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Did the Catholic Church Adopt Pagan Practices?  Was the Virgin Mary Sinless for Her Entire Life?


Did Catholicism compromise with paganism in the 4th Century A.D?  Now, the issue about the pagan connection with many traditions used by Catholic and Protestant Christians to worship God is incontestable, regardless of any defects that can be found in Alexander Hislop's or Ralph Woodrow's research.  Let's take the example of Christmas.  The Christmas tree has undeniably pagan origins.  Although it was popularized in the English-speaking world in Victorian times especially by Albert, Victoria's husband, who was drawing upon his Germanic heritage in doing so, the Christmas tree goes back to Rome as well.  Pagan Rome liked using the fir. 


December 25 is a very problematic date for any celebration of Christ's birth.  The basic problem has been that it's unlikely that the shepherds, to whom the angels announced the Messiah’s birth, had been out in the fields that late in the year even in Judea, nor would the Romans order a census to be held at such a time, because of the cold weather. (I know some efforts are made to duck the former argument here, but perhaps the way to really check on this would be to see if shepherds today camp out in the open in Judea in late December).  December 25 itself was the date for Mithra's birth, who was a god of light that the Roman legionaires often worshiped.  He was said to be born out of rock on that date.  The Roman Saturnalia, which can be compared to the Mardi Gras and Carnival for a reasonable modern comparison of what it was like, also occurred at this time.  It's no coincidence all this pagan celebrating is occurring around the date of the winter solstice, when the days are at their shortest and start to become longer again.  When else would the god of light be born but then, eh? 


According to the book, "All About Christmas," by Maymie Krythe, as quoted by G.M. Bowers in "Faith and Doctrines of the Early Church," the date for Christmas/the birth of Christ in the third century had varied significantly in the Church.  According to the early church writer Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem asked Julius I, the Pope at that time (336 to 352 A.D.), to look into the issue of the exact timing.  In 350 A.D., he came up with the date of December 25 as the most probable time.  It's hard to escape the inference that all the pagan celebrations had an influence on this choice of a date, since what Biblical information is available indicates Jesus was born in autumn.  True, the Bible doesn't have an explicit statement saying, "Thou shalt not celebrate Christmas, Easter, or Halloween."  Yet also it doesn't have (say) a text condemning the use of heroin or cocaine either, yet I believe all conservative Christians would condemn drug abuse by (at some level) using the principle that since the Bible condemns the drunkenness that results from alcohol, it also would condemn getting high from drugs.  So then, are there any texts that say using pagan customs or learning about how others worshipped false gods in order to do the same is wrong?  These in principle would apply to holidays that have all or most of their customs in pre-Christian paganism, such as Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.

Consider for example this text (Deuteronomy 12:29-32):  "When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?'  You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.  Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it."

Notice that Israel was warned to not inquire into the customs of the pagan nations they were about the conquer in Canaan as something they should do for themselves in order to worship their gods.  Do we really think that these customs are sanitized by aiming them at the true God?  There is a history here that we need to consider, even if the reality of worshipping the various pagan gods of Rome, Greece, or the ancient Germans/Nordics is long dead so we don't get the immediate association in our minds.  

For example, consider this analogy that has been used to explain this principle.  Suppose a man got married to a woman who became his wife, but he left around their house in prominent locations framed pictures of one or more of his ex-girlfriends.  How would the wife feel about these reminders of his former loves?  Would she be convinced his devotion to her was full-hearted?  Would such an explanation as, "When I look at them, I think of you instead now," be all that convincing?  Notice that God didn't accept the worship of the Golden Calf as worship directed to Him despite Aaron proclaimed a "Feast to the Lord" (v. 5) would occur the next day (see Exodus 32:1-14).

Is using customs that used to be used to worship false gods something the true God really accepts when Scripture says the true God never compromises with paganism?  For example, notice I Cor. 10:19-22:  "What do I mean then?  That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cups of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?"  Notice that "jealousy" concerns the demand for exclusive devotion, just as a wife would (or should) demand from her husband sexually.  (See II Cor. 6:14-18 for more about Christians not compromising with paganism, that they should have no part with it).  What the pagans did did not honor the true God, regardless of how much sincerity or faith they had.  The same goes for the customs used at Easter and Christmas today.  And, does anybody really believe when kids dress up as demons, ghosts, monsters, etc., and then go around extorting neighbors with the threatening words "Trick or treat," meaning, "I won't soap your windows or turn over your trash cans if you bribe me" (that's the historical origin of the phrase), that these Halloween customs somehow worships God?  The case against Halloween is even more clear than the case against Easter and Christmas.  Halloween is a holiday that honors the "god of this world"!  (I Cor. 4:3-4).  (Of course, it's a lie to tell kids Santa Claus left them gifts under the tree instead of their parents--another problem morally with the standard Christmas story, but here I digress).

Here is a general principle that's proclaimed before a description of an idol-making operation is made:  "Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the sings of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them; for the customs of the peoples are delusion" (Jeremiah 10:2-3).  We shouldn't be learning how the pagans of the past worshiped their Gods in order to do the same today ourselves.  What's most curious is the ensuing description of a tree being trimmed by a "cutting tool" and decorated with silver and gold and being fastened down with nails sounds all too much like a Christmas tree!  (See verses 3-4).  

We need to consider how these pagan customs came into the Christian church.  Basically what happened was that the Catholic Church in the late Roman Empire and afterwards decided to look the other way or even just adopt wholesale various pagan customs in order to try to "co-opt" the prevailing pagan customs.  Hence, there's no record of celebrating Christmas before the fourth century A.D., some three centuries after the time of Christ.  What was happening around December 25th each year back then?  Well, we had the Saturnalia (a celebration much like Christmas, although also comparable to the Mardi Gras, Carnival, and other festivals of Misrule).  We also had the story of the god of light, Mithras, being born from a rock on  . . . December 25th!  The pagan festivals celebrated around the time of the winter Solstice, when the days stopped getting shorter and started getting longer, has a lot more to do with Christmas than the birth of Jesus, which historically most likely occurred early in the fall, not late in December.  But the Catholic Church, by compromising with the pagans especially from the fourth century onwards, after the Edict of Milan of the Emperor Constantine gave Christianity toleration, ended up partially paganizing itself.


Now, to switch gears briefly, did the Virgin Mary live a completely sinless life?  This teaching is tied to the doctrine of the immaculate conception, which maintains that the Virgin Mary was born without the stain of original sin on her.  Let's look more specifically at the word used in Luke 1:28 to refer to Mary, which is "charitoo," or Strong's #5487.  In this verse she is called "O favored one" (RSV), using this word.  A different, but similar, word is used of Jesus in John 1:14 (Strong's #5485), "charitos," in the phrase "full of grace and of truth."  This word, a version of "charis," or "grace," as readily verified by the Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament, is used repeatedly for all sorts of people besides Jesus, such as for Paul himself in I Cor. 15:10, or in his general discussions of soteriology (salvation theology) about everyone, such as in Romans 6:1, 14, 15, 17; 11:5, 6; Gal. 2:9, 21.  Obviously, all these people sinned, so they needed grace, or God’s undeserved, unmerited favor and pardon for their sins.  On the other hand, this word "charitoo," which is obviously related to "charis" and "charitos," is used in Eph. 1:6, but for everyone saved:  "to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."  This basic language work exposes the Catholic argument about this word's unique significance as totally spurious.  It's an obvious case of eisegesis again, because "grace" does not mean the same as "sinlessness," just as "law" doesn't mean the same thing as "obedience."  The meaning of "sinlessness" shouldn't be read into the use of the word in Luke 1:28 for the word simply doesn't mean that, or otherwise all Christians are equally "sinless" according to Eph. 1:6.  The Catholic source asserting that the word used of Jesus in John 1:14 was this word was simply wrong, for it's the same word used through the New Testament that means "grace” (or “favor,”) and it applies to all Christians, not just Jesus (or Mary, for that matter). This exercise shows that whatever Catholic source made these (elementary) claims about Greek should be used with caution on other matters, at least about the meaning of the Greek.


Eric V. Snow


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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

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Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm

Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm

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