By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, December 6, 2013

When the Label ¨Pious¨ Is Too Narrow

Those familiar with Vergil's Aeneid know that Aeneas, the Trojan hero who struggles to finally be the founder of the future Rome, is given the constant epithet or description of being pius or pious, a term that had a very different meaning for Vergil and his contemporaries than it has for us today.

Today, we, for the most part, think of a pious person as one given to external displays of religious devotion. That modern view of piety is only part of what the Romans of Vergil's time would think about a pious person. For the ancient Romans, the pious one was primarily the dutiful and responsible person who endured hardship for the sake of fulfilling his obligations. And, yes, Aeneas was also very dutiful in religious ritual and prayer.

What makes me pine for the Roman definition is that all we have today is the label "pious" primarily applied to those given to external religious exercises and devotions. The problem is that we see too many people given to external religiosity who are also not given to responsibility.

Here are some examples of non-pious (non-responsible) religiosity:

1. We think of marriage as primarily for the personal satisfaction of the spouses instead of putting the welfare of the children first;

2. We think of ritual observance as having priority over compassion for others;

3. We think of the religious person as one who is busy with religious meetings, conferences, and workshops, rather than as one who heroically endures and bears her many responsibilities.

I suggest that we need to recover the old Roman view that piety involved much more than merely external displays of religiosity. Too many of the conventionally "religious" are just too plain irresponsible when it comes to their duties to others to be truly "pious."

(Image of Aeneas and his son finally reaching Italy is in the public domain.)