Glossary of Christianity


This glossary of Christianity provides definitions of terms related to Christianity, with links to full articles where available.

(Greek, "follower"). A lay person, usually a child or young adult, who assists ministers in worship services.
Abbreviation for Latin anno domini, "in the year of our Lord."
Doctrine that Jesus was fully human until God "adopted" him, or made him divine, at his baptism.
four Sundays before Christmas; Nov. 30 - Dec. 24
Alexandrian School
School of thought associated with Alexandria, Egypt. It was influenced by Platonic philosophy and tended to emphasize the divinity of Christ over his humanity and interpret scripture allegorically. Compare with the Antiochene School. Notable Alexandrians include Clement and Origen.
The belief that the 1,000-year period described in Revelation should not be taken as a literal 1,000-year period of time.
Symbol of firmness, tranquility and hope.
Predating the Council of Nicea (325 CE).
Antiochene school
(also Antiochene theology) Modern designation for the school of thought associated with the city of Antioch in Syria, as contrasted with the Alexandrian School. Antiochene theology was influenced by Aristotelian philosophy, emphasized the humanity of Christ, and interpreted scripture in light of its historical context. Its most famous teachers are Diodore of Tarsus, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus.
apostolic fathers
Group of Christian leaders and writers from the late first and early second centuries A.D. These authors were not apostles themselves, but had close proximity to the apostles, either by personal relationship or close connection with apostolic teaching. Examples include Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Pseudo-Barnabas, the Didache, the Second Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and The Apostle's Creed.
apostolic succession
Doctrine that the authority of ordained clergy (to perform valid sacraments and teach right doctrine) derives from an unbroken succession of valid ordinations beginning with the apostles.
In Catholicism and Anglicanism, a bishop who oversees the other bishops in the province. In the Episcopal Church, the archbishop is called the Presiding Bishop.
Belief, taught by Arius in the 4th century, that Christ was created by the Father, and although greater than man he is inferior to the Father. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote and campaigned against Arianism. It was delcared a heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325.
A halo that surrounds a sacred figure's whole body.
Christian denominational family characterized by rejection of infant baptism.
The priest and spiritual leader of a diocese.
canon law
In Catholicism, the body of law related to the organization, discipline, and belief of the church and enforced by church authority.
Cappadocian Fathers
Three theologians from the region of Cappadocia in modern-day Turkey: Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379), Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389) and Gregory of Nyssa (330-395) - whose development of Trinitarian doctrine remains highly influential in Orthodox Christianity.
Ankle-length garment worn by clergy.
(from Greek katecheo, "instruct"). A class or manual on the basics of Christian doctrine and practice, usually as a precursor to confirmation or baptism. Catechisms normally include lessons on the creeds, the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, as well as the Hail Mary in Roman Catholicism.
(Greek katharoi, "pure ones"). Also Cathars. Heretical sect especially influential in southern France and nothern Italy in the 13 and 14th centuries, and characterized by a dualistic worldview and strict asceticism.
Universal. A term used by the early Christians to designate the universal Christian faith. When the eastern church split from the western in 1054 AD, the West retained this term and became known as Roman Catholic. Churches in the East are known as Greek, Eastern or Russian Orthodox.
An ordained member of the clergy who is assigned to a special ministry, such as the armed forces, a university, or a hospital.
Outermost garment worn by bishops and priests in celebrating the Eucharist. In Eastern Orthdoxy, it is often also worn at solemn celebrations of the morning and evening offices and on other occasions. The Lutheran Church retained the chasuble for some time after the Reformation and the Scandinavian Churches still use it.
Christ Pantocrator
Christ as "Ruler of the Universe," a common image in Orthodox iconography.
Holy Trinity = God the Father + God the Son + God the Holy Spirit
(Old English Christes masse, "Christ's mass"). Holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25.
Area of theology dealing with the person of Christ. Treats such topics as the relation between Christ's human and divine natures, and the meaning of his sacrificial death (atonement). The vast majority of Christological doctrine was developed in the period leading up to the Council of Nicea in 325.
(Greek kuriakon, "belonging to the Lord"). The worldwide body of Christian believers, a particular denomination or congregation, or the building in which they meet. The study of the nature of the church is called ecclesiology.
One of the seven Catholic sacraments, and a practice in some Protestant churches, in which a baptized young adult (usually aged 13) confirms his or her continuing commitment to the Christian faith. Confirmation is usually preceded by a period of education called catechism.
A doctrine of the Eucharist associated especially with Martin Luther, according to which the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ coexist in the elements. Consubstantiation was formulated in opposition to the medieval Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.
Council of Nicea
Council of Christian bishops convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 in modern-day Iznik, Turkey. Condemned Arianism as a heresy and produced the Nicene Creed.
Council of Trent
The 19th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, which took place over the period 1545-63. A very important council in that it reformed numerous aspects of church practice (e.g., abolished the sale of indulgences) and clarified Catholic doctrine in response to the challenges by Reformers.
A symbol in which two or more lines cross at 90-degree angles.
("cross-bearer"). Acolyte who carries the cross in a church procession before the service. The crucifer is followed by the choir, the acolytes, the lay ministers, and then the clergy in order of rank (highest last).
(Lat. cruciata, "cross-marked") Wars fought against enemies of the Christian faith, primarily the Muslim Turks in the period 1095 to 1291, but later against other infidels and heretics.
cult of the saints
The body of religious beliefs and practices pertaining to the veneration of saints and their relics. Prayers are addressed to the saints in the hope that they will intercede with God on the behalf of believers. Saints are believed to have accumulated a "treasury of merit" which can be used for the benefit of believers.
Deus volt
(Latin "God wills it"). The battle cry of the Crusaders.
A geographical region headed by a bishop, which usually includes several congregations. In Eastern Orthodoxy, a diocese is called an eparchy.
(Greek "to seem"). The belief that Christ only appeared to have a human body. Associated with Gnosticism and based on the dualistic belief that matter is evil and only spirit is good.
Fourth century North African Christian faction, named for Bishop Donatus.
(Greek doxa, "glory"). A short hymn glorifying God.
Dynamic Monarchianism
Form of Monarchianism that teaches Jesus was a man who was adopted as the Son of God, or given the "power" (Gk. dynamos) of God, at his baptism or after his resurrection. Essentially synonymous with Adoptionism.
Spring festival celebrating the resurrection of Christ
(Hebrew ebionim, "poor men"). An ascetic sect of Jewish Christians that taught Jesus was only a human prophet who had received the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Rejected Paul, and held that the law of Moses must be obeyed by Christians.
(Greek ekklesia, "church"). Branch of theology dealing with the doctrine of the church.
ecumenical council
A council of the Christian church at which representatives from several regions are present. To be distinguished from a "synod," which is a meeting of the local church.
Edict of Nantes
Edict signed by Henry IV at Nantes on April 13, 1598, after the end of the French wars of religion. It granted extensive rights to the Huguenots (French Calvinists). The edict was revoked by Louis XIV in the Edict of Fontainebleau on October 18, 1685.
A sacrament recognized by all branches of Christianity. Commemorates the Last Supper of Christ with the sharing of bread and wine.
A tradition within Protestant Christianity emphasizing active evangelism, personal conversion and faith experiences, and Scripture as the sole basis for theology and practice.
ex cathedra
(Latin "from the throne.") Authoritative statements made by the Pope in Roman Catholicism, which are believed to be infallible.
Five Wounds
The five wounds of Christ suffered during the Passion: the piercing of his two hands, two feet and side. Devotion to the Five Wounds developed in the Middle Ages.
Monastic order founded by Francis of Assisi in 1210 CE.
Mormon concept of God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as three individual beings who are united in purpose.
Good Friday
last Friday before Easter
The undeserved gift of divine favor in the justification and then sanctification of sinners. The Greek term charis, usually translated in English as "grace," is about 150 times in the New Testament, mostly in the Pauline epistles.
Name given to the Franciscans in England because of their gray robes.
Great Schism
The division between Eastern and Western Christendom, which occurred in 1054 AD.
In Christian art and symbolism, a circle or disc of light around the head. It was used in the Hellenistic period for gods and demi-gods and later for Roman emperors, and was not adopted by Christians until the 3rd or 4th centuries. In modern Catholicism, a halo is permitted only for saints.
holy water
In Christianity, water that has been blessed by a priest or bishop
(Greek, "one substance" or "one in being"). The Christological doctrine introduced by Athanasius and accepted as orthodox at the Council of Nicea in 325. The doctrine arose in the context of the heresy of Arius, who contented that Christ was created by the Father and was thus not fully divine.
Immaculate Conception
Roman Catholic doctrine that the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.
impassibility of God
Philosophical idea, influenced by Platonism, that God cannot suffer.
(Latin, "let it be printed"). Official authorization to print a book or other work, usually granted by a bishop for Catholic publications.
Ascension of Jesus
The event described in the biblical books of Luke and Acts, in which Jesus is taken up physically into the sky after his Resurrection.
Pertaining to the apostle John.
Wycliffe, John
(c.1328-84) English philosopher, theologian and reformer. He is known for his English translation of the Bible and has been called the "Morning Star of the Reformation."
(Greek, "preaching".) Term coined by Rudolf Bultmann to indicate the essential message (or gospel) of the New Testament church.
One of the largest Protestant Christian denominations, based on the teachings of Martin Luther in the 1500s.
(Greek mitra, "turban"). Liturgical headdress of a bishop. In the Eastern Church it resembles a crown similar in form to that worn by Byzantine Emperors. In the Western Church it is shield-shaped and made of embroidered satin, which is often jewelled. Two fringed pieces hang down in the back.
Belief system in which God consists of a single person who reveals himself in different modes. Thus the Son is divine, but the same person the Father. Declared heretical in the early church. Closely related to patripassianism and Sabellianism.
General term for early Christian heretical beliefs that focused on safeguarding the oneness of God by denying the Trinity. In dynamic monarchianism, Jesus was a man who was given the power of God. In modalist monarchianism, Jesus was the Father incarnate.
The practice of bestowing an office or patronage on one's relatives. It was especially rampant among 16th-century popes, and was condemned by Pope Pius V in the bull "Admonet Nos" (1567).
The doctrine, named for Nestorius (d. c. 451), Patriarch of Constantinople, that there were two separate persons in the incarnate Christ, one divine and the other human. Nestorius preached against Apollinarianism and objected to the term Theotokos ("God-Bearer") as a title for the Virgin Mary, and was opposed by St. Cyril of Alexandria.
Passion of Christ
(Latin passio, "suffering"). The crucifixion of Jesus and the events leading up to it.
In Christianity, the plate that holds the consecrated bread during communion.
(Gk. "father ruler") Generally, an early biblical figure such as Abraham or one of the "church fathers" of the early Christian church. Specifically, the spiritual leader of a major city in Eastern Orthodoxy. The Patriarch of Constantinople is the Eastern counterpart of the Catholic pope.
The view, associated with Praxeas, Noetus and Sabbellius and declared a heresy, that God the Father can suffer. Patripassianism is a logical consequence of modalist monarchianism, in which the Son is the same person as the Father.
(Lat. pater, "father") Branch of Christian history and theology concerned with the church "fathers" (patres). The "Patristic period" generally refers to the period from the later first century to the mid-fifth century CE.
Belief system that rejects original sin and asserts the ability of humans to choose good over evil with only external assistance from God. Pelagianism was attacked by St. Augustine and declared a heresy in the early church.
(Latin papa, "father") The bishop of Rome, who became the recognized leader of the entire Western church by medieval times.
praying the rosary
Catholic devotional practice in which 15 sets of 10 Hail Marys are recited, each set preceded by a Lord's Prayer and followed by a Gloria Patri. A string of beads is used to count the prayers. The number of sets represents the 15 "mysteries" (five joyful, five sorrowful, five glorious), which are events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.
A branch of Christianity dating from the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, characterized by rejection of the Pope, emphasis on Scripture, and the necessity of faith for salvation.
A temporary state of suffering and purification for believers who die in a state of sin.
The hypothetical text that many biblical scholars believe was used as a source by the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It consists of all passages Matthew and Luke have in common that are not found in Mark.
(from Latin, "fifty"). The Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The word gets its name from its previous usage, which was for the 50-day period between that Sunday and Easter.
Quinque Viae
(Latin, "five ways") The five arguments by which St. Thomas Aquinas sought to prove the existence of God.
Real Presence
In Catholic and some Protestant churches, the physical and spiritual presence of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Modalist belief system attributed to Sabellius, in which God consists of a single person who reveals himself in different modes. Thus the Son is divine and the same as the Father. Essentially synonymous with patripassianism and modalist monarchianism.
A solemn Christian ritual believed to be a means of grace, a sign of faith, or obedience to Christ's commands. The Anglican catechism defines a sacrament as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace...ordained by Christ himself." In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist (communion), penance, extreme unction, ordination and marriage. In Protestant churches, only baptism and the eucharist are regarded as sacraments.
(from Latin scholastici, "schoolmen"). "The medieval movement, flourishing in the period 1200-1500, which placed emphasis upon the rational justification of religious belief and the systematic presentation of those beliefs." (McGrath, 34)
(from Latin, "seat"). City in which a bishop's cathedral is located.
sola fide
(Latin, "faith alone"). Martin Luther's doctrine that faith is all that is necessary for salvation. It remains a core doctrine for many Protestants today.
sola scriptura
(Latin, "scripture alone"). Martin Luther's doctrine that Scripture is the only authority for Christians (i.e., church tradition and papal doctrine are unnecessary and inferior to direct reading of the Scripture).
Branch of Christian theology dealing with salvation.
stations of the cross
Series of 14 events in the Passion of Christ, beginning with his condemnation and ending with his body being laid in the tomb. The stations are a popular subject of public and private devotion in Catholicism, especially during Lent.
A person who exhibits the stigmata (miraculous wounds of Christ).
Heretical belief in which the Son is lesser than the Father in divinity, rank or honor.
(Greek, "God-bearer"). Title of the Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, used from the time of Origen (early 3rd century) onwards as an affirmation of Christ's divinity.
13 Articles of Faith
A list provided by Joseph Smith when he was asked about the basic beliefs of the Church.
Container in which incense is burned.
Event described in Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8, and Luke 9:28-36, in which Peter, James and John saw Jesus transformed into a glowing heavenly figure and talking with Elijah and Moses.
The doctrine that the bread and wine of the Eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Christ, although it continues to have the appearance of bread and wine. Transubstantiation was rejected in different degrees by the Reformers, but remains an important part of Catholic belief today.
treasury of merit
Doctrine in which certain saints performed more good works than was necessary to save them, and that this surplus can be applied to other believers in order to shorten purgatory. This was the logical basis for the sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages.
The Christian conception of the one God as three persons: the God the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
(Greek apocatastasis; from apokath'istemi, "to restore"). Doctrine that every creature, including the devil, will be reconciled with God in the end. Therefore hell either does not exist or is temporary. Most notably taught by Origen of Alexandria in ancient Christianity and Universalist denominations of modern Christianity.
The board of directors of a church. The vestry elects the rector and oversees the church's secular affairs.
Vicar of Christ
Title for the Pope since the 8th century, which replaced the older title "Vicar of St. Peter." It expresses the Pope's claim to be the appointed representative of Christ on earth, based in part on Jesus' command to Peter to "feed my sheep" in John 21:15.
Virgin Birth
The belief that Jesus Christ had no human father, but was miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is based on Matthew 1 and Luke 1 in the New Testament and is implied in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.
World Council of Churches
The "fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior" that was formally founded in Amsterdam on August 23, 1948.
Abbreviation for Christmas, replacing "Christ" with the first letter in the Greek for Christ, chi (χ).
The Young Men's Christian Association, founded in London in 1844 by George Williams out of his prayer and Bible-reading meetings. Its goals are to develop young people in mind, body and spirit and foster a world-wide fellowship based on mutual tolerance and respect. Non-Christians are admitted to membership, but in some local associations they have less say in policymaking than Christian members. The YMCA is active in over 100 countries.

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