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Catholicism and Paganism


Catholicism Overseer
Catholicism Overseer
Oct 21, 2019
Catholicism and Paganism.
There are a significant number of Christians who claim that Catholicism is paganism pretending to be Christian. The actual claims vary and often vague in nature. For example, it is claimed that in order to expand it absorbed pagan practices to encourage pagans to join. Sometimes this is claimed to have happened under Constantine in the early 4th century. Other leave the time unspecified.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed before such claims can have any substantive value.

1. Adoption
If you are going to establish that Catholicism adopted beliefs and practices from pagan “mystery” religions then there are several steps that need to be made.

Step 1. Prove that a particular belief or practice was indeed a belief or practice of a particular pagan cult.

This should be from primary sources such original written documents of the cult, archaeological evidence or, evidence from reliable contemporary sources (referencing primary sources). It’s worth remembering that much of what we may have in written evidence is likely to be copies of copies and therefore subject to error.

Just because someone said it was so on a web site (or even a book) does not mean it is true. Where did they get their information from?

Step 2. Prove that these beliefs/practices were known about by the Catholics at the time were supposed to have adopted them. For this we also need to establish timeframes when this happened, both when it was in existence in paganism and when Catholics adopted it.

Step 3. Show a “transfer mechanism”. How did these doctrines/practices get adopted. If there were such an adoption it is likely that they were either:
a) adopted in a haphazard way over a period of time in different locations. What evidence is there of that?
b) adopted simultaneously worldwide. This would require some kind of central diktat. What evidence is there of that?

In either case we would expect some controversy. Is there evidence of that?

2. Similarities
That a particular belief or practice is similar to a pagan belief or practice does not mean it was adopted from paganism. That needs to be proved (see above). Similarity does not mean equivalence

Many practices are natural to all cultures; for example burying or cremating the dead. Just because pagans bury their dead does not mean that Christians who bury their dead are pagans.

Or take this argument for example:
Pagans used round cakes in their worship
Catholics use round hosts in their worship
Therefore Catholics are pagans.

This is are the logical fallacy of - Cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this)

We need to ask - Is there another possibility for the similarity between a Catholic and a pagan doctrine/practice? For example:
Did the pagans adopt the practice from Christians?
Is the doctrine/practice a natural follow-on from Judaism?
Is it simply universal to people (e.g. round is the basic shape of most, if not all, handmade bread)?

In the example above of the round cakes and round hosts, it is more likely that the practice was taken from Judaism. The matzo bread that Jesus used at the Last Supper would have been round.

Here are some more of these illogical arguments:

Babylonians had a fish god Dagon.
Early Christians use the fish as a symbol.
Therefore Christians worship the fish god Dagon.

Pagans worship the sun.
Catholics use sun symbols
Therefore Catholics are pagans.

Zeus sits on a throne and is the chief god
God (the Father) sits on a throne and is the chief god
Therefore Christians are pagans

In answer to [1] above - the fish symbol was used as a code for Christians under persecution to recognise each other. The Greek for fish was ichthus and the Greek letters stood for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” (as opposed to for example the Emperor Domitian who styled himself “Son of God”).

[Also the Babylonian fish god was called Ea (Oannes in Greek). Dagon (Dagan) was the god of crop fertility, Dagan being Hebrew for “grain”]

In answer to [2] above - Jesus is the depicted as like the sun:
For the Lord God is a sun and shield” (Ps 84:11)
But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2/3:20 depending on the numbering).
“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” (Mt 17:2)

And there are more.

Here is a good one:
“In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt which speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of the Sun [or Destruction]. In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border.” (Is 19:18-19)
A city of the sun (pagan symbol)
an altar to the Lord (pagans have altars)
a pillar to the Lord (pagans have pillars)

3. Motive
What motive would Catholics have for adopting pagan beliefs or practices?
Why would adopting a particular pagan belief or practice encourage pagans to become Catholics?
[If a mosque put up a cross would that encourage you to become a muslim?]

Is there any evidence that adopting a particular belief or practice (if it did happen) actually made a difference to conversion rates?

4. Does it matter.
Adoption of a pagan belief is likely to matter very much. But does adoption of a particular practice matter? Christians adopted baptism from Judaism (from the Jewish ritual bathing, tevilah). That does not make Christians into Jews. Although the practice was adopted, the purpose and effect was different.

5. Symbols
Symbols symbolise what you intend them to symbolise not what someone else intends them to symbolise.