Religion religions religiosity

Before we continue dealing with Jesus and the religions we briefly have to clear up how we understand "religion." Therefore, we ask in the second step: How is "religion" understood in Christian theology? What is the general understanding in public conversations? Actually I would like to return to the original meaning of religion, which will teach us that this meaning cannot be simply transferred to the plurality of religions. At the same time we have to realize that what has been lost from the old concept is being restored in our days by new expressions. In fact today we speak not only about religion and religions, but also about religiosity and spirituality.


Etymologically the original meaning of the Latin word religio cannot be explained anymore. Three possibilities are discussed:

relegere = to read again, to return again and again (to a text)

religari = to be bound to, to be tied to, to bind oneself back to, (in this sense: to rebind oneself)

reeligere = to re-elect, to vote again for

Returning to Holy Scripture, the attitude of conversion and the renewed surrender to God - all these are characteristics of religion as they were prevalent in the early occidental history of religion. First of all, "religion" was a concept explaining a behavior and an attitude which referred to God and the order installed by him. In the theology of Thomas Aquinas "religio" was part of the cardinal virtue of justice; it referred to the attitude man owes to God (see II-II q.81 a.2; q.122 a.2). As long as the sentence is valid "agere sequitur esse" (="act-ing follows being"), human action follows the order which was given by God. When, however, the sequence "being -> acting" was reversed - and this partly occurred in modern times - also the determination of orders changed.

As a matter of fact in modern times humans more and more felt entitled and enabled to create their own structures. Moreover, westerners had to admit that - parallel to the history of Christianity - the histories of other religions existed. That led to two conclusions:

(1) We can speak about "religion" in the plural so that the question can be posed what the "vera religio" (= "true religion" - St. Augustine) is.

(2) The question of "true religion" has not only to be solved in view of the behavior of individuals, but also regarding the various forms of religious life, religious communities and socialization, religious doctrine and ritual. This presupposed that from the concept of behavior a second concept of organization or systems developed. This second concept came even more to the foreground when in the period of discoveries other religions were detected, the concept "religion" replaced the old concept "superstition," and the occidental history of Christianity was enlarged by the history of religions. At length from the time of Enlightenment the organizational concept of religion became predominant, and in a way, the primary concept was suppressed, at least for some time.

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