Encyclopedia of Christianity Online

Get access Subject: Religious Studies
Editors: Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milič Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan and Lukas Vischer

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The Encyclopedia of Christianity Online describes modern-day Christian beliefs and communities in the context of 2000 years of apostolic tradition and Christian history. Based on the third, revised edition of the critically acclaimed German work Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon. The Encyclopedia of Christianity Online includes all 5 volumes of the print edition of 1999-2008 which has become a standard reference work for the study of Christianity past and present. Comprehensive, reflecting the highest standards in scholarship yet intended for a wide range of readers, the The Encyclopedia of Christianity Online also looks outward beyond Christianity, considering other world religions and philosophies as it paints the overall religious and socio-cultural picture in which the Christianity finds itself.

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Babylonian and Assyrian Religion

(1,214 words)

Author(s): Renger, Johannes
The civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, whose written traditions have come down to us in Sumerian and Akkadian, played an important role in the development of the Near East from the end of the fourth millennium b.c. onward. In the course of history, the peoples of Syria and Palestine, among them Israel and Judah, were particularly subjected to Mesopotamian influence (esp. in the first half of the first millennium). At the beginning of the fourth millennium the peoples of southern Mesopotamia lived in village settlements, supported by irrigation-based agricult…


(588 words)

Author(s): Klemm, Verena
1. The Baha’i religion arose in the 19th century in Iran out of the reforming movement of ʿAlī Moḥammad (1819/20–50), known as the Bāb, which ¶ was directed against the orthodoxy of the Shiite clergy (Islam). Its founder, Bahāʾ Allāh (1817–92), whose name means “glory of God,” declared that he was a follower of the traditional prophets (§1) seeking to actualize in his own time the spirit of their teaching. He gave written form to his humanitarian, cosmopolitan concept in Al-Kitab al-Aqdas, or Most Holy Book. After his death in exile in Palestine, his son ʿAbd ol-Bahā’ (…


(1,201 words)

Author(s): Editors, The
1. General Situation The Commonwealth of the Bahamas, a West Indies nation independent since July 10, 1973, comprises an archipelago of 700 islands and over 2,000 cays and rocks extending southeastward from off the coast of Florida in the United States to just north of Haiti. Not more than 30 islands are inhabited, with the population divided ethnically between Afro-Caribbean (85 percent) and Euro-American (15 percent, largely from Great Britain, Canada, and the United States). The official language of the Bahamas is English, which ¶ reflects the dominant role of the British in …


(736 words)

Author(s): Editors, The
1. General Situation The State of Bahrain is an archipelago nation lying along the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Roughly two-thirds of the population are Bahrainis, with the remainder resident foreign workers (Foreigners 2), divided among Asians (13 percent, mostly Indians and Pakistanis), other Arabs (10 percent, mainly Palestinians, Egyptians, and Saudis), Iranians (8 percent), and smaller groups of Europeans. The main island, Bahrain, is linked to Saudi Arabia by a 25-kilometer (15-mi.) causeway, and by shorter causeways to the other main islands, Muharr…


(503 words)

Author(s): Luchesi, Brigitte
Bangladesh, a republic in southern Asia, encompasses the territory of what was formerly Indian East Bengal and the Sylhet district of Assam. After the partition of British India in 1947, it formed the eastern part of the Islamic state of Pakistan before it achieved its independence in 1971. The vast majority of the people (97 percent) are Bengalis; the largest minority groups are Urdus (600,000), Chakmas (352,000), Hindis (346,000), Burmese (231,000), and Biharis (230,000). The Bengalis are nearly all Sunnite Muslims, but there is a Shiite minority in the cities. Hind…


(9,795 words)

Author(s): Fahlbusch, Erwin | Schnelle, Udo | Wainwright, Geoffrey | Leonard, Bill J. | Grethlein, Christian | Et al.
Overview In Christianity, baptism—either by plunging in water or by sprinkling with it—represents the first act of incorporation “into Christ” and into the fellowship of the church. Further acts of incorporation are confirmation (Initiation Rites 2) and the Eucharist. Other religious societies have similar rites (Initiation Rites 1). Jewish proselyte baptism incorporates the baptized not only into the religious fellowship but also into God’s covenant people. This matter is relevant in the dialogu…

Baptismal Font

(383 words)

Author(s): Strohmaier-Wiederanders, Gerlinde
The baptismal font (Lat. piscina [tank, basin] or fons baptismalis) is a receptacle of stone, metal, or wood that holds the water consecrated for use in baptism. As long as immersion was the rule in the early church, baptism took place in open water or in a large bath in a separate chapel, the baptisterium (Baptistery), or in the atrium of the basilica. Its shape was round or polygonal. In missionary areas baptism by affusion became common, and hence a freestanding font became possible. Yet immersion was customary into the 16th century, though small fonts were a…

Baptism, Emergency

(6 words)

See emergency baptism

Baptism, Heretical

(6 words)

See Heretical Baptism


(308 words)

Author(s): Peschlow, Urs | Leonard, Bill J.
Originally the term baptisterium denoted the basin in the frigidarium (cold bath) of the Roman baths. From the fourth century it came into use for the piscina (Lat. for “tank, basin”), or baptismal church. Other names were balneus and loutron (bath) and, among Christians, phōtistērion (enlightenment). From the third century certain cultic places were set apart for the purpose of baptism. In keeping with the form and situation of the piscina, these were often round or octagonal with surrounding pillars, upper lighting, and a cupola. Such forms derived from the a…


(2,350 words)

Author(s): Schütz, Eduard | Gaustad, Edwin S.
1. Name and History The name “Baptist” was originally a derogatory name used by opponents who wanted to call attention to the Baptists’ distinctive practice of believers’ baptism. Baptists themselves would have preferred to be known more as a congregational movement than as a baptismal movement. The Baptists developed in England out of English Puritanism, or more strictly out of Congregationalism, which formed congregations independent of the state and the state church (Separatism). The Baptist impulse probably came by way of the Mennonites, who baptized by pouring. Because of per…

Baptist World Alliance

(218 words)

Author(s): Schütz, Eduard
The Baptist World Alliance arose in 1905 in London as an alliance of Baptist unions and now has its headquarters near Washington, D.C. According to its constitution, it seeks to represent the essential unity of Baptists in the Lord Jesus Christ, to strengthen brotherhood, and to promote the spirit of fellowship, service, and cooperation among its members. It does not infringe upon the independence of the participating congregations and unions. It holds a world congress every five years. Its main work takes place in …


(1,057 words)

Author(s): Editors, The
1. General Situation The independent island nation of Barbados occupies the easternmost land mass in the West Indies. Archaeological evidence indicates that Arawak Indians maintained permanent settlements there beginning approximately a.d. 1000. First contacts with European explorers occurred probably in the early 1500s, when the Spanish landed in Barbados to seek slaves for their gold mines in Hispaniola. By the mid-1500s, no Indians remained, nor did a party of 80 English settlers under Henry Powell encounter any inhabita…

Barmen Declaration

(1,138 words)

Author(s): Busch, Eberhard
1. The “Theological Declaration on the Present State of the German Evangelical Church,” or Barmen Declaration, was formulated by K. Barth (1886–1968), H. Asmussen (1898–1968), and T. Breit (1880–1966). Barth was its theological father. At the first confessing synod of the church at Barmen-Gemarke on May 31, 1934, it was unanimously adopted by 139 delegates from 25 state and provincial churches. The boldness of the synod in rejecting the legitimacy of the church government and regarding itself as…


(4,541 words)

Author(s): Rimbach, Guenther C.
1. Definition The term “baroque” denotes a style and a period between approximately 1580 and 1720 or even up to 1760. The Enlightenment introduced the word in a derogatory sense for the architecture of the High Renaissance, meaning something that was bizarre or against the classical rules. Soon it came to be used also for music and literature, where it had the sense of bombastic, affected, or unnatural. Not until the end of the 19th century were there hesitant attempts at rehabilitation (H. Wölffl…

Barth, Karl

(936 words)

Author(s): Busch, Eberhard
Karl Barth, who was born on May 10, 1886, at Basel and who died there 82 years later (on December 10, 1968), was one of the most important Protestant theologians of the 20th century. His father, Fritz, was a disciple of A. Schlatter at Bern, his mother a descendant of H. Bullinger and a relative of J. Burckhardt. The philosopher Heinrich Barth and the Calvin ¶ scholar Peter Barth were his brothers. In 1913 he married Nelly Hoffmann, and they had five children, of whom Markus became a NT scholar and Christoph an OT scholar. Studying theology at Bern, Berlin, Tübingen, and Marburg, Barth br…

Base Community

(683 words)

Author(s): Steinkamp, Hermann
The phrase “base community,” used especially in the Roman Catholic Church and its theology, has become a programmatic term in theological and ecclesiastical controversies about congregational and church reform. It also denotes a church community defined empirically that, for all the individual differences—local, national, and spiritual—shares such features as self-organization, emphasis on koinonia, the active participation of all members in the congregational process, and the relating of the ch…

Basel Confession

(463 words)

Author(s): Neuser, Wilhelm H.
In 1534 the city council of Basel adopted a confession in order to distinguish Reformation teaching more clearly from that of Roman Catholics and Anabaptists. Its author was Oswald Myconius (1488–1552), a friend of U. Zwingli (1484–1531) and the ¶ leader of the Basel church. He based it on the synodal confession of J. Oecolampadius (1482–1531). The 12 articles are short and clear. Article 1, which describes God in terms based on the early doctrine of the Trinity (§2), states that before the creation of the world God elected us to eternal life (Predes…

Basel, Council of

(7 words)

See Reform Councils

Basilian Monks

(180 words)

Author(s): Albrecht, Ruth
The rules of Basil the Great (ca. 330–79; Cappadocian Fathers) were meant as spiritual reading for individual monks, not as the rule of an order. Eastern monks live according to this tradition, but they properly should not be called Basilians, as is commonly done. Basilian monasteries and congregations arose only under Western influence in the Eastern churches in union with Rome. In Italy (even today in the abbey Grottaferrata) and Spain, Greek monks have been called Basilians from the 12th century. …


(260 words)

Author(s): Peschlow, Urs
In antiquity the term “basilica” denoted a rectangular hall, usually divided by pillars and used for various purposes. From the fifth century a.d. its main use was for churches. When official permission was given to build churches under Constantine (306–37), this form was commonly chosen, adopted from secular, rather than pagan, sacral architecture. If the details were borrowed from Roman places of assembly, the structure as a whole was something new: a rectangular building, divided by colonnades into a broader and …


(635 words)

Author(s): Kingsbury, Jack Dean
The beatitude, or “makarism,” is a literary form commonly beginning with the word “blessed” (Gk. makarios) and constituting some declaration of good fortune for persons. Familiar to Greek literature in both the classical and Hellenistic periods, it is most often used to extol persons considered to be happy according to the ideals of Greek philosophy (e.g., those attaining wealth, honor, wisdom, or virtue). In the OT, beatitudes appear almost exclusively in the Psalms and Wisdom literature, where they mainly serve the purpose of ethical exhortation. God, t…

Beecher, Lyman

(717 words)

Author(s): Kling, David W.
Lyman Beecher, an American Congregational and Presbyterian clergyman, revivalist, reformer, and educator, was born on October 12, 1775, and died on January 10, 1863. He graduated from Yale College ¶ (1797) and then studied theology under Timothy Dwight. Under Dwight’s influence, Beecher was “baptized into the revival spirit” of America’s Second Great Awakening (1790–1835). Indeed, Beecher’s life epitomized the many sides to the awakening and its profound impact for American history. An irrepressible man of boundless energy, …


(479 words)

Author(s): Hübener, Britta
The Beguines were various ascetic and religious communities of women not under vows that arose chiefly in the Low Countries in the 13th century. The origin and meaning of the term “Beguine” are unclear, but it probably had a connotation of heresy. As part of the movement in response to urban poverty and to limitations of religious life among women, the Beguines tried to achieve the ideals of ¶ chastity, evangelical poverty, and the contemplative life. Social impulses (including economic, legal, and cultural discrimination against women) as well as religious factors (esp. the goal of …

Behavior, Behavioral Psychology

(2,484 words)

Author(s): Möhle-Köhnken, Christiane | Frey, Dieter
1. Definition Originally the word “behavior” referred to any form of physical activity of living creatures that, as distinct from psychological processes, could be objectively seen (with appropriate instruments) or measured by external observers. This classical definition was later expanded when a distinction was made between open and concealed conduct. The former is physical activity as just defined, whereas the latter involves what is not observed but may be concluded on the basis of that which …


(1,841 words)

Author(s): Sawatsky, Walter
1. General The Belarusians, who include the ancient Krivichi and Dregovichi of the central and western regions of Kievan Rus, have often been overlooked but yet have achieved remarkable influence. Usually part of some larger political state, though retaining their own language or four basic dialects, the Republic of Belarus finally came into being in 1991 and became a member ¶ of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Its capital, Minsk, also became the capital of the CIS. Geographically, Belarus has a largely flat terrain. Belarusian became the of…


(1,951 words)

Author(s): Boudin, H. R.
1. Churches 1.1. In the last decades of the 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church has shown renewed vitality, a revived Christian consciousness. A newly kindled love for the Bible brought with it a return to the original sources of Scripture. The abandoning of Latin in the liturgy brought a renewal that promoted the participation of believers in the services. New methods of catechesis were meant to strengthen the interest of young people. The church owed its upswing mainly to the integration of …


(379 words)

Author(s): Editors, The
Formerly British Honduras (to 1973), Belize lies between Guatemala and Mexico on the Caribbean coast of Central America. From the middle of the 17th century British traders exploited the coast from Campeche to Belize, cutting timber (for dyeing) and building factories. After 1680 Spanish pressure forced the British out of the Yucatán peninsula and into the stretch of coast in Belize between the Río Hondo and the Río Belize. With the Dallas-Clarendon agreement they secured control over a territory enlarged from 6,000 to 20,000 sq. km. (2,300 to 7,700 sq. mi.). In 1859 Guatemala re…

Bellarmine, Robert

(821 words)

Author(s): Padberg, S.J., John W.
Robert Bellarmine (b. Montepulciano, Tuscany, October 4, 1542; d. Rome, September 17, 1621) was one of the best-known and most widely published Roman Catholic theologians of the post-Reformation period. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1560, began the study of theology at Padua in 1567, and in 1569 went to Louvain both as student and as professor. There he began his lectures on Roman Catholic teachings then under attack by the Reformers. In 1576 he was appointed to the chair of controversial theolog…


(166 words)

Author(s): Albrecht, Christoph
Bells were forged in the most varied cultural circles once the art of metallurgy had been mastered. Little bells were partly used to decorate garments (also as amulets?) (see Exod. 28:33–35); large bells were poured from prebiblical times. They came in various shapes, but cup-shaped bells became the most popular because they gave out the best sound. The favorite metal was bronze (four parts copper to one part tin). Christian use of bells began in the East (Orthodox Church). In the West their liturgical use began in monasteri…


(1,363 words)

Author(s): Bienert, Wolfgang A.
1. The term “Benedictine” applies in a general sense to all monks who live communally according to the rule of Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-ca. 547). More narrowly Benedictines are members of a Benedictine confederation set up in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903). To this group belong 21 autonomous congregations with some 9,000 male members and 18,500 female members under an abbot primate in Rome ( Catalogus monasteriorum OSB 17 [1990]). 2. Benedict composed the rule that would decisively shape Western monasticism originally for ¶ his own monastery at Monte Cassino (after 529). …


(229 words)

Author(s): Schmidt-Lauber, Hans-Christoph
A benediction, from the Lat. benedicere (praise, bless, consecrate), was originally praise directed to God (Heb. bĕrākôt, LXX eulogia and then doxologia), whether in the form of public worship, house (table) fellowship, or individual prayer. The Eucharist (from Gk. eucharisteō, be thankful, return thanks) took its name from this practice. The NT supplemented Jewish eulogies (Eulogia) by the wishing of grace ( charis) and by formulas of greeting and blessing. In the church there developed blessings of persons (at worship, official acts, ordinations, installations, etc.)…

Benedict of Nursia

(784 words)

Author(s): Henry, Patrick
In his Second Dialogue, the earliest notice we have of the life of Benedict of Nursia, Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) concludes his tale of miracles and wonders with a simple direction: “Anyone who wishes to know more about [Benedict’s] life and character can discover in his Rule exactly what he was like as an abbot, for his life could not have differed ¶ from his teaching.” Nevertheless, as biographical sources, both the Second Dialogue, written a halfcentury after Benedict’s death, and the Rule itself, require caution. One reason Benedict’s life is not noticed in contemporary …


(4 words)

See Canticle


(1,135 words)

Author(s): Akle, Samuel
The West African country of Benin, on the Gulf of Guinea, is one of the poorest nations in the world. Formerly named Dahomey, it achieved independence in 1960 after 60 years as a colony of France. It received its new name, the People’s Republic of Benin, after a military coup in 1972 and the proclamation of Marxism-Leninism as its ideology in 1975. In December 1989 the leadership officially renounced Communism, which led to multiparty elections in March 1991. The population of Benin consists of over 50 ethnic groups. The largest of the ethnolinguistic groups are the Fon (…

Bernard of Clairvaux

(1,067 words)

Author(s): Elder, E. Rozanne
Born to minor nobility at Fontaines-les-Dijon, Bernard (1090–1153) entered the recently founded “New Monastery” of Cîteaux (Burgundy, Fr.) in 1112, bringing with him some 30 friends and relatives whom he had persuaded to leave careers and families in the world. The eloquence, persuasiveness, and persistence behind this accomplishment marked his entire life. Three years later, Bernard, then 24 or 25 years old, led a band of “White Monks” to a new foundation at Clairvaux (Valley of Light) in Champagne. From this …


(455 words)

Author(s): Funke, Alex
Founded in Germany in 1867, Bethel is an institution dedicated to Christian charitable work (Inner Mission). ¶ Its founding came as J. Bost (1817–81), leader of the French diaconal institution La Force (Diakonia), shared a personal experience. A group of Bielefeld businessmen, theologians, and politicians acquired property, called the Württemberg teacher Johannes Unsöld (1843–1934), and opened a place of healing and care with epileptic youngsters. Rapid growth came after 1872 with the calling of Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (1831–19…

Beza, Theodore

(1,146 words)

Author(s): Muller, Richard A.
Theodore Beza (or de Bèze), the protégé, colleague, biographer, and successor of J. Calvin (1509–64), was born on June 24, 1519, at the castle of Vézelay in Burgundy, where his father was the governor. At the age of five he was given into the care of his uncle, Nicholas de Bèze, who brought the boy to Paris and eventually entrusted his education to the humanist scholar Melchior Wolmar, of Orléans. Beza lived and studied with Wolmar from 1528 to 1534. In May of 1535 Beza matriculated at the Unive…
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