carry strong connotations of being a label that Christians would apply to pagans. It's not a single word or a set phrase, but I think that may be OK or even an advantage, since the set phrases will tend to lack that ambiguity.

Alternatively, you could just calque it to "faith enemy". I actually think that might be clearer than "enemy of faith".

  • +1 I quite like sectarian. I've got hung up on religious adversary in the meantime, but might change it.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:51

One word is infidel:


1 : one who is not a Christian or who opposes Christianity
2 a : an unbeliever with respect to a particular religion
b : one who acknowledges no religious belief
3 : a disbeliever in something specified or understood

It doesn't promote the idea of an active enemy, however, at least not in its dictionary definition. (Although popular media seems to have promoted the idea of infidels as barbarians.)

For that, iconoclast might be more appropriate—if used in a religious context:

1 : a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration
2 : a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions

  • infidel has come be be associated with Muslim speakers talking about non Muslims. It might not have the implication that the author is going for. Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 6:25
  • That number 1 definition, "or who opposes Christianity" really does emphasise a threat. In that sense it's a good word if it does carry that meaning.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 6:45
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    Since the OP is looking for a word to describe Christians, infidel doesn't seem right.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 10:14

I would suggest heathen rather than infidel, simply because in modern times the latter has become associated with use by those of another faith than Christian. Its meaning is otherwise pretty much the same:

  1. an unconverted member of a people or nation who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible
  2. an uncivilized or irreligious person

Merriam Webster

Contextually, parody would seem to almost mandate the use of terms that would normally be used by those being parodied -- so [in my opinion] the less "neutral" term is actually appropriate.


I know you are looking for a different word but Christian would work really well in that sentence

Numerous statements by the early church fathers come to mind which, had they been reported by the pagan philosophers, could easily have been dismissed as malicious parodies of the Christians

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    It would actually. But stylistically I should probably try to follow the German.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:36

I believe "heretic" is a stronger word than "unbeliever", because heretics seek to re-establish doctrine, and their heretical teachings risk corrupting otherwise good and orthodox believers of the faith.

heretic is defined in Oxford Living Dictionaries as one who practises heresy:

Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine. ‘Huss was burned for heresy’

Of course it all depends on your point of view, it might be the Saracens or the Jews or the pagans who might be considered a larger threat. These would probably be called heathens.

I've just read a bit of the Wikipedia article on fidei defensor (defender of the faith), a title bestowed on many monarchs, and it says this about Heny VIII:

Following Henry's decision to break with Rome in 1530 and establish himself as head of the Church of England, the title was revoked by Pope Paul III (since Henry's act was regarded as an attack on "the Faith") and Henry was excommunicated.
(bolding is mine)

I've thought of another word, I'm not sure if it's good or not, but anathema:

  1. (Ecclesiastical Terms) a formal ecclesiastical curse of excommunication or a formal denunciation of a doctrine.

and the person so anathematised is also the anathema.

  1. (Ecclesiastical Terms) the person or thing so cursed
    Collins English Dictionary

You may be anathematised for a range of reasons, heresy is one. Though I'm not sure to what extent this necessarily means "threat to the faith."

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    I don't think "heretic" fits the usage in OP, since it normally means someone who is (or at least claims to be) an adherent of the religion in question, rather than someone who attacks it from outside. Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 8:57
  • @EspeciallyLime I agree. For their specific need they want something else. To the extent that unbeliever or someone of another faith is a "threat to the faith", this may be an acceptable word. But someone of another faith may be minding his own business, so I don't know.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 9:06
  • The OP says " 'The enemy of faith' refers to the pagan's religious enemy, i.e. the Christians." It is is hard to see how Christians are heretics. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 0:31

unbeliever TFD

One who lacks belief or faith, especially in a particular religion; a nonbeliever.

As in:

Numerous statements by the early church fathers come to mind which, had they been reported by the pagan philosophers, could easily have been dismissed as malicious parodies of the unbelievers.

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    Thanks. The original German itself is actually a bit ambiguous. It would be 'malicious parodies by the pagans' but 'malicious parodies concerning/of the Christians', so I need a slightly more neutral term. I was considering rephrasing with 'by' so checked the etymology of 'infidel' ('unbeliever') and this term wasn't used till the 15th century, so I probably need to be wary of overinterpreting.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 18:56

In academic writing, you may consider using the scholarly terms:

  • theomachist, one who is fighting against God or gods in general.
  • theoclast, one disrupting, questioning and breaking down perceptions, beliefs and practices relating to God.

These are not exactly synonymous. A theomachist is fighting against the notion of gods and religion in general, be it a personal God or a pandeistic cult. To give an example, Glatzer-Rosenthal called Karl Marx a theomachist. A theoclast, on the other hand, is charging current notions of the predominant religion. To me, the latter seems a better fit given your context.

Adjectives theomachistic, theoclastic are regular, but abstracts are not: theomachy, theoclasm.

  • I wonder why this doesn't have more upvotes. It's true theoclast is very obscure to the point of being unfindable in a search. But theomachist is in dictionaries.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 7:37
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    @Zebrafish Pagans didn't object to a god; or gods in general - they had their own as a rule; as such, with the given definitions, I'd say these words are too general to be applied to them.
    – UKMonkey
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 14:45
  • @UKMonkey, you are right about the theomachist, who says there are no gods; a theoclast's point is that unquestioned faith or God is not worth worshiping. But I agree that the latter, more fitting word is quite obscure, and would look immodestly highbrow anywhere outside of a highbrow scholarly paper. :)
    – user173639
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 19:19

A proselytiser is someone who is trying to convert others to their religion.

Proselytise (verb)
Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.

This is more likely to be used to refer to Christians trying to convert pagans. Words like "heathen" and "heretic" are more like words that would be used by Christians to refer to pagans.

I would suggest making it explicit and using "Christian proselyitsers" because the sentence is easy to misunderstand.


It's really hard to reproduce words like Glaubensfeind without yourself taking sides, yet that's what you seem to be attempting to do!

You need to determine once and for all: is the voice with which you are writing a voice that would use a discriminatory word for the Glaubensfeind, or not?

If YES, then words like "heathen", "infidels", "unbelievers", or even "atheists" (in the pagan Roman sense) would work just fine. This is an appropriate time to use "scare quotes", since the reader should be notified that you are reproducing something somebody else said in the way that they said it.

This approach seems to be implied by the text. After all, "Feind" seems pretty strong; you wouldn't call your mother a "Feind": it's not really different from saying damned fools or something of that sort.

If NO, then I suggest using an expression that identifies as succinctly as possible whose faith is meant by Glauben. So: "malicious parodies of their faith's enemies" or "malicious parodies of their religious opponents".

Lastly (if you're not translating a text but writing something in your own voice)... are you attempting to translate that specific word "Glaubenfeind" in order to introduce your reader to a particular expression that you see in your text? If so, then it would do the reader no service to hide the intent and the feeling of the original... if Glaubenfeind really does sound like "devil" or "damned fool" in the original, then you're not achieving that goal if you use a neutral expression in this sentence.

  • Yeh, like I mentioned yesterday, I'm settling on 'religious adversary', maybe religious opponent. The author tries to keep himself out of things and though he's sympathetic to the pagan perspective he tends to use neutral language when he's not actually quoting the abuse that got hurled back and forth.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:42


n. One who commits blasphemy; a person who mocks or derides a deity or religion, or claims to be God.

Not related to your context, but relevant in today's time:

Urban Dictionary: Militant Atheist
A militant atheist is one who is hostile towards religion. They differ from moderate atheists because they have the desire to propagate atheism and also hold religion to be harmful.

  • Please don't just nominate words and then link to copied text. You still have to write your own answer, in your own words, with an explanation of why you think this is a suitable answer to the request. We're trying to build up a library of expert answers for future visitors, and that requires original content not just dictionary spam. Otherwise we're just somebody else’s thesaurus with voting added.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 7:22

"Heresiarch" should be the word.

Nestorius was accused of Heresy.

Archbishop Nestorius refused to call Mary the "Mother of God." Her baby was very human, he said. Jesus' human acts and sufferings were of his human nature, not his Godhead. To say Mary was Mother of God was to say God had once been a few hours old. "God is not a baby two or three months old," he argued. ( http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10755a.htm )

"Glaubensfeind", a masculine compound is found in Theotokos( Mother of God)written by G. Α. WELLEN.

On page 94 he writes:

"Als die Kirchenversammlung zu Ende war und die Kunde von der Verurteilung des Nestorius sich verbreitete, brach das Volk in jubelnde Zurufe aus und pries Gott, weil ein "Glaubensfeind" gefallen war."

(When the church assembly came to an end and the news of the condemnation of Nestorius spread, the people broke out into rejoicing shouts and praised God because an "enemy of faith" had fallen.)

( https://repository.ubn.ru.nl//bitstream/handle/2066/107275/mmubn000001_089463439.pdf )

  • If your recommendation is the word “satan”, then I don't think it will capture the concept and the essence of the Deutsch compound. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 7:43

Faith: "strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof."

Logic: "reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity."

I'm not sure "logical" fits in the exact phrase you've given, but for other contexts; in particular where you're trying to make the point that the evidence suggests the case against the specific faith, this may fit perfectly.

Caution: Some religious people may take offence at this; as it implies that they're not logical.

  • 2
    Are you offering logical as the answer to the question?
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 16:20
  • @tchrist yes; as I said, it doesn't fit the exact phrasing given by the OP; but "sections of the bible have been rejected as immoral by the logical" fits perfectly.
    – UKMonkey
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:41
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    Pratchett's story about the Hogfather did a decent job of expressing the incomparability between belief and fact. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 7:41

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