09 June, 2009

How influential were Pagans to Christianity and Christ's Church

I think that it is important to acknowledge that these attacks are against all Christians and not just Catholics, although they attack Catholicism in particular. Some seem to be suggesting that if it had not been for syncretism between pagan religions and Catholicism that all Christians would be Arians based on the information that some pagan religions had beliefs similar to Christian Trinitarian beliefs therefore the Trinity is wrong and Arius was right. If I was to list all of the pagan religions that believed in oneness as did Arius and his modern day heretical followers, would that prove that Arius was influenced by Pagans and thus heretical for his beliefs and practices? I pray all can see the folly of such arguments. Are we to accept such comparisons which persuade only by their volume those that are ignorant and not on the truthfulness and application of the comparisons but on the gullibility and prejudice of the hearer?

Other claims are not based on pagan religious practices but on Platonic philosophy. Certainly there was an influence of Greek philosophical thought in the early Church as the early Christians even in Jerusalem had contact with the diaspora Jews who were the early converts to Christianity. St. Paul was one of them. However, the argument for Hellenistic influence falls apart when one realizes that Jesus taught what would be understood to be Hellenistic influence if it was not for the realization that it was not only the Greek’s who taught similarly but also certain Jewish sects, particularly the Essenes. This is most prominent in the soteriological teaching of Jesus. In other words similarity does not necessarily mean “descended from”. One should pay particular attention to the fact that those who suppose the similarities to the mystery religions that invaded the Roman Empire three centuries before Christ from the East point out marked but superficial resemblances to Catholicism and many of those resemblances are shared by all Christians including the accusers. Reason would say that if Catholicism has more resemblances it is because Catholicism is a broader fullness of Christianity because of Catholicism’s direct origin from Christ and the apostles and long history of scholarship. In other words because of the broadness of the faith it is a bigger target for the Church’s detractors than would the truncated Christianity of the critics. So it would seem reasonable to say that if the Catholic Church has similarities to these mystery cults and that means that Catholicism is false the same standard should be used against Catholic critics and their truncated Christian sects who also share similarities.

The origin of most of this anti-Catholic propaganda comes from the book written by Alexander Hislop, called “Two Babylons” published in the mid nineteenth century. Another book written by Ralph Woodrow called ”Babylon Mystery Religion” is a revised and modernized version of Hislop’s book. Both of these books are simply lists of similarities of Roman, Babylonian and Egyptian religions to Christianity that these similarities imply descent. Church history makes such comparisons ridiculous but to the uninformed and uneducated in Church history with a predilection to be suspicious of Catholicism these accusations are believed by some. To the knowledgeable the similarities supposed are laughable but even though they are laughable and weak, people are still influenced.

Religious similarities are inevitable because God relates to all people regardless of their exposure to Christianity. The Scriptures tell us that the law is written on the hearts of all men, not just Christians or Jews. Men may respond to that law within their own cultures and try to make sense of the innate knowledge they possess creating their own religions. Mankind share similar desires and it should not seem unusual when they come to similar conclusions, not necessarily because of the influence of one on another but because of the influence of God. Could this not be why the Gospel when shared with others speaks to their spirit whether they are pagan or Jew and brings people to faith in Christ? Christianity is the culmination of religion and philosophy in the hearts and intellects of men taken as far as man is capable on his own and beyond. Christ brought all intellectual and philosophical concepts of God and His plan for mankind to a conclusion that rests in Him and His redemption on the Cross culminated by the fact that “He is risen” and that through Him death and sin no longer has a hold on us.

In Christ
Fr. Joseph

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