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Virtue of Religion



Of the three proposed derivations of the word "religion", that suggested by Lactantius and endorsed by St. Augustine seems perhaps to accord better with the idea than the others. He says it comes from religare, to bind. Thus it would mean the bond uniting man to God. The notion of it commonly accepted among theologians is that which is found in St. Thomas's "Summa Theologica", II-II, Q. lxxxi. According to him it is a virtue whose purpose is to render God the worship due to Him as the source of all being and the principle of all government of things. There can be no doubt that it is a distinct virtue, not merely a phase of another. It is differentiated from others by its object, which is to offer to Almighty God the homage demanded by His entirely singular excellence. In a loose construction it may be considered a general virtue in so far as it prescribes the acts of other virtues or requires them for the performance of its own functions. It is not a theological virtue, because its immediate object is not God, but rather the reverence to be paid to Him. Its practice is indeed often associated with the virtues of faith and charity. Still the concordant judgment of theologians puts it among the moral virtues, as a part of the cardinal virtue justice, since by it we give God what is due to Him. St. Thomas teaches that it ranks first among moral virtues. A religious attitude towards God is essentially the product of our recognition, not only of His sovereign majesty, but also of our absolute dependence on Him. Thus, as Father Rickaby says, He is not merely "the Great Stranger", our behaviour towards whom must be invested with awe and admiration; He is besides our Creator and Master and, in virtue of our supernatural filiation in the present order of things, our Father. Hence we are bound to cherish habitually towards Him sentiments of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, loyalty, and love. Such a demeanour of soul is inexorably required by the very law of our being. We must not, however, rest satisfied because perchance our interior bearing is fairly in conformity with this standard. We are not simply spirits. Our composite nature needs to express itself by outward acts in which the body as well as the soul shall have a part — this not only to spur on our inner feelings, but also because God owns us body and soul, and it is right that both should show their fealty to Him. This is the justification of external religion. Of course God does not need our worship, whether interior or exterior, and it is puerile to impugn it on that score. We cannot by our homage add anything to His glory, unless it be the extrinsic increment of the theologians of which account need not be taken here. It is not because it is strictly speaking of use to Him that we render it, but because He is infinitely worthy of it, and because it is of tremendous value to ourselves. The chief acts of this virtue are adoration, prayer, sacrifice, oblation, vows; the sins against it are neglect of prayer, blasphemy, tempting God, sacrilege, perjury, simony, idolatry, and superstition.

RICKABY, Ethics and Natural Law (London, 1908); MAZZELLA, De religione et ecclesia (Rome, 1885); SCHANZ, A Christian Apology (New York, 1907); Summa theol. (Turin, 1885), loc. cit.

JOSEPH F. DELANY








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