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Vignette above the side entrance of the basilica of Ottobeuren Abbey
Wonderful finding of the body of a saint

Holy means something special, worthy worship and comes etymological of salvation from what weakened still healing ( "whole") finds (see English. Holy , holy ' - from wholesale ). In common parlance, holy is a term used in connection with religion with the intended meaning “ belonging to a sphere of the divine , perfect or absolute”, for example in the case of the Holy Spirit , holy scriptures, saints , holy places or holy objects.

The foreign word sacral (from the Latin sacer ) is sometimes used synonymously, among other things in academic literature and in Duden , as the opposite of profane (secular).


According to Rudolf Otto, “the sacred” became an element in the 20th century to determine the “true subject” of religious studies. He describes the experience of the sacred as mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans . So it has become the determining element of religion and the central subject of religious studies. According to Burkhard Gladigow , this concept of the sacred is largely based on Judeo-Christian categories of the transcendent. It is therefore unsuitable to serve as a universal category of religious history, because the latent monotheistic background blocks access to the polytheistic religions. Sigmund Freud characterized the term as an opposition word , i. H. as one of the ambiguity and the ambivalence of affectivity underlying concept as this in some sense connections - can also mean just the opposite - as in "holy simplicity" (condescending for "unworldly credulity").

Some places, buildings, trees, or mountains are called sacred places , especially in animistic religions; also in Christianity, for example when a saint (perfect) worked there. Churches were also often built at formerly pagan shrines. Scriptural religions venerate the Holy Scriptures - in Christianity the Bible , in Islam the Koran , in Judaism the Torah .

"Separation from the profane and unconditional obligation character are typical for the sacred, because it is the place of collective definition of identity."

- Wolfgang Schluchter


In Judaism is Hebrew קדוש kadosch , German 'holy' , a word that primarily has the simple meaning of “special” or “that special” and thus stands in contrast to profane (in the sense of “secular, normal, everyday”).

"You should be holy, because holy am I, YHWH , your God."

- 3 Mos 19.2  EU

The Jewish tradition understands holy in different ways. Most prominent, however, is the reference to the Torah and the commandments that God revealed according to the tradition of the Tanach at Sinai . The term basically contains the separation between the worldly, the physical, the human on the one hand, which on the other hand the eternal being God confronts and transcends . The word that stands for this separation in the Book of Leviticus , hivdil , is used in the Book of Genesis in the creation story for the process of creation. The creation is understood as a process of orderly separation between land and water, light and darkness - also holiness and profanity, justice and arbitrariness. The priesthood and Israel - a people of priests - see themselves in the task of maintaining this order revealed at Sinai, since the welfare of every Jew or Israelite, the people of Israel, even that of humanity and the earth depends on it.

According to the Mishnah , this separation, this order, seems to be a gradual separation between the Most Holy and the Holy . The Mishnah therefore lists "circles of holiness": Most Holy, anteroom to the Most Holy, Hall of the Priests, Hall of the Israelites, Hall of Women, Temple Mount, walls of Jerusalem, all walled cities of Israel and the borders of the Holy Land, Eretz Israel . There are distinctions between what is allowed for whom in which area. Likewise, the calendar is divided so that Shabbat is very holy, as is the day of repentance Yom Kippur , other festivals are holy, such as the pilgrims' feasts . Genesis also establishes the order of space and time, with Shabbat, God's day of rest as the climax in time and the Garden of Eden as the spatial correspondence to the temple.

In holiness the connection with God is shown, which is to be ordered according to the commandments and which works out in power when it is negligently or inadequately maintained by the people of priests, Israel. There are various accounts in the Bible of disease and destruction caused by the improper handling or impure treatment of sacred things such as: B. the Holy of Holies. This relationship between divine order and divine power is considered sacred - therefore the sacred is connected in a special way with divine closeness. The exact nature of the relationship of divine power, closeness to the sacred things is not clear or simply evident, but holiness does not correspond to the eternal being, God. In a simple approximation, the Eternal Being, God, pervades the world in and through the sacred. In Judaism, the proximity of God is associated with the existence of Israel. Believing Jews pray, strive to keep the holy commandments in order to maintain such a close relationship with God.

Jewish prayers , the name of which is derived from the root of "holy", are called kaddish , kiddush and kedusha . The latter is part of the eighteen supplication prayer and forms the origin of the Christian Sanctus .

Further meanings of holy / unholy can be understood in parallel with: pure / impure ( 3 Mos 10,10  EU , see tahor / tame ); free / unfree ( 3 Mos 11.45  EU ); healing / harmful ( 2 Mos 20,10.11  EU ; Ps 119,66  EU ; Prov 4,22  EU ; 2 Tim 1,13  EU ); true / false ( Ps 93.5  EU ; Rev 3.7  EU ; 6.10 EU ).


New Testament

In the New Testament there are three Greek words that are translated as holy:

  • ἅγιος hagios - the translation of the Hebrew qadosch in the Septuagint , then translated as sanctus in Latin . It is by far the most common of the three terms in the New Testament. This designation is used for the Holy Spirit , for the saints (those who call Jesus Christ their Lord), not the legally pious, but those called by God.
  • ὅσιος hosios - the translation of the Hebrew hasid in the Septuagint. With Hasid or Hosios referred, acting in accordance with the divine commandments - the sanctification of life change falls under this concept.
  • ἱερός hieros - then translated as sacer in Latin . That which belongs to the divine power or is filled by it - the opposite of hieros is profane .

In the New Testament the word holy is less important in connection with cult , but in the manifestations of life effected by God. The boundary between holy and profane is relativized, in contrast to the strict separation of the two in Judaism : God is spirit, so the question of the right place for worship is superfluous , pure and unclean is less important than love for one's neighbor (parable of Samaritans), the predicate holy applies not only to priests , but to all Christians.

Roman Catholic theology


In the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, the attribute holy is understood to mean union with God, the adjustment of one's own actions to the will of God. Only with death is the unificatio (Latin for "union") entirely possible. A person who has endeavored to achieve this union on earth is said to have led a holy life. Proof of the exercise of heroic virtues is a common prerequisite for canonization . Saints are subjects of veneration ( veneration of saints , also Dulie ), but not of worship ( Latrie ), which is reserved for God alone.

The abbreviations in the singular St. (e.g. St. Antonius) or St. (Latin Ss. ) for several saints.


What refers to one or more of the divine persons is also referred to as "most holy" or "most holy" ( Latin sanctissimum , Ss.). These include the Most Holy , the Most Holy Altar Sacrament, the Most Holy Trinity , the Most Holy Heart of Jesus or the Most Holy Name of Jesus . In connection with the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary , “blessed” and “most blessed” are also used.

Evangelical theology

In the Reformation tradition, sanctification is the Christian's new life from justification . Martin Luther , Johannes Calvin , John Wesley and Karl Barth , among others , submitted important designs .


The Bahaitum also uses the terms “holy” and the adjective “holiest” in the term “holiest book” . In the traditional Timorese belief , the term “ lulik ” stands for “holy” or “forbidden” and contains a whole philosophy of its own.

See also


  • Walter Baetke : The sacred in Germanic. JCB Mohr, Tuebingen 1942.
  • Carsten Colpe : About the sacred. Attempt to critically prevent his misjudgment. Hain, Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-445-06003-7 .
  • Carsten Colpe (ed.): The discussion about the “sacred” (= ways of research, vol. 305). Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1977, ISBN 3-534-05280-3 (important articles from research).
  • Albrecht Dihle : Art. Holy. In: Real Lexicon for Antiquity and Christianity . Vol. 14, Stuttgart 1988, Col. 1-63.
  • Mircea Eliade : The religions and the sacred. Elements of the history of religion. (1954) Insel, Frankfurt 1986.
  • Mircea Eliade: The sacred and the profane. On the essence of the religious. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main, 3rd edition 1987.
  • Wolfgang Gantke: The controversial concept of the sacred. A problem-oriented religious studies investigation. Diagonal, Marburg 1998.
  • Burkhard Gladigow: Possible objects and necessary sources of a religious history. In: Germanic Religious History. Sources and source problems (= Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde . Supplementary volume 5). Berlin 1992, pp. 3-26.
  • Günter Lanczkowski u. a .: Article Holiness - I. Religious History, II. Old Testament, III. New Testament, IV. Systematic-theological. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Volume 14 (1985), pp. 695-712.
  • Angelika C. Messner: Approaching the “sacred” from a cultural-scientific perspective. In: Angelika C. Messner and Konrad Hirschler (eds.): Holy places in Asia and Africa. Spaces of divine power and human worship. Asia and Africa series, Vol. 11. EB-Verlag, Schenefeld / Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-936912-19-X , pp. 1-17.
  • Rudolf Otto : The Holy. On the irrational in the idea of ​​the divine and its relationship to the rational (1917). Reprint: Munich 1988.
  • Günther Pöltner (Ed.): On the trail of the sacred: Heidegger's contribution to the question of God. Böhlau, Vienna 1991, ISBN 3-205-05375-3 .
  • Hermann Schmitz: How can a place be holy? In: Angelika C. Messner and Konrad Hirschler (eds.): Holy places in Asia and Africa. Spaces of divine power and human worship. Asia and Africa series, Vol. 11, EB-Verlag, Schenefeld / Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-936912-19-X , pp. 163–177.

Individual evidence

  1. https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/sakral
  2. Mircea Eliade: The sacred and the profane. On the essence of the religious. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt, 3rd edition 1987.
  3. R. Otto: The Holy. Gladigow Schleiermacher developed the method of placing the concept of the saint in front of the idea of ​​God in his speeches on religion.
  4. Gladigow p. 8.
  5. Sigmund Freud : The man Moses and the monotheistic religion . (1939) Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2010; ISBN 978-3-15-018721-0 ; P. 149.
  6. The emergence of modern rationalism. An analysis of Max Weber's history of the development of the Occident . 1st edition Frankfurt am Main 1988. ISBN 3-518-28947-0 . P. 108. / with reference to Émile Durkheim : Sociology and Philosophy. Frankfurt 1967. pp. 124ff.

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