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    THE CHURCH COMPLETELY PAGANIZED

    We have already quoted from Dr. Killen the statement that “in the interval between the days of the apostles and the conversion of Constantine, the Christian commonwealth changed its aspect.... Rites and ceremonies, of which neither Paul nor Peter ever heard, crept silently into use, and then claimed the rank of divine institutions.” Dr. Schaff says that “not a few pagan habits and ceremonies, concealed under new names, crept into the church, or were baptized only with water and not with the fire and spirit of the gospel.”—Volume 2, section 74. And Bingham says:—SOOCC 61.1

    “As to those festivals which were purely civil, we are to observe, that some of them were of long standing in the Roman Empire, and no new institution of Christians, but only reformed and regulated by them in some particulars, to cut off the idolatrous rites and other corruptions that sometimes attended them.”—Antiquities, book 20, chapter 1, section 2.SOOCC 62.1

    But the “idolatrous rites and other corruptions” were not cut off from these festivals when they were brought into the church, as we shall see. It will easily be imagined that those pagan philosophers, who thought it not necessary to give up their heathen principles upon adopting Christianity, did not think it necessary to give up their practices either; and that this was the case we have abundant evidence. There is so great an amount of testimony on this point that, although we can use but a small fraction of it, we shall run the risk of being charged with piling it up indiscriminately, without regard to order. Indeed, as it all applies to the same time, it makes little difference which comes first. We first quote from Mosheim, “Ecclesiastical History,” century 2, part 2, chapter 4, sections 1-3 and 5:—SOOCC 62.2

    “It is certain, that to religious worship, both public and private, many rites were added, without necessity, and to the offense of sober and good men. For the chief cause of this, I should look at once to the perverseness of mankind; who are more delighted with the pomp and splendor of external forms, than with the true devotion of the heart, and who despise whatever does not gratify their eyes and ears. But other and additional causes may be mentioned, which were clear, undoubtedly, of any bad design, but not of indiscretion.SOOCC 63.1

    “First, there is good reason to suppose that Christian bishops multiplied sacred rites for the sake of rendering the Jews and the pagans more friendly to them. Both had been accustomed to numerous and splendid ceremonies from their infancy, and felt no doubt that in them was comprised a portion of religion. When, accordingly, they saw the new religion without such things, they thought it too simple, and therefore despised it. To obviate this objection, the rulers of the Christian churches deemed it proper for them to worship God in public with some increase of ceremony.SOOCC 63.2

    “Secondly, the simplicity of the worship which Christians offered to the Deity, gave occasion to certain calumnies, maintained both by the Jews and the pagan priests. The Christians were pronounced atheists, because they were destitute of temples, altars, victims, priests, and all that pomp in which the vulgar suppose the essence of religion to consist. For unenlightened persons are prone to estimate religion by what meets their eyes. To silence this accusation, the Christian doctors thought it necessary to introduce some external rites, which would strike the senses of the people; so that they could maintain themselves really to possess all those things of which Christians were charged with being destitute, though under different forms.”SOOCC 63.3

    “Fourthly, among the Greeks and the people of the East nothing was held more sacred than what were called the ‘mysteries.’ This circumstances led the Christians, in order to impart dignity to their religion, to say, that they also had similar mysteries, or certain holy rites concealed from the vulgar; and they not only applied the terms used in the pagan mysteries to Christian institutions, particularly baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but they gradually introduced also the rites which were designated by those terms. This practice originated in the Eastern provinces; and thence, after the times of Adrian (who first introduced the Grecian mysteries among the Latins), it spread among the Christians of the West. A large part, therefore, of the Christian observances and institutions, even in this century, had the aspect of the pagan mysteries.”SOOCC 63.4

    In a note appended to this passage, Mosheim gives us the following picture:—SOOCC 64.1

    “It will not be unsuitable to transcribe here, a very apposite passage, which I accidentally met with in Gregory Nyssen’s ‘Life of Gregory Thaumaturgus,’ in the ‘Works of Thaumaturgus,’ as published by Vossius, p. 312, who gives the Latin only:—SOOCC 64.2

    “‘When Gregory perceived that the ignorant and simple multitude persisted in their idolatry, on account of the sensible pleasures and delights it afforded, he allowed them in celebrating the memory of the holy martyrs, to indulge themselves, and give a loose to pleasure (i. e., as the thing itself, and both what precedes and what follows place beyond all controversy, he allowed them at the sepulchers of the martyrs, on their feast days, to dance, to use sports, to indulge conviviality, and to do all the things that the worshipers of idols were accustomed to do in their temples on their festival days), hoping, that in process of time they would spontaneously come over to a more becoming and more correct manner of life.’”SOOCC 64.3

    The piety of Gregory Thaumaturgus we shall not stop to call in question; but we certainly can not offer a very high tribute to his knowledge of human nature if he thought that indulgence in pleasure and hilarity would tend to cause men to come to a better mode of life. As well expect that the Niagara rapids will spontaneously turn just at the edge of the precipice and flow the other way. What it was that this eminent church Father allowed his flock to do, when he permitted them “to dance, to use sports, to indulge conviviality and to do all things that the worshipers of idols were accustomed to do in their temples on their festival days,” may be learned from the following statement, also by Mosheim:—SOOCC 64.4

    “Of the prayers of pagan worshipers, whether we regard the matter or the mode of expression, it is impossible to speak favorably; they were not only destitute in general of everything allied to the spirit of genuine piety, but were sometimes framed expressly for the purpose of obtaining the countenance of heaven to the most abominable and flagitious undertakings. In fact, the greater part of their religious observances were of an absurd and ridiculous nature, and in many instances strongly tinctured with the most disgraceful barbarism and obscenity. Their festivals and other solemn days were polluted by a licentious indulgence in every species of libidinous excess; and on these occasions they were not prohibited even from making the sacred mansions of their gods the scenes of vile and beastly gratification.”—Commentaries, Introduction, chapter 1, section 11.SOOCC 65.1

    To this all the historians give witness. Farrar speaks of the same thing, and notes the year in which Gregory gave this order, saying: “In 258 he sanctioned the annual feasts in commemoration of the martyrs, hoping that they would help to allure the pagan population, who were accustomed to such festivities.”—Lives of the Fathers, p. 329.SOOCC 65.2

    It is not necessary to do more than call attention, in passing, to the fact that many modern church authorities seem to have taken lessons from Gregory Thaumaturgus. But we will hear further of this matter of Christian conformity to pagan customs. Milman, “History of Christianity,” book 4, chapter 2, says of the church:—SOOCC 66.1

    “The whole ceremonial was framed with the art which arises out of the intuitive perception of that which is effective towards its end. That which was felt to be awful was adopted to enforce awe; that which drew the people to the church, and affected their minds when there, became sanctified to the use of the church. The edifice itself arose more lofty with the triumph of the faith, and enlarged itself to receive the multiplying votaries. Christianity disdained that its God and its Redeemer should be less magnificently honored than the demons of paganism. In the service it delighted to transfer and to breathe, as it were, a sublimer sense into the common appellations of the pagan worship, whether from the ordinary ceremonial, or the more secret mysteries.... The incense, the garlands, the lamps, all were gradually adopted by zealous rivalry, or seized as the lawful spoils of vanquished paganism and consecrated to the service of Christ.SOOCC 66.2

    “The church rivaled the old heathen mysteries in expanding by slow degrees its higher privileges.... Its preparatory ceremonial of abstinence, personal purity, ablution, secrecy, closely resembled that of the pagan mysteries (perhaps each may have contributed to the other); so the theologic dialect of Christianity spoke the same language.”SOOCC 66.3

    “The festivals in honor of the martyrs were avowedly instituted, or at least conducted on a sumptuous scale, in rivalry of the banquets which formed so important and, attractive a part of the pagan ceremonial. Besides the earliest Agapae, which gave place to the more solemn eucharist there were other kinds of banquets, at marriages and funerals, called likewise Agapae; but those of the martyrs were the most costly and magnificent.... The day closed with an open banquet, in which all the worshipers were invited to partake. The wealthy heathens had been accustomed to propitiate the Manes of their departed friends by these costly festivals; the banquet was almost an integral part of the heathen religious ceremony. The custom passed into the church; and, with the pagan feeling, the festival assumed a pagan character of gaiety and joyous excitement, and even of luxury.”SOOCC 66.4

    The reader will recall the words of Paul to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), and will see that this tendency to allow even the Lord’s Supper to degenerate into a drunken heathen festival, existed very early. Knowing this, it is easy to imagine the lengths to which the church might go when it came to be overrun with unconverted heathen, and the apostles themselves were dead, and their words of warning made of no effect. But Milman proceeds in his account of the martyr festivals and their likeness to paganism:—SOOCC 67.1

    “As the evening drew in, the solemn and religious thoughts gave way to other emotions; the wine flowed freely, and the healths of the martyrs were pledged, not unfrequently, to complete inebriety. All the luxuries of the Roman banquet were imperceptibly introduced. Dances were admitted, pantomimic spectacles were exhibited, the festivals were prolonged till late in the evening, or to midnight, so that other criminal irregularities profaned, if not the sacred edifice, its immediate neighborhood.SOOCC 67.2

    “The bishops had for some time sanctioned these pious hilarities with their presence; they had freely partaken of the banquets, and their attendants were accused of plundering the remains of the feast, which ought to have been preserved for the use of the poor.”SOOCC 67.3

    Dr. Schaff writes: “We cannot but see in the martyr-worship, as it was actually practiced, a new form of the hero-worship of the pagans. Nor can we wonder in the least. For the great mass of the Christian people came, in fact, fresh from polytheism, without thorough conversion, and could not divest themselves of their old notions and customs at a stroke.”—Church History, volume 2, section 84. Nor were they very likely to try to break off these old customs, when their most honored instructors gave license to them, and taught that the heathen philosophy which led directly to such practices, was really no different from Christianity. “Even some orthodox church teachers admitted the affinity of the saint-worship with heathenism, though with the view of showing that all that is good in the heathen worship reappears far better in the Christian.” “The Greeks, Theodoret thinks, have the least reason to be offended at what takes place at the graves of the martyrs; for the libations and expiations, the demigods and deified men, originated with themselves.”—Ib.SOOCC 68.1

    Testimony to an unlimited extent might be given upon the matter of martyr-worship in the early church, and its identity with pagan hero-worship; but we wish only to show the fact that the church as a whole very early became permeated with paganism, and that there was no knowledge of the Bible to counteract the degeneracy, but that the church referred to the practices of the heathen as the warrant for their own doings.SOOCC 68.2

    Not only was pagan hero-worship continued in the church under the form of martyr-worship, but the very gods of ancient heathenism were worshiped under different names. Schaff says that we can but “agree with nearly all unbiased historians in regarding the worship of Mary as an echo of ancient heathenism. It brings plainly to mind the worship of Ceres, of Isis, and of other ancient mothers of the gods; as the worship of saints and angels recalls the hero-worship of Greece and Rome. Polytheism was so deeply rooted among the people that it reproduced itself in ancient forms.”—Volume 2, section 81.SOOCC 69.1

    In this state of things we may be assured that the prevailing sun-worship had its full share of influence in the church. The first feature of importance is Easter. Pagan influence in the church at a very early period is shown by this festival, since it was in the second century that the celebrated controversy concerning it occurred. The word itself is pagan, Eostre being “the god of the dawn or of the spring.” It is not the continuation of the Jewish Passover, and has no manner of connection with that feast. In Acts 12:4, the translators of our common version have given us the word Easter instead of Passover, but it is correctly rendered in the Revised Version. The word Easter is not found in the Bible. The controversy concerning this festival was on this wise:—SOOCC 69.2

    In the East we find the churches in the second century keeping a festival which corresponded in point of time to the Jewish Passover. It is supposed that this was in memory of the death of Christ, although there was never any instruction given to the church to celebrate the death of Christ in any such way. The festival was doubtless simply a concession to the prejudices of the Jews, who were more numerous in Asia, just as, where the pagans were more numerous, the church adopted pagan festivals, in order to conciliate the heathen, and to make them more willing to profess Christianity. But unity of practice was greatly desired in all the churches, and Rome’s arrogance had already gone to such a length that she assumed the right to fix the standard of unity. She was the chief city and capital of the world, and why should she not set the fashion in matters of religion as well as in other things?SOOCC 70.1

    Now the Roman Church was mostly composed of pagans, and heathen influences surrounded it. Consequently it had no care to conciliate the Jews, but found it expedient to lean towards paganism; and the pagans had a festival which they celebrated in honor of the return of spring, about the time of the vernal equinox. This was adopted by the Church of Rome and the churches which it influenced. The bishop of Rome commanded the Eastern churches to celebrate their spring festival at the same time that he did. They refused. But Jewish influence could not prevail against the great body of pagans, and at the Council of Nice, A. D. 325, the Roman custom was made universal. Easter was henceforth celebrated by all the churches. The time was fixed, as now, to the first Sunday after the full moon which followed the 21st of March.SOOCC 70.2

    Green, in his “History of the English People” (book 1, chapter 1, section 20), says that “Eostre, the god of the dawn or of the spring, lends his name to the Christian festival of the resurrection.” This is true, but not the whole truth. The truth is that Eostre, the heathen god of light, gave not simply the name but the festival itself. The so-called “Christian festival of the resurrection” is nothing else but the old heathen festival. Dr. Schaff is very free to note the adoption of heathen festivals by the church, because he does not think that the practice is to be condemned. He says:—SOOCC 71.1

    “The English Easter, Anglo-Saxon Oster, German Ostern, is at all events connected with East and sunrise, and is akin to eos oriens, aurora. The comparison of sunrise and the natural spring with the new moral creation in the resurrection of Christ, and the transfer of the celebration of Ostara, the old German divinity of the rising, health-bringing light, to the Christian Easter festival, was the easier, because all nature is a symbol of spirit, and the heathen myths are dim presentiments and carnal anticipations of Christian truths.” Church History, volume 1, section 99, note 5.SOOCC 71.2

    The word “Easter,” from Eostre or Ostara, is by some traced to Ishtar, or Astarte, the Assyrian counterpart of Baal, the sun-god, corresponding to the Latin Venus. Sacred eggs were connected with her worship. But whether Easter may or may not be traced to Astarte, with her licentious worship, it is certain that it is nothing but a relic of sun-worship.SOOCC 72.1

    All we care for in the above is the admission that Easter is only a relic of nature-worship. We do not accept the suggestion of the identity of Christianity and pagan nature-worship; but we note with sorrow that the pagan worship of the creature rather than the Creator very early corrupted the Christian church. The reader will not fail to note that it was sun-worship, and that alone, that fixed the time of the Easter festival, and that in this concession to heathenism there was a long step taken toward the exaltation of “the venerable day of the sun,”—the weekly sun festival, Sunday.SOOCC 72.2

    This spirit of concession to paganism was manifested in the adoption of the heathen festival which now bears the name of Christmas. The following is from Dr. Schaff:—SOOCC 72.3

    “The Christmas festival was probably the Christian transformation or regeneration of a series of kindred heathen festivals—the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia —which were kept in Rome in the month of December, in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children.’—Church History, volume 1, section 77.SOOCC 72.4

    Let the reader note that it was sun-worship that the church was adopting in joining in the celebration of the winter festival. Dr. Schaff, although he defends the Christmas festival, plainly declares that it was borrowed from the heathen, and that it was in honor of the birthday of the sun, the orb of day, and not the Son of God. He says:—SOOCC 73.1

    “Had the Christmas festival arisen in the period of the persecution, its derivation from these pagan festivals would be refuted by the then reigning abhorrence of everything heathen; but in the Nicene age this rigidness of opposition between the church and the world was in a great measure softened by the general conversion of the heathen. Besides, there lurked in those pagan festivals themselves, in spite of all their sensual abuses, a deep meaning and an adaptation to a real want [this by way of excuse]; they might be called unconscious prophecies of the Christmas feast. Finally the church Fathers themselves confirm the symbolical reference of the feast of the birth of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the world, to the birth festival of the unconquered sun, which on the twenty-fifth of December, after the winter solstice, breaks the growing power of darkness and begins anew his heroic career.”—Ib.SOOCC 73.2

    This feast celebrating the birthday of the sun (dies natalis invicti solis) “is the feast of the Persian sun-god Mithras, which was formally introduced in Rome under Domitian and Trojan.”—Schaff. This is all that Christmas is, for, as Schaff truly says, “The day and month of the birth of Christ are nowhere stated in the gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined.” But this would not be the case if the Lord had designed that it should be celebrated. The fiction that Christmas is the birthday of Christ was invented by the church in order to conceal the fact that out of wicked compliance with paganism they were celebrating the birth festival of the heathen sun-god. Besides it was very easy for a church that was more than half Christian to fail to distinguish any difference between the Son of God—the Sun of Righteousness—of whom they heard as the Christian Divinity, and the sun which was the center of heathen worship. And, as we have seen, the Neo-Platonism which Clement and Origen foisted upon the church held that there was really no difference between Christianity and paganism. Thus the church Fathers contributed to the confusion.SOOCC 73.3

    In such a time, when, as Wylie says, “Instead of reaching forth to what was before, the Christian church permitted itself to be overtaken by the spirit of the ages that lay behind her,” when paganism was coming in like a flood, and over-whelming the church, it was inevitable that “the wild solar holiday of all pagan times” should be adopted along with other heathen customs. The logic of events would necessitate this conclusion, even if facts did not warrant it. Sunday was the chief pagan holiday, in honor of the sun-god; the church was modeling its legitimate ceremonies as nearly as possible after the plan of the heathen “mysteries,” and was boldly adopting everything pagan that was in sight; so, as in ancient times the church of God rejected the Sabbath when it joined the heathen in their licentious revels, it could not be otherwise than that when, in the early centuries of the Christian era, it apostatized to heathenism, it should forsake the Sabbath of the Lord for the day of the sun.SOOCC 74.1

    But, as in the case of Christmas, the church found an excuse for adopting Sunday. The Bible calls Christ the “Sun of Righteousness,” and the people could easily be made to think that in celebrating the festival of the sun, they were doing homage to Christ, especially since their knowledge of Christianity came principally through the philosophers, who taught them that Christianity was simply a modification of their old superstition.SOOCC 75.1

    In nothing is the church’s conformity to paganism more clearly manifest than in its adoption of Sunday. Tertullian was a voluminous writer for the church as against the heathen, yet in his address, Ad Nationes, he defends the growing observance of Sunday on the ground that it was nothing more than the heathen themselves did. Thus, after answering the charge that Christians worshiped the cross, by showing that the heathen did likewise (for the figure of a cross was an object of worship by the heathen before the church began to pay idolatrous worship to it), Tertullian proceeds to say:—SOOCC 75.2

    “Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity. What then? Do you do less than this? Do not many among you, with an affectation of sometimes worshiping the heavenly bodies, likewise, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise? It is you, at all events, who have even admitted the sun into the calendar of the week, and you have selected its day, in preference to the preceding day as the most suitable in the week for either an entire abstinence from the bath, or for its postponement until the evening, or for taking rest and for banqueting.”—Ad Nationes, chapter 13.SOOCC 76.1

    Here we find not only that Sunday was the chief heathen festival-day, but also that one of the foremost “Fathers” in the church boldly pleaded heathen custom as an excuse for adopting it. If it be said that the fact that the Christians also regarded Sunday as well as the heathen was only a coincidence, and that there must be some Scripture authority for it, we can refer the reader to the light estimation in which the Scriptures were held by those “church Fathers.” Not only may we refer to what has already been quoted from Clement and Origen, but we may quote Tertullian’s own words to prove that the absence of Scripture authority was not a bar to any practice which the church of the philosophers thought fit to adopt. In his treatise on “The Chaplet,” he speaks as follows concerning the propriety of wearing the laurel wreath:—SOOCC 76.2

    “How long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state [of the question]? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted.... To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with baptism. When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the gospel. [They thought that they could make an improvement on the Lord’s plan.] Then, when we are taken up (as new-born children), we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week.... As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead [a heathen custom] as birthday honors. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the cross].SOOCC 77.1

    “If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer.”—Chapters 3, 4.SOOCC 77.2

    Here Scripture is disregarded and set at naught for custom; but where appeal was had to custom, it was always a custom originating with the heathen. And now to what we have already read concerning churchly conformity to heathen customs, read the following:—SOOCC 78.1

    “Leo the Great speaks of Christians in Rome, who first worshiped to the rising sun, doing homage to the pagan Apollo, before repairing to the basilica of St. Peter.”—Schaff, volume 2, section 74.SOOCC 78.2

    When the church not only perpetuated the worship of the heathen gods and goddesses under different forms, but openly worshiped the heathen sun-god Apollo, and even the sun itself, is it at all surprising that they continued the heathen sun-festival, Sunday, along with other festivals?SOOCC 78.3

    The watchword of the age seemed to be unity. Cyprian had declared unity to be more essential than orthodoxy. It was not, in general, thought worth while to consider the particulars of any views held by one who differed with “the church.” The fact that he was not within “the pale of unity” was sufficient to mark him as a heretic. But the idea of “the church” was that it ought, like the Jewish theocracy, to be identical with the State. The fact that the State was pagan could not long stand in the way, when the ideal became prevalent that there was really no essential difference between Christianity and paganism; and we have already seen how the church was practically demonstrating that identity by adopting all heathen customs. We shall now proceed to show that paganism on its part was apparently approaching Christianity, thus rendering the union the easier, and that when at last the marriage was consummated, the weekly heathen festival of the sun was the bond of union.SOOCC 78.4

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