Superstition and Hypocrites: Always a Problem?

Bartolomeo Platina, de Principe (1):

There are two things which you must especially attend to in this matter: first, that you not waste your time with superstition, and second, that you not be deceived by hypocrites. As Cicero says, not only the philosophers, but even our ancestors separated superstition from religion. For those who would spend all day praying and sacrificing so that their children might survive were called superstitious, and the name was later more broadly applied. However, those who diligently managed all things which pertained to the cult of the gods and as it were collected them together [relegerent] were called religious, just as we derive elegantes from eligendo, deligentes from deligendo, and intelligentes from intelligendo. In all of these words is the same power of selecting which we find in religiosus. Thus it happens that one of these is the name of a fault, and the other a word of praise.

Religion is, however, the cult of the true God, while superstition is that of the false, as in the case of those who cultivate the surviving memory of the dead as though they were gods. I am not sure, however, why Lactantius would have it that religion came from the word religando [to bind]. He says, “Christ was among the dead for two days. Constrained by this chain of piety we are bound to God, from which religion took its name.” Indeed, since there was a fear of the gods before Christ, by whose blood and piety had we been bound then? There was no bond – everything was tottering around, everything was all loosey-goosey then. Then came the one who would redeem us and whose piety and mercy we would go over, mindful of such great services.

Which of these explanations makes more sense is left to the judgment of others. But try to avoid the superstitions of old women and certain idlers lest, as I said before, you waste your time in certain little trifles and fear those things which a crowd of slack-jawed fools fashion and dream up for the sake of argument.

Sed duo hac in re maxime attendenda sunt: unum ne superstitione tempus teras, alterum ne ab hypocritis decipiare. Non enim philosophi solum, ut ait Cicero, verum etiam maiores nostri superstitionem a religione separaverunt. Nam qui totos dies precabantur et immolabant ut sibi sui liberi superstites essent, superstitiosi sunt appellati, quod nomen postea latius patuit. Qui autem omnia quae ad cultum deorum pertinerent diligenter retractarent et tanquam relegerent, sunt dicti religiosi, ut elegantes ex eligendo, tanquam a deligendo deligentes, ex intelligendo intelligentes: his enim verbis omnibus inest vis eligendi eadem quae in religioso. Unde alterum vitii nomen est, alterum laudis.

Est autem religio veri Dei cultus, superstitio falsi, ut qui superstitem memoriam defunctorum colunt tanquam deos. Cur autem a religando potius dictam velit religionem Lactantius, non satis intelligo. “Fuit biduo apud inferos Christus” inquit “hoc vinculo pietatis obstricti Deo religati sumus, unde religio nomen accepit”. Verum, cum ante Christum deorum quoque metus esset, cuius sanguine et pietate religati eramus? Nullum erat tum vinculum, immo titubabant et soluta erant omnia. Venit qui nos redimeret et cuius pietatem ac misericordiam relegeremus tantorum meritorum memores. Uter vero melius sentiat aliorum sit iudicium.

Aniles igitur superstitiones et otiosorum quorundam fuge ne, ut antea dixi, frustra tempus in nugis quibusdam teras et ea timeas quae oscitantes quidam aucupii gratia confingunt et somniant.

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