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Dictionary of Modern Devotion


Kees Waaijman


Kees Waaijman    2009SPIRIN Encyclopedia
 © Spirin Publication

The basic word "devotion" situates the reality called "spirituality" in a typical field of tension: on the one hand, "devotion" suggests an attitude of deep and intimate dedication and on the other it opens the whole field of devotional practices. By means of the word "devotion" spirituality is thus read as a tension-filled reality: the sphere of the heart (inwardness, fervency, dedication) and the sphere of the external (devotionals, practices, consecrated spaces and times).

Antiquity and early Christianity

Even in ancient Rome already the word "devotio" referred on the one hand to the ritual execution of a human sacrifice which was brought to the gods of the underworld, and on the other to the absolute dedication one promised to the emperor. Both meanings (the ritual execution and the absolute dedication in perfect loyalty and obedience) continue to come through in the Christian use of the word "devotion."[1] In the ancient Christian use of the word, therefore, the accent is on the external execution of the liturgy and the inner fervency with which this is done. At the same time, however, this "devotion" must permeate the behavior.

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages we witness a broadening and deepening of the internal side of devotion. The word "devotion" increasingly began to denote the religious feelings, especially the fervency the worshippers felt during the prayer and other exercises. The whole of people’s spiritual life must, in its expressions and in its ascent, be permeated by a glowing inwardness. Via the Cistercians and Victorians this concept of devotion (the inner fervency of the soul seized by the fire of love) was widely disseminated. This inward dedication was viewed as so essential that it was regarded as the basic virtue by which the praying soul is ordered to God (Bonaventure) or as the internal act of the virtue of religiousness (Thomas). In the Modern Devotion,[2] this line of interior devotion is continued. Devotion here means the total dedication to God, a posture in which one especially focuses on the inwardness of the heart and is averse to any form of externalization.

The modern era

In the 16th century the word "devotion" was even more widely disseminated in the context of the religious renewal movements which flourished. While the emphasis on interiorization continues, we at the same time see a remarkable "objectification" take place. "Devotion" now begins to refer to concrete exercises: devotional practices. Devotion can now be used in the plural: "God is invisible and hidden; our devotions are all visible and external."[3] Furthermore, our devotions do not have to be directed toward God. They can also concern the saints, relics, or holy places.[4] At the same time, however, "devotion" retains its basic meaning as referring to an absolute and total dedication to God such that the foundations of the soul are touched. From the perspective of this basic meaning Frances de Sales could view devotion as the highest degree of perfection, in which the love for God prompts us to act carefully, frequently and immediately. Devotion, to him, is the perfection of love.[5]


The basic word "devotion" (devotio, bhakti, islam) situates the reality of spirituality in the field of tension between an inward attitude (dedication, surrender) with vivid affective colors (inwardness, fervency) on the one hand, and external practices (rituals, prayers, times, places, objects) on the other. The goal is that these practices should be sustained by fervent surrender to God.


  • Bhaktivedanta, A., The Nectar of Devotion. The Complete Science of Bhakti-yoga, London 1985.
  • Devotion Divine. Bhakti Traditions from the Regions of India, (Ed. D. Eck & F. Mallison), Groningen-Paris 1991.
  • Kaplan, M., Devotion, London 1996.
  • Love Divine. Studies in Bhakti and Devotional Mysticism, (Ed. K. Werner), Richmond ( Surrey) 1993.
  • Tinsley, L., The French Expressions for Spirituality and Devotion. A Semantic Study, Washington, D.C. 1953.
  • Townsend, R., Faith, Prayer and Devotion, Oxford 1983.
  • Vivekananda, S., Bhakti or Devotion, Calcutta-Bourne End 1982.


  1. J. Chatillon, Devotio, in: DSp 3 (1957), 702-716; and J. Curran, Dévotion, in: DSp 3 (1957), 716-727.
  2. P. Debongie, Devotio moderna, in: DSp 3 (1957), 727-747.
  3. Saint-Cyran, Lettres inédites, (éd. A. Barnes), Paris 1962, 99.
  4. E. Bertaud; A. Rayez, Dévotions, in: DSp 3 (1957), 747-778; and A. de Bonhome, Dévotions prohibées, in: DSp 3 (1957), 778-795.
  5. P. Serouet, Francois de Sales, in: DSp 5 (1964), 1064-1065.