From the Greek ζ[symbol omitted]λος, which derives from a root meaning to be hot or to begin to boil, signifies a vehement intensity of emotion or of will with respect to a cause, coupled, as circumstances permit, with energetic activity in its service. In classical as well as Biblical usage the word was associated with the notions of emulation and jealousy; the English word "jealousy" is in fact derived from "zeal." Zeal is a desirable or undesirable quality depending upon the merit of the cause toward which it is directed. The pejorative sense predominates in the derivative "zealot," which commonly designates a person with an excessive enthusiasm for a good cause or a fanatical dedication to an unworthy one. In Christian usage, however, zeal generally indicates an enthusiasm activated by a true good, and it is most commonly applied to a notable degree of fervor when this marks an individual's love of God and neighbor. A zealous person is not content to do the minimum to which he is strictly obliged, but strives rather to do the most that he can. It is a quality manifested in many ways—in a strong desire to promote God's glory (1 Kgs 19.14), in the eagerness to do charitable service to others (2 Cor 9.2), in striving after better gifts (1 Cor 12.31), in the doing of good works (Ti 2.14). Above all, it is the love of Christ urging one on (2 Cor5.14). As the fervor of charity, the excellence of zeal is that of charity itself.
Bibliography: a. tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, tr. h. branderis (2d ed. Tournai 1930; repr. Westminster, MD 1945). x. lÉon-dufour, ed., Vocabulaire de théologie biblique (Paris 1962) 1135–38.
[r. l. cole]
- Bows, Mr. crippled fiddler with intense feelings. [Br. Lit.: Pendennis ]
- Cedric of Rotherwood zealous about restoring Saxon independence. [Br. Lit.: Ivanhoe ]
- Faustus, Doctor zealous for universal knowledge; sells soul to Lucifer. [Medieval Legend and Ger. Lit.: Faust ; Br. Lit.: Doctor Faustus ]
- flaming heart attribute of St. Augustine; symbol of religious fervor. [Art: Hall, 123]
- Merridew, Jack boy with lust for authority and killing. [Brit. Lit.: Lord of the Flies ]
- Olsen, Jimmy eager-beaver cub reporter and Superman’s friend. [Comics: “Superman” in Horn, 341]
- Palace Guard term used in alluding to Richard Nixon’s zealous, ardent staff, with reference to Watergate and cover-up. [Am. Pop. Culture: Misc.]
- white dittany traditional symbol of zeal. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 173]
So zealot member of an ancient Jewish sect XVI; zealous person XVII. — late L. zēlōtēs — Gr. zēlōtḗs. zealous XVI. — medL. zēlōsus.
zeal / zēl/ • n. great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective: his zeal for privatization.