Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Lactantius/The Divine Institutes/Book IV/Chap. XXVIII
Chap. XXVIII.—Of Hope and True Religion, and of Superstition.
And since these things are so, as we have shown, it is plain that no other hope of life is set before man, except that, laying aside vanities and wretched error, he should know God, and serve God; except he renounce this temporary life, and train himself by the principles of righteousness for the cultivation of true religion. For we are created on this condition, that we pay just and due obedience to God who created us, that we should know and follow Him alone. We are bound and tied to God by this chain of piety; from which religion itself received its name, not, as Cicero explained it, from carefully gathering, for in his second book respecting the nature of the gods he thus speaks: “For not only philosophers, but our ancestors also, separated superstition from religion. For they who spent whole days in prayers and sacrifices, that their children might survive them, were called superstitious. But they who handled again, and as it were carefully gathered all things which related to the worship of the gods, were called religious from carefully gathering, as some were called elegant from choosing out, and diligent from carefully selecting and intelligent from understanding. For in all these words there is the same meaning of gathering which there is in the word religious: thus it has come to pass, that in the names superstitious and religious, the one relates to a fault, the other belongs to praise.” How senseless this interpretation is, we may know from the matter itself. For if both religion and superstition are engaged in the worship of the same gods, there is little or rather no difference between them. For what cause will he allege why he should think that to pray once for the health of sons is the part of a religious man, but to do the same ten times is the part of a superstitious man? For if it is an excellent thing to pray once, how much more so to do it more frequently! If it is well to do it at the first hour, then it is well to do it throughout the day. If one victim renders the deity propitious, it is plain that many victims must render him more propitious, because multiplied services oblige rather than offend. For those servants do not appear to us hateful who are assiduous and constant in their attendance, but more beloved. Why, therefore, should he be in fault, and receive a name which implies censure, who either loves his children more, or sufficiently honours the gods; and he, on the contrary, be praised, who loves them less? And this argument has weight also from the contrary. For if it is wrong to pray and sacrifice during whole days, therefore it is wrong to do so once. If it is faulty frequently to wish for the preservation of our children, therefore he also is superstitious who conceives that wish even rarely. Or why should the name of a fault be derived from that, than which nothing can be wished more honourable, nothing more just? For as to his saying, that they who diligently take in hand again the things relating to the worship of the gods are called religious from their carefully gathering; how is it, then, that they who do this often in a day lose the name of religious men, when it is plain from their very assiduity that they more diligently gather those things by which the gods are worshipped?
What, then, is it? Truly religion is the cultivation of the truth, but superstition of that which is false. And it makes the entire difference what you worship, not how you worship, or what prayer you offer. But because the worshippers of the gods imagine themselves to be religious, though they are superstitious, they are neither able to distinguish religion from superstition, nor to express the meaning of the names. We have said that the name of religion is derived from the bond of piety, because God has tied man to Himself, and bound him by piety; for we must serve Him as a master, and be obedient to Him as a father. And therefore Lucretius better explained this name, who says that He loosens the knots of superstitions. But they are called superstitious, not who wish their children to survive them, for we all wish this; but either those who reverence the surviving memory of the dead, or those who, surviving their parents, reverenced their images at their houses as household gods. For those who assumed to themselves new rites, that they might honour the dead as gods, whom they supposed to be taken from men and received into heaven, they called superstitious. But those who worshipped the public and ancient gods they named religious. From which Virgil says:—
“Superstition vain, and ignorant of ancient gods.”
But since we find that the ancient gods also were consecrated in the same manner after their death, therefore they are superstitious who worship many and false gods. We, on the other hand, are religious, who make our supplications to the one true God.
- So our Lord, John xvii. 3: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”
- [“ Hoc vinculo pietatis obstricti Deo et religati sumus.” He returns to this in the same chapter, infra.]
- A religendo. There is little doubt that the true derivation of “religio” is from religere, not from religare According to this, the primary meaning is, “the dwelling upon a subject, and continually recurring to it.”
- Superstites, et superstitiosi.
- [Here the famous passage should be given with accurate reference to its place, as much of its force vanishes in translation. Cicero’s etymology is thus given: “Qui autem omnia quæ ad cultum deorum pertinerent, diligentes retractarent et tamquam relegerent sunt dicti religiosi, ex relegendo, ut elegantes ex eligendo, tamquam a diligendo diligentes, ex intelligendo intelligentes.”—De Nat. Deor., lib. ii. cap. 28.]
- Demerentur, “they lay under an obligation.”
- Criminis est.
- [This seems very loose language when compared with Matt. vi. 9 and 1 Cor. xi. 1, 2. The whole epistle shows the how and the what to be important in worship, and that the Apostle had prescribed certain laws about these.]
- [See note 4, supra.]
- [Lactantius has generally been sustained by Christian criticism in the censures thus passed upon Cicero, and in making the word religio out of religare His own words are desirable here, to be compared with those which he endeavors to refute (note 4, supra): “Diximus nomen religionis a vinculo pietatis esse deductum, quod hominem sibi Deus religarit,” etc.; i.e., it binds again what was loosed.]
- Lucret., i. 931.
- i.e., those worshipped in public temples, and with public sacrifices, as opposed to the household gods of a family, and ancient as opposed to those newly received as gods.
- Virg., Æneid, viii. 187.