Did The Church Evolve From Pagan Religions?

In terms of the core of its teachings, the orthodox Church evolved principally from the teachings of Jesus Christ… but the dogma in which it has entrenched itself has strayed far from what Jesus intended in terms of his mission. And there is no doubt that much of this dogma was rooted in earlier pagan myths and rituals.

Political manipulations, sectional disagreements within the Church itself, and the interpretations and misinterpretations of scribes through the centuries have further widened the rift between the teachings of Christ and the Church’s expressed views.

For any institution to survive through the centuries, it needs to keep up with changes in society and take account of new information that throws light on the accuracy and relevance of its beliefs. The Church has been slow to do this. There is concern among many Catholics that even today the Church refuses to reconsider its position on crucial issues like contraception, celibacy and women priests.

At the same time, however, the influence of the pagan past is clearly to be seen in many aspects of Christianity, not only because the past cannot simply be thrown off entirely when new ideas begin to prevail, but because the Church deliberately imposed some of its rituals and days of celebration over major pagan ceremonies in order to obliterate earlier religious practices and beliefs that were unacceptable to it.

By the middle of the second century, the ‘Nazarenes’ – those who followed the teachings of Jesus and later of his brother James – were being persecuted by Pauline Christians who were well into the developing orthodoxy that was to be cemented by the Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. Christianity had become much more the religion of Paul’s view of Jesus than the religion of Jesus himself.

The Council of Nicaea is largely seen now as a calling together by Constantine of Christian representatives – both orthodox and sectarian – in order to create a unified Christianity to stabilise the weakening Empire. It was, in fact, attended also by leading figures from all the pagan religions in the Roman Empire because it was Constantine’s intention to create a universal (“catholic”) religion for the Empire, and he was not inclined to be too tolerant of any group who opposed this.

In order for pagan cults to be willing to be drawn into the ‘universal’ religion planned by Constantine, they had to feel assured that certain of their rituals would persist and some of their major feast days continue to be observed, even if under different names.

Pagan fertility ceremonies became blessings of the fields under the spiritual guidance of priests. The Eastern Orthodox Church had a tradition of sharing dyed and painted eggs as symbols of life renewed when Christ rose from the tomb, but the Easter tradition of eggs and rabbits had actually been taken over from fertility rites celebrated by pagan religions. ‘Virgin’ births were celebrated in pagan religions long before the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, and resurrections of fertility gods in nature religions were ritually observed long before the resurrection of Christ. There is nothing sacrilegious in saying that many Christian beliefs were in the long line of old and honoured religious tradition. 

Imposing new Christian traditions over older pagan ones was favoured as a way of drawing formerly pagan believers into the Church. Many of our rituals stem from pagan rites; for instance, confetti thrown during celebrations and rice thrown at bride and groom arose from the practice of throwing grains of wheat and barley during pagan processions.

The months of our Christian calendar are named after Roman gods and Roman Caesars. With the exception of the Roman origin of Saturday (Saturn’s Day), the days of the week are named after Germanic gods.

The Church realised that the most effective way of eventually eliminating pagan beliefs – or at least rendering them ineffective as threats – was to superimpose Christian celebrations over them. The assumption of many of the pagan rituals gradually became so embedded in the dogma and traditions of Christianity that their pagan origin was either unknown to later Christians or no longer mattered.

The Christian Church in the years following on Nicaea was therefore a mix of several shades of belief and by no means orthodox. Orthodoxy had been imposed by Constantine, but belief came about more slowly. The sign of the fish had been ousted in favour of the Cross, and the new focus was on the suffering of Christ for the sins of mankind. 

The Church of Antioch had been founded in Asia Minor about 36AD by James, Peter and Thomas. Church leaders were outraged by the goings-on at Nicaea and withdrew from the Council.

Even the earlier religion of the Israelites from which Christianity borrowed much had in turn borrowed many beliefs from contemporary and earlier pagan religions, including the story of Noah and the Flood. Orthodox Christianity’s way of presenting Mother and Child echoes the Egyptian goddess Isis and the child Horus from the powerful cult of Isis which also celebrated the resurrection of her husband, the god Osiris. The use of holy water is not confined to Christian blessings. In ancient Egypt, jars of water from the holy river, the Nile, were kept in jars in homes and public buildings to protect against evil influences.

Worship of the Madonna echoes the veneration given the goddess Diana by members of pre-Christian Roman cults.

There are echoes of paganism in countless Christian ceremonies and traditions, including in the exotic garments of the highest priestly class. The ringing of the church bells is found in earlier Buddhist Tibetan and Chinese monasteries, as were beads and rosaries, and the halo of Renaissance paintings was Babylonian in origin, used to depict not only holy figures but also to indicate great virtue in ordinary human beings. The practice of celibacy was common in pagan religions, particularly in Rome. Many pagan religions valued celibacy as an extreme of virtue, but it was not a practice followed by the Christian Church until some centuries after its founding, and then it seems to have been the result of practical considerations; that is, that the Church was losing land to the heirs of married priests and, secondly, that married men with families could not give undivided attention to the Church. 

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How Many Gospels Were There?

There were many Gospels of Jesus in the early days of Christianity. In addition to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the New Testament and the four Nag Hammadi Gospels, many other documents have been referred to as ‘gospels’.

Although many of the early Christian sects did not agree with the orthodox view that the scriptures came directly from God, there was fairly general agreement at the time that they had been written by people who were God-inspired.

In 302 Bishop Damascus directed Jerome to write a Latin text to standardise the scriptures. This came to be called the Latin Vulgate Bible and was used throughout the Christian world as the standardised Church text for at least a thousand years.  Since it was in Latin, it was up to the Church to ‘interpret’ it to their congregations, which was very much part of their intention as it diminished the likelihood of heresies arising.  

Also in the fourth century, Augustine declared that every part of the text had been chosen by God, although written by various Christian writers. Although the Church fathers superficially went along with this, many of them did not agree, as is clear from some of their writings.

Somewhere around the middle of the fourth century the New Testament as we know it began to be collated, and in or about 367 AD Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria gathered together a selection of writings that were approved first by the Council of Hippo (393AD) and then by the Council of Carthage (397 AD).

Over the centuries, these texts were further ‘edited’ and many important sections – presumably those which the Church saw as undermining of its authority or likely to cause dissension – were excluded.

Ten centuries after the Vulgate had originally been accepted, the same old disagreements continued to raise questions and cause dissension. Only in1546 were the four Gospels of the New Testament approved by the Council of Trent… and that only because of the threat to the Roman Catholic Church of the Protestant Reformation

Relating to information about the ministry of Christ in the Nag Hammadi gospels, in an interview published in the US News & World Report, Collector’s edition: Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, James Robinson, general editor of The Nag Hammadi Library, says that of the four Nag Hammadi codices, only the Gospel of Thomas can really be regarded as a gospel because it is the only one that claims to quote the actual words of Jesus. Other sources would regard this as a splitting of hairs since the words of Jesus are reported in other Nag Hammadi gospels.

Nobody knows how many Gospels there originally were, and it might be that some are yet to be discovered. Hundreds of caves offer possible hiding-places.

Since we know that the Four Gospels of the New Testament were selectively chosen and subsequently much edited, adapted and reduced, and as we cannot know what ancient records will still come to light, the issue of the Gospels as contributing to the ‘real’ history of Jesus remains an open question.

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Does The Gospel Of Mary Magdalene Really Exist?

The Nag Hammadi reference for the Gospel of Mary is Codex II, 2. It was originally written in Greek, probably in the early part of the second century.   

Karen King and other commentators report that the Gospel of Mary falls naturally into two sections: the account of the exchange between Jesus and the disciples after the Crucifixion, and a description of Mary’s passing on to the disciples the special revelations entrusted to her by Jesus. Only the beginning and end of this important document survives. Four pages are missing between beginning and end. 

It is in the Gospel of Mary that Peter is described as challenging the relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene by demanding to know why Jesus would choose to speak privately to her rather than freely to them. Peter complains about Mary’s preaching and asks Jesus to stop her as she is undermining his leadership. Jesus’s response is to rebuke Peter. Mary later says that she is wary of Peter and feels that he hates women. Jesus tells her that anyone, whether man or woman, is divinely entitled to speak if inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Also in the Gospel of Mary, Levi is recorded as pointing out to Peter that if Jesus found Mary Magdalene worthy to be the recipient of his revelations, then he, Peter, had no right to criticise and reject her: “The Saviour surely knows her well enough. That is why he loves her more than us.”  He tells the disciples to go forth and preach as Jesus had asked of them.

They immediately respond, and with this the text ends.

From then on, it seems that the disciples accepted Mary’s position of privilege and that she comforted and encouraged them when they feared that they, too, would meet death at the hands of the authorities. 

The story of Peter’s confrontation with Mary Magdalene is also recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Pistis Sophia.

The Nag Hammadi Codices appear to be largely Gnostic in tone. Not all Gnostics were Christians. In fact, there had been Gnostic thinkers before the time of Christ. Gnostic Christians were those who preferred personal revelation and individual understanding rather than conversion by apostles or evangelists.

Because Gnostic Christians were condemned by the orthodox Church , they have always received what we would call ‘a bad press’, but the largely Gnostic writings of the Nag Hammadi codices have brought new understanding of the Gnostics and much sympathy and support for their perspectives of Jesus and his mission. They did not, for instance, believe that Jesus was divine, but saw him as a divinely inspired teacher whose mission was to reveal to ordinary human beings that they could have direct communication with God. Since the Gnostics were largely freethinkers, it goes without saying that there was much variety in their interpretations.

Richard Andres and Paul Schellenberger point out in The Tomb of God: the Body of Jesus and the Solution to a 2000-year-old Mystery that the silence of the Church regarding Christian Gnosticism has left most Christians unaware of the important Gnostic aspects in the origins of their own religion. The orthodox Church fought fiercely to eradicate the Christian Gnostics and other so-called ‘heretics’ prior to the Council at Nicaea in 325 AD and established a pattern of prejudice that has plagued the Church ever since.

The main bone of contention between Gnostic and orthodox Christians seems to have been the issue of whether Christ was divine and the actual Son of God and whether he had been physically resurrected and then taken up into heaven. Although he might not have been the originator, Paul propagated and disseminated the view of Jesus as the Son of God resurrected to life after death on the cross after death. One cannot help but suspect that the disappearance of Jesus from the tomb played into the hands of the later orthodox Church, since his reappearance, either living or dead, would have been difficult to account for in terms of the Resurrection which is fundamental to Christian Church dogma.    

It is not difficult to see why orthodox believers wanted Gnostic interpretations suppressed even before the end of the first century AD, and why people like the inhabitants of the Jewish Qumran community found it necessary to hide their documents in urns secreted in caves before they fled at the time of the Jewish uprising of 70 AD and during later persecutions.

In 325 AD Emperor Constantine, concerned about myriad dissensions in the failing Empire, set up the Council at Nicaea and demanded that Christians cease their quarrelling and make up their minds about their beliefs. His reasons were, of course, personal and political, and had nothing to do with any concern for religion. It was rather that he saw that Christianity was spreading fast and that a unified Christianity would be useful to him.

If Mary did indeed leave the Holy Land after the Crucifixion and finally make her home in France, this would support the view of her implicit in those of the Nag Hammadi Codices that mention her mission. She was the apostle closest to Jesus and it was to her that he made his revelations after his body had disappeared from the cave and he met and spoke with her in the garden.

And if she were indeed the mother of his child – or children – it would have been imperative for her to escape from the Holy Land.

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What Is The Role Of The Rosslyn Chapel In The Grail Story?

Alex has done extensive research on the Rosslyn Chapel. Here is a summary of her findings.

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Rosslyn Chapel is the final part of Sophie Neveu and Robert Langdon’s journey and the place where Sophie will learn the truth about her family… although not the truth about the Holy Grail.

 

Although often connected in popular legend to the Knights Templar, Rosslyn Chapel was actually founded by Sir William St Clair, Earl of Rosslyn, in the 15th century at a time when the Templar Order had not existed for over a hundred years, although there were still small groups who saw themselves as inheritors of Templar wisdom and rituals.

 

The St Clair family did, however, have connections with the guild of masons – prior to the founding of the Order of Freemasons – and for a time during the early 17th century the current William St Clair (it seems that all the St Clair heirs were named William) was a kind of ‘protector’ of the local masonic branch. Extant documents show that his son, who was a rather more respectable character than his father, was formally designated an official patron of the masons. When the Order of Freemasons was founded, the St Clairs of Rosslyn were among the earlier members.

 

Simon Cox points out in Cracking the Da Vinci Code that members of the St Clair family had actually testified against the Knights Templar when some of its members were tried at Holyrood in Edinburgh in 1309. (One notes that this piece of information contradicts the claim that no Knights Templar were persecuted in Britain.)

 

Rosslyn Chapel is only about eight miles from Edinburgh in the village of Roslin in Lothian, where most of the inhabitants are so used to its just ‘being there’ that they have little curiosity about it, despite the fact that a reward has long been available to anyone able to decipher the large number of its symbols that remain shrouded in mystery. Weekly services continue to be held in the church, which is actually named Rosslyn Collegiate Church.

 

For those who enjoy collecting extraneous pieces of information, Dolly the sheep was cloned at the Roslin Institute.

 

Cox and Newman, among others, point out that the name ‘Rosslyn’ does not come from ‘Rose Line’ as reported in The Da Vinci Code, but from the Scottish words ‘ross’, meaning a hill or rocky excrescence, and ‘lynn’ meaning water or waterfall, both of which aptly describe Rosslyn’s situation.

 

There is indeed an underground chamber, a crypt, under Roslynn Chapel, where members of the St Claire family were buried over the centuries. The entrance to the crypt is well-known. It is beneath the flagstones of the north aisle of the chapel, but to this point excavations have not been allowed. There is no real evidence that the crypt contains documentary or any other kind of treasure, and the owners fear that the church – which has been neglected over many centuries – would suffer irreversible damage were it to be undermined.

 

The entire church is covered in carvings, and people sometimes express surprise that so little work has been done on deciphering the huge number of signs, symbols and carvings at Rosslyn Chapel, but this kind of work usually takes years, especially since many cryptographers work at unravelling such esoteric mysteries only in their spare time. Cox points out that cryptographers have been studying the Rosslyn symbols for a relatively short time.

 

People who have visited Rosslyn to make their own explorations have reported that they have been unable to find the pentacle on the floor of the chapel described by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code. Once again, one is reminded that The Da Vinci Code is a novel, not a work of non-fiction, and a novelist may embroider where he chooses.

 

In January 2003, the district branch of the Scottish Knights Templar announced that they would be using new scanning technology at Rosslyn Chapel that was capable of taking readings to a deep underground level. These readings would presumably indicate whether there were any crypts or vaults in addition to the burial crypt of the St Clair family which is already known, although not accessible today. There does not appear to have been any further news on this matter.

 

The Scottish Knights Templar are not an actual continuation of the Order of the Knights Templar which was destroyed in the early 14th century as a result of the persecutions of Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, but see themselves as philosophically linked to the original Knights Templar and dedicated to perpetuating their ethic.

More answers here! 

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Breaking the Da Vinci Code

After over 12 months of working passionately on the Da Vinci Code its amazing when instead of researching the turf exposed by “The Da Vinci Code” others seek to BAN, STARVE, SUE, RIDICULE, PREACH and COUNTERPROGAM.

Jeremy Caplan of Time Magazine does a good job of summarising the Da Vinci Code opponents.

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What is the Opus Dei?

The Opus Dei (the Work of God) was founded in Spain in1928 by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. It had both lay members and priests, and its mission was to make people aware of the need to make holiness part of their everyday lives and to demonstrate this by personal example. Lay members remained under strict religious supervision and followed a daily programme of readings, spiritual exercises and prayers.

There were numerous Opus Dei rituals, and some members (belonging to the Numerary group, the strictest level of membership) continued to engage in “corporal mortification” at a time when this was generally frowned on in other religious communities.

With headquarters in Rome, the organisation works in some countries and has about 80,000 members. Its founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was canonised by Pope John Paul II in October 2002, an honour that continues to raise much controversy.

As with all religious organisations about which little is generally known, the Opus Dei has often been the focus of criticism and unfavourable speculation, but it has nonetheless endured and has also retained Papal support.

Its founder, Escriva de Balaguer, was the author of a book entitled The Way in which he glorified pain: “Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain… Glorified be pain.” In The Da Vinci Code, Silas has taken this as his mantra.

Manuel Aringarosa and Silas in The Da Vinci Code are both members of the Opus Dei. As a Numerary of the Order, Silas continues to mortify his flesh via the lash and the cilice. He is obsessed with the notion that self-inflicted bodily pain, using these two particular instruments of torture, is spiritually cleansing. Hence his constant reiteration that “Pain is good.”

He goes about his deadly work secure in the belief that he is operating as a sevant of God. He acknowledges the savagery of his behaviour, but believes that he redeems himself in God’s eyes through inflicting physical torment on himself. He is actually at the mercy of forces beyond his understanding, but his devotion to his “Teacher” blinds him to this reality.

Before the Prologue in The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown describes the “Vaticn prelature known as Opus Dei” as a “deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brain-washing, coercion and a dangerous practice known as ‘corporal mortification’”.

The seventeen-storey new headquarters of the Opus Dei at 243 Lexington Avenue in New Yrk has no outward sign to indicate to whom it belongs. The Vatican Yearbook, reports author Simon Cox, reveals that there are some 3,000 Opus Dei members in the United States with about 60 Opus Dei residences scattered about the country. Many wealthy people are “Cooperators”, which means that they are not actual members of the Opus Dei, but lend support to the cause and make generous donations. Of the six membership classes, this is the only one where being Catholic is not a prerequisite.  

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