Is Catholicism the "Babylon Mystery Religion"? | Mark P. Shea | CWR
How the story of the Magi sheds plenty of light on the historical soundness of the Gospel of Matthew and how early Christians viewed paganism
As we saw last time in this space, the notion that Christianity is "really" warmed-over paganism is contradicted by the fact—abundantly in evidence not only in the New Testament but in the writings of the Fathers and the liturgy of the Church—that, well, early Christians just don't care much about pagan things, while both the New Testament and the Fathers are positively drowning in the images, words, ideas, thought forms, questions, and concerns of the authors of the Old Testament. Reading the New Testament in the hope of discovering the secret paganism that it is the real root of Christianity is like reading Shakespeare with the undying conviction that sufficient scrutiny will uncover his massive debt to Korean literature: it just ain't gonna happen. The New Testament is obsessed with the Old Testament, not with paganism. It makes reference to paganism only very occasionally, and to pagan literature only a handful of times.
Meanwhile, the New Testament is soaked in Hebraic thought, imagery, poetry, prophecy, law, and wisdom. The early Christians don't care too much about paganism, seeing it as, variously, 1) a dim hunch about things Jews and Christians were privileged to know by revelation from God; 2) a demonic deception; 3) a source of human wisdom, but not divine revelation. For that, they turn with obsessive fascination to what Paul calls "the oracles of God" (Romans 3: Early Christians will turn to it to illustrate a point, as when Paul quoted a Greek poet or two to connect with the Greek locals, just as a stump speaker might mention the local football team in attempting to connect to his audience). In much the same way, even today modern Christians offer punning riffs on current cultural phenomena (“Jesus: He’s the Real Thing,” “Christ: Don’t Leave Earth Without Him,” etc.).
But exactly what these Christians did not do was take passages of Scripture that referred to Jesus and apply them to Apollo or some other pagan deity. Nor did they look to any pagan deity to tell them about Jesus; they knew perfectly well that Jesus could be represented as the Sun of Justice and Light of the World long before Aurelian invented his pagan festival. That’s because early Christians were behaving in a way perfectly consistent with Scripture, becoming “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22), not “holding the form of religion while denying the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:5).
This matters immensely because it bears directly on the first moment the early Catholic Church really did borrow something from pagans. And not just any pagans, mind you, but actual adherents of Babylonian Mystery Religion. And most amazingly, the early Catholics’ decision to do so receives the complete approval of, and even hearty defense by . . . Bible-believing Christians!
We Three Kings of Orient Are /Astrologers Who Traverse Afar
As a young Evangelical, one of the things I routinely heard from critics of Christianity was that “everybody knows” the story of the Magi in Matthew 2 is a pious fiction invented by the Evangelist.