Sunday, August 17, 2008

Candles in prayer and Liturgy

Advent wreaths, Easter candles, the candles that signal the presence of the body at funerals and of the Body at the Eucarist, are all examples of the Church’s use of lights in and arond the liturgy. We’ve taken this practice over into secular ceremonials too, e.g. strings or colorared lights and candles at Christmas end other feasts. As with everything we do, the ceremonial use of candles goes far back in the past. The Greeks and Romans, for example, burned sanctuary lamps before ther temples. And it’s also Universal, just as they occur everywhere in the world’s folklore, light and its symbolism play an important part in the high culture of evey major civilization and every major religion. In the Jewish culture you have also the Jahrzeit candles and the lighting of candles during Shabbath and on the Menorah are very important in their culture.

But why does the Catholic Church use candles, and can you compare that with other religions and folklore?

* For an explaination of this: see my other post named “Is Catholicism Pagan?”.

Alexander the Great took a famous lampstand from a temple in Thebes that was shaped like a tree hung with fruit-shaped lamps, almost like a Christmas tree: it ended up in the temple of Apollo in Rome. Everlasting flames were kept on the menorah in the sanctuary and on the altar in the forecourt of the Temple in Jerusalem, as a symbol of the Presence of God in the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, light is more than symbolic in the Old Testament. God himself inhabited the Holy of Holies as a cloud of light, the shekinah. Naturally, Christ and the Holy Spirit expressed their divine presence in the same way. Christ called Himself the Light of the World, (John 8:12 ; 9:5 ; 12:46), and at the Transfiguration, his face “shone as the Sun”(Mattew 17:2) while the Father spoke from a bright cloud, similar to the shikinah from the Holy of Holies.

And offcourse at Pentecost the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). These events, and the proghecies or Revelation (1:14-15), reinforce the idea that light indicates the presence of God. Later the Christians began to use licht en fire in association with Christian ceremonies. Back then were allready leaders that didn’t approve of the use by Christians because of the association with pagan religions. But dispite this, the people in the streets kept on using candles during funerals and lamps in the catacombs, as symbols of everlasting life, of hope, of rejoicing in the new life that had begun, ans as always, as symbols of the presence of God.

St. Jerome, the well known Church father said about this that it didn’t do any harm when Christians light candles to honour marters and saints, there is nothing wrong with lichting a candle or lamp. He warned though not to use it as the pagans do for their idols.
Offcourse it’s wrong for pagans to do this for their idols, but we are doing this as Christians, not as if the act will do us any good but only as a symbol and we know the difference.
And the Churches in the East also have burning candles when the Gospel is being read. You see this use also in Churches in the West. There is evidence of the use of candles in the Liturgy of the Church in the 4rd century, and of the use during funerals, baptisms, ordinations and offcourse during the Eucharist.

And by the 12th century A.D. candles were used in all churches. And oillamps were being replaced by candles. It was placed on the Altar do onderline the Presence of Christ at the Eucharist. During the Reformation the Protestants rejected Jerome’s guidelines and the ancient customs of the Church with regard to candles. The use of candles was officially banned, but there were Protestants who honoured the ancient practice of Christians.
And it’s different now with many Christian churches.

The symbolism of light is also very strong in the Mediterranean. There are some people who are ambivalent about the availability for the use in Churches. But it’s nothing more than an ancient use and venerable signal of watchful waiting, just like when you keep a candle on the window waiting for someone’s return. The candle can be seen also as the symbol of the Trinity, because it consists of three elements. The candlewax is also the symbol of Christ’s Body, the wick of the candle as His Soul and the flame as His Devine nature. In that way the consumption of a candle can be seen as Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. Shortly later the ritual use of candles was devided into three parts that is still in use now.

1.) She symbolises God’s Presence, especially the Presence of Christ as the Light of the World, and the rejoicing of this Presence.
2.) They can be offered as an act of devotion. As votive lights.
3.) Or, if they are blessed they become sacramentals if used properly - to dispel the forces of darkness.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Is Catholicism Pagan?

If few Fundamentalists know the history of their religion—which distressingly few do—even fewer have an appreciation of the history of the Catholic Church. They become easy prey for purveyors of fanciful "histories" that claim to account for the origin and advance of Catholicism.

Anti-Catholics often suggest that Catholicism did not exist prior to the Edict of Milan, which was issued in 313 AD and made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire. With this, pagan influences began to contaminate the previously untainted Christian Church. In no time, various inventions adopted from paganism began to replace the gospel that had been once for all delivered to the saints. At least, that is the theory.

Pagan Influence Fallacy

Opponents of the Church often attempt to discredit Catholicism by attempting to show similarities between it and the beliefs or practices of ancient paganism. This fallacy is frequently committed by Fundamentalists against Catholics, by Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and others against both Protestants and Catholics, and by atheists and skeptics against both Christians and Jews.

The nineteenth century witnessed a flowering of this "pagan influence fallacy." Publications such as The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop (the classic English text charging the Catholic Church with paganism) paved the way for generations of antagonism towards the Church. During this time, entire new sects were created (Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses)—all considering traditional Catholicism and Protestantism as polluted by paganism. This era also saw atheistic "freethinkers" such as Robert Ingersoll writing books attacking Christianity and Judaism as pagan.

The pagan influence fallacy has not gone away in the twentieth century, but newer archaeology and more mature scholarship have diminished its influence. Yet there are still many committing it. In Protestant circles, numerous works have continued to popularize the claims of Alexander Hislop, most notably the comic books of Jack Chick and the book Babylon Mystery Religion by the young Ralph Woodrow (later Woodrow realized its flaws and wrote The Babylon Connection? repudiating it and refuting Hislop). Other Christian and quasi-Christian sects have continued to charge mainstream Christianity with paganism, and many atheists have continued to repeat—unquestioned—the charges of paganism leveled by their forebears.

Use of a round wafer implies sun worship?

Hislop and Chick argue that the wafers of Communion are round, just like the wafers of the sun worshippers of Baal. They don’t bother to mention that the wafers used by the same pagans were also ovals, triangles, some with the edges folded over, or shaped like leaves or animals, etc. The fact that a wafer is round does not make it immoral or pagan, since even the Jews had wafers and cakes offered in the Old Testament (Gen. 18:1-8, Ex 29:1-2).

Unfortunately for Chick and other Fundamentalists, their arguments backfire. An atheist will take the pagan connection one step further, saying, "Christianity itself is simply a regurgitation of pagan myths: the incarnation of a divinity from a virgin, a venerated mother and child, just like Isis and Osiris, Isa and Iswara, Fortuna and Jupiter, and Semiramis and Tammuz. Beyond this, some pagans had a triune God, and pagan gods were often pictured with wings, as was your God in Psalms 91:4. The flames on the heads of the apostles were also seen as an omen from the gods in Roman poetry and heathen myths long before Pentecost. A rock is struck that brings forth water in the Old Testament . . . just like the pagan goddess Rhea did long before then. Also, Jesus is known as the ‘fish,’ just like the fish-god Dagon, etc." Unless the Fundamentalists are willing to honestly examine the logical fallacies and historical inaccuracies, they are left defenseless. Fortunately, like the attacks on Catholicism in particular, all of the supposed parallels mentioned above self-destruct when examined with any scholarly rigor. If not guilty of historical inaccuracies, they all are guilty of what can be called "pagan influence fallacies."

Anything can be attacked using fallacy

The pagan influence fallacy is committed when one charges that a particular religion, belief, or practice is of pagan origin or has been influenced by paganism and is therefore false, wrong, tainted, or to be repudiated. In this minimal form, the pagan influence fallacy is a subcase of the genetic fallacy, which improperly judges a thing based on its history or origins rather than on its own merits (e.g., "No one should use this medicine because it was invented by a drunkard and adulterer").

Very frequently, the pagan influence fallacy is committed in connection with other fallacies, most notably the post hoc ergo proper hoc ("After this, therefore because of this") fallacy—e.g., "Some ancient pagans did or believed something millennia ago, therefore any parallel Christian practices and beliefs must be derived from that source." Frequently, a variant on this fallacy is committed in which, as soon as a parallel with something pagan is noted, it is assumed that the pagan counterpart is the more ancient. This variant might be called the similis hoc ergo propter hoc ("Similar to this, therefore because of this") fallacy.

When the pagan influence fallacy is encountered, it should be pointed out that it is, in fact, a fallacy. To help make this clear to a religious person committing it, it may be helpful to illustrate with cases where the pagan influence fallacy could be committed against his own position (e.g., the practice of circumcision was practiced in the ancient world by a number of peoples—including the Egyptians—but few Jews or Christians would say that its divinely authorized use in Israel was an example of "pagan corruption").

To help a secular person see the fallacy involved, one might point to a parallel case of the genetic fallacy involving those of his perspective (e.g., "Nobody should accept this particular scientific theory because it was developed by an atheist"). Whenever one encounters a proposed example of pagan influence, one should demand that its existence be properly documented, not just asserted. The danger of accepting an inaccurate claim is too great. The amount of misinformation in this area is great enough that it is advisable never to accept a reported parallel as true unless it can be demonstrated from primary source documents or through reliable, scholarly secondary sources. After receiving documentation supporting the claim of a pagan parallel, one should ask a number of questions:

1. Is there a parallel? Frequently, there is not. The claim of a parallel may be erroneous, especially when the documentation provided is based on an old or undisclosed source.

For example: "The Egyptians had a trinity. They worshiped Osiris, Isis, and Horus, thousands of years before the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were known" (Robert Ingersoll, Why I Am an Agnostic). This is not true. The Egyptians had an Ennead—a pantheon of nine major gods and goddesses. Osiris, Isis, and Horus were simply three divinities in the pantheon who were closely related by marriage and blood (not surprising, since the Ennead itself was an extended family) and who figured in the same myth cycle. They did not represent the three persons of a single divine being (the Christian understanding of the Trinity). The claim of an Egyptian trinity is simply wrong. There is no parallel.

2. Is the parallel dependent or independent? Even if there is a pagan parallel, that does not mean that there is a causal relationship involved. Two groups may develop similar beliefs, practices, and artifacts totally independently of each other. The idea that similar forms are always the result of diffusion from a common source has long been rejected by archaeology and anthropology, and for very good reason: Humans are similar to each other and live in similar (i.e., terrestrial) environments, leading them to have similar cultural artifacts and views.

For example, Fundamentalists have made much of the fact that Catholic art includes Madonna and Child images and that non-Christian art, all over the world, also frequently includes mother and child images. There is nothing sinister in this. The fact is that, in every culture, there are mothers who hold their children! Sometimes this gets represented in art, including religious art, and it especially is used when a work of art is being done to show the motherhood of an individual. Mother-with child-images do not need to be explained by a theory of diffusion from a common, pagan religious source (such as Hislop’s suggestion that such images stem from representations of Semiramis holding Tammuz). One need look no further than the fact that mothers holding children is a universal feature of human experience and a convenient way for artists to represent motherhood.

3. Is the parallel antecedent or consequent? Even if there is a pagan parallel that is causally related to a non-pagan counterpart, this does not establish which gave rise to the other. It may be that the pagan parallel is a late borrowing from a non-pagan source. Frequently, the pagan sources we have are so late that they have been shaped in reaction to Jewish and Christian ideas. Sometimes it is possible to tell that pagans have been borrowing from non-pagans. Other times, it cannot be discerned who is borrowing from whom (or, indeed, if anyone is borrowing from anyone).

For example: The ideas expressed in the Norse Elder Edda about the end and regeneration of the world were probably influenced by the teachings of Christians with whom the Norse had been in contact for centuries (H. A. Guerber, The Norsemen, 339f).

4. Is the parallel treated positively, neutrally, or negatively? Even if there is a pagan parallel to a non-pagan counterpart, that does not mean that the item or concept was enthusiastically or uncritically accepted by non-pagans. One must ask how they regarded it. Did they regard it as something positive, neutral, or negative?

For example: Circumcision and the symbol of the cross might be termed "neutral" Jewish and Christian counterparts to pagan parallels. It is quite likely that the early Hebrews first encountered the idea of circumcision among neighboring non-Jewish peoples, but that does not mean they regarded it as a religiously good thing for non-Jews to do. Circumcision was regarded as a religiously good thing only for Jews because for them it symbolized a special covenant with the one true God (Gen. 17). The Hebrew scriptures are silent in a religious appraisal of non-Jewish circumcision; they seemed indifferent to the fact that some pagans circumcised.

Similarly, the early Christians who adopted the cross as a symbol did not do so because it was a pagan religious symbol (the pagan cultures which use it as a symbol, notably in East Asia and the Americas, had no influence on the early Christians). The cross was used as a Christian symbol because Christ died on a cross—his execution being regarded as a bad thing in itself, in fact, an infinite injustice—but one from which he brought life for the world. Christians did not adopt it because it was a pagan symbol they liked and wanted to copy.

Examples of negative parallels are often found in Genesis. For instance, the Flood narrative (Gen. 6-9) has parallels to pagan flood stories, but is written so that it refutes ideas in them. Thus Genesis attributes the flood to human sin (6:5-7), not overpopulation, as Atrahasis’ Epic and the Greek poem Cypria did (I. Kikawada & A. Quinn). The presence of flood stories in cultures around the world does not undermine the validity of the biblical narrative, but lends it more credence.

Criticism, refutation, and replacement are also the principles behind modern holidays being celebrated to a limited extent around the same time as former pagan holidays. In actuality, reports of Christian holidays coinciding with pagan ones are often inaccurate (Christmas does not occur on Saturnalia, for example). However, to the extent the phenomenon occurs at all, Christian holidays were introduced to provide a wholesome, non-pagan alternative celebration, which thus critiques and rejects the pagan holiday.

This is the same process that leads Fundamentalists who are offended at the (inaccurately alleged) pagan derivation of Halloween to introduce alternative "Reformation Day" celebrations for their children. (This modern Protestant holiday is based on the fact that the Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517.) Another Fundamentalist substitution for Halloween has been "harvest festivals" that celebrate the season of autumn and the gathering of crops. These fundamentalist substitutions are no more "pagan" than the celebrations of days or seasons that may have been introduced by earlier Christians.

Historical truth prevails

Ultimately, all attempts to prove Catholicism "pagan" fail. Catholic doctrines are neither borrowed from the mystery religions nor introduced from pagans after the conversion of Constantine. To make a charge of paganism stick, one must be able to show more than a similarity between something in the Church and something in the non-Christian world. One must be able to demonstrate a legitimate connection between the two, showing clearly that one is a result of the other, and that there is something wrong with the non-Christian item. In the final analysis, nobody has been able to prove these things regarding a doctrine of the Catholic faith, or even its officially authorized practices. The charge of paganism just doesn’t work.