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Pagan Christianity


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#1 David Hawthorne

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 07:52 PM

I have a friend of a Charismatic background who is interested in Orthodoxy. Another friend of his, concerned about his interest, gave him a book by Barna called Pagan Christianity. It makes a lot of dubious claims about the Church but I don't have time to refute it in the depth my friend would like. Have any good Catholic or Orthodox refutations of this book been put together yet?
Thanks in advance!

#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 09:21 PM

I can only say that this is a standard line from many protestants about the catholic faith. Their claim is that sometime after the apostolic period the true Church went underground and that the church that called itself catholic simply absorbed a bunch of pagan elements. They have to say this in order to claim that protestantism is the apostolic church. Of course much of protestantism from Luther on is an attempt really to re-Judaize Christianity. I call it Old Testament Christianity. So that is part of the context. In terms of the specific arguments it's a lot of ridiculous stuff, like the fact that many ancient churches were built over previous pagan holy sites (the point of doing that would seem to be obvious), the dating of Christmas supposedly coinciding with some ancient rite of Mithras, things like that. It is based on a combination of theological and Biblical and historical ignorance. I would point to all of the New Testament teachings that protestants studiously avoid.

#3 Kosta

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 10:28 PM

I have a friend of a Charismatic background who is interested in Orthodoxy. Another friend of his, concerned about his interest, gave him a book by Barna called Pagan Christianity. It makes a lot of dubious claims about the Church but I don't have time to refute it in the depth my friend would like. Have any good Catholic or Orthodox refutations of this book been put together yet?
Thanks in advance!


I cant say im familiar with it. But i probably have an idea of some things the book assumes. Like Easter maybe a pagan holiday originally honoring a fertility goddess.

While the west may retain certain secular concepts on Easter such as dying there eggs pastel colors (colors of blooming flowers of Spring symbolizing rebirth), easter bunnies (very fertile animal) and the name of the holiday which maybe the name of a particular goddess. In the east and most western nations Easter is named after its hebrew transliteration of Pesach(passover) = Pascha (example, in spanish easter is called pasqua).

Traditionally in Orthodoxy eggs are dyed red only, to symbolize the blood of Christ. Others here can give you explanations of the allegories of the egg as it pertains to the ressurection and the ancient custom of placing eggs on tomb and the tradition that Mary Magdelene introduces the red egg.

Another accusation is that Christmas is really the pagan holiday of Saturnalia. This holiday, the grandest among the roman empire was celebrated from Dec 17-24. Not the 25th. One of the customs christianity adopted from this holiday is gift-giving. And even that (along with the christmas tree) has only recently been adopted by Orthodoxy.

Another theory is that Christmas is the celebration of Mithra. Its true that the feast of the Nativity of Christ eclipsed a pagan holiday, but its unlikely it was that of Mithra. The holiday of Sol Invictus was primarily one of importance to the military, Sol Invictus was introduced in about 274 to celebrate the military victories under Aurelius. Invictus as a title for Mithra was only used prvately among those devoted to Mithra (and he wasnt the only pagan God associated with this title). Thus the official roman holiday of Sol Invictus is not based on the cult of Mithra.
On top of it all, Christmas actually predates Sol Invictus. Christmas was first celebrated in pockets in the west since about 243 a.d.
Also Sol Invictus was celebrated as an official roman holiday till about 385 a.d. when the emperor Theodosius abolished it. This means both christmas and Sol Invictus was celebrated simultaneously even into the "christian age" ushered in by Constantine. These 2 holidays did not compete with each other nor did they merge. It was simply abolished.

The veneration of saints is quite ancient, at first limited to those martyred. The amount of information from the Pre-Nicene Fathers on the exhortation, remembrance on their anniversary of the martyrs are immense. From there different categories of 'saints' were added not limited to those martyred.

St Cosmas and Damianos were martyred around 300 a.d.. where they also recieved the title of "holy unmercenaries" (a category of saint in of itself). When the first christian temples were allowed to be built under Constantine, these two saints had churches named after them within a few decades after their death, even before most of the apostles had churches dedicated to them.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 10:33 PM

I used to have a Protestant Bible Concordance with an appendix that "explained" the differences between the "major Christian divisions":
  • Roman Catholicism: Early Christianity mixed with Roman paganism
  • Greek Catholicism: Early Christianity mixed with Greek paganism
  • Protestantism: Early Christianity without the paganism!
I don't have that book any more.

Herman the Pooh

#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 06:36 AM

And even that (along with the christmas tree) has only recently been adopted by Orthodoxy.


The Christmas tree has a perfectly Orthodox origin since its story can be found in the life of the English missionary to Germany, St Boniface (+755).

Saturnalia. This holiday, the grandest among the roman empire was celebrated from Dec 17-24.


There is a desription of the Saturnalia in the letters of the Younger Pliny. Pliny himself didn't like parties so he withdrew to a quiet wing of his villa so his household and slaves could party without being inhibited by his presence. The last of Pliny's letters contain his celebrated correspondence with the emperor Trajan in which he, Pliny (at that time governor of Bythinia), describes Christian practices and asks Trajan's advice on policy towards the Christians.

#6 David Hawthorne

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 01:39 PM

This book appears to be extreme even by Protestant house church standards. Perhaps the best approach is along the lines of: "Going by the arguments in this book, no one has had church right since the Book of Acts. It's putting a lot of faith in these two men to believe that they have finally got it right- doesn't it make more sense to believe that the Holy Spirit actually accomplished the mission Christ sent Him for by keeping the Church protected from the gates of Hades and leading her into all truth (especially when there is an unbroken historical record to judge truth claims on)?" Without researching reams of minutiae, I think this goes to the crux of the matter.

#7 Father David Moser

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 03:14 PM

It is certain that one will universally find pagan antecedents to Christianity no matter where he might look. This is not a challenge to the faith but rather a confirmation of it. God has not left us alone in this world but rather, even from the beginning of history has provided glimpses of the truth and has prepared the world for the coming of the Truth. These pre-Christian ideas are simply the manifestations of the Truth which are seen incompletely and without proper context. They are therefore understood in error and lead to the pagan rituals and ideas that have similarities to Christianity. But with the coming of Christ, those who sat in darkness have been given the light and those former urges towards the truth can be seen in their proper context and in the proper light - that light is, of course, the Light of Christ which enlightens the world. Christianity only confirms these formers hints of Truth and the existence of these pagan rituals in the light of Christianity only serve to confirm that Christianity is the full and complete expression of that Truth.

Fr David Moser

Edited by Father David Moser, 13 April 2009 - 03:14 PM.
typo


#8 D. W. Dickens

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 04:31 PM

It is certain that one will universally find pagan antecedents to Christianity no matter where he might look. This is not a challenge to the faith but rather a confirmation of it.


This was a big change for me coming to Orthodoxy. Not seeing all the pagan religions as cults started by demons for their own amusements, but as remnants of the light of God/inspired insights of man. Melchizedek (in Genesis and Hebrews) and St Paul's words in Romans 1 were a big help in this.

It was also to stop thinking of the Church as a neo-platonic "ideal" but as a real thing actually existent as persons united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Church exists, then this notion of the Church's "corruption" is in conflict with the promises of scripture. So the Church which gave us the scripture must be bound by it and preserved with it.

But that's a post for another day.

#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 04:31 PM

Of the many pagan antecedents to the Christian faith, one of the most remarkable is the monotheism of Akhenaten. This 'heretic' pharaoh's 'Hymn to Aten' has often been compared to Psalm 104. There has even been speculation that Moses lived in Egypt at the time of Akhenaten and was influenced by him. One dismisses, of course, what Sigmund Freud thought about this.

#10 David Hawthorne

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 04:41 PM

Of the many pagan antecedents to the Christian faith, one of the most remarkable is the monotheism of Akhenaten. This 'heretic' pharaoh's 'Hymn to Aten' has often been compared to Psalm 104. There has even been speculation that Moses lived in Egypt at the time of Akhenaten and was influenced by him. One dismisses, of course, what Sigmund Freud thought about this.


Or perhaps Akhenaten was influenced by the existing monotheism of the Hebrews into which Moses was born. Not sure about the timeline, though- were the Hebrews in captivity in Egypt during Akhenaten's reign considering the times generally given for the Exodus? I believe I have just derailed my own thread.

#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 07:19 PM

Not sure about the timeline, though- were the Hebrews in captivity in Egypt during Akhenaten's reign considering the times generally given for the Exodus?


From what little I have gleaned, the dating of Exodus has been put at anywhere between about 1600 and the 1200s BC. Moses may have lived between about 1390 and 1270. If so, he and Akhenaten were contemporaries. The traditional pharaoh of the oppression of the Hebrews was Ramesses II and of the exodus Merneptah, but Ramesses II died about 1213. It seems no one really knows.

#12 Mike Fulton

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 07:47 PM

This was a big change for me coming to Orthodoxy. Not seeing all the pagan religions as cults started by demons for their own amusements, but as remnants of the light of God/inspired insights of man. Melchizedek (in Genesis and Hebrews) and St Paul's words in Romans 1 were a big help in this.

It was also to stop thinking of the Church as a neo-platonic "ideal" but as a real thing actually existent as persons united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Church exists, then this notion of the Church's "corruption" is in conflict with the promises of scripture. So the Church which gave us the scripture must be bound by it and preserved with it.

But that's a post for another day.


I'm reminded of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, which some scholars call the Messianic Eclogue, where Virgil predicts a boy being born and starting a "golden age." But I'm not a scholar of Latin literature.

I would be interested in taking a look at this book and the arguments it makes. A lot of Protestants make the argument that liturgical Christianity is pagan. I would counter with Acts, as well as clear indications in the Old Testament that the worship of Yahveh, by its nature, liturgical. What of the Ark and the Temple? The urn containing the manna? The golden cherubim?

A priest that I know of once told me that liturgy is somehow ingrained in the human psyche. I would say that is certainly correct. Even when we know nothing about the orthopraxis of worship, we make things up or we "try" things from other religious traditions. This is evident of a few Protestant denominations that actually utilize tallits, tzitzit, and other accoutrements of Jewish worship because they've thrown out so many different things from traditional Christianity.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 03:37 PM

The best treatment of Akhenaton that would be appreciated by Christians is found here:

http://books.google....num=1#PPA146,M1

beginning on page 145 I think. It focuses on the spiritual and political revolution brought about by Akhenaton and the relations between the two.

#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 03:39 PM

I believe it is Justin Martyr who claimed that Plato encountered Moses in Egypt where he was taught that there was one God. The result was the Timeaus which is the most oft quoted non-Biblical text by the Greek Fathers.

#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 03:41 PM

Let's not forget that this is not some new controversy invented by Protestants. Tertullian was famous for asking "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (Or was it Jerome????)

#16 Theophrastus

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 08:47 PM

Let's not forget that this is not some new controversy invented by Protestants. Tertullian was famous for asking "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (Or was it Jerome????)


I can see Tertullian saying such a thing. Jerome? Nah.

#17 Edward Henderson

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 10:57 PM

I think what many protestants seem to be ignorant of is that Christianity baptized Hellenism, which was the culture of the Roman Empire. Thus our theological language employs terms first used by Greek philosophers, but given a Christian context. In reality, we can find "pagan" influences on our hymnology, music, architecture, icons, liturgical life, etc. But this is simply not a problem for the Orthodox. What is ironic is that we can find pagan philosophy in the theology of the protestant reformers. The whole notion of the total depravity of man is nothing but neo-platonic dualism (flesh evil, spirit good).

#18 Rick

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 02:05 AM

I should contribute to this thread.

I've been reading Pagan Christianity and I've noticed some glaring problems:

Viola seems to only (selectively) consult modern scholars when it comes to giving us a picture of what 1st century Christianity looked like. It is incredible how he fails to cite early Christian documents, like the writings of the Church Fathers. Wouldn't it make sense to do that, especially if one is attempting to be objective? It's also interesting to note how he doesn't even cite or indirectly mention any of Jaroslav Pelikan's work--someone with such an immense academic reputation and credentials. I think Viola cherry picks those scholars which specifically support his house church movement interests. But even if I were to give him the benefit of the doubt about that, I think Barna's/Viola's "purification" of Christianity (a la Adolf von Harnack) leads to absurdities. Their vision of a "pure" 1st century church is already contaminated with their nostalgic desire: the 1st century church never actively sought to be "pure," to be stripped of pagan influences. This just wasn't part of their mission. It wasn't in their job description, so to speak. If it wasn't, why care? The only purity the 1st century church sought was of the heart, and that is the purity which Orthodoxy once sought, continues to seek, and will always seek of the Lord.

#19 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 08:57 PM

Christianity is in a special sense the fulfillment of Judaism, but it is also the fulfillment of paganism.

Christos Jonathan

#20 David Hawthorne

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Posted 08 July 2009 - 12:50 AM

Christianity is in a special sense the fulfillment of Judaism, but it is also the fulfillment of paganism.

Christos Jonathan


Reading your post reminded of Beethoven: Jesu, Joy of Mans' Desire




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