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Josephine wrote:

Hi, guys —

I find the pagan theories of Christianity convincing.

I am looking for theories from the Christian perspective which explain the alleged link between pagan beliefs and Christianity.

  • Can you please help me with such arguments?

Thank you,

Joe

  { Can you help me find theories that explain the link between pagan beliefs and Christianity? }

Mike replied:

Sorry Josephine,

I don't know of any. From what I know they are no alleged links between pagan beliefs and Christianity.

Practices yes, but beliefs, no. A good example of a practice is a pagan symbol that was christianized: the Christmas tree. It's a practice we have to this day to travel out to pickup the annual Christmas tree for our home.

Maybe some of my colleagues have an idea, although if this is related to a test or quiz, we can't help you.

Mike

John replied:

Dear Josephine,

This is a somewhat complicated point. First of all, we need to define the word Pagan.

Originally, it comes to us from the Bible. Pagans, sometimes called Gentiles, were non Jews ... or people who didn't embrace the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Hebrew, the word is Goyim which is a term used to refer to foreign nations.

Today we use the word most often to refer to polytheistic nature worship of some type.
It is expanded to mean some forms of witchcraft (white or black magic).

Really the term refers to any religion that is not rooted in the worship of the One, True God revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

All that said, Mike is correct that the Christianity adopted some cultural practices of pagan nation for the purposes of advancing the Gospel. Nevertheless, the notion that Christians, in particular Catholics, practice polytheism, for example, when we venerate saints is simply not true.

I think this is the kind of thing that Mike is referring to when he says there are no links between Christianity and Paganism, in terms of beliefs. He's responding to an accusation that actually dates back to early objections to the use statues and icons. Later these objections were picked up by the Protestant Reformers to attack the Church and call her pagan.

That said, the Church has also looked to find common ground in the belief systems in order to promote the Gospel.

We have a perfect example of this in Acts Chapter 17 when Paul is speaking to the Greek philosophers, many of whom embraced the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus. Paul immediately looks for common ground. The first thing he establishes is that they are a religious people.
He recognizes that, like Jews and Christians, the pagans have a spiritual nature and they are seeking to worship someone or something that gives them meaning and answers questions about their purpose and existence. Well, that's at a very base level common ground. Then he points out that they are so religious, they even have a statue dedicated to Unknown God. For short, these folks were really trying to cover all the bases, just in case they missed someone. Paul seizes on this, as an opportunity to talk to them about the one true God. Later he quotes their own pagan poet, who wrote:

"In Him we live, and move, and have our being."

So this was a point of common belief. There was an common understanding that our very being exists and depends upon God.

Today when dealing with other religions, the Church does seek to find common ground on which to start a dialogue. We would look for areas of agreement first when talking to:

  • Buddhists
  • Hindus, or
  • any other non-Christians.

We particularly have a lot of common ground on which to build with Jews and Muslims. We are starting with a belief in one God. With the Jews we obviously have much more in common than with Muslims. Even still, we always seek to start a dialogue, for the purposes of sharing and advancing the Gospel with everyone by recognizing what is good and true in their religion.
Any religious truth that "is" is simply that truth. As Catholics, we believe the whole truth subsists in the Catholic Church but we recognize that other belief systems have or understand certain truths because God has given every man an awareness of the Natural Law. St. Paul tells us in Romans 1:19-20 that God's existence is manifest and self-evident in creation so all men can come to an understanding of truth, simply by observing nature.

Hence, whether it is a common moral belief, such as not committing murder or showing kindness to one's neighbor, or some other philosophical/theological commonality, the Church will always use that as a starting point to engage others in the hope of a fruitful dialogue that advances understanding and ultimately the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I hope this helps. It might not be the direction you expected this conversation to take. Very often those that ask this question assume that Christianity adopted Pagan believers as some kind or compromise to unite the people for political reasons. That is simply not the case.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas,

John DiMascio

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