(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.
See Christmas.


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.

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 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.

Domine quo vadis?

(Latin, "Lord, where are you going?"). According to a legend found in the Acts of St. Peter, Peter was fleeing persecution in Rome when he met Christ on the Appian Way and asked him this question. Christ replied, "I am coming to be crucified again." Peter took this to mean that Christ would suffer again in him, so Peter turned back to Rome, where he was crucified. The small church of Santa Maria delle Piante on the Appian Way, commonly called Domine Quo Vadis, commemorates this event.


Fourth century North African Christian faction, named for Bishop Donatus. The Donatists believed the church should be pure, and therefore church leaders who had handed over scripture during persecution (traditores) should not retain their positions. They were opposed most notably by Augustine, the prominent North African bishop. Augustine's influential doctrine of the church developed primarily in response to the Donatist controversy.


(Greek doxa, "glory"). A short hymn glorifying God.

Dynamic Monarchianism

Form of Monarchianism in which 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.


(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.


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The largest Lutheran church body in the U.S. and more liberal than the LCMS.


Branch of theology dealing with end times or last things. Includes such subjects as the afterlife, the Day of Judgment, the Second Coming, and the end of the world.


A sacrament recognized by all branches of Christianity. Commemorates the Last Supper of Christ with the sharing of bread and wine. See also transubstantiation and Real Presence.


A penalty imposed by the Catholic Church prohibiting a person from receiving or administering sacraments or holding church office.

ex cathedra

(Latin "from the throne.") Authoritative statements made by the Pope in Roman Catholicism.

Fall, the

Disobedience of Adam and Eve (chronicled in Genesis 3) that resulted in ill effects for the remainder of humanity. See Christian Beliefs: Human Nature.


Monastic order founded by Francis of Assisi in 1210 AD.


Not a unified belief system, but a complex of religious movements that predate Christianity and have roots in both paganism and Judaism. By about the second century AD, Gnostic Christianity had developed and was labeled a heresy by the established church. Distinctive Gnostic beliefs include: two separate divine beings (the unknowable supreme deity and an inferior, evil creator god); the inherent goodness of spirit and evil of matter; the importance of gnosis, or special knowledge, for salvation; and a view of Christ as a messenger of the supreme deity who only appeared to take on a body. Major Gnostic teachers include Valentinus, Basilides, and Marcion.


(Greek evangelion; Old English godspel, "good news"). The content of Christian preaching; that is, that Christ died to save humans from the penalty of sin and reunite them with God. When capitalized, the word usually refers to one of the first four books of the New Testament, which relate the life of Christ.


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.


A biography of a saint, usually written from an admiring and idealized perspective.


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.


The word used in English translations of the Bible for both the Hebrew Sheol (the place of the departed) and the Greek Gehenna (the place of punishment for the wicked after death). In Christian theology, hell is generally believed to be the place or state into which unrepentant sinners pass after this life. The popular idea of Hell as a place of punishment and fire derives from such NT passages as Matthew 13:42 and 25:30, Revelation 2:11, 20:14, 21:8 and others. See Christian Beliefs on the Afterlife.


A message delivered to lay Christians for their edification; sermon.



(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.


In general, to take on a bodily form. In Christianity, the historical event in which God became a man in Jesus of Nazareth. According to the gospel of John: "The Word became flesh (Lat. carne) and dwelt among us."


In Roman Catholicism, a partial remission of temporal (non-eternal) punishment for sin after the guilt of sin has been forgiven through penance. The concept of indulgences grew out of the beliefs that (1) divine justice demanded the sinner pay for his or her misdeeds even though they have been forgiven, either in this life or in Purgatory; (2) giving alms to the church is a penitential work; and (3) the church possessed a treasury of merit earned by the saints that could be applied to sinners. By the late Middle Ages, the system of indulgences was rampantly abused, and greedy ecclesiastics and hired salesmen sold tickets to heaven in order to fund expensive building projects and line their own pockets. The abuses were stopped at the reforming Council of Trent in 1562, and today one must do good works, not pay money, to earn indulgences.


Pertaining to the apostle John.


The act by which God moves a sinner from a state of sin to a state of grace or, especially in Protestantism, the act by which God declares a sinner righteous.


(Gk.) Term coined by Rudolf Bultmann to indicate the essential message (or gospel) of the New Testament church.


Originally, followers of John Wycliffe (14th cent.), who emphasized personal faith, predestination and the Bible. The word was later applied to anyone seriously critical of the Church.

Luther, Martin

(1483-1546) German monk and professor whose questioning of church practices led to the Protestant Reformation. See Martin Luther.


(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.


Heretical 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. Closely related to patripassianism and Sabellianism.


General term for those heretical systems that focused on safeguarded 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.


Nantes, Edict of

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 n the Edict of Fontainebleau on October 18, 1685.


In the early church, a recently baptized Christian.


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.

New Rome

A name for the city of Constantinople, which may have been coined by Constantine himself. The Council of Constantinople (381) declared that "the Bishop of Constantinople is to have honorary pre-eminence after the Bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is the new Rome."


Another word for halo.

Ninevah, Fast of

Pre-Lenten fast of three or four days kept in the Church of the East, the Syrian Orthdox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church.


Minister who presides over a worship service that does not include the Eucharist.


(Greek orthos, "correct"). The correct or majority view.


The branch of Christianity prevalent in Greece, Russia and Eastern Europe. Originates as a separate body when the Eastern (Orthodox) church split from the Western (Catholic) church in 1054 AD. Orthodox Christians do not recognize the authority of the Pope, but rather the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Seven Ecumenical Councils are also of special authoritative importance. Orthodox Christianity is characterized by emphasis on icons.

Pantocrator, Christ

Christ depicted as "Ruler of the Universe," a common image in Orthodox iconography.


(Latin passio, "suffering"). The crucifixion of Jesus and the events leading up to it.


(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 Pope's Eastern counterpart).


(Lat. pater, "father") Branch of Christian theology and history concerned with the church "fathers" (patres), usually understood to refer to the period from the later first century to the mid-fifth century.


The heretical view, associated with Praxeas, Noetus and Sabbellius, that God the Father can suffer. A consequence of modalist monarchianism, in which the Son is the same person as the Father.


Belief system, attacked by Augustine and declared a heresy in , which denies original sin and asserts the ability of humans to choose good over evil with only external assistance from God.


(Lat. papa, "father") The bishop of Rome, who became the recognized leader of the entire Western church. See History: Development of the Papacy.


The hypothetical source that many biblical critics suggest was used 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.


("14-ism"). The early Christian custom, especially common in Asia Minor, of observing Easter on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, whether or not it fell on a Sunday. Towards the end of the second century, Pope Victor suppressed Quartodecimanism and excommunicated the Bishop of Ephesus, who refused to comply. This action was rebuked by St. Irenaeus and most churches in Asia Minor retained the practice. It died out by the fifth century. See Easter.


17th-century movement emphasizing complete passivity and the "prayer of quiet" before God. The ideal is to abandon all desires, even for virtue, love of Christ, or salvation, as well as all outward acts of devotion, and simply rest in the presence of God. Notable Quietist writers include de Molinos, Guyon, and Archbishop Fenelon. Pope Innocent XI condemned Quietism and Molinos on November 19, 1687.

Quinque Viae

The "five ways" or arguments by which St. Thomas Aquinas sought to prove the existence of God.


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.

Quo Vadis?

See Domine Quo Vadis.


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.


In Anglicanism, the elected pastor of a financially self-supported congregation. If there are several clergy in the congregation, the rector has primary responsibility for directing worship.


Catholic devotional practice in which 15 sets of ten Hail Marys are recited, each set preceded by the Lord's Prayer and followed by the 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.



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 untion, ordination and marriage. In Protestant churches, only baptism and the eucharist are regarded as sacraments.


In Protestant terminology, any Christian believer. In Catholicism, an especially holy Christian who has met certain requirements and been canonized by the Pope. See also cult of the saints.


(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 for "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.

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).

Son of Man

Title used 81 times by Jesus to refer to himself in the Gospels, but never by anyone else. The term may derive from the eschatological figure of Daniel 7 or may have been used by Jesus to refer to his humanity.


Branch of Christian theology dealing with salvation.

Stations of the Cross

Series of fourteen events in the passion of Christ, beginning with Jesus' condemnation and ending with his body being laid in the tomb (for list, see Christianity by the Numbers). The stations are a subject of public and private devotion in Catholicism, especially during Lent.


Heretical belief in which the Son is lesser than the Father in divinity, rank or honor.

Synoptic Gospels

(Greek synopsis, "single view "). The NT books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which offer similar views of the life of Christ (compared with the unique perspective of the Gospel of John).



(Greek, "wonder-working"). Title given to saints who have worked many miracles.


(Greek, "God-bearer"). Title of the Virgin Mary in the Orthodox tradition, used from the time of Origen (early 3rd century) onwards as an affirmation of Christ's divinity.


Container in which incense is burned.


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. See also Real Presence.


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.

treasury of merit

Doctrinal basis for the sale of indulgences, 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.


The Christian doctrine of the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead.
See The Doctrine of the Trinity.



Religious movement connected to Christianity but that rejects the Trinitarian understanding of God. In 1961, Unitarians jointed with the Univeralists to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.


The belief that all souls will be saved by God in the end. Hell either does not exist or is temporary.



Distinctive clothing worn by clergy when performing liturgical and other services of the church.


In Anglicanism, 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 on, e.g., "Feed my sheep" in John 21:15).

Virgin Birth

Belief that Jesus Christ had no human father, but was 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.


Wolsey, Thomas

(c.1472-1530) English cardinal. More a statesman than a churchman, Wolsey was active in foreign policy in a bold attempt to make England preeminent in Europe and was involved in King Henry VIII's attempts to secure a papal dispensation for divorce.

World Council of Churches

The "fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior" that was formally founded at Amsterdam on August 23, 1948.

Wounds, Five Sacred

The five wounds of Christ suffered during the Passion: the piercing of his hands, feet and side. Devotion to the Five Wounds developed in the Middle Ages.


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." See John Wycliffe.



Abbreviation for Christmas, replacing "Christ" with the first letter in the Greek for Christ, chi ("X").



("Young Men's Christian Association"). Association founded in London in 1844 by George Williams (1821-1905) 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.


Zwingli, Ulrich

(1484-1531) Swiss reformer and humanist. He taught a purely symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist (as opposed to both transubstantiation and consubstantiation), accepted state action in religious matters, and died on the battlefield at Cappel, Switzerland (near Zurich).