Monday, May 23, 2011

Superstition in the Roman Empire

Superstition is belief in the supernatural: outside natural law and the observable universe.

The word ‘superstition’ is attested in the 1st century BCE, meaning then an unreasonable or excessive belief in fear or magic, especially foreign or fantastical ideas. By the 1st century of the modern era, it came to refer more generally to “religious awe, sanctity; a religious rite”.

Religious believers have often seen other religions as superstition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, states superstition “in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion” (para. #2110):

Superstition is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. Cf. Matthew 23:16–22 (para. #2111)

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