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Entries in Institutes (1)


What is piety?

Piety is not a popular word. When we call someone pious, we often use the term as a pejorative one rather than a complimentary one. As with many words, it's a word which has been used and abused to its apparent demise.

In the first book of Calvin's Institutes, he refers to piety in a positive way. In Book 1, Chapter 2, paragraph 1, he emphasizes that piety is something we ought to learn:

For this sense of the powers of God is for us a fit teacher of piety, from which religion is born. I call "piety" that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him -- they will never yeld him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.

"Reverence joined with the love of God." There is that word, "reverence." It's one I've been thinking about lately, especially as seen in the frequently used Titus 2:3: "Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good."

What does it mean for an older woman to be reverent? Calvin links reverence with piety, which in turn is linked to love of God. It certainly must begin with love of God.

These days, women like to avoid appearing old. We want to be cool. We want to look young. We love it when people mistake us for being younger than we are. We want to do everything we can to hold back time. The plate in my ankle reminds me that breaking a bone at 51 was not as easy to recover from as it would had I been 15 when I broke it. It would be nice to stop the aging of my bones, but if it meant keeping a 15 year old mind, I'd say "no thanks."

Do we want to be known as someone with piety? Can we ever recover the good use of that word, or will it along with other good words, gather dust?