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HOME > Religious Fiction > Paganism Surviving in Christianity > CHAPTER I. REMAINS OF PAGANISM IN CHRISTIANITY.
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Preliminary Survey—An Imaginary Past—Issue between Protestantism and Romanism—General Testimony Relative to Pagan Elements in Christianity, from Dyer, Lord, Tiele, Baronius, Polydore Virgil, Fauchet, Mussard, De Choul, Wiseman, Middleton, Max Müller, Priestley, Thebaud, Hardwick, Maitland, Seymore, Renan, Killen, Farrar, Merivale, Westropp and Wake, and Lechler.

A preliminary survey is the more necessary lest the general reader fail to grant the facts of history a competent hearing and a just consideration. Unconsciously men think of the earliest Christianity as being like that which they profess. They measure the early centuries by their own. Their Church, its doctrines, forms, creeds and customs, stands as the representative of all Christianity. It seems like a “rude awakening” to ask men to believe that there is a “pagan residuum” in their faith, or in the customs of their fathers. The average Christian must pass through a broadening process, before he can justly consider[2] such a question. Unhappily, there are too many who are unwilling to undergo such an enlargement of their religious and historical horizon as will make them competent to consider those facts which every earnest student of history must face. But the Christian who believes in the immortality of truth, and in the certainty of its triumph, will welcome all facts, even though they may modify the creed he has hitherto accepted.

A writer in the Edinburgh Review and Critical Journal, commenting on the revised volumes of Bishop Lightfoot on Ignatius and Polycarp, speaking of the tendency to judge the early centuries by our own, thus vitiating our conclusions, says:

“The danger of such inquiries lies in the difficulty of resisting the temptation to frame pictures of an imaginary past; and the passion for transferring to the past the peculiarities of later times may be best corrected by keeping in view the total unlikeness of the first, second, or third centuries to anything which now exists in any part of the world.”

Protestants in the United States are poorly prepared to consider so great a question as that which this book passes under review, because they have not carefully considered the facts touching their relations to Roman Catholicism. The Anglo-Romish controversy, in England, in the earlier part of the present century made the question of paganism in Christianity prominent for a time. But the discussion[3] was so strongly partisan and controversial that it could not produce the best results. Truth was much obscured by the determined effort of Protestant writers to show that the pagan residuum was all in the Catholic Church; whereas the facts show that there could have been no Roman Catholic Church had not paganism first prepared the way for its development by corrupting the earliest Christianity. The facts show, with equal vividness, that Protestantism has retained much of paganism, by inheritance. Protestantism, theoretically, means the entire elimination of the pagan residuum; practically, that work is but fairly begun. It must be pushed, or the inevitable backward drift, the historical “undertow” will re-Romanize the Protestant movement. The expectations and purposes of Roman Catholicism all point towards such a result.

This chapter will make a general survey of the field, as it is seen by men of different schools, that the reader may be the better prepared for a more specific treatment of the subject.

Dyer says:

“The first Roman converts to Christianity appear to have had very inadequate ideas of the sublime purity of the gospel, and to have entertained a strange medley of pagan idolatry and Christian truth. The emperor Alexander Severus, who had imbibed from his mother,[4] Mamm?a, a singular regard for the Christian religion, is said to have placed in his domestic chapel the images of Abraham, of Orpheus, of Apollonius, and of Christ, as the four chief sages who had instructed mankind in the methods of adoring the Supreme Deity. Constantine himself, the first Christian emperor, was deeply imbued with the superstitions of paganism; he had been Pontifex Maximus, and it was only a little while before his death that he was formally received by baptism into the Christian Church. He was particularly devoted to Apollo, and he attempted to conciliate his pagan and his Christian subjects by the respect which he appeared to entertain for both. An edict enjoining the solemn observance of Sunday was balanced in the same year[1] by another directing that when the palace or any other public building should be struck by lightning, the haruspices should be regularly consulted.”[2]

In a similar strain Professor Lord speaks yet more strongly:

“But the church was not only impregnated with the errors of pagan philosophy, but it adopted many of the ceremonials of Oriental worship, which were both minute and magnificent. If anything marked the primitive church it was the simplicity of worship, and the absence of ceremonies and festivals and gorgeous rites. The churches became in the fourth century as imposing as the old temples of idolatry. The festivals became authoritative; at first they were few in number and voluntary. It was supposed that when Christianity superseded[5] Judaism, the obligation to observe the ceremonies of the Mosaic law was abrogated. Neither the apostles nor evangelists imposed the yoke of servitude, but left Easter and every other feast to be honored by the gratitude of the recipients of grace. The change in opinion, in the fourth century, called out the severe animadversion of the historian Socrates, but it was useless to stem the current of the age. Festivals became frequent and imposing. The people clung to them because they obtained a cessation from labor, and obtained excitement. The ancient rubrics mention only those of the Passion, of Easter, of Whitsuntide, Christmas, and the descent of the Holy Spirit. But there followed the celebration of the death of Stephen, the memorial of St. John, the commemoration of the slaughter of the Innocents, the feasts of Epiphany, the feast of Purification, and others, until the Catholic Church had some celebration for some saint and martyr for every day in the year. They contributed to create a craving for outward religion, which appealed to the sense and the sensibilities rather than the heart. They led to innumerable quarrels and controversies about unimportant points, especially in relation to the celebration of Easter. They produced a delusive persuasion respecting pilgrimages, the sign of the cross, and the sanctifying effects of the sacraments. Veneration for martyrs ripened into the introduction of images—a future source of popular idolatry. Christianity was emblazoned in pompous ceremonies. The veneration of saints approximated to their deification, and superstition exalted the mother of our Lord into an object of absolute worship. Communion tables became imposing altars typical of Jewish sacrifices, and the relics of martyrs were preserved as sacred amulets....


“When Christianity itself was in such need of reform, when Christians could scarcely be distinguished from pagans in love of display, and in egotistical ends, how could it reform the world? When it was a pageant, a ritualism, an arm of the state, a vain philosophy, a superstition, a formula, how could it save if ever so dominant? The corruptions of the Church in the fourth century are as well authenticated as the purity and moral elevation of Christianity in the second century. Isaac Taylor has presented a most mournful view of the state of Christian society when the religion of the cross had become the religion of the state, and the corruptions kept pace with the outward triumph of the faith, especially when the pagans had yielded to the supremacy of the cross.”[3]

Many of the corrupting elements which entered into early Christianity came from the Orient, by way of Greece and Rome. Tiele speaks of the influx of these in the following words:

“The Greek deities were followed by the Asiatic, such as the Great Mother of the gods, whose image, consisting of an unhewn stone, was brought at the expense of the state from Pessinus to Rome. On the whole, it was not the best and loftiest features of the foreign religions that were adopted, but rather their low and sensual elements, and these too in their most corrupt form. An accidental accusation brought to light in the year 186 B.C. a secret worship of Bacchus which was accompanied by[7] all kinds of abominations, and had already made its way among thousands....

“The eyes of the multitude were always turned toward the East, from which deliverance was expected to come forth, and secret rites brought from there to Rome were sure of a number of devotees. But they were only bastard children, or at any rate the late misshapen offspring of the lofty religions which once flourished in the East, an un-Persian Mithra worship, an un-Egyptian Serapis worship, an Isis worship which only flattered the senses and was eagerly pursued by the fine ladies, to say nothing of more loathsome practices. And yet even these aberrations were the expression of a real and deep-seated need of the human mind, which could find no satisfaction in the state religion. Men longed for a God whom they could worship, heart and soul, and with this God they longed to be reconciled. Their own deities they had outgrown, and they listened eagerly therefore to the priests of Serapis and of Mithra, who each proclaimed their God as the sole-existing, the almighty, and the all-good, and they felt especially attracted by the earnestness and strictness of the latter cultus. And in order to be secure of the eradication of all guilt, men lay down in a pit where the blood of the sacrificial animal flowed all over them, in the conviction that they would then arise entirely new-born.”[4]

Many Roman Catholic writers, with an honesty which all classes might well emulate, openly recognize[8] the paganizing of the Church, which took place before the organization of the papacy.

Baronius says:

“It was permitted the Church to transfer to pious uses those ceremonies which the pagans had wickedly applied in a superstitious worship, after having purified them by consecration; so that, to the greater contumely of the devil, all might honor Christ with those rites which he intended for his own worship. Thus the pagan festivals, laden with superstition, were changed into the praiseworthy festivals of the martyrs; and the idolatrous temples were changed to sacred churches, as Theodoret shows.”[5]

Polydore Virgil says:

“The Church has borrowed many customs from the religion of the Romans and other pagans, but it has meliorated them and applied them to a better use.”[6]

Fauchet says:

“The bishops of this kingdom employ all means to gain men to Christ, converting to their use some pagan ceremonies, as well as they did the stones of their temples to the building of churches.”[7]

Pierre Mussard says:


“William de Choul,[8] counsellor to the king and bailiff of the mountains, composed, an age ago, a treatise of the religion of the ancient Romans, wherein he shows an entire conformity between old Rome and new. On the point of religion he closes with these words[9]: ‘If we consider carefully,’ says he, ‘we shall see that many institutions in our religion have been borrowed and transferred from Egyptian and Pagan ceremonies, such as tunics and surplices, priestly ornaments for the head, bowing at the altar, the solemnity at mass, music in churches, prayers, supplications, processions, litanies, and many other things. These our priests make use of in our mysteries, and refer them to one only God, Jesus Christ, which the ignorance of the heathen, their false religion, and foolish presumption perverted to their false gods, and to dead men deified.’”[10]

During the Tractarian controversy in England, John Poynder wrote Popery in Alliance with Heathenism, to show that Roman Catholicism is essentially pagan. Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, then a professor in the University at Rome, replied under the title: Letters to John Poynder, Esq., upon his Work Entitled “Popery in Alliance with Heathenism,” London, 1836.

In Letter Second, Wiseman says:


“I will, for a moment, grant you the full extent of your assumptions and premises; I will concede that all the facts you have brought forward are true, and all the parallels you have established between our rites and those of paganism, correct; and I will join issue with you on your conclusions, trying them by clearly applicable tests.... The first person who argued as you have done was Julian the Apostate, who said that the Christians had borrowed their religion from the heathens. This proves at once that even then the resemblance existed, of which you complain as idolatrous. So that it is not the offspring of modern corruption, but an inheritance of the ancient church. It proves that the alliance between Christianity and heathenism existed three hundred years after Christ, and that consequently so far popery and ancient Christianity are identical. The Manichees also are accused by St. Augustine, writing against Faustus, of having made the same charge.”

Dr. Wiseman enumerates many items of resemblance which Poynder does not, and retorts by showing that the English Church yet retains the paganism which it inherited from papacy. He emphasizes the pagan characteristics which appear in the building, adornment, and services of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, claiming that if a Roman pagan were to be resurrected and brought to St. Paul’s he would recognize the likeness to his ancient faith on every hand. Dr. Wiseman’s testimony is of great value, since, as a defender of Romanism, he[11] also defends the policy which corrupted early Christianity in the West, by conforming it to the popular paganism in order to secure a nominal conversion of the pagans.

Conyers Middleton, whose Letter from Rome forms one of the standard authorities concerning the paganism of the early Church, says:

“Aringhus, in his account of Subterraneous Rome, acknowledges this conformity between the pagan and popish rites, and defends the admission of the ceremonies of heathenism into the service of the Church, by the authority of their wisest popes and governors, who found it necessary, he says, in the conversion of the Gentiles, to dissemble and wink at many things, and yield to the times; and not to use force against customs which the people were so obstinately fond of; nor to think of extirpating at once everything that had the appearance of profane; but to supersede in some measure the obligation of the sacred laws, till these converts, convinced by degrees, and informed of the whole truth by the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, should be content to submit in earnest to the yoke of Christ.”[11]

Further important testimony is found in the following. Writing of the first three centuries after Christ, Max Müller says:

“That age was characterized far more than all before it, by a spirit of religious syncretism, an eager thirst for compromise.[12] To mould together thoughts which differed fundamentally, to grasp, if possible, the common elements pervading all the multifarious religions of the world, was deemed the proper business of philosophy, both in the East and West. It was a period, one has lately said, of mystic incubation, when India and Egypt, Babylonia and Greece, were sitting together and gossiping like crazy old women, chattering with toothless gums and silly brains about the dreams and joys of their youth, yet unable to recall one single thought or feeling with that vigor which once gave it light and truth.

“It was a period of religious and metaphysical delirium, when everything became everything, when Maya and Sophia, Mithra and Christ, Viraf and Isaiah, Belus, Zarvan, and Kronos were mixed up in one jumbled system of inane speculation, from which at last the East was delivered by the positive doctrines of Mohammed, the West by the pure Christianity of the Teutonic nations.”[12]

Dr. Joseph Priestley says:

“The causes of the corruptions were almost wholly contained in the established opinions of the heathen world, and especially the philosophical part of it; so that when those heathens embraced Christianity, they mixed their former tenets and prejudices with it.... The abuse of the positive institutions of Christianity, monstrous as they were, naturally arose from the opinions of the purifying and sanctifying virtue of rites and[13] ceremonies, which was the very basis of all the worship of the heathens.”[13]

Thebaud says:

“Therefore this same ‘high civilization,’ as it is called, in the midst of which Christianity was preached, was a real danger to the inward life of the new disciple of Christ.

“How could it be otherwise, when it is a fact, now known to all, that, even at the beginning of the fifth century, Rome was almost entirely pagan, at least outwardly and among her highest classes; so that the poet Claudian, in addressing Honorius at the beginning of his sixth consulship, pointed out to him the site of the Capitol, still crowned with the temple of Jove, surrounded by numerous pagan edifices, supporting in air an army of gods; and all around, temples, chapels, statues without number; in fact, the whole Roman and Greek mythology, standing in the city of the catacombs and of the pope.

“The public calendars, preserved to this day, continued to note the pagan festivals, side by side with the feasts of the Saviour and his apostles. Within the city and beyond, throughout Italy and the most remote provinces, idols and their altars were still surrounded by the thronging populace, prostrate at their feet.”[14]

Hardwick describes the tendency to reproduce pagan theories and customs in the early Church as follows:


“Or take again the swarm of heresies that soon invaded almost every province of the early Church. Abandoning, as they did, the more essential of the supernatural truths of revelation, they were virtually and in effect revivals of paganism, and family likenesses may accordingly be traced among the older speculations current in the schools of heathen philosophy. In discussing, for example, the nature of the divine Son-ship, Sabellius and his party taught a doctrine very similar to that already noticed in the Trimurrti of India; while Docetism, starting from a notion that the spiritual and the material cannot permanently co-exist, had merely reproduced the Hindu doctrine of Avataras. The inward correspondence in the texture of ideas had issued in a similar deprivation of revealed truth. Or if, penetrating below the surface, we investigate the elementary thoughts and feelings that hereafter found utterance in monastic institutions of the Church, we find that on one side those ideas are alien from the spirit of primitive Christianity, and on the other that they had long been familiar in the East, before they were appropriated or unconsciously reproduced among one class of Christians in Syria and Egypt. India was the real birthplace of monasticism, its cradle being in the haunts of earnest yogins, and self-torturing devotees, who were convinced that evil is inherent not in man only, but in all the various forms of matter, and accordingly withdrew as far as possible from contact with the outer world. At first, indeed, the Christian hermit, like the earliest of his Hindu prototypes, had dwelt alone on the outskirts of his native town, supporting himself by manual labor, and devoting all the surplus of his earnings to religious purposes.


“But during the fourth century of the present era many such hermits began to flock together in the forest, or the wilderness, where regular confraternities were organized upon a model more or less derived from the Egyptian Therapeut?, and the old Essenes of Palestine; the members in their dress and habits most of all resembling those of the religious orders who still swarm in Thibet and Ceylon.”[15]

Maitland bears important testimony touching many points in which Christianity was paganized. He sums up the general results in the following concerning the worship of martyrs:

“The degrees of worship and adoration, since defined with fatal precision by the Romish Church, were not then fixed; and the heathen, even less willing than the Christian laity to enter into refinements on the subject, saw no distinction between one form and another. The consequences were disastrous in the extreme; the charge of idolatry, mutually urged by the contending parties, lost the force, or rather was effectively employed by the pagans, after it had become powerless in Christian hands. Thus it was that, although the pure doctrines of our faith speedily displaced the profligate polytheism of the empire, the after conflict was long doubtful, being maintained by a religion enfeebled by admixture with foreign elements, against one that had profited by adversity, and had not scrupled to borrow largely from its rival. We read in fable of the struggle between the man and the[16] serpent, in which at length the combatants become transformed into the shapes of each other. In the last contest between paganism and Christianity we find the sophist contending for the unity of God, and accusing the Christian of undisguised polytheism; and on the other side the Christian insisting on the tutelary powers of glorified mortals, and the omniscience of departed spirits.”[16]

Similar testimony is borne by Seymore, who says:

“The apostasy of the Church of Rome will be more apparent when we reflect that the character of the mediation which Romanism ascribes to its saints is precisely the same as that which heathenism ascribes to its demi-gods. It was believed among the heathen that when a man became illustrious for his deeds, his conquests, his inventions, or aught else that distinguished him as a benefactor of mankind, he could be canonized and enrolled among inferior deities. He thus became a mediator whose sympathies with his fellow-men on the one hand, and whose merits with the gods on the other fitted him for the mediatorial office of bearing the prayers and wants of mortals to the presence of the gods. The heathen philosophers, Hesiod, Plato, and Apuleius, all thus speak of those persons. The last named philosopher says: ‘They are intermediate intelligences, by whom our prayers and wants pass unto the gods. They are mediators between the inhabitants of the earth and the inhabitants of heaven, carrying thither our prayers, and drawing down[17] their blessings. They bear back and forwards prayers for us, and supplies for them; or they are those that explain between both parties, and who carry our adorations.’ This was the creed of heathenism, and in nothing but the name does it differ from the corresponding creed of Romanism. When the Church of Rome finds members of her communion whom she regards as signally pious, or illustrious for supposed miraculous powers, she holds that they be canonized and enrolled among her saints; that they can mediate between God and man; that they have sufficient favor or influence with God to obtain compliance with our prayers, and therefore they are fitting objects to whom our confessions, invocations, and prayers may be offered; or, as she expresses it in her creed, ‘that the saints reigning with Christ are to be honored and invoked, and that they offer prayers to God for us.’ The principle of heathen Romanism, and the principle of Christian Romanism are one and the same, the only difference is in the details of the names. And the origin of the practice is demonstrative of this; for when it was found, after the establishment of Christianity in the times of Constantine, when the great object of the court was to promote uniformity of religion, that many of the heathen would outwardly conform to Christianity if allowed to retain in private their worship of their guardian or tutelar divinities, they were so allowed, merely on changing the names of Jupiter to Peter, or Juno to Mary, still worshipping their old divinities under new names, and even retaining old images that were baptized with Christian names. This is apparent in the writings of those times, and was thought a measure of wisdom, a stroke of profound policy, as tending to produce a uniformity of religion among the[18] unthinking masses. The invocations of Juno have been transferred to Mary; the prayers to Mercury have been transferred to Paul. We see not how the substitution of the names of Damian or Cosmo, for those of Mercury or Apollo, or how the substitution of the names of Lucy or Cecelia, for those of Minerva or Diana, can alter the idolatrous character of the practice. In some instances they have not even changed the names, and Romulus and Remus are still worshipped in Italy, under the more modern names of St. Romulo and St. Remugio. The simple people believe them to have been two holy bishops. I have myself witnessed this near Florence, and even Bacchus is not without his votaries, under the ecclesiastical name of St. Bacco. The principle and practice of papal Rome are identical with the principle and practice of pagan Rome. Every argument to justify one may be equally urged to justify or extenuate the other. And if the principle and practice of pagan Rome are to be pronounced as idolatrous, I see not why the very same principle and practice in papal Rome should not be pronounced as idolatrous likewise.”[17]

In the light of all the facts Mr. Seymore cannot fasten the pagan residuum upon Romanism alone. The controlling trend into paganism was established before the papacy was developed; and if new forms of expression appeared afterward, they were but the fruitage of earlier tendencies.

Renan, speaking of the relation between the religious cultus of the Orient and early Christianity, says:


“This is the explanation of the singular attraction which about the beginning of the Christian era drew the population of the ancient world to the religions of the East. These religions had something deeper in them than those of Greece and Rome; they addressed themselves more fully to the religious sentiment. Almost all of them stood in some relation to the condition of the soul in another life, and it was believed that they held the warrant of immortality. Hence the favor in which the Thracian and Sabasian mysteries, the thiasi, and confraternities of all kinds, were held. It was not so chilly in these little circles, where men pressed closely together, as in the great icy world of that day. Little religions like the worship of Psyche, whose sole object was consolation for human mortality, had a momentary prevalence. The beautiful Egyptian worship, which hid a real emptiness beneath a great splendor of ritual, counted devotees in every part of the empire. Isis and Serapis had altars even in the ends of the world. A visitor to the ruins of Pompeii might be tempted to believe that the principal worship which obtained there was that of Isis. These little Egyptian temples had their assiduous worshippers, among whom were many of the same class as the friends of Catullus and Tibullus. There was a morning service; a kind of mass, celebrated by a priest, shorn and beardless. There were sprinklings of holy water; possibly benediction in the evening. All this occupied, amused, soothed. What could any one want more?

“But it was above all the Mithraic[18] worship which, in the second and third centuries, attained an extraordinary prevalence. I sometimes permit myself to say that, if Christianity had not carried the day, Mithraicism would[20] have become the religion of the world. It had its mysterious meetings, its chapels, which bore a strong resemblance to little churches. It forged a very lasting bond of brotherhood between its initiates; it had a Eucharist, a supper so like the Christian mysteries that good Justin Martyr the Apologist can find only one explanation of the apparent identity, namely, that Satan, in order to deceive the human race, determined to imitate the Christian ceremonies, and so stole them. A Mithraic sepulchre in the Roman catacombs is as edifying, and presents as elevated a mysticism, as the Christian tombs.”[19]

Describing the earliest Christianity, Killen bears valuable testimony to the fact that the features of paganism which became prominent at a later period were wholly wanting in the earliest Christianity. He shows that the Church was Judaistic in forms and practice.

These are his words:

“A Roman citizen, when present for the first time at the worship of the Church, might have remarked how profoundly it differed from the ritual of paganism. The services in the great heathen temples were but an imposing scenic exhibition. The holy water for lustration, the statues of the gods with wax tapers burning before them, the officials robed in white surplices, and the incense floating in clouds and diffusing perfume all around, could only regale the sense or light up the imagination. No stated time was devoted to instruct the assembly; and the liturgy—often in a dead language—as it was mumbled over by the[21] priest, merely added to the superstition and the mysticism. But the worship of the Church was, in the highest sense, a ‘reasonable service.’ It had no parade, no images, no fragrant odors; for the first hundred years it was commonly celebrated in private houses or the open fields; and yet it addressed itself so impressively to the understanding and the heart that the congregations of the faithful frequently presented scenes incomparably more spirit-stirring and sublime than anything ever witnessed in the high places of Greek or Roman idolatry....

“No individual or church court is warranted to tamper with symbolic ordinances of divine appointment; for as they are the typical embodiment of great truths, any change essentially vitiates their testimony. But their early administrators overlooking this grave objection, soon ceased to respect the integrity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the third century a number of frivolous and superstitious ceremonies—such as exorcism, unction, the making of the sign of the cross on the forehead, and the kiss of peace—were already tacked to baptism; so that the beautiful significance of the primitive observance could not be well seen under these strange trappings. Before the middle of the second century the wine of the Eucharist was mixed with water; fifty years afterwards the communicants participated standing; and at length the elements themselves were treated with awful reverence. The more deeply to impress the imagination, baptism and the Eucharist began to be surrounded with the secrecy of the heathen mysteries, and none save those who had received the ordinances were suffered to be present at their dispensation. The ministers of the Church sadly compromised[22] their religion when they thus imitated the meretricious decorations of the pagan worship. As might have been expected, the symbols so disfigured were misunderstood and misrepresented. Baptism was called regeneration, and the Eucharist was designated a sacrifice. Thus a door was opened for the admission of a whole crowd of dangerous errors.”[20]

The tendency to religious syncretism, during the early centuries, was a prolific source of corruption to New Testament Christianity. Speaking of the results of this tendency, and of the composite character of the religious cultus at Alexandria, in the time of Hadrian (117-138 A.D.), Canon Farrar says:

“There was no city in the empire in which a graver task was assigned to the great scholars and teachers of Christianity than the city of Alexandria. It was the centre of the most energetic intellectual vitality; and there, like the seething of the grapes in the vine cluster, the speculations of men of every religion and every nationality exercised a reciprocal influence on each other.

“A single letter of Hadrian presented by Vopiscus will show the confusion of thought and intermixture of religions which prevailed in that cosmopolitan city, and the aspect presented by its religious syncretism to a cool and cynical observer. ‘Those who worship Serapis,’ he says in a letter to a friend, ‘are Christians, and those who call themselves Bishops of Christ are votaries of Serapis.[23] There is no ruler of a synagogue there, no Samaritan, no presbyter of the Christians, who is not an astrologer, who is not a soothsayer, who is not a gymnast. The patriarch of the Jews himself when he comes to Egypt is forced by one party to worship Serapis, by the other Christ. They have but one God who is no God; him Christians, him Jews, him all races worship alike.’ To the disdainful and sceptical mind of the emperor, who deified his own unhappy minion, Christianity, gnosticism, Judaism, paganism were all forms of one universal charlatanry and sham.”[21]

In writing of Leo the Great (440-461) founder of the papacy, Dean Merivale gives a graphic picture of the state of Christianity at that time. Space is here taken for a copious extract that the weight of Merivale’s name and words may add force to the facts. He says:

“It will be admitted, I trust, without entering upon disquisitions which would be inappropriate to this occasion, that the corruptions of Christian faith against which our own national Church and many others rose indignantly at the Reformation had for the most part struck their foundations deep in the course of the fifth century; that though they had sprung up even from an earlier period, and though they developed more in some directions, and assumed more fixity in the darker times that followed, yet the working of the true Christian leaven among the masses was never more faint, the approximation of Christian usage to the manners and customs of paganism never really closer, than in the age of which we are now speaking.[24] We have before us many significant examples of the facility with which the most intelligent of the pagans accepted the outward rite of Christian baptism, and made a nominal profession of the faith, while they retained and openly practised, without rebuke, without remark, with the indulgence even of genuine believers, the rites and usages of the paganism they pretended to have abjured. We find abundant records of the fact that personages high in office, such as consuls and other magistrates, while administering the laws by which the old idolatries were proscribed, actually performed pagan rites, and even erected public statues to pagan divinities. Still more did men, high in the respect of their fellow-Christians, allow themselves to cherish sentiments utterly at variance with the definitions of the Church. Take the instance of the illustrious Bishop Synesius. Was he a Christian, was he a pagan; who shall say? He was famous in the schools of Alexandria as a man of letters, a teacher of the ancient philosophies, an admirer of the pagan Hypatia. The Christian people of Ptolemais, enchanted with his talents, demanded him for their bishop. He protests not indeed that he is an unbeliever—but that his life and habits are not suitable to so high an office. He has a wife whom he cannot abandon, as the manners of the age might require of him; whom he will not consort with secretly, as the manners of the age would, it seems, allow. ‘But further I cannot believe,’ he adds, ‘that the human soul has been breathed into flesh and blood; I will not teach that this everlasting world of matter is destined to annihilation; the resurrection, as taught by the Church, seems to me a doubtful and questionable doctrine. I am a philosopher, and cannot preach to the people popularly.’ In short, he[25] maintains to all appearance that if he is a believer in Jesus Christ, he is a follower of Plato; and such doubtless were many others. The people leave him his wife and his opinions, and insist that he shall be their bishop. He retains his family ties, his philosophy, his Platonism, his rationalism, and accepts the government of the Church notwithstanding. Again we ask, was Synesius a Christian or a pagan? The instance of such a bishop, one probably among many, is especially significant; but the same question arises with regard to other men of eminence of the period. Was Bo?thius, a century later, the imitator of Cicero, Christian or pagan? Was Simplicius, the commentator on Plato? Was Ausonius, the playful poet and amiable friend of the Bishop Paulinus, who celebrates Christ in one poem, and scatters his allusions to pagan mythology indiscriminately in many others? We know that Libanius, the intimate friend and correspondent of Basil, was a pagan of the pagans; but he did not on that account forfeit the confidence of a sainted father of the Christian Church. So indifferent as Christians seem to have been at this period to their own creed, so indifferent to the creed of their friends and associates, we cannot wonder if it has left us few or but slight traces of a vital belief in the principles of divine redemption.

“We must make, indeed, large allowance for the intellectual trials of an age of transition when it was not given to every one to see his way between the demands urged upon an intelligent faith by the traditions of a brilliant past on the one hand, and the intimations of an obscure and not a cheerful future on the other. We hardly realize, perhaps, the pride with which the schools of Athens and Alexandria still regarded their thousand[26] years of academic renown, while the Christian Church was slowly building up the recent theological systems on which its own foundations were to be secured for the ages to follow. We need not complain of Leo, and other Christian doctors, if they shrank, as I think they did, from rushing again into polemics with the remnant of the philosophers, whose day, they might think, was sure to close at no distant date. But the real corruption of the age was shown in the unstinted adoption of pagan usages in the ceremonial of the Christian Church, with all the baneful effects they could not fail to produce on the spiritual training of the people. There are not wanting, indeed, passages in the popular teachings of St. Leo, in which he beats the air with angry denunciations of auguries, and sortilege, and magic, stigmatizes idolatry as the worship of demons, and the devil as the father of pagan lies. But neither Leo, nor, I think, the contemporary doctors of the Church, seem to have had an adequate sense of the process by which the whole essence of paganism was throughout their age constantly percolating the ritual of the Church and the hearts of the Christian multitude. It is not to these that we can look for a warning that the fasts prescribed by the Church had their parallel in the abstinence imposed by certain pagan creeds, and required to be guarded and explained to the people in their true Christian significance; that the monachism they extolled so warmly, and which spread so rapidly, was in its origin a purely pagan institution, common to the religions of India, Thibet, and Syria, with much, no doubt, to excuse its extravagance in the hapless condition of human life at the period, but with little or nothing to justify it in the charters of our Christian belief; that the[27] canonizing of saints and martyrs, the honors paid them, and the trust reposed in them, were simply a revival of the old pagan mythologies; that the multiplication of formal ceremonies, with processions and lights and incense and vestments, with images and pictures and votive offerings, was a mere pagan appeal to the senses, such as can never fail to enervate man’s moral fibre; that, in short, the general aspect of Christian devotion, as it met the eye of the observer, was a faint and rather frivolous imitation of the old pagan ritual, the object of which, from first to last, was not to instruct, or elevate man’s nature, but simply to charm away the ills of life by adorning and beautifying his present existence.”[22]

Witness also the following from Westropp and Wake:

“In popular customs, and even in religious institutions, these things are as plainly perceived to-day as when Adonis and Astarte were the Gods of the former world. The sanctities, the powers, the symbols, and even the utensils of the ancient faith have been assumed, if not usurped or legitimately inherited, by its successors. The two holies of the Gnostics and Neo-Platonists, Sophia and Eirene—Wisdom and Peace—were adopted as saints in the calendar of Constantinople. Dionysius, the god of the mysteries, reappears as St. Denys in France, St. Liberius, St. Eleutherius, and St. Bacchus; there is also a St. Mithra; and even Satan, prince of shadows, is revered as St. Satur and St. Swithin. Their relics are in[28] keeping. The holy virgin Astr?a or Astarte, whose return was announced by Virgil in the days of Augustus, as introducing a new golden age, now under her old designation of Blessed Virgin and Queen of Heaven, receives homage as ‘the one whose sole divinity the whole orb of the earth venerates.’ The Mother and Child, the latter adorned with the nimbus or aureole of the ancient sun-gods, are now the objects of veneration as much as were Ceres and Bacchus, or Isis and Horus, in the mysteries. Nuns abounded alike in Christian and Buddhist countries, as they did formerly in Isis-worshipping Egypt; and if their maidenhood is not sacrificed at the shrine of Baal-Peor, or any of his cognate divinities, yet it is done in a figure; they are all ‘brides of the Saviour.’ Galli sing in the churches, and consecrated women are as numerous as of old. The priestly vestments are like those formerly used in the worship of Saturn and Cybele; the Phrygian cap, the pallium, the stole, and the alb. The whole Pantheon has been exhausted, from the Indus, Euphrates, and the Nile, to supply symbolic adornment for the apostles’ successors. Hercules holds the distaff of Omphale. The Lily has superseded the Lotus, and celibacy is exalted above the first recorded mandate of God to mankind....

“It is true, doubtless, that there is not a fast or festival, procession or sacrament, social custom or religious symbol, that did not come ‘bodily’ from the previous paganism. But the pope did not import them on his own account; they had already been transferred into the ecclesiastical structure, and he only accepted and perhaps took advantage of the fact. Many of those who protest because of[29] these corruptions are prone to imitate them more or less, displaying an engrafting from the same stock.”[23]

A late German writer of note and authority, Lechler, thus states the relative influence of paganism and Judaism on early Christianity:

“Putting together all that has been said, we get the impression that, in respect to the Gentile Christians in the second half of the Apostolic age, heathenism was the vastly predominant power that partly from without threatened the Church, and partly from within prepared the most hazardous disputes. It was an anti-Christian gnosis proceeding from heathen ideas; frequently also a moral error stained with heathen licentiousness, that became dangerous to souls. On the other hand, according to all the documents of that later apostolic time that we possess, Judaism, broken as a political power, was no longer a dangerous opponent of the Church of Christ as a spiritual power; the time in which Judaizing errorists possessed a powerful influence over spirits was visibly passed.”[24]

With such a preview, made up from writers of such authority and ability, the fact of the existence of an immense amount of pagan residuum in Christianity is placed beyond question. The reader may be surprised; may shrink from such facts. But shrinking from facts, or denying them, does[30] not remove or destroy them. Facts are immortal. He who will take the trouble to follow through the successive chapters will see by what means, and in what ways, Christianity was corrupted, and whence came the pagan residuum that yet remains. Suggestions in outline will also be found, as to how the remaining residuum can be removed.

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