latria

You would think worship is a fairly straightforward thing, no? Especially for monotheists? Well, yea and nay. Some sects manage to keep it fairly lean and consistent. Others have levels and a sort of a trail from being duly devoted to venerable beings to the full-on worship of the supreme deity. And if the distinction is serviceable, and the services are distinct, it is maintained.

Well, at least in theory. Or even in practice, but not necessarily with the terminology. You tell me – or ask any Roman Catholic you know: do you know what latria, dulia, and hyperdulia are?

Well, given the context, you might guess that they’re levels of devotion. But now tell me which sounds like a greater level to you. Does dulia sound more duly devoted, or duller and diluted? Does latria lean towards lateral, or lætare (rejoice), or some kind of idle latria, or maybe even a latrine? We can guess that hyperdulia is like dulia but moreso…

Well, I’ll tell you. The one that is suited for the ritual of the liturgy is latria. (And if you’re doing it in a narthex, you could call it atrial latria – and, if you’re a catechuman, it may be a trial atrial latria too.) Dulia is what is due to saints and angels – a lower level of veneration. And for the bonus prize, hyperdulia is… anyone? We’re talking about Catholicism here: who’s better than the other saints but not as high as God? Give yourself a point if you said Mary.

Now, some other sects of Christianity see the veneration of saints (even of Mary) as idolatry, a rather idle latria, one might say; some even proscribe images, iconography, and other such forms – they become cross if they see more than a cross. I won’t dive further into the theology of the dispute, but I will say that the word for the form of worship that is the worship of forms (idle forms), that idol latria, is well formed as idolatry. You see, idolatry comes from Greek εἰδωλολατρεία eidololatreia, from εἴδωλον eidolon “likeness, idea, fancy” (from εἶδος eidos “form”) and λατρεία latreia “worship, service to God” – that’s the same latreia that is the origin of latria.

Dulia’s Greek source, δουλεία douleia, also refers to service, by the way, but it’s bonded servitude, as in what a slave does. An inferior kind of service, to be sure, but the word has evidently escaped the bonds of “ownership” – you don’t belong to the saints in Catholic theology.

The word latria is a fine enough word, anyway, with its light Latinate sound licking on the tip of the tongue; it almost sounds like something one might produce in a spree of glossolalia. It’s certainly more singable in its way than worship, though worship has its place in many more hymns.

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