Glossary of Christianity Terms

Christianity is far from being the oldest religion or the one with the most jargon, but in its relatively short span of existence has accumulated a wide variety of terms. Not all of these are unique to Christianity, but they are often heard in explicitly Christian contexts, ‘disciple’ being a good example. This glossary of Christianity terms is far from exhaustive, but it should be a good start.

Acolytehighest of the minor orders in the Latin church
Agapea Greek word meaning love and used to describe the attitude of God to humanity. In the early church it was also a special religious meal.
Agraphagreek term to designate terms used by Jesus outside the new testament
AmboLatin term for the pulpit
Anaphoraprayer for the consecration of the Eucharist
Anointingapplication of oil for religious purposes
Apocryphanon-canonical books sometimes still regarded as having some authority by different strands of Christianity
Apokatastasisa concept in universalism that refers to the recreation of the world to a perfect state
Apologeticsa greek term meaning “words on behalf of”. Basically an explanation or defense of something and later a specific type of Christian writing.
Apostlein the Christian sense, one of the 12 named followers of Christ in the new testament who then went on to spread the religion
Apostolic Successiondoctrine that the spiritual authority of the church derives from the apostles in historical succession, like a family tree or line of students and teachers
Apsein Christian usage, it’s a semicircular space at the end of the nave in early churches, usually where clergy was seated
Atonementin Christianity, this refers to the actions of the Christ in reconciling humanity to God
BaptismThe Christian initiation ritual into the religion as a member. It may or may not be preceded by some period of mandatory instruction.
Basilicaa specific category of church that, under catholic rules, enjoy certain privileges
Basiliadianan Egyptian gnostic sect
Bishopoverseers of the church, usually authority figures for a religion
Canon Lawchurch law
Catechisma summary of christian beliefs, usually catholic, used in introductory instruction of initiates
Catenacollection of excerpts from commentaries intended to explain biblical passages
Chiliasmthe wish for a golden age, essentially, following the return of the Christ
Chorepiscopusbishop of people in rural areas
Christologybranch of theology focused on Jesus, specifically his life and nature
Clergymembers of the church with spiritual authority
Confirmationessentially the completion of baptism in Christian sects that practice infant baptism. It’s the process by which one confirms their beliefs and enters the religion. In Catholicism, it’s a sacrament.
Covenantpromise between God and humanity
Crucifixionthe central event in Christianity, where Christ was tied to a cross to die and then rose from the dead.
Deacona lower church official
Didachean early manual of church life
Disciplea follower, often used to describe the Apostles
Docetisman early church controversy, the view that the humanity of christ was just in appearance and that he was wholly divine.
Donatisma sect of Christianity in the early church that argued that clergy should be faultless
Doxologywords praising God
Dyophysitismbelief in the two natures of Christ. This eventually became the accepted belief
Ebionitesan early Jewish-Christian sect that viewed poverty as a blessing
Ecstasystate of religious euphoria
Elthe deity that eventually became the central god of the Abrahamic religions
Elkesiatesa Jewish-Christian gnostic sect
Encriatitesa very ascetic Christian sect from the early church
Epiphanymanifestation of the divine, especially in reference to the Visit of the Magi
Epiclesisliturgical invocation of the Holy Spirit
Epistleusually refers to the letters sent by Paul to the various churches
Eucharista central ritual in Christianity consecrating bread and wine in memory of the Last Supper
Evangelista preacher
Excommunicationexclusion from communion
Fallthe result of the first sin and subsequent removal of humanity from Eden
FiloqueLatin term meaning “and the son”. It being added to the Nicene creed is considered the reason for the split between eastern and western Christianity
Fossora gravedigger
Good Shepherda term used to refer to Jesus
Gospela narrative of the words and/or deeds of Jesus
Gracedivine favor
Hagiographywritings of or about saints
Haloiconography of glowing discs surrounding a head to symbolize a divine or semi-divine figure
Harrowing Of Helldescent of Christ into hell in the time between death and resurrection in which he freed the souls of those held captive who had lived justly
Heresyfalse doctrine
Homilytextual commentary following the reading of scripture intended to teach
Homoeansa group active during the Arian controversy who tried to find a compromise between the two views of the essence of Jesus
Laying On Of Handsplacing hands on someone’s head to give a blessing
Lectionarybook dividing scripture into days in which it is supposed to be used for a worship service
Lent45 day period before easter
Litanya prayer of supplication incorporated into the sacraments or daily prayer
Liturgyorganized public worship
Logosmeaning “word” in Greek, for the early church it was considered a reference to Jesus
Masscatholic worship service culminating in the eucharist
Messaliansa very ascetic sect that believed in intense, ceaseless prayer and lived on alms
Modalismthe doctrine that considered the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt as merely modes of the Godhead rather than separate entities
Monophysitisma movement during the Christological controversy era that believed in a wholly divine Jesus as opposed to human and divine
Montanisma prophetic movement in the early church
Ordinationappointment to clergy
Original Sinthe first sin
Papacythe institution of the bishop of Rome
Patriarcha high-ranking bishop
Pelagianisman ascetic movement emphasizing free will and good works
Penancesacrament of forgiveness for sin after baptism
Pentecosta Christian feast day denoting the 15th day after the resurrection when Jesus appeared before his disciples
PeshittaSyriac translation of the old testament
Pneumatochiansearly Christian group that denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit
Presbytera clerical rank
Prevenient Gracedivine operation that begins the conversion process
Purgatoryessentially a spiritual laundromat where the souls of believers are purged of minor sins in order to attain salvation
Relicbasically anything associated with a saint, including body parts and possessions
Sacramentactions, rituals, and ceremonies believed to channel of divine grace and be instituted by Jesus
Sainthuman endowed with grace and the supernatural ability to intercede after death. See, also What’s a Saint?
Scholasticisma medieval philosophy that attempted to support catholic doctrine through logical reasoning
Sethiana gnostic sect that considered itself the spiritual descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. That had a fairly extensive mythology
Sinan action against the teachings of the church and therefore seen to be against God
Sophiaa Greek word meaning “wisdom” originally equated with logos but later being considered to refer to the Holy Spirit
Soteriologybranch of theology concerned with salvation
Substancein Christological discourse, this refers to the essence of Jesus
Synaxisa congregation assembled for worship
Traducianismessentially an understanding of the soul that considers it to form from the souls of the parents
Trinitythe Christian doctrine of God as three being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Vulgatethe Latin translation of the bible
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