Tradition or Truth?:
Plato’s Redefinition of Piety in the Apology of Socrates
In order to understand what “piety” means in an ancient context, it is useful to remove assumptions and preconceived ideas of what religion and piety are about. James Schall, in his essay “What is Piety?” makes useful note of this sometimes overlooked, but obvious fact: Plato does not have revelation; that is, he does not have available an explanation of the inner life of the Godhead that is itself Trinity. Nor does he have a doctrine of Incarnation, wherein God is also revealed as a specific human being, God and man, one God, but two natures. Nor does he have such a thing as Mass, a sacrifice that itself includes the notions of prayer, expiation, and the suffering of God.
Of course, it only makes sense that the type of religion known to Plato and Socrates and others in their ancient Athenian world was quite different from that which comes to mind in a modern culture shaped by a Judeo-Christian heritage. It follows then, that “religious words” such as piety, when used by an author such as Plato, should not be assigned the same connotations as accompany the word in other contexts. Indeed, C. Emlyn-Jones contends that “‘piety,’ with its Latin root and Romano-Christian associations” is a misleading translation of the word εὐσέβεια, which is better understood as a “suitably reverent attitude towards groups or institutions demanding respect,” which is essential for the prosperity of the whole