Glossary of Christian & Religious Terms
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Ceremonial washing of the body, whether a literal washing in pure, untainted water before participating in a ritual, or an act representing a spiritual purification. Ablution also includes washing of ceremonial objects, such as vessels, utensils, and clothing. Jewish law requires full immersion (tevilah) of one's body in a mikveh, or bath, before entering the Temple or converting to Judaism. Partial washing includes washing of hands (repeatedly, elbows to fingertips) or sprinkling of water (after coming into contact with a dead body). Ablution may also include an animal sacrifice along with the ceremonial cleansing. Ablution in Christian tradition includes baptism and washing of feet. In some Catholic Masses, ablution is the practice of the priest rinsing his hands in wine and then water following Communion. Ablution in the Eastern Orthodox Church requires the remainder of the Communion to be consumed by a deacon or priest after fasting and ceremonial preparation.


Consummate qualities of God: perfect, complete, whole, real, definite, eternal (as compared to the relative nature or subjective character of mankind). Absolutism in philosophy is doctrine involving the existence of an absolute -- something existing in and by itself, or focus on the one over the many (monism, oneness, ultimate reality is one). In theology it is predestination.


Forgiveness and remission of sins; final phase of the sacrament of penance within the Roman Catholic Church by which a priest pardons post-baptismal sins, thereby making reconciliation between the sinner, the Church, and God (John 20:21-23).


Luke 8:30, Revelation 9:1-11, 11:7, 17:8, 20:1-3


Poetical arrangement in which certain letters taken from each line spell out a word when put in order. Various Old Testament writings are acrostic, such as Psalms 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145, and Lamentations, in which the first letters of each original verse make up the Hebrew alphabet.

Actual Sin

Sin committed by an individual of their own free will, as opposed to the original sin of Adam and Eve that led to the fall of mankind.


Latin, Anno Domini, "In the year of the Lord." In the given year since the beginning of the Christian era. Anno Mundi is "in the year of the world," or in the given year since the supposed creation of the world.


Hebrew, my Lord. Used as a substitute for the ineffable or unspeakable name of God (YHWH or JHVH).


Birth of Christ. In Catholocism, the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, including the four Sundays before Christmas, with the first Sunday being Advent Sunday.


Belief that the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment will soon occur, whereby Christ will bring an end to the world order and establish his own earthly kingdom for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6). This includes the Rapture, or first resurrection of the dead, when those who died for Christ are raised from the dead and rule with him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It also generally includes seven years of devastation upon the earth as has never before been experienced (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Postmillenialists believe that Christians will live through the seven years of devastation and that the kingdom of God will be established on earth by his people, ushering in the second coming of Christ after a thousand years. Premillenialists believe that Christians will be raptured before the seven years of devastation, that there is no hope for human reform without Christ, and await his return to establish this thousand-year kingdom himself. Adventist churches are centered in teaching around this subject and include the Seventh Day Adventists.


The primary gods of Norse Mythology, including Odin, Thor, Balder, Loki, Freya, and Tyr.

Aetherius Society

UFO cult founded in 1954 by Dr. George King, encouraging members to be extraterrestrial channels.


Pouring on of water in baptism.


Life after death.


Primarily, God's divine love. Also, love feast -- a meal shared by early Christians.


Douay Bible name for the prophet Haggai.


Someone who believes that God is unknowable, or believes that it cannot be determined that God or anything exists beyond physical and material reality (coined by Thomas Huxley in 1870). Agnosticism is this kind of belief system.

Agnus Dei

Latin, Lamb of God.


Israeli coin equal to 1/100 of a shekel.


Sayings ascribed to Jesus but not found in the Gospels.


Latin, Anno Hegirae, "In the year of the Hegira."


Long, white linen robe worn by a Catholic priest at Mass.


Heretical religious sect in the south of France, cerca A.D. 1020 - 1250.


Modern Hebrew, "ascent" -- immigration of Jews to Israel.


Arabic, "the God" (al, the + ilah, god), Muslim name for the Supreme Being (possibly akin to the Hebrew eloah). Arabian polytheistic beliefs recognized Allah as a Creator and Supreme Provider before the emergence of Islam. Hanifs, the Middle Eastern ascetic religious sect which influenced Muhammed, worshiped Allah as the one and only God. Muhammed preached strict adherance and unconditional obedience to Allah.


Latin form of the Hebrew hallelujah, "Praise the Lord!"

All Saints' Day (Allhallows or Allhallomas)

Annual festival celebrated by Roman Catholics on the first of November commemorating all Catholic saints (first Sunday after Pentecost for Greek Catholics).

All Souls' Day

November 2, Roman Catholic day of services, prayer, and supplication for the souls in Purgatory.


Term used in the King James Version, traditionally gifts to the poor, such as money, food or clothing.

Almuce (Amice)

Oblong, white linen cloth worn around the neck and shoulders of a Catholic priest during Mass.

Almugwood (Algum)

Wood from Ophir (possibly sandalwood), mentioned in 1 Kings 10:11-12, given by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon and used for the supports for the temple of the LORD and the royal palace. Also, Hebrew algum, a tree mentioned in 2 Chronicles 2:8 from Lebanon.

Alpha and Omega

First and last letters of the Greek alphabet, used by God to describe himself as "the First and the Last; the Beginning and the End; who was, and is, and is to come" (Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13).


Part of the temple where sacrifices are made to God.



Having more than one possible meaning, vague, or obscure. Not necessarily a Christian term.


Pulpit or reading stand.


Latin, ad majorem Dei gloriam, "To the greater glory of God" (Jesuit motto).


African Methodist Episcopal Church.


Hebrew, truly or certainly, "may it be so," often said at the end of prayer as a form of approval. (Some Protestant churches have an amen corner where people lead the responsive amens to the sermon.)


A purple or violet variety of quartz or corundum, one of the precious stones used in the breastpiece for making decisions (Exodus 28:19, 39:12) and one of the stones used to decorate the foundation of the golden city of Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation (21:20).


Parsifal, leader of the knights of the Holy Grail (Medieval legend).


Mennonites of a strict sect founded in the seventeenth century by Jacob Ammann.

Amor (Amour)

Latin, "love" -- sexual or illicit desire.


Descendent of Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah -- after the flood (Genesis 10:15).


A round bottle used for holy oil or consecrated wine.


Piece of jewelry or a charm believed to possess magic power and worn to protect against injury or evil. (Not necessarily a Christian term.)


Member of a Protestant sect originating in Switzerland from the sixteenth century Reformation which denied the validity of infant baptism and instead practiced baptism of consenting adults.

Anagogy (Anagoge)

Mystical interpretatation of scripture intened to reveal a hidden, spiritual meaning.

Ananda Marga Yoga Society

Hindu cult founded by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti (A.K.A. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkav), in pursuit of Ananda Marga (joy), and employing yogic principles, mantric meditation, dancing, and chanting in harmony with the cosmic father.


Someone devoted to evil or something dedicated to evil; accursed or damned; formal condemnation.

Ancient of Days

God the Judge (Daniel 7:13).


Messenger of God.


Theological study of angels.


Prayer in commemoration of the Incarnation.


Church of England -- Anglia is an ancient form of England, the people of which were Angles. The Anglican Communion is comprised of churches of Anglican descent. Anglo is a combining word meaning English, such as in Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Catholic.


Soul. Animism is belief in spiritual forces or that all physical creatures have a soul; doctrine that all life is produced from a spiritual force separate from matter.

Ankh (Ansate Cross)

Ancient Egyptian symbol of life, a cross with a loop at the top.


Invalidation of a marriage by the Roman Catholic Church.


Announcement of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).


To consecrate with oil or rub oil on someone in a ceremony of healing.


A screen hanging from the front of an altar or pulpit.


Ancient Egyptian symbol of life, a cross with a loop at the top.

Anthropocentric (Anthropogenesis)

Belief in man as the center of the universe; conceiving of everything in the universe in terms of human values.


The study of man -- culture, customs, social relationships, physical characteristics, institutions, myths, religions, etc.


Attributing human shape or characteristics to other bodies or entities, such as animals, objects, or a god. Anthropopathy is attributing human feelings and passion to something else, such as to animals or a god.

Anthroposophical Society

An occultic organization based on a philosophy called Anthroposophy ("wisdom of man") founded by Rudolph Steiner in Germany around the turn of the twentieth century. It incorporates mystical traditions, Hindu practices, reincarnation, mythology, communication with the dead, spiritualism, and Christian beliefs. The basic theory is that man and earth are embarked on an evolutionary journey overseen by supersensible spirit beings.


A false Christ who is in opposition to Christ (1 John 2:18).


Opposition to the clergy or church hierarchy, especially against its influence in public affairs.


Doctrine that faith alone and not obedience to the moral law is necessary for salvation.


A hymn, song, chant, or canticle sung in responsive, alternating parts.


A pope set up against the one chosen by the Catholic Church, as in a schism.


Prejudice, discrimination, or persecution of Jews.


The ultimate destruction of evil and triumpth of good; Book of Revelation.


Fourteen books of the Septuagint rejected by Judaism, eleven of which are Roman Catholic canon; any such scripturual writing that is of doubtful authenticity or authorship.


"Destroyer" (Hebrew Abaddon), the angel of the Abyss who was king of the destructive locusts in Revelation 9:1-11.


Formal defense written of a belief or religion; defending in writing or speech, vindicating.


Short allegorical story with a moral.


Abonding of a faith or belief.


Any of the twelve disciples originally chosen by CHrist to spread the gospel, including Andrew, Bartholomew, James (the younger, son of Alphaeus), James (the elder, son of Zebedee), John (brother of James, son of Zebedee), Jude (Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus), Judas Iscariot, Matthew (Levi), Philip, Simon (Peter), Simon the Canaanite, and Thomas (Didymus). Matthias was chosen to replace Judas after his death. Saul of Tarsis (Paul) was chosen by Chist to be the "Apostle to the Gentiles."

Apostles' Creed

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty..."

Apostolic Succession

Roman Catholic belief in which the authority that Jesus conferred upon Peter and the other Apostles have been passed down through an unbroken succession of bishops.


Deification; raising someone to the status of godhood; glofification of a person, thing, or ideal.

Aquinas, Thomas

1225-74, theologian the philosopher.


Ancient Syria.


The Semitic language spoken in the Palestinian region after Israel's Babylonian captivity, also spoken by Jesus and his disciples.


17,000 foot mountain in Turkey near the border of Armenia and Iran where Noah's ark supposedly landed (Genesis 8:4).


Prejudice, discrimination, or persecution of Jews.


Scientific study of the life and culture of ancient peoples, often by the excavation of cities and the discovery of relics and artifacts.


Chief angel or angel of high rank, such as Michael.


Chief overseer, bishop of highest rank who oversees a church district (archdiocese).


Church official ranking just below a bishop.


Chief priest.


Association for Research and Enlightenment, founded in 1932 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to research and preserve the antidotal readings of Edgar Cayce, best known as a psychic healer. The ARE exists to index and catalog Cayce's thousands of readings intended to cure or explain physical and mental illnesses. There are about 400 physicians associated with ARE. (See Cayce, Edgar)


Doctrines of Arius (A.D. 256-336), an Alexandrian theologian who taught that Jesus was not of the same substance of God, but a created being exalted above all other creatures.

Arica Institute, Inc.

Founded by Bolivian philosophy teacher and mystic Oscar Ichazo and based in Arica, Chile, in South America. Arica ("open door") teaches scientific mysticism and espouses such ideals as unity with emptiness, with the intent of uncovering "the mystical name of the radiant being" (Toham Kum Rah) inside each person. It combines the philosophies of Hinduism, Zen, and Tibetan Lamaism with African dances, Egyptian gymnastics, Hindu mantras, incantations, and breathing techniques to develop a series of exercises called psychocalisthenics designed to awaken vital energy.


Hebrew Lion of God, name applied to David's city, Jerusalem, in Isaiah 29:1-10.

Aristotelian Logic

Method of deductive logic charactcerized by the syllogism, developed by Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), a pupil of Plato noted for his works on logic, metaphysics, ethics, and politics.

Ark of the Covenant

Chest containing the two stone tablets with the ten commandements inscribed by God and given to Moses (Exodus 25:10), kept in the holiest part of the Jewish Tabernacle (Holies of Holies).


Greek Harmagedon, Hebrew har meghiddo, the plain of Megiddo, where the last decisive battle is to be fought between the forces of good and evil before the Day of Judgement (Revelation 16:16). Revelation chapter 16 describes three unclean spirits of demons that come from the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet which perform miraculous signs and go out to gather the kings of the whole world for battle on the great day of God Almighty.


Doctrines of Jacobus Arminius, Dutch theologian (1560-1609), which stressed man's freewill as opposed to Calvinistic predestination.


American Revised Version Bible, printed in 1901.


Traditionally the hypothetical parent language of the Indo-European family or a descendant of the prehistoric peoples who spoke this language -- adapted by German Nazis to mean a Caucasian of non-Jewish descent, particularly of Nordic origin.

Asatru Free Assembly

Founded by Steve McNallen in Breckenridge, Texas, in 1971. An organization based on Scandinavian mythology, which promotes Norse neopaganism, Viking ceremonies, celebrations of the forces of nature, and the worship of Norse gods and goddesses (also called Odinism). Asatru (Old Norse, "belief in the gods") publishes a newspaper called Runestone. Symbols include ancient Norse amulets and objects of war, such as helmets, swords, animal horns, shields, axes, swastikas, and runes.

Asbury, Francis

1745-1816, first Methodist bishop in the U.S.

Ascended Masters

Ideology founded by G. W. Ballard (pen name Godfre Ray King) around 1930, in which spiritual beings are rising up as ascended masters amidst mankind in these end times, signifying the Second Coming. A theology based on Eastern mysticism and metaphysics, with belief in astral projection, trance channeling, reincarnation, gnosticism, and Pelagianism. It teaches that God is a father-mother deity defined as a creative force that has negative and positive polarity. Its primary symbol is a winged flame with seven multi-colored rays and the initials "I AM" (arranged AIM, with the I in the center and twice as tall).


Bodily ascent of Jesus into heaven forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:9). Ascension Day is the celebration commemorating this on the fortieth day after Easter.


One who leads a life of contemplation, meditation, abstinence, and rigorous self-denial for religious purposes. Asceticism is basically the doctrine that one may attain a higher spiritual state through such self disciplines.


The eighth tribe of Israel descended from the eighth son of Jacob.


German Jews who settled in middle to northern Europe after the Diaspora, or their descendants -- derived from the descendants of Ashkenaz, son of Gomer, son of Japheth, third son of Noah (Genesis 10:1-3). Ashkenaz was also a kingdom mentioned in Jeremiah 51:27 which would combine forces against Babylon.


Ancient Phoenician and Syrian goddess of love and fertility, identified with Astarte.

Ash Wednesday

First day of Lent and seventh Wednesday before Easter, from the practice of putting ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence.


Hebrew ashmadai, an evil spirit or chief demon in Jewish legend.


Sprinkling of the altar, clergy, and congregation with holy water before High Mass in the Roman Catholic Church; a hymn sung during this ceremony. Aspergillum is a brush or perforated container for sprinkling holy water. Aspersorium is a basin or font for holy water.

Assemblies of Yahweh

Begun in the 1930s as the Sacred Name Movement and dedicated to preserving the sacred names of God (Yahweh and Elohim) and Jesus (Yahshua). Several such asseblies exist throughout the U.S. with similar names, all maintaining strict adherence to the laws of the Old Testament and celebration of Jewish festivals. Some of these organizations include: Assembly of YHWH-HOSHUA, founded by Laycher Gonzales in the 1970s; Assemblies of Yahweh in Bethel, Pennsylvania, based on the Sacred Name Broadcast begun in 1966 by Jacob O. Meyer; Assembly of Yavah, foundeed in 1945 by L. D. Snow and E. B. Adam; Scripture Research Association, founded in the 1940s by A. B. Traina; Assemblies of Yahweh, founded in 1939 by C. O. Dodd in Holt, Michigan; Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research, founded in 1931 by Dr. Henry C. Kinley.

Assisi, Francis


Archaic term for atonement; to absolve or acquit.


Catholic dogma of the ascention of the Virgin Mary after death, celebrated on August 15.


From Astraea, the Greek goddess of divine justice, Astara ("a place of light") is an occult foundation based in Upland, California, and is a center for psychic healing and spiritual channeling. It promotes correspondence courses comprised of a mixture of spiritualism, mysticism, Theosophy, yoga, Egyptian mystery schools, Rosicrucianism, Masonry, and Christianity. It was founded by Robert and Earlyne Chaney, its symbol being the seven-pointed Star of the West merging inside with the Lotus of the East. Recruitment flyers offer information about achieving spiritual selfhood, astral projection, and the superconscious mind.

Astral Projection

Based on the theosophical term astral, designating a universal substance supposedly existing at a level just beyond normal human perception.


Pseudo-science that claims to foretell the future by studying the supposed influence of the relative positions of the moon, sun, and stars on human affairs. A primitive astronomy developed by the Chaldeans during the time of the Babylonian Empire, which considered the planets to be gods and their movements as having an effect on the destiny of mankind. Astrology is based on a circular map of the universe (zodiac) with the earth as its center and divided into twelve sections (houses), each named for a constellation within one of the twelve houses. Depending on the position of the planets and stars in the present house at the time of birth, an individual's horoscope may be determined, which is supposed to aid in foretelling their destiny.


A.D. 296-373, Alexandrian bishop and opponent of Arianism. Athanasian Creed, something about the Trinity, celebrated on May 2.


Greek atheos, without god -- generally, belief that there is no God or denial that God or gods exist. Originally ascribed to those who didn't believe in the official Greek gods of the State, later to be identified with Christians who didn't accept the Roman pagan gods. The basic categories of atheism include the following: explicit denial of God; agnostic disbelief based on a lack of proof; rejection of formal religion; rational freethinking resulting in the unacceptance of supernatural revelation. The difference between an atheist and an unbeliever is primarily that the atheist philosophically rejects God and religion on qualified principles (such as metaphysics, dialectical materialism, existentialism, etc.), whereas an unbeliever, for whatever reasons, doesn't accept any regilious beliefs, although, no matter how skeptical, they may still believe there is a God. Atman
Hinduism, either the individual ego or the universal soul; source of all individual souls.


Theory that the universe is made up of tiny, simple, indivisible particles that cannot be destroyed.


The reconciliation of God to man through the sacrifice of Christ's death upon the cross; to make amends, reparation, expiate, or reconcile for sins or wrongdoing.


An imperfect degree of repentance caused by shame or fear of punishment, distinguished from contrition.


One who interpreted omens in ancient Rome; to foretell or prophesy from omens; a soothsayer, prophet, or fortuneteller. Augury is the practice of divination from omens or signs; a ceremony conducted by an augur. An auspex was an augur who watched for omens in the flight of birds.


A.D. 354-430, Roman Catholic bishop of Hippo in North Africa and early church father, celebrated August 28.


Halo; radiance encircling the head or body depicting glory, as in religious paintings.


Divination; watching for omens in the flight of birds, from which the word auspicious is derived, meaning good fortune

Authorized King James Version

A revised English translation of the Bible published in 1611 and historically considered to have been authorized by King James I.


Independent or self-governing, said of certain churches within the communion of the Eastern Othodox Church.

Autodaf� (Autodefe)

The public ceremony in which the Inquisition pronounced judgment, passed sentence, and burned a heretic.


Hinduism, incarnation of a god.

Ave Maria

"Hail, Mary" (Luke 1:28), Roman Catholic prayer and song to the Virgin Mary.


Teachings of Averro�s (A.D. 1126-98), Arab phoilosopher and physician in Spain and Morocco, applying Aristotelian philosophy to religion.


Sacred writings of the ancient Zoroastrian religion and of the Parsees.


Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature and types of values, such as morals, aesthetics, religion, and metaphysics.


Arabic, "Sign of God," a leader of the Shiite sect of Islam, serving as teacher, judge, and administrator.


Islamic summons to prayer called five times a day by the muezzen from a minaret on a mosque.


Hebrew, "removal," a scapegoat sent into the desert for making atonement (Leviticus 16:7-10, 20-26). After sacrificing one goat for atonement, the high priest would lay hands on another goat and confess the sins of the Israelites, which would then carry on itself the sins of the Israelites to a solitary place and be released to wander in the desert, thus removing all of their sins. Also one of the angels who rebelled with Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost..


Hebrew, "Help of God," the angel who parts the soul from the body at death, according to ancient Jewish and Islamic belief.

        I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying tp pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galations 1:6-9)

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  Reference Sources: Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, published by Prentice Hall Press, ©1986 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.; Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1968 Crowell-Collier Educational Corporation; Larson's New Book of Cults, ©1982 and 1989 by Bob Larson, printed by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Jewish Virtual Library (