Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Paganism Surviving in Easter, Lent, etc., by Abram Herbert Lewis 1892

Paganism Surviving in Christianity By Abram Herbert Lewis 1892

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Lights in Worship—-Worshipping "toward the East"-—Easter Fires-—Beltane or Baal Fires—-Penance—-Mariolatry—-The Mass—Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead—-Peter's Keys-—Christmas-—Easter—Lent, etc.

SUN-WORSHIP, as the dominant cult in all pagan systems, furnished more elements of corruption than any other.

Lights in Worship.
The pagan origin of lights in worship is universally acknowledged. Their use was sharply condemned in the earlier times. The Synod of Elviri (305 or 306 A.D.) condemned their use in cemeteries, where they already formed a part of the services for the dead. Canon 34 reads: "It is forbidden to light wax candles during the day in cemeteries for fear of disquieting the spirits of the saints."

Baronius explains this as follows: "Many Neophytes brought the custom from paganism of lighting wax candles upon tombs. The Synod forbids this, because, metaphysically, it troubles the souls of the dead; that is to say, this superstition wounds them."

Abespine gives another explanation, which is, that the synod accepted the belief that was then general, that the souls of the dead hovered around their tombs. "The Synod consequently forbade that wax candles should be lighted by day, perhaps to abolish a remnant of paganism, but also to prevent the repose of the souls of the dead from being troubled."

Maitland says:
"The burning of lights is specified among the idolatrous rites forbidden by the Theodosian Code: 'Let no one in any kind of place whatsoever in any city, burn lights, offer incense, or hang up garlands to senseless idols.' Vigilantius, in reference to the custom of using lights in divine service, exclaims: 'We almost see the ceremonial of the gentiles introduced into the Churches under pretence of religion; piles of candles lighted while the sun is still shining; and everywhere people kissing and worshipping, and I know not what; a little dust in a small vessel wrapped up in a precious cloth. Great honor do such persons render to the blessed martyrs, thinking with miserable tapers to illumine those whom the Lamb, in the midst of the throne, shines upon with the splendor of his majesty.' This passage proves that Vigilantius, who must have known well the customs of paganism, was struck with the resemblance between them and the rites newly introduced into the Church." [The Church in the Catacombs, p. 225, London, 1846.]

But love for paganism was too strong, and the custom soon became universal. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola (396 A.D.), gloried in the use of lights. In Natalis (3:100) he says:

"The bright altars are crowned with thickly clustered lamps, the fragrant lights smell of waxed papyri; day and night they burn; so that night glitters with the splendor of day; and day itself glories with heavenly honors, shines the more, its lustre being doubled by innumerable lamps."

The persistency with which the use of lights yet holds a place in many branches of the Church shows how long and how vigorously paganism has continued to corrupt Christianity.


Another residuum from sun-worship led to building churches with the altar at the east, praying toward the east, burying the dead with reference to the east, etc. Of the pagan origin of the custom, Gale speaks as follows:

"Another piece of Pagan Demonolatry was their ceremony of bowing and worshipping towards the East. For the Pagans universally worshipped the sun as their supreme God, even the more reformed of them, the new Platonists, Plotinus, Porphyry, and Julian the apostate, as it appears by his oration to the Sun. Whence it came to pass, that the sun rising in the east they usually worshipped in that way (as the Jews in Babylon usually worhipped west, because Jerusalem stood west thence). Hence also they built their temples and buried their dead towards the East. So Diogenes Laertius, in the life of Solon, says: that the Athenians buried their dead towards the East, the head of their graves being made that way. And do not Anti-Christ and his sons exactly follow this Pagan ceremony in building their temples and High Altars towards the East, and in bowing that way in their worship?" [Court of the Gentiles, by Theophilus Gale, part iii., book ii., chap, ii., section 3, paragraph 4.]

Various explanations were made concerning this practice, to cover up the prominence of this paganism. For instance, Clement of Alexandria says:

"And since the dawn is an image of the day of birth, and from that point the light which has shone forth at first from the darkness, increases, there has also dawned on those involved in darkness a day of the knowledge of truth. In correspondence with the manner of the sun's rising, prayers are made looking towards the sunrise in the East. Whence also the most ancient temples looked towards the West, that people might be taught to turn to the East when facing the images. 'Let my prayer be directed before thee as incense, the uplifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice,' say the Psalms." [Stromata, book vii., chap. vii.]

Tertullian seeks to avoid the charge of paganism, while defending this practice, as follows:

"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 toward 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 worshipping 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, chap. xiii.]

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Easter Fires.

Another element of pagan sun-worship continues to the present time in the Easter fires, which abound especially in Northern Europe. Fire is regarded as a living thing, in Teutonic mythology. It is often spoken of as a bird, the "Red Cock." Notfuer, "Need-fire," is yet produced by friction, at certain times. Such fire is deemed sacred. On such occasions all fires in the neighborhood are extinguished, that they may be rekindled from the Notfuer. This fire is yet used to ward off evil, and to cure diseases in domestic animals. Traces of sex-worship appear in connection with the producing of this sacred fire; "two chaste boys" must pull the ropes which produce the friction necessary to generate the fire; and a "chaste youth" must strike the light for curing the disease known as "St. Anthony's fire" In Scotland such fire is held as a safeguard against the "bewitching of domestic animals."

Grimm, who is the highest authority on the mythology of Northern Europe, has abundant material touching all forms of fire-worship in that region. Here is a single extract with reference to Easter Fires.

"At all the cities, towns and villages of the country, towards evening on the first (or third) day of Easter, there is lighted every year, on mountain and hill, a great fire of straw turf and wood, amidst a concourse and jubilation, not only of the young, but of many grown up people. On the Weser, especially in Schaumburg, they tie up a tar barrel on a fir tree wrapt around with straw, and set it on fire at night. Men and maids, and all who come dance, exulting and singing, hats are waved, handkerchiefs thrown into the fire. The mountains all around are lighted up, and it is an elevating spectacle, scarcely paralleled by any thing else, to survey the country for many miles around from one of the higher points, and in every direction at once to see a vast number of these bonfires, brighter or fainter, blazing up to heaven. In some places they marched up the hill in stately procession, carrying white rods: by turns they sang Easter hymns, grasping each other's hands, and at the Hallelujah, clashed their rods together. They liked to carry some of the fire home with them.

"For these ignes paschales there is no authority reaching beyond the sixteenth century; but they must be a great deal older, if only for the contrast with Midsummer fires, which never could penetrate into North Germany, because the people there held fast by their Easter fires. Now seeing that the fires of St. John, as we shall presently show, are more immediately connected with the Christian Church than those of Easter, it is not unreasonable to trace these all the way back to the worship of the goddess Ostara, or Eastre, who seems to have been more a Saxon and Anglican divinity than one revered all over Germany. Her name and her fires, which are likely to have come at the beginning of May, would, after the conversion of the Saxons, be shifted back to the Christian feast. Those mountain fires of the people are scarcely derivable from the taper lighted in the Church the same day: it is true that Boniface calls it ignis paschalis, and such Easter lights are mentioned in the sixteenth century. Even now, in the Hildesheim country, they light the lamp on Maundy Thursday, and that on Easter day, at an Easter fire which has been struck with a steel. The people flock to this fire, carrying oaken crosses, or simply crossed sticks, which they set on fire and then preserve for a whole year. But the common folk distinguish between this fire and the wild fire produced by rubbing wood. Jager speaks of a consecration fire of logs." [Teutonic Mythology, by Jacob Grimm, four vols., London, 1883, vol ii., p. 115.]

Midsummer Fires.
Midsummer was the central point of a great pagan festival in honor of the sun, who had then reached his greatest height, from which he must soon decline. Catholic Christianity continued these festivals, in St. John Baptist Day. Many of the peculiarities of these midsummer fires were similar to those of the Easter fires already noticed. The following description of the modern festival in Germany is taken from Grimm:

"We have a fuller description of a Midsummer fire, made in 1823 at Konz, a Lorrainian but still German village, on the Moselle, near Sierk and Thionville. Every house delivers a truss of straw on the top of the Stromberg, where men and youths assemble toward evening. Women and girls are stationed by the Burbach springs. Then a huge wheel is wrapt round with straw, so that none of the wood is left in sight, a strong pole is passed through the middle, which sticks out a yard on each side, and is grasped by the guiders of the wheel; the remainder of the straw is tied up into a number of small torches. At a signal given by the Maire of Sierk (who according to the ancient custom, earns a basket of cherries by the service), the wheel is lighted with a torch, and set rapidly in motion; a shout of joy is raised, all wave their torches on high, part of the men stay on the hill, part follow the rolling globe of fire, as it is guided down the hill to the Moselle. It often goes out first: but if alight when it touches the river, it prognosticates an abundant vintage, and the Konz people have a right to levy a tun of white wine from the adjacent vineyards. Whilst the wheel is rushing past the women and the girls, they break out into cries of joy, answered by the men on the hill, and inhabitants of neighboring villages, who have flocked to the river side, mingle their voices in the universal rejoicing."

Beltane or Baal Fires.
The Beltane or Baal fires and the ancient sacrifices to the sun-god still continue in modified form in Scotland. Grimm speaks of them as follows:

"The present custom is thus described by Armstrong sub v. bealtainn: In some parts of the Highlands the young folks of a hamlet meet in the moors, on the first of May. They cut a table in the green sod, of a round figure, by cutting a trench in the ground, of such circumference as to hold the whole company. They then kindle a fire and dress a repast of eggs and milk, in the consistence of a custard. They knead a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers, against a stone. After the custard is eaten up, they divide the cake in so many portions, as similar as possible to one another in size and shape, as there are persons in the company. They daub one of these portions with charcoal, until it is perfectly black. They then put all the bits of the cake into a bonnet, and every one, blindfold, draws out a portion. The bonnet-holder is entitled to the last bit. Whoever draws the black bit is the devoted person who is to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favor they mean to implore in rendering the year productive. The devoted person is compelled to leap three times over the flames. Here the reference to the worship of a deity is too plain to be mistaken; we see by the leaping over the flame, that the main point was, to select a human being to propitiate the god, and make him merciful; that afterwards an animal sacrifice was substituted for him, and finally nothing remained of the bodily immolation but a leap through the fire, for man and beast. The holy rite of friction is not mentioned here, but as it was necessary for the 'needfire' that purged pestilence, it must originally have been much more in requisition at the great yearly festival."

The pagan theory of baptismal regeneration created a necessity for the doctrine of penance. Under the idea that baptism removed all sins up to the time of the ceremony, something was necessary to atone for sins committed after baptism. Dr. Schaff describes the origin of penance as follows:

"The effect of baptism, however, was thought to extend only to sins committed before receiving it. Hence the frequent postponement of the sacrament, which Tertullian very earnestly recommends, though he censures it when accompanied with moral levity and presumption. Many, like Constantine the Great, put it off to the bed of sickness and of death. They preferred the risk of dying unbaptized to that of forfeiting forever the baptismal grace. Death-bed baptisms were then what death-bed repentances are now.

"But then the question arose, how the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism could be obtained? This is the starting-point of the Roman doctrine of the sacrament of penance. Tertullian and Cyprian were the first to suggest that satisfaction must be made for such sins by self-imposed penitential exercises and good works, such as prayers and alms-giving. Tertullian held seven gross sins, which he denoted mortal sins, to be unpardonable after baptism, and to be left to the uncovenanted mercies of God; but the Catholic Church took a milder view, and even received back the adulterers and apostates on their public repentance." [Schaff, vol. ii., p. 254.]

More need not be said. The reader will readily see the connection between these two elements of paganism; he will also see the deeply corrupting effect of them both.

The worship of a Mother Goddess and her son formed a distinct feature in the paganism of Babylon, India, Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome. Though variant in conception, the core of Mariolatry runs through all these pagan systems. Those who desire to follow this theme in detail will do well to consult Alexander Hislop. [The Two Babylons] A single extract from page 82 of that work is all that space will permit:

"The worship of the Goddess-Mother with the child in her arms continued to be observed in Egypt till Christianity entered. If the gospel had come in power among the mass of the people, the worship of this goddess-queen would have been overthrown. With the generality, it came only in name. Instead, therefore, of the Babylonian goddess being cast out, in too many cases her name only was changed. She was called the Virgin Mary, and, with her child, was worshipped with the same idolatrous feeling by professing Christians, as formerly by open and avowed pagans."

The Mass.
The mass, which has been for centuries the central item in Roman Catholic worship, finds its origin in the "unbloody sacrifices" which were offered to the Paphian Venus, and to her counterpart in Babylonia and Assyria. It was this worship of the Queen of Heaven into which the apostate women of Judah were drawn, whom Jeremiah condemns for "burning incense, pouring out drink offerings, and offering cakes to the Queen of Heaven." [Jer. xliv., 19.] These cakes were marked with the phallic symbol of the cross. As before noted, they were the progenitors of the modern "hot cross-buns," which are associated with Friday—-day of Venus.

The form of the cake-wafer adopted in paganized Christianity, its roundness, was borrowed from the Egyptians, to whom the form represented the disk of the sun. The mystic letters on the wafer form another link which connects it with Egyptian paganism. Christians explain these letters as meaning Jesus Hominum Salvador; but when the worshippers of Isis, who were everywhere in the Roman empire in the early centuries, read them on the unbloody sacrifice, they understood by them Isis, Horus, Seb, i.e., The Mother, the Child, and the Father of the Gods. The pagan character of this unbloody sacrifice was so patent at the first, that it was sharply condemned; but familiarity changed opposition to acceptance, and what was wholly pagan became the centre of worship in paganized Christianity.

Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead.
All the leading systems of pagan religions have some form of purgatory, with its associate prayers for the dead, for which-large sums are paid by the surviving friends. The purgatory which was developed in the Christian cult is like its pagan prototype in almost every particular. An extract from Wilkinson describing the practical workings of the doctrine in pagan Egypt would need little changing to fit the facts connected with the purgatory of Christians. We quote from Hislop:

"'The Priest,' says Wilkinson, 'induced the people to expend large sums on the celebration of funeral rites; and many who had barely sufficient to obtain the necessaries of life were anxious to save something for the expenses of their death. For besides the embalming process, which sometimes cost a talent of silver, or about £250, English money, the tomb itself was purchased at an immense expense; and numerous demands were made upon the estate of the deceased, for the celebration of prayer and other services for the soul.' 'The ceremonies,' we find him elsewhere saying, 'consisted of a sacrifice similar to those offered in the temples, vowed for the deceased to 'one or more gods (as Osiris, Anubis, and others connected with Amenti); incense and libation were also presented; and a prayer was sometimes read, the relations and friends being present as mourners. They even joined their prayers to those of the priest. The priest who officiated at the burial service was selected from the grade of Pontiffs, who wore the leopard skin; but various other rites were performed by one of the minor priests, to the mummies, previous to their being lowered into the pit of the tomb after that ceremony. Indeed, they continued to be administered at intervals, as long as the family paid for their performance.' Such was the operation of the doctrine of purgatory and prayers for the dead among avowed and acknowledged pagans; and in what essential respect does it differ from the operation of the same doctrine in Papal Rome?"

Saint Peter's Keys.
Those who claim the primacy of St. Peter and his right to the keys of heaven, pretend to found that claim upon Christ's words to Peter. But an examination of the history and characteristics of the doctrine reveals its pagan origin too clearly to admit of question. Roman paganism had its college of pontiffs, headed by the emperor, as Pontifex Maximus. Babylonian and Assyrian paganism had a similar council of pontiffs. The especial primacy among the deities was associated with Janus and Cybele. Each of these bore a key. The Pope assumed them both in the fifth century, after Christianity had been paganized. The term cardinal is plainly derived from cardo, a hinge. Janus was God of the Hinges, and was called the "Opener, and Shutter."

The sovereign pontiff of the pagan cult was the representative of the divinity on earth, and was worshipped as a god. This continued in the Roman empire long after the emperors were called "Christian." After that the Pope became God's representative among men. A single quotation from Ovid will close this glance at St. Peter and his keys. In it Janus is described, and he in turn describes his office:

"He, holding in his right hand a staff, and in his left a key, uttered these accents to me from the mouth of his front face. . . . 'Whatever thou beholdest around thee, the sky, the sea, the air, the earth, all these have been shut up and are opened by my hand. In my power alone is the guardianship of the vast universe, and the prerogative of turning the hinge is entirely my own. When it has been my pleasure to send forth Peace, from her tranquil habitation, then at liberty she treads her paths unobstructed by the restraints of war. The whole world would be thrown into confusion in deadly bloodshed, did not my rigid bolts confine imprisoned warfare. Together with the gentle seasons, I preside over the portals of Heaven; through my agency Jupiter himself doth pass and repass."

Representative Festivals.
Those who have given even a cursory examination of the subject, know that the swarm of festivals which came into Christianity, after the second century, were nearly, if not all, pagan days, with new or modified names, but with little or no change of character. A few of the representative ones will be noticed here.

The Scriptures are wholly silent as to the date of Christ's birth. The 25th of December, the winter solstice, was not fixed as Christmas until a long time after the New Testament period. But in spite of serious objections, historical and otherwise, that date triumphed. The winter solstice was the date of the birth of Osiris, son of Isis the Egyptian Queen of Heaven. The term "Yule," another name for Christmas, comes from the Chaldee, and signifies "child's day." This name for the festival was familiar to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, long before they knew anything of Christianity. In Rome, this winter-solstice festival was Saturn's festival; the wild, drunken, licentious "Saturnalia." It was observed in Babylonia in a similar manner. When it came into Christianity its leading features were like those of the Saturnalia. These have been far too prevalent from that time. Lighted candles and ornamented trees were a part of the observance of the festival among the pagans. The "Christmas goose" and "Yule cakes" came, with the day, from paganism.

The earliest Christians continued to observe the Jewish Passover on the I4th of the month Nisan. As the pagan element increased in the Church, and the anti-Jewish feeling accordingly, after a sharp struggle, the time was changed from the fourteenth of the month to the Sunday nearest the vernal equinox. This brought it in conjunction with the festival of the Goddess of Spring, an ancient pagan feast, which probably dates back to the time of Astarte-worship, in Babylonia. The name "Easter" is comparatively modern. It comes from Oestra, the Goddess of Spring, in the Northern European mythology. The forms of observance were almost wholly heathen. Easter eggs, dyed, and "hot cross-buns," figured in the Chaldean Easter, as they have done in the Christian. The Hindus, and Chinese, and Egyptians had a sacred egg, the history of which can be traced to the Euphrates and the worship of Astarte.

Lent has been given some appearance of having a Christian origin by the assumption, for which there is not a shadow of scriptural, or even apostolic authority, that it is the counterpart of Christ's fast of forty days. But the history of Lent shows unmistakably its pagan origin. Its source is found in the fasting which the Babylonians associated with the Goddess of Reproduction, whose worship formed the starting-point of Easter. During that period of fasting, social joy and all expressions of sexual regard were forbidden, because the goddess then mourned the loss of her consort. From this came the germ of Lent, and especially the practice of abstaining from marriage at that season.

The pagan tribes of Koordistan still keep such a fast. Humboldt found the same in Mexico, and Landseer in Egypt. It came into Christianity comparatively slowly, and brought gross evils with it. Witness the following:

"This change of the calendar in regard to Easter was attended with momentous consequences. It brought into the Church the grossest corruption, and the rankest superstition in connection with the abstinence of Lent. Let any one only read the atrocities that were commemorated during the 'sacred fast' or pagan Lent, as described by Arnobius and Clemens Alexandrinus, and surely he must blush for the Christianity of those, who with the full knowledge of all these abominations 'went down to Egypt for help' to stir up the languid devotion of the degenerate Church, and who could find no more excellent way to 'revive' it than by borrowing from so polluted a source; the absurdities and abominations connected with. which the early Christian writers held up to scorn." [Hislop, Two Babylons, p. 106.]

Many devout Christians now observe Lent without taint of paganism; but with the undevout, Lent is only a resting time from the fashionable dissipation of "society," which refreshes them for the excesses that follow Easter.

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