Foundations: Duty

This year with my senior Latin students, we are studying, reading and discussing in Latin the tradition of Roman virtues.  Chief among them is the virtue of pietas.  The idea of this virtue is that of “duty,” and while in English I think that “duty” has become a word almost synonymous with servitude, that’s not how the Romans saw it.  Cicero, master orator and philosopher of the late Roman Republic said of pietas ad patriam, ad parentes, et ad alios sanguine coniunctos: to the fatherland, to parents and to all who are joined to you by blood.  (De Inventione 2.66)

This kind of duty as a central sense of who one was created for the  Romans a core foundation for being in the world.  Cicero would say in another of his writings that fairness of mind should be seen in three parts:  to the gods, to the ancestors and to humanity, the first was called duty, the second sanctity and and third justice.  In this instance we see how a core sense of duty begins to overflow into other arenas of life and establish this way of being in the world–at least an ancient Roman way of being in the world.

But, what about today?  What about how we are in the world?  If we had to name a core sense of duty for ourselves today, what would that duty include–toward whom, toward what?  Further, what would motivate that duty?  For the Romans, the motivation was always the mos maiorum–the tradition of the elders.  Were we to name our duties, what would be our motivator?

Are there certain of our Unitarian Universalist Principles that you go to more immediately for direction in your life?  Are there certain ones that you steer clear of for some reason? Do these help constitute a core sense of duty for yourself in the world?

Let this be a walking meditation today.  And, if you can, post a comment and share your reflections here today.

One final word from Cicero. Of the virtue frugalitas–frugality, Cicero wonders if it can really be called a virtue at all because all of the other virtues are contained within it.  Is there  a word, a direction, a piece of wisdom in which all other core principles are held for you?

Bob Patrick

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