Fear of the Lord

views updated


An expression of frequent occurrence indicating the attitude that man should assume toward God.

In the Bible. In the Old Testament the wonderful works of god, "fearful and terrible deeds" (Ex 34.10; 2 Sm 7.23), produced a sense of awe and fear in the Israelites who came into contact with Him (Ex 3.6). This was not merely a negative emotion of blind terror, for God's self-revelation is also a disclosure of His salvific purpose. Hence, in Deuteronomy fear of the Lord (Heb. yir'at yhwh ) is equated with reverence and piety that includes love for God and hatred of sin (Dt 6.15)a synthesis of Old Testament religion. In this sense, the sapiential literature speaks of the fear of the Lord as the "beginning of wisdom" [Jb 28.28; Prv 1.7; Ps 110 (111).10; Sir 1.16]. In postexilic Judaism to fear God meant in practice to observe the Law (Tb 1.10; Sir 23.27).

In the New Testament the Disciples were filled with awe by the wonderful works of Jesus (Mk 4.3941; 16.8; Lk 5.26). The early Church lived with a sense of awe (Acts 2.43) not incompatible with joy. Though fear is less emphasized in the New Testament, it remains a necessary quality of the Christian attitude (Acts 9.31; 2 Cor 5.11). Love overcomes worldly fear (1 Jn 4.18), but the Christian must live constantly in reverent fear of God (Rom 11.20; Phil 2.12).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 766767. s. terrien, g. a. buttrick, ed., The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville 1962) 2:256260. É. boularand, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 2.2:246375. l. nieder, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 4:110708. g. bertram and g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935) 3:124128. j. fichtner and c. maurer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 2:179395. h. a. brongers, "La Crainte du Seigneur," Oudtestamentische Studiën 5 (1948) 151173. r. h. pfeiffer, "The Fear of God," Israel Exploration Journal 5 (1955) 4148. b. oliver, La Crainte de Dieu comme valeur religieuse dans l'A.T. (Brussels 1960). s. plath, Furcht Gottes: Der Begriff Jira im A.T. (Stuttgart 1963).

[c. j. peifer]

As a Gift of the Holy Spirit. Fear of the Lord strengthens the acts of the virtue of hope. A soul moved by the gift is overwhelmed at the greatness of God and adheres ever more firmly to the divine goodness. A reverence follows that moves the person to fear anything that threatens its union with the Father. This fear is filial, not the servile fear whose concern is punishment; it causes the soul to turn not only from sin, but also from every tendency to refuse God anything. Appreciation of God's goodness increases, and with it grows contempt for self and all created goods. Thus, as the gift adds to hope's certitude, it also perfects humility and temperance. The beatitude corresponding to fear is "Blessed are the poor in spirit," for whoever is moved by fear is blessed in seeking nothing of this world. The fruits of fear are modesty, continence, and chastity, all acts of temperance but as fruits that are perfected by the gift.

Bibliography: b. froget, The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just, tr. s. a. raemers (Westminister, Md. 1950). a. royo, The Theology of Christian Perfection, ed. and tr. j. aumann (Dubuque 1962) 392400, 496. thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 19.

[p. f. mulhern]