16 June 2017

Idolatry?? (2)

Sometimes one hears it suggested that pagan deities are simply the "God whom we all worship" in a different garb and cultural context. So that, however convinced we are that our inherited perception of God is divinely revealed to us, we might licitly respect other, albeit imperfect, manifestations of God. Perhaps all the "gods" are simply masks behind which lies "the same one God".

Such an attitude is not irrational. In fact, is was widely held in the early centuries of the Christian era. I am not an expert on Hinduism, but I think it is today the belief of educated Hindus. It deserves the respect we owe to all good people who hold to an erroneous religious faith.

The good people who held it 2,000 years ago were those who worshipped the goddess Isis; an ancient Egyptian deity hellenised and much promoted by the Ptolemaic (Macedonian Greek) rulers of Egypt in the centuries between Alexander the Great and the the absorption of Egypt into the Roman Empire. Cleopatra VII herself was, indeed, the father-loving goddess the new [i.e. Incarnate] Isis.

You can explore Isiacism in Book 11 of the Metamorphosis of Apuleius ... a work available in paperback translation. Or, if you have access to an academic library, in Plutarch; or in P. Oxy 1380 of the Oxyrrhynchus papyri (modern books about the cult are often unreliable and are not recommended).

Cult members believed that Isis was the proper name of the deity, and that the cult as propagated by the Ptolemies was her authentic cult. But they believed that she was in fact the same deity that was worshipped in every place under a variety of names and by different cults. So, if you woshipped her in one place as Hera, in another as Athene, in another as Diana, you were worshipping the same divinity. Behind all these different external formats, the deity was One. Accordingly, if you had been initiated into the Mysteries of Isis, there was no reason why you could not also be initiated into other cults, such as the associated cult of Osiris, or that of Mithras ... In Apuleius, indeed, the subject of the narrative seems to be rather keen on 'collecting' such initiations. Quite prbably, some of his Christian converts at Corinth whom S Paul warned against idolatry had been people of such a type ... which is why such vigilant pastoral care needed to be taken of them and their religious activities.

This is one form of a religious culture sometimes known as 'syncretism'.

In the time of S Paul, Isiacism was extremely popular (particularly among women, as Mithraism was among soldiers). Had you asked a contemporary of S Paul "What is the Future of Religion?", you would probably have been told 'Isis' or 'Mithras'. In a cosmopolitan and mobile world, these sophisticated and personal international 'mystery' cults from the Orient had an appeal which the old, rather distant classical tutelary gods of the polis did not have.

Christianity stood out against such syncretisms. Pagan gods, S Paul taught, were either non-existent; or were demons. In either case, they needed to be very firmly shunned. The advice available to us in Scripture affords no support for a policy of respecting Isiac or Mithraic or Hindu cult objects as a way of demonstrating polite respect for the persons of Partners in Interfaith Dialogue (otherwise known as Idolaters). And I can find nothing in the advice of Vatican II which in this matter contradicts Scripture. If I did, it might not be Scripture that I would downplay.

This is the historical background against which we have to understand the firm formulation in Acts: "There is no other name under heaven by which a man may be saved except that of Jesus".

One of the reasons why Christians have always spurned 'Freemasonry' is that its ritual, so it is reported, combine and mingle together the One True God with the names of heathen so-called divinities ... in other words, the very essence of syncretism.

Even very Eminent people need to be warned: "Shun Idolatry!"

8 comments:

Tom Forde said...

On the Ancient Faith Radio website yesterday I listened to an interview with Christine Mangala Frost author of The Human Icon: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Orthodox Christian Beliefs (Publisher: James Clarke & Co ISBN-10: 0227176359 ISBN-13: 978-0227176351). She noted that many of our contemporaries (and not just secularists) have ideas that are Hindu in origin but they are unaware of this. I have the book on my 'to buy' list.

Deacon Augustine said...

Ps. 95,5 "For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils: but the Lord made the heavens."

Considering that all the plagues visited on Egypt by God were direct attacks on their false gods and false cults (Isis herself being the target of the plague of boils/sores), I think it is fair to say that idolatry is something which should be more than merely shunned. Idolatry/adultery are the gravest sins which violate the 1st/6th Commandments.

It is not surprising that prelates who go soft on adultery are also closet idolaters because the two sins are inextricably linked throughout salvation history. The rabbis believed that what the Original Sin was to Adam, the worship of Apis in the form of the golden calf was to Israel.

In more merciful times clergy who entertained/tolerated/justified/indulged in idolatry would be kicked out if not burned at the stake. Kyrie eleison.

Augustine Pinnock said...

I see that Deacon Augustine has quoted what I wanted to. I'm going off on a slight tangent, but it should be noted that the pagan 'deities' do in fact exist, but they are fallen angels rather than gods and goddesses. The eminent exorcist, Fr. Chad Ripperger, mentions this on occasion in his conferences. For example, according to Fr. Ripperger, Osiris is the demon tasked with discouraging vocations to the priesthood.

DeHereticoComburendo said...

Part I Section IV of “The Everlasting Man” by Chesterton deals with these issues in a most fascinating way, suggesting that polytheism was indeed a corruption from the original idea of a single “Great Spirit” and that paganism has always tacitly understood the concept of a distant but ultimately real monotheism. I can’t begin to do it justice – you simply have to read it.

By the way, kudos for the word “Oxyrrhynchus”. I have no idea what it means but nine letters in a row with nary a vowel must be some kind of record. You're the Daddy.

John Vasc said...

Tut tut, Father - are you trying to set back fifty years of enlightened and cordial ecumenical relations with the pagan community? Do you wish to thrust us back into the obscurantist darkness of 'extra ecclesiam nulla salus'? Fie and for shame!

At our local parish church of St Hazel-on-the-Wold, we are proud that at least one of our two monthly Sunday masses is dedicated to exploring the cultural riches of the various Mystery Cults. As our bishop wrote recently in a letter to the Tablet: 'Whether Mithraic, Eleusinian, or Agatha Christi-an, we all love a good mystery!'
Such liturgical experiments open our minds: the coach trip to Stonehenge, the parish picnic at the Long Man of Wilmington - all memorable occasions. Indeed, so attached are we to these ecumenical away-days that the bishop has decided our church can be now be closed and sold off, as we no longer rely on it quite so much.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Pagan gods, S Paul taught, were either non-existent; or were demons."

When worshipped.

When a certain story about them originates, they may have been for instance men (Romulus, Hercules, I add Odin and Krishna to the list) or misguided philosophical speculation about the things in fact done by the true God and by his angels (Helios is a stand in for real angelic mover of Sun, who demonstrated his devotion to the true God : before Joshua, before Isaiah and his king, over Calvary and over Fatima, not to mention that he shone in the eyes of "his worshippers" an Aztec army and so helped the Spaniards). Or, in fact, a demon even from start, as is VERY likely with Apollo.

But when worshipped, they are BOTH nothing (there is nothing in the real world which corresponds exactly to what the pagan imagines about them, Hercules may have been a strong man, but he was not elevated to Olympus and wed to Hebe, Krishna may have been a wise counsellor to Arjuna, but he was not "shedding" his human body, nor received "by the gods" when his spirit ascended "among them"), AND demons (because the Pagans have some culpability, the demons can profit from the sins of idolaters in the idolatrous worship).

Grant Milburn said...

I can never read about Isis and Osiris without starting to sing "O Isis und Osiris schenket/der Weisheit Geist dem neuen Paar" in my best basso profundo...

Turmarion said...

Hans Georg Lundahl: Helios is a stand in for real angelic mover of Sun...

Uh...the sun does not move. Earth moves around the sun. And angels are not needed to move the celestial bodies--that goes back to Aristotle's mistaken physics. God created gravity and the various laws of physics, which explain planetary motion quite well. I don't have any substantial disagreement with the rest of your post, but geez, get the physics right!