Did you know that Catholic bishops are actually high priests of Dagon, the ancient page deity of the Philistines? You see, the miter the bishop wears is a replica of the costumes worn by the priests of Dagon. That’s right, the priests of Dagon wore a head dress that looked like the head of a fish with an open mouth, and down their back they wore a long cape that looked like like the skin of a big fish. When you look at a Catholic bishop sideways you can see the open mouthed fish head and his cope looks just like that fish skin they wore! This proves that Catholicism is really just old fashioned devil worshipping paganism right? Wrong.
The bishop’s miter developed from the camelaucum; a form of crown worn in the imperial court in Byzantium. There are no pictures of a Catholic bishop wearing what we would recognize as a miter until the eleventh century and then it was a shorter, softer hat which only developed into its present form in the late middle ages….long after the worshippers of Dagon were dead and gone.
Three Forms of Anti Catholicism
The true history of the bishop’s miter is found with a simple search on the internet, but explain this piece of historical detail to an extreme Protestant who believes everything Catholic is simply warmed up paganism and you will discover that he thinks you have been brainwashed. The information on the internet was a page on the Catholic Encyclopedia!! He will consider you to be a naive dupe of a sinister regime, and the source of your information is part of a cover up by the Catholic dis-information machine in the secret walled city of the Vatican.
A second Protestant friend may not be quite so extreme in his Catholic=pagan beliefs. He eschews the wild eyed fundamentalism of the Chick Tracts. Nevertheless he shakes his head sadly and informs you that Catholic doctrine is not Scriptural. It is a mish mash of pagan philosophy and religious customs. He tells you how veneration of the Virgin Mary and prayers to the saints have their roots in pagan goddess worship and ancestor worship. He’ll tell you how the doctrines of purgatory the sacraments have come from Gnosticism, how transubstantiation is pagan Aristotelianism and Catholic beliefs on heaven and hell and the afterlife are infected with the pagan philosophies of Neo Platonism.
Finally there is your secular friend with his own brand of Catholic=pagan anti Catholicism. He does not fear Catholicism because it is pagan. He dismisses it because it is pagan. Secularists use the theory to ridicule or dismiss Catholicism because it shows that ‘all religions are merely different versions of primitive superstition.”
The idea that the Catholic Church is the pagan anti Christ has been around since the Protestant Revolution. If your sect had been persecuted by the Catholic Church it was easy enough to see the corrupt Roman hierarchy in the ominous warnings from the Book of Revelation.
When you read, “I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES, AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” You couldn’t help but think of the opulence of the Roman prelates and the cardinals and monsignori in their robes of purple and scarlet. Then when you read that the ‘seven heads’ were the seven hills on which the harlot sat, and you knew that Rome was the city of seven hills it would seem obvious: the Roman Catholic Church was that great whore.
It was only a short hop from there to connect all manner of Catholic beliefs and practices to the ancient pagan religions. With only a little bit of imagination (and inspiration from the Holy Spirit of course) you soon came to see that Christmas and Easter were taken over from the pagan Spring and Winter celebrations, that the ‘worship’ of the Blessed Virgin Mary was derived from the ancient cult of Diana of the Ephesians, that the Eucharist was taken from Egyptian fertility rites, baptism and the idea of the ‘sacraments’ were lifted from Mithraism and yes, the bishop’s miter was really part of the secret worship of Dagon the fish god of the Philistines.
The list could go on and on. In fact, it is only limited by the imagination of those who wish to discover pagan antecedents to Catholicism. It’s simple. Look hard enough and you will find what you seek. Begin with your theory and then find the ‘facts’ to support it. All of these ‘historical’ theories can be easily refuted with a bit of research and explanation, but instead of tackling the different theories I would like to unlock the thinking behind the ‘Catholicism is re-hashed paganism’ fable and show how best to counter it.
It is easy to think that the ‘Catholicism is re-hashed paganism’ is only put out by extremist Protestants like Jack Chick in his lurid ‘Christian comics’, but the idea that ancient paganism was adopted into Catholicism is an assumption that is standard within every level of Protestantism. It may not be as extreme and wacky as Chick tracts or the idea that the bishop’s miter is a carry over from the worship of Dagon, but most Protestants believe that at least some Catholic customs are pagan in origin.
Furthermore, the idea that Catholicism is merely paganism re born is very prevalent among secular critics of the Church. Protestants use the theory to dismiss Catholicism with horror because they all paganism is of the devil.
The way to counter both arguments is to admit that the ancient pagan religions influenced the development of Christianity, but to show why this is natural and harmless and why it means neither that Catholicism is devil worship nor that it is simply primitive superstition.
The Missing Link
The first thing to say to a Protestant who blames Catholicism for ‘being pagan’ is to admit that elements of the ancient pagan culture did influence the development of Christianity.
However, he should do his homework and find out for sure. Just because two things happened at the same time does not demand a link between them, and it certainly does not demand a causal link. So, for example, the decline of the number of Catholic priests and nuns in the United States co-incided with the popularity of Elvis Presley and the decline in popularity of Bing Crosby. This does not mean that the two phenomena were linked (even though Bing Crosby played the part of a Catholic priest) and it certainly doesn’t mean that the the popularity of Elvis Presley caused the decline in the number of priests.
Likewise, to see the similarity between two things and their co -incidence does not require that they be linked in any way, and it certainly does not prove a causal link between the two. Even if a cultural link can be proved it must also be proved which was the causal link flows. Does the existence of a Winter solstice celebration in both Christianity and Roman paganism demand that one caused the other? If so which one influenced the other? It used to be a commonplace that the Christians borrowed the pagan Winter Saturnalia for Christmas. It now seems that the reverse is true. The pagans instituted the Saturnalia as competition for the increasingly popular feast of the Nativity of Christ.
We’re All Pagan
The second point to make to the Protestant who blames Catholicism for being pagan is to point out that the things he believes have links with paganism too. He may think that veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is ‘pagan’ but the doctrines he holds to could be seen to have pagan antecedents as well. He believes in the Virgin Birth and the incarnation, but pagan religions are full of stories of Virgins giving birth to god-men. Does he believe in the Resurrection? Does he celebrate it at Easter? How does he fit that in with the common pagan myths of the dying and rising god who was worshipped annually at the Spring time of the year? Does he believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?, the Ascension?, Baptism? The Eucharist? All of these beliefs and practices have their parallels in paganism. He can’t blame Catholics for being pagan in some beliefs and practices while he himself happily endorses beliefs that might also have their origins in paganism.
This is the crunch of the argument. Your Protestant friend should realize that there are links between paganism and Christianity and that this is natural because the church was born in a particular culture and that culture was bound to influence it, and there is nothing wrong with this happening. From the very beginning this was considered to be good missionary method: find what connects with the Christian story in the culture you are preaching to, make the connection, build on that and use it to share the Christian gospel through images with which they are familiar.
Finally, remind your Protestant friend that this is precisely what we see taking place in the New Testament. So in Acts — St Paul preaches in Athens and sees in the temple an altar to an ‘unknown god’. He pickes up on this and uses the concept to preach the gospel. Sometimes the ‘Catholic is paganism reborn’ argument moves from practices like praying for the dead or the veneration of saints to accusations that Catholic theology is infected with pagan philosophies like Gnosticism or Platonism.
At this point remind your Protestant friend that St John used the existing Greek philosophical concept of the logos (the Word) to articulate the doctrine of the pre existing Son of God and the incarnation of the Son of Man. Remind them that St Paul uses the concept of ‘the mystery of godliness’ throughout his writings, and in doing so is connecting with his pagan audience’s awareness of the mystery religions. Likewise the epistle to the Hebrews with it’s talk of an ‘earthly temple’ which is an image of the ‘heavenly temple’ is steeped in a Platonic metaphysical understanding.
The secular critic of the Catholic faith also argues that Catholicism is simply a re hash of paganism. His argument comes from the humanistic understanding of the history of religion. It goes like this: “All religions developed when human beings were primitive. They looked at the sun moon and stars and were awed by them. They gave them personalities and made up stories about them. These became the gods and goddesses of ancient myths. Then they thought there should be just one god. This god became the God of the Hebrews and then then Christianity emerged from the Hebrew religion, but took on lots of the traits of paganism too and that is why it was so successful.”
Having equated Christianity with all the other primitive superstitions they can smugly dismiss its claims. The final answer to both the secularist and the fundamentalist is the same. It requires an explanation of just how and why there are connections and links between Christianity and other religions.
Hints and Glimpses
When someone dismissed Christianity because of its links with pagan religions C.S.Lewis said, “It doesn’t bother me that Christianity has links with earlier pagan religions. What would bother me is if it did not have links with any other religions.” The fact is, you can find similarities and connecting points between Christianity and all the other religions both ancient and modern, and it is this fact which validates rather than invalidates Christianity.
Since the Christian faith (and more specifically the Catholic faith) connects in its beliefs and practices with other religions it shows that Catholicism is deeply true. What we would be suspicious of is a religion that was totally isolated and cut off from every other world religion. Such a religion would have to be made up. Since there are links and connections with other religions they shed light on the Catholic faith and illuminate the depths of Catholicism.
The Catholics understanding is that all the other religions–ancient pagan religions and modern religions–all point to the fullness of truth which is found in the Catholic faith. The pagan religions in their own way point to and prophesy the coming of Christ. This was the view of the church fathers. They looked to the pagan myths and saw glimpses and hints of the Christ who was to come. They saw the ancient religious systems and practices and devotions and saw in them all a kind of prophecy and pointer to the Christ who was to come.
Every aspect of the ancient world was thought to be a pointer to Christ. The pagan philosophers also pointed to Christ. In their images, their language and their systems of thought they were hinting at what was to come. So the Fathers of the Church loved to pull out quotes from the ancient philosophers which hinted at the fullness of revelation that would come in Christ. Now the virgin is returning…
A new human race is descending from the heights of heaven…
The birth of a child, with whom
the iron age of humanity will
end and the golden age begin…
Catholicism is not the practice of paganism, but it is the fulfillment of the hints and glimpses that are given in every ancient religion, philosophy and prophecy. Truth, wherever it appears, is Catholic truth, and once we see the relationship between other religions and philosophies and the Catholic faith the sooner we will see their beautiful fulfillment in the one true faith.