Universitas Number 11 (May 2005)

The Thomistic Pietas: Translations And Comparative Considerations

D. Mikkelson

With the revival of interest in virtues in contemporary philosophy, comparativists have recently turned their attention in this direction. In this regard, one readily thinks of a landmark work by Lee H. Yearley, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage:1 The book is an impressive achievement, and serves as a benchmark for subsequent and future comparative studies of virtues.

For my purposes, I would like to mention a section in the "Conclusions" chapter of this book. At one point Yearley makes some remarks about "the idea of practical reason." Among other things, he offers the observation that utilizing Mencius's notion of chih (intelligent awareness) informed his interpretation of Aquinas's notion of prudentia (practical wisdom).2

Yearley carries out his overall project by the employment of "focal terms" (e.g. practical reason in the above example) dynamically engaged with "secondary terms" (such as chih and prudentia). It is not my intention to summarize and replicate his methodology in its entirety here: But a portion of his project I would like to parallel in this article. Specifically, just as Yearley employed Mencius's notion of chih in order to inform his interpretation of Aquinas's notion of prudentia, so I would like to employ the Confucian notion of hsiao in order to inform my interpretation of the Thomistic notion of pietas. To get this far, however, will require a substantial preliminary analysis of Aquinas's virtue of pietas. The Thomistic pietas, it should be noted, is constructed from various sources, most notably Cicero and Aristotle; therefore, comparative considerations with these sources will figure in this article as well.

Not long ago in the course of some research I was performing I happened to be reading the acclaimed Blackfriars translation of the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas. At one point I found myself staring at a section of the secunda secundae, specifically question 101. On the left hand side of the volume before me were the title words "Quaestio 101. de pietate," and directly across from this on the right hand side the proposed translation reading "Question 101. piety." As I eventually discovered, the choice of "piety" for the word "pietas" in the Summa is widely preferred by the numerous translators of this edition, and indeed every other translation as well.

Yet within the Blackfriars translation itself, I detected a lone dissenting opinion among the translators. la2ae q.60.3 asks the question "if there is only one virtue about moral actions."3 The sed contra to this question reads as follows: "Sed Contra est quod religio est alia virtus a pietate; quarum tamen utraque est circa operationes quasdam." The translator, W.D. Hughes, renders this passage as follows: "On the other hand, religion is a moral virtue distinct from filial piety, yet both of these are about actions." In an accompanying footnote, furthermore, he remarks: "Religion is a special virtue. Filial piety also. 2a2ae q.101.3." Hughes's citation about filial piety is, of course, part of the section labeled de pietate mentioned in the previous paragraph of this article.

Having looked further into this matter, I have come to the conclusion that, at least for Aquinas, "filial piety" is indeed a better English translation for pietas than "piety." The definition I offer for filial piety is the same one offered for hsiao in the Confucian text known as the Hsiao ching: "The duty owed to a parent by a child."4 To put it another way, if you define filial piety as the duty owed to a parent by a child, then this is the best translation not only for the Confucian hsiao but also for the Thomistic pietas.

The best evidence for this contention derives from a reading of 2a2ae q.101 itself. Of all the times the word pietas appears in the Summa, this question accounts for about one quarter. The section is divided into four articles; each article begins with a proposed question to be answered. Article two asks "whether pietas entails supporting parents"; article four asks "whether duties of pietas toward parents should give way in favor of service to God." As we can see, articles two and four without a doubt pertain to the issue of the duties a child owes to parents. Such duties also figure prominently in article three, which seeks to discover "whether pietas is a specific virtue, distinct from the rest."

But the mere fact that "duties to parents" figures so prominently in question 101 does not in itself compel a translation of pietas as filial piety. What does direct us to do so derives largely from the first article, wherein Aquinas pursues a definition of pietas. A close reading of this passage will enable us to see how Aquinas understood pietas, and provide the basis for my contention that filial piety, rather than piety, better captures his usage of the term.

Article one begins by asking "whether pietas is extended to certain personae." We should note the meaning of the Latin word persona~ae in this context. Persona~ae can convey many of the nuances the English word "person" entails, e.g. actual people, personifications, "greater-than-human persons" like angels, the gods, etc., which we will indeed see is partly at issue here.

The sed contra of this article is both the beginning of Aquinas's answer to the question and the beginning of a definition of pietas: "On the other hand there is what Cicero said, viz. pietas is to fulfill one's duty and conscientious service towards our own flesh and blood and one's country." As often as possible, Aquinas cited a recognized and respected authority in the sed contra of his articles, and in this instance he quotes from the second book of Cicero's De Inventione (On Rhetoric).5 That Aquinas cites De Inventione, II.53--little more than a page of text--five times in 2a2ae q.101 (and several other places in the Summa) testifies to its importance in this question. Perhaps we ought to observe here that Aquinas constructs a sed contra based on a text of stoic moral philosophy. Choosing this opinion as his starting point over others possessing citations from the likes of Gregory, Augustine, and the New Testament was not unusual; the Ciceronian text was taken as an authoritative citation for moral thinking by many of Aquinas's Christian contemporaries as well. It also reveals his opposition to an Augustinianism that would view accounts of virtues of pagan classical antiquity as no better than lists of "glorious vices."

Formulating the question of the range of pietas in terms of to what personae this pietas is directed pays off for Aquinas at this point. Persona~ae, as mentioned before, can include the sense of personification. Subsequently, Aquinas is able to personify the patria in this case, and thus legitimately speak (as does Cicero) of pietas as directed to, among other personae, one's

country. "Country," we should observe, is an adequate translation of patria, but in Aquinas's era one's native city and its inhabitants were the first locus for directing such pietas; a more literal rendering also conveys the sense of those who have the country's interests at heart, i.e. fellow citizens and the government.

Aquinas begins his own answer to the question in the following fashion: "Indebtedness to others arises in a variety of ways matching their own superiority and the diverse benefits received from them" (2a2ae q.101.1, responsio). As Aquinas explains time and again in the Summa, a debt is something incurred via the relationship one has with an other,6 and as we see these elements of debitum and alter are present in the above passage. But just as importantly, we see two concepts introduced which serve as criteria for the hierarchical ordering of paying debts to an other: the superiority (excellentia) of the other in relation to the subject and the benefits (beneficia) bestowed by the former on the latter. Aquinas's next two sentences draw out the implications: ,

On both counts God holds first place; he is both absolutely supreme and the first source of our existence and progress through life (gubernatio). Next, on the basis of birth an upbringing, parents and country are the closest sources of our existence and development; as a consequence everyone is indebted first of all under God to his parents and his fatherland (2a2ae q.101.1, responsio).

A full understanding of this passage explicated in Aquinas's terminology requires us to first understand how he understood the relationship between virtue and object. I will take up this point toward the end of this article. For the time being, I wish to keep the analysis centered on the hierarchy of debt unfolding via this passage.

God's place atop the creditor-debtor schema is established for several reasons. God is the other who is most superior (excellentissimus est). God is the first source our first source of existence, our Creator prior to our creation at birth. Even when speaking of our progress through life, God takes first place, because God "governs" us towards all the goods appropriate to us as humans. The sense of gubernatio meant here is reflected in the responsio to 2a2ae q..102.2: to guide others to an appointed to goal, somewhat as the sailor "governs" a ship in steering it to harbor. God, in this aspect, is the Other who stands in a relationship of authority over us, and benevolently governs us to our appropriate ends.

A subsequent-passage in this same responsio helps clarify in what fashion we can pay our debts to a superior authority: "On grounds of superiority, he has a right to honor, which means is fact acknowledgement of another's eminence. On grounds of the task of governing he has a right to homage, which consists of a definite service, namely that his commands be obeyed and his good offices be recompensed in due measure" (2a2ae q.102.2, responsio). Payment of our debt to God as the most excellent and superior source of our existence and being and direction and through life is properly rendered via honor and homage.

But Aquinas does not intend to place honor and homage to God formally under the range of virtue of pietas. Rather, in consonance with his tendency to harmonize at every point possible, he has included God in the hierarchical schema in order to introduce an analogy crucial for conveying what he means by pietas: "Therefore as it is for the virtue of religion to pay homage to God, so in the next level, it is up to pietas to render its own kind of homage to parents and country."

I think we need to pause for a moment and reflect on a few relevant points that have unfolded so far. We have been seeking to discover if filial piety is indeed the best translation for the Thomistic pietas. We have seen that Aquinas builds upon Cicero's definition of pietas as extending to both parents and country. As expressed in the responsio of q.2a2ae 101.1, duties to parents and country are seen as subordinate to duties to God. This last point pertains to what I mentioned as the unfolding hierarchy of debt in this passage. Now we might reasonably ask if there is not also a more specific breakdown of the hierarchy of debt that distinguishes between the two personae identified in the sed contra. In other words, is there a hierarchical relationship between debts owed to parents and debts owed to country?

As we would expect, the answer to this question is clearly yes. So we are then led naturally to enquire which debt takes precedence in Aquinas' view. The question leads us back to 2a2ae q.101, and a consideration of the source Aquinas draws upon in developing his hierarchy of debt, viz. Cicero.

Aquinas, as mentioned before, cites Cicero's De Inventione Oratoria 11.53 five times in question 101. Of these five, the citation appears twice in one of the sed contra sections, viz. articles one and three. Given the large role this citation plays in the question, we may reasonably assume he sought to harmonize his view with that of Cicero's. In seeking to determine how Aquinas answers our question, therefore, we may reasonably to begin with a discussion on Cicero's relation to it.

Prior to 11.53.161, Cicero had linked pietas to parents in 11.22.66 of ths same work, wherein we read of "pietas, which warns us to maintain duty with regard to country or parents connected by blood."7 Note, however, how in this passage of the De Inventione Cicero reverses the order found in that of the previous citation: the word "parents," not country, appears first. Many passages from earlier texts seem to support a preference towards linking pietas solely with duty towards parents. In Pro Plancio, written in 54 BCE, Cicero asks: "What is pietas if not gratitude towards parents?"8 and the De Partitione Oratoria refers to pietas as righteousness towards parents.9 Yet also in the year 54 BCE can be found the following in De Re Publica: "Observe righteousness and pietas which is not only strictly due to parents and relations, but most of all to one's country. 10 And a reference in 43 BCE praises the young Caesar for his superior service to the state "in that he has never been beguiled by any phantom to his father's name, or by filial feeling, and understands that the greatest duty of a son consists in the preservation of the patria."11

Cicero may have placed debts to country over debts to parents at some stage of his thinking, as these last two citations suggest, but this is not an aspect of the passage Aquinas cites. The order of presentation of 11.53, however, may have played a factor in Aquinas's own interpretation. Michel Foucault's writings on the role of "resemblance" in Western culture is insightful here. Up until the close of the sixteenth century, he argues, "resemblance" governed exegesis and the interpretation of texts. Resemblance manifests itself in "similitudes": his remarks on the one labeled conventia are apropos. Conventia denotes the adjacency of place, and "those things are convenient which are sufficiently close to one another to be in juxtaposition; their edges touch, their fringes intermingle, the extremity of the one also denotes the beginning of the other.... Adjacency is not an exterior relation between things, but the sign of a relationship, obscure though it may be."12

Perhaps the analysis provides some interpretive leverage on Aquinas's own thinking in this instance. The ordered adjacency of parents and country in 11.53 suggested, to Aquinas, no mere accident but a sign of an ordered, hierarchical relationship. Consider, in this context, Aquinas's own words in the responsio of 1a2ae q.122.5:

The commandments of the Decalogue have as their end the love of God and of neighbor, and among all neighbors we are above all under obligation to our parents. Therefore right after the commandment putting us in proper relationship to God, the commandment is set forth that puts us in proper relationship to parents as the immediate source of our existence even as God is its universal source. In this way also there is a certain link between this commandment and those of the first table.

The ordering of the Ten Commandments, for Aquinas, is not mere chance. As Foucault expresses it, there is, according to this way of thinking, a universal convenience of things, a world linked together like a chain, and "at each point of contact there begins and ends a link that resembles the one before it...bringing them together in such a way that God may penetrate into the most unawakened corners." 13 We see, in part a reflection of this resemblance in Aquinas's further remarks in this question:

"The debt to parents has precedence over that to country and kin because it is by being born of this account, the Ten Commandments being the prime precepts of the law, man is directed by them towards parents rather than towards country or relatives (la2ae q.122.5, Reply Five).

This coincides with Aquinas's observation in 2a2ae q.141 about the primacy of place being given to parents on "the basis of birth and upbringing"; parents are the secondary source of our birth and direction towards good ends.

But while la2ae q.122.5 qualifies the proper hierarchical relation of homage towards parents and country, the introduction of kin raises a new question: which debt we owe has precedence--kin or country? To some extent, Aquinas implicitly answers this question via an argument based on the notion of "consanguinity." Aquinas writes: "[A] persona who exercises care over us in any line, to that extent shares the character of a parent, i.e. one who is the source of birth, upbringing, education and all that contributes to progress in life" (2a2ae q.102.1, responsio).

We should carefully note the strategy Aquinas adopts here: expanding the application of the word "parents" beyond the simple meaning of one's "biological progenitors." As we shall see, recognizing this strategy is crucial to understanding what, ultimately, Aquinas means by pietas. Regarding the issue at hand, this strategy is at work in the following passage from the responsio of 2a2ae q.101: "Homage to parents extends to blood relatives as well, i.e. those so called because, as Aristotle notes, they share our lineage...."

This statement may appear as something of a non sequitur at first glance. But it may become clearer why Aquinas says this if we note the source of its inspiration. As Aristotle maintained in the Nicomachean Ethics:

Parents, then, love their children as themselves (for their issue are by virtue of their separate existence a sort of other selves), while children love their parents as being born of them, and brothers love each other as being born of the same parents; for their identity with them makes them identical with each other (which is the reason why people talk of 'the same blood,' 'the same stock,' and so on). They are, therefore, in a sense the same thing, though in separate individuals.l4

Aristotle, we see, provides the basis for an identity, in some sense, between parents and children--"they are, in a sense, the same thing, though in separate individuals." Discussing this passage in his Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, Aquinas makes this identification explicitly: "Children generated by their parents are as it were the parents themselves, differing from them only in the fact of their distinct existence."15 Note, however, the reverse spin Aquinas puts on Aristotle's words. Children, states Aristotle, are by virtue of their separate existence a sort of "other selves" for parents. Aquinas, in contrast, interprets the passage starting from the fact of the child's distinct existence and suggests that her generation by parents makes her another self, specifically "as it were a parent herself." Furthermore, Aquinas extends this reasoning to suggest an identity, in the same sense, holding between siblings:

Things that are identical with one and the same thing are identical in some fashion with one another. Since then children are identical in some way their parents, as has been observed (1711), the children's identity with the parents makes the children identical in some way. Consequently we say that brothers are the same by blood, by stock, and so on. Although the parents' blood (the common origin) is entirely the same, this identity also endures in some measure even in the children who are separated from their parents and from one another.l6

For Aquinas, the degree of indebtedness is gradated with the degree of consanguinity. Since children are unquestionably in the Thomistic-Aristotelian sense closer to their parents than country/government/fellow citizens, Aquinas clearly places priority of indebtedness to children over country. The consanguinity between brothers and sisters also makes them identical, in a sense, to parents and each other, and therefore duties of pietas towards siblings would also seem to take precedence over those of country. In this regard Aquinas appears to part company with Cicero, who criticized Gaius Gracchus with the words: "If only he had extended pietas to his country to the degree he extended it to his brother!"l7

If kin is limited to children and siblings, therefore, Aquinas evidently views the extending of pietas to kin as taking precedence over country. Kin in its more expanded sense, however, is a more complicated issue. Aquinas would presumably follow Aristotle's instruction: "And cousins and other kinsmen are bound up together by derivation from brothers, viz. by being derived from the same parents. They come to be closer together or farther apart by virtue of the nearness of distance of the original ancestor."18 Whether precedence would be granted to cousins or kin further degrees removed from the original ancestor would, for Aquinas depend to a large extent on the relative nearness of the persons in question. An extended discussion of the principle in relation to kin and its implications for the hierarchy of debt in pietas is beyond the scope of this discussion. For practical purposes, I will limit the compass of kin to children and siblings; this will enable us to provide a fairly accurate, though qualified, understanding of the position "kin" occupies in the hierarchy of debt dictated by the virtue of pietas.

Certain of Cicero's remarks about pietas and country, however, resonate with Aquinas's view. In De Officiis Cicero attacks as impious those who claim to have no obligations to fellow-citizens; furthermore, those "who say that we should respect our fellow-citizens, but not foreigners, destroy the universal community of humanity, and when this is obliterated, kindness, generosity, goodness, and justice will totally perish."19 Cicero's inclusion of respect for foreigners as an aspect of pietas is reflected in the responsao of 2a2ae q.101: "Homage towards country includes what one would show to all fellowcitizens and all friends of the country."

After pietas has been articulated in the above manner, Aquinas is able to end the responsio with the statement: "And therefore to these things pietas is primarily extended." We can now identify the full range of personae to whom pietas is to be properly extended: parents, kin, country, and wellwishers/friendly foreigners. Based on the above analysis of the question, we can also construct the hierarchy of debt implicitly expressed by Aquinas: In descending order, we can speak of pietas towards parents (i.e. biological progenitors), pietas towards kin (i.e. children and siblings), pietas towards country (viz. the government and fellow citizens) and pietas towards wellwishers/friendly foreigners.

Let us now consider where we find filial piety when we look at article one of 2a2ae q.101. Standing on top of the full range to which pietas is extended is parents. Thus, by our definition earlier, we are surely justified in saying that the pietas extended towards parents is well-rendered by the term "filial piety."

We could remain satisfied with this identification. But I would now like to ask whether or not the translation "filial piety" should be limited solely to the instance of pietas towards biological parents. Might not the term have application to the pietas one extends to certain other people as well? This may sound curious at first. But in fact it is precisely what we find in an analogous case, namely the translation of hsiao as "filial piety" in Confucian texts.

Aquinas, as we saw, drew upon Cicero in order to establish ones primary debts via pietas to be to one's parents and one's country; "country" entails not only fellow-citizens but the government as well. Confucius (551-479) also linked hsiao with both parents and country: "I can claim that at court I have duly served the Duke and his officers; at home, my father and elder brother."20 But what about the relation of the service dutifully served to parents as opposed to the duty served to government? Are they different in kind? Clearly not, as another passage reveals: "You are filial.... These qualities are displayed in government."21 The Hsiao ching puts similar words into the mouth of Confucius: "The master said: The hsiao with which the superior man serves his parents may be transferred as loyalty to the ruler...."22

Whatever Confucianism's exact understanding of the relation between duty towards parents and duty towards country, clearly the basis for executing such duty rests in not two, but one kind of moral virtue: hsiao. Perhaps the contemporary reader would find this somewhat curious; as T.C. O'Brien notes, we do not ordinarily think of the relationship to one's country and to one's parents as one kind of moral response.23 But this is, in fact, parallel to Aquinas own usage of pietas; as we have seen, pietas is a virtue directed towards both parents and country.

But just as Aquinas went beyond Cicero in expanding the range of pietas, so does the Confucian conception of hsiao extend beyond parents and country. Filial piety is commonly understood as extended to particular living relatives beyond parents. conversely, grandparents were understood as entailed by the concept, and unfilial behaviors towards them were deemed serious offences.24 Wives were expected, according to certain texts, to extend hsiao to parents in-law; since wives were generally seen as not only marrying into, but in a stronger sense actually becoming, a member of the son's family, parents-in-law became de facto parents.25

Hsiao is often mentioned in close connection with the duty younger siblings (and cousins) are admonished to show towards the eldest son of the family. Referring to the filial piety of the sovereign, for example, the Hsiao ching asserts that "his teaching of filial piety is a tribute of reverence to all the fathers under heaven; his teaching of fraternal submission is a tribute of reverence to all the elder brothers under heaven."26 Cousins are included in passages like the following from the Book of Rites: "Eldest male cousins in the legitimate line of descent and their brothers should do reverent service to the son, who is the representative chief of the family and his wife. Though they may be richer and higher in official rank than he, they should not presume to enter his house with (demonstrations of) their wealth and dignity...."27 The eldest son, as heir apparent to the family head and the concomitant sacrificial duties, was due nearly an equal degree of obedience and respect as the father.

If we reflect on how filial piety functions in Confucian thought, we see an interesting dynamic at work. On the one hand, the definition offered in the Hsiao ching sets the foundation: the duty a child owes a parent. But filial piety is to be exercised towards a range of objects besides "biological progenitors." The implication is that these others are to be regarded as "parents" in some expanded sense of the word.

This expanding of the meaning of the object to which a virtue is directed is found continually in the thought of Aquinas. As Lee Yearley points out, Aquinas accepted from Aristotle the idea that "courage" is primarily concerned with "death in warfare." Yet he extends the range of courage to include the possible martyrdom one faces in serving God. How does one do this? By expanding the normal meanings of "death" and "warfare."28 In other words, just as Confucian filial piety can be seen as a moral response directed toward parents not only in its specific sense, but in its expanded meaning as well, so can Thomistic courage be exercised not only in the face of death in warfare strictly defined, but in an expanded sense as well.

Consonant both with the Confucian employment of hsiao and his own employment of the Aristotelian idea of courage, it happens that Aquinas expands the meaning of parents in his articulation of the range of pietas. Recall that according to Aquinas any persona who is a source of birth, upbringing, education, and all that contributes to progress in life "to that extent shares the character of a parent" (2a2ae q.102.1, responsio). Recall also how Aquinas, in 2a2ae q.101.1, explicitly identifies country alongside parents as, behind God, "the closest source of our existence and development." While it is true that Aquinas does not explicitly expand the meaning of parents to country in 2a2ae q.101, nevertheless this is the clear implication following from the argument of 2a2ae q.102.1, since country is a persona in its own right. (The debt to country, of course, is not so much to patria per se but to government and fellow citizens). Moreover, as we saw from the responsio of 2a2ae q.101, homage to country is to extend not only to fellow-citizens but foreign well-wishers as well. Since foreign well-wishers are linked to fellow citizens and hence country as well, they are also in a sense among the class of people who can be called "parents" because they contribute to the origin and development of our existence.

In Aquinas's fully expanded sense, then, "parents" is a word partially expressed in our relation to the following: parents, kin, country, and foreign well-wishers. Pietas, we observed earlier, is extended to all of these. We are justified, therefore, in employing the term "filial piety" to include the extension of pietas to all of these objects (analogous to the extension of filial piety in Confucian thought and courage in Thomistic thought). But as we saw from our study of 2a2ae q.101, these objects comprise the full range of the virtue of pietas. We are thus led to draw a direct correlation between the English term filial piety and the Thomistic usage of the term pietas. In other words, the English term "filial piety" is an appropriate translation not only for hsiao but the Thomistic pietas as well.

Employing "filial piety" to translate pietas is possible, we see, because "parents" can, in a sense, be expanded to incorporate all the objects in pietas. Thus we can say the object of the

virtue of filial piety for Thomas Aquinas is parents "in its expanded sense." We can now articulate an interpretation of Aquinas's virtue of pietas in his own terms.

The object, the thing for which a subject acts, is divisible into two kinds, according to Aquinas: the material object and the formal objective. In the former, objectum is the

reality/thing/person as the terminal point of the act in question, or that to which the act is directed. The latter expresses the object as specifying, i.e. that side or facet of the object that determines the character of an act, and thus, among other things, the exercise of a virtue.

2a2ae q.lOl.l, as interpreted above, can be expressed in Aquinas's terminology as follows: Pietas, a virtue, has parents, in its expanded sense, as its material object. As for the special aspect in parents that is the reason or formal source of the act's engagement of it, i.e. its formal objective, it is: the superiority and beneficence parents possess resulting from their aspect as the source and origin of our existence and development. This formal objective determines the character of pietas in the following fashion: it enjoins us to engage in honor and service to parents. Filial piety, in sum, is for Aquinas the exercise of a virtue characterized by honor and service and directed to parents, in its expanded sense, on account of their superiority and beneficence. ,

So far I have made an argument for the appropriateness of the term "filial piety" as a translation for the Thomistic pietas. Yet to come is an argument for why this term is preferable to the standard translation of "piety." The strength of this argument rests largely on the preceding one.

Look at any English dictionary definition of piety, and you should indeed find that the word can carry the sense of the natural obligations one owes to parents. This is, of course, consonant with the Thomistic pietas. But "piety" also denotes a kind of dutifulness and devoutness to religion, and indeed the corresponding adjective "pious," as it appears in dictionaries, usually carries as its first sense a quality of showing a reverence for deity or a devotion to divine worship. So understood, the disposition towards this act sounds like what Aquinas would call the virtue of religion. As he states in article five of 2a2ae q.81, "religion in itself" (and in essentially the same manner elsewhere): "Religion offers fitting worship to God." Indeed, we saw the distinction between religion and pietas identified earlier in this article amidst our close reading of 2a2ae q.101: "Just as it is for the virtue of religion to pay honor and service to God, so on the next level it is up to pietas to render its own kind of service to religion and country."

But if this passage points out a distinction between the moral response of religion and pietas, it also asserts an analogy between the two, and we ought to take this insight into account here. The implications of this analogy are drawn out further in Reply Two of 2a2ae q.101.3. Opinion Two argues that "honor to God is the concern of the virtue of religion, and since, as Augustine asserts [in Chapter Ten of The City of God] pietas offers honor and service to God, it does not differ from religion." Aquinas resists this simple identification; God is not only the greatest source of our existence and development, but also one "far surpassing parents or fatherland." As we would expect, there are between the homage to God and that to parents and a broad sense we owe honor and service to both God parent in their role as Father and father, respectively. Honor is due to both on account of their "excellence". However, since God's excellence is unparalleled, God should receive a special kind of honor (2a2ae q.81.4, responsio). This honor is one of supreme reverence; and by one and the same act man both serves God and worships him, because worship regards the excellence of God to which reverence is due, while service regards the subjection of man who by his condition is obliged to give reverence to God. To these two acts belong all others which are attributed to religion because through them man acknowledges the eminence of God and his own subjection, by offering something to God or by taking something divine (2a2ae q.81.3, Reply Two).

Honor and service to God, then, is understood as supreme reverence and absolute subjection. Honor and service to parents also involves reverence and subjection on a relative scale; the specifics of honor (enjoined by the Fourth Commandment) and service include respect and obedience, aspects Aquinas develops further in article two of question 101.

Even given the differences between homage to God and homage to parents, however, Aquinas thinks we can extend the analogy further. He leads up to this point in the following manner: "Still, as Dionysius says, in a transferred sense, we attribute to God, on the basis of the divine causality and eminence, whatever we find in creatures. Even as God, therefore, is called our father par excellence, in the same way homage to him is termed pietas (2a2ae q.101.3, Reply Two). To follow this point we need to refer to the discussion in the Summa on the names of God. According to Aquinas, "it is our knowledge we have of creatures that enables us to use words to refer to God.... (la q.13.1, responsio). The expressions we use to name God, moreover, are appropriate to the material creatures (creaturis materialibus) we already know. The words do indeed say "what God is"--they are predicated of God in the category of substance--but the words "fail to adequately express what he is." The reason: we speak of God as we know God, and "since we know God from creatures we can only speak of God as they represent him"; the attributes of creatures have their source in God, and therefore God "being simply and morally perfect, has preexisting in himself the same perfection found in creatures" (la q.13.2, responsio). We can, then, "transfer in a sense" the attributes we see in creatures to God, their divine cause and locus of emanation, albeit imperfectly.

Any attribute we transfer from creatures, of course, would have to be perfect in God, since God is simply and universally perfect. Now if we look to name the male progenitor of our birth, we readily think of "father." But we can also transfer this attribute to God, who is the preeminent source of our existence and development. If God is named "father," he must be seen as possessing this attribute perfectly. God is, therefore, rightfully called our father/parent par excellence. This enables Aquinas to conclude 2a2ae q.101.3 Reply Two with an analogy: "Even as God, therefore, is called our father par excellence, in same way homage to him is termed pietas. The virtue of religion is, in a sense, pietas directed toward our father par excellence, and therefore figures like Augustine have been known to assert that "pietas offers homage to God," claims Aquinas (2a2ae q.101.3, Opinion 2).

Though pietas and religion are different, separate virtues based on the different objects towards which they are directed, religion is, analogously, filial piety directed towards our father par excellence. By extension, "religion is termed pietas par excellence because of God's preeminence as a father" (2a2ae q.103.3, Reply One). With the introduction of the notion of "pietas par excellence" alongside pietas, the hierarchy of debt owed to those who are included in the most expanded sense of "parents" becomes apparent. As a rule, one owes the duties of "pietas par excellence" (i.e. religion) to God as a parent, followed by pietas towards one's biological progenitors, followed by pietas to kin, country, and foreign well-wishers as parents--as we saw previously.

We are now in a position to see why "filial piety" captures the Thomistic sense of pietas better than "piety." Definitions of "piety" commonly speak of it as expressing a dutifulness or devotion to religion or religious acts, and a pious person is one who shows a reverence for deity or divine worship. Piety can also entail the sense of one's obligations to one's parents. So an expression of piety can convey the sense of the dutifulness, devotion, and worship one expresses towards the deity as a parent. But--and this is crucial--it does not necessarily convey this sense. "Piety" can express the dutifulness or devotion to religion and religious acts without reference to God as a father; a pious person can worship the deity, but need not worship the deity as parent. For Aquinas, on the other hand, pietas is always directed towards "parents," whether it be in its expanded or non-expanded sense. Even when pietas is linked with the worship of God (via religion as pietas par excellence), the worship is one of God "as parent"; unlike the English word "piety," the Thomistic pietas necessarily conveys this sense. ,

So if we are to do justice to the Thomistic pietas in our translations, we would do well to always retain this sense of a child's relationship to a parent in its usage. This is accomplished easily enough by placing the adjective "filial" next to "piety." Just as "filial piety" seems to be the best translation of the Confucian hsiao, so does it serve as the best translation of the Thomistic pietas.

I lack the space to develop the point here, but I think the consistent translation of filial piety for pietas not only adds clarity to its usage in the Summa, but also makes it easier to understand how Aquinas sought to harmonize pietas not only with religion, but other virtues like respect and gratitude as well. This would also apply to the Gift of Pietas discussed elsewhere in the Summa. This translation, if indeed a good one, also assists the process of bringing Aquinas into discussion with analogical material from East Asian traditions. If, ultimately, the argument is not persuasive to translators, I hope it at least offers some additional insight into what exactly Aquinas meant to say about pietas.


1 Lee Yearley, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).

2 Ibid., 193.

3 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (London: Blackfriars, 1964). Citations of the Summa employed in this article are slightly modified from the method used in the Blackfriars translation. Thus la2ae q.60.3 refers to question 60, article 3 of the prima secundae (i.e. the first half of part II) of the Summa. To give a more detailed example, 2a2ae q.101.4 Reply Four refers to question 101, article 4, Reply Four of the secunda secundae (i.e. the second half of Part II) of the Summa. In this journal article, a "Reply" is Aquinas' reply to one of the "Opinions" that Aquinas presents; this is to be distinguished from Aquinas' own sed contra ("on the contrary") to the Opinions and his own responsio (i.e. answer) to the question posed. ( Note that Blackfriars chooses to translate responsio as "Reply"; to avoid confusion with my own translation, I have chosen to leave responsio untranslated in my citations.)

In order to avoid a cumbersome proliferation of footnotes, I have decided to include all citations of the Summa within the text of the article itself. In instances where reference to the Summa appears in the text of the article itself (e.g. "whereas in 2a2ae q.101 responsio we read that..."), I have let this citation suffice in order to avoid tiresome redundancy. All other texts quoted and paraphrased are cited in the notes.

Whenever possible, I have tried to conform my translation to the Blackfriars translation. However, my own interpretive perspective has led me to differ with this and other translations on certain points: Thus I must take ultimate responsibility for all translations from Latin to English in this article.

4 See the Hsiao ching. Trans. James Legge in F. Max Muller, ed. The Sacred Books of China, vo1.3, part 1. (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1879; repr. Delhi: Motila Banarsidass, 1879, 1966.)

5 Cicero De Inventione, trans. N.H. Watts, Loeb Classical Series, volume 11 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), II.53.159-161.

6 See, for example, 2a2ae q.58.11.

7 Cicero, De Inventione II.53.161.

8 Cicero, Pro Plancio, trans. N.H. Watts, Loeb Classical Series, vol.ll (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), XXXIII.80.

9 Cicero, De Partitione Oratoria, trans. N.H. Watts, Loeb Classical Series, vol.ll (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), XXXII, 78.

10 Cicero, De Re Publical trans. Clinton Walker Keyes, Loeb Classical Series, vol. 16 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), VI, 16.

11 Cicero, Phillipics, trans. Walter C.A. Ker, Loeb Classical Series, vol. 15 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), XIII.20, 45-46.

12 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971; Vintage Books, 1973), 18.

13 1bid., 18-19.

14 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (New York: Bobbs-Merril Co., The Liberal Arts Press, 1962), XIII.12.

15 Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, trans., C.I. Litzinger (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1964), 1711.

16 1bid., 1712.

17 Cicero, Brutus, trans. G.L. Hendrickson, Loeb Classical Series, vo1.2 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), XXXII. 126.

18 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VII.12.

19 Cicero, De Officiis, III.6, 128.

20 Confucius, The Analects of Confucius, trans. Arthur Waley (New York: Vintage Books, 1938), IX.15.

21 1bid., II.21

22 Hsiao ching, VI.

23 See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (London: Blackfriars, 1964), 2.

24 For more on this point see Laurance G: Thompson, Chinese Religion: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1979), 142.

25 Book of Rites, X.1.2.

26 Classic of Filial Piety, XIII.

27 Book of Rites, X.1.20.

28 Yearley, p.185.

D. Mikkelson

The Author is Associate Professor of RELS at the University of Hawi'i at Hilo.

This article posted May 2005. It was published in Universitas Number 11 (May 2005)
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