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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
(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
- The Christian activity of winning converts to
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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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| H | I | J | K | L
| M | N | O | P | Q
| R | S | T | U | V
| W | X | Y | Z
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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