Glossary – I


An icon is a religious image or picture. The term refers particularly to those paintings of Christ, the Virgin Mary or the saints used in the worship of the Eastern Churches. View a selection of icons.


The sense of who we are based on our physical, mental, emotional and cultural makeup. Our own sense of identity may or may not be an accurate reflection of who we really are.

Incarnation (N.456-483)

The word incarnation is derived from the Latin and means literally to ‘enflesh’ or ‘to make flesh’. The term Incarnation is used in Christian theology to refer to the moment when God became a human being at the conception of Jesus in the womb of his mother Mary. As the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.’ It is also used to refer to the continuing reality of Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human. Thus the Incarnation is a central dogma of Christianity concerning the mystery of Jesus Christ as one divine person possessing both a human and a divine nature.

The Incarnation is central to our salvation. Through Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, we can know the love of God and share in the life of God – eternal life.

Inculturation (N.835)

The process by which the Gospel is adapted to or incarnated in a particular culture and in which a culture is purified, healed and sanctified, so that it can properly express the beauty of the Gospel. In his 1985 encyclical letter, Slavorum Apostoli, commemorating the 11th centenary of the evangelising work of Saints Cyril and Methodius among the Slavic peoples, Pope John Paul II wrote that their work “contains both the model of what today is called inculturation, i.e. the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures, and also the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church” (SA, 21). Inculturation includes at least two things: the explanation of the Gospel message in a way people of a certain culture can understand clearly, (e.g. for Maori, using terms such as tapu, mana, tika, pono, te wā) and the celebration of the Faith using the customs of that culture, (e.g. for Maori, beginning Mass, Baptism or Confirmation with a powhiri (ceremonial welcome).

Infancy Narratives

The accounts of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and his childhood as described in the early chapters of Luke and Matthew’s Gospels. Many of the elements there originate from folklore, astrology, and interpretations of the Old Testament and are not to be regarded as history in our modern sense.


Initiation is a process by which new members are accepted into a particular group, society or culture. In the Catholic Church the three Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist which mark a person’s entry into full membership of the Church are referred to as Sacraments of Initiation.


Isaiah of Jerusalem is one of the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets. He lived around 760-700 B.C. at a time when Israel and Judah were under threat of invasion from the Kingdom of Assyria. Isaiah called on the Kings and people of Judah to trust in Yahweh. He condemned human pride and social injustice and, while warning of the consequences of lack of faith in God, he also held up hope of a bright future for those who trust in ‘the Holy One of Israel’. The Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament contains 66 Chapters. Scholars believe that only Books 1-39 are the work of Isaiah. Chapters 40-55 they believe to be the work of a later prophet (called Deutero or Second Isaiah) who lived 150 years later during the Exile in Babylon. Chapters 56-66 are the work of yet another author called Trito or Third Isaiah. Thus the passage from Chapter 49 about God carving Israel’s name on the palms of his hands is part of the Second Song of the Servant of Yahweh from Second Isaiah’s Book of Consolation.


An Arabic word that means “submission” to God’s will. The world religion that recognises Muhammad (570-632 AD) as God’s last prophet in a line that started with Abraham and continued through Jesus. Muhammad blamed the Jews for refusing to accept Jesus and the Christians for adopting what he thought was polytheism through their teaching on the Trinity. Islam’s absolute monotheism denies that God (Allah) has a Son. Jesus is honoured as a prophet who they say only seemed to die on the cross.

Islam involves five chief obligations:

  1. the confession of God’s unity and of Muhammad as God’s last messenger or prophet;
  2. ritual prayer five times a day;
  3. wealth sharing to support the poor;
  4. fasting during the whole month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset;
  5. pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in a lifetime.

The Second Vatican Council emphasised that Christians and Muslims are both heirs of Abraham’s faith who live in expectation of the judgment.