Did pagan traditions and customs entered the early church?

I’ve heard that in the fourth century, because the Church was accepted and protected, some pagan traditions and customs entered the church. Is this true? What traditions and customs are we talking about?

Well, wedding rings were exchanged in pagan societies, and now have a Christian meaning and symbolism. Evergreen trees, which evolved into Christmas trees had a pagan symbolism and now have a Christian symbolism.

But really, since God created everything, we can really give any object symbolism replacing that of some other group who also have a symbolism for that object. I mean, marriage, trees, festivals, holidays, etc, are a universal human experience.

People who say these things are **implying **that Catholicism is pagan, that somehow pagan **doctrines **were incorporated into Catholicism. This simply isn’t true.

To the rest I say, So What?

The Church was at full liberty to discern, pick out, “baptize” and perfect whatever was good and of use in pagan practice, ethics, philosophies or customs.

She didn’t “incorporate” any pagan beliefs into her teaching. She simply embraced the seeds of Christ already latent within the pagan sects of ancient Rome and purified them of the dross.

As St. Justin Martyr stated:

“…All truth, wherever it is found, belongs to us as Christians and is Christian truth…”

***- Saint Justin Martyr (AD 100–165), Early Catholic Church Father ***

Here’s a good answer:



On the “Pagan” Origins of Christianity

Consider the fate of the pagan religions.

Catholics overran pagan cities, towns and lands, bought and occupied pagan buildings and temples, altered pagan art, music and literature, absorbed and replaced pagan harvest festivals and religious feasts, and, above all, won over and converted the pagan people themselves. In doing so, Catholics brought all things under the dominion of the one true God, Jesus Christ.

Isn’t that what He wanted us to do (cf. Mt 28:19)?

*Exactly! * The Catholic Church conquered paganism! In less than three centuries, the capitol city of the pagan Roman Empire became the seat of the Church, and the Roman Emperor became Christian (and no pagan would ever again rule Rome).

We kicked pagan butt.


Many cultures had customs, architecture, vestments, and objects associated with the sacred and holy that were deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the culture–when these these things were present, the people immediately recognized sacredness.

To help such cultures recognize sacredness in Christianity, the Church often adapted such architecture, vestements, and other things that said to the culture loud and clear “this is sacred” (as far as was possible without falling into superstition or syncretism).

This, in fact, is the good kind of inculturation. The bad kind of inculturation is when we replace things a culture has long held to signify sacredness with things from the cutlure that do not have such significance. In my opinion, this bad form of inculturation is at the root of the most common problems and abuses found in liturgical celebrations in the West.

Small correction, while the use of evergreen boughs as winter holiday decorations was, almost inevitably, a part pagan culture the use of a whole tree has a Christian origin around the Renaissance era, starting with Catholic roots though developed fully by the Protestants.

Another small correction, Julian the Apostate, who was the last fully pagan emperor, reigned from 361-363. Thus it took a little more than three centuries before official paganism became permanently (or at least, up to the modern era) a thing of the past in Rome.

But in general you are right. Catholics of the fourth century were intensely opposed to paganism. The idea that they would, whether deliberately or through lazy cultural diffusion, adopt pagan beliefs and rituals is nothing short of ridiculous.

Many of today’s practices in the Church do have pagan origins: Christmas and Advent wreaths, for instance, as is discussed here.

Today, with the commercialisation and consumerism rife at Christmas time, it looks like the pagans have reclaimed Christmas.

I’m with C. S. Lewis on this one–if only!

“Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears …
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.”

In many ways the rise of neo-paganism has brought about part of Lewis’ “bright vision,” but not entirely, since neopagans largely share in the moral attitudes of late-modern post-Christian liberalism.


Yep and a modern day butt kicking as I see it would be to take something like the NFL super bowl and somehow turn it into a Christian festival…a vision I have often had. Can you imagine, instead of hoisting the Lombardy trophy at the ceremony, hoisting a life size crucifix and glorifying God with the equal hoopla that surrounds the super bowl?


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