Archives for posts with tag: Constantine

I have spent years in personal study of Church history. I left the faith because of it. If Christianity got something wrong then I want to know about it. I will no longer defend it a priori. I will subject it to the same critical investigation I subject any other religion or truth claim to. But that also means I must be willing to accept it if something is proven true about its claims.

Similarly I will not tolerate it when lies are spread about it. Not because I must defend a dogma or am emotionally committed to it, but because I want the truth. Even if the truth of the particular issue does nothing to convince me of her central claims. I spent too many years digging into Church history to give into conspiracy theories and Fundamentalist agendas. I spent too many years agonizing over the sea of contradictions that engulf Christian claims. I want the truth and I will follow that truth wherever it leads. So far it has led me far from the gates of the Church and at this point I see nothing pointing me back there. But I remain open minded.

Brace Yourselves The 'Easter is Pagan' Posts Are Coming

As it is coming up to Easter I am beginning to see the usual anti-Christian “Easter is Pagan” memes. I used to see them promoted by rabid anti-Catholic Fundamentalist Evangelicals (I used to be one). Then I became more moderate and liberal and they died away. But as I left the faith and began making connections with atheists, skeptics and agnostics I began to see them bandied about again. And from the very highest authorities right down to the average skeptic who is just fed up of the bullshit.

it must be said right off the bat that all reliable sources point very strongly to the fact that Easter did originate as a Christian holiday. We have Melito in 150 speak of Pascha as something well established and practiced worldwide by the Catholic Church. This is a mere 50-70 years after it is thought the last Apostle died. One generation. It is therefore clear that it was the central holiday of Christendom since the very beginning. It was simply a continuation and “fulfillment” of the Jewish Passover. This is the most widely accepted theory. The one that fits all of the facts the best. Sure, that version may be wrong, but I generally try to listen to what the experts are saying, and in this case the jury seems to be in. Yes, there was evolution. Christianity has evolved since the beginning and continues to. Another reason I rejected it. The claims are that it is the faith once delivered to the saints. It is supposedly eternal and unchanging, but history tells us a very different story.

The reason I reject Christianity is because of the inherent uncertainty in its historic claims coupled with the absolute demands of the religion under threat of eternal hellfire. The threats do not match the level of certainty and the difficulty level at which its truth claims are discovered. Faith is a completely unreasonable demand upon which to base your eternal welfare on. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my opinions on the history of Christianity or on the Bible. I rejected Christianity in major part to allow me to fully question and test it without fear of hell. If at some point I come back to believe it is true then well and good. If some god out there damns me to eternal flames for wanting actual evidence for the things I believe then screw that god. And I seriously doubt a being capable of creating this universe is so small minded and simply wicked as that.

Atheists and skeptics are usually the best when it comes to analyzing the claims of religion and demanding evidence in support of these claims. But to often they give into wild theories about the origins of Christianity. Sad to say but this is simply because they want it to be true. Some claim, for example, that the central figures from the New Testament are stolen from previous cultures, Mary/Isis, Jesus/Horus, Lazarus/El-Azarus,” It just shows me how unaware of the facts these people are and how willing they are to believe a lie when it suits their agenda. Perhaps this phenomena is not just a religious one. Confirmation bias can happen to anyone at anytime. The supposed Jesus/Horus connection, which Bill Maher regurgitates in his otherwise insightful documentary Religulous, is completely without evidence in the slightest. There is simply no evidence to suggest any of the things said about Horus are true. I haven’t looked into the other supposed connections, but I have a strong suspicion based on what I do know that they are also made up.

From the beginning the festival was called Pascha (which is derived from the Aramaic word for Passover) and still is in most non-English countries.. The name Easter is of somewhat uncertain origin, but is most likely Northern European and refers to the goddess Eostre, who was mentioened by Bede in the 8th century. Most scholars feel that Bede had no reason to make this up as it did not help the image of Christianity at all. The month that Pascha fell on was “Oestre-month”. Exactly like how Thursday is named after Thor’s Day. There really is not much more to how Pascha got called Easter than that. The connection to a pagan goddess is incidental and only because she had her name attached to a month. So these critics of Christianity have misunderstood where the true connection lies. It refers to the time of the year.

There may be some connection between Eostre and Ishtar. I have not found any evidence as of yet to suggest this. But even if there was it would only suggest that the worship of a pagan goddess made its way from the Middle East to Northern Europe at some point in the ancient past. No big deal there. Scholars since the 19th century have understood there may be a possible proto-indo-european link between the various “dawn” goddesses (Eostre is derived from the word dawn).

Did pagan accretions add up over time? Most likely. The connections are mostly local customs that grew up slowly and quite apart from any official attempt by the Church to “paganize” Christianity.

Much of the confusion surrounding these issues was first brought upon us by Fundamentalist Evangelicals attempting to discredit the Roman Catholic Church and skeptics have simply fallen into it because they think it helps their cause. Many of the connections are simply not there or are misunderstood.

Constantine gets blamed for a lot of things he didn’t do. He didn’t change the Bible, he didn’t introduce the Trinity, he had very little to do with the Gnostics, he didn’t introduce Christmas and he didn’t change Easter from a pagan festival to a Christian one.

The issue Constantine dealt with regarding Easter was one of dates and times. The Quartodecimans celebrated it on the 14th of the month (quarto=4, deciman=10) in keeping with the Jewish Passover, which they believed was the Apostolic practice. Wikipedia says:

“Constantine enforced the prohibition of the First Council of Nicaea against celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the day before the Jewish Passover (14 Nisan) (see Quartodecimanism and Easter controversy). This marked a definite break of Christianity from the Judaic tradition. From then on the Roman Julian Calendar, a solar calendar, was given precedence over the lunisolar Hebrew Calendar among the Christian churches of the Roman Empire.”

If I’m not mistaken the East still celebrates on the Jewish day, while the West celebrates on the Sunday after it. The East says there way is the Apostolic way and is the very day Passover was celebrated, the West says Jesus rose on a Sunday (the change was also encouraged by strong anti-Semitic feeling).

After reading this I’d recommend you read another article called Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You. It’s another critique of the modern skeptical enthusiasm to show the pagan origins of Christianity that simply do not exist.

One rule of thumb is that with any historic claim go to the sources. If someone is claiming to be relying on sources ask to see them and read them for yourself. This usually dismisses most outlandish claims.

As skeptics we must test all claims not just the ones we don’t like. We accuse the religious of confirmation bias and in most cases rightly so. We should therefore not be found guilty of it ourselves.

The Council of Nicea and the reign of Constantine are fascinating subjects, but not for the reasons that Evangelical Fundamentalists and ill-informed skeptics think so.

Constantine changed the face of Christianity and the world. But he did not introduce any religious holidays. He did not tamper with the Bible. He did not invent the Trinity. He did not give us the Roman Catholic Church. He did many things, but he didn’t do any of that.

There are a couple of resources I would recommend. On the top of my list would be A. H. M. Jones’ Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. A joy to read. I have it in paperback, eBook and audiobook. It’s one of the few book I’ve ever reread.

The next book I’d recommend might be Decoding Nicea by Paul Pavao. If you can pick out the religious leaning then I think that book might be interesting as it deals with he primary sources of the council and addresses the misconceptions and lies that have gone around about it.

I know the author personally though we have parted ways since I left the faith. He doesn’t like engaging with me anymore.

Once you read these two books you could then read the sources for yourself and they should make a lot more sense to you.

The website https://fourthcentury.com hosts all the primary sources for Nicea under it’s councils section.

It is often claimed that Constantine brought in a paganized version of Christianity with Sun worship, and changed the day of worship from Saturday, which was the day of Sabbath for the Jews, to Sunday, the day of the Sun. Constantine did have some coins made with the inscription Sol Invictus on them, and on the arch made to celebrate his victory against Maxentius at the Milvian bridge he had some images of Sol Invictus.

It is no secret that he seemed to have a slow gradual conversion to Christianity rather than a rapid and radical one. But he could not have introduced Sunday worship, or Sun worship as it is claimed, since the Church had been celebrating on Sunday for at least a century before he came along.

Justin Martyr wrote around 70 years after John the last Apostle died. Could it be that in the space of one lifetime the Church had completely and utterly changed from it’s supposed Apostolic ways of Sabbath observance to Sunday? Even if that was so, it makes null and void the claim that Sunday was brought in for the worship of Sun, since it is Constantine’s link with the Sol Invictus that makes this idea stick. There is no evidence anywhere that the early Church before Constantine worshipped Sol Invictus or the sun in anyway. Only the opposite can be found to be true, since writer after writers indicts the pagans around them for worshipping false gods and images, instead of the one true God. While the same may not be said about Constantine, who seems to have given up his pagan deities only slowly, it is impossible, with the written evidence we have, to claim that he brought in Sunday worship in order to paganize Christianity.

Justin Martyr writing from around 160AD says this about Christian worship during the mid 2nd century: “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” Justin Martyr: Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.186

It is also claimed that he brought in the Christmas celebration, as a Christianized version of the winter solstice. This is almost certainly untrue. The record of Justin Martyr is readily available online and proves that Christians met on Sunday from the earliest times. There are also records from at least 215AD that some Christians (namely Hippolytus, and we can assume he was speaking for others) believed Jesus to have been born on December 25th. That’s 100 years before Constantine.

Hippolytus said: “The First Advent of our Lord in the flesh occurred when He was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, a Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, which is five thousand and five hundred years  from Adam. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.” Saint Hippolytus of Rome: Commentary on Daniel

There is an interesting website which deals just with that issue. I can’t post the exact address as YouTube will block it but it’s called Dec25th info. Very interesting.

One point that always seems to be brought up, and one that swayed me for the longest time, that is until I simply looked it up, is that it would have been far to cold for shepherds to be out in an during December in Israel. But is that true? Not according to this website:

www.myweather2.com/City-Town/Israel/Bethlehem/climate-profile.aspx?month=12

The average given is 15C during the day and about 6C at night. That’s the average for our autumn. Yes, it is cold, but not Canada cold. My wife is from Brazil. That’s a little colder than it gets there in winter (average is about 8C at night she tells me). And from experience all I needed was a jumper.

Consider another interesting point in this regard as I close on this matter. St. Patrick, who evangelized my country of Ireland, was captured by Irish pirates and enslaved on the mountains of Kerry or somewhere like that. He was out there all day, everyday with no shelter, and without adequate clothing for around 6 years. West Ireland winters are not like Israeli ones. Believe me!

So did Constantine paganize Christianity? Perhaps. But not out of evil intent I am convinced. The Church let down her guard after the Empire converted and there was a rush of conversions to the new favoured religion. Gone were the days of sacrificial living and martyrdom for the Name of Jesus. But it is also true that the Church Christianized the Empire. Yes, we are still suffering the after-effects of a Constantinian Hybrid. A Church-State monster, but let’s not get carried away with reactionary revisionist history, conspiracy theories based on nothing but our own delusions and hate, and our precious little pet doctrines. As followers of Christ, truth must be our goal. And sometimes the truth is uncomfortable.