// Updated 1-11-11


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My humble opinions are in RED type.

This is a glossary for many religions.

If you would like to see a term added, please email Rev. Su!!

Theology Concepts,
Vocabulary & Definitions
from Many Religions





Deriving from the Greek, meaning 'without knowledge', the common modern understanding of this doctrine is 'holding out for more information.' You know, show me proof and I might believe there is a god.

In actuality, it is a much narrower concept. True agnostics believe that humans are incapable of understanding Deity or anything supernatural.

So, what, they think, 'why bother?' I always thought we were supposed to expand our minds and try to reach beyond our limited understanding of the world... guess I'm not an agnostic.

Albigensianism (Christian heresy)

Alexandrian Theology, Christian

The Godhead is shared by Father, Son and Spirit, nearly to the point of tritheism (belief in three separate gods). Jesus' humanity is barely acknowledged. Named for the schools of theology centered at Alexandria, Egypt in the 4th through 6th centuries CE.

Monothelitism and Monophysitism are extreme forms of this doctrine.





Antiochene Theology, Christian

Jesus is more human than divine.


Apologetics, Apologists

Ascetical Theology (contrast with Mystical Theology)



Bitheism, also known as Ditheism or Duotheism

This belief structure understands either that God has two equal and complementary (bitheist) or opposing (ditheist) aspects, or that there are two separate but complementary or opposing deities.  This term is also used in specific contexts to show the relationship between two deities within a larger pantheon, for example in the Persephone myth, Demeter and Hades are in an opposing ditheistic relationship.  The same is true for Ahura Mazda/Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu in Zoroastrianism.

In Neopaganism, God and Goddess are thought to be in a complementary bitheistic relationship. Most Neopagans either honor a non-specific god and goddess polarity, or they may choose to worship specific male and female deity pairs, usually within a polytheistic tradition.  

Branch Theory of the Church



Creationism (contrast with 'traducianism')



Dialectical Theology




Ethical Movement


The branch of systemic theology dealing with the fate of individuals and humankind, ‘the study of the last’.

Early Christians had thought the eschatological predictions of the Old Testament would literally come true, and when they did not, began to attempt to interpret the OT as allegories. Because much of Christianity is focused greatly on the Second Coming of Christ, it is an essentially eschatological religion. Adventism is an example of an extreme version of eschatologicalism.

Evangelicalism, Evangelicalist








Hedonists believe that existence is for personal pleasure.


Henotheists recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God.  They choose one aspect to worship (often within a family or tribe) while generally ignoring (but not denying) the existence of other aspects or forms of the Supreme Being.  Many Hindu and Neopagan traditions are henotheistic. It is commonly held that early Hebrews/Israelites were henotheistic.

"Hén" is the Greek word for 'one'. The term was coined in 1860 by (Friedrich) Max Müller (1823-1900), a professor of comparative philology at Oxford.

Higginbotham's Theorum of Paganism

All creation is blessed, all creation is interdependent and interconnected, and all creation is capable of a special kind of communication that we call magic.  This worldview, as well as the holographic universe (see below), is described in detail in the book by Joyce and River Higginbotham called "Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions."

Humanism, Secular

A belief in human self-sufficiency.



Johannine Theology

Justification by Faith (see also Lutheran)


Liberal Evangelicism


Liberalism is the general tendency to favor freedom and progress.

In a theological context, it gets complicated. The so-called "Liberal Catholics" of the 19th century were theologically orthodox, but wanted to reform the church structure to be more democratic. While in nearly all Protestant denominations "Liberal Protestantism" adherents were anti-dogmatic and sought to rebuild the entire Christian faith to be more humanitarian.

The term 'liberalism' is also used in place of secular humanism, which of course doesn't even follow religious dogma and scripture at all.


Marian Doctrine

Messalians, Euchites



Modalism, Sabellianism (compare to monarchianism)

Also called Sabellianism after a likely 3rd-century Roman theologian who espoused this doctrine.



The efficacy of grace has its ultimate foundation in free human cooperation with divinely given grace, and that God knows that humans will cooperate.

Monarchianism (compare to modalism, adoptionism)



Monophysitism, Monophysite

An extreme form of Alexandrian theology. Monophysites believe that Jesus Christ was fully divine, and not human. This is in direct opposition to the doctrine of dyophysitism (equal humanity and divinity) codified at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The break with the RC Church was complete within 150 years and Monophysites joined one of three other branches of the Christian church: Coptic/Abyssinian, Syrian Jacobite, and Armenian.

Leaders of the monophysite moveent include Julian of Halicarnassus and Severus of Antioch.

Monotheism (Christian heresy)

In monotheism, there is only one personality of God.  Some monotheistic gods, such as Allah and Yahweh, have various temperaments and moods, but they are nevertheless considered one being. 

A notable exception to this is the Three-in-One doctrine of Christianity; Father, Son (Jesus) and Spirit are aspects of God with differing purposes in creation, life management, and judgement.


An extreme form of Alexandrian theology.

Moral Philosophy

Moral Theology

This is the study of character and conduct as related to religion. It purports that Deity is the goal and reward of human endeavor, and sets out the basic rules for human conduct and the character traits that are necessary and conducive to a healthy spiritual life.

These basic rules are called precepts, and they are obligations like the Pillars of Islam. On the other hand, a counsel is merely highly suggested.

It was first established by the Christian St. Augustine with his description of charity as the prognitor of all other virtues. Thomas Aquinas combined this idea with other Aristotelian ideas when composing his Summa Theologica.

The RC monastic orders of the Jesuits and the Dominicans - rule imposers of the highest order - used data collected from the confessional to find a formula for applying moral theology to individuals.

One element of moral theology is the concept of scruples, which is the unfounded fear of sin where there is none.

The reason, you might be wondering, why someone would fear a sin, is that the whole point of moral theology is to create a rulebook for 'right living'. IMHO this runs counter to Jesus' condemnation of the Jewish legalism of his time and his simple proposition that one should love Deity and love self and others. Period. Thus, creating a strict set of rules for right conduct as proof of faith is silly in the extreme.

A rigid system of moral theology is Probiliorism, followed closely in France and Italy. Milder forms include Probilism and Equiprobilism established by St. Alphonsus Liguori in his 1733-5 three-volume treatise, Theologia Moralis. A scanned copy in Latin can be viewed online.

Protestant Churches tend to reject the need for detailed rules for living a 'Christian life.' They instead present virtues discussed in the NT such as charity, self-control and hope.

Moralism (see Moral Theology)

Mystical Theology (contrast with Ascetical Theology)


Natural Theology






Origenism (Christian heresy)




In pantheism, there is nothing separate or distinct from God, for God literally is the universe.  More detailed definitions tend to emphasize the idea that natural law, existence, and the universe (the sum total of all that is, was, and shall be) is represented or personified in the theological principle of 'God'.

Unlike in panentheism, there is no creation "plus one."

Panentheism (compare to pantheism)

Panentheism holds that God pervades the world, but is also beyond it.  Deity is the inner spiritual essence of everything in the universe, but it exists beyond the universe as well.

Variants of this theology are part of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Neo-Platonic, and transcendental  world views. 

Patripassianism (compare with Monarchianism)

The belief that God the Father suffered along with Jesus the Son. It was formalized in the 200's CE.

Pauline Theology

Pelagianism (Christian heresy)

Semi-Pelagianism is a rough mean of Augustine's doctrines on grace and Pelagian's. It was first expressed in the writings of early 5th century scholar, Cassian of Marseilles, and teaches that the first steps toward a "Christian life" are taken by human will, and grace follows later, generally at an unxpected moment.




Polytheism is a belief in a plurality of gods in which each deity is distinguished by special functions. This cosmic family becomes the nucleus of legends and myths and, eventually, of a cosmology that seeks to explain natural phenomena and to establish people's relation to the universe. As polytheistic religions evolve, lesser deities diminish in stature or vanish completely, their attributes being assigned to preferred gods, until the religion begins to exhibit monotheistic tendencies. 

Many Neopagans are "hard polytheistics", honoring or worshipping a family of gods and goddesses, or invoking them during spellcasting.

IMHO ALERT - I tend to view the various cultural names and myth cycles as manifestations of one aspect of God/dess, which is considered "soft polytheism". Just as people may ask me to help them analyze their web site, learn a piano sonata, or write a handfasting ritual (very different fields of expertise!), and would likely address me by a different name or title in each situation, so to can God/dess be addressed by a different name that represents the facet of experience you are seeking help or guidance with. I believe it also helps the practitioner more precisely visualize their goal and enter the altered state necessary for connection to the universe for prayer/magic.




A school of moral theology.


A school of rigid moral theology.


Process Theology


Psilanthropism (Christian heresy)

The belief that Jesus was just human, not God and Man in one person.


Quietism (Christian heresy)

Real Presence

This is the belief that during the Eucharist, the bread and wine actually become the tangible, actual flesh and blood of Jesus.

Realism (contrast third definition with nominalism)

There are three definitions of realism.

The most basic definition is that one believes ethereal things are not truly real. (Hmm, does this mean they can be ignored?)

Another definition is that one believes only in things that are rooted in fact, and is suspiscious of speculation. My sources tell me Christianity is realistic in this sense, but I have always thought of Christianity as a mystery religion, meaning Christians have faith in something unknown, something mysterious. Christians speculate about God, Jesus, the angels, the End Times, etc. all the time! Or do they? Maybe they are just debating the meaning of the descriptions set down in Scripture. And everyone thinks they're right, so they're not really "speculating" at all. Hmm, food for thought.

Here's the third definition, which is entirely the opposite of the first definition, and is quite within the Pagan worldview. This is the belief that abstract concepts, called universals, have a real existence apart from the people or things in which they are embodied, which are called particulars.

The Romans had inumerable non-anthropomorphized "little gods" called Numina. Each Numen was the "spirit" of places and concepts. Often, their names are also the Latin noun. The adjective numinous means to be filled with or characterized by a sense of a supernatural presence, to be sublime. For example: "The unexpected phosphorescence in the silent underwater cave made it numinous to the lucky scuba divers."

A few of the hundreds of little gods are: concord (Concordia), feasts (Edesia), thresholds (Lima), crossroads (Trivia), the southwest wind (Africus), bread baking (Fornax), night (Nox), truth (Veritas) and childbirth (Candelifera). And the list oges on and on and on and...


The belief that during the Eucharist the bread and wine take on additional characteristics once inside the body of the faithful communicant (receiver), becoming also the actual flesh and blood of Jesus.


Resurrection of Christ, The

A central tenet of Christianity, if you don't believe this, you probably shouldn't call yourself a Christian. Basically, Jesus was Christ died, was buried, then came back to life in his body after three days. It is his death that is the vicarious sacrifice that redeems humanity. (So why do some denominations still call people 'sinners'?) But it is his resurrection back to life that makes him touched by God. Please understand, he's not the only one who has ever been resurrected, even by God. BUT, he was the only one to intentionally sacrifice himself first. The Ascension was just gravy.

Resurrection of the Dead

Another central Christian tenet is that, at the "Second Coming" of Christ, everyone who has ever died will come back to life with a new physical body and everything, and that the "saved" will also go to "heaven". It's not clear what will happen to the not-saved. Just new life on Earth? Business as usual? That's billions of people from 500,000 years of human history, different cultures, languages, religions...and how would they live on a planet that is barely supporting the current living population.


A "revival" is a fervent outpouring of faith and praise marked by uplifting and dramatic music as well as intense preaching and prayer. The Steve Martin dark comedy, "Leap of Faith," is all about revivals, as is the Neil Diamond song, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show." It is evangelical to the extreme, and generally concise in its message.

For some Christians, especially in the southern part of the United States, revivals are regular occurances with guest "speakers" (preachers) who develop their own reputations.

Rigorism (compare to formalism and Tutiorism)

The broad definition of rigorism is the belief that one should deny oneself pretty much everything, be extremely ascetic, and rigidly keep the letter of the law with no interpretation of any kind. It's basically a cult mentality.

Sometimes rigorism is used as another name for the moral theology known as Tutiorism.


This is the belief in the strict adherence to the day of rest known as the Sabbath. No work, sport or payment of any kind can be made on the Sabbath. Strict adherence includes no lighting of fires, no driving of cars or animal-drawn carts, no laundry, and no television or games. Even motors cannot work on the Sabbath!

Some sects mark the Sabbath as evening to evening, others midnight to midnight, on a certain day of the week depending on their interpretation of Scripture.

Sects that keep this rigid doctrine include the Puritan and European Free Church sects, as well as orthodox Jews.

Scholasticism, Scholastic Theology (contrast with Nominalism)

Introduced in the Middle Ages by Augustine, Scholasticism ephasizes understanding reveal truth through intellectual processes.

It was not an effort or desire to have knowledge of faith, but rather, a fulfillment of the implied expectation by Deity to use the brains we've got and not follow something blindly, but obediently. Scholasticism does not replace faith in the Scripture, which is often considered to have more authority that commentary, but to supplement and enhance it.

The pinnacle of the Scholastic movement, and its clearest description, came with the publishing of Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. It diminished in popularity during the Renaissance, but revived in the late 19th century and is now a central part of RC theology.

Scientia Media

In order to reconcile God's foreknowledge with human freewill, 16th c. Jesuit author Luis Molina coined this phrase which means 'mediate knowledge' in Latin. Basically it means that God knows the results of all human choices of free will.


Belief in order and life principles derived solely from observation, not a belief in Deity or an afterlife.

This term is also used broadly to describe those who ignore or deny the concept of supernatural religion.



Systemic Theology


Transcendentalism, or Transcendental Philosophy

Adherents believe the principles of reality are to be discovered by the study of the processes of thought. Trancendental philosophy (and literature) emphasizes the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Maragret Fuller are the most noted members of the transcendental movement in the United States during the early nineteenth century.


Universalism (Apocatastasis)



Sources: Dictionary.com, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Religioustolerance.org