See Abbey

The superior of an abbey or convent of nuns. The abbess has the same rights and authority over her nuns that the abbots regular have over their monks. The sex, indeed, does not allow her to perform the spiritual functions annexed to the priesthood, wherewith the abbot is usually invested; but there are instances of some abbesses who have a right, or rather a privilege, to commission a priest to act for them. They have even a kind of Episcopal jurisdiction, as well as some abbots who are exempted from the visitation of their diocesan.

Sources: [Buck]


ABLUTION. definition a ceremonial washing of the body which has a spiritual meaning.



Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity. This ritual uncleanliness is not identical with ordinary physical impurity, such as dirt stains; nevertheless, body fluidsare generally considered ritually unclean.

Most of these rituals existed long before the germ theory of disease, and figure prominently from the earliest known religious systems of the Ancient Near East. Some writers remark that similarities between cleansing actions, engaged in by obsessive compulsive people, and those of religious purification rites point to an ultimate origin of the rituals in the personal groomingbehaviour of the primates, but others connect the rituals to primitive taboos.

Some have seen benefits of these practices as a point of health and preventing infections especially in areas where humans come in close contact with each other. While these practices came before the idea of the germ theory was public in areas that use daily cleaning, the destruction of infectious agents seems to be dramatic.[1] Others have described a ‘dimension of purity’ that is universal in religions that seeks to move us away from disgust, (at one extreme) and to uplift us towards purity and divinity, (at the other extreme). Away from uncleanliness to purity, and away from deviant to moral behavior, (within one’s cultural context)



ABLUTION. A ceremony in use among the ancients, and still practised in several parts of the world. It consisted in washing the body, which was always done before sacrificing, or even entering their houses. Ablutions appear to be as old as any ceremonies, and external worship itself. Moses enjoined them, the heathens adopted them, and Mahomet and his followers have continued them. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Jews, all had them. The ancient Christians had their ablutions before communion, which the Romish church still retain before their mass, and sometimes after. The Syrians, Copts, & c. have their solemn washings on Good Friday; the Turks also have their ablutions, their Ghast, their Wodou, Aman,& c.




A set of heretics that appeared in France and Spain about the end of the third century. They are supposed to have borrowed part of their opinions from the Gnostics and Manichaeans, because they opposed marriage, condemned the use of flesh meat, and placed the Holy Ghost in the class of created beings.


  1. One who abstains; a faster. [First attested around 1350 to 1470.]
  2. (usually capitalized, religion, historical) One of a sect who appeared in France and Spain in the 3rd century, and believed in abstinence towards meat and sex.


These nouns refer to the habitual refusal to indulge a desire, especially a sensual one. Abstinence implies the willfulavoidance of pleasures, especially of food and drink, thought to be harmful or self-indulgent: “I vainly reminded him ofhis protracted abstinence from food” (Emily Brontë).
Self-denial suggests resisting one’s own desires for the achievement of a higher goal: “For too many people, the resultof sedentary living is a perennial, losing battle against the bulge: bursts of self-denial interspersed with guilt when self-denial inevitably leads to self-indulgence” (Jane Brody).
Temperance refers to moderation and self-restraint and sobriety to gravity in bearing, manner, or treatment; bothnouns denote moderation in or abstinence from consuming alcohol: Teetotalers preach temperance for everyone. “[T]hose moments which would come between the subsidence of actual sobriety and the commencement ofintoxication” (Anthony Trollope).
Continence specifically refers to abstaining from sexual activity: The nun took a vow of continence.



Those who supported reform sought a return to the ideals of the early years of the Order and focused especially on its original vegetarianism. The Rule of St. Benedict, the fundamental document of the Cistercian Order, permits meat only to the sick, but by the 16th and 17th centuries the prohibition was rarely observed. The reformers – the “Abstinents” – regarded this meat eating as a symbol of all decadence, utterly rejected it, and (with papal approval) formed themselves into a congregation known as the Congregation of St. Bernard of the Strict Observance. However, they were not unopposed, and those who disagreed with them saw meat eating simply as an accommodation to changing times and regarded the Strict Observance as a collection of deluded enthusiasts.

The schism was so acrimonious that Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) was called to intervene, and in 1664 he invited representatives of both parties to Rome to put their cases to a commission of cardinals. Two years later Alexander promulgated the bull In suprema> which recognized two Cistercian observances, common and strict, the main difference between them being that the former would eat meat three times a week (except during Lent and Advent) and the latter would not.

Meanwhile, Ranee, who had been in Rome in 1664 defending the Abstinents, had established his own rule at La Trappe: a rule more severe than that either of the early Cistercians or of the Abstinents. His monks were forbidden not only meat but also fish, eggs, cheese, and butter. The austerity of the house – the seclusion, the silence, the fasts, the intensity of the opus Dei, and the hard manual labor – became a matter of such wide renown that Strict Observance” and “Trappist” came to be used (incorrectly) as synonyms.




In a general sense, is the act of refraining from something which we have a propension to or find pleasure in. It is more particularly used for fasting or forbearing of necessary food. Among the Jews, various kinds of abstinence were ordained by their law. Among the primitive Christians, some denied themselves the use of such meats as were prohibited by that law; others looked upon this abstinence with contempt; as to which Paul gives his opinion, Rom. 14:1,3. The council of Jerusalem, which was held by the apostles, enjoined the Christian converts to abstain from meats strangled, from blood, from fornication, and from idolatry, Acts xv. Upon this passage, Dr. Doddridge observes, “that though neither things sacrificed to idols, nor the flesh of strangled animals, nor blood, have or can have any moral evil in them, which should make the eating of them absolutely and universally unlawful; yet they were forbidden to the Gentile converts, because the Jews had such an aversion to them, that they could not converse freely with any who used them. This is plainly the reason which James assigns in the very next words, the 21st verse, and it is abundantly sufficient. This reason is now ceased, and the obligation to abstain from eating these things ceases with it. But were we in like circumstances again, Christian charity would surely require us to lay ourselves under the same restraint.”–The spiritual monarchy of the western world introduced another sort of abstinence, which may be called ritual, and consists in abstaining from particular meats at certain times and seasons, the rules of which are called rogations. If I mistake not, the impropriety of this kind of abstinence is clearly pointed out in 1 Tim. 4:3.–In England, abstinence from flesh has been enjoined by statute, even since the reformation; particularly on Fridays and Saturdays, on vigils and on all days commonly called fish days. The like injunctions were renewed under queen Elizabeth; but at the same time it was declared that this was done not out of motives of religion, as if there were any difference in meats, but in favour of the consumption of fish, and to mariners, as well as to spare the stock of sheep. See FASTING.


Abstinence, Total

David Cox’s Topical Bible Concordance

Means to not take in intoxicating substances, usually beverages.
• General references Lev. 10:8-10; Num. 6:3-4; Judg. 13:4, 13-14; Est. 1:8; Pro. 23:20, 31-32; 31:4; Jer. 35:6-8, 14; Luk. 1:15
• Instances of:
– Israelites in the wilderness Deu. 29:6.
– Samson Judg. 16:17; 13:3-5, 13-14; Num. 6:3-4.
– Daniel Dan. 1:8, 12.
– Rechabites Jer. 35:6-14.
– John the Baptist Mat. 11:18; Luk. 1:15; 7:33.



Abstemii is a Roman Catholic term used to identify those who could not parpake of the eucharist (communion) within the Roman Catholic Church. This has to do with a belief or conviction within these people against taking strong drink.

An abstemius (plural abstemii) is one who cannot takewine without risk of vomiting. As, therefore, the consecration at Mass must be effected in both species, of bread and wine, an abstemius is consequently irregular.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, following the opinion of Suarez, teaches that such irregularity is de jure divino (Latin: “of divine law”); and that, therefore, the Pope cannot dispense from it. The term is also applied to one who has a strong distaste for wine, though able to take a small quantity. A distaste of this nature does not constitute irregularity, but a papal dispensation is required, in order to excuse from the use of wine at the purification of the chalice and the ablution of the priest’s fingers at the end of a Mass celebrated in the Tridentine Mass. In these cases the use of wine is a canonical law from whose observance the Church has power to dispense. A decree of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, dated 13 January 1665, grants a dispensation in this sense to missionaries in China, on account of the scarcity of wine; various similar rulings are to be found in the collection of the decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.


ABSTEMII. A name given to such persons as could not partake of the cup of the eucharist, on account of their natural aversion to wine.



ABSOLUTION. Signifies acquittal.

It is taken also from that act whereby the priest declares the sins of such as are penitent remitted. The Romanists hold absolution a part of the sacrament of penance: and the council of Trent and that of Florence declare the form or essence of the sacrament to lie in the words of absolution. “I absolve thee “of thy sins.” According to this, no one can receive absolution without the privity, consent and declaration of the priest; except, therefore, the priest be willing, God himself cannot pardon any man. This is a doctrine as blasphemous as it is ridiculous. The chief passage on which they ground their power of absolution is that in John 20:23  “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” But this is not to the purpose; since this was a special commission to the apostles themselves, and the first preachers of the Gospel, and most probably referred to the power he gave them of discerning spirits. By virtue of this power, Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead, and Paul struck Elimas blind. But supposing the passage in question to apply to the successors of the apostles, and to ministers in general, it can only import that their office is to preach pardon to the penitent, assuring those who believe that their sins are forgiven through the merits of Jesus Christ; and that those who remain in unbelief are in a state of condemnation. Any idea of authority given to fallible, uninspired men to absolve sinners, different from this, is unscriptural; nor can I see much utility in the terms ministerial or declarative absolution, as adopted by some divines, since absolution is wholly the prerogative of God; and the terms above-mentioned, may, to say the least, have no good influence on the minds of the ignorant and superstitious.



Gems found in great abundance in Spain, which represent a human body, with the head of a cock and the feet of a reptile. They have often the inscription Abrasax, or Abraxas in Greek characters, which is supposed, however, to be Persian or Egyptian origin. According to Bellerman, they belonged to the religious sect of the Basilidians, and were used partly as means for teaching secret doctrines, partly as symbols, and partly as amulets or talismans. The name is also given to those stones which bear the emblems of Sahaeism. Dr. Neander, of Berlin, has wrtiten an interesting dissertation on the subject.


Abelians, Abelites, Abelonians

Or ABELONIANS, a sect which arose in the diocese of Hippoo in Africa, and is supposed to have begun in the reign of Arcadius, and ended in that of Theodosius. Indeed, it was not calculated for being of any long continuance. They regulated marriage after the example of Abel, who, they pretended, was married, but lived in a state of continence: they therefore allowed each man to marry one woman, but enjoined them to live in the same state. To keep up the sect, when a man and woman entered into this society, they adopted a boy and a girl, who were to inherit their goods, and to marry upon the same terms of not having children, but of adopting two of different sexes.

Abelians, Abelites, Abelonians. a sect which arose about the year 360, near Hippo, in Africa, and borrowed their name from Abel, the son of Adam, because, as they supposed, he died unmarried, and without children. Though they did not abstain from matrimony, yet they had no carnal knowledge of their wives, that they might not be instrumental in propagating original sin. That their numbers might be kept up, they adopted the children of others, on whom they settled their property, on condition that they would adhere to the principles of the sect. It does not appear to have continued long in existence, but it has recently been revived among the Shakers of America.



Definition – a Catholic concept where people recluse themselves from the evils of the world within the walls of a sanctuary.


A monastery, governed by a superior under the title of Abbot or Abbess. Monasteries were at first nothing more than religious houses, whither persons retired from the bustle of the world to spend their time in solitude and devotion: but they soon degenerated from their original institution, and procured large privileges, exemptions, and riches. They prevailed greatly in Britain before the reformation, particularly in England; and as they increased in riches, so the state became poor, for the lands which these regulars possessed could never revert to the lords who gave them. These places were wholly abolished by Henry VIII. He first appointed visitors to inspect into the lives of the monks and nuns, which were found in some places very disorderly; upon which the abbots, perceiving their dissolution unavoidable, were induced to resign their houses to the king, who by that means became invested with the abbey lands; these were afterwards granted to different persons, whose descendants enjoy them at this day: they were then valued at 2,853,000/.per annum; an immense sum in those days.–Though the suppression of these houses, considered in a religious and political light, was a great benefit to the nation, yet it must be owned, that, at the time they flourished, they were not entirely useless. Abbeys were then the repositories as well as the seminaries of learning: many valuable books and national records have been preserved in their libraries; the only places wherein they could have been safely lodged in those turbulent times. Indeed, the historians of this country are chiefly beholden to the monks for the knowledge they have of former national events. Thus a kind Providence overruled even the institutions of superstition for good. See MONASTERY.


Abbess, Abbot


The superior of an abbey or convent of nuns. The abbess has the same rights and authority over her nuns that the abbots regular have over their monks. The sex, indeed, does not allow her to perform the spiritual functions annexed to the priesthood, wherewith the abbot is usually invested; but there are instances of some abbesses who have a right, or rather a privilege, to commission a priest to act for them. They have even a kind of Episcopal jurisdiction, as well as some abbots who are exempted from the visitation of their diocesan.



The chief ruler of a monastery or abbey. At first they were lay-men, and subject to the bishop and ordinary pastors. Their monasteries being remote from cities, and built in the farthest solitudes, they had no share in ecclesiastical affairs; but, there being among them several persons of learning, they were called out of their deserts by the bishops, and fixed in the suburbs of the cities; and at length in the cities themselves. From that time they degenerated, and, learning to be ambitious, aspired to be independent of the bishops, which occasioned some severe laws to be made against them. At length whoever, the abbots carried their point, and obtained the title of lord, with other badges of the episcopate, particularly the mitre. Hence arose new distinctions among them. Those were termed mitred abbots who were privileged to wear the mitre, and exercise episcopal authority within their respective precincts, being exempted from the jurisdiction of the bishop. Others were called crosiered abbots, from their bearing the crosier, or pastoral staff. Others were styled aecumenical or universal abbots, in imitation of the patriarch of Constantinople, while others were termed cardinal abbots, from their superiority over all other abbots. At present, in the Roman catholic countries, the chief distinctions are those of regular and commendatory. The former take the vow and wear the habit of their order; whereas the latter are seculars, though they are obliged by their bulls to take orders when of proper age.