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"Piety", Dulwich Picture Gallery

Piety is a virtue which may include religious devotion or spirituality. A common element in most conceptions of piety is a duty of respect. In a religious context piety may be expressed through pious activities or devotions, which may vary among countries and cultures.



The word piety comes from the Latin word pietas , the noun form of the adjective pius (which means "devout" or "dutiful").

Classical interpretation

Pietas in traditional Latin usage expressed a complex, highly valued Roman virtue; a man with pietas respected his responsibilities to gods, country, parents, and kin. [1] In its strictest sense it was the sort of love a son ought to have for his father. Aeneas's consistent epithet in Virgil and other Latin authors is pius, a term which connotes reverence toward the gods and familial dutifulness. At the fall of Troy, Aeneas carries to safety his father, the lame Anchises, and the Lares and Penates, the statues of the household gods.

In addressing whether children have an obligation to provide support for their parents, Aquinas quotes, Cicero, "..."piety gives both duty and homage": "duty" referring to service, and "homage" to reverence or honor." [2] Filial piety is central to Confucian ethics; [3] reverence for parents is considered in Chinese ethics the prime virtue and the basis of all right human relations. [4]

As a virtue

In Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism, piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. "It engenders in the soul a filial respect for God, a generous love toward him, and an affectionate obedience that wants to do what he commands because it loves the one who commands." [5] St. Gregory the Great, in demonstrating the interrelationship among the gifts, said "Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge,..." [6]

Aquinas spoke of piety in the context of one's parents and country, and given the obligation to accord each what is rightfully due them, related it to the cardinal virtue of justice. (By analogy, rendering to God what is due him, Aquinas identified as the virtue of religion, also related to justice. [7] ) Professor Richard McBrien said of piety that, "It is a gift of the Holy Spirit by which we are motivated and enabled to be faithful and respectful to those -- ultimately, God -- who have had a positive, formative influence on our lives and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude," [8] and requires one to acknowledge, to the extent possible, the sources of those many blessings through words and gestures great and small.

Piety belongs to the virtue of Religion, which the concordant judgment of theologians put among the moral virtues, as a part of the cardinal virtue Justice, since by it one tenders to God what is due to him. [9] The gift of piety perfects the virtue of justice, enabling the individual to fulfill his obligations to God and neighbor, and to do so willingly and joyfully. By inspiring a person with a tender and filial confidence in God, the gift of piety makes them joyfully embrace all that pertains to His service. [10]

John Calvin said, "I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until [people] recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service." (Institutes, I.ii.1) [11] Bishop Pierre Whalon says that "Piety, therefore, is the pursuit of an ever-greater sense of being in the presence of God." [12]

The Gift of Piety is synonymous with of filial trust in God. [13] Through piety, a person shows reverence for God as a loving Father, and respect for others as children of God.

Pope John Paul II defined piety as "the gift of reverence for what comes from God," and related it to his earlier lectures on the Theology of the Body. [14] In a General Audience in June 2014, Pope Francis said, "When the Holy Spirit helps us sense the presence of the Lord and all of his love for us, it warms our heart and drives us almost naturally to prayer and celebration." [15] "Piety", said Pope Francis, points up "our friendship with God." It is a gift that enables people to serve their neighbor "with gentleness and with a smile." [16]

Piety and devotion

Expressions of piety vary according to country and local tradition. "Feast days", with their preparations for various religious celebrations and activities, have contributed much in forging the traditions peculiar to a given community. Many of pious exercises are part of the cultic patrimony of particular Churches or religious families. [17] Devotions help incorporate faith into daily life. [18]

Popular piety "...manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief. It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion. By reason of these aspects, we readily call it "popular piety," that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity. [19]

"They are the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5)." [20]

While acknowledging that Anglican piety took the forms of more frequent communion and liturgical observances and customs, Bishop Ronald Williams spoke for increased reading of the Bible. [21]

In the Methodist Church, works of piety are a means of grace. They can be personal, such as reading, prayer, and meditation; or communal, such as sharing in the sacraments or Bible study. [22] For Presbyterians, piety refers to a whole realm of practices—such as worship, prayer, singing, and service—that help shape and guide the way one's reverence and love for God are expressed; and "the duty of the Christian to live a life of piety in accordance with God’s moral law". [23]

The veneration of sacred images belongs to the very nature of Catholic piety, with the understanding that "the honour rendered to the image is directed to the person represented". [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

Theological virtues are virtues associated in Christian theology and philosophy with salvation resulting from the grace of God. Virtues are traits or qualities which dispose one to conduct oneself in a morally good manner. Traditionally they have been named Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love), and can trace their importance in Christian theology to Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13, who also pointed out that “the greatest of these is love.”

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rosary</span> Roman Catholic sacramental and Marian devotion to prayer

The Holy Rosary, also known as the Dominican Rosary, or simply the Rosary, refers to a set of prayers used in the Catholic Church, and to the physical string of knots or beads used to count the component prayers. When referring to the prayer, the word is usually capitalized ; when referring to the prayer beads as an object, it is written with a lower-case initial letter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Worship</span> Act of religious devotion

Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. It may involve one or more of activities such as veneration, adoration, and praise. For many, worship is not about an emotion, it is more about a recognition of a God. An act of worship may be performed individually, in an informal or formal group, or by a designated leader. Such acts may involve honoring.

<i>Pietas</i> An Ancient Roman virtue

Pietas, translated variously as "duty", "religiosity" or "religious behavior", "loyalty", "devotion", or "filial piety", was one of the chief virtues among the ancient Romans. It was the distinguishing virtue of the founding hero Aeneas, who is often given the adjectival epithet pius ("religious") throughout Virgil's epic Aeneid. The sacred nature of pietas was embodied by the divine personification Pietas, a goddess often pictured on Roman coins. The Greek equivalent is eusebeia (εὐσέβεια).

Latria or latreia is a theological term used in Catholic theology and Eastern Orthodox theology to mean adoration, a reverence directed only to the Holy Trinity. Latria carries an emphasis on the internal form of worship, rather than external ceremonies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Filial piety</span> Virtue and practice in Chinese classics and Chinese society at large

In Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, and Daoist ethics, filial piety is a virtue of respect for one's parents, elders, and ancestors. The Confucian Classic of Filial Piety, thought to be written around the late Warring States-Qin-Han period, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of filial piety. The book—a purported dialogue between Confucius and his student Zengzi—is about how to set up a good society using the principle of filial piety. Filial piety is central to Confucian role ethics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit</span> Spiritual gifts

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are an enumeration of seven spiritual gifts first found in the book of Isaiah, and much commented upon by patristic authors. They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holy Name of Jesus</span> Christian devotion

In Catholicism, the veneration of the Holy Name of Jesus developed as a separate type of devotion in the early modern period, in parallel to that of the Sacred Heart. The Litany of the Holy Name is a Roman-rite Catholic prayer, probably of the 15th century. The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus was introduced in 1530.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic devotions</span> Catholic traditions

Catholic devotions are particular customs, rituals, and practices of worship of God or honour of the saints which are in addition to the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes devotions as "expressions of love and fidelity that arise from the intersection of one's own faith, culture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ". Devotions are not considered part of liturgical worship, even if they are performed in a church or led by a priest, but rather they are paraliturgical. The Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican publishes a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.

Eusebeia is a Greek word abundantly used in Greek philosophy as well as in the New Testament, meaning to perform the actions appropriate to the gods. The root seb- (σέβ-) is connected to danger and flight, and thus the sense of reverence originally described fear of the gods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popular piety</span> Catholic devotions

Popular piety in Christianity is an expression of faith which avails of certain cultural elements proper to a specific environment which is capable of interpreting and questioning in a lively and effective manner the sensibilities of those who live in that same environment. Its forms in the Roman Catholic Church are explained in the Directory on Popular piety and the liturgy issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. In the Lutheran Churches, popular piety is expressed through the reception of the sacraments, the displaying of sacred art, the signing of hymnody, prayer, Bible study and devotions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prayer in the Catholic Church</span> Roman Catholic beliefs on Christian prayer

In the Catholic Church, prayer is "the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." It is an act of the moral virtue of religion, which Catholic theologians identify as a part of the cardinal virtue of justice.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Society of the Holy Name</span> Catholic confraternity

The Society of the Holy Name, formally known as the Confraternity of the Most Holy Name of God and Jesus, is a Roman Catholic confraternity of the laity and is one of several which are under the care of the Dominican Order. It is open to all Catholic adults. The primary object of the society is to beget reverence for the Holy Name of God and Jesus Christ; it is also dedicated to making reparations, in particular, for blasphemy, perjury and immorality.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acts of reparation</span>

Reparation is a theological concept closely connected with those of atonement and satisfaction. In ascetical theology, reparation is the making of amends for insults given to God through sin, either one's own or another's. The response of man is to be reparation through adoration, prayer, and sacrifice. In Roman Catholic tradition, an act of reparation is a prayer or devotion with the intent to expiate the "sins of others", e.g. for the repair of the sin of blasphemy, the sufferings of Jesus Christ or as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Veneration of Mary in the Catholic Church</span> Roman Catholic veneration of Mary

The veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Catholic Church encompasses various devotions which include prayer, pious acts, visual arts, poetry, and music devoted to the her. Popes have encouraged it, while also taking steps to reform some manifestations of it. The Holy See has insisted on the importance of distinguishing "true from false devotion, and authentic doctrine from its deformations by excess or defect". There are significantly more titles, feasts, and venerative Marian practices among Roman Catholics than in other Western Christian traditions. The term hyperdulia indicates the special veneration due to Mary, greater than the ordinary dulia for other saints, but utterly unlike the latria due only to God.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic devotions to Jesus</span>

The Roman Catholic tradition includes a number of devotions to Jesus Christ. Like all Catholic devotions, these prayer forms are not part of the official public liturgy of the Church but are based on the popular spiritual practices of Roman Catholics. Many are officially approved by the Holy See as suitable for spiritual growth but not necessary for salvation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fear of God</span> Fear or a specific sense of respect, awe, and submission to a deity

Fear of God may refer to fear itself, but more often to a sense of awe, and submission to, a deity. People subscribing to popular monotheistic religions for instance, might fear Hell and divine judgment, or submit to God's omnipotence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Religion (virtue)</span>

Religion is a distinct moral virtue whose purpose is to render God the worship due to Him as the source of all being and the giver of all good things. As such it is part of the cardinal virtue of Justice, and falls under obedience to the First Commandment.

<i>Religio</i> Latin origin of the modern lexeme religion

The Latin term religiō, the origin of the modern lexeme religion, is of ultimately obscure etymology. It is recorded beginning in the 1st century BC, i.e. in Classical Latin at the end of the Roman Republic, notably by Cicero, in the sense of "scrupulous or strict observance of the traditional cultus". In classic antiquity, it meant conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation, or duty towards anything and was used mostly in secular or mundane contexts.

Evangelii gaudium is a 2013 apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis "On the proclamation of the Gospel in today's world". In its opening paragraph, Pope Francis urged the entire Church "to embark on a new chapter of evangelism". According to the exhortation, the Church must understand itself as a community of missionary disciples, who are "permanently in a state of mission".


  1. See Cicero, Nature of the Gods, 1. 116 and On Rhetorical Invention, 2. 66.
  2. "Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, "Question 101. Piety", Article 2".
  3. Chang, Wonsuk; Kalmanson, Leah (8 November 2010). Confucianism in Context: Classic Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asia and Beyond. SUNY Press. p. 68. ISBN   978-1-4384-3191-8.
  4. "Willard, Dallas. "Christ-Centered Piety", Where Shall My Wond'ring Soul Begin? : The Landscape of Evangelical Piety and Thought, Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), pp. 27-36".
  5. ""Gift of Piety", Catholic Dictionary".
  6. Pope Gregory I. "Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam," II 7,7
  7. "Pearson OP, Gregory. "The Life of Virtue - Piety", Godsdogz, The Dominican Friars, Blackfriars, July 18, 2009".
  8. "McBrien, Richard. "Piety refers to more than devotional practices", Catholic Courier, December 20, 2009".
  9. Delany, Joseph. "Virtue of Religion." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain .
  10. Forget, Jacques. "Holy Ghost." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 21 May 2021PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain .
  11. "Cooper, Dale. "Piety and Religion", The Banner, Christian Reformed Church in North America, January 18, 2011".
  12. "Whalon, Pierre W., "Piety", Anglicansonline, March 3, 2003".
  13. ""The Gift of Piety: Synonym of Filial Trust in God", Diocese of Orlando".
  14. "Zeno, Katrina J. "Reverent Eros and the Gift of Piety", TOB Tuesday, Diocese of Phoenix, June 5, 2019".
  15. "Glatz, Carol. "Pope: Piety is embracing God, others with real love, not fake devotion", Catholic News Service, June 4, 2014".
  16. "Gibson, David. "Why the gift of piety is more than it may seem", Catholic News Service, February 12, 2020".
  17. "Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. "Directory on popular piety and the Liturgy", Vatican City. December 2001, §§7, 20".
  18. ""Devotions and popular piety bring faith into everyday life", Catholic News Service, October 13, 2017".
  19. Pope Paul VI. Evangelii nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, §48, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
  20. "Pope Francis. November 24, 2013, Evangelii gaudium, §125, Libreria Editrice Vaticana".
  21. "Williams, Ronald. "The Bible and Anglican Piety ", The Churchman, 1960, p. 91" (PDF).
  22. ""The Wesleyan Means of Grace", UMC".
  23. "Pipa, Joseph. "Presbyterian Theology", The Gospel Coalition".
  24. Directory §18.