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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "country dweller", "rustic")[1] is a blanket term used to refer to various polytheistic, non Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Its exact definition may vary:[2] It is primarily used in a historical context, referring to Greco-Roman polytheism as well as the polytheistic traditions of Europe before Christianization. In a wider sense, extended to contemporary religions, it includes most of the Eastern religions, and the indigenous traditions of the Americas, Central Asia and Africa, as well as non-Abrahamic folk religion in general. More narrow definitions will not include any of the world religions and restrict the term to local or rural currents not organized as civil religions. Characteristic of pagan traditions is the absence of proselytism and the presence of a living mythology which explains religious practice.

The term "pagan" is a Christian adaptation of the "gentile" of Judaism, and as such has an inherent Abrahamic bias, and pejorative connotations among Western monotheists,[3] comparable to heathen and infidel also known as kafir (كافر) and mushrik in Islam. For this reason, ethnologists avoid the term "paganism," with its uncertain and varied meanings, in referring to traditional or historic faiths, preferring more precise categories such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism.

Since the later 20th century, "Pagan" or "Paganism" has become widely used as a self-designation by adherents of Neopaganism.[4] As such, various modern scholars have begun to apply the term to three separate groups of faiths: Historical Polytheism (such as Celtic polytheism and Norse paganism), Folk/ethnic/Indigenous religions (such as Chinese folk religion and African traditional religion), and Neo-paganism (such as Wicca and Germanic Neopaganism).





The term pagan is from the Latin paganus, an adjective originally meaning "rural", "rustic" or "of the country."

As a noun, paganus was used to mean "country dweller, villager."[5] 

The semantic development of post-classical Latin paganus in the sense "non-Christian, heathen" is unclear. The dating of this sense is controversial, but the 4th century seems most plausible. An earlier example has been suggested in Tertullian De Corona Militis xi, "Apud hunc [sc. Christum] tam miles est paganus fidelis quam paganus est miles infidelis," but here the word paganus may be interpreted in the sense "civilian" rather than "heathen". There are three main explanations of the development:

  • (i) The older sense of classical Latin pāgānus is "of the country, rustic" (also as noun). It has been argued that the transferred use reflects the fact that the ancient idolatry lingered on in the rural villages and hamlets after Christianity had been accepted in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "Ex locorum agrestium compitis et pagis pagani vocantur." From its earliest beginnings, Christianity spread much more quickly in major urban areas (like Antioch, Alexandria, Corinth, Rome) than in the countryside (in fact, the early church was almost entirely urban), and soon the word for "country dweller" became synonymous with someone who was "not a Christian," giving rise to the modern meaning of "Pagan." This may, in part, have had to do with the closeness to nature of rural people, who may have been more resistant to the new ideas of Christianity than those who lived in major urban centers and were cut off from the cycles of nature and the forms of spirituality associated with them. However, it may have also resulted from early Christian missionaries focusing their efforts within major population centers (e.g., St. Paul), rather than throughout an expansive, yet sparsely populated, countryside (hence, the Latin term suggesting "uneducated country folk") until a bit later on.
  • (ii) The more common meaning of classical Latin pāgānus is "civilian, non-militant" (adjective and noun). Christians called themselves mīlitēs, "enrolled soldiers" of Christ, members of his militant church, and applied to non-Christians the term applied by soldiers to all who were "not enrolled in the army".
  • (iii) The sense "heathen" arose from an interpretation of paganus as denoting a person who was outside a particular group or community, hence "not of the city" or "rural"; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "ui alieni a civitate dei..pagani vocantur." See C. Mohrmann, Vigiliae Christianae 6 (1952) 9ff.

-- Oxford English Dictionary, (online) 2nd Edition (1989)

The post-classical Latin paganismus gave rise to both paganism and to its synonym paynimry.[6] Paynimry may be used of paganism, its practises, and pagans,[7] as well as for the domain or realm of pagans.[8]

"Peasant" is a cognate, via Old French paisent. [9]

In their distant origins, these usages derived from pagus, "province, countryside", cognate to Greek πάγος "rocky hill", and, even earlier, "something stuck in the ground", as a landmark: the Proto-Indo-European root *pag- means "fixed" and is also the source of the words page, pale (stake), and pole, as well as pact and peace.

While pagan is attested in English from the 14th century, there is no evidence that the term paganism was in use in English before the 17th century. The OED instances Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776): "The divisions of Christianity suspended the ruin of paganism." The term was not a neologism, however, as paganismus was already used by Augustine.[10]

Less than twenty years after the last vestiges of paganism were crushed with great severity by the emperor Theodosius I[11] Rome was seized by Alaric in 410. This led to murmuring that the gods of paganism had taken greater care of the city than that of the Christian God, inspiring St Augustine to write The City of God, alternative title "De Civitate Dei contra Paganos: The City of God against the Pagans", in which he claimed that whilst the great 'city of Man' had fallen, Christians were ultimately citizens of the 'city of God.'[12]


Heathen is from Old English hæðen "not Christian or Jewish", (c.f. Old Norse heiðinn). Historically, the term was probably influenced by Gothic haiþi "dwelling on the heath", appearing as haiþno in Ulfilas' bible as "gentile woman," (translating the "Hellene" in Mark 7:26). This translation was probably influenced by Latin paganus, "country dweller", or it was chosen because of its similarity to the Greek ethne, "gentile". It has even been suggested that Gothic haiþi is not related to "heath" at all, but rather a loan from Armenian hethanos, itself loaned from Greek ethnos. Some Pagans are misinterpreted as Devil worshippers but this is not true, Pagans do not believe in the devil or Jesus.


Both "pagan" and "heathen" have historically been used as a pejorative by adherents of monotheistic religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) to indicate a disbeliever in their religion, although in modern times it is not always used as a pejorative. "Paganism" frequently refers to the religions of classical antiquity, most notably Greek mythology or Roman religion, and can be used neutrally or admiringly by those who refer to those complexes of belief. However, until the rise of Romanticism and the general acceptance of freedom of religion in Western civilization, "Paganism" was almost always used disparagingly of heterodox beliefs falling outside the established political framework of the Christian Church. "Pagan" came to be equated with a Christianized sense of "epicurian" to signify a person who is sensual, materialistic, self-indulgent, unconcerned with the future and uninterested in sophisticated religion. The word was usually used in this worldly and stereotypical sense, particularly among those who were drawing attention to what they perceived as being the limitations of paganism, for example, as when G. K. Chesterton wrote: "The pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else." In sharp contrast Swinburne the poet would comment on this same theme: "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death."[13]

Christianity itself has been perceived at times as a form of polytheism by followers of the other Abrahamic religions[14][15] because of, for example, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the celebration of pagan feast days,[16] and other practices[17] – through a process described as "baptising"[18] or "christianization". Even between Christians there have been similar charges of idolatry levelled, especially by Protestants,[19][20] towards the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches for their veneration of the saints and images.

Historical polytheism

Bronze Age to Early Iron Age
Classical Antiquity
Late Antiquity to High Middle Ages
(as opposed to Abrahamic religion)

Pagan survivals in folklore

Perchten procession in Klagenfurt, Austria, which is a remnant of a practice performed by the historical pagans of the area. Many elements of modern European culture and folklore originate among pagan beliefs and practises.

In addition, folklore that is not any longer perceived as holding any religious significance can in some instances be traced to pre-Christian or pre-Islamic origins. In Europe, this is particularly the case with the various customs of Carnival or Fasnacht and the Yule traditions surrounding Santa Claus/Sinterklaas. By contrast, the Christmas tree in spite of frequent association with Thor's Oak cannot be shown to be an innovation predating the Early Modern period.

Early Modern period

Interest in pagan traditions was revived in the Renaissance, at first in Renaissance magic as a revival of Greco-Roman magic. In the 17th century, description of paganism turned from the theological aspect to the ethnological, and a religion began to be understood as part of the ethnic identity of a people, and the study of the religions of "primitive" peoples triggered questions as to the ultimate historical origin of religion. Thus, Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc saw the pagan religions of Africa of his day as relicts that were in principle capable of shedding light on the historical paganism of Classical Antiquity.[21]


Paganism re-surfaces as a topic of fascination in 18th to 19th century Romanticism, in particular in the context of the literary Celtic and Viking revivals, which portrayed historical Celtic and Germanic polytheists as noble savages.

The 19th century also saw much scholarly interest in the reconstruction of pagan mythology from folklore or fairy tales. This was notably attempted by the Brothers Grimm, especially Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology, and Elias Lönnrot with the compilation of the Kalevala. The work of the Brothers Grimm influenced other collectors, both inspiring them to collect tales and leading them to similarly believe that the fairy tales of a country were particularly representative of it, to the neglect of cross-cultural influence. Among those influenced were the Russian Alexander Afanasyev, the Norwegians Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, and the Englishman Joseph Jacobs.[22]

Romanticist interest in non-classical antiquity coincided with the rise of Romantic nationalism and the rise of the nation state in the context of the 1848 revolutions, leading to the creation of national epics and national myths for the various newly-formed states. Pagan or folkloristic topics were also common in the Musical nationalism of the period.


A ceremony at the annual Prometheia festival of the Greek polytheistic group Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, June 2006.

Neopaganism includes reconstructed religions such as Hellenic polytheism, Celtic or Germanic reconstructionism as well as modern eclectic traditions such as Discordianism, or Wicca and its many offshoots.

Many of the "revivals", Wicca and Neo-druidism in particular, have their roots in 19th century Romanticism and retain noticeable elements of occultism or theosophy that were current then, setting them apart from historical rural (paganus) folk religion.

Neopaganism in the United States accounts for roughly a third of all neopagans worldwide, and for some 0.2% of US population, figuring as the sixth largest non-Christian denomination in the US, after Judaism (1.4%), Islam (0.6%), Buddhism (0.5%), Hinduism (0.3%) and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%).[23]

In Iceland, the members of Ásatrúarfélagið account for 0.4% of the total population[24], which is just over a thousand people.

There are a number of Neopagan authors who have examined the relation of the 20th-century movements of polytheistic revival with historical polytheism on one hand and contemporary traditions of indigenous folk religion on the other. Isaac Bonewits introduces a terminology to make this distinction,[25]

Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick in their A History of Pagan Europe (1995) classify "pagan religions" as characterized by the following traits:

  • polytheism: pagan religions recognise a plurality of divine beings, which may or may not be considered aspects of an underlying unity (the soft and hard polytheism distinction)
  • "nature-based": pagan religions have a concept of the divinity of Nature, which they view as a manifestation of the divine, not as the "fallen" creation found in Dualistic cosmology.
  • "sacred feminine": pagan religions recognize "the female divine principle", identified as "the Goddess" (as opposed to individual goddesses) besides or in place of the male divine principle as expressed in the Abrahamic God.[27]


Paganism has been previously defined broadly, to encompass many or most of the faith traditions outside the Abrahamic monotheistic group of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The term has also been used more narrowly,[28][29][30] however, to refer only to religions outside the very large group of so-called Axial Age faiths that encompass both the Abrahamic religions and the chief Indian religions. Under this narrower definition, which differs from that historically used by many[31][32] (though by no means all[33][34]) Christians and other Westerners, contemporary paganism is a smaller and more marginal numerical phenomenon. According to Encyclopedia Britannica estimates (as of 2005), adherents of Chinese folk religion account for some 6.3% of world population, and adherents of tribal religions ("ethnoreligionists") for another 4.0%. The number of adherents of neopaganism is insignificant in comparison, amounting to 0.02% of world population at the most, or some 0.4% of the "ethnoreligious" population.

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ - Robinson, B.A (2000). "What do "Paganism" & "Pagan" mean?" at
  3. ^ "Pagan", Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition, 1911, retrieved 22 May 2007.[1]
  4. ^ "A Basic Introduction to Paganism", BBC, retrieved 19 May 2007.
  5. ^ Word History
  6. ^ OED etymology for paynim: < Anglo-Norman paenisme, painisme, paienime, painnim, peinime, paenime, etc., and Old French paienime, paienisme heathen lands (c1150-74), heathen religion (1160) < post-classical Latin paganismus (see PAGANISM n.), probably influenced by Old French paien (see PAYEN n.).
  7. ^ OED entry for 'paynimry'.
  8. ^
  9. ^,pagus Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquity, 1897; "pagus"
  10. ^ Divers. Quaest. 83. Augustine makes clear that, in his time, paganus was the term in Vulgar Latin synonymous to educated gentilis "gentile".
  11. ^ "Theodosius I", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912
  12. ^ "The City of God", Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite DVD, 2003.
  13. ^ 'Hymn to Proserpine'
  14. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
  15. ^ Shirk
  16. ^ Christianised calendar
  17. ^ Christianised rituals
  18. ^ The Pope, The Emperor and the Persian Leader
  19. ^ 'Philip Melanchthon 'Apologia Confessionis Augustanae'
  20. ^ Jean Seznec 'The Survival of the Pagan Gods'
  21. ^ "It would be a great pleasure to make the comparison with what survives to us of ancient paganism in our old books, in order to have better [grasped] their spirit." Peter N. Miller, History of Religion Becomes Ethnology: Some Evidence from Peiresc's Africa Journal of the History of Ideas 67.4 (2006) 675-696.[2]
  22. ^ Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 846, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  23. ^ ARIS 2001 figures.
  24. ^ Statistics Iceland - Statistics >> Population >> Religious organisations
  25. ^ "Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo-" (Version 2.5.1) 1979, 2007 c.e., Isaac Bonewits
  26. ^
  27. ^ Jones, Prudence; Pennick, Nigel (1995. A History of Pagan Europe. Page 2. Routledge.
  28. ^ Meanings of the terms Pagan and Paganism
  29. ^ Eisenstadt, S.N., 1983, Transcendental Visions -- Other-Worldliness -- and Its Transformations: Some More Comments on L. Dumont. Religion13:1-17, at p. 3.
  30. ^ Michael York, Paganism as Root-Religion, The Pomegranate, 6:1 (2004), pp. 11-18 (distinguishing the main streams of developed religion as gnostic, dharmic, Abrahamic and pagan).
  31. ^ Catholic Encyclopaedia (1917 edition) on paganism
  32. ^ Hindu rites at a famous Catholic shrine shocks many Catholics
  33. ^ David Scott, Christian Responses to Buddhism in Pre-Medieval Times, Numen, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Jul., 1985), pp. 88-100
  34. ^ Audrius Beinorius, Buddhism in the Early European Imagination: A Historical Perspective, ACTA ORIENTALIA VILNENSIA 6:2 (2005), pp. 7–22


  • Robert, P. & Scott, N., (1995) "A History of Pagan Europe". New York, Barnes & Noble Books, ISBN 0-7607-1210-7.
  • York, Michael Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion NYU Press (2003), ISBN 0814797083.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "country dweller, rustic") is a term which, from a Western perspective, has come to connote a broad set of spiritual or cultic practices or beliefs of any folk religion, and of historical and contemporary polytheistic religions in particular.


  • What a dangerous objection it would be against Christianity, therefore, if paganism had a definition of sin which Christianity had to acknowledge was correct.
  • The heroes in paganism correspond exactly to the saints in popery, and holy dervises in MAHOMETANISM. The place of, HERCULES, THESEUS, HECTOR, ROMULUS, is now supplied by DOMINIC, FRANCIS, ANTHONY, and BENEDICT. Instead of the destruction of monsters, the subduing of tyrants, the defence of our native country; whippings and fastings, cowardice and humility, abject submission and slavish obedience, are become the means of obtaining celestial honours among mankind.
    • David Hume, The Natural History of Religion (1757), Part X - "With regard to courage r abasement".
  • This fact, that the opposite of sin is by no means virtue, has been overlooked. The latter is partly a pagan view, which is content with a merely human standard, and which for that very reason does not know what sin is, that all sin is before God. No, the opposite of sin is faith.
    • Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death (1849), Part Two: Despair Is Sin, pp. 114 - 115.
  • We saw ourselves as anthropologists from the twenty-first century inhabiting a time module set somewhere in the dark ages of the 1960s. On this space colony we were attempting to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art.
  • He offers a handshake, crooked five fingers
    They form a pattern yet to be matched
    On the surface simplicity
    But the darkest pit in me is pagan poetry
  • Our patriotism comes straight from the Romans. ... It is a pagan virtue, if these two words are compatible. The word pagan, when applied to Rome, early possesses the significance charged with horror which the early Christian controversialists gave it. The Romans really were an atheistic and idolatrous people; not idolatrous with regard to images made of stone or bronze, but idolatrous with regard to themselves. It is this idolatry of self which they have bequeathed to us in the form of patriotism.
  • Notwithstanding, the disciples of Jesus, excepting John the Revelator, suffered ignominious deaths, they sowed the seed of the Gospel among, and conferred the Priesthood upon men, which remained for several generations upon the earth, but the time came when Paganism was engrafted into Christianity, and at last Christianity was converted into Paganism rather than converting the Pagans. And subsequently the Priesthood was taken from among men, this authority was re-called into the heavens, and the world was left without the Priesthood-without the power of God-without the Church and Kingdom of God.
  • The inference to be drawn from all this is, that the made-up and dogmatic Christianity of the Constantinian period is simply an offspring of the numerous conflicting sects, half-castes themselves, born of Pagan parents. Each of these could claim representatives converted to the so-called orthodox body of Christians. And, as every newly-born dogma had to be carried out by the majority of votes, every sect colored the main substance with its own hue, till the moment when the emperor enforced this revealed olla-podrida, of which he evidently did not himself understand a word, upon an unwilling world as the religion of Christ. Wearied in the vain attempt to sound this fathomless bog of international speculations, unable to appreciate a religion based on the pure spirituality of an ideal conception, Christendom gave itself up to the adoration of brutal force as represented by a Church backed up by Constantine. Since then, among the thousand rites, dogmas, and ceremonies copied from Paganism, the Church can claim but one invention as thoroughly original with her -- namely, the doctrine of eternal damnation, and one custom, that of the anathema.
  • All my life I have been attracted by Catholicism. But what attracted me was not its Christianity, but its paganism. The Scholastic Philosophers entertained me not because they were apologists for Jesus but because they were refinements of Aristotle. The liturgical life of the Church moved me because it echoes the most ancient responses to the turning of the year and the changing seasons, and the rhythms of animal and human life. For me the Sacraments transfigured the rites of passage, the physical facts of the human condition — birth, adolescence, sexual intercourse, vocation, sickness and death, communion, penance. Catholicism still provides a structure of acts, individual and at the same time communal, physical responses to life.

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. The term is also used as the equivalent of Polytheism.

It is derived from the Latin pagus, whence pagani (i. e. those who live in the country), a name given to the country folk who remained heathen after the cities had become Christian. Various forms of Paganism are described in special articles (e.g. Brahminism, Buddhism, Mithraism); the present article deals only with certain aspects of Paganism in general which will be helpful in studying its details and in judging its value.



Historians of religion usually assume that religions developed upwards from some common germ which they call Totemism, Animism, Solar or Astral Myth, Nature Worship in general or Agrarian in particular, or some other name implying a systematic interpretation of the facts. We do not propose to discuss, theologically, philosophically, or even historically, the underlying unity, or universal originating cause, of all religions, if any such there be. History as a matter of fact presents us in each case with a religion already existing, and in a more or less complicated form. Somewhere or other, some one of the human elements offered as universal, necessary, and sufficient germ of the developed religion, can, of course, be found. But we would point out that, in the long run, this element was not rarely a cause of degeneration, not progress; of lower forms of cult and creed, not pure Monotheism. Thus it is almost certain that Totemism went for much in the formation of the Egyptian religion. The animal-standards of the tribes, gradually and partially anthropomorphized, created the jackal-, ibis-, hawk-headed gods familiar to us. But there is no real trace of the evolution from Zoolatry to Polytheism, and thence to Monotheism. The monotheistic records are more sublime, more definite in the earlier dynasties. Atum, the object of a superb worship, has no animal equivalent. Even the repression of popular follies by a learned official caste failed to check the tendency towards gross and unparalleled Zoolatry, which was food for Roman ridicule and Greek bewilderment, and stirred the author of Wisdom (xi, 16) to indignation (Loret, "L'Egypte au temps du totemisme", Paris, 1906; Cappart in "Rev. d'hist. relig.", LI, 1905, p. 192; Clement Alex., "Pæd.", III, ii, 4; Diodorus Siculus, I, lxxxiv; Juvenal, "Satires", xv).

Animism also entered largely into the religions of the Semites. Hence, we are taught, came Polyd monism, Polytheism, Monotheism. This is not correct. Polyd monism is undoubtedly a system born of belief in spirits, be these the souls of the dead or the hidden forces of nature. It "never exists alone and is not a 'religious' sentiment at all": it is not a degenerate form of Polytheism any more than its undeveloped antecedent. Animism, which is really a na ve philosophy, played an immense part in the formation of mythologies, and, combined with an already conscious monotheistic belief, undoubtedly gave rise to the complex forms of both Polyd monism and Polytheism. And these, in every Semitic nation save among the Hebrews, defeated even such efforts as were made (e.g. in Babylon and Assyria) to reconstitute or achieve that Monotheism of which Animism is offered as the embryo. These facts are clearly indicated and summed up in Lagrange's "Etudes sur les Religions s mitiques" (2nd ed., Paris, 1904).

Nature Worship generally, and Agrarian in particular, were unable to fulfil the promise they appeared to make. The latter was to a large extent responsible for the Tammuz cult of Babylon, with which the worships of Adonis and Attis, and even of Dionysus, are so unmistakably allied. Much might have been hoped from these religions with their yearly festival of the dying and rising god, and his sorrowful sister or spouse: yet it was precisely in these cults that the worst perversions existed. Ishtar, Astarte, and Cybele had their male and female prostitutes, their Galli: Josiah had to cleanse the temple of Yahweh of their booths (cf. the Qedishim and Kelabim, Deut., xxiii, 17; II Kings, xxiii, 7; cf. I Kings, xiv, 24; xv, 12), and even in the Greek world, where prostitution was not else regarded as religious, Eryx and Corinth at least were contaminated by Semitic influence, which Greece could not correct. "Although the story of Aphrodite's love", says Dr. Farnell, "is human in tone and very winning, yet there are no moral or spiritual ideas in the worship at all, no conception of a resurrection that might stir human hopes. Adonis personifies merely the life of the fields and gardens that passes away and blooms again. All that Hellenism could do for this Eastern god was to invest him with the grace of idyllic poetry" ("Cults of the Greek States", II, 649, 1896-1909; cf. Lagrange, op. cit., 220, 444 etc.)

Mithraism is usually regarded as a rival to nascent Christianity; but Nature Worship ruined its hopes of perpetuity. "Mithra remained", says S. Dill, "inextricably linked with the nature-worship of the past." This connexion cleft between it and purer faiths "an impassable gulf" which meant its "inevitable defeat" ("Roman Soc. from Nero to Aurel.", London, 1904, pp. 622 sqq.), and, "in place of a divine life instinct with human sympathy, it had only to offer the cold symbolism of a cosmic legend" (ibid.). Its very adaptability, M. Cumont reminds us, "prevented it from shaking itself free from the gross or ridiculous superstitions which complicated its ritual and theology; it was involved, in spite of its austerity, in a questionable alliance with the orgiastic cult of the mistress of Attis, and was obliged to drag behind it all the weight of a chimerical or hateful past. The triumph of Roman Mazdeism would not only have ensured the perpetuity of all the aberrations of pagan mysticism, but of the erroneous physical science on which its dogma rested." We have here an indication why religions, into which the astral element entered largely, were intrinsically doomed. The divine stars that ruled life were themselves subject to absolute law. Hence relentless Fatalism or final Scepticism for those sufficiently educated to see the logical results of their mechanical interpretation of the universe; hence the discrediting of myth, the abandonment of cult, as mendacious and useless; hence the silencing of oracle, ecstasy, and prayer; but, for the vulgar, a riot of superstition, the door new opened to magic which should coerce the stars, the cult of hell, and honour for its ministers -- things all descending into the Satanism and witchcraft of not un-recent days. Even the supreme and solar cult reached not Monotheism, but a splendid Pantheism. A sublime philosophy, a gorgeous ritual, the support of the earthly Monocracy which mirrored that of heaven, a liturgy of incomparable solemnity and passionate mysticism, a symbolism so pure and high as to cause endless confusion in the troubled mind of the dying Roman Empire between Sun-worship and the adorers of the Sun of Righteousness -- all this failed to counteract the aboriginal lie which left God still linked essentially to creation. (See F. Cumont, "Les religions orientales dans le paganisme romain", 2nd ed., Paris, 1909, especially cc. v, vii-viii; "Le mysticisme astral", Brussels, 1909, invaluable for references and bibliography; "Textes et Monuments . . . relatifs aux Myst res de Mithra", I, 1899, II, 1896; "Théol. solaire du paganisme rom.", Paris, 1909.) We do not hint that these elements which have been assigned as the origin of an upward revolution have always, or only, been a cause of degeneration: it is important to note, however, that they have been at times a germ of death as truly as of life.


Christianity first and alone of religions has preached, as one of its central doctrines, the value of the individual soul. What natural religion already, but ineffectually implied, Christianity asserted, reinforced, and transmuted. The same human nature is responsible at once for the admirable kindnesses of the pagan, and for the deplorable cruelties of Christian men, or groups, or epochs; the pagan religions did little, if anything, to preserve or develop the former, Christianity waged ceaseless battle against the latter. As for woman, the promiscuity which is the surest sign of her degradation never existed as a general or stable characteristic of primitive folk. In China and Japan, Buddhism and Confucianism depressed, not succoured her; in ancient Egypt, her position was far higher than in late; it was high too among the Teutons. Even in historic Greece as in Rome, divorce was difficult and disgraceful, and marriage was hedged about with an elaborate legislation and the sanctions of religion. The glimpses we have of ancient matriarchates speak much for the older, honourable position of women; their peculiar festivals (as in Greece, of the Thesmophoria and Arrephoria; in Rome, of the Bona Dea) and certain worships, as of the local Korai or of Isis, kept their sex within the sphere of religion. As long, however, as their intrinsic value before God was not realized, the brute strength of the male inevitably asserted itself against their weakness; even Plato and Aristotle regarded them more as living instruments than as human souls; in high tragedy (an Alcestis, an Antigone) or history (a Cloelia, a Camilla), there is no figure which can at all compare, for religious and moral influence, with a Sara, a Rachel, an Esther, or a Deborah. It is love for mother, rather than for wife, that Paganism acknowledges (see J. Donaldson, "Woman in anc. Greece and Rome, etc.... among the early Christians", London, 1907; C. S. Devas, "Studies of Family Life", London, 1886; Daremberg and Saglio, "Gynæceum", etc.).

Essentially connected with the fate of women is that of children. Their charm, pathos, possibilities had touched the pagan (Homer, Euripides, Vergil, Horace, Statius), even the claim of their innocence to respect (Juvenal). Yet too often they were considered merely as toys or the destined support of their parents, or as the hope of the State. With Christianity, each becomes a soul, infinitely precious for God's sake and its own. Each has its heavenly guardian, and for each death is better than loss of innocence. Education, in the fullest sense, was created by Christianity. The elaborate schemes of Aristotle and Plato are subordinated to state interest. Though based upon "sacred" books, education in ancient times, when organized, found these highly mythological, as in Greece or Rome, or rationalized, as in Confucian spheres of influence. Both Greeks and Romans attached great importance to a complete education, supported it with state patronage (the Ptolemies) state initiative and direction (the Antonines), and conceived for it high ideals (the "turning of the soul's eye towards the light", Plato, "Republic", 515 b); yet, failing to appreciate the value of the individual soul, they made education in fact merely utilitarian, the formation of a citizen being barely more complete than under the narrow and rigid systems of Sparta and Crete. The restriction, in classical Greece, of education among women to the Hetairai is a fact significant of false ideal and disastrous in results (J. B. Mahaffy, "Old Gk. Educ.", London, 1881; S. S. Laurie, "Historical Survey of Pre-Christian Educ.", London, 1900; L. Grasberger, "Erziehung u. Unterricht im klass. Alterum", Würzburg, 1864-81; G. Boissier, "L'instruct. publique dans l'empire romain." in "Rev. de Deux Mondes", March, 1884; 3. P. Rossignol, "De l'educ. des hommes et des femmes chez les anciens", Paris, 1888).

Error in education was conditioned, we saw, by error of political ideal. No doubt, all the older polities were sanctioned directly by religion. The local god and the local ruler were, for the Semites, each a melek (king), a baal (proprietor), and their attributes and qualification almost fused. Or, the ruling dynasty descended remotely, or immediately, from a god or hero, making the king divine; so the Mikado, the Ionian and Doric overlords. Especially the Orient went this way, most notably Egypt. The Chinese emperor alone might pray to the Sublime Ruler whose son he was. Rome deifies herself and her governors, and the emperor-cult dominates army and province, and welds together aristocracy and the masses (J. G. Frazer, "Early Hist. of the Kingship", London, 1905; Maspero, "Comment Alex. devint Dieu en Egypte"; Cumont, "Testes et Monuments de Mithra", I, p. ii, c. iii; J. Toutain, "Cultes paiens dans l'emp. rom.", I, Paris, 1907). It is hard to judge of the practical effects; obviously autocracy profited, the development of obedience, loyalty, courage in the governed (Rome; Japan) being undoubted. Yet the system reposed upon a lie. The scandals of the court, the familiarities of the camp, the inevitable accidents of human life, dulled the halo of the god-king. Far more stable were the organizations resulting from the subtle polities devised by Greek experiment and speculation, and embodied in Roman law. Aristotle's political philosophy, almost designed -- as Plato's frankly was -- for the city state, was carried on through the Stoic vision of the City of Zeus, of world-empire, into the concrete majesty of Rome, which was itself to pass, when confronted in Christianity with that individual conscience it would not recognize, into the Civitas Dei of an Augustine. Aristotle and Plato survived in Aquinas, the Stoic vision in Dante; Gregory VII reproduced, in his age and manner, the effective work of an Augustus. And of it all the soul was that Kingdom, Hebrew-born, which, spiritualized by Christ and preached by Paul, has been a far mightier force for civilization than ever was the polis of the Greeks. As long as the ultimate source of authority, the inalienable rights of conscience, and the equality of all in a Divine sonship were unrealized, no true solution of the antinomy of state and individual, such as Paul could offer (Rom., xiii etc.) was possible. [Cf. E. Barker, "Polit. Thought of Plato and Aristotle", London, 1906, esp. pp. 237-50, 281-91, 119-61, 497-515; G. Murray, "Rise of the Gk. Epic.", Cambridge, 1907; P. Allard, "Ten Lectures on the Martyrs", tr. (London, 1907); Idem, "Les Persécutions" (Paris, 1885-90); Sir W. Ramsay's books on St. Paul, esp. "Pauline Studies" (London, 1906); "Paul the Traveller" (1897); "Ancient King Worship", C.C. Lattey, S.J., English C.T.S.]

In these systems, the weakest necessarily went to the wall. Even the good Greek legislation on behalf of orphans, wards, the aged, parents, and the like; even the admirable instinct of aidos which shielded the defenceless, the suppliant, the stranger, the "stricken of God and afflicted", could not (e.g.) stop the exposition of sickly or deformed infants (defended even by Plato), or render poverty not ridiculous, suffering not merely ugly, death not defiling. Yet the sober religion of the Avesta preaches charity and hospitality, and these, the latter especially, were recognized Greek virtues. In proportion as travel widened minds, and ideals became cosmopolitan, the barbarian became a brother; under the Antonines charity became official and organized. Always, in the Greek world, the temples of Æsculapius were hospices for the sick. Yet all this is as different in motive, and therefore in practical effect, from the "mutual ministry of love" obligatory within the great family of God's children, as is the counterpart of Christian self-sacrifice, Buddhist Altruism. (Cf. L. de la V. Poussin, "Bouddhisme", Paris, 1909, especially pp. 7-8, where he quotes Oldenberg, "Buddhismus u. christliche Liebe" in "Deutsche Rundschau", 1908, and "Orientalischen Relig.", pp. 58, 266 sqq., 275 sqq.) In slavery, of course, a chasm is cleft between Paganism and Christianity. By proclaiming the rights of conscience and the brotherhood of men, Christianity did for the slave what could never have been accomplished by demanding the instant and universal abolition of slavery, thereby risking the dislocation of society. In Christ, a new relation of master to man springs up (I Cor., vii, 21; I Tim., vi, 2): the Epistle to Philemon becomes possible. Yet while it is true that in many ways the slave's lot might be miserable (the ergastulum), and inhuman (the Roman slave might technically not marry), and immoral (Petronius: "nil turpe quod dominus jubet"), yet here too, human nature has risen above its own philosophies, laws, and conventions. Kindness increases steadily: even Cato was kind; social motives (Horace), philosophical considerations (Seneca), sheer legislation (already under Augustus), devotion (at Delphi, slaves are manumitted to Apollo: contrast the beautiful Christian emancipation in Ennodius, P. L., LXIII 257; sentiment, and even law protected the slaves' tomb or loculus) answered the promptings of gentle hearts. The contubernium became parallel to marriage; nationality never of itself meant slavery; education could make friends of master and man ("loco filii habitus", says one inscription); Seneca generalizes: "homo res sacra homini; servi, humiles amici." But not all the sense of the "dignity of man", taught by the Roman comedians and philosophers, could supply even the emancipating principles, far less the force, of Christian equality in the service of God and the fellowship of Christ (H. A. Wallon, "Hist. de l'Esclavage de l'Antiq.", Paris, 1847; Boeckh, "Staatshaushaltung d. Athener.", I, 13; C. S. Devas, "Key en." (1906), 143-150 and c. v; P. Allard, "Les Esclaves chrét.", Paris, 1876; O. Boissier, "Relig. romaine", II, Paris, 1892).


Omnia plena deo: the nearer God is realized to be, the richer the efflorescence of religious art and ritual; and the purer the concept of His nature, the nobler the sense-worship that greets it. Hence the world's grandest art has grown round Christ's Real Presence, though Christ said no word of art. Thus, heresy has always been iconoclastic; the distant God of Puritanism, the disincarnate Allah of Islam must be worshipped, but not in beauty. To Hindus, gods were near, but vile; and their art went mad. To the Greeks, save to a smaller band of mystics, whose enthusiasm annihilated external beauty in the effort after spiritual loveliness, all comeliness was bodily; hence the splendid soulless statues of gods (though for a few choice perceptions -- Pausanias, Plutarch -- the Olympian Zeus had "expression", and conveyed divine significance); hence their treatment of the inanimate beauty of Nature was far less successful and profound than was that of the austere Hebrew, to whom, in his struggle against nature worship and idolatry, plastic art was forbidden, but whose nature-psalms rise higher than anything in Greek literature. The pure new spirit breathing in the art of the Catacombs disguises from us, at first, that its categories are all pagan -- though in human models little was directly borrowed, the Orpheus, Hercules, Aristeas type are given to Christ; strange symbols (the disguised cross, the dolphin speared on trident) occur sporadically; "pagan" sarcophagi were doubtless bought direct from pagan warehouses; most startlingly is the difference felt in the spiritual treatment by early Christian Art of the nude (E. Müntz, "Etudes s. l'hist. de la peinture et de l'iconographie chrétienne", Paris, 1886; A. Pératé, "L'archéologie chrét.", Paris, 1892; Wilpert, "Roma Sotteranca: le pitture, etc.", Rome, 1903).

Christian ritual developed when, in the third century, the Church left the Catacombs. Many forms of self-expression must needs be identical, in varying times, places, cults, as long as human nature is the same. Water, oil, light, incense, singing, procession, prostration, decoration of altars, vestments of priests, are naturally at the service of universal religious instinct. Little enough, however, was directly borrowed by the Church -- nothing, without being "baptized", as was the Pantheon. In all these things, the spirit is the essential: the Church assimilates to herself what she takes, or, if she cannot adapt, she rejects it (cf. Augustine, Epp., xlvii, 3, in P. L., XXXIII, 185; "Contra Faust.", XX, xxiii, ibid., XLII, 387; Jerome, "Epp.", cix, ibid., XXII, 907). Even pagan feasts may be "baptized": certainly our processions of 25 April are the Robigalia; the Rogation days may replace the Ambarualia; the date of Christmas Day may be due to the same instinct which placed on 25 Dec., the Natalis invicti of the solar cult. But there is little of this; our wonder is, that there is not far more [see Kellner, "Heortologie" (Freiburg, 1906). See CHRISTMAS; EPIPHANY. Also Thurston, "Influence of Paganism on the Christian Calendar" in "Month" (1907), pp. 225 sqq.; Duchesne, "Orig. du Culte chrétien", tr. (London, 1910) passim; Braun, "Die priestlichen Gewänder" (Freiburg, 1897); Idem, "Die pontificalen Gewänder" (Freiburg, 1898); Rouse, "Greek Votive Offerings" (Cambridge, 1902), esp. c.v]. The cult of saints and relics is based on natural instinct and sanctioned by the lives, death, and tombs (in the first instance) of martyrs, and by the dogma of the Communion of Saints; it is not developed from definite instances of hero-worship as a general rule, though often a local martyr-cult was purposely instituted to defeat (e.g.) an oracle tenacious of pagan life (P.G., L, 551; P. L., LXXII 831; Newman, "Essay on Development, etc.", II, cc. ix, xii., etc.; Anrich, "Anfang des Heiligenkults, etc.", Tübingen, 1904; especially Delehaye, "Légendes hagiographiques," Brussels, 1906). Augustine and Jerome (Ep. cii, 8, in P. L., XXXIII, 377; "C. Vigil.", vii, ibid., XXXIII, 361) mark wise tolerance: Duchesne ["Hist. ancienne de l'église", I (Rome, 1308), 640; cf. Sozomen, "Hist. eccl." VII, xx, in P. G., LXVII, 1480] reminds us of the occasional necessary repression: Gregory, writing for Augustine of Canterbury, fixes the Church's principle and practice (Bede, "Hist. eccl.", I, xxx, xxxii, in P. L., XCV, 70, 72). Reciprocal influence there may to some small extent have been; it must have been slight, and quite possibly felt upon the pagan side not least. All know how Julian tried to remodel a pagan hierarchy on the Christian (P. Allard, "Julien l'Apostat", Paris, 1900).


For an appreciation of pagan religions in themselves, and for an estimate of their pragmatic value in life, it should be noted that, in proportion as a pagan religion caught glimpses of high spiritual flights, of ecstacy, penance, otherworldliness, the "heroic", it opened the gates of all sorts of moral cataclysms. A frugi religio was that of Numa: the old Roman in his worship was cautissimus et castissimus. For him, Servus says, religion and fear (=awe) went close together. Pietas was a species of justice (filial, no doubt), but never superstitio. The ordinary man "put the whole of religion in doing things", veiling his head in presence of the modest, featureless numina, who filled his world and (as their adjective-names show -- Vaticanus, Argentarius, Domiduca) presided over each sub-section of his life. Later the Roman virtues, Fides, Castitas, Virtus (manliness), were canonized, but religion was already becoming stereotyped, and therefore doomed to crumble, though to the end the volatile Greeks (paides aei) marvelled at its stability, dignity, and decency. So too the high abstractions of the Gâthâs (Moral Law, Good Spirit, Prudent Piety etc., the Amesha-spentas of the Avesta to be -- Obedience, Silent Submission, and the rest), especially the enormous value set by Persian ethic upon Truth (a virtue dear to Old Rome), witness to lives of sober, quiet citizenship, generous laborious, unimaginative, just to God and man. Exactly opposite, and disastrous, were the tendencies of the idealistic Hindu, losing himself in dreams of Pantheism, self-annihilation, and divine union. Especially the worship of Vishnu (god of divine grace and devotion), of Krishna (the god so strangely assimilated by modern tendency to Christ), and of Siva (whence Saktism and Tantrism) ran riot into a helpless licence, which must modify, one feels, the whole national destiny. We cannot pass conventional judgments on these aberrations. It is easily conceded that pagans constantly lived better than their creed, or, anyhow, than their myth; blind terrors, faulty premisses, warped traditions originated, preserved, or distorted customs pardonable when we know their history: astounding contradictions coexist (the ritual murders and prostitution of Assyria, together with the high moral sense revealed in the self-examination of the second Shurpu tablet; the sanctified incest and gross myth of Egypt, with the superb negative Confession of the Book of the Dead). Even in Greece, the terrifying survivals of the old clithonic cults, the unmoral influence (for the most part) of the Olympian deities, the unexacting and far more popular cult of local or favourite hero (Herakles, Asklepios), are subordinate to the essential instincts of aidos, themis, nemesis (so well analysed by G. Murray, op. cit.), with their taboos and categorical imperatives, reflected back, as by necessity, to the expressed will of God. The religion of the ordinary man is perfectly and finally expressed in Plato's sketch of Cephalus (Republic, init.) whose instincts and traditions had carried him, at life's close, to a goal practically identical with that achieved by the philosophers at the end of their laborious inquiry.

All asceticism is, however, founded on a certain Dualism. In Persia, beyond all others dualist, the fight between Light and Darkness was noble and fruitful till it ran out into Manichæism and its debased allies. Certainly, from the East came much of the mystic Dualism, enjoining penance, focusing attention beyond the grave, preconizing purity of all sorts (even that abstention from thought which leads to ecstacy), which inspired Orphism, Pythagoreanism etc., and transfused the Mysteries. Till Plato, these notions achieved no high literary success. Æschylus preaches a sublime gospel: his austere series -- Wealth, Self-sufficiency, Insolence, God-sent Infatuation, Ruin -- has echoes of Hebrew prophecy and anticipates the "Exercises"; yet even his stern drasanti pathein is calmed into the pathein mathos -- a true wisdom, repose, reconciliation. Even in this life Sophocles sees high laws living eternally in serene heaven, a joy for men of obedience. Euripides, in the chaos of his scepticism, lives in angry bewilderment, not knowing where to place his ideal, since Aphrodite and Artemis and the other world-forces are, for him, essentially at war. It is in Plato, far better than in the nihilist asceticisms of the East, that the note -- not even yet quite true -- of asceticism is struck. The body is our tomb (soma, sema); we must strip ourselves of the leaden weights, the earthy incrustations of life: the true life is an exercise in death, a homoiosis to theo, as far as may be; like the swans we sing when dying, "going away to God", whose servants we are; "death dawns", and we owe sacrifice to the Healer-hero for the cure of life's fitful fever; "I have flown away", (the Orphic magic tablets will cry) "from the sorrowful weary wheel" of existences.

Directly after Plato, the schools are coloured by his thought, if not its immediate heirs. Stoic and Epicurean really aimed at one thing when they preached their apatheia and ataraxia, respectively Anechou kai apechou: be the autarches, master of your self and fate. In Roman days of imperial persecution, this Stoicism, "touched with emotion", passed into the beautiful, though ill-founded religion of Seneca: all philosophy became practical, an ars vivendi: Life is our ingens negotium, yet not to be despaired of. Heaven is not proud: ascendentibus di manum porrigent. Ano phronein, St. Paul was even then enjoining (Col., iii, 1,2), echoing Plato's phronein athanata kai theia (Tim., 90 c), his tes ano hodou aei hexometha (Rep., 621 c.), his "life must be a flight" apo ton enthende ekeise (529 A), and Aristotle's doctrine that a man must athanatein eph oson endechetai (Eth. N., X, vii), written so long ago. The more acute expressions of this mystical asceticism were much occupied with the future life and much fostered or provoked by the developed Mysteries. Impossible as it seems to find a race which believed in the extinction of the soul by death, survival was often a vague and dismal affair, prolonged in cavernous darkness, dust, and unconsciousness. So Babylon, Assyria, the Hebrews, earlier Greece. Odysseus must make the witless ghosts drink the hot blood before they can think and speak. At best, they depend on human attendance and even companionship; hence certain offerings and human sacrifice on the grave. Or they can, on fixed days, return, harry the living, seek food and blood. Hence expulsion-ceremonies, the Anthesteria, Lemuria, and the like. Kindlier creeds, however, are created, and, at the Cara Cognatio, the souls are welcomed to the places set for them, as for the gods, at the hearth and table, and the family is reconstituted in affection. Hopes and intuitions gather into a full and steady light, even before the inscriptions of the catacombs show that death was by now scarcely reason for tears at all. The "surer bark of a divine doctrine", for which the anxious lad in the "Phædo" had sighed, had been given to carry souls to that "further shore" to which Vergil saw them reaching yearning hands.

But the Mysteries had already fostered, though not created, the conviction of immortality. They gave no revelations, no new and secret doctrine, but powerfully and vividly impressed certain notions (one of them, immortality) upon the imagination. Gradually, however, it was thought that initiation ensured a happy after-life, and atoned for sins that else had been punished, if not in this life, in some place of expiation (Plato, "Rep.", 366; cf. Pindar, Sophocles, Plutarch). These mysteries usually began with the selection of initiandi, their preliminary "baptism", fasting, and (Samothrace) confession. After many sacrifices the Mysteries proper were celebrated, including nearly always a mimetic dance, or "tableaux", showing heaven, hell, purgatory; the soul's destiny; the gods [so in the Isis mysteries. Appuleius (Metamorphoses) tells us his thrilling and profoundly religious experiences]. There was often seen the "passion" of the god (Osiris): the rape and return of Kore and the sorrows of Demeter (Eleusis), the sacred marriage (Here at Cnossus), or divine births (Zeus: Brimos), or renowned incidents of the local myth. There was also the "exhibition" of symbolical objects -- statues usually kept veiled, mysterious fruits or emblems (Dionysus), an ear of corn (upheld when Brimos was born). Finally there was usually the meal of mystic foods -- grains of all sorts at Eleusis, bread and water in the cult of Mithra, wine (Dionysus), milk and honey (Attis), raw bull's flesh in the Orphic Dionysus-zagreus cult. Sacred formulæ were certainly imparted, of magical value.

There is not much reason to think these mysteries had a directly moral influence on their adepts; but their popularity and impressiveness were enormous, and indirectly reinforced whatever aspiration and belief they found to work on. Naturally, it has been sought to trace a close connexion between these rites and Christianity (Anrich, Pfleiderer). This is inadmissible. Not only was Christianity ruthlessly exclusive, but its apologists (Justin, Tertullian, Clement) inveigh loudest against the mysteries and the myths they enshrine. Moreover, the origin of the Christian rites is historically certain from our documents. Christian baptism (essentially unique) is alien to the repeated dippings of the initiandi, even to the Taurobolium, that bath of bull's blood, whence the dipped emerged renatus in æternum. The totemistic origin and meaning of the sacred meal (which was not a sacrifice) wherein worshippers communicated in the god and with one another (Robertson Smith, Frazer) is too obscure to be discussed here (cf. Lagrange, "Etudes, etc.", pp.257, etc.). The sacred fish of Atergatis have nothing to do with the origin of the Eucharist, nor, even probably, with the Ichthys anagram of the catacombs. (See Fr. J. Dölger: ICHTHYS, das Fischsymbol, etc., Rome, 1910. The anagram does indeed represent Iesous Christos Theou Houios Soter, the usual order of the third and fourth words being inverted owing to the familiar formula of the imperial cult; the propagation of the symbol was often facilitated owing to the popular Syrian fish-cult.) That the terminology of the mysteries was largely transported into Christian use (Paul, Ignatius, Origen, Clement etc.), is certain; that liturgy (especially of baptism), organization (of the catechumenate), disciplina arcani were affected by them, is highly probable. Always the Church has forcefully moulded words, and even concepts (soter, epipsanes, baptismos, photismos, teletes, logos) to suit her own dogma and its expression. But it were contrary to all likelihood, as well as to positive fact, to suppose that the adogmatic, mythic, codeless practices and traditions of Paganism could subdue the rigid ethic and creed of Christianity. [Consult Cumont, opp. cit.; Anrich, "Das antike Mysterienwesen, etc." (Göttingen, 1894); O. Pfleiderer, "Das Christenbild, etc." (Berlin, 1903), tr. (London, 1905). Especially Cabrol, "Orig. liturgiques" (Paris, 1906); Duchesne, "Christian Worship", passim; Blötzer in "Stimmen aus Maria Laach", LXXI, (1906), LXXII, (1907); G. Boissier, "Fin du Paganisme" (Paris, 1907), especially 1, 117 sqq.; "Religion Romaine", passim; Sir S. Dill, op. cit.; C. A. Lobeck, "Aglaophamus" (1829); E. Rohde, "Psyche" (Tübingen, 1907); J. Reville, "Relig. &grave; Rome, s. l. Sev&egraves;res" (Paris, 1886); J. E. Harrison, "Prolegomena" (Cambridge, 1908), especially the appendix; L. R. Farnell, op. cit., and the lexicons.]

As strange historical phenomena, we note therefore the coexistence of the highest with the lowest; the sublime tendency, the exiguum clinamen, and the terrific catastrophe: human nature buffeted by the craving for divine union, prayer, and purity, and by the sense of sin, the need of penance, and helplessness of its own powers. Hence, savagery and blood attend the communion-feasts, grotesque myths accompany the loftiest ideals, sensual reaction follows flagellation and fasting. And we admire how, in the Hebrew nation alone, the teleological ascent was constant; sobriety meant no lowered aim; passion implied no frenzy. In the strong grasp of the Christian discipline alone, the further antimony of self-abnegation and self-realization was practically and spiritually solved, though theoretically no adequate expression may ever be discovered for that solution. As historical problems remain certain connexions yet to be more accurately defined between the "dress" of Christian dogma and rite (whether liturgical, or of formula, or of philosophic category) and the circumambient religions. As historical certainty stands out the impassable gulf, in essence and origin, between the moral and religious systems of contemporary Paganism, especially of the Mysteries, and the Christian dogma and rite, formed on Palestinian soil with extraordinary rapidity, and rigidly exclusive of infection from alien sources. [Cf. L. Friedl nder, "Roman Life and Manners, etc." (1909-10), espec. III, 84-313; O. Seeck, "Gesch. des Unterganges der antiken Welt", I (Berlin, 1910), II (1901), III (1909), and appendices, B. Allo, "L'Evangile en face du syncr tisme palen" (Paris, 1910).]


This, we suppose, is the highest form of human reaction upon the religious datum of which the soul finds itself in possession, or at least may provide it with the purest, if not the most imperative, mode of worship. From this point of view the older rationalizing cosmogonies (as of Greece) are of little interest to us, save in so far as they witness already to that distinction between Zeus, supreme, and Fate, to which he yet is subject, an earlier unconscious attempt, perhaps, to reconcile the antinomies easily seized by true religious instinct in the popular traditions as to the gods. The mythological cosmogonies of Babylon and Assyria will, however, be of surpassing interest to the "comparative" student of Semitic religions. Noteworthy is the curve of Greek tendency -- starting in Ionia, monistic, static, and anti-religious; grown dynamic in Heraclitus, whose Fire will pass, as Logos, into the Stoic system; transferred after the Persian wars to Attica, and profoundly dualized in Plato and Aristotle, whose concepts, however, of World-soul and of the Immanent Nature-force were powerful for all time. Through the Stoics, expressed in terms borrowed consistently from the exquisite Egyptian mythology, of Thot, of Osiris, and of Isis, this elaborate system of converging currents is synthesized in Plutarch, while from Plutarch's sources Philo had drawn the philosophy in which he strove to see the doctrines of Moses, and in terms of which he struggled to express the Hebrew books.

Thus was it that the Logos, in theory, impersonal, immanent, blindly evolving in the world, became (transfigured on the one hand by pagan myth, and by too close contact, on the other, with the Angel of Yahweh and the ideals of the Alexandrian sapiential literature) so near to personification, that John could take the expression, mould it to his dogma, cut short all perilous speculation among Christians, and assert once and for all that the Word was made flesh and was Jesus Christ. Yet many of the earlier apologists were to make great trouble with their use of Platonic formul , and with the Logos. Two principles emerge as governing Greek thought -- God must have the first place, ou gar parergou dei poieisthai ton theon, -- and yet the nearer we approach Him, the less can we express Him, theon eurein te ergon, euronta de ekpherein en pollois adynaton (Pythagoras, Plato). To how many answers tentatively given does Euripides's sad prayer witness: "O Thou that upholdest earth, and on earth hast Thy Throne, whoe'er Thou be, hard to guess, hard to know -- Zeus, be Thou law of nature, or human thought of man, to Thee I pray: for Thou, moving in silent path, in justice guidest all things mortal." To the immanent, supreme Force, consciously exacting service, or, at least, blindly imposing obedience, Greek philosophy almost inevitably came, and, in spite of itself and its sceptical and mechanical premises, amounted to a religion. In the mouth of Epictetus God is still sung triumphantly -- "What can I do, I, a lame old man, save sing God's praises, and call on all men to join me in my song?" -- till the Stoic current died out in Aurelius, stunned to acquiescence, no more enthusiastically uniting himself to the great law of God in the world.

But into neo-Platonism, coloured with Persian, Jewish, and even Christian language, the movement passed; already, in the "Isis and Osiris" of Plutarch, a pure mysticism and sublimity of emotion barely to be surpassed had been achieved; in the "Metamorphoses" of Apuleius the syncretistic cult of the Egyptian goddess expresses itself in terms of tenderness and majesty that would fit the highest worship, and, in the concluding prayer of the Apuleian Hermes, an ecstatic adoration of God is manifested in language and thought never equalled, still less surpassed, save in the inspired writers of the Church. But all these efforts of pagan religious philosophy, committed nearly always to a rigid Dualism, entangled accordingly in mechanical and magic practices, tricked out in false mythology, risking and losing psychical balance by the use of a nihilist asceticism of sense and thought, died into the miserable systems of Gnosticism, Manichæism, and the later neo-Platonism; and the current of true life, renewed and redirected by Paul and John, passed into the writings of Augustine. [Consult Zeller, "Phil. der Griechen" (Leipzig, 1879), tr. (London, 1881); Idem, "Grundriss, etc." (4th ed., Leipzig, 1908), tr. (London, 1892); Gomperz, "Gr. Denken" (Leipzig, 1903), tr. (London, 1901); cf. Flinders Petrie, "Personal Relig. in Egypt before Christianity" (New York, 1909), unsatisfactory; J. Adam, "Religious Teachers of Greece" (Edinburgh, 1908); Dill, op. cit.; Idem, "Roman Society in the last century of the Western Empire ", especially valuable as a picture of the tenacity of the dying pagan cult and thought; Spence, "Early Christianity and Paganism" (London, 1904); L. Habert, "Doctr. Relig. d. Philosophes Grecs" (Paris, 1909); L. Campbell, "Religion in Greek Literature" (London, 1898); E. Caird, "Evolution of Theology in Greek Philosophies" (Glasgow, 1904), "Evolution of Religion" (Glasgow, 1907); H. Pinard in "Revue Apologétique" (1909); S. Lebreton, "Origines du Dogme de la Trinité", I (Paris, 1910), where the summits reached by Greek and Hellenized Jewish religious endeavour are appreciated. On the general question: de Broglie, "Problèmes et Conclusions de l'hist. des Religions", Paris, 1889.]


Ethnology and the comparative history of pagan religions do not impose upon us as an hypothesis that primitive Revelation which Faith ascertains to us. As a hypothesis it would, however, solve many a problem; it was the easier therefore for the Traditionalist of a century ago to detect its traces everywhere, and for Bishop Huet ("Demonstr. evangelica", Paris, 1690, pp. 68, 153, etc.), following Aristobulus, Philo, Josephus, Justin, Tertullian, and many another disciple of the Alexandrians, to see in all pagan law and ritual an immense pillage of Jewish tradition, and, in all the gods, Moses. The opposite school has, in all ages, fallen into worse follies. Celsus saw in Judaism an "Egyptian heresy", and in Christianity a Jewish heresy, on an equality with the cults of Antinous, Trophonius etc. (C. Cels., III, xxi); Calvin (Instit., IV, x, 12) and Middleton (A letter from Rome, etc., 1729) saw an exact conformity between popery and paganism. Dupuis and Creuze herald the modern race of comparative religionists, who deduce Christianity from pagan rites, or assign to both systems a common source in the human spirit. Far wiser in their generation were those ancient Fathers, who, not always seeing in pagan analogies the trickery of devils (Justin in P. G., VI, 364, 408, 660; Tertullian in P. L., I, 519, 660; II, 66; Firmicus Maternus, ibid., XII, 1026, 1030), disentangle, with a true historic and religious sense, the reasons for which God permitted, or directed, the Chosen People to retain or adapt the rites of their pagan ancestry or environment, on at least, reproaching them with this, recognize the facts (Justin, loc. cit., VI, 517; Tertullian, P. L., II, 333; Jerome, ibid., XXV, 194, XXIV, 733, XXII, 677, is striking; Eusebius, P. G., XXII, 521; especially Chrysostom, ibid., LVII, 66, and Gregory of Nazianzus, ibid., XXXVI, 161, who are remarkable. Cf. St. Thomas, I-II, Q. cii, a. 2). The relation of the Hebrew code and ritual to those of pagan systems need not be discussed here: the facts, and, a fortiori, the comparison and construction of the facts, are not yet satisfactorily determined: the admirable work of the Dominican school (especially the "Religions sémitiques" of M. J. Lagrange; cf. F. Prat, S.J., "Le Code de Sinai", Paris, 1904) is preparing the way for more adequate considerations than are at present possible.

Whether Paganism made straight a path for Christianity may be considered from two points of view. Speaking from the standpoint of pure history, no one will deny that much in the antecedent or environing aspirations and ideals formed a præparatio evangelica of high value. "Christo jam tum venienti", sang Prudentius, "crede, parata via est". The pagan world "saw the road", Augustine could say, from its hilltop. "Et ipse Pileatus Christianus est" said the priest of Attis; while, of Heraclitus and the old philosophers, Justin avers that they were Christians before Christ. Indeed, in their panegyric of the Platonic philosophy, the earlier Apologists go far beyond anything we should wish to say, and indeed made difficulties for their successors. Attention is nowadays directed, not only to the ideas of the Divine nature, the logos-philosophies, popular at the Christian era, but especially to those oriental cults, which, flooding down upon the shrivelled, officialized, and dying worship of the Roman or Hellenic-Roman world, fertilized within it whatever potentialities it yet contained of purity, prayer, emotional religion, other-worldliness generally. A whole new religious language was evolved, betokening a new tendency, ideal, and attitude; here too Christianity did not disdain to use, to transcend, and to transform.

Theologically, moreover, we know that God from the very outset destined man to a supernatural union with Himself. "Pure nature", historically, has never existed. The soul is naturaliter Christiana. The truest man is the Christian. Thus the "human spirit" we have so often mentioned, is no human spirit left to itself, but solicited by, yielding to a resisting grace. Better than Aristotle guessed, mankind echei ti theion. For Christus cogitabatur. Aei ponei to zoon, said the same philosopher: and all creation groans and travails together until the full redemption; "all nations of men" were by God "made of one blood for to dwell on all the face of the earth . . . that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might grope after Him and find Him." They failed, alas, though they had the epignosis of God (Rom., i, 32; cf. i, 19): the higher they went, the more terribly they fell: but, alongside of the tragic first chapter of Paul's Epistle, is the second, and we dare not forget that the elect people, the Eldest Son, the heir of oracles and law fell equally or worse, and made the name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles it contemned (Rom., ii, 24). Yet for all that, God used the Jews in his plan, and none will dare to say He did not use the Gentiles. They reveal themselves in history as made for God, and restless till they rest in him. History shows us their effort, and their failure; we thank God for the one, and dare not scorn the other. God's revelation has been in many fragments and in many modes; and to the pagan king, whose right hand He had holden, He declared: "For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen, I have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou, thou hast not known Me: I am Yahweh, and there is none else; beside Me there is no God: (yet) will I guide thee, though Me thou hast not known (ls., xlv, 4 sq.). For still Cyrus worshipped at the shrine of Ahura.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Paganism is a term that covers a great number of spiritual and religious beliefs, and someone who follows one of these beliefs is known as a Pagan. Those in ancient times, who are called Pagans today, believed there was not just one god (see Monotheism), but a number of gods and goddesses whose statues they prayed to, for example, the ancient Greeks, Romans, etc. (see Polytheism or Pantheism).

Today, some people call themselves Pagans (see Neopaganism) and believe that everything around them is holy or sacred because is all part of a god or goddess (or represents a number of gods and goddesses). For example, they believe that a stone or a tree is part of a god and/or a goddess, and so is sacred, but Neo-Pagans do not actually worship the stone or the tree itself. Most Neo-Pagans not only believe the Earth is a living being, but also that she represents the goddess.

In the Roman Empire, people from the countryside were called paganus from the Latin word for 'boundary stone' or "country dweller." The soldiers, who were usually from another area, would use the word paganus to mean anyone local who was not a soldier. Soldiers would later also use it as an insult for each other, to mean a sloppy soldier. When Romans started to become Christian, they called themselves "soldiers" because they were disciplined, and so they also came to use the word 'pagan', to refer to non-Christians.

The word pagan (without a capital P) is often used to describe anyone who is not of the three Abrahamaic religions: Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. Today Pagan, with a capital P, often refers to people who follow Neo-Pagan religions that honour the Earth. The best known of the modern Neo-Pagan religions is Wicca, but there are many other paths and traditions that are not Wicca but consider themselves Pagan.

Some Pagan and Neo-Pagan religions


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  1. Usenet newsgroup for Pagans
  2. The Witches Voice, a networking and education site


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