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DEFINITION OF RELIGION.
tion formed the very foundation of the philosophy of the ancients, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, while the absence of proper definitions has been and is still the curse of modern philosophy".
Definition of Definition. But before we can give a definition of religion, we must first give a definition of definition itself, however pedantic such a request may appear.
There are at least three kinds of definitions, the etymological, the historical, and the dogmatic.
Etymological Definition. Many people still imagine that an etymology is in itself a definition. This was an impression which prevailed widely in early times ?, before the true principles of etymology had been discovered; and it prevails even now, though there is no longer any excuse for it. Homer, for instance, is very fond of etymologies which are to account for the peculiar character of certain gods and heroes. Plato extends this practice even more widely, though he often leaves us in doubt whether he is really serious in his etymologies or not. You know how in his Cratylus (410) he derives åắp, air, from atpelv, to raise, as the element which raises things from the earth; how he explains αιθήρ, ether, as αειθεώρ, because this element is always running in a flux about the air (åei Oci åépa péwv). He derives Oeoi, the gods, also from the same root Oeiv, to run, because he suspected, as he says 3, that the sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the
i See Mill, Three Essays on Religion, p. 4. 2 Cf. Sânkhyatattvakaumudî, § 4 ; tannirvakanam ka lakshanam, • the etymological interpretation is the definition.'
3 Cratylus, 397 C.
gods of many barbarians, were the only gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes; and seeing that they were always moving and running, from this their running nature, they called them gods or runners; and afterwards, when they had discovered all the other gods, they retained the old name.' Aristotle was more sparing in his etymological definitions, yet he too derived along, the ether, from ảeż Oelv, because it was always running and moving?
The Romans followed the example of the Greeks 2. Poets like Lucretius and Ovid indulged in etymologies, whenever they seemed to agree with their opinions, and to the latest times Roman lawyers delighted in supporting their definitions of legal terms by more or less fanciful derivations.
In India also these etymological definitions were recognised from the earliest times. They are generally introduced in the following way: “This is the saddlehood of a saddle that we sit on it'; this is the roadhood of a road that we ride 3 on it'; this is the heaven-hood of heaven that it has been heaved on high. Only, while these etymologies are historically correct, any etymology is welcome to the authors of the Brâhmana or the Nirukta, if only it explains some meaning of the word.
In some cases these etymological definitions are very useful, but they require the greatest caution. First of all, many popular etymologies 4 are phonetically untenable and historically wrong. God, for in
1 De Mundo, ed. Didot, vol. iii. p. 628, 1. 28 ; did to åci Delv. 2 Lersch, Die Sprachphilosophie der Alten, vol. iii ; Cic. Nat. Deor. iii. 24. 3 See Academy, Dec. 1888; also Plutarch, Fragm. 21, 27.
+ Varro, L. L. v. 7, ed. Egger. “Quattuor explicandi gradus : infimus is quo etiam populus venit. Quis enim non videt unde arenifodînae et viocârus ?' Lersch, l. c. vol. üi. p. 126.
stance, cannot be derived from good, because phonetic laws will not allow it, and because the two words run parallel, and never approach one another, as far as we can follow their history.
But even where an etymology is unassailable on phonetic and historical grounds, it can never give us more than the first starting-point of a word. It may teach us how the object to be named was first conceived, but no more. We know, for instance, that deus in Latin represents the Sanskrit deva, perhaps also the Greek beos, though neither of these etymologies is in strict accordance with phonetic rules 1, and that deva meant originally, bright. This is extremely important as showing us that one of the many conceptions of the Divine started from the concept of bright and beneficent beings, such as sun, and moon, and stars, in opposition to the dark and deadly aspects of the night; but to imagine that this could help us to understand the concept of God in the mind of such a thinker as Pascal, would be absurd. We can never be too grateful, if we can discover the germinal idea of a word, if we can prove, for instance, that deus was originally no more than a bright being, that a priest was originally an elder, a minister a servant, a bishop an overseer; but if we were to give these etymologies as more than historical curiosities, and mistake them for definitions, we should only prove our ignorance of the nature of language, which is in a constant state of ebb and flow, and exhibits to us the process of continuous evolution better than any other part of nature.
See Selected Essays, i. p. 215. expressed.
I still hold to the opinions there
Historical Definition. We now come to historical definitions. What I call an historical definition is an account of these very changes which take place in the meaning of a word, so long as it is left to the silent and unconscious influences which proceed from the vast community of the speakers of one and the same language. Thus an historical definition of deus would have to show the various changes which led from deva, bright, as applied to the sun, the dawn and other heavenly phenomena, to the Devas, as powers within or behind these heavenly bodies, and lastly to the beneficent agents in nature or above nature, whom the Hindus called Devas, and the Romans dii. As the biography of a man may be called his best definition, what I call biographies of words are perhaps the most useful definitions which it is in our power to give.
Dogmatic Definition. Lastly come the dogmatic definitions, by which I mean definitions given on the authority of individuals, who, whatever a word may have meant etymologically, and whatever it may have come to mean historically, declare that, for their own purposes, they intend to use it in such and such a sense. This is chiefly done by philosophers, lawyers, and men of science, who feel unable to use important words with all the vagueness of their etymological and historical meaning, and determine once for all, generally by the old logical method of settling their genus and their specific difference, in what exact sense they ought to be employed in future.
Let us now see how these three kinds of definition
have been applied to the word with which we have to deal, namely religion.
Etymological Definition of Religio. The etymological definition of religion has attracted considerable interest among theologians, owing to that kind of tacit persuasion that the etymology of the word must somehow, or other help to disclose its real meaning. It is well known that Lactantius derived religio from religare, to bind or hold back, and he did so, not simply as a philologist, but as a theologian. “We are born,' he says, 'under the condition that, when born, we should offer to God our justly due services, should know Him only, and follow Him only. We are tied to God and bound to Him (religati) by the bond of piety, and from this has religion itself received its name, and not, as Cicero has interpreted it, from attention (a relegendo),
Before we examine this etymology, it will be useful to give the etymology which Lactantius ascribes to Cicero, and which he is bold enough to reject. Cicero says : Those who carefully took in hand all things pertaining to the worship of the gods, were called religiosi, from relegere, - as neat people (elegantes) were so called from elegere?, to pick out; likewise diligent people, diligentes, from diligere, to choose, to value, and intelligent people from intel
1 Lactantius, Institut. Div. iv, 28, 'Hac conditione gignimur, ut generati nos Deo justa et debita obsequia praebeamus, hunc solum noverimus, hunc sequamur. Hoc vinculo pietatis obstricti Deo et religati sumus ; unde ipsa religio nomen accepit, non, ut Cicero interpretatus est, a relegendo.'
? Rather from a lost verb elegare.