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Glossary

12 February 2016

Andrew Davison supplies a glossary of terms used in discussing the nature of God

Cosmological arguments: arguments for the existence of God from some feature of the world, such as its causes or its contingency, on the basis that the ultimate explanation for there being a world cannot be — to take those examples — either caused or contingent.

Deism: belief in a God (or god) who may have created the universe, but who is little involved with it now. Although such a god is typically seen as distant from human affairs, he is also characteristically not fully transcendent, and tends to feature as an elevated being-among-beings. Some critics of contemporary “Perfect Being theology” see it as fundamentally deist in this way.

Divine attributes: characteristics of God, taking in, for instance, the divine “omnis”: omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (all-present). From the earlier tradition of the Church, significant attributes might also be God as “being-itself”, “goodness-itself”, “truth-itself”, “beauty-itself”, “simple” (without composition of parts), or “immutable” (beyond change). See the first of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

Gnosticism: an ancient (but recurring) religious outlook characterised by disdain for materiality, which Gnostics typically saw as the work of an evil god, and from which one could escape by means of special knowledge (from the Greek gnosis).

Henotheism: worship of only one god, while not denying the existence of others.

Kathenotheism: worship of one god as supreme at a given time.

Polytheism: belief in, and worship of, many gods.

Monotheism: belief in and worship of only one God; not to be confused with Unitarianism, which is the heretical departure from Christianity by denial of the doctrine of the Trinity.

“Economic” and “Immanent” Trinity: distinction between the apprehension of God as Trinity in dealings with the world (economic — from oikonomikos, concerning household dealings) and God-as-God-eternally-is, absolutely “prior” to any such dealings (immanent, from remaining within). Pushed too far, this distinction tends towards modalism. A tendency in the 20th century was to stress that God reveals himself as he really is.

Impassibility/immutability: that God does not suffer (impassibility) or change (immutability) in his divinity.

Materialism/naturalism/physicalism: the proposal that nothing meaningful can be said about reality beyond a description of matter and its behaviour. This outlook is atheistic and reductionist, in that everything boils down to what can be described by physics.

Modalism: heresy, historically associated with Sabellius (third century), that the Persons of the Trinity are not fundamental to God, but simply three ways (“modes”) in which God appears to creatures; known as Patripassianism for holding that the Father (Pater) appeared on earth as Christ and suffered (passus).

Monarchianism: emphasis on unity in God to the detriment of the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance in modalism.

Ontological arguments: arguments for the existence of God that follow directly from the definition of terms rather than from arguments about observed features of the world.

Pantheism/Panentheism: the heretical position of identifying the world with God, either simply “God is the world and the world is God” (pantheism) or, more subtly, as “the world is part of God” (panentheism).

Sabelianism: see Modalism.

Teleological arguments: argument for God based on the apprehension of purpose in the world.

Tetragrammaton: Greek for “[word of] four letters”, YHWH, the name of God as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3. Can be translated as “I am”, and is commonly transliterated into English as Yahweh or Jehovah.

Theism: broad term usually defined, in distinction to deism or pantheism,as belief in one God without the departures of those positions.

Theophany: an appearance of God.

Unitarianism: see Monotheism

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