Glossary of Christianity (1): A-B-C

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(Greek, "follower"). A lay person, usually a child or young adult, who assist ministers in worship services.


Generally, the teaching that Jesus was only a human who was "adopted" by God as his Son. Specifically, the heresy that arose in 8th-century Spain under Elipandus, Archbishop of Toledo, and Felix, Bishop of Urgel. Both men taught that Christ was the divine Son of God, but the human Jesus (the "son of David") was only the adopted Son of God. Felix was condemned by Pope Leo III in 798. Felix recanted, but Elipandus remained firm until his death shortly afterwards. The heresy died with Elipandus until is was revived in a modified form in the 12th century.

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.

Alexandrian rite

System of liturgical practices found in the Egyptian and Ethiopian Christian churches. It is historically associated with St. Mark the Evangelist, who is believed to have traveled to Alexandria.

Amish (also Amish Mennonites)

Conservative group in the USA and Canada arising from a division within the Swiss Brethren in Alsace under the leadership of Jakob Ammann (c.1656-1730). Further divisions occured after the Amish migrated to North America, but most are members of the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church. Amish are similar to other Mennonites in doctrine and practice, but the former worship in private homes instead of a church, wear "plain" dress and retain the use of German in their services. There were about 35,000 baptized members in 1984.


(Greek, "suspended"). Condemned; cut off from the church. The word is used in Galatians 1:8 and I Corinthians 16:22 to denote separation from the Christian community, and it was often used in the conclusion of creeds to condemn those who held incorrect beliefs; e.g., "If anyone should say that ... let him be anathema." The earliest recorded instance of formally anathemizing was at the Council of Elvira, c. 306 AD. Anathema is generally considered more serious than excommunication, which excludes a person from sacraments and worship but not the Christian community.


Predating the Council of Nicea (325 AD).

antiminsion (also antimension)

In Eastern Orthodoxy, the portable altar that consists of a silk or linen cloth decorated with scenes from the Passion and containing relics. Its use began around the beginning of the 9th century.

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.


(Greek apokath'istemi, "to restore"). Doctrine that every creature, including the devil, will be reconciled with God in the end. Most notably taught by Origen of Alexandria. Also known as universalism.


(Lit. Greek "out of the writings"). Books not included in the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, but included in the Greek Septuagint. Catholic and Orthodox Christans include the Apocrypha in the canon of scripture; Protestant Christians do not. Apocryphal books are Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Drago, The Prayer of Manasseh, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and additions to Esther.


(Latin apologia, "defense"). Branch of Christian scholarship focused on defending the faith against its critics and demonstrating its reasonableness. Examples of apologetic works include Justin Martyr's Apology, Augustine's City of God, Calvin's Institutes, and, in modern times, C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


(Latin apologia, "defense"). Early church fathers writing from about 120 to 220 AD who sought to defend Christianity against its critics, usually by explaining misunderstood Christian practice and showing the harmony of Christianity with Greek philosophy. Among this group are Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian and Tertullian.


(Greek apostolos, "one sent out"). Missionaries sent out by Jesus, including the disciples and Paul.

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.


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.


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. (See Who's Who in Anglicanism.)


The rite of admission to membership in Christian churches that involves immersing, sprinkling or anointing with water. Regarded as a sacrament by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians. Most denominations practice infant baptism; some only baptize adult believers.


One of the largest Protestant denominations, with 40 million members (and many more non-member adherents) worldwide and 26.7 million in the United States. The Baptist tradition has its roots in the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation and English Puritan John Smyth (1554-1612). Its most notable distinction is its rejection of infant baptism. Today, most Baptists in American belong either to the Southern Baptist Convention or the American Baptist Convention. See Comparison Charts of Christian Denominations for more information.


The priest and spiritual leader of a diocese.


Book containing the Divine Office (liturgy) of the Roman Catholic Church.


Blessed Virgin Mary.


(Greek kanon, "rule" or "reference point"). A fixed group of writings considered inspired and authoritative. The New Testament canon consists of 37 books. Roman Catholics also consider the books of the Apocrypha to be canonical.


Belonging to the accepted body of scriptures. For example, the Gospel of John is canonical but the Gospel of Thomas is not.


Process of determining the New Testament canon and declaring a person to be a saint.


To officially declare a deceased Christian to be a "saint." In the Catholic church, saints are canonized by the pope (since the 13th cent.) and must have performed at least two miracles. In the Orthodox church, saints are canonized by synods of regional bishops. Protestants do not canonize.


(Greek kanon, "rule" or "reference point"). (1) The body of scriptures accepted as authoritative. (2) A priest who serves on the staff of a catehdral.

canon law

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.


(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 katachesis, "instruction). One who is being instructed in the basics of Christian doctrine, usually in preparation for confirmation or baptism.

Cathari (or Cathars)

(Greek katharoi, "pure ones"). Heretical sect influential in southern France and nothern Italy in the 13 and 14th centuries. It was 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.


Priest or minister who presides over a service including the Eucharist. Compare with "officiant."


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.


(Greek christos, "messiah" or "anointed one"). Title applied to Jesus identifying him as the figure predicted by the Hebrew prophets.


(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. For an overview of this doctrine, see Beliefs: Christ.


(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 ecclesiology.

class meeting

A meeting of a small part of a Methodist congregation, usually held weekly, in which collections are taken and inquiries are made into the conduct and spiritual progress of the group's members. The class leader is appointed by the minister of the congregation. The institution dates from 1742.


1. A profession of faith (e.g. by the martyrs) or statement of doctrine (e.g. Augsburg Confession). 2. Admission of sin, either directly to God in prayer, generally to the congregation, or privately to a priest.


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.

Coptic Catholic Church

Catholic church in Egypt, in communion with the Roman Catholic Church since 1741.

Coptic Orthodox Church

The principal Christian church in Egypt.

Coptic language

Language spoken in Egypt from about the second century AD until the middle ages. Regarded as the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language, it replaced hieroglypics with the Greek alphabet and included religious terms borrowed from Greek.

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.


("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.


In Anglicanism, assistant pastor whose duties commonly include visiting the sick and shut-ins.

(to be continued)