Early Christianity adopted many of the Pagan rituals as it evolved. The influences of Paganism can be found in the symbols Christians use as proof of their faith, the buildings they worship in and the ceremonies they participate into the holidays they celebrate. John H. Newman the author of Development of the Christian stated, "The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holy days and seasons, use of calendars, 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, are all of Pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church" (Newman, 351-353).
The design of temples used a places of Christian worship were adapted from and even created from the ruins of Pagan temples. During the 5th century, builders took columns, and masonry from the Greek temples dedicated to Zeus, Apollo, and Aphrodite to use in the construction of Christian Temples. To exorcise the site from lingering spirits, Christian leaders placed symbols throughout the church (Bayliss, 16-18). Some churches have Spires that point up to heaven it is symbolic, but this symbol mirrors the Pagan principle of heaven residing right above the earth’s atmosphere. Pagans used this symbol to direct a worshipper’s gaze the Sun god. Christians teach that heaven is in a not in the same realm and that the architecture of the place of worship is not relevant.
What is a relevant part of the design and worship in the early church was the practice of murder and idolatry. These practices are directly linked to Pagan rituals. The Ten Commandments, which was major laws in Christianity specifically addresses murder and idolatry. The commandments state, “Thou shall not kill and though shall not create any graven image.” The leaders of the church thought these commandments were generalization and did not follow them to the letter (Newman, 351-353). During the crusades, the Christian church murdered Pagan who refused to convert to the faith. The popes of that era promoted the crusades and the murder of Pagans. In like manner the Pope commissioned Michelangelo to paint the images on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. There are other temples and churches that have statues, paintings, stained glass windows, crosses that become objects of worship
As a part of worship Christians sing songs in the form of chants, poems. Congregations sing hymns, cantatas, anthems, oratorios or motets to stir the spirit. It is believed that singing assists in the rejuvenating and empowering believers, even if they are not talented singers. Singing is calming, and it is heals the spirit. Congregational singing transforms an audience from spectators into participants. Chanting as a part of devotional services is not limited to Christianity. Pagans use it as part of their rituals as well (Newman, 351-353). Other than worship services the celebration of certain holidays are a large part of Christianity. Christmas is one of the main holidays acknowledged around the world as the birth of Christ.
In early Christianity, the birth of Christ was not celebrated, because the religious leaders did not want it be confused with the popular Pagan ritual Saturnalia. Pagans continued to participate in Saturnalia, which was a winter celebration that lasted a week, in honor of Saturn, when they converted to the Christian faith. This celebration consisted of parades, orgies, merry-making and gift giving. The Pagan ritual peaked on December 23th with a celebration of the winter solstice. Juvenalia, which was a celebration for children, was also celebrated by Pagans around the winter solstice. The date of December 25th was selected by Pope Julius I as the date that Christians would be observe the birth of the Messiah. He hoped that the choice of this date would be embraced by the Pagan converts since they had rituals they observed during this season. (Matthews, 7).
Easter is significant holiday in Christianity, which is the observation of the Messiah’s demise, coming back to life, and his ascension to heaven, freeing those that believe from the penalty of sin. Lent is a fast that Christians of the Catholic faith observe 40 days prior to Easter. Lent gained approval by the Christian Church in early 500’s AD. John Cassian, a writer during this era, explains that Christians did not celebrate Lent before this time. This changed as believers began to lose religious fervor. During the period when devoutness waned, priests called for a period of fasting to recall believers to their original commitment to the faith (Cassian, 1994). The Egyptians conducted a 40 day fast in honor of the god Adonis. Among the Pagans, there is a yearly memorial in honor of the death and resurrection of Tammuz which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing. In the month of June, a fast for 40 days was conducted to prepare for this tribute called, the month of Tammuz (Watts, 58). There are apparent similarities between the celebration of Lent by Christians and practices of Pagan fasting in preparation for Tammuz. The practice of fasting during this timeframe for most of the Pagan religions appears to be laying the groundwork for the coming of spring and the reawakening of the land. Christians believe that they must consecrate themselves by fasting in preparation for the annual Easter worship services.
All hollows eve or Halloween is another Pagan ritual that was assimilated in early Christianity. This celebration is the eve of all Saints Day to honor the souls of the deceased Saints of the church. It is celebrated by millions of children and adults on the last day of October. They dress in costumes and have parties, but many do not know the history of how this day evolved.
All Souls Day is a Christian holiday that is observed on the second day of November, the day after All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a holy day that recognizes all of the devout who have passed on. There are funeral masses that clergy conduct that are designed to help souls pass from Limo to Heaven. Saint Odilo, the fifth abbot of Cluny inspired this holiday. He believed that it was important to pray and sing songs for the dead on the day following All Saints Day to help them get to the place of rest. The Aztecs had a similar holiday they celebrate called the Day of the Dead. This holiday is celebrated for two months beginning in tenth month of the year a great feast is held for the dead (Anocna, 47-51). The Christians hold masses to honor the dead, whereas the Aztec's have a feast. The celebrations are similar in that both occasions were designed to help loved ones who have passed on to travel to a place of peace and tranquility. Christians pray for the deceased in order for them to move from Purgatory, a holding place to Heaven, the place of everlasting peace and joy. The Aztecs believed that there are nine levels that the soul has to travel through before arriving at its final resting place; the feast was to help the dead in this journey (Anocna, 47-51). . Early Christianity like the Paganism believed that is it important for the living support those who have passed on get to a place of rest.
Samhain is a Pagan Celtics festive to honor spirits of those who have passed on. The Celtic people believed that spirits are released upon the earth during Shamhain were of people who passed away during the year, gifts of food and drink were sat out to help the spirits of their ancestors, and to placate malevolent spirits. During the festival, Pagans dressed up in strange costumes and travelled the local villages moaning to keep away evil spirits. The Celts believed that they could speak to the spirits and predict future events during Shamhain. Pagan citizens did peculiar things, like moving farm animals to different pastures, removing the gates, and fences of neighbors. Men and women dressed in transgender attire, and tricks were played similar to those associated with Halloween in modern times. A bonfire was lit in the center of town to honor the Pagan gods. Each household extinguished the fires in their hearths to make their home unattractive to evil spirits. At the end of the festival, the villagers lit their hearths with fire from the sacred bonfire. During the festival the participants went to Physics, and painted stones that they threw into the central bonfire. The people believed that a person would pass away within the next year if the stone he or she threw into the bonfire was not recovered when the fire went out. Shamhain celebrants fashioned and dressed in costumes that were made from the bones and skin of animals (Austin, “Festivals: Shamhain”).
History is full of illustrations of how early Christianity made accommodations for Pagan rituals. These holidays, symbols, and buildings are still a large part of the Christian culture and worship. Pagan influences are found in paintings, walling hangings, and stained glass, which are symbols that are pertinent in church buildings in today. To lure and retain Pagan converts, early Christian leaders assimilated the celebrations, symbolism, ceremonies, and rituals with which they were familiar. Early Christianity have Pagan rituals are so deep-rooted into the Christian culture that modern day Christians do not recognize that the holidays they celebrate today now can from different pagan societies.
Newman, John Henry. Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Cambridge: Cambridge U.P, 2010. Print.
Bayliss, Richard. (2005). From Temple to Church Converting Paganism to Christianity in Late Antiquity. Academia. University. Sept. /Nov. 2005. Web. 14 Mar 2013.
Anocna, George, The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead, New York: Lotrop, Lee Shepard books 1993. Print.Hislop, Alexander. The Two Babylons Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeau Brothers, 1916. Print.
Watts, Alan W. Easter, It's Story and Meaning, New York: Abelard-Shuman 1950. Print
Ancona, George. (1993). Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.
Austin, C, Festivals: Shamhain. Grand Valley State University. 2009. Web. 14 Mar 2013.