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Theological capitalization

One of the things you really notice in copyediting theological works is different ways in which authors like to do their capitalizing. This is sometimes fine, like in a given book an author may just always capitalize “Gift” because of how the term is being used. However, for other terms it can get a little weird. Is it Triune God or triune God? And, foremost in my mind right now is the question of why almost everyone capitalizes Eucharist but leaves baptism lowercase. That one I really don’t get. Obviously they’re both proper nouns, but inevitably they are capitalized differently.

My conspiracy theory answer for this that may very well be true is that in much of theological discourse today there is excessive emphasis on eucharistic theology, especially in regard to ecumenism and an abysmal neglect of baptismal theology across the board. Thus we turn eucharist into a proper noun and leave baptism a generic category like “preaching” or “worship.”


  1. There’s little hope for ecumenism in baptismal theology until people stop showering unregenerate babies. =P

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  2. Thomas wrote:

    I would think the reason the Eucharist is capitalized is because it is divine.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  3. Kampen wrote:

    I’ve always capitalized Baptism in essays. Actually, I have a tendency to over-capitalize. I’ve capitalized Theology before too. I speculate this is because I learned German first and there you capitalize nearly every other word you write.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  4. B.D. wrote:


    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  5. Colin wrote:

    I assume it is directly coordinated with the piety/pietism of the author in question. Also, I bet you could find a random theological paragraph and make a solid guess on their ideology/denomination based solely upon capitalization.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  6. MaryD wrote:

    I’m a punctuation conservative (and a technical writer). Here’s my take…

    The easiest way to determine if a noun is a proper noun is to identify if it is a one-of-a-kind thing (divinity isn’t really considered in grammar, sorry).

    Baptisms are unique for each individual, but there are multiples of its kind (many people get baptized, each baptism is a unique experience), so it is not a proper noun and should not be capitalized.

    Correctly, it is a triune God, since triune is an adjective and therefore not capitalized.

    That said, there is a capitalization question here that metaphorically puts us in a rabbit hole (yes, I am so looking forward to watching ‘Alice in Wonderland’ this weekend)!

    If you believe the Eucharist is a single unique thing, it is a proper noun. If you believe that each serving of eucharist is distinct, then it is not a proper noun.

    I’m not a theologian, but I look forward to see if folks argue this one out! ;-)

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  7. Eph 4:5, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  8. Yeah, but is that in the 1611?

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink
  9. roger flyer wrote:

    nICE, mARYd

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 5:16 am | Permalink
  10. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    There’s also the related rabbit trail of what vowels occasionally get omitted in writing about G-d in theological writings. Normally no one mistakes this substitution as referring to the Gad.

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  11. Chris Donato wrote:

    I once was editing a fellow who captialized “The” before every religiously important phrase, like “The Lord God,” “The Mosaic law,” etc.

    I sometimes get around the Eucharist / baptism issue by simply referring to baptism as Holy Baptism. Throw the “holy” in, and you force the cap (and also give it its proper due).

    By the way, it’s absolutely “triune” God! And not necessarily because it’s an adjective as Mary argues above (consider the “Virgin” Mary, for example). The why is simply because the grammar gods decided it thus when compiling their list.

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  12. Chris Donato wrote:

    Oh, and I’d lowercase “Gift” every time, no matter how pious the author’s intent or how loud he/she screams.

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink
  13. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    Since in those cases “Gift” isn’t a character owned by Marvel or DC. ;-)

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  14. Josh Rowley wrote:

    And then there’s the growing popularity of capitalizing “Biblical.” Is there such a thing as a proper adjective? I suspect people who write “Biblical” instead of “biblical” think that doing so somehow makes them more B/biblical.

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    Yes, capitalizing biblical is an affront to the English language.

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    I also can’t stand the capping of the pronouns for God and Jesus. Just infuriating.

    Friday, March 5, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  17. Mark wrote:

    I have flip-flopped for years between ‘Eucharist’ and ‘eucharist’ until the impending submission of my PhD thesis demanded consistency. In consultation with my supervisors, I went with ‘Eucharist’ but ‘eucharistic’. Still, I’m not sure I’m satisfied with that.

    Part of the decision gets made by simple usage, and how this is maintained by ‘authoritative’ resources. Dictionaries (and spell-checkers) tend to capitalise ‘Eucharist’ but not ‘baptism’. I suppose one could argue that ‘baptism’ is not really a proper noun as it has many uses outside of ritual and ecclesiastical language, though I am not so sure on that.

    ‘Biblical’/’biblical’ is a bit different. Most people who capitalise it probably do it simply as an analogue to such constructions as American, Canadian, French, Christian.

    But while we’re on the subject of capitalisation and spelling, what do people think: ‘Church’ or ‘church’ (or ‘Churches’ or ‘churches’)? There is certainly no consistency on that one.

    Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 1:24 am | Permalink
  18. MaryD wrote:

    Oh! Virgin Mary! Wow, that’s giving me a punctuation rush! I looked it up in my style guide and it’s quite correct (no word there about triune God, sorry).

    BTW–after I posted, I realized that I mad a grammar mistake…Doh! I need a copy editor, too!

    Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  19. John R wrote:

    transubstantiation => Eucharist?

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  20. John R. good one.

    yeah, Church vs. church is a difficult one. i was advised to go with church unless talking about a specific regional/denominational church (Anglican Church, Catholic Church, American Church, etc.)

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    That’s generally what I do when writing or editing.

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  22. roger flyer wrote:

    Mary!! I relate!! but we digress!!!!

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  23. roger flyer wrote:

    Ha ha
    Transsubstantiatioan…however you say it. make sure it’s with a Capital T! Damn it!

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  24. roger flyer wrote:

    dw…right…what’s a 1611, man? Don’t BOGART.

    Monday, March 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  25. 1611 is in reference to the kjv only people — you know, the kjv is THE revelation — published in 1611. They go, sometimes, as “1611 only.”

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  26. Andrew wrote:

    Agreed. The Bible doesn’t even capitalize pronouns for God/Jesus.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:

    Believe it or not my NKJV one that I had growing up did.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

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