Archive E.J. Hutchinson Natural Law Nota Bene The Two Kingdoms

Religion a Part of Justice

For Niels Hemmingsen in the De lege naturae, as for the classical tradition in general, “religion” is one part of the more general, and chief, virtue of justice. Without it, he says, there is no trust between men, no fellowship between men–indeed, no justice at all.  “No justice, no peace” is a popular protest saying; Hemmingsen would protest in turn, “No religion, no justice.”

RELIGION, θρησκεία, is for Cicero the part of justice that bestows care and reverence on the nature, which they call divine, of a certain superior [being]. When this has been taken away, as the same Cicero says, of necessity trustworthiness also, and the fellowship of the human race, and justice, the most excellent virtue, are destroyed. Moreover, that GOD must be worshiped religiously has been demonstrated above from the law of nature.

He believes that two vices conflict with religion: not only atheism, which is the one perhaps most prominent in our day due to the hysterics of the so-called New Atheists and which Hemmingsen connects with Epicureanism, but also superstition, which for Hemmingsen is an overwrought concern with external rites and rituals. Both of these things–irreligion and an overscrupulous kind of religion–are opposed to true religion.

Superstition, δεισιδαιμονία, and Epicurean ἀθεότης [godlessness or atheism], conflict with religion. The former thinks excessively about types of cult, the latter rejects all care for religion, just as the Cyclops does in Euripides, who acknowledges no other divinity than his own stomach, to which alone he professes to perform services; he says that other things are κόμπους καὶ εὐμορφίας λόγων [the ringing and elegance of words]–whom not a few ἄθεοι [godless men or atheists] today imitate, whom just vengeance will teach more correctly someday.1

  1. Sigs. K8v-L1r and L2r. The translations are my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.