heres-, heretic-

(Greek > Latin: a taking, choosing, a choice; to take for oneself)

Etymology of the words heresy and heretic

  • In ancient Greek, the verb hairein, meaning "to take", gave rise to the adjective hairetos "able to choose" and the noun hairesis "the act of choosing".
  • In time the noun developed the extended senses of a "a choice", "a course of action", "a school of thought", and "a philosophical or religious sect". Stoicism was considered a hairesis
  • Within Judaism, a heresy (our Modern English equivalent and derivative of hairesis) was a religious faction, party, or sect; such as, the Pharisees or Sadducees.
  • Applied to such groups, hairesis was used in a neutral, nonpejorative manner.
  • In fact, when this Greek noun is used in the New Testament (Bible), it is usually translated as sect.
  • By the end of the second century, haeresis (the Latin equivalent) was being applied to an organized body holding a false or sacrilegious doctrine.
  • From this use, it took on the sense of "a body of doctrine substantially differing in some aspect from the doctrine taught by the Church".
  • The Catholic Church used the Latin haeresis (from the Greek hairesis) for "heresy" and haereticus (from the Late Greek hairetikos, a derivative of hairetos "able to choose") for "heretic".
  • These two words were taken into early French as heresie/eresie and heritique/eritique and then into English in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, respectively, as heresy an heretic.
  • Their religious senses passed into English as well.
  • In Chaucer's time, c. 1385, the noun began to take on a nonecclesiastical use, being applied to any dissenting opinion, belief, or doctrine in any field.
  • At about the same time we also find this noun being used for "a school of thought, a sect", echoing the ancient Greek use of hairesis.
—Excerpts from Webster's Word Histories, Merriam-Webster Inc., Publishers; Springfield, Massachuksetts, 1989.