I’m reading an interesting book by Benedict XVI right now. It’s basically about all the world religions and philosophys. In it he says that all the religions of the world can be viewed as preparation for the truths of Catholicism. I’ve often thought along those lines. You see God has implanted his laws on all men’s hearts (Rom 2:15). Futher all creation cries out to the glory of God. Now a part of the law is that men have a natural desire to worship that created the universe, though it takes divine revelation to know him. It is also natural for man to see God in creation, thus using creation as symbols like Christianity does. Where am I headed with this?
Well in ACts 17 Paul goes to Athens and there he comes accross an altar to an unknown God, amongst all the shrines and altars to other Gods. Paul uses this altar as a springboard for proclaimng christ to them. He does not condemn this God of theirs but says:
21: Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
22: So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op’agus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
23: For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Paul is essentially looking for what is true in what they believe, i.e. using it to help them understand Christ. St. Francis Xavier was great at this. He converted nearly 1 million people.
A missionary came to our parish a few years ago. New Guinea was where his mission was and the people there used to be canabals even in to the 1940’s. Well lo and behold they found it very easy to understand the Eucharist, coincidentally.
The point of all of this is that what comes out as natural to man, though it may be used in paganism is not neccessarily false. So even if there was some part in a pagan religion that pre-dated the Judeo Christian understanding, that does not mean that it is false and exclusive to paganism. The three wise men knew of Christ’s coming and where it would be before the Jews, so what. “The wind blows where it will”. Though I do think you will find that in most cases the pagan lands got their ideas from the Jews. It is unavoidable to not have some pagan influence (which is not neccessarily false). Paul quotes the pagan sages a couple of times. For exmaple, here:
14: And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’
I hope this helps.