Religion, Virtue of

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The supernatural, infused, moral habit that inclines us to give to God the worship that is due Him as Supreme Being and as Creator and Lord of the universe.

Nature of the Virtue. The virtue of religion is a potential part of the virtue of justice. That is, while not being justice strictly so-called (strict justice between God and creatures, as also between children and parents, is not possible), religion is a virtue annexed or akin to justice. Justice is the virtue that gives to each his due. Religion gives to God the homage and service that are His due.

While there has been much discussion of the question whether or not religion is a theological virtue, theologians are in general agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas that religion is not a theological but a moral virtue. Some criticize Aquinas's argumentation, and many seek to give religion a preeminent position in the catalogue of virtues; but all are agreed that it is not to be ranked with faith, hope, and charity. F. Suárez places the virtue of religion immediately after his study of the theological virtues and makes it head the list of moral virtues. While St. Thomas prefers to place the virtue of religion within his study of justice, he does admit that the virtue of religion holds a special rank among the moral virtues (see Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 81.56, 8).

Further, St. Thomas holds that the supernatural virtues are not hermetically compartmentalized. Rather, they interpenetrate one another. Thus the virtue of religion can use faith and hope as materials subservient to the ends of religion as, e.g., when one believes something out of reverence for God. On the other hand, charity can command the virtue of religion, as when one performs a religious duty out of love for God.

Perhaps more insistence might be given to the fact that, in the exercise of the supernatural virtue of religion, the virtue of piety has an important part to play. Man's relationship to God, even when religion is concerned, is not that of servant to master. It is rather that of son to father; or more correctly, it is that of both son and servant. While these two roles are simultaneous, they are governed by two distinct, though interpenetrating, virtues. While combining them in daily living, it is good not to confuse them in theological discussion.

Although it is itself a moral virtue, religion has a preeminent role among the virtues of that kind. Every just man is religious because justice demands that the rights of God be respected before those of any others. Without proper attention to the duties of religion, one cannot be properly oriented toward the duties to neighbor or to self. It is rather the fulfillment of this primary duty that ensures proper balance and perspective for carrying out other duties required by justice.

Its Acts. The acts of the virtue of religion are both interior and exterior. The modern liturgical revival has made much of this. God, who is Creator of both body and soul, must be acknowledged by the whole man. This acknowledgment is not something that God needs, but rather it is a demand of justice and human psychology. In every aspect of human life, both body and soul have their share. It would indeed be strange if man were to be only half human in the worship of God.

The reason for interior worship is given by the Gospel: "God is a spirit and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4.24). The reason for exterior worship is a psychological one. Whatever man experiences fully he expresses in some exterior way. Exterior expression is the means of both manifesting and fostering the interior experience. There are two interior acts of the virtue of religion: devotion and prayer. Devotion is the very heart of religion, and prayer is the surrender of the mind to God in a service of contemplation. Devotion is of special importance to the virtue of religion since it acts as a prime mover, setting into motion the religious activity dependent upon it. Devotion is nothing else but readiness to serve God. This disposition of the will is what inclines a man to worship. Prayer is an activity of the practical intellect, which seeks the achievement of certain effects through certain causes. In the case of prayer, the favor for which one prays is sought through the power of God. The causality of prayer lies ultimately in its being a submission to the ordination of Providence to give certain spiritual favors only when they have been requested in humble prayer.

There are three kinds of exterior acts of the virtue of religion: gestures of the body, gifts made to God, and the use of sacred things. Gestures of the body St. Thomas specifically calls adoration, and he points out that these gestures would have no worth at all except in virtue of the interior devotion that prompts them. Among gifts made to God, Aquinas numbers offerings and vows. Of special importance among offerings is sacrifice, which is reserved to God alone; it is the outward sign of man's dependence upon God for all things, and especially for the gift of life itself. Oblations and tithes are other forms of offerings. The use of Sacraments and the use of the Sacred Name (e.g., in oaths, invocations, and adjurations) constitute the use of sacred things St. Thomas had in mind. He does not devote space to a discussion of the use of Sacraments in his treatment of religion, but he does lay down a principle that has inspired many a liturgist: God is worshiped not only by what is given to Him, but also by man's reception of things from God. To receive a Sacrament is to profess one's faith. The use of Sacraments can therefore be considered an act of homage to God.

An age that has rediscovered the meaning of worship and its place in the Christian life must of necessity rediscover the importance of the virtue of religion, for it is "the inner life of worship." Without a deep practice of this virtue, liturgical worship is reduced to mere formalism.

Bibliography: j. w. curran, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 3:716727. c. m. magsam, The Inner Life of Worship (St. Meinrad, Ind. 1958). f. suÁrez, Opera omnia (Vivès ed. v.1314) De religione. thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 81100.

[e. r. falardeau]

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Religion, Virtue of

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