Sunday, 21 October 2012

Why Mithras Lost

In Roma Mater (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson, "...the Christians...welcomed women to their services...Could that alone be the reason why Christ was triumphing?" (p. 28)

Too right. Although not that alone. For displaced slaves and others in the cosmopolitan Roman Empire, it had become difficult to maintain:

complicated ritual cleanliness;
divisive dietary laws;
repeated animal sacrifices;
deities and myths associated with particular places (oneness and "omnipresence" were becoming necessary).

Gentiles could be attracted by Jewish monotheism and morality but repelled by circumcision and dietary laws. Paul, preaching monotheism free from Jewish Law, could take interested Gentiles with him when he was expelled from synagogues. One dying and rising god saved all men with a perfect sacrifice which, re-enacted with bread and wine, put aside the need for ritual cleanliness, dietary restrictions and repeated but never fully efficacious blood sacrifices. The sacrifice, death and resurrection had occurred historically, recently, "under Pontius Pilate," thus superseding cyclical, ahistorical resurrections, yet had fulfilled ancient prophecies, thus were divinely ordained.

Jesus crucified is victim, priest and god in one whereas Mithras was still shown killing a bull and his (male) followers still had to find a white bull to slaughter. The Andersons' character Gratillonius refuses to share a meal, even with his military commander, on Mithras' Birthday. The Mithraists were failing, or refusing, to adapt.

Later, Christians adapted further by accepting the Mother of God in Ephesus where Paul had opposed the Mother Goddess. We can see how Mithraism lost and also that it could have won only by becoming less like itself and more like Christianity.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    My only real objection here to your comments is that some how you think Christianity accepted a pagan thing in how we Catholics and Orthodox revere the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of God. It was not "pagan" if you somehow think we believe the Theotokos is a goddess rather than a specially favored human being.

    I never thought it particularly important where the Council of Ephesus was held. Rather, my vague recollection was that the strife caused by the Nestorian controversy had made Constantinople too dangerous a location for an ecumenical council to be held there. Due to riots by passionate adherents of the pro and anti Nestorian views.


  2. I know that Mary is not a goddess. A very few extreme Catholics have moved in that direction but their ideas are clearly "heretical". I do question whether "Mother Goddess" and "Mother of God" would have been very different in popular consciousness when the latter doctrine was defined. I agree with Protestants that Medieval Christianity contained "pagan" elements but I don't see anything very wrong with "paganism". Christianity was a comprehensive synthesis and has been very adaptable. All sorts of features could be removed while the tradition remained distinctively Christian.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Frankly, I find this very frustrating, the constant harping by Protestants about the alleged "pagan" elements in the Catholic Church. WHAT pagan elements? I see far more "elements" taken from the OT and Judaism. All you have to do is read thru the Missal and SEE how MUCH is taken from the Bible.

      Additionally, over the past generation, the Church has removed "elements" smacking too much of supersititon. For example, we now think both St. George and St. Christopher were mere legends, not actual historical persons. In fact, Poul Anderson mentioned that in SATAN'S WORLD.

      Sorry if I seemed a bit testy!


  3. OK. Please believe that for me "Pagan" is descriptive, not pejorative. Christianity is a comprehensive synthesis. Jesus and the NT (re-)interpreted the Prophets. The dying and rising god was in other earlier myths. Some medieval practices at least paralleled non-Christian practices: patron saints instead of presiding deities; canonisation of saints instead of deification of Emperors; St Olaf kind of replacing Thor. Looking from within Christianity, you are aware that a saint is not a god. Looking in from outside, one practice does make me think of the other. No tradition exists in isolation.

  4. Hi, Paul!

    Apologies if I seemed testy. That was not my wish.

    I agree that to an educated Catholic our faith seems thoroughly rooted in, as well as developing from Judaism. And Rome more and more took over control of canonizing saints precisely to guard against superstitious excesses. At least one miracle is needed for a saint to be beatified and another for canonization. I can see how "outsiders" might think that resembles the Roman Senate "deifying" an Emperor. To me, the reality or substance or meaning is CHRISTIAN and thus different from what a pagan would or might think.


  5. No problem. It is interesting to hear a different perspective. I really do not believe in a hereafter and I will be very surprised if I find myself in one!