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Official Christianity Glossary


Introduction to Religion

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Alexandria *
Alexandria in Egypt, as the second most important city in the Roman Empire, was made one of the church's first three Patriarchates, along with Rome and Antioch at the Council of Nicea in 325. The Alexandrian bishops often found themselves at loggerheads with those from Antioch in the early theological debates. Alexandrian theology viewed the divinity of Jesus as more important than his humanity and was prone to emphasize the distinctions between the three aspects of the Trinity rather than their/its unity. Alexandria and all Egypt became part of the Moslem Empire in 642.
The angels are created heavenly beings who serve as God's messangers and helpers. They are made out of spirit and not physical matter and so live forever. But they are part of God's creation, and so are not part of, or equivalent to, God's divine being.
Anglican Churches *
The Anglican Church was founded in England in early sixteenth century (the early Reformation period) when King Henry broke with the Catholic Church in order to divorce his wife. Although Henry himself had no Protestant leanings, his successor King Edward brought a great deal of Protestant theology into the Anglican Church. Like the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church is hierarchichal; its leader is the King or Queen of England while its spiritual head is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican belief has traveled well, with large communities in many different countries. In the United States, the Episcopal Church is a branch of Anglicanism and is considered one of the largest four or five protestant denominations.
Antioch *
Antioch, in Syria, was the third largest and third most important city in the Roman Empire (after Rome and Alexandria). It was one of the first three Patriarchates established at the Council of Nicea in 325. That is, its bishop was given the title of Patriarch. The Antiochene Church was one of the earliest established outside Palestine (probably by Christians fleeing one of the early persecutions in Jerusalem) and in the early centuries often found itself wrestling with the Alexandrians over key theological interpretations. Antiochene theology emphasized the unity and oneness of God when discussing the Trinity, while at the same time holding the humanity of Jesus as important. Antioch became part of the Moslem Empire in 638.
Apocrypha *
The books of the Old Testament which the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include, but which were removed by the Protestants as part of the Reformation. They were all written in Greek, whereas the rest of the Old Testament is in Hebrew. The books are: Tobit, Judith, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, I Esdras, II Esdras, Letter of Jeremiah, the additions to Esther, and the additions to Daniel.
The twelve disciples that Jesus chose during his earthly ministry were given the title "Apostle" by the Church after Jesus' death and resurrection. The missionary Paul was also given this title.
Apostles Creed
An early Christian creed traditionally attributed to the Apostles, but actually coming from the third century. A comparison of the Apostles Creed with the Nicene Creed reveals the theological innovations the battle against the Arian Controversy brought about with regard to the statements concerning the nature of the Christian godhead, that is, the doctrine of the Trinity. To read the Apostles Creed, click here.
An Archbishop functions as a bishop, but over a region of historical or political importance.
Arianism *
Arianism was the focus of the first Church council, the Council of Nicea. Its founder was Arius, who had developed an explanation for the Christian godhead. He did not believe in the Trinity, but instead held that God the Father was the only god and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were created. Jesus was seen as the Prince of Angels who had come to earth and made himself into a human. (For the purposes of this course, we will ignore the issue of the Holy Spirit.) This explanation allowed Arius to maintain two important Christian ideas, namely, the oneness of God (monotheism) and the idea that Jesus was a historical figure who actually did the things he appeared to do--such as die (how can a god die?). The problem with it was that Arius' explanation also made Jesus into a created being, a "creature," rather than part of God.
Athanasius *
Bishop of Alexandria from 328 to 373. He attended the Council of Nicea as his predecessor's assistant. He was a strong proponent of Alexandrian theology and a staunch opponent of Arianism. Since both Constantine and his son supported Arianism, this caused him much trouble, requiring him to go into exile several times during his life. He unfortunately did not live to see his views reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. He helped the fledgling monastic movement and one of his letters preserves the earliest list of the books of the New Testament as they were ultimately canonized.
In Christianity, atonement is necessary because of God's character of Justice; he must act at all times with Justice. This means that when humans sin--or more accurately, since all humanity is born with original sin--they must pay the penalty of sin which is death. Since God cannot act with Mercy to waive punishment without violating his character of Justice, somehow the penalty must be paid. To accomplish this, God himself (in the form of Jesus) died on the cross as the punishment for humanity's sinful nature and was resurrected to bring salvation to effect atonement.


Baptism *
In its most basic form, baptism is a ritual which a person is immersed in water. This immersion has had several different meanings. (1) The baptism of John the Baptist was developed before Jesus started his ministry. It was for the forgiveness of an individual's sins. (2) Christian baptism is primarily a conversion ceremony that brings a person into the Christian religion, after a confession of faith in Christ. (3) In most churches, baptism has become a sacrament. (4) Some churches have developed a baptism ritual in which a person is spinkled with water rather than immersed. (5) Sprinkling is often done to infants before they are old enough to make a confession of faith. In this case, most churches hold that when the child reaches adulthood they must confirm their beliefs.
Baptist Churches *
Historically, the Baptist Churches began as a breakaway group from the New England Puritans (who are themselves a breakaway group from the England Puritans who are a breakaway group from Anglicanism). The first Baptist Church was founded by Roger Williams in Rhode Island in the 1630's. In addition to the standard beliefs common to most Protestant Churches, Baptists believe in adult baptism only (usually by total body immersion), the separation of church and state, and the importance of individuals working out their own beliefs ("soul liberty"). They also emphasize the authority of the Bible. Into this theological mix, they have also incorporated a number of Calvinist beliefs.
Bible *
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament essentially consists of the Hebrew Bible, while the New Testament contains books which tell about Jesus and the early decades of the Church. After the Reformation, the Protestants removed a number of the books from the Catholic Old Testament which were given the name Apocrypha.
Bishop *
Church official responsible for a region of churches; in Catholicism the region is called a diocese. Historically, he was responsible for overseeing worship, discipine, and spiritual affairs. In modern times, he has taken on many administrative duties. In Catholicism, there are two sacraments that can be performed only by the bishop, confirmation and ordination.


Calvin, John *
John Calvin was an early reformer who lived from 1509-1564. He was probably the most influential writer, thinker and theologian of the Calvinist (or Reformed) wing of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin held that the Christian Church should be organized on biblical principals, that is, along the lines explicitly stated in the Bible.
Calvinist Churches *
The Calvinist Churches, also called the Reformed Churches, are based on the thought of Calvin and other Reformed theologians. In the English world, these churchs take the form of the Presbyterian and Congregational denominations. Of course, Calvinism was a world-wide movement that influenced the growth of Christianity in Holland, Switzerland, Germany; and from those countries it spread across the world. While Calvinism follows all important Protestant innovations in Christian belief and theology, it adds to them its own emphases. These can be summed in the idea of the majesty of God and his will and purpose. In human terms, this means that individual Christians each have a purpose in life--to fulfill their role in God's plan. Thus members of these churches have historically been activists, working to affect the world around them. Another change instituted in Calvinism was the desacralization of human life; this resulted in the removal of all sacraments from the liturgy except for baptism and communion.
A class of clerics in the Catholic Church who are attached to the Vatican. They may be priests or bishops. Many function as part of the higher eschelons of the Vatican staff, or they may be bishops serving regions out in the world. Upon a Pope's death, the College of Cardinals, there are today approximately 200, chooses the next Pope in secret session.
Catholic Church *
The Catholic Church is the western-most of two churches that were created by the east/west split of Christianity in 1054. (The other was the Eastern Orthodox Church.) Its headquarters is in Rome, in the Vatican. Its leader is the Pope, who occupies the top point of a heirarchy which begins with the laity and the priests and climbs up through bishops, archbishops, and cardinals. Catholics emphasize the importance of the church's teaching authority and the sacraments. The central act of worship is the Mass or Holy Communion. It is from the Catholic Church that the Protestant Churches broke off during the Reformation.
Chalcedon, Council of *
This was the fourth ecumenical ("worldwide") council of the church as was held in 451. It was called to debate the nature of God. The outcome was that it reaffirmed the statements of faith from the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople. In particular, it declared that Jesus had two natures from birth, one divine and one human. These were combined in equal portions within the single being of Jesus. This reemphasized the decision of the Council of Ephesus.
Christ *
The term "christ" comes from the Greek word "Xristos," which means "the anointed one." It has the same meaning as "meshiach"--that is "messiah"--in Hebrew. It is applied to Jesus as a title, indicating his status as the one messiah. It is not Jesus' last name (i.e., surname).
Christmas *
This is the Christian celebration of Jesus' birth to Mary. By the end of the fourth century, most churches celebrated this holiday on December 25th, but the date is not fixed according to any scriptural information.
Church *
(1) "The Church" is the term Christianity uses for the entire body of all Christians throughout the world. (2) It also refers to a particular denomation or branch of Christianity, such as the "Catholic Church" or the "Presbyterian Church."
See Mercy.
Holy Communion *
Known as Mass, the Eucharist, and the Lord's Supper, this ritual symbolizes the forgiveness of sins. It is modeled after the "Last Supper" ceremony related in the gospels. It is a symbolic sacrifice in which Christ's body is presented as the sacrifice which frees people from their sins through their faith in Jesus. Wine and bread are blessed and then consumed by each participant in the ritual. Protestant churches believe that the wine symbolizes Jesus' blood and the bread symbolizes Jesus' body.  Official Catholic doctrine, by contrast, holds that the wine actually becomes Jesus' blood and the bread actually becomes Jesus' body.  This belief is called transubstantiation.  Communion is practiced regularly in most churches, from once a month in some Protestant Churches to every Mass in Catholic Churches.
Constantine *
Constantine the Great was the sole Emperor of the Roman Empire from 312 to his death in 337. He started the process that ultimately made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, which transformed it into the Holy Roman Empire. In 325, he called the Council of Nicea to decide the nature of Jesus as Christ (see also Trinity).
Constantinople *
Constantinople was founded by Constantine in 330 as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Although placed on the early town of Byzantium, this city was created as a Christian city without a pagan past (unlike Rome). At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, it was made one of the first five Patriarchates of the church. After Rome was "lost" to the barbarians and the Patriarchates to the Moslems, Constaninople and its Patriarch and Emperor remained the center of Christianity. It lead the Orthodox Church after the split with Rome and the Pope in 1054. From 1204-1261, it was captured and ruled by the Crusaders. Thus weakened, it fell to the Turks in 1453, who renamed it Istanbul.
Constantinople, Council of
This second Church Council (a gathering of bishops) was held in 381 to put an end to the Arian controvery which the Council of Nicea had supposedly done. It reaffirmed the orthodox position with regard to the nature of God and condemned Arianism, instituting a revised and more explicit Nicene Creed. It affirmed the position of Athanasius.
Crucifixion *
This is the term for Jesus' death on the cross. In Roman times, the cross was an instrument of punishment for criminals, with death taking many hours--sometimes even days--to come upon the criminal so condemned. The New Testament relates that Jesus' crucifixion was followed by his resurrection. This was part of the drama of salvation.
Crusades *
The Crusades were a series of military expeditions undertaken by Christians in Europe to "liberate" Palestine (the Holy Land) from the Moslems. The eight crusades took place primarily between 1095 and 1291. The crusades varying degrees of success, with some managing to gain territory in Palestine and with others being stopped (often by the slaughter of the crusaders by disease or battle) before reaching Palestine. The heyday was the twelfth century, when the europeans controlled all the sea coast of Syria and most of the territory generally considered the "Holy Land." This was a bloody period of Christian history during which Christians slaughtered--often indiscriminately--Jews, Moslems and even Christians. The Crusaders held Jerusalem from about 1099 until their defeat by Saladin in 1187.


(1) A lay officer of the church. (2) The title of a person who officially functions on the church's behalf, usually by working with the poor or by helping with administrative matters. (3) During the first millennium of the church, "deacon" became the official title of certain members of a bishop's staff. (4) In the early church, it is clear that many women were deacons.
The term used to designate the different Protestant Churches, of which there are over 900 in the USA alone.
In Catholicism, the term used to identify the region governed by a bishop.
Disciple *
(1) The twelve followers whom Jesus chose during his ministry to be his special companions and assistants. After Judas' betrayal and death, he was replaced by Mattathias. See also Apostle. (2) One of many selected followers of Jesus. (3) Most Christians would understand themselves as disciples.
An official statement of theological belief.
The doctrines in which one must believe to attain salvation.


Easter *
This is the day Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead and his triumph over sin. It is on a Sunday in the Spring, and follows "Holy Week" during which Christianity commemorates the events leading up to Jesus' death. The resurrection is the event by which Jesus provides human beings with salvation.
Eastern Orthodox Church
See the Orthdox Church.
Ephesus, Council of
The third Church Council which was held in Ephesus in 431. It condemned the Nestorian idea that Jesus was two separate persons, one divine and the other human. It instead reaffirmed that both always existed at the same time in the single person of Jesus.
The Christian activity of winning converts to Christianity.
Holy Eucharist
See Holy Communion.


Faith *
In general terms, faith is simply the belief in things unseen and unproven. Demonstrated facts, for example, do not require faith. In Protestantism, faith takes on a deeper meaning. It is the acceptance of God with the whole self, that is, with one's mind, emotions, and will.
Father *
God the Father is one of the three parts of the Trinity. In this character, he is seen as the Creator of the universe (cosmos), the eternal Judge, and the guider of the history of salvation which culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the god who is revealed in the Old Testament.
God will forgive a person's sin(s) through his mercy because of the salvation made possible by Jesus' act of atonement. Doctrinally, forgiveness happens through communion for the sins of one's life and through baptism for original sin.


Galilee *
This is the region of northern Palestine around the Sea of Galilee. It is in this area that Jesus lived most of his life and carried most of his ministry. Only at the end did he journey to Judea and Jerusalem.
God *
For the Christian understanding of God, see Trinity.


Heaven *
In Christian cosmology (belief about the cosmos), heaven has three main meanings. First, it is the abode of God, his angels, and the saints. Second, it is the place where people who have received salvation go after they have been judged to be among the righteous. Third, in the future, God will transform the cosmos and remake it so that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.
Hell *
In Christian cosmology (theology about the cosmos), hell is the place of eternal damnation. When a person is judged, if they have not received salvation, they will be considered to be evil and will receive eternal punishment in hell.
Holy Roman Empire
The name given to the Roman Empire after it became Christian under Constantine and his successors.
Holy Spirit *
The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the third part of the Trinity. This is the power that came from God to the disciples after Jesus' resurrection and ascention into heaven. It is seen as the power that guides and strengthens Christians as they strive to do God's will.


The noun indicating the act of God becoming human; "Jesus incarnated himself so that he could die on the cross." The doctrine of the Incarnation holds that Christ on earth was at one and the same time fully god and fully human.
Islam *
See Moslem Empire.
Israel *
(1) As a place, see Palestine. (2) Israel was the name of the Jews, God's chosen people. Early Christian theology believed that the church, that is the body of all Christians, replaced the Jews as Israel, as God's chosen people. This first articulated explicitly by Paul in his letter to the Romans.


Jerusalem *
Jerusalem has been important to Christianity in many ways. (1) It was the place where Jesus completed his ministry. Here he was crucified and then rose from the dead. Thus Jerusalem is the stage on which God's plan of salvation was put into effect. (2) Prior to that, it had been the center of Judaism--the religion of the people Israel--which Christianity claimed to inherit and replace. (3) Jerusalem was one of the five early Patriarchates, being established as such by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. (4) Shortly after Constantine's triumph, his mother Helena took an extended trip to Jerusalem to identify all the holy sites where the Jesus had been active in his last days, that is, where the drama of salvation had been played out. These sites were then all sanctified with the erection of churches, and provided Christianity with a sense of sacred space rooted in sacred history. (5) Jerusalem fell to the Moslems in 638. (6) Western Europe send a series of military expeditions called Crusades from 1095 up to the thirteenth century to try to free Jerusalem from Islamic rule. Christian rulers held Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187.
Jesus *
Jesus is the central figure of Christianity. He was a Jewish peasant whose father was a craftsman (carpenter) in the Galilean village of Nazareth. He was probably born about 4 bce and was killed about 28 ce. The New Testament gospels claim that he had a miraculous birth, his mother Mary being inseminated by God himself. Apparently he had a rather quiet upbringing and did not start his public teaching until his late 20's. He then had a three to four year career of teaching and healing. Most of his teachings were about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and about personal humility before God and other humans. When Jesus was about 32, he was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans. According to Christian belief, Jesus rose from the dead after three days, visited his disciples, and then ascended into heaven. For further information, see Christ.
Judea *
This is the region in central Palestine around Jerusalem.
Judgment Day *
Christian theology from the earliest times has believed that a future time will come when there will be a day of judgment for all humanity. Also known as the Last Judgement, God will at that time raise all human beings from the dead and will judge them. Because of the notion of sin and Original Sin, every single human will deserve punishment, that is, eternal damnation in hell. But because of Jesus' death and resurrection, those who believe in him and his act of salvation will receive God's mercy and enter into an eternal life in heaven. Judgment Day is often linked to other eschatological events, such as Jesus' second coming, the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and the establishment of a New Heaven and a New Earth. Modern pre-millenialist Christianity believes that there will be two separate, future judgments, one for Christians and one for everyone else (the Final Judgment). In Catholicism, the Last Judgment is also known as the General Judgment as opposed to the Particular Judgment.
Justice *
As the divine Judge, God the Father acts with Justice. Justice dictates that sinners should be punished. This would thus require the punishment of all human beings. And since all humanity has been born with Original Sin, all humanity would be punished with damnation in hell. However, God also acts with mercy. So he will forgive the sin of anyone who, through faith, believes in the salvation of Jesus.


Kingdom of God *
(1) The Kingdom of God was seen by the early church as a future establishment of God's reign on earth, usually with Jesus as king. The first Christians expected this kingdom to come during their lifetime. When this did not happen, the belief was reshaped to point to some unspecified future moment. The Book of Revelation (i.e., the Apocalypse of John), with its notions of the second coming of Christ and the millennium, helped in this process by specifying in symbolic language both the future coming of the Kingdom and the events that would lead up to it. (2) This belief has alternated through Christian history with another concept of the Kingdom of God. This concept makes the kingdom into the institution of the established church. It first came into prominence after Constantine's triumph made Christianity into the religion of the Roman Empire.


Lord's Supper
See Holy Communion.
Luther, Martin *
Martin Luther is credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation by tacking his "95 Theses" to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. The "Theses" asked for changes and modification of the Catholic Church. When this act brought attacks on Luther, he separated from the Catholic Church and became the earliest, major thinker of Protestantism. Although Luther's influence and thought underlies every Protestant denomination, the Lutheran Churches provide the most faithful practice of his theology. x
Lutheran Churches *
The Lutheran Churches were the first Protestant Churches established. They followed the events set in motion by Martin Luther and essentially followed his theology and thinking about Christianity. They emphasize the authority of the Bible along with the sacraments as a means of achieving salvation.


Mary *
The mother of Jesus. According to Christian belief, she became pregnant as a virgin (through the power of God) and gave birth to Jesus. According to the Church, she ascended bodily into heaven and resides there as a saint. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches consider her to be an especially effective intermediator with God.
A popular term for the service of Eucharist in the Catholic Church.
Mercy is the character of God the Father by which he tempers his divine Justice. It is made possible by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus which has brought salvation from sin to all humanity.
See Christ.
The belief that the world is coming to an end so that God can usher his divine Kingdom. Some versions of this belief include a scenario in which Jesus himself comes as a messiah a second time.
See Priest and Pastor.
See Monasticism.
Monophysite Churches
These churches broke away from the rest of Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon (451) declared their distinctive belief about Jesus' nature incorrect. Whereas the Council decided that Jesus was a combination of two natures (human and divine), the monophysites believe that he had only one nature, namely, a divine one. The Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian Church broke away and still hold monophysite beliefs.
Monasticism designates people who wish to live a holy life separate from the "world." Beginning in Egypt with hermits like St. Anthony who went out to live in the desert, monasticism has grown over the centuries to include networks of monstaries whose members live underdefined rule. The general impetus of monasticism is to live in poverty, chastity and obedience. The Orthodox Church has a fairly loose organization with monks living in individual monasteries, each with its own rule, or even by themselves. In Catholicism, Orders were developed, the first by St. Benedict in the early sixth century. These orders grew into networks of monasteries all living under the same rule and governed by a common hierarchy. Many of these orders dedicated themselves to specific activities, such as health care, study and scholarship, and so on. Monks live a life in the the days are filled with regular prayer and worship interspersed with work, usually in the Order's chosen emphasis. Membership in the orders is entirely voluntary.
Mormon Church
Officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon religion was founded by Joseph Smith in the1820's and 1830's near Palmyra, New York. In addition to the Christian Bible, Mormons believe in a third sacred text--the Book of Mormon--which tells of a tribe of ancient Israelites who settled in the Americas in 600 BCE and who were visited by Jesus. Centered in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mormon Church claims about ten million members (in 1999).
Moslem Empire *
After Mohammed's death in 632, the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs started a military campaign that over the next century conquered the countries along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Northern Africa, and southern Spain. Thus three of the original five Patriarchates--Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria--were lost to Moslem rule.


New Testament *
The 27 books of the New Testament make up the second part of the Christian Bible. It consists of the four gospels ("gospel" means "good news"), the Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of Paul, the letters of Hebrew, I-III John, Jude, James, I-II Peter, and Revelation. It took the Church a long time to agree on the canon of the New Testament. Bishop Athanasius officially settled the matter in the fourth century, but it was not until the seventh century that all branches of Christianity accepted his delineation.
Nicea, Council of *
The First Church Council was the Council of Nicea (or Nicaea) which was called by the Emperor Constantine in 325. It is mainly known for deciding the nature of Jesus. Its participants decisively ruled that Jesus was both human and divine, and that he was equivalent to (literally, "of the same substance as") God the Father. This had the result of making Arianism a heresy. The Nicene Creed encapsulated this theological doctrine (to read the Nicene Creed, click here).
Essentially a female monk. See Monasticism.


Old Testament *
The Old Testament, as it was canonized by the Councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 and 419, consisted of the Hebrew books of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings as well as the Greek books of Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiaticus, and I and II Maccabees. (To read more about the Hebrew Bible, click here.) The Protestant Churches after the Reformation rejected the Greek books--deeming them less holy than those written in Hebrew--and termed them Apocrypha. Thus the Protestant Old Testament is smaller than that of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Original Sin
The doctrine that Adam and Eve, the archetypal, first humans, disobeyed God and caused permanent estrangement between him and humanity. From that point on, human beings were born in sin (Original Sin) and, without intervention, would die in sin and go to hell. Jesus, the Second Adam, therefore had to come to earth to provide salvation as liberation from the curse of Original Sin.
Orthodox Churches, Eastern *
The Eastern Orthodox Church is one of two churches that were created by the east/west split of Christianity in 1054. (The other was the Catholic Church.) It includes the Orthodox Churches of Russia, Greece, Romania, and other "eastern" countries. The Orthodox Churches have similar beliefs to the Catholic Church: it is hierarchical (at least within each of the national churches), believes in the seven sacraments, holds to the decisions of the early Church Councils (such as Nicea) and the importance of the Church as a teaching authority, and emphasizes the importance of priests and liturgy. They also make extensive use of icons in personal devotion.


Palestine *
This is the territory at the southern end of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, between Syria in the north and Egypt in the south. This is the land where most of the events mentioned in the Old Testament took place and where Jesus carried out his ministry. Its religious center was Jerusalem in Judea. Jesus carried out his ministry in the northern part of Palestine called Galilee.
Particular Judgement
The Catholic belief that each individual will be judged at the time of their death. At this time, God will determine whether the person (1) is a saint and thus will enter immediately into heaven, (2) is in need of time in purgatory to purify themselves before the Last Judgement, or (3) is wicked and should thus go directly to hell. The Particular Judgement is separate from the Last Judgement (a.k.a. the General Judgement).
See Priest and Pastor.
Patriarchate *
Within the first 150 years, five cities were given the status of Patriarch: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople. The bishop of each city was given the title of Patriarch and was thus elevated above his fellow bishops. The Bishop of Rome very early became an important player in church debates (often mediating between Alexandria and Antioch) and began to argue that it was "more equal" than the others. By the time Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem fell to the Moslems, the Bishop of Rome had begun to be called Pope and the struggle between the Pope in Rome and the Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople had begun.
Patriarch, Orthodox 8
Originally, this was merely the Patriarch of Constantinople, the capital of Constantine's Holy Roman Empire. After the separation of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church, the Patriarch became Orthodoxy's titular leader.
Papal Infallibility
This is the Catholic doctrine that under certain conditions, the Pope may speak the infallible word of God. This happens only when he actually invokes the condition of infallibility, and then, only on matters of faith and morality. The idea of infallibility was created quite late in the history of the Church, namely, at the first Vatican Council in 1870.
Paul *
Paul was an early Christian missionary (40's-50's ce) who preached conversion to Christianity in cities across the eastern Mediterranean. He was born with the name Saul and persecuted members of the early church. Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute more when he had a vision of Jesus and was converted. He then spent the rest of his life as a missionary. He is credited for helping the early church expand beyond its Jewish origins to embrace people of all backgrounds. He is the author of about thirteen letters in the New Testament.
A Jewish religious movement in first-century Palestine that, according to the gospels, opposed Jesus and his teachings.
Pope *
Originally, the Pope was simply the Bishop of Rome. But since Peter the Apostle is traditionally considered the first Bishop of Rome, this office grew in power and importance until the Pope became the head of the Catholic Church. As such, he is considered to be the most direct contact between God and the Church. In the nineteenth century, the Pope received the power of Papal Infallibility.
This theology was created by John Darby in the first half of the 1800's. He believed that there were six stages ("dispensations") of human existence and that the present world was in the sixth and final stage. At the end of this stage, Satan would be overcome, Jesus would establish a 1000-year reign on the earth (the millennium), then the Day of Judgement would come, and the New Heaven and the New Earth would appear and last for eternity.
Priest and Pastor, Difference between
The concept of "priest" provides and important indication of the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches on the one hand and the Protestant Churches on the other. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the priest mediates between God and each individual. The priest is the expert in how to approach God and uses that expertise to negotiate between God's power and majesty and the individual's sinful nature. Protestantism rejects the need for a such mediator. It believes that each individual should work out their own salvation directly with God. That is why Protestant Churches give their leaders titles such as "pastor" or "minister."
Protestant Churches *
The Protestant churches had there origins in the Reformation in the sixteenth century, when many European Christians broke away from the Catholic Church--i.e., they "protested." Martin Luther is considered the founder of the Protestant movement, while John Calvin was influential as well. In the beginning, there were few different churches--much of Germany became Lutheran--later on the Protestant churches kept splitting and breaking off. Today there are thousands of different Protestant denominations across the world.

The reasons for the revolt against the church were a combination of theological and political rationales. The theological reasons provided the basis for much of early Protestant thought. They were against the authority of the Pope and of the tradition of the Catholic Church. They therefore (1) argued for a church organized along biblically based ideas and (2) put the Bible in the most authoritative position, thereby rejecting the tradition of the Church and its teaching authority. (3) They also believed in the "priesthood of all believers," which meant that each Christian could communicate directly with God and did not have to approach him through the intermediary of a priest or a saint.

Protestant Principle
The Protestant idea that God and God alone is to be worshipped. Nothing else should stand in the way of, in place of, or equal to God. The Church is not God, the pope is not God, beliefs and doctrine are not God, no pastor or minister is God, the Bible is not God, etc.
In Catholic theology, purgatory is a temporary place for people who have died with the expectation of salvation, but who have not worked out punishment due for some of their sins (i.e., most Christians). In purgatory, this punishment is undergone. Entrance into purgatory is determined by Particular Judgement. At the Judgement Day, they will be released an will enter into heaven. There are similar ideas in Orthodoxy, but they are not so well defined.



Reformation, Protestant *
The Protestant (as in "protest") Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses ("ideas") on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. Although meant as friendly criticism, these remarks lead to Luther's ouster from the Catholic Church, after which he gave his energy to founding a new church, now known as the Lutheran Church. Luther's writings provided the basis for all later protestant writings, including those of Calvinism, Baptism (actually Anabaptism), and others. Due to political forces, protestantism quickly gained adherents across Europe, with whole countries--or at least large segments of countries--turning protestant. Following the Reformation, the Protestant Churches developed into four main streams: Lutheranism, Calvinism (a.k.a. Reformed), Baptist, and Anglican.
Resurrection *
According to Christian belief, this is Jesus' act by which he conquered death and sin. After being crucified, Jesus lay dead over the Sabbath and the Passover holiday. He then became alive again (without any decomposition). This is known as the resurrection. It is this power, by which he overcame death, that also conquered the sin of humanity. Thus Jesus' resurrection provides salvation for all Christians.
Roman Catholic Church
See Catholic Church.
Rome *
The City of Rome was the sole capital of the Roman Empire until Constantine founded Constantinople in 330. Then it was known as the western capital. Christians made their way to Rome quite early, with a noticable community there by 50 ad. It is believed that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, and since Jesus said that he would "build his church" on the "rock" of Peter, the Bishop of Rome (later known as the Pope) claimed precedence over bishops of other cities. Rome was one of the three Patriarchates established by the Council of Nicea in 325. After being sacked by Vandals, Visigoths and other northern tribes starting in the fourth century, Rome essentially led an isolated branch of the church for several centuries. Even after reestablishing contact with the East, relations were never good with Constantinople. In 1054, the Pope excommunicated the Orthodox Patriarch, who returned the favor. This event established the separate Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.


Sacrament *
The notion of sacrament is particularly important to the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, the latter which sees itself as a "sacramental agent." This means that sacraments are administered under its authority and care. Sacraments often mirror important life passages and should be seen as the spiritual and sacred reflection of their social/human counterparts. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches fix the number of sacraments at seven: Baptism, the rite of conversion into the church, sometimes in infancy; Confirmation, the renewal of one's belief as an adult along with the reaffirmation of a person's membership in the church; marriage or Holy Matrimony; Holy Orders or Ordination, when someone enters a permanent office of the church (e.g., as a deacon, priest, or bishop); the Sacrament of the Sick, or extreme unction, when one nears the end of life; Confession, or Reconciliation, where a person confesses their sins; and Mass--also known as Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist or the Lord's Supper--which symbolizes the formal forgiveness of confessed sins. Protestant Churches have different positions on the sacraments, from adoption of all or some of them to the denial of the idea of sacrament altogether (even when they practice some of the rites themselves).
A Jewish group of first-century Palestine. Many priests and important people were members. They believed in the Hebrew Bible, but not in religious traditions outside it. The gospels sometimes present them as opponents of Jesus.
Saint *
Typically, the term saint refers to someone who has lived a life of exceptional Christian virtue, totally dedicated to God, and who has passed on into heaven. In heaven, a saint can be called upon to intercede for the living. In Orthodoxy saints are often venerated with the use of icons, while in Catholicism, their relics have been the focus of veneration and worship.
Salvation *
Briefly, salvation is the rescue of an individual from sin and its punishment (eternal damnation) by admission to eternal life in heaven. It is the atonement which Jesus effected through his death and resurrection, an atonement that frees one from the punishment for original sin and for the sins one has committed in life.
Satan *
Also known as the devil, Satan was once a Prince of Angels who rebelled against God along with the angels who followed him. They were caste into hell. This made hell the place for the punishment of the disobedient angels and humans. From hell, Satan also "rules" the earth, thereby tempting Christians to forsake God and to sin.
Second Coming
The idea that Christ will come a second time as the messiah. This time he will bring a Judgment Day, reward all the Christians, and punish evil doers. Different churches and denominations have different understandings how this will happen, some of which are quite elaborate and include cataclismic battles, superhuman warriors, and the intervention of God to end all evil. One of these elaborate theologies is called pre-millennialism.
Sin *
(1) Sins are actions, thoughts, and intentions that do not meet the moral and religious expectations God has for humanity. Sin results in separation from God. In Christian thought, sin comes from two sources: original sin, or a person's own actions, thoughts and intentions. These acts and thoughts are thought to arise from a person's pride and desires. A person may have different levels of culpability (or involvement) with a sin: they may have fully intended to do it, it may have accidentally happened, or some combination of the two. Sin should be distinguished from a "crime," which is a legal category.

(2) Sin can also be a state, as in "so-and-so is in a state of sin." If a person is in a state of sin, they have not attained salvation.

Soul, Spirit *
This is the part of human beings that gives them life. During life, it dwells within the body, but after death is freed from it. It is the soul that is eternal and receives the punishment of sin or the rewards of salvation. The substance of the soul is thus spirit--an eternal character--rather than physical--a natural, temporary character like that of the body.
Son *
The designation Jesus receives as part of the Holy Trinity. This is the part of God who became human, was killed, and then resurrected to provide humanity with salvation.


Teaching Authority
This is the Catholic that the Catholic Church is the sole, legitimate authority for teaching correct Christian doctrine. This prevents the possiblity of misinterpretation of the Bible and of Christian beliefs. The Protestant Churches, by contrast, believe that every individual (or more accurately that individual's church) has the right to decide correct interpretations. The problem is, of course, how does one prevent mistakes.
Temple *
The Temple of Judaism was built in Jerusalem by Solomon in the tent-century BCE and was finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 ce. It was the center of Judaism and its worship of God for as long as it stood. The early Christians viewed it as an important religious center, for they held meetings in its courtyards and continued to offer sacrifices there. Even Paul, the missionary to the non-Jews, offered voluntary sacrifices there.
Trinity *
The doctrine that the Christian God is three beings in one. These are the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The basic character of this doctrine was hammered out at the Council of Nicea in 325. It holds that God is One--he is not multiple--even though the three parts have done different things and function in different ways. The doctrine of the Trinity was developed as part of the condemnation of Arianism.




The Vatican is the headquarters of the Bishop of Rome--i.e., the Pope. It is on one of Rome's seven hills, Mons Vaticanus. The first building was erected in about 500 and the area has been remodeled and expanded many times since. Since the early part of this century (1871, 1929), the Vatican has been recognized as a separate country, even though its territory is only a few square miles; it is independent of all other countries including Italy.
Vatican II
More properly known as the Second Vatican Council, Vatican II was held from 1962-65 as an attempt to renew the Catholic Church. Pope Paul VI put most of its recommendations into effect.





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For more information, please email PFlesher@uwyo.edu.
Copyright 1996, 1997 Paul V. M. Flesher.

This glossary was written by Paul V. M. Flesher; it is not drawn from any published work. It is for use with the course RELI 1000, Introduction to Religion, taught at the University of Wyoming.