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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Optimism and Pessimism

(696 words)

Author(s): Stein, Jürgen
1. Origin and Meanings The terms “optimism” and “pessimism” originated in the philosophical polemics of the 18th century (e.g., Voltaire’s satire Candide; or, Optimism [1759], written against G. W. Leibniz). At issue was evil in the world, in nature, and in human possibilities. Optimism finds in the world the best possible world, which justifies its Creator (Creation; Justification 2; Theodicy). Pessimism views the world as a flawed world that is without God or that defies him (Atheism; Sin). A special form of optimis…

Opus Dei

(1,294 words)

Author(s): Hertel, Peter
The Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei (Lat. “work of God”) has since 1982 been the only personal prelature in the Roman Catholic Church. Its head is a bishop whose seat is in Rome, and its ecclesiastical basis is the Codex Iuris Particularis Operis Dei, issued by the pope in 1982. The current internal regulations established by Opus Dei (1984–90) are not accessible to the public, though they include the Latin writings De Spiritu et de piis servandis consuetudinibus (125 arts.) and Regulae internae pro administrationibus [ administrationes = section for women] (75 arts.), as wel…


(417 words)

Author(s): Hawkins, Robert D.
An oratorio is a multisectional, accompanied choral work (Choir) presenting a dramatic situation, usually religious, without staging or costumes. It includes a narrator (who reads the testo, “text”), soloists representing characters or virtues, and choruses reflecting on the drama. Accompaniments range from continuo (organ/harpsichord) to full orchestra. La rappresentazione di anima e di corpo (Representation of soul and body, 1600), by E. de’ Cavalieri (ca. 1550–1602), is considered the first oratorio; the term itself appeared in 1640. The roots of the oratorio are med…


(197 words)

Author(s): Strohmaier-Wiederanders, Gerlinde
The term “oratory” is used for a small chapel for private devotions with only restricted liturgical functions. In this sense it may denote the chapel of a hospital or castle. The Cistercians called their churches oratories (Monasticism). Architecturally the oratory was designed for more intimate worship as distinct from more expansive churches (Church Architecture). The Oratorians (Religious Orders and Congregations) also preferred a church with a single nave. From 1983 CIC 1223–29 there is a distinction between an oratory and a private chapel: the oratory is a …


(497 words)

Author(s): Schottroff, Willy
“Ordeal,” deriving from OEng. ordāl, “judgment,” refers to a procedure in sacred law in which, for lack of witnesses or other rational means of proof, priests or other experts (see Deut. 17:8–13) try to establish guilt or innocence by a divine proof. The accused person is subjected to a duel or to trial by poison, fire, water, and so forth, in which failure supposedly denotes guilt. Ordeals are common in African tribal religions but have also figured in more advanced societies, for example, in Israel and other ancient Near Eastern cultures and, under Germanic influence, the Middle Ages. In…

Order of Salvation

(1,765 words)

Author(s): Fahlbusch, Erwin
1. General Sense The concepts of the order and economy of salvation refer generally to the hidden decree and plan of God for the salvation of the world. They refer as well to all that God has done, and does, between the beginning and the end of the times to fulfill his saving purpose (see Eph. 1:10; 3:9), that is, salvation events in history (Salvation History), the sum of saving acts, and saving education in faith. 1.1. Eastern Developments The Greek church fathers worked out their theology in reflection on the mysteries of the divine economy. This economy embraces the …

Orders and Congregations

(9 words)

See Religious Orders and Congregations

Orders, Theology of

(8 words)

See Two Kingdoms Doctrine


(7,573 words)

Author(s): Brodd, Sven-Erik
1. Terminology The term “ordination” is complex, not least because of inconsistent or even contradictory usage among Christian traditions throughout church history and at the present time. One example of this terminological complexity is the differentiation between the “consecration” of bishops, the “ordination” of presbyters/priests (Elder; Priest, Priesthood), the “making” of deacons, and the “admitting” to minor orders (a term also used, on occasion, in Anglicanism in respect to deacons). All o…


(2,672 words)

Author(s): Dierken, Jörg
1. Term The term “organism” (from Gk. organon and Lat. organum, “instrument, sensory organ”), in common use since the 18th century, denotes an integrated, self-reproducing whole that in view of its inner teleology is more than the sum of its parts, even though the process of self-realization is possible only through the functions of the parts. In the biological and philosophical sense (Nature; Philosophy of Nature), “organism” has the basic sense of the structure of a living creature with all its individ…


(569 words)

Author(s): Büschges, Günter
“Organization,” a term with many meanings, derives from Gk. ergon/ organon by way of Lat. organum and organisatio. Two related and complementary meanings now hold the field: (1) a dynamic, process-oriented sense that stresses the intentional establishment of an order, structure, or system and that sees in organization an instrument; and (2) a more static and structural sense that stresses the established order, structure, or system (i.e., the result of organizing). Either way, the term may be either descriptive or analytic. In the static sense it may denote…

Organ, Organ Music

(1,407 words)

Author(s): Hawkins, Robert D.
The organ is a keyboard instrument that produces sound by forcing air through flue and reed pipes (pipe organ), over metal reeds (harmonium), by electromagnetic pulses (Hammond Organ), or by computer-analyzed electronics. Prototypes include the water-driven hydraulus, as well as the bellows-driven portative (easily transported), positive (larger, often stationary), and regal (reed instrument). We also have composite, multimanual, and pedal instruments consisting of several positives and pedal divisions. 1. The Pipe Organ Since the invention of the pipe organ in 250 …

Oriental Orthodox Churches

(1,329 words)

Author(s): Meno, John P.
1. Background and Beliefs The Oriental Orthodox churches, part of the worldwide family of Eastern Christians, comprise the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicate of Holy Etchmiadzin and Catholicate of Sis), Coptic Orthodox Church, Eritrean Orthodox Church (Eritrea 2), Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (sometimes referred to as the Indian Orthodox Church; Syrian Orthodox Churches in India), and the Syrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church of Antioch (including the Catholicate of Indi…


(825 words)

Author(s): Strutwolf, Holger
The early Greek church leader Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254) grew up in the syncretistic milieu of the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, the son of Leonidas, an educated convert to Christianity who died a martyr’s death in 202. Having received a solid Greek and Christian education, Origen made his living as a teacher of grammar until queries from pagans interested in Christianity prompted him to provide instruction in Christianity as well (other Christian teachers had fled Alexandria during persecutions). His enthusiasm for the ascetic ideals of his age prompted him to interpret Matt. 19:1…


(1,704 words)

Author(s): Junod, Eric
1. Term “Origenism” denotes a nexus of dogma, exegesis, and spiritual teaching that goes back to Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254) and that developed in both East and West after his death. 2. Origen 2.1. Life and Work Born in Alexandria, Origen received baptismal instruction there and then became a teacher of grammar and Christian philosophy. In approximately 232 he left Alexandria for Caesarea in Palestine, where he continued his teaching ministry as an ordained priest. He died there as a result of torture suffered during the Decian persecution of Christians. Only about a fourth of Origen’…

Orthodox Christianity

(4,612 words)

Author(s): Meyendorff, John
Christian faith is the faith of a community that began with the group of disciples gathered by Jesus himself and that received the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost after the resurrection (Acts 2). This Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of truth, who “abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17) and who, in spite of all the shortcomings and imperfections of both individuals and historical groups, speaks in and through that community gathered “in Christ.” Particularly when it celebrates the Eucharist (§3.1.3), the community is an eschat…

Orthodox Church

(4,448 words)

Author(s): Kallis, Anastasios
1. Terminology and Self-Understanding In keeping with their flexible and liberal spirit, which opposes defining the concept of orthodoxy (§§1–2) as a doctrinaire rigidity of binding belief, the Orthodox churches have no required term for themselves. The many terms used are to be understood in their historical contexts as reactions against church developments that at various times required emphases on identity and uniqueness and authenticity of this or that particular expression of the original Chris…
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