For other uses, see Sacred (disambiguation).
"Holy" and "Sanctity" redirect here. For other uses, see Holy (disambiguation) and Sanctity (disambiguation).

Sacred means revered due to sanctity and is generally the state of being perceived by religious individuals as associated with divinity) and considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspiring awe or reverence among believers).

From an anthropological or atheistic perspective, the religious view of the sacred is an emic perspective on a culture's collection of thoughts and practices that function as a basis for the community's social structure.

Objects are often considered sacred if used for spiritual purposes, such as the worship or service of gods. The property is often ascribed to objects (a "sacred artifact" that is venerated and blessed), or places ("sacred ground").


The word "sacred" descends from the Latin wikt:sacer, that is consecrated, or dedicated[1] to the gods or anything in their power, and to sacerdos and sanctum, set apart.

Distinguished from "Holy"

Main article: Hailag

Although there are similarities between the terms "sacred" and "holy" and they are sometimes used interchangeably, there are subtle differences.[2] "Holiness" is generally the term used in relation to persons and relationship, while "sacredness" is used in relation to objects, places, or happenings.[3] Thus a saint may be considered as holy, but he is not viewed as sacred. However, there are things that are both holy and sacred such as the holy bible.[2]

The English word "holy" dates back to at least the 11th century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning "whole" and used to mean "uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete". The Scottish hale ("health, happiness and wholeness") is the most complete modern form of this Old English root. The word "holy" in its modern form appears in Wycliffe's Bible of 1382. In non-specialist contexts, the term "holy" is used in a more general way, to refer to someone or something that is associated with a divine power, such as water used for baptism.

While both words denote something or someone set apart to the worship of God and therefore worthy of respect and in some cases veneration, "holy" (the stronger word) implies an inherent or essential character.[4] Holiness originates in God and is communicated to things, places, times, and persons engaged in His Service. Thus Aquinas Thomas defines "holiness" as that virtue by which a man's mind applies itself and all its acts to God; he ranks it among the infused moral virtues, and identifies it with the virtue of religion, but with this difference that, whereas religion is the virtue whereby one offers God due service in the things which pertain to the Divine service, holiness is the virtue by which one makes all one's acts subservient to God. Thus holiness or sanctity is the outcome of sanctification, that Divine act by which God freely justifies a person, and by which He has claimed them for His own.[5]

Academic views


See also: Hierotopy

Hierology (Greek ιερος, hieros, "sacred" or "holy", + -logy) is the study of sacred literature or lore.[6][7]

History of religions

Main article: History of religions

Mircea Eliade outlines that religion should not be interpreted only as 'belief in deities', but as 'experience of the sacred'. He analyses the dialectic of the sacred.[8] The sacred is presented in relation to the profane.[9] The relation between the sacred and the profane is not of opposition, but of complementarity, as the profane is viewed as a hierophany.[10]


French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden."[11] In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns. Durkheim explicitly stated that the dichotomy sacred/profane was not equivalent to good/evil. The sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well.[12]

Religious views


In Theravada Buddhism one finds the designation of 'noble person' or ariyapuggala (Pali). The Buddha described four grades of such person depending on their level of purity. This purity is measured by which of the ten fetters (samyojana) and klesha have been purified and integrated from the mindstream. These persons are called (in order of increasing sanctity) Sotāpanna, Sakadagami, Anāgāmi and Arahant.



Vatican Persian Cock – A 1919 print of a fabric square of a Persian cock or a Persian bird design belonging to the Vatican (Holy See) in Rome dating to 600 CE. Notice the halo denoting the status of being holy or sacred.

Catholicism has inherited much of the Jewish vision of the world in terms of holiness, with certain behaviour appropriate to certain places and times. The calendar gives shape to Catholic practice, which tends to focus on the Eucharist, in which the Real Presence of Christ is manifested. Holy days, celebrating events of the life of Christ and the lives of Catholic saints officially recognized as holy, are celebrated throughout the year.

Many features of the Jewish temple (although now seen as having Christian significance) are imitated in churches, such as the altar, bread, lamp, incense, font, etc., to emphasise the extreme holiness of the Eucharistic elements, which are reserved in a tabernacle. In extension of this focus on the Sacrament as holy, many objects in Catholicism are also considered holy. They are called sacramentals and are usually blessed by a priest. Such items include rosaries, crucifixes, medals, and statues and icons of Jesus, angels and saints (e.g. Virgin Mary). While Catholics believe that holy places and objects (i.e., objects dedicated to God for sacred use) should be respected and not put to profane use, the Catholic Church condemns worshiping the object itself, as any worship given to something other than God is considered idolatry.

People in a state of sanctifying grace are also considered holy in Catholicism. A central notion of Catholicism as articulated in contemporary theology is the "[personal] call to holiness," considered to be a vocation shared by every Christian believer. Profound personal holiness has traditionally also been seen as a focus for the kind of contagious holiness primarily associated with the Sacrament. So the communion of saints in Catholicism is not only the acclamation of their piety or morality, but also reverence for the tangible holiness that flows from their proximity to the divine. Hence the places where saints lived, died, performed miracles, or received visions frequently become sites of pilgrimage, and notable objects surviving a saint (including the body or parts of it) are considered relics. The holiness of such places or objects, resulting from contact with a deeply holy person, is often connected with the miraculous long after the death of the saint.

Sanctus (Latin for "holy") is the name of an important hymn of Christian liturgy. The Trisagion ('Thrice Holy') is a standard hymn of the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Churches.


The Protestant Reformation stood in opposition to the beliefs of tangible holiness in the Catholic Church and rejected most of its teachings regarding devotional practice, language and imagery. The early Protestant Reformers, who were often scholars of Ancient Greek and also borrowed from Jewish scholarship, recognized that holiness is an attribute of God, and holiness is always part of the presence of God. Yet they also recognized that "practical holiness" was the evidence of the presence of God in the converted believer. Martin Luther viewed God's grace (and therefore God's holiness), as an invasion of the life. Actions that demonstrated holiness would spring up, not premeditated, as believers focused more and more on their relationship with Christ. This was the life of faith, according to Luther; a life in which one recognizes that the sin inherent in human nature never departs, yet grace invades each human spirit and draws each person after Christ.

Calvin, on the other hand, formulated a practical system of holiness that even tied in with culture and social justice. All unholy actions, Calvin reasoned, resulted in suffering. Thus he proved out to the city fathers of Geneva that dancing and other social vices always ended with the wealthy oppressing the poor. A holy life, in his outlook, was pietistic and simple, a life that shunned extravagance, excess, and vanity. On a personal level, Calvin believed that suffering would be a manifestation of taking on the Cross of Christ, but suffering was also part of the process of holiness. He expected that all Christians would suffer in this life, not as punishment, but rather as participation in union with Christ, who suffered for them. And yet, socially, Calvin argued that a holy society would end up as a gentle, kindly society (except to criminals) where the poor would be protected from the abuses of the wealthy, the lawyers, and others who normally preyed upon them.

In Protestantism, especially in American branches of Protestantism of the more Pentecostal variety, holiness has acquired the secondary meaning of the reshaping of a person through spiritual rebirth. The term owes its origin to John Wesley's concept of "scriptural holiness" or Christian perfection.

The Holiness movement began within Methodism in the United States, among those who thought the church had lost the zeal and emphasis on personal holiness of Wesley's day. In the latter part of the 19th century revival meetings were held, attended by thousands. In Vineland, N.J in 1867 a camp meeting was begun and the National Holiness Camp Meeting Association went on to establish many holiness camp meetings across the nation. Some adherents to the movement remained within their denominations; others founded new denominations, such as the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Church of God (Anderson). Within a generation another movement, the Pentecostal movement was born, drawing heavily from the Holiness movement. Around the middle of the 20th century, the Conservative Holiness Movement, a conservative offshoot of the Holiness movement, was born. The Higher Life movement appeared in the British Isles during the mid-19th century.

In the contemporary Holiness movement, the idea that holiness is relational is growing. In this thought, the core notion of holiness is love. Other notions of holiness, such as purity, being set apart, perfection, keeping rules, and total commitment, are seen as contributory notions of holiness. These contributory notions find their ultimate legitimacy when love is at their core (Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl).

Commonly recognized outward expressions or "standards" of holiness among more fundamental adherents frequently include applications relative to dress, hair, and appearance: e.g., short hair on men, uncut hair on women, and prohibitions against shorts, pants on women, make-up and jewelry. Other common injunctions are against places of worldly amusement, mixed swimming, smoking, minced oaths, as well as the eschewing of television and radio.

More traditional or mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Anglican, Lutheran, and some Methodist denominations, believe in Holy Sacraments that the clergy perform, such as Holy Communion and Holy Baptism. As well as strong belief in the Holy Catholic Church, Holy Scripture, Holy Trinity, and the Holy Covenant. They also believe that angels and saints are called to holiness.


See also: Glorification


Among the names of God in the Qur'an is القدوس (Al-Quddus) : found in 59:23 and 62:1, the closest English translation is "holy" or "sacred". It shares the same triliteral Semitic root as the Hebrew kodesh (see below). Another use of the same root is found in the Arabic name for Jerusalem: al-Quds, "the Holy".

The word حرام (ħarām), often translated as "prohibited" or "forbidden", is better understood as "sacred" or "sanctuary" in the context of places considered sacred in Islam, e.g.: the Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, constituting the immediate precincts of the Ka'aba; al-Haramain or "the (two) Sanctuaries", a reference to the twin holy cities of Mecca and Medina; and the Haram ash-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, the precincts of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.


See also: Q-D-Š, Tzadik, and Holy of Holies

The Hebrew word קֹדֶשׁ, transliterated as qodesh, has been used in the Torah to mean set-apartness and separateness as well as holiness and sacredness.[13] The Torah describes the Aaronite priests and the Levites as being selected by God to perform the Temple services; they, as well, are called "holy." Some consider that the Hebrew noun for "holiness," kedushah (Hebrew: קדושה), from the adjective kodesh, "holy," has the connotation of "separateness".

However, holiness is not a single state, but contains a broad spectrum. The Mishnah lists concentric circles of holiness surrounding the Temple in Jerusalem: Holy of Holies, Temple Sanctuary, Temple Vestibule, Court of Priests, Court of Israelites, Court of Women, Temple Mount, the walled city of Jerusalem, all the walled cities of Israel, and the borders of the Land of Israel. Distinctions are made as to who and what are permitted in each area.

Likewise, the Jewish holidays and the Shabbat are considered to be holy in time; the Torah calls them "holy [days of] gathering". Work is not allowed on those days, and rabbinic tradition lists 39 categories of activity that are specifically prohibited.

Beyond the intrinsically holy, objects can become sacred through consecration. Any personal possession may be dedicated to the Temple of God, after which its misappropriation is considered among the gravest of sins. The various sacrifices are holy. Those that may be eaten have very specific rules concerning who may eat which of their parts, and time limits on when the consumption must be completed. Most sacrifices contain a part to be consumed by the priests – a portion of the holy to be consumed by God's holy devotees.

The encounter with the holy is seen as eminently desirable, and at the same time fearful and awesome. For the strongest penalties are applied to one who transgresses in this area – one could in theory receive either the death penalty or the heavenly punishment of kareth, spiritual excision, for mis-stepping in his close approach to God's domain.



Naomi Koltun-Fromm points out the difficulty in deciphering who/what is considered "holy", focusing on what Ezra believes. She focuses on purity and holiness and how it changes from one source to another. For example, she discusses in the P source that only the priests, God's name, and anything else related to the name or worship of God is considered holy by God himself. Therefore, only the priests are considered to be the people whom God has chosen to be special and set apart.[14] But in source H, all of Israel is considered to be holy. She comes to the conclusion that there are three types of holiness: Holiness ascribed, holiness achieved, and holiness from pure genetic lines. Holiness ascribed means that God declared something or someone to be holy and nothing can be holy without his say. Holiness achieved is earned through obeying the holy law and the divine rule. A person can work for their holiness instead of being born into it. The final type of holiness, supererogatory holiness, is achieved through semen purity. Ezra believes in holiness ascribed and that God has labelled all of Israel and its people as holy. Since he believes that anything outside of Israel is profane, he believes that it would cause impurity to marry with the unholy.

See also

Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Holy.


  1. "Sacred", A Dictionary of the English Language (James Stormonth, Philip Henry Phelp, eds.), Blackwood & sons, 1895, p.883
  2. 1 2 "Difference Between Sacred and Holy",, September 26, 2013
  3. McCann, Catherine. New Paths Toward the Sacred Thus, Paulist Press, 2008 ISBN 9780809145515
  4. "Sacred", Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 5th edition, p.875
  5. Pope, Hugh. "Holiness." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 20 November 2016.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. Oxford Dictionary Online
  8. Altizer, Thomas J. J. (1968), Mircea Eliade and the Dialectic of the Sacred, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. ISBN 978-083-7171-96-8.
  9. Eliade, Mircea (1987), The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, translated by Willard R. Trask. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. ISBN 978-0156-79201-1.
  10. Iţu, Mircia (2006), Mircea Eliade, Bucharest: Editura Fundaţiei România de Mâine, p. 35. ISBN 973-725-715-4.
  11. Durkheim 1915, p. 47
  12. Pals 1996, p. 99
  13. Blue Letter Bible. ""H6944 - qodesh - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (HNV)."". Retrieved 28 Jun 2016.
  14. Koltun-Forumm, Naomi. Hermeneutics of Holiness: Ancient Jewish and Christian Notions of Sexuality and Religious Community. Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010. Pages 1-25.


  • Durkheim, Emile (1915) The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin (originally published 1915, English translation 1915).
  • Eliade, Mircea (1957) The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Translated by Willard R. Trask. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World).
  • Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl (2006) Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill. ISBN 978-0-8341-2182-9
  • Pals, Daniel (1996) Seven Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. US ISBN 0-19-508725-9 (pbk).
  • Sharpe, Eric J. (1986) Comparative Religion: A History, 2nd ed., (London: Duckworth, 1986/La Salle: Open Court). US ISBN 0-8126-9041-9.
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