Lactantius (c. 240–c. 320) on Religion

Our English word “religion” is odd and a bit mysterious. It comes from a Latin word that means “to tie, bind, or connect” (Lat ligo, ligare). The “re-” part means “again,” to retie something. But to tie what? The early Christian writer Lactantius suggested this:

We are created on this condition, that we pay just and due obedience to God who created us, that we should know and follow Him alone. We are bound and tied to God by this chain of piety; from which religion itself received its name. . . . We have said that the name of religion is derived from the bond of piety, because God has tied man to Himself, and bound him by piety; for we must serve Him as a master, and be obedient to Him as a father. (The Divine Institutes, ANF 7:131)

Whether this is what the ancient Romans intended when they began to use the word “religion” is hard to say. (E.g., could binding of sacrifices be in view, or some other ritual action? No one knows). In any case, Lactantius gives us an important insight to religion: the bond between the divine and the human, which is for our good. A bond that, when broken, must be renewed.

God cares for us like a father. That is His bond. And with religious hearts we say, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Early Church


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