Is Christianity a Greek religion clothed in Roman rituals?

Aug 2011
92
The Castle Anthrax
#1
Is Christianity a Greek religion clothed in Roman rituals?

there are many similarities between Christianity and the Roman Mystery Cults, which can be assumed to be at least somewhat adopted from the Greeks as almost all Roman things were adapted from someone or another

Another point to consider is the politics of each time. Greeks lived in city-states, with no true monarch. They were a democracy of sorts, with councils of men deciding upon wars. Comparatively, Christianity arose during Roman times, primarily after the implementation of Roman Emperors, who possessed sole authority over the Empire. Christianity's progression followed the development of empires and kingdoms in Europe, which were ruled by leaders who held absolute power (and who, unlike in Ancient Greece, were not expected to confer with others on their decisions).

I sometimes wonder about this myself. Recent posts and threads here have renewed my speculative curiosity. I do not intend any offense to Christians or Christianity at large. I don't observe any irritation at the adoption and adaptation of Greek theology to Roman practice; however, the advent of Christianity remains a sensitive subject. I get the idea that Christianity, especially Catholicism, is rather heavily influenced by Roman paganism. Perhaps, even in a similar way that some say the Roman Empire never really fell, it just changed. In fact, I don't understand how one could argue that Catholicism (and hence Christianity) does not retain a core semblance to Roman paganism with it's constellation of saints, numerous relics, and ritual worship. Again, I don't want to provoke a battle of theologies, rather only to probe the possible, even likely relationships and connections that modern man and woman have to the not too distant ancient past. So what are your thoughts? Was Greek polytheism the scaffolding to Roman paganism and in turn is Roman paganism alive and well in modern Christianity? Or in other words, are we fools to wring our hands and debate over a perceived conflict of paganism versus Christianity when in truth, they may have shared a large grey area of overlap?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,485
Dispargum
#2
There was a very distinct break between classic Greek paganism (Zeus, Ares, Hera, etc) and the later mystery cults (Mithra, Isis, Christianity, etc) although you are correct that some of the older elements did survive in the form of saints, relics, ritual, etc. The older religions had no equivalent to being born again as Christianity does. The older religions were external. All they required was an occasional blood sacrifice to appease the gods. The mystery religions each had a doctrine requiring many years of study. As one incorporated more and more doctrine into the core of one's being, the religion or faith changed that individual. It changed how you perceived the world and it changed your behavior. So in that regard there were some significant differences between Christianity and classic Greek paganism, but as I said earlier, there were also some similarities.

When I first read your headline I inferred something different before reading your post. There was a lot of Greek philosophy, especially Plato, in early Christianity. The Church's ban on usury came from Plato. The Church used Greek logic to make certain deductions about the nature of God. The Western Church initially ignored the debate over Arianism that inspired so much bitter argument in the Eastern Church. Many Western bishops saw it as just 'those Greeks having another philosophical debate.' Eventually Arianism came to be condemned in the Western Church, too, but only later. For instance, it took a surprisingly long time for the Church to arrive at the position that Jesus was both fully devine and fully human. Plato had taught early Church leaders to think in terms of either/or, not both. We also see this in the debate over the Donatist heresy. The Donatists said that a priest's authority to conduct sacraments came from his character. The Church decided instead that a priest's authority came from his office. The fact that there were so many heresies in the early Church probably stems from the Greek tendency to explore intellectual questions. So yes, the early Church combined Greek philosophy with Roman practicality.
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,381
Crows nest
#3
The cult of Serapis, with the outward trappings of an Hellenistic mystery religion, was invented by Ptolemy I by fusing Osiris with Apis/Ptah and making the combined god look like a Greek god in appearance in order to sell the idea to the Greek settlers in Egypt, and so create a religion that native Egyptians and Greek settlers could, in theory, embrace, and so aid in maintaining peaceful relations between them. The point pertinent to the thread is that Ptah is, IMO, the origin of the Hebrew god of Genesis, and therefore is God, and that through Osiris a person could be resurrected after death. While there are many elements that make up Christianity, the core elements of the God of creation and of ressurection after death are entirely Egyptian. As for the ritual of the Church, that is based on what other religions did before Christianity mixed with elements invented to suit the new beliefs. Though transubstantiation is I would say directly taken from Egypt. There was a ceremony on the death of the Apis bull where part of it was roasted and consumed in the knowledge that they were consuming the flesh of their god, the God of Genesis.
 
Likes: Edratman
Jan 2010
4,283
Atlanta, Georgia USA
#4
As a practicing Roman Catholic with a background in the classics, I agree with your thesis. The Roman gods were basically the Greek gods with different names.

The Bible does not have a lot to say about Christian ritual, and the early Christians, wishing to spread the faith wider than to Jews, adopted quite a bit from paganism. You don’t have to look much further than at a priest during Mass, dressed as he is in the apparel of a Roman senator.

There’s lots more to say, but I’ll stop with that.

This is not so true of the Protestants as they made an effort to expunge the pagan elements and the Platonism.
 
May 2011
2,741
Rural Australia
#5
Interesting question and linked article containing more interesting questions. In the "Polytheism vs Monotheism" section "Can a god mate with a mortal", leads to the "One Substance" issue at the council of Nicaea. Another question ... "What is Jesus". Debated to this day, but immortalised in the five sophisms of Arius that inflamed the Arian controversy. The Philosophy and Politics section is pretty clear "Monotheistic obedience followed the rise of Roman Emperors". This may also be applied to the rule of the Sassanid Persian Ardashir.

In terms of what it borrowed from Greek philosophy, Augustine finds that "only a few words and phrases" need to be changed to bring Platonism into complete accord with Christianity. [The Legacy of Greece - Oxford University Press (1921); RELIGION by W. R. Inge, Dean of St.Pauls]

Also there are the writings of Bruno Bauer: Bruno Bauer - Wikipedia

According to Bauer, the writer of Mark's gospel was "an Italian, at home both in Rome and Alexandria"; that of Matthew's gospel "a Roman, nourished by the spirit of Seneca"; Christianity is essentially "Stoicism triumphant in a Jewish garb."​

The "Gospel of Augustus" may also be relevant: Calendar Inscription of Priene - Wikipedia

Finally in the discussion of questions such as these I have found good advice from the historian Momigliano:
Biblical and Classical Historians as Insiders and Outsiders
 
Mar 2015
799
Europe
#6
Nonsense.
Greeks had true monarchs, who did consult their friends and were expected to, but did not need to consult elected councils, ever since Alexander and Diadochs. Long before Romans.
And Hellenism was invented by Jews. The writer of Maccabees, specifically.
I get the idea that Christianity, especially Catholicism, is rather heavily influenced by Roman paganism. Perhaps, even in a similar way that some say the Roman Empire never really fell, it just changed. In fact, I don't understand how one could argue that Catholicism (and hence Christianity) does not retain a core semblance to Roman paganism with it's constellation of saints, numerous relics, and ritual worship.
How does it follow - "Catholicism, hence Christianity"?
Precisely which features of Orthodoxy show features of Roman paganism where it diverges from Greek paganism?
 
Feb 2012
3,888
Portugal
#7
Just for the sake of accuracy it is important to notice the mysteries were not a Roman invention the cult of Isis and Serapis had already been adopted by the Greeks long before the Romans not to mention that the Eleusinian and other mysteries were already active and predate it in Classical Greece.
From S. Angus The Mystery Religions
Since the great revival of the sixth cntury B.C. the idea of Regeneration had become familiar, and with it a new sacramental conception, attested in Orphism, and in the cults of Isis, Attis, Dyonisos and Mithra. Every Mystery Religion, being a religion of Redemption, offered means of suppressing the old man and of imparting or vitalizing the spiritual principal.
 
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Edratman

Ad Honorem
Feb 2009
6,185
Eastern PA
#8
It appears to me that all religions are derivative, renaming and recombining various aspects from multiple predecessors to appear original and authentic. In many ways this is logical, the religions are all selling both an immaterial product and promises of rewards that will be delivered.......later.

I've spent time searching for the last truly original and innovative religious precept and finally gave up after a lack of success.
 
Feb 2012
3,888
Portugal
#9
It appears to me that all religions are derivative, renaming and recombining various aspects from multiple predecessors to appear original and authentic. In many ways this is logical, the religions are all selling both an immaterial product and promises of rewards that will be delivered.......later.

I've spent time searching for the last truly original and innovative religious precept and finally gave up after a lack of success.
Actually they were looking for confirmation in this life. Both in the mysteries and philosophy a person was expected to achieve particular states of mind and contemplations.
 
Nov 2016
480
Germany
#10
In terms of what it borrowed from Greek philosophy, Augustine finds that "only a few words and phrases" need to be changed to bring Platonism into complete accord with Christianity.
Maybe it is possible to package the concept of Christ into a "few words", but the difference to Platonism, which has no idea of a redeemer, is huge.
 

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