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§ 3. Religion, True and False

THE subject of Theology is accordingly, Religion.[1] Religion is the way and manner in which God is worshiped. That is a false religion in which God is worshiped in a manner that does not accord with His nature and will; that is the true and right religion in which this is done in the manner which He regards as right and which He prescribes,[2] so that hereby man, estranged from God, is brought back again to Him, and secures his salvation. This proper manner is taught in the Holy Scriptures; and thus the true religion, more accurately defined, is that in which God is worshiped in the manner therein prescribed, and therefore the Christian Religion is the true one.[3] The proper manner of worshiping God must, accordingly, first of all, manifest itself in that disposition of soul towards God which is agreeable to Him, and secondly, in love toward our neighbor and the practice of all the virtues enjoined by God.[4] In the widest sense, therefore, Religion embraces all that God commands to be believed and to be done.[5]

[1] HOLL. (32): “Some suppose the term Religion to be derived from religando (Lactantius), others from relegendo (Cicero). According to the former derivation, religion signified the obligation rightly to worship God, or, that which imposes upon man obligations and duties. According to the latter etymology, religion is diligent attention to those things which pertain to the worship of God. The former derivation is more generally received.” — QUEN. “Synonymous are θρησκεια, James 1:26; ευσεβεια, 1 Tim. 4.8; λογικη λατρεια, Rom. 12:1.”

[2] QUEN. (I, 19): “The Christian religion is the method of worshiping God prescribed in the Word, by which man, separated from God by sin, is led back to God, through faith in Jesus Christ (who is both God and man), so that he is reunited with God, and enjoys Him eternally.”


HOLL. (33): “Religion, improperly speaking, signified the false, properly speaking, the true method of worshiping God.”

HOLL. (60): “As opposed to the true Religion, we have not only false religion, but also atheism or irreligion. A false religion is that in which either false gods are worshiped, or the true God is improperly worshiped. Irreligion is that in which impious men regard all religion with contempt, so that, denying the providence and punitive justice of God, they boldly and recklessly do as they please.”

[3] HOLL. (34): “The true Religion is that which is conformed to the Divine Word.”

That the Christian religion is the true one is proved by CAL. 1: 152 sqq.:

“(1) From the requisites of a true religion. A religion which is true and proceeded from God, must have these characteristics: (a) Not to teach false, corrupt or absurd things. (b) Not to be new but to have existed since the creation of man as an institution for communicating salvation. (c) Not to have perished or hereafter to perish. (d) Not to leave men in their former errors, much less to sink them the more deeply, but to lead them to holiness. All these characteristics pertain to no other than the Christian religion; since every other religion teaches false, absurd, base things, has originated since men, etc.

(2) From the truth of Scripture. For since the Christian religion is comprised in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, its truth will be proved from the truth of these Scriptures, as elsewhere set forth.

(3) From the religion of the Hebrews. For the religion of the Christians and of the ancient patriarchs is one and the same.

(4) From the supreme dignity of its rewards. For the excellence of the Christian religion is displayed by the fact that in all ages and nations, none can be produced either more excellent in its rewards, more perfect in its precepts, more sublime in its mysteries or more admirable in the method in which it is to be propagated. For while among the Greeks some entertained the hope of life after the end of the present life, nevertheless they spoke with great hesitancy concerning it (Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo, Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, Seneca’s Epistles). Philosophers were divided into diverse opinions concerning the end of man, some making virtue the reward, others contending that pleasure is the highest good; the Christian religion, however, offers the true knowledge of this end, promising, after this life, a happy existence not only for the soul, but also for the body; nor are the joys it promises vile, as the 23banquets for which the Jews hope, or the licentious indulgence which Mohammedans expect, but true, solid, perennial. Lactantius has well said (Institutes, 1. iii., cap. xii.): ‘Virtue is not happy of itself, since all its force is expended in the endurance of evil.’

(5) From the supreme holiness of its precepts. The sacred rites of the heathen, throughout almost the whole world, were full of cruelty. The mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus abounded in obscenity. How profane and unworthy of God is Mohammedanism, the Koran can testify. The Christian religion requires an absolutely holy worship of God, holy trust in Him, and all that is most worthy of God; and of like nature are the duties towards our neighbor which it enjoins. Mohammedanism was born in war, breathes nothing but war, is propagated everywhere by war, while Christianity prohibits every injury, and wishes good to all. Many of the most eminent Greek philosophers praised a community of women, and even did not disapprove of sodomy, which was commended by the example of the gods. But the Christian religion teaches that marriage must be held most holy. . . . In short, nothing excellent can be found in any nation which is not taught in the Christian religion with still greater purity, and under sanction of divine authority, as modesty, temperance, prudence, the duties of magistrates and subjects, of parents and children, of husbands and wives, the avoidance of sin, etc.; so that the sum of all its precepts is, to love God above all things, and our neighbor as ourselves.

(6) From the sublimity of its mysteries. For whatever mystery other religions seem to have easily brings to those better informed the suspicion of vanity. Only the mysteries of the Christian religion are entirely placed beyond the reach of man’s understanding, and can be convicted of no falsity or superstition.

(7) From the propagation of the Christian religion. For there is no religion so widely diffused. If Paganism be mentioned, you mention one name, but not one religion.

(8) From the mode of its propagation. For the Christian religion made such progress, not by violence or arms, or the example of kings and the powerful. The first teachers of Christianity were of humble rank, and yet, through their agency, within thirty years it not only pervaded all parts of the Roman Empire, but was extended to the Parthians and inhabitants of India, Rom. 15:19. Nor only in the beginning, but for about three centuries, it was advanced without threats of violence, and even with the power of the empire arrayed against it, so that before Constantine professed Christianity it had conquered almost the greater part of the Roman 24world. Nor was this done by any elaborate preparation, whether of eloquence or the various arts whereby philosophers rendered themselves commendable to the Gentiles.

(9) From the multitude of its miracles. For, as the faith of the Old Testament was attested by most remarkable miracles, performed at various times but especially on the departure from Egypt and the entrance into Canaan, whereby its fame was spread abroad among the Gentiles, so far more numerous and more illustrious miracles proclaim the authority of the New Testament.

(10) From the magnanimity of its martyrs.

(11) From testimony of other religions. ‘The Jews,’ says Augustine (De Civitate Dei, 1. xviii., c. 45), ‘are dispersed throughout the earth, and by their scriptures give a testimony that we have not invented the prophecies concerning Christ. The Mohammedans acknowledge Christ as the greatest prophet; and among the heathen many things occur corroborating its testimony in historical matters.’

(12) From the efficacy and power of Christian doctrine, in arousing, swaying, and soothing souls, attested not only by Scripture, but by innumerable examples of those converted to faith in Christ.”

[4] QUEN. (I, 20): “The Christian religion may be viewed either μερικως (in part), or ολικως (as a whole). Taken in the former sense it signifies, first and principally, the immediate worship of God, viz., ευοεβεια, or the piety which has regard to the worship of God according to the first table of the Law; secondarily, it signifies those other duties by which God is mediately worshiped, which have respect to the second table of the Law. The love of our neighbor presupposes love to God; hence, secondarily and by analogy, the duty of love to our neighbor comes under the name of religion.”

BR. (16): “The term Religion signifies, in a stricter sense, either the habit of the will by which we are inclined to the love, honor and worship due God, on account of His excellence; or, the acts themselves, of honoring or worshiping God on account of His excellence; and, at the same time, it signifies, on the part of the intellect, the true knowledge of God; on the part of the will, the other virtues (or virtuous acts) which aim at the honor and worship of God. But, in a wider sense, it denotes the whole circle of virtues or acts, that pertain to the worship of God.”

[5] HOLL. (43): “Under the name of the Christian Religion is comprehended whatever is to be believed and to be done by sinful man, in order to attain eternal life. As God is religiously worshiped by true faith and the sincere effort to perform good works, 25so religion, which is the form or method of worshiping God, embraces within its compass things to be believed and things to be done. In a general sense, the things to be believed are all things revealed in the written Word of God; in a more limited sense, those which are revealed in the Word of God in regard to the salvation of man; in the most specific sense, they are mysteries, above the comprehension of reason, and to be learned alone from the divine revelation for our salvation.” Hence, “the subject-matter of Religion is faith, and love to God and our neighbor.”

We observe further, that GRH. and BR. do not treat of Religion as a separate topic. BR. has, under the head of “The Nature and Constituent Elements of Theology,” only the following proposition (14): “In Natural Theology the means of attaining happiness are the acts of the mind and will directed towards God, by which God is rightly known and worshiped. They are known by one name, Religion.” This is explained by the definition which the theologians give of Theology, for in accordance with this there is little material left for a special section on the subject of Religion.

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