phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Heresy

Posted by ESC on November 13, 2001

In Reply to: Re: Origin or etymology posted by sara on November 12, 2001

: : I am wanting to know the origin of the word Heresy
: : Help ... please.

HERESY - "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 choice,' 'a course of action,' 'a school of thought,' and 'a philosophical or religious sect.' Stoicism, for example, was a 'hairesis.'

Within Judaism, a 'heresy' (our modern English equivalent and derivative of 'hairesis') was a religious faction, part, 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, it is usually translated as 'sect.' When the prosecutor Tertullus charged St. Paul with being the ringleader of 'the sect of the Nazarenes,' implying that Christianity was simply another party within Judaism, Paul responded: 'But this I confess to thee, that according to the way, which they call a heresy, so do I serve the Father and my God.' (Acts 24:14, Douay)

When St. Paul used the term 'hairesis' in a Christian context, its meaning was pejorative, designating a splinter group within the Christian community that threatened the unity of the Church. 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.' In the early centuries of the Church such heresies included Arianism, Donatism, Nestorianism, Manichaeism, Monophysitism, and Pelagianism, among others. Their adherents were often punished by excommunication.In Chaucer's time the noun began to take on nonecclesiastical use, being applied to any dissenting opinion, belief, or doctrine in any field.

"Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories" Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1991)