Words & Definitions

Glossary of Words


Warning: Some entries may not be suitable for the humor-impaired. Viewer discretion is advised.


The superior of certain communities of nuns following the Benedictine rule, though the title is extended to the superiors of orders of cononesses and (esp.) to those of the Second Franciscan Order. The earliest known use dates from 514. Except in the Franciscan Order, the office is held for life. [1]
The practice of abortion has been consistently condemned by Christian moralists, though Christian opinion is divided on the legitimacy of abortion for therapeutic reasons. In English law it was permitted only when considered necessary to save the mother's life until the 1967 Abortion Act allowed wider grounds for terminating a pregnancy. Catholic moral theologians commonly hold that any abortion as an end in itself is unlawful and the 1967 Act largely exempts conscientious objectors from the need to participate in the treatment authorized. [1]
The formal act of a priest or bishop pronouncing the forgiveness of sins by Christ to those who are qualified by penitence to receive it. The traditional Catholic doctrine is that this forgiveness is normally imparted on earth by means of the ordained ministry, though this belief is commonly denied among Protestants. The indicative from of absolution ('I absolve you') is used in the W. for individuals; the precatory form, in which the priest formally prays that God will absolve an individual or congregation, is used for absolutions in the course of the liturgy and in the E. also for individuals. [1]
Assumption of the BVM, the
The belief that the BVM, 'having completed her earthly life, was in body and soul assumed into heavenly glory'. The belief was unknown in the early Church; it first appears in certain NT apocrypha dating from the 4th cent. The doctrine was formulated in orthodox circles in the West by Gregory of Tours (d. 594); it seems to have been widely known by the end of the 7th cent. and it was defended by various of the Schoolmen. In 1950 Pius XII defined the doctrine. In the E. Church belief in the corporal assumption is general, though in less precise terms than those of the RC definition. [1]


Speech, thought, or action manifesting contempt of God. It may be directed either immediately against God or mediately against the Church or the saints, and it is by its nature a mortal sin. It was previously also a legal offence but is so in Britain now only if calculated to offend believers or cause a breach of the peace. [1]
A written mandate of the Pope of a more serious and weighty kind than a 'brief'. [1]


The Greek word originally meant a rod or bar; it came to be used of the rules of an art or trade or to signify a list or catalogue. In Christian language it denotes the list of books regarded as Scripture (Canon of Scripture); the central part of the Mass (Canon of the Mass); and the rules concerning the life and discipline of the Church (Canon Law). [1]
celibacy of the clergy
In the E. Church the legal position has always been that priests and deacons may marry before ordination but not after, and that bishops must be celibate. In the W. Church a legal position was gradually reached by which all the higher clergy were required to be celibate. The earliest canonical statement is can. 33 of the Council of Elvira (c. 306); throughout the Middle Ages there were repeated enactments to enforce celibacy on those in Holy Orders. This position is retained in the RC Church, though since the Second Vatican Council some older married men have been made deacons. In the C of E the obligation to celibacy of the clergy was abolished in 1549. [1]
An enclosed space which normally forms the central part of a monastery or other religious building. Ther term is also used in general for a religious house and for the religious life. [1]
see Humanae Vitae
In ecclesiastical usage either the building in which a body of religious live together, or the religious community itself. Historically the term has been applied to the domicile of religious of either sex, but it now tends to be restricted to houses of nuns. [1]
The staff carried by bishops and sometimes also by abbots and abbesses. The form resembling a sheperd's crook, familiar in the W., is due to late symbolism. [1]


In the early Church a woman officially charged with certain functions. The deaconess devoted herself to the care of the sick and poor of her sex and assisted in the baptism of women when, for reasons of propriety, many of the ceremonies could not be performed by a deacon. When adult baptisms became rare the office declined in importance. Two 6th-cent. councils abrogated it, but in some places deaconesses survived until the 11th cent.
In the 19th cent, the office was revived in a modified form. The first Protestant community of deaconesses was that established at Kaiserswerth in 1836. The first deaconess in the C of E was dedicated to her work in 1861. Methodists and the Church of Scotland followed in 1888. [1]
minister, deacon
Opinion presented as truth in alphabetical order.
The social stability that has settled over the West in the last half-century tempts those who define language to confuse their powers of analysis with a power to declare truth. In the disguise of description they offer prescription. This is done in a dissected, dispassionate manner as if simply reporting on use.
Serious dictionaries give a selection of the successive true meanings of each word over the centuries. Some seem to forget definitions which they themselves have provided in earlier editions. Others give a fairly thorough selection of historic examples, but their choices contain attitudes.
Is it true, as almost every twentieth-century dictionary asserts, that truth is "consistent with" or "conformity to" or "in accordance with fact or'reality'1?4 Or is this an ideological position? If it is true, then how are we to explain the ability of facts to produce several truths on the same subject and the inability of some or all of these truths to conform with reality as people see it? What then is the relationship between facts and truth or facts and reality?
Dictionaries legitimize the process which has already half persuaded citizens that language does not belong to them because it does not reflect what they see or think. Languages which do not provide the forms of meaning needed by the populace are on the road to becoming anthropological remains.
This is not a deconstructionist exercise. There is no linguistic conspiracy. Nor is language always a reflection of special interests. Nor must it be an embodiment of whatever ideology is temporarily on top. To the contrary. There are great volcanoes of linguistic energy in any society which has not become moribund. They are constantly exploding--often through oral language--in order to shatter or readjust the established order of received wisdom. If a language isn't dead it must be an argument.
Earlier dictionaries were passionate arguments about truth. Chambers, Diderot, johnson and Voltaire weren't certain they were right. But they were certain that the church scholastics who had preceded them were wrong. As the twentieth century moves towards its end, there are fewer and fewer people who believe that facts add up to truth. This means that there are fewer and fewer people who simply accept received wisdom. In that sense, our era increasingly resembles the eighteenth century. It is therefore quite natural that dictionaries should again become arenas of debate. [2]
n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work. [3]
In the early Church, those who married again after the death of their first spouse were regarded with disfavour. The Council of Nicaea (325) insisted that they should not be excluded from Christian fellowship. The E. Church has always been more sever in the matter than the W., and even now the nuptial blessing is not given in the same form as for a first marriage. [1]
The word is used both of a dissolution of the marriage bond and of legal separation. Since W. canon law insists on the indissolubility of marriage, divorce in the first sense is not permitted in the RC Church and is contrary to the canons and formularies of the C of E. Popes have, however, claimed to dissolve unconsummated marriages. In the second sense W. canon law permits divorce for grave causes, esp. adultery. In the E. Church divorce is allowed on a number of grounds. [1]
double monastery
A religious house for both men and women. The two sexes lived in separate but contiguous establishments, worshipped in distinct parts of a common church, and were united by a common superior. Such monasteries are first found in the E. in the last years of the Roman Empire. In the W. they were numerous in the Dark Ages but mostly disappeared in the 9th and 10th cents. [1]
n.... Druids performed their religious rites in groves, and knew nothing of church mortgages and the season-ticket system of pew rents. They were, in short, heathens and--as they were once complacently catalogued by a distinguished prelate of the Church of England--Dissenters. [3]


n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding. [3]
overseer, bishop
A matter of daily practical concern described glowingly in universal terms by those who intend to ignore them. [2]
n. A sacred feast of the religious sect of Theophagi.
A dispute once unhappily arose among the members of this sect as to what it was that they ate. In this controversy some five hundred thousand have already been slain, and the question is still unsettled. [3]
The first woman, the wife of Adam. In the Genesis story, she is tempted to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge; she and Adam disobey, 'fall', and are driven out from Eden; and Eve is punished with the pain of childbirth. [1]
The act of explaining a text, in theology usually a sacred text. The purpose may be either to describe the author's meaning or to apply that meaning to a contemporary situation. [1]
v.t. In religious affairs, to put the conscience of another upon the spit and roast it to a nut-brown discomfort. [3]


The term is used in two distinct senses.
  1. The body of truth ('the Christian faith') to be found in the Creeds, the definitions of Councils, &c., and esp. in the Bible. This complex of doctrine is held to embody or to follow from the teaching of Christ and to be wilfully rejected by man only at the peril of his salvation.
  2. To this objective faith is opposed 'subjective' faith. This is the human response to Divine truth. Faith in this sense is a supernatural, not a natural, act, and is dependent on God's action on the soul. It demands an act of the will and is thus more than intellectual, This voluntarislic moment in the act of faith accounts for the moral quality which it is held to possess and the conviction that wilful unbelief, as a misdirection of the will, merits the censure of God. As a supernatural act, faith is a higher faculty than reason. In the Middle Ages a distinction was drawn between those truths accessible to the human intellect by the light of natural reason, e.g. the existence of God, and those which could be appropriated only by faith, e.g. belief in the Trinity. At the Reformation the part of faith in the Christian religion received a new emphasis. M. Luther's teaching on justification by 'faith alone' stressed the voluntaristic side of faith, in so far as faith was allowed to be a human act at all. The chief moment in it was trust, a supremely personal trust in the atoning work of Christ. [1]
n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel. [3]
Fall, The
The first act of disobedience of Adam and Eve whereby man lost his primal innocence. Ace. to Gen. 2 f., Eve, tempted by a serpent, ate the forbidden fruit of the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' and induced Adam to do likewise. The punishment was expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the imposition of toilsome work on Adam and the pains of childbirth on Eve, and the decree of perpetual enmity between the serpent and man. The Biblical narrative teaches that sin arose by human choice and that all human life has thereby been radically changed for the worse, so that its actual state is different from that prepared for it by the Creator. There has been much debate about the ultimate origin of the evil manifested in Adam and Eve's sin and about the nature and extent of the consequences for mankind.
Until modern times the common Christian belief regarded the Fall of Adam and Eve as a historical event. The serpent was identified with the Devil, a spiritual being who must have been created good and himself previously fallen, and hence the original Fall was inferred to be that of Satan rather than of Adam and Eve. Since all subsequent humanity was believed to have descended from Adam and Eve, the consequences of the Fall were held to affect all mankind by inheritance. Though in modern times the concept of the Fall has often been held to be inconsistent with the facts of man's development known to science, orthodox theologians still see in the story of Gen. 2 f. a fundamental truth about man in his relation to God, even if the truth is now held to be there conveyed in legendary form. See also Original Sin. [1]
Fathers of the Church
From the late 4th cent. the title has been used of a more or less clearly defined group of ecclesiastical writers of the past whose authority carried special weight; they were held to be characterized by orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of life, the approval of the Church, and antiquity. The patristic period is commonly regarded as closing with St. Isidore of Seville in the W. and St. John of Damascus in the East. [1]
Bands of men who scourged themselves in public processions, often to the accompaniment of psalms, in penance for the sins of the world. Such organized exhibitions of penance date from the 13th cent. They began in Italy and in the 14th cent. appeared all over Europe. [1]
formal sin
A sinful act which is both wrong in itself and known by the person committing it to be wrong. [1]
A movement in various Protestant bodies. Apparently in reaction against the evolutionary theories and Biblical criticism of the 19th cent., series of Biblical Conferences of Conservative Protestants were held in various parts of America; that of Niagara in 1895 issued a statement containing what came to be known as the 'five points of fundamentalism', viz. the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, a substitutionary theory of the Atonement, and the physical resurrection and bodily return of Christ. In the first half of the 20th cent. nearly all Protestant Churches in the U.S.A. were divided into Fundamentalist and Modernist groups. In a wider sense the term is applied to all profession of strict adherence to (esp. Protestant) orthodoxy in the matter of Biblical inspiration. [1]


A complex religious movement which in its Christian form came into prominence in the 2nd cent. With its origins in trends of thought current in pagan circles, Christian Gnosticism appeared first as a school of thought within the Church; by the end of the 2nd cent. the Gnostics had mostly formed separate sects. Different forms were developed by particular teachers, such as Valentinus, Basilides, and Marcion, but some features are common to the movement as a whole. A central importance was attached to 'gnosis', the supposedly revealed knowledge of God and of the origin and destiny of mankind, by means of which the spiritual element in man could receive redemption. The source of this special 'gnosis' was held to be either the Apostles, from whom it was derived by a secret tradition, or a direct revelation given to the founder of the sect. Gnostic teaching distinguished between the Demiurge or 'creator god' and the supreme, remote, and unknowable Divine Being. From the latter the Demiurge was derived by a series of emanations or 'aeons'. It was he who was the immediate source of creation and ruled the world, which was therefore imperfect and antagonistic to what was truly spiritual. But into the constitution of some men there had entered a seed or spark of Divine spiritual substance, and through 'gnosis' and the rites associated with it this spiritual element might be rescued from its evil material environment. The function of Christ was to come as the emissary of the supreme God, bringing 'gnosis'. As a Divine Being He neither assumed a properly human body nor died, but either temporarily inhabited a human being, Jesus, or assumed a phantasmal human appearance.
Until recently the anti-Gnostic writers were the main source of information. In 1945-6 a collection of Coptic texts was found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. It comprised over 40 treatises, all but two previously unknown. They vary widely in date and style; some are thought to date from the 2nd cent. or earlier, though the actual copies are not earlier than the 4th cent. Most of the items are superficially Christian and display Gnostic tendencies in varying degree. They include the so-called 'Gospel of Truth' and the 'Gospel of Thomas'. [1]
Grey Nuns
A name given to Sisters of Charity in various countries. The best known are those founded by Madame d'Youville at Montreal in 1737 as a small community of ladies who devoted themselves to the care of the sick. [1]


The distinctive outward sign of the religious life. A habit is worn by members of the old orders (monks, friars, and nuns); it normally consists of a tunic, belt or girdle, scapular, hood for men and veil for women, and a mantle. In recent years drastic changes have been made in some orders. [1]
The writing of the lives of the saints. It involves a study and comparison of the sources, the assessment of their historical importance, and relating them to contemporary secular history. [1]
Hail Mary
A form of prayer to the BVM, based on the greetings of Gabriel and Elizabeth. [1]
The formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the Catholic faith. From early days the Church claimed teaching authority and consequently condemned heresy. The need to rebut heresy has sometimes stimulated the formulation of orthodox Christian doctrine. [1]
The science of the methods of exegesis. Whereas exegesis is usually the act of explaining a text, hermeneutics is the science or art by which exegetical procedures are devised. In theology hermeneutical theory arises out of awareness of the ambiguity of a sacred text and the consequent analysis of the art of understanding. In some modern theological usage 'hermeneutics', as a preliminary to exegesis, is distinguished from 'hermeneutic', the wider study of how Biblical faith may be conveyed in the language of fundamentally different civilizations. [1]
n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools. [3]
Holy Spirit
In Christian theology, the Third Person of the Trinity, distinct from, but consubstantial, coequal, and coeternal with, the Father and the Son, and in the fullest sense God. [1]
Holy Trinity, Christian
A pre-alchemist alchemist concept developed by early Christian administrators to soften the hard-edged simplicity of straight monotheism.
The three-in-one/one-in-three mystery of Father, Son and Holy Ghost made tritheism official. The subsequent almost-deification of the Virgin Mary made it quatrotheism. Twelve Disciples as semi-deities then made it sextusdecitheism. Finally, cart-loads of saints raised to quarter-deification turned Christianity into plain, old-fashioned polytheism. By the time of the Crusades, it was the most polytheistic religion ever to have existed, with the possible exception of Hinduism. This untenable contradiction between the assertion of monotheism and the reality of polytheism was dealt with by accusing other religions of the Christian fault. The Church--Catholic and later Protestant--turned aggressively on the two most clearly monotheistic religions in view--judaism and Islam--and persecuted them as heathen or pagan.
The external history of Christianity consists largely of accusations that other religions rely on the worship of more than one god and therefore not the true God. These pagans must therefore be converted, conquered and/or killed for their own good in order that they may benefit from the singularity of the Holy Trinity, plus appendages. [2]
Humanae Vitae


imago Dei
(Lat., the 'image of God'), in which man was created. According to Catholic theologians this image was obscured, but not lost, in the Fall; it is contrasted with the similitudo Dei ('likeness to God'), which was destroyed by original sin but is restored by Baptism. In what the imago consists is disputed. Protestant theologians have emphasized the vitiating effect of the Fall on the imago Dei, and sometimes held man to be utterly corrupt. [1]
image of God
see imago Dei.
immaculate conception of the BVM
The dogma that 'from the first moment of her conception the Blessed Virgin Mary was ... kept free from all stain of original sin' was defined by Pius IX in 1854. The doctrine was a matter of dispute throughout the Middle Ages, but was generally accepted by RCs from the 16th cent. [1]
The remission by the Church of the temporal penalty due to forgiven sin, in virtue of the merits of Christ and the saints. The practice of granting indulgences presupposes that sin must have a penalty either on earth or in purgatory, even after the sinner has been reconciled to God by penance and absolution; the the merits of Christ and the saints are available to the Church in virture of the Communion of Saints; and that the Church has the right to administer the benefit of these merits. [1]




see similitudo Dei.
(Gk., 'Word' or 'Reason'), used in Christian theology with reference to the Second Person of the Trinity. The term was known both in pagan and Jewish antiquity. In the OT God's word was not only the medium of His communication with men; what God said had creative power, and by the time of the Prophets the Word of the Lord was regarded as having an almost independent existence. [1]


(Ital., 'My Lady'). A designation of the BVM, used esp. with reference to statues and pictures of her. [1]
n. An inhabitant of Magdala. Popularly, a woman found out. This definition of the word has the authority of ignorance, Mary of Magdala being another person than the penitent woman mentioned by St. Luke. It has also the official sanction of the governments of Great Britain and the United States. In England the word is pronounced Maudlin, whence maudlin, adjective, unpleasantly sentimental. With their Maudlin for Magdalen, and their Bedlam for Bethlehem, the English may justly boast themselves the greatest of revisers. [3]
In reference to St. Mary Magdalene, the word has often been applied to reformed prostitutes. In the Middle Ages it was widely adopted as a title by religious communities consisting of penitent women to whom others of blameless life attached themselves. [1]
Manes (or Mani) and Manichaeism.
There are contradictions among the sources, but it appears that Manes (c. 216-76) was born near Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, and began teaching in 240. Opposition from the Zoroastrians drove him into exile in India. He returned in 242, was at first supported and then attacked by Sapor I, and was finally put to death by being flayed alive.
Manes' system was a radical offshoot of the Gnostic traditions of Persia. It was based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It taught that the object of the practice of religion was to release the particles of light which Satan had stolen from the world of Light and imprisoned in man's brain, and that Jesus, Buddha, the Prophets, and Manes had been sent to help in this task. To achieve this release, severe asceticism, including vegetarianism, was practised. Within the sect there was hierarchy of grades professing different standards of austerity: the 'Elect' were supported by the 'Hearers' in their determined missionary endeavours and in an otherworldly state of perfection.
The sect spread rapidly. It appears to have been established in Egypt before the end of the 3rd cent. and at Rome early in the 4th. In the later 4th cent. Manichaeans were numerous in Africa and for a time included St. Augustine among their adherents. It is disputed how far Manichaeism influenced the Albigensians, Bogomils, and Paulicians, but it is clear that it survived in Chinese Turkestan to the 10th cent. [1]
see Manes.
The erroneous ascription of Divine honours to the BVM. The word is sometimes used abusively by Protestants of what they consider the excessive devotion to the BVM in the RC Church. [1]
The Systematic study of the person of the BVM and her place in the economy of the Incarnation.
The English word 'martyr' is a transliteration of a Gk. one meaning 'witness'. It was used of the Apostles as witnesses of Christ's life and resurrection, but with the spread of persecution the term came to be reserved for those who had undergone hardship for the faith, and finally it was restricted to those who had suffered death. Martyrs were venerated as powerful intercessors, their relics were sought after, and their lives were often embellished by legend. [1]
n. One who moves along the line of least reluctance to a desired death. [3]
Mary, Gospel of
An early apocryphal Gnostic Gospel. In it St. Mary Magdalene describes a vision in which the progress of the Gnostic through the seven planetary spheres is explained. [1]
material sin
An action which, through in itself contrary to Divine Law, is not ulpable, because the agent acted either in ignorance or under external contstraint. [1]
The Christian conception of marriage differs from earlier practice and from modern secular usage most notably in the equality which it gives to the woman and the indissolubility which it ascribes to the marriage bond. Christ abrogated the Mosaic tolerance of divorce and condemned remarriage. In Eph. 5: 22-33 St. Paul compares the union of marriage with the relation between Christ and His Church. While he assigns the governance of the household to the husband, he emphasizes the duty of love to the wife, who is an equal partner. In I Cor. 7: 15 he states the 'Pauline Privilege' (q.v.).
The preface to the Marriage service in the BCP aptly summarizes the ends of marriage as the procreation of children, the avoidance of sin, and mutual society. The first of these, traditionally understood as the prime end, has led some Christian moralists to repudiate all methods of family limitation. The reluctance of the compilers of the BCP to entitle marriage a sacrament arose from hesitation about recognizing as such a rite not manifestly productive of grace.
It was only in the 11th cent. that the claim of the Church to exclusive jurisdiction in matrimonial cases was conceded. In England the first breach with canon law was made by Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753. Further Acts of 1836 and 1857 established civil marriage and abolished the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. Subsequent legislation, culminating in the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, has introduced a sharp cleavage between secular legislation in England and Christian doctrine. In the RC Church suits of nullity are allowed on various grounds, and in the Orthodox Church divorce has been tolerated since Byzantine times.
The principle that any Christian man or woman may marry has been limited by rules governing affinity (q.v.), and the minimum age in England is now 16 for both parties. A certain publicity is required. In the case of church marriages this is normally achieved by the publication of the banns, though marriage licences (q.v.) may grant dispensations. [1]
mixed marriage
A marriage between Christians of different religious allegiance. A marriage is so described esp. when one of the parties is a RC. [1]
Belief in one personal and transcendent God. According to traditional Christian teaching it was the original religion of man, lost by most men as a consequence of the Fall. [1]
mortal sin
A deliberate act of turning away from God as man's last end by seeking his satisfaction in a creature. A sin, to be mortal, must be committed with a clear knowledge of its guilt and full consent of the will, and must concern a 'grave matter'. It is held to involve loss of sanctifying grace and eternal damnation, unless repented and forgiven. [1]
Mothers' Union, The
An organization f women in the C of E which aims at upholding 'the sanctity of marriage' and developing in mothers a sense of responsibility in the training of their children. It was founded in 1876, originally as a parochial organization, by Mary Elizabeth Sumner. It spread rapidly, was incorporated in 1910, and granted a royal charter in 1926. [1]
Woman hating.


Nag Hammadi Papyri
A collection of 13 papyrus codices found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi near the Nile. They contain 49 Gnostic treatises, all writen in Coptic, and constitute the most important single contribution to our knowledge of Gnosticism. [1]
The philosophical system of Plotinus (c. 205-70) and his successors, who include Porphyry, Iambilchus and Proclus. The Neoplatonists sought to provide a sound intellectual basis for a religious and moral life. In the ultimate One which lies beyond all experience, the dualism of Thought and Reality was to be overcome. This One can be known by man only by the method of abstraction. He must gradually divest his experience of all that is specifically human, so that in the end, when all his attributes have been removed, only God is left. The Neoplatonists were not, however, entirely negative, and they held that the Absolute could be reached by mystical experience. Pure Neoplatonism was essentially inimical to Christianity, but Neoplatonist influences made themselves felt on Christian theology, especially through their diffusive impact on the whole later Roman world. [1]
Nicaea, Flrst Council of
(325). The first Oecumenical Council, sununoned by the Emp. Constantine, mainly to deal with the Arian controversy. After an Arian creed submitted by Eusebius of Nicomedia had been rejected, Eusebius of Caesarea laid before the Council the baptismal creed of his own Palestinian community, and this, supplemented by the word 'Homoousios', was accepted. The Creed promulgated by the Council, however, was not this, but another, prob. a revision of the baptismal creed of Jerusalem. With four anti-Arian anathemas attached, it was subscribed by all the bishops present, except two who were deposed and banished. In the Arian struggle at the Council it seems that Athanasius was the leading champion of orthodoxy. The Council also reached decisions on the Melitian schism in Egypt and the Paschal Controversy, and issued 20 canons. The traditional number of bishops present (318) is prob. only a symbolic figure; between 220 and 250 is more likely. [1]
Nicene Creed, The
Two Creeds are so named:
  1. The Creed issued in 325 by the Council of Nicaea (q.v.), known to scholars as N. It was drawn up to defend the orthodox faith against Arianism and includes the word 'Homoousios'. Appended to it are four anti-Arian anathemas which came to be regarded as an integral part of the text.
  2. The longer formula which is called the 'Nicene Creed' in the Thirty-Nine Articles and is in regular use in the Eucharist, in both E. and W. It is also known as the 'Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed' and is referred to as C. From the time of the Council of Chaleedon (451) it has been regarded as the Creed of the Council of Constantinople of 381, but this is doubtful. Like N, it probably derives ultimately from the baptismal creed of Jerusalem. [1]
A member of a religious order or congregation of women living under vows of powerty, chatity, and obedience. [1]
Nuptial Mass
The wedding Mass which includes the celebration of the marriage and contains the nutial blessing. Since 1966 a Nuptial Mass has been permitted at mixed marriages, though the non-RC partner may not receive Communion. [1]


The moral virtue which inclines a man to carry out the will of his lawful superior. While absolute obedience is due to God alone, obedience to men is limited by the bounds of authority and by the claims of conscience. Obedience is the subject of one of the three vows taken by religious. [1] Oecumenical Councils Assemblies of bishops and other ecclesiastical representatives of the whole world whose decisions on doctrine, discipline, &c., are considered binding on all Christians. According to RC canon law, an Oecumenical council must be convened by the Pope, and its decrees have binding force only if sanctioned and promulgated by the Holy See; they are then infallible. [1]
ontological argument, the
The a priori argument for the Being of God on the ground that the existence of the idea of God necessarily involves the objective existence of God. It was first elaborated by St. Anselm. [1]
Original Sin
In Christian theology, the state of sin in which man has been captive since the Fall (q.v.). ]be Scriptural foundation of the doctrine is the Pauline teaching that 'through one man [i.e. Adam] sin entered into the world', so that 'by the trespass of the one the many died'. The doctrine was accepted by almost all the Greek Fathers, but precise formulation of how Adam's guilt was transmitied and the nature of the consequences for man was left to the West. Here Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and St. Ambrose taught the solidarity of the whole race with Adam not only in the consequences of the sin but in the sin itself, which is transmitted through natural generation. Beyond this two schools of thought developed. St. Augustine and his followers maintained that Adam's guilt was transmitted to his descendants by concupiscence, making of humanity a massa damnata and much enfeebling, though not destroying, the freedom of the will. St. Thomas Aquinas, however, distinguished, in the state of Adam before the Fall, 'pure nature' from the supernatural gifts which perfected it. Hence Original Sin consists in the loss of those supernatural privileges which had directed man to his supernatural end and enabled him to keep his inferior powers in submission to reason, a rectitude not natural to a being composed of body and soul such as man. This conception entails a more optimistic view of man than that of Augustine and his successors, in that it leaves to the reason, will, and passions of man their natural powers. According to Aquinas, Original Sin is transmitted not as the personal fault of Adam but as a state of human nature, yet constituting a fault inasmuch as all men are regarded as one great organism of which Adam was the first mover. The instrument of transmission is generation, regardless of the accompanying concupiscence. [1]
As a religious system, right beli as contrasted with heresy. [1]


The belief or theory that God and the universe are identical. The word appears to have been coined by J. Toland in 1705, but pantheistic systems go back to early times. [1]
n. The doctrine that everything is God, in contradistinction to the doctrine that God is everything. [3]
Patre Familiaris
(Biblical). Literally the father or ruler of a family or tribe. [1]
The branch of theological study which deals with the writings of the Fathers. The title 'Father' is sometimes given to important Christian writers of all ages up to the 13th cent., but in its stricter usage it belongs to those teachers who wrote between the end of the 1st cent. and the close of the 8th cent., and this is commonly termed the 'Patristic Age'. [1]
patron saint
A saint who has been chosen as the special intercessor or advocate in heaven of a particular place, person, or organization. The custom of having patron saints for churces arose from the practice of building churches over the tombs of martyrs. [1]
A representation of the BVM lamenting over the dead body of Christ, which she holds on her knees. [1]
elder, priest
The head or deputy head of certain houses of nuns. In general the prioress fulfils the same functions as the prior in a male order. In the case of an abbey, she is second in command to the abbess. [1]
From the earliest times Christians have believed that before the Incarnation God the Holy Spirit 'spake by the prophets', and it has generally been recognized that the prophets were the inspired deliverers of God's message not only about the future but also to their own contemporaries, to whom they declared His will. [1]
n. The art and practice of selling one's credibility for future delivery. [3]


A popular name for the Society of Friends. [1]


A fanatical sect of the 17th cent. They appealed to their inward experience of Christ and denied the authority of Scripture, Creeds and the Ministry. [1]
In the C of E a rector, as distinguished from a vicar, is a parish incumbent whose tithes are not impropriate. [1]
n. In the Church of England, the Third Person of the parochial Trinity, the Curate and the Vicar being the other two. [3]
redaction criticism
The investigation of the editorial work done by Biblical writers on earlier material. [1]
The idea of redemption is common to many religions, being based on the desire of man to be delivered from sin, suffering, and death. Christianity claims that in it alone has redemption become a fact through the Incarnation and Death of Christ. It is viewed by theologians under the double aspect of deliverance from sin and the restoration of man and the world to communion with God. [1]
n. Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin, through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned. The doctrine of Redemption is the fundamental mystery of our holy religion, and whoso believeth in it shall not perish, but have everlasting life in which to try to understand it. [3]


n. A dead sinner revised and edited. [3]
seven deadly sins
They are pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth (accidie). [1]
seven virtues, the
They are faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. [1]
similitudo Dei
(Lat., 'likeness to God'). The element in man's being as originally constituted which he lost through the Fall. See Imago Dei. [1]
Sisters of Mercy
  1. A name widely used in the 19th cent. of any religious community engaged in nursing or similar work.
  2. A RC sisterhood founded in Dublin in 1827. [1]
The reproduction of the wounds of the Passion of Christ in the human body. Stigmata may be either invisible, when the pain is experienced without any exterior sign, or visible, in which case they noramlly consist of wounds or blood blisters on hands, feet, and near the heart, also on the head (Crown of Thorns) or shoulders and back (carrying of the Cross and Scourging). They do not become septic and resist treatment. The first person known to have received the stigmata is St. Francis of Assisi; since then cases have been numerous. The attitude of the RC Church has always been guarded. [1]
In the early Church, women who lived associated with men in spiritual marriage. The practice was forbidden by the early 4th cent. councils. [1]
Synoptic Problem
The problem of literary relations between the three 'Synoptic Gospels' (Matt., Mark, Luke), which arises from the occurrence of a large amount of common subject-matter and often similar phrasing in more than one Gospel. Almost all scholars now hold that this parallelism is due to literary interdependence. [1]
A word used by the Gnostics for a pair of cosmological opposites, e.g. male and female. It was held that the universe had come into being through the interaction of such opposites. [1]


The 'God-bearer', a title of the BVM. The word was used by the Greek Fathers from Origen onwards and became a popular term of devotion. [1]
Religious toleration is the leaving undisturbed of those whose faith and practice are other than one's own. It may arise from respect for the rights of another person to freedom of belief, or from indifference.
Christianity, with its claim to be the only true religion, is dogmatically intolerant. Dissent within its ranks has repeatedly been anathematized. In the Middle Ages, owing to the close association of Church and State, catholic and citizen became synonymous terms, and the State carried out sentences against heretics. The Renaissance, with its religious indifference, and the Reformation, by its revolt against the authority of the Papacy, established the conditions for the future development of toleration. [1]
The central Christian dogma that One God exists in Three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and one substance. It is a mystery in the strict sense, in that it can neither be known by reason apart from revelation, nor demonstrated by reason after it has been revealed, but it is not incompatible with the principles of rational thought. [1]
n. In the multiplex theism of certain Christain churches, three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually their claims to adoration and propitation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the former as a part of the latter. [3]
See also Holy Trinity.


A type of Christian thought and religious observance which rejects the doctrines of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ in favor of the unipersonality of God. [1]


Christian headdress. The veil, which was worn by Roman matrons, from the 3rd cent. was given by the bishop to consecrated virgins as a symbol of their spiritual marriage to Christ; it later came to be considered the most important part of the religious habit of women. In the C of E female candidates traditionally wear a white veil at Confirmation. [1]
virgin birth of Christ
The belief that Jesus Christ had no human father, but was conceived by the BVM by the power of the Holy Spirit, is clearly stated in the narratives of Christ's Infancy recorded in the Gospels, and has been a consistent tenet of orthodox Christian theology. During the last hundred years it has been challenged by some liberal theologians on such grounds as a general suspicion of everything miraculous and in particular a belief that the LXX of Is. 7: 14, as an inexact rendering of the Heb., gave rise to, or at least promoted, the legend; the absence of reference to the Virgin Birth in other parts of the NT; and the contention that it would have been more congruous with the full Humanity of Christ for His Birth to be like that of other men. None of these points is unanswered.
The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is quite distinct from that of the Incarnation, and acceptance of Christ's Divine Sonship is not theologically dependent on His not being the son of Joseph. [1]
Our tendency to confuse chastity with goodness has been replaced by other confusions. But the equation of personal physical purity and public ethical virtue remains.
This is a long-standing non sequiturin Western civilization, predating even Christianity. It is an area in which we could learn a great deal from the clarity of the Buddhist tradition. There virginity and general physical virtue has a role. It indicates that the individual is withdrawing from any contact with the day-to-day activities of the world in order to concentrate on his own salvation. Monks don't fornicate, but neither do they garden.
The rest of the populace, who are unwilling to make this great effort, must live as best they can knowing they run the long-term risks of reincarnation. There is lots of room for them to do good, either through practical actions or by feeding the helpless monks. Virginity and physical puritanism are there if they want to embrace them, but this is unlikely to affect whether they are reborn as a slug or a king. [2]


White Ladies
A popular name, from their white habits, for
  1. the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, a teaching order founded in France in 1796
  2. the Magdalenes
  3. the Cistercian nuns. [1]
In NT times widows had an acknowledged claim to the charity of their fellow-Christians, and they soon acquired a recognized status and privleges in the Church. [1]
The malevolent exercise of preternatural power, especially by women, attributed to a connection of demons. [1]




This page has been compiled from:

[1] Livingstone, E.A. ed. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. 1977.
[2] Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense. Penguin Books, Toronto, Ontario. 1995.
[3] Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil's Dictionary. Dover Publications, Inc. (1911) 1993.
notes taken during lectures for the course: "Women in the Christian Tradition".

See Also

This is a student produced page (by Grant Neufeld), made in conjunction with the Religion 34.203 course "Women in the Christian Tradition" at Carleton University.
Portions Copyright ©1996 Grant Neufeld. Reproduction of images included in this work, in part or in whole, outside the context of this work, is strictly prohibited.