Did Cardinal Newman admit to similarities between Catholicism and Paganism?


a quote that a protestant gave me in order to “prove” that the catholic chruch adopted pagan practices was

*processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison [Note 17], are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church. {374}" -An Essay on the The Development of the Christian Doctrine John Henry “Cardinal Newman” p.359 *

what should we make of this?


If the church did adopt some of the practices of Paganism, it was what was good and true in Paganism. All religions have some truth in them, after all they are seeking the truth no matter how far off the correct path they might be. Christianity could have adopted what was good and thrown out what was bad.
With things like exchanging wedding rings, having incense in the Mass, and other things, they can have meanings that is true to God and his plan for us.

Some of the ancient religions had a view of a trio of Gods, but does that mean Christianity borrowed them from these other religions.


Certainly. What’s to make of it? Catholics need to stop being apologetic about this–it’s one of your clear points of superiority over Protestantism.



I recall someplace reading the charge that church steeples are copied from pagan phallic symbols. And the response that of course they are; otherwise they would have pointed downward and been placed under the churches. :rolleyes:


At a rather superficial level, religions are similar to other religions. Here is a list of similarities between Christianity and paganism:

– Books of sacred writings
– Buildings for sacred worship
– Prayers to deities
– Sacred music
– Religious / spiritual leaders
– Sacred (holy) days

I could go on, but I hope the point is clear. Any Protestant who criticizes the Catholic Church for having similarities to paganism really needs to remove the log from their own eye and get serious.


I don’t know anything about the Cardinal Newman article, but I do know that the “History of Religions” theory was at its height around the time of Cardinal Newman. This was a theory in biblical scholarship that early Christianity borrowed or adapted the ideas of pagan religions into their new religion. Many hundreds of books were written about this theory, especially in the first few decades of the 1900’s.

The idea was eventually completely refuted. In fact, it’s considered so dead in biblical scholarship circles that no one would touch it. Not even the atheists in the Jesus Seminar.

Christians did build Christian churches over pagan temples. This was not because they thought there was no difference between a church dedicated to Minerva and one to Christ. On the contrary. This was an act of triumph; Christianity had won, and the pagans had lost. Christians also wore amulets. But their amulets didn’t contain feathers or other pagan items. They contained bits of the gospels, much as devout Jews did.

Yet I have heard it suggested many times that Catholics “borrowed” many things from the early pagans, suggested by Protestants and by atheists.

I would love to hear from anyone out there who has done some real research into this. Annem.


That’s wishful thinking on your part. Of course the particular forms of this theory prevalent in the 19th century are dead, and some of the sillier claims are no longer made by serious scholars. But the idea that Christianity took over elements from other religions is not dead, just presented in a more sophisticated way (i.e., serious scholars would not just line up stories of miraculous births and say, “See, the Christians obviously stole their version from Mithras or Krishna or Dionysius or whatever”).



An excellent book showing the background of many of the things you mentioned is

How Christ Said the First Mass or the Lord’s Last Supper (
by James J. Meagher (Author)

It is a treasure chest of knowledge on the background of so many catholic things, especially everything associated with the Mass and the priesthood. Check out the reviews at amazon.com


Does that Protestant not wear a wedding ring?

Does their sanctuary not face East (most do)?

Do they have no images whatsoever in their worship buildings?

Do they sing during worship?

Do they celebrate Christmas on the pagan holiday of December 25th?

Are they American (after all, the American government is modeled on pagan Greece and pagan Rome)?

People are so silly and so ignorant of history sometimes that I despair for our posterity.


They seem to forget that Judaism also had many of these elements including the use of incense, special place of worship, and priestly vestments. In fact, some of the mass prayers are Jewish prayers.


There are two ways of viewing the religious history of the world.

  1. That God has always tried to reveal Himself to all peoples, and that people have understood Him imperfectly at different times, until He revealed Himself perfectly in His Son. All religions have prophecies that point to similar ideas about God because He has tried to speak to them and they have tried to seek Him. The human spirit is designed to seek certain symbolic ways of representing the divine, and, while God has placed limits on these to avoid us worshipping the representation instead of the reality, common religious rituals and symbolism can be understood by looking at the psychology of the human mind that God created in all of us.

  2. That God only ever spoke to Moses, Jesus, St Paul and Martin Luther. That every other religion are worshipping gods that are really different images of the devil. All religions have prophecies that point to similar ideas about God because the devil is so good at mimicking God to draw people away from Him. God has left this tiny number of witnesses in the world, and is content to let the devil control all of the other world religions, and to let him successfully deceive people who earnestly desire to serve God devoutly into devil worship so they get sent to hell.

I know which version of events I’d go with.


Many pagan cults used baptismal washings. So, of course, did the Jews. Should we do away with baptism? Easter was originally a celebration of the pagan goddess of Spring.
The pagan celebration of Saturnalia was replaced with the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ. Pagan Rome used rings and veils in their weddings.

Western culture accumulated and transformed many pre-Christian elements. So what?


Exactly. Great post. Let me just point out that it’s not only that we’d rather go with version 1 (for many fundamentalists that just means we are sentimental idiots:eek:) but that it fits the evidence much better–and by that I mean all the evidence, including Scripture (Paul’s missionary sermons in Acts, Romans 1-2, etc.).



If we’re going to get rid of pagan influences, we’d better change the names of the days of the week, which are named after ancient pagain deities like Saturn, the Sun, the Moon, Woden, and Thor.

Also the months of the year, which are named after Roman gods like Janus or emperors like Augustus.


Great post DL82!


Most religions share many common aspects with one another it doesn’t disprove either.

There’s very little doubt that much in the Catholic Church was adopted from paganism, it doesn’t make those things being an immediate affront to God. They kept the good and threw out the bad. Kept the language, singing, art (replaced them with Christian themes), festivals (just wrapped them in a Christian themes… brilliant evangelization tool BTW), and ditched the idol worship, orgies etc…


Well, if many on this thread want to continue with this line of thinking, let us not leave out the Triune God of Hinduism (Trinity) and
Hindu soma (Eucharist),
OM ( I AM in Hinduism),…, etc., etc., etc.

It is obvious that most on this thread have given new meaning, and maybe even extended the meaning, of the Second Vatican Council Decree on Non-Christian religions: Nostra Aetate. I pray that this thread is not an unknowingly misleading/misrepresented/cult fruit of The Second Vatican Council. This line of thinking makes it seem that GOD recycles pagan practices since, by the words of some on this thread, they have been adapted by Thee Church.
Is this what Christ, i.e. GOD, intended for us, the incorporation of paganism in his Church? Elaborate/elucidate please, thank you.:slight_smile:


I can sympathize with what you are trying to say. Perhaps this may assist some on this thread:

Theodosius I

Roman Emperor (also known as Flavius Theodosius), born in Spain, about 346; died at Milan, 17 January, 395. **Theodosius **is one of the sovereigns by universal consent called Great. He stamped out the last vestiges of paganism, …A great part of the emperor’s activity was now spent in establishing the Catholic faith and repressing Arianism. In February, 380, he and Gratian published the famous edict that all their subjects should profess the faith of the Bishops of Rome and Alexandria (Cod. Theod., XVI, I, 2; Sozomen, VII, 4). The conventicles of the heretics were not to be called churches. …During all his reign Theodosius took severe measures against the surviving remnants of paganism…Pagan sacrifices, omens, and witchcraft were to be punished as loesa majestas (Cod. Theod., XVI, X, 10-12)…newadvent.org/cathen/14577d.htm

So what was it that Christ or his Church adapted from paganism?
Some must have meant this:

Christian ritual developed when, in the third century, the Church left the Catacombs. Many forms of self-expression must needs be identical, in varying times, places, cults, as long as human nature is the same. Water, oil, light, incense, singing, procession, prostration, decoration of altars, vestments of priests, are naturally at the service of universal religious instinct. Little enough, however, was directly borrowed by the Church – nothing, without being "baptized"

(The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912)


Truth is truth. Goodness is goodness. Stealing is not OK just because pagans say it is wrong. Loving your parents is not wrong just because pagans say it is right. The same is true of doctrines and rituals, though obviously to a lesser degree since moral principles are more universal.



I think this is the point. All men are designed to seek God through His religion–it makes sense that they would have natural inclinations to do these things before even receving the Gospel. One of the reasons the faith spread in Latin America is because they already valued ideas of sacrifice, redeeming blood, “eating” god for communion, and other things of this nature. These things were perfected with the Light of the Gospel (and a little help from Our Lady, who used native “pagan” imagery to show that she was above their gods, but not God herself).

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