Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Glossary of Religious Terms

The version of Christianity espoused by the Church of England, often understood to comprise a blend of Catholic and Protestant elements. NB - this concept, and the word itself, is anachronistic before about the middle of the seventeenth century. Before then (and for long after) the great majority of the members of the Church of England thought of themselves as Protestants.

the leading enemy of Christ and his teaching, referred to in various biblical passages, and widely expected to appear on earth before the end of the world. Luther, and many subsequent Protestants, identified the papacy (rather than an individual pope) as the antichrist.

beliefs associated with the Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), who came to deny predestination - a kind of Calvinist 'heresy'. Arminian clergy were much promoted by Charles I of England. (NB Arminians, not Armenians, a people from the Caucasus!)

connected with the teaching of St Augustine (354-430), probably the most important theological authority for both Catholics and Protestants in this period. Often associated with a 'hard' line over grace [qv], stressing that people can do little by their own efforts, and everything comes from God.

sacrament [qv] by which persons are admitted to membership of the visible church on earth, involving water and a formula invoking the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Catholics, and most Protestants insisted on baptism of infants, and condemned Anabaptists who held there was no authority for this in scripture and practised adult baptism.

a form of religious instruction set out in a simple question-and answer format.

most commonly used to signify Christians recognising spiritual authority of the pope. 'Roman Catholic' can be used after about 1560. Technically, 'Catholic' means universal, and the creed recited by most Christians in this period affirms belief in 'the holy catholic church'. Thus, in theological terms, Protestant thinkers would deny that the Roman Church was the same as the Catholic Church, and would themselves claim to be Catholics! (Hence, the popularity of derogatory terms such as 'papist').

the lifting up of the consecrated host [qv] and chalice during the mass, regarded by many Protestants as idolatrous.

the sacrament [qv] in which bread and wine is blessed or consecrated and then consumed (the communion).

the supernatural assistance of God to make Christians more holy (sanctified). Much theological debate has focused on whether the free gift of God's grace is a necessary precondition for all good works, and the role that human freewill plays in co-operating with grace.

the flat wheaten disc used for celebration of the eucharist. Many Protestants preferred to use ordinary bread.

obstinate persistence in false belief. Both the Catholic and Protestant churches recognised the concept, though the Catholics had more developed mechanisms (Inquisition, Index of forbidden books) for punishing it.

the systematic description of the visual components of an image; the pattern of images making up the theme in a depiction. (adj. iconographical).

the breaking of religious imagery (statues, stained glass, crosses etc) in belief that they represent idolatry [qv].

the worship of false idols, condemned in the bible, especially the Ten Commandments. Protestants had a much wider concept than Catholics of what constituted idolatry.

the process by which people are restored to God's favour, having lost it through sin. Luther taught the doctrine of 'justification by faith alone' - ie good works had no role in making Christians pleasing to God. He also held that justification did not make people good or righteous, but because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross God accepted them as if they were.

members of the Church who do not belong to the clergy.

the various texts of church services (adj. liturgical).

Lord's Supper
term sometimes used by Protestants for the eucharist.

mass, the
Catholic church service in which the eucharist [qv] is celebrated.

another name for friars.

the belief that the end of the world is imminent, and will be preceded by the rule of the 'saints' upon earth. Also called chiliasm.

the sacrament by which Christians express sorrow for sin, and receive God's forgiveness. In Catholic practice done through confession to a priest (auricular confession) who confers absolution. Penance is also used to mean the action required to demonstrate true repentance: 'doing penance' by saying prayers, fasting etc.

belief that from the beginning of time, God has chosen some for eternal life in heaven, others for eternal damnation in hell. Virtually all Christian theologians accepted predestination in some form or other, but the doctrine is particularly associated with Calvin and his followers, who believed that men and women played no co-operating role in their salvation - ie heaven could not be 'won' or 'lost' by any actions in this life.

generic term for the churches (excluding the eastern orthodox) who rejected the authority of the papacy.

a place or state of being after this life, where souls destined for heaven would have their sins purged away - in Catholic popular teaching images of fire and torment predominated. Protestants rejected purgatory as unscriptural.

real presence
the belief that Christ is present in the bread and wine of the eucharist in more than a merely figurative or symbolic way. (Lutherans and Zwinglians disagreed over this).

Reformed, the
Protestant churches of Switzerland and southern Germany who drew their inspiration from the Swiss reformers rather than from Luther.

regular clergy
priests living under a rule (lat. regula) and in a community: monks and friars. (NB monks were supposed to live a contemplative life, withdrawn from the world, while friars took a more active role in preaching and hearing confessions and were supposed to live by begging. The distinction was sometimes blurred in practice.)

religious, the
often used to mean members of religious orders (ie not just modern sense of 'pious')

a visible ritual action designed to convey an invisible spiritual grace, usually performed by a priest. The Catholic Church recognised seven sacraments: baptism [v], confirmation, eucharist [qv], penance [qv], holy orders, marriage, anointing of the sick (extreme unction); Protestantism usually only two: baptism and the eucharist (though sometimes penance as well).

split within the church, which may or may not lead to heresy [qv]. (Catholics regarded the eastern orthodox as schismatics, but not usually as heretics, even though they rejected the authority of the pope).

the bible. Believed by both Catholics and Protestants to be the ultimate source of religious truth. Protestantism regarded it as the only source of authority (sola scriptura), and believed God would enable right-minded readers to interpret it the right way. Catholicism taught that scripture was supplemented by the tradition of the Church, and that the Church was the authoritative interpreter of scripture. (NB Protestants and Catholics recognised slightly different texts: Catholicism accepted as authentic books in the Greek version of the Old Testament not included in the Hebrew bible - the Apocrypha).

refers to the teaching of the thirteenth-century systematic theologian Thomas Aquinas, favoured by Catholics, but not Protestants.

The Catholic belief that in the eucharist the bread and wine is completely replaced by the real body and blood of Christ. This depends on a philosophical distinction between the accidents and substance of an object. While the accidents (shape, colour, taste etc) remain, the substance is transformed. All Protestants rejected transubstantiation, even those retaining a belief in the real presence.