Tag Archives: mysteries

Christianity and the False Dependence on Mithraism

The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realization both of mythology and philosophy. It is a story and in that sense one of a hundred stories; only it is a true story.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Christianity emerged out of the historical, social and religious milieu of first century Palestine. The area was a part of the Mediterranean world unified under Hellenic cultural influences and Roman military might. The pagan Roman populace had grown weary of their pantheon of gods and the seeming dreariness of everyday life. There was a spiritual hunger for something more, something transcendent. As the empire expanded its arms to the east and to the south so it also brought in elements from these foreign lands to the mainstream Mediterranean lifestyle. These imported elements included the so-called “mystery religions,” or “mysteries” to help satisfy this spiritual hunger. These mysteries included among others the cults of Mithra, Isis and Osiris, Dionysus, Magna Mater, and Cybele and Attis. Of these, perhaps the most prolific and influential was the Mithraic cult centered about the Persian deity Mithra. Mithraism, the most renown of the mysteries, has often been compared to Christianity. Many modern scholars argue that there are a number of striking similarities between Christianity, and the mysteries and Mithraism. Moreover, many such modern scholars have argued that not only has Christianity relied heavily upon the mysteries for its theology and practices, but also that Jesus himself is merely myth and Christianity just another mystery cult.

This paper will show the fact that Jesus was indeed a historical person and that Christianity was not just another mystery cult. On the one hand, Mithraism was a mystery based on the story of Mithra. On the other, Christianity grew out of Judaism and was based on the real person of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, the two divergent groups did have some superficial similarities. These similarities have wrongfully been construed to “prove” that Christianity was dependent upon Mithraism and the other mysteries. This paper will then show on which points the groups diverge. It will show how the pagan mysteries evolved and blended their theology so as to imitate the rapidly rising Christian movement. Similarly, it will reaffirm the historical nature of Jesus Christ, and the uniqueness of the religion He began. Ultimately, it will reveal the fact that Christianity emerged from Judaism as a unique religious movement based upon the historical person of Jesus Christ, and that it was different from and in direct competition with the pagan mysteries and Mithraism.

However, Christianity and Mithraism did have some apparent similarities that have been offered as proof of dependency. For example, the mysteries and Mithraism are considered religions of redemption similar to that of Christianity.1 The notion of a vicarious sacrifice for the sake of redeeming others seems to have been present. An inscription at the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome reads, “You saved us…by shedding the blood.”2 Mithra in effect saves his followers by reluctantly slaying the bull. Similarly, as Joseph Campbell points out, the mythology of dying and rising deities had been indigenous to the Near East for millennium.3 Mithra himself is the mediator, and also the god of light. He is born from a rock that was witnessed by on-looking shepherds similar to the birth of Christ. Mithra’s birth date is celebrated on December 25th. After killing the bull, Mithra then celebrates the love feast with his disciples at a “Last Supper.” At this last supper, Mithra offers an oblation of bread and a cup of water. After this he ascends into Heaven to be one with the Sun.4

Continuing in the teachings of Mithraism, at the end of the world there will be a resurrection of the dead in which Mithra will preside over the Final Judgment. Furthermore, Mithraism advocated an ascetic lifestyle. Life is a battle in that the initiate must struggle through the difficulties that may come. Abstinence was considered praiseworthy. They believed in Heaven and Hell and the immortality of the soul. The initiates went through a ritual washing of water, or “baptism” some would say. The initiates go through preparation and instruction and would be admitted into the mysteries in a nocturnal celebration on the eve of a great festival similar to the Christian catechumens entering the Church at the Easter vigil. Through an initiation process and ascending in the secret mysteries the person gains salvation. Many have compared these initiations and seven levels of Mithraism as a forerunner of the seven sacraments of the Church. Taking in all of these apparently close parallels between Christianity and the mysteries and Mithraism, many have concluded that Christianity is but myth and itself a mystery cult. As one author noted.

The obvious explanation is that as early Christianity became the dominant power in the previously pagan world, popular motifs from Pagan mythology became grafted into the biography of Jesus.5  The Christian Bible and historical Jesus at best would have just blended some aspects of the pagan mysteries into the true facts. At worst, the Bible and Jesus were pure legend in line with the Mithraism and the other mysteries.6

Despite these similar portraits between Christianity and the Mithraism, significant differences do exist. First off, just looking at the origins of the two competing religious movements reveals an abundance of dissimilarities. Mithraism was a cult based upon astronomy and astrology.7 Of course, astrology and soothsaying was explicitly condemned in the Bible.8 The initiates were to ascend through the seven spheres of the heavens. The Mithraic caves, or Mithraeums, where the ceremonies were held, were covered in a depiction of the zodiac mirroring the cosmos. Moreover, most Mithraeums had iconography of the Mithraic tauroctony. This key icon showed Mithras standing over the bull and slaying it. Given the complete astronomical orientation of the cult, as David Ulansey argues, Mithras in the iconography is actually the constellation “Perseus.” Seen from this perspective, the tauroctony was actually a “star map.”

As Ulansey argues, Mithraism was developed by Stoic philosophers in the city of Tarsus. The Stoics were philosophers steeped in astronomy and astrology. They had learned at the time of a revolutionary idea discovered by Hipparchus about the procession of equinoxes. Thus, they reasoned there must have been a great god who could have shifted the whole cosmos from the end of the age of Taurus. With Perseus directly above Taurus in sky, the Stoics then actually personified the constellation as their local hero, Perseus. Later, Cilician pirates, who themselves navigated by the stars and who had close contact with the wealthy and intellectuals, adopted the cult and changed the god from the Tarsus hero, Perseus, to Mithra. As testified by Plutarch, they then helped spread the new astrological cult of Mithra around the empire.9 Thus, the Persian myth of Mithra was superimposed upon the new astrological cult of Perseus begun originally by Stoics of Tarsus to account for the astronomical discovery of the procession of equinoxes.10

Because the Stoics are from Tarsus, the city St. Paul was from as well, many attribute Paul’s religion as just another mystery and one influenced in particular by Mithraism. This is an impossibility given what we know of Paul. Paul was a strict Pharisaic Jew schooled under Rabbi Gamaliel. In addition, there is no historical evidence that paganism had entered into the common life of the Jews.11 Paul was interested solely in preserving the Mosaic Law and strictly adhering to every letter of it. This can be witnessed in his early persecution of the nascent Church. Paul voiced the same abhorrence later for paganism. As he states in his letter to the Corinthians warning them about the dangers of idolatry and paganism, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons.”12 In addition, Paul had extended contacts with the Apostles themselves. The Church in Tarsus was in effect the same as the Church in Jerusalem. Both, as one Church, held that to be Christian meant renunciation of all other “gods” and idolatrous practices. Moreover, the New Testament canon is clearly supported by Old Testament scriptures and prophecies. As such, Paul advocated belief in Christ alone. Christianity, like Judaism, was completely intolerant of any other religions. Paul’s religion was exclusive while the mysteries were merely one of many interchangeable myths. It is very difficult indeed to imagine that this same Paul with his zealous orthodox Jewish beliefs was susceptible to pagan influences and Mithraism.

Furthermore, the Mithraic practices differed widely with those of Christianity. To begin with, whereas Christianity was open to all, Mithraism was open only to men. Women were not allowed into the cult. Of the hundreds of Mithraic inscriptions none include that of a priestess or a woman initiate.13 Mithraism was in general a soldiers and merchants religion.14 The cult spread mostly through the Roman legions. The cult was highly personal and individualistic. In this sense Mithraism was not a religion at all. The very term “Mithracists” is a modern phrase not found in ancient literature.15 There was no sense of community, organization or solidarity.16 The pagan mysteries had no sense or equivalent of the ekklesia. There was no concern for the poor; no economic cooperation; no inclusion of the family unit. Many pagans converted, such as Tatian and Justin, for the very fact that they saw the hospitality that Christians treated each other with saying, “Look how they love one another!”17 The total inclusion and submission of family into a community of believers is ridiculous when applied to the mysteries.

Christianity from its inception, however, was focused on the community of believers as the body of Christ. Christianity was a public religion open to all. The “mystery” as referred to by Paul and the New Testament is used as some as proof by terminology of Christian dependence upon the mysteries. Yet, the whole point of the “mystery” of Mithraism and the other cults was to keep all knowledge secret. The secrets of the mysteries were to be known only by the initiates, again alluding to the highly individualistic nature of the mysteries. In Christianity, however, “mystery” was something that was previously hidden in the mind of God, but now has been revealed and is to be made known to all.18 Thus, unlike Mithraism and the mysteries, Christianity was at once dogmatically intolerant of other faiths, yet it was open to any and all people. Christianity was preached everywhere openly, while Mithraism was kept secret known only to the initiates.19 In this vein of secrecy, it is not surprising that although there is an abundance of archeological evidence of Mithraism, there are almost no literary references to it.20 Since it was a secret society of sorts, none of its dogmas or tenets were written down. What is known of the cult is solely through iconography.21 This, of course, is in complete contradiction to the comparatively copious amounts of writings from the New Testament and the early church Fathers.

In connection with these differences, Tertullian offers some first hand accounts. Tertullian was an eyewitness to the Roman soldiers and the Mithraism in their ranks. He says that Mithraism attempted to copy Christianity.22 Tertullian writing in the latter second century says that Mithraism, and by association military life, was incompatible with Christianity. Firstly, Roman legions were often followed by prostitutes, pimps, gamblers and con-men.23 He also speaks of the idolatry involved in serving in the military through sacrifices and capital punishment. In his Treatise on the Crown Tertullian says,

Blush, you fellow-soldiers of his, henceforth not to be condemned even by him, but by some soldier of Mithras, who, at his initiation in the gloomy cavern, in the camp, it may well be said, of darkness, when at the sword’s point a crown is presented to him, as though in mimicry of martyrdom,…and he is at once believed to be a soldier of Mithras if he throws the crown away – if he says that in his god he has his crown. Let us take note of the devices of the devil, who is wont to ape some of God’s things with no other design than, by the faithfulness of his servants, to put us to shame, and to condemn us.24

So, just as Christians who refused to wear the crown of the king were executed, so too the Mithraic soldiers mimicked that faithfulness in their initiation ceremonies. Yet, Tertuallian describes Mithraism as the “device of the devil,” and in contrast to Christianity, something that is shameful and to be condemned. Thus, Tertullian quotes Jesus in admonishing Christians in the military that they “can’t serve two masters.”

Yet, again this exclusiveness of Christianity was not found in the mysteries. Mithraism was completely acceptable with other forms of paganism and even emperor worship. As Tiridates, king of Armenia, came to Rome on a state visit he is quoted as saying, “I have come to you, my god, to worship you as I worship Mithras.”25 Moreover, many Mithraicists were involved in more than one mystery. One could easily have been initiated into Mithraism without giving up his beliefs in say, Isis.26 The fluidity of the myths of the mysteries made them increasingly popular, especially by the end of the second century. It was at this point that Mithraism in particular became one of the favorites of the Roman aristocracy.27 Even the emperor Commodus who ruled from 180-192 AD was initiated into Mithraism which reflected a triumph of the cult.28 As one author noted the inclusive nature of the mysteries,

Thus, the use of the term “mystery religions,” as a pervasive and exclusive name for a closed system, is inappropriate. Mystery initiations were an optional activity within a polytheistic religion, comparable to, say, a pilgrimmage to Santiago di Compostela within the Christian system.29

These mysteries in general had some very foreign, and even, hedonistic rites in comparison to Christianity. Gregory of Nazianzus spoke of various tortures and humiliations involved in the Mithraic initiations.30 Other mysteries’ initiation rites included drugs and orgies. In some initiation rites they practiced the “taurobolium.” The taurobolium consisted of the initiate crouching in a pit covered in wooden beams on which a bull was slaughtered and the person was covered in its blood.31 This was a primitive practice adopted to give the initiate an “emotional high.” The Christian notion of a vicarious and voluntary suffering for others is not found in the mysteries, especially in Mithraism. Moreover, the “suffering god” myth is completely absent from Mithraism.32 Even more obvious, this form of animal sacrifice was not present in Christian practices. There was in Mithraism in particular a reduction of practices to the physical. For example, they would eat the raw flesh of the sacrificed bull.33 The notion of spiritual things or a spiritual communion as in Christianity was totally lacking in the mysteries. Salvation is seen more as a “magical liberation from the flesh,” than as the redemption from sin.34

There were other practices as well. As far as December 25th as the birth of Mithras and of Christ, it can be said that Constantine had in fact changed the celebration in 323 AD from the birth of the Sun, Mithras, to Jesus.35 In addition, Augustine writing some time later spoke of the Mithraic initiates as “flapping their wings like birds, imitating the cry of crows, others growl like lions, in such a manner are they that are called wise basely travestied.”36 These practices were in correspondence to the seven levels of initiation. Even these seven levels of initiation were not found in Christianity. There was also a “sprinkling of water” the Mithraicists used. Modern liberal scholars have anachronistically dubbed it a “baptism” using the Christian terminology. Of course, there is truly no evidence for a Mithraic baptism, especially one that was a symbol by emersion in water of dying and entering into a new life as in the Christian rite.37 Similarly, the modern liberal scholars have also dubbed the Mithraic feast a “Last Supper,” again imposing the Christian terminology. The “Mithra supper” involved bread and a cup of water. So, in this case, it was not bread and wine, and they did not become the “body and blood” of their “god.” Thomas Bokenkotter points out that even these similarities don’t necessarily indicate dependency. As he suggests, “Such primitive symbols are so basic to humanity that any religious person might use them to express an experience transcending this world.”38

What perhaps is much more interesting is the fact that the early Church Fathers all seem to agree that Mithraism had attempted to copy Christianity. It seems the most logical conclusion that Mithraism, in fact, tried to imitate the increasingly popular Christian religion. St. Justin had argued that the devil had foreseen the coming of Christ and Christianity, and so, he mimicked Christianity and the divine sacraments.39 Tertullian had argued as well that the devil had directly tried to copy Christianity.40 He also suggests that the soldiers were not really astute theologians so they tended to blend Christianity and Mithraism.41 Perhaps this is a large part of the reason why there could have been similarities between the two “religions.” Looking at the two divergent faiths, it is not difficult to see the evolution in teachings. Christianity, on the one hand, sprang forth from a strictly Judaic background. The Christian adherent had to renounce all other gods and idolatrous practices. As attested to by the Christian martyrs, no compromise was possible. On the other hand, there are the mysteries and Mithraism. By their very nature, they were all-inclusive. No one need reject their other gods or other beliefs to participate. Mithraism in particular was very fluid and adapted through time. This is evident looking back to the Mithraism of ancient Persia from which it came. The Roman Mithraism was an almost completely different religion from its origin. It had become, as Cumont depicted it, a “composite religion, in which so many heterogeneous elements were welded together.”42 Mithraism specifically attempted to establish its own superiority through a succession of adaptations and compromises with the other pagan mysteries.43 For example, Julian the Apostate tried to establish a universal pagan Church using a clergy and liturgy based on the Christian model.44 Christianity, however, unrelentingly fought against any compromises with paganism. As Cumont surmised,

Mithraism, at least in the fourth century, had therefore as its end and aim the union of all gods and all myths in a vast synthesis, the foundation of a new religion in harmony with the prevailing philosophy and constitution of the empire.45  In contrast, the direct Christian abhorrence to the mystery religions can be seen in Hippolytus’ condemnation of Gnostic sects for their dependence upon the mysteries! 46

It seems that Mithraism in its hopes for universal domination imitated and synthesized the beliefs and practices of the rising and increasingly popular Christianity in order to stay on pace with it. This dependency then of Mithraism upon Christianity can be seen too in the archeological evidence, or lack thereof. The characteristics of Mithraism are not in evidence truly before the year 100 AD.47 As Cumont described it, it was not until the end of the first century that “the name of Mithra began to be generally bruited abroad in Rome.”48 In fact, the earliest known reference to Mithraism is from around 80 AD.49

Mithraism reached the peak of its power around the middle of the third century while Christianity was still being brutalized.50 This again attests not only to the late date of Mithraism, but also to the hostility between the two creeds. Most of the evidence of Mithraism and the mysteries comes from after the year 200AD.51 Modern liberal scholars have tended to extrapolate from this late evidence, and then, to erroneously confer dependency of Christianity upon Mithraism. Moreover, there are no monuments of Mithraism before 90AD.52 Thus, it is clear that the flowering of Mithraism took place truly after the establishment of the Christian church and the writings of the New Testament canon. As Gunter Wagner summarized it, “Moreover, on account of the lateness of its spread, there is no question of the Mithras cult influencing primitive Christianity.”53

Now, perhaps the greatest dissimilarity between Mithraism, the mysteries, and Christianity, and perhaps the most obvious, was simply that they were myth and Christianity was historical. The fact remains that there never existed a historical person Mithra. He was an invention of man, a myth. On the other hand, Jesus Christ clearly was a historical person, not a myth. Mithraism, like the other mysteries, was a timeless myth intimately linked to the rhythm of nature of death and rebirth. Jesus Christ was a historical person with datable events. As Cumont saw it, “It was a strong source of inferiority for the Mazdaism (Mithraism) that it believed in only a mythical redeemer.”54 Paul in his writings is more than anything else a witness to the person of Jesus Christ. The New Testament books and epistles are almost all written before the close of the first century, and as such, should be counted as historical evidence to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There were also some limited extra-biblical references to the person of Jesus and Christians. There is an abundance of second century Christian writings to substantiate this, such as from Iraeneus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Justin, Hippolytus, some of who had contact with the Apostle John.

As for the non-Christian writings there is some evidence as well. There were Roman historians at the beginning of the second century who referred directly to Christ. Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan in the year 112. An excerpt states, “..on a fixed day they used to meet before dawn and sing hymns to Christ, as though he were a god.55 Suetonius writes that “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians..”56 More provocatively, the Roman historian Tacitus writes about the burning of Rome under Nero in 64AD that,

..he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius..57

Lucian of Samosata, a second century satirist writes “..the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world..58 Suetonius, another Roman historian writes about the Christians, “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”59 Julius Africanus, a Christian writer of about 221 AD refers to a writing by the pagan historian Thallus in 52 AD saying that the sun was eclipsed at the time of Christ’s crucifixion.60

There were also a few references to Christ by Jewish sources, in particular, the historian, Flavius Josephus.   Although some dispute the text, and there probably were some later Christian additions to it, there is no reason to throw out the whole reference. Josephus, who was a contemporary to Jesus, wrote (from the unadulterated Arabic text),

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive;61

Josephus also later refers to the Apostle James saying, “..and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James..”62 Similarly, the Jewish Talmud, which clearly are not Christian forgeries, also mentions Jesus. One reference among a few of them states, “It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshua…because he practiced sorcery and enticed Israel astray.”63

Therefore, although there are some similarities between Christianity and Mithraism and the mysteries, there are greater differences. The evidence indicates that Mithraism was dependent upon Christianity, not visa versa. Mithraism in particular was an astrological cult that would not have fit well with Christianity, and particularly, Paul’s condemnation of pagan practices. Mithraism was open only to men and was mainly a soldiers and merchants religion. Christianity was open to all. At the same time, initiates in Mithraism could freely participate in other religious cults, whereas the Christian catechumen had to renounce all gods and idols. Mithraism mystery was based on secrecy, and as such, no literary works have been recovered. Christianity’s mystery was to be proclaimed to the world, and as such, many Christian writings on doctrines and dogmas exist. The theologies of the two seem to vary on substance. Modern liberal scholars often times wrongfully apply Christian terminology to Mitrhaic practices lending to the idea of a greater similarity than actually existed. Mithra was not even a dying and rising god, and so, the “suffering god” myth does not even apply. Furthermore, there is no historical or archeological evidence that Mithraism in its Roman version preceded Christianity. The New Testament canon was already complete by the rise of Mithraism. Mithraism was based purely on myth while Christianity was based on the historical person of Jesus Christ. There are biblical and Christian, Roman, and Jewish extra-biblical writings to support the historical person of Jesus and Christianity.

The conclusion must be that through adaptations and synthesizing aspects of various cults and religions, Mithraism evolved from its Persian origins into a pagan Roman mystery cult. Christianity, on the other hand, stubbornly refused to give into any pagan influences or idolatry. Despite being forced to endure over three hundred years of persecutions and martyrdom, the Church continued to grow and thrive. Quite the opposite was true of Mithraism and the mysteries. They continued to import and meld together aspects of pagan practices, eastern myths, and Christianity for public consumption. The Mithraic cult’s ultimate aspiration was to rule the empire and to impose Mithras as the greatest of the gods. However, as Beckert describes it, “..with the imperial decree of 391/392 AD prohibiting all pagan cults and with the forceful destruction of the sanctuaries, the mysteries simply and suddenly disappeared.”64 Thus, as soon as Mithraism lost state protection the whole structure crumbled. In contrast, it is nearly unbelievable that Christianity rose from humble and victimized beginnings to become against all odds the state religion of the Roman Empire.

1Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1987), p.3.

2Ibid, p.112.

3Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology,(Viking Penguin, New York, 1964), p.334.

4Burkert, p.138.

5Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, (New York, Harmony Books, 1999), p.6.

6Burkert, p.190.

7David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, New York, Oxford Univ.Press, 1989, p.93.

8Deuteronomy 18:10

9 Ulansey, p.40.

10Ibid., p.93.

11J.Gresham Machen, D.D, The Origin of Paul’s Religion, New York, The MacMillan Co., 1921, p.255.

121 Corinthians 10:21.

13Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra, New York, Dover Publications, 1903, p.173.

14Burkert, p.7.

15Ibid., p.47.

16Ibid., p.48.

17Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, New York, Double Day, 1979, p.26.

18Machen, p.273.

19Bokenkotter, p.24.

20Burkert, p.42.

21Ulansey, p.6.

22Robert Day, et al., Christians and the Military: The Early Experience, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1985, p.25.

23Day, p. 49.

24Tertullian as quoted by Day in Christians and the Military, p.29.

 25Jack Finnegan, Myth and Mystery, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1989, p.205.

26Machen, p.9.

27Cumont, p.81.

28Ibid., p.97.

29Burkert, p.10.

30Ibid., p.102.

31Ibid., p.6.

32Ibid., p.76.

33Ibid., p.110.

34Bokenkotter, p.25.

35Finnegan, p.208.

36Cumont, p.152.

37Burkert, p.101.

38Bokenkotter, p.25.

39Johannes Quasten, Patrology: Volume I, Westminster, MD, Christian Classics, 1990, p.200.

40Freke, p.28.

41Day et al., Christians and the Military, p.25.

42Cumont, p.30.

43Ibid., p.197.

44Fr. John Laux, Church History, Rockford, IL, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1930, p.97.

45Cumont, p.187.

46Machen, p.249.

47Burkert, p.7.

48Cumont, p.37.

49Ulansey, p.29.

50Cumont, p.199.

51Dr. Ronald H. Nash, “Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?,” 1994, p.3, accessed 11/15/00, (www.summit.org),

52Ibid., p.5.

53Gunter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries, Edinburgh, Oliver & Boyd, 1967, p.68.

54Cumont, p.195.

55Laux, p.52.

56Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernadino, Here’s Life Publishers, 1972, p.83.

57Ibid., p.82.




61Ibid., p.82.

62Ibid., p.83.

63The Jewish Talmud as quoted Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in The Jesus Mysteries, p.138.

 64Beckert, p.53.

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima

This spring will mark 100 years since the Fatima apparitions, and an opportunity to reflect deeply again upon their message. The Angel of Peace appeared three times to the shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, beginning in the spring of 1916 in Fatima, Portugal. These visitations prepared the way for the six apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima the following year. The message of Fatima may be lost sometimes in the mysterious and the spectacular: the apparitions; the “three secrets;” the “dancing of the sun.” Yet, the main entreaties from Heaven concerned our day-to-day earthly activities and how these will forge our eternal destiny. The everlasting consequence of unrepented mortal sin is Hell; knowing this, we should live our lives according to the laws of God, in obedience, purity and virtue. The central message of Fatima was an urgent plea to stay on the narrow path to Heaven.

Fatima calls us to conversion, and a daily turning away from sin. In order to convert the unrepentant, the Angel first taught the children the great value of intercessory prayer. Underscoring the importance of our intercession, the only thing the Virgin Mary requested at all six appearances was for us to pray the Rosary, every day. She told them that our prayers can help save souls, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” It is not only intercessory prayer, but also our intercessory sacrifices and sufferings that are efficacious. By virtue of our Baptisms, we are all brought into the Body of Christ and partake in His priesthood, as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. Acting in our priestly role, we can offer ourselves up as “spiritual sacrifices” acceptable to God and in atonement for sins. (CCC 1141)

Further linking us to the Body of Christ, the Angel and the Virgin Mary said we should seek to console God through worthy reception and adoration of the Eucharist. While the idea of consoling an all-powerful God may seem counterintuitive, we are reminded by Pope Pius XI that “we can and ought to console that Most Sacred Heart,” which is continually wounded by our sins (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 13). In a similar way, the Angel offered the children holy Eucharist to make reparation for sins and to “console your God.” This was later echoed in Our Lady’s Eucharistic prayer: “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!” The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324), and the Fatima apparitions remind us that worthily receiving Jesus in Communion has the grace to save our souls and console our God.

The Virgin Mary also asked us to make reparation through the “First Five Saturdays” devotion. Our Lady promised Sister Lucia, “to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation” those who will practice this devotion of Confession, Eucharist, recitation of the Rosary, and meditation upon its mysteries. The Church rightly honors the Mother of God, because it was through her, and in consent of her freewill, let it be done to me, that the Savior was born into the world. (Lumen Gentium, VIII) This is what we proclaim in the words of the Rosary: the moment of the Incarnation of God. As Pope Paul VI issued in his 1967 Apostolic Exhortation, Signum Magnum, on the 50th anniversary of Fatima, it is fitting that we consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as the spiritual Mother of the Church, for her mediatory role in the salvation of the world.

Now, on this 100th anniversary of Fatima, we are reminded again to contemplate its message and embrace its devotions. Although the Angel of Peace and Our Lady of Fatima appeared during the carnage of World War I, the divine messages are perhaps even more relevant today, in an age of nuclear weapons and renewed militancy across the globe, rampant atheism, materialism and loss of faith, a diminishing Church in the West, and a rapidly growing permissive society. As faithful disciples, we are called to be holy, and intercessors for each other. Fatima was a wake-up call. In it, Jesus’ last words from the Cross come alive “Behold, your mother.” (Jn. 19:27) In the midst of a passing world, we need to get right with eternal things: by penance, Confession, the Eucharist, prayer, especially the Rosary. Our Lady of Fatima renews this call again, to stay on the narrow path to Heaven.




The Sanctifying Humanity of Jesus – December 17, 2015

“For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in Him.” (Col.2:9)

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn.10:10)

Can you take a moment and try to imagine yourself standing before Christ while He was alive here on earth, or maybe imagine that He is standing in front of you right now wherever you are. What would He look like? He would appear as a man, for Jesus is a man, as the Creed says He became man. Jesus looked like you and like me. There did not seem to be anything noticeably or discernably different between Him and us. We can take Jesus’ neighbors from Nazareth as evidence of this. When Jesus had begun His public ministry, and began to reveal who He truly was, they “took offense at Him” and “were astounded” saying “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?” (Mt. 13:54,57) Jesus, it seemed to them, was an ordinary man, and only a man. They did not recognize that Jesus was something more. They did not fathom that He was even a prophet, much less the Son of God. Isaiah prophesied of Christ’s ordinariness writing, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Is.53:2) Jesus looked common, nothing special in appearance. He was of humble social status too. Jesus performed the humblest type of work as a daily laborer. He was the son of a carpenter, and He Himself was a carpenter. Again, Jesus’ neighbors were perplexed by Christ asking, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” (Mt.13:55-56) They could not reconcile the juxtaposition of the ordinary neighbor who had lived among them with the great wisdom and power He was manifesting now. By every measure, according to His neighbors in Nazareth, Jesus was just a man. They, in fact, were partially right. As the Councils and Catechism declare, Jesus was “true man.” (CCC 464)

The part they missed, however, is that Jesus was also “true God.” He was both true God and true man.” (CCC 464) Jesus was not just an ordinary person that stood and lived in their midst. He was also the Son of God, the Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Jesus the man was also the divine being, God-become-man. They saw perfectly the humanity of Christ, but failed to see His divinity. Yet, Jesus was fully God. As scripture says, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9) The fullness of the Trinity dwelt in Christ. His earthly life was the autobiographical life of the Incarnated God. The thoughts of God were communicated through the voice of Christ. In the mystery of the hypostatic union, Christ’s earthly nature was united with His divine nature. The two natures together, human and divine, form the one theandric, divine person. The Catechism reinforces this saying Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from “one of the Trinity”. The Son of God therefore communicates to His humanity His own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In His soul as in His body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity.” (CCC 470) It is for this reason that St.Thomas can exclaim to the risen Christ, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28)  

Now, because the fullness of divinity dwelt in the person of Christ, every event, every circumstance, every word, every deed, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, takes on a divine significance and importance. There are no small actions for a God-man. Everything He would have done or said would be of divine significance. The divine Sonship of Christ imbued all of His actions with infinite value. The Catechism alludes to this saying “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) For Christ’s whole life, the infinite God performed finite human tasks, living as an ordinary man.  For thirty years, Jesus labored as a carpenter in silence and obedience to Mary and Joseph. The infinite vastness of Jesus’ divinity remained hidden under the auspices of His ordinary humanity, only to be revealed occasionally, and progressively, when He so chose, in His miracles and His healings, in His words, at the Transfiguration, in the Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus communicated His divinity to us through the lens of His humanity. He was able to save the human race precisely because He took on a body and soul as a human being when the Word became flesh. (Jn. 1:14) The mystery of redemption took place in the body of Christ, in His humanity, and because of His divinity. The Catechism calls this “His holy and sanctifying humanity.” (CCC 774) All of humanity and human nature was made holy and sanctified because God took on our nature and lived as one of us. The Church teaches, “The saving work of His holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments.” (CCC 774) Jesus’ human nature is the instrument for redeeming our human nature, which is why the Church calls it His “sanctifying humanity.” In Jesus’ sanctifying humanity, He performed finite actions, limited to a particular time and space. Yet, these finite actions were performed by a divine person, by which, giving them infinite moral value and efficaciousness, for all time and for all people.

Sanctifying grace is the true source of greatness for the believer. Without sanctifying grace our faith is meaningless. It is the transformative and life-giving power that Christ won for us in His life that can transform our ordinary lives and actions. Sanctifying grace is primarily conferred upon us through the sacraments. Baptism and Confirmation confer the Holy Spirit into our lives making us adopted children of God. Reconciliation and Eucharist sustain us with sanctifying grace from one day to the next, divinizing all of our activity in imitation of Christ for the glory of God. However, just as Christ’s divinity lay hidden in the workshop in Nazareth, so our life, as adopted sons and daughters, lay primarily interior and hidden. As Jesus tells us “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk. 17:21) St.Paul echoes this too, saying “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) The Christian life is truly a supernatural life. It is our participation in the mysteries of Christ, making us partakers in the divine nature. (2 Pet.1:4) We are drawn into Christ’s mysteries through our faithful love and adoration of Christ, in contemplation, in reading the Bible, in the mass and liturgy, in the sacraments, in our prayer life, in our actions, in doing them with intentionality to please God. As John says, “from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (Jn.1:16) So that, through our contemplation and worship of the life of Christ and all His words and deeds, He may be able to reproduce them in us by the special grace attached to each of His deeds and actions. Christ’s whole life is a type of sacrament, imparting His sanctifying grace upon us in each of His actions. As Jesus walked through the masses of people “the crowd were trying to touch Him, for power came out from Him and healed all of them.” (Lk 6:19) Christ is a living Christ, with this same grace and power He had then, which still emanates forth from Him now into those that draw near to Him and dare to reach out for Him in faith.

The Catechism lucidly describes Christ’s sanctifying humanity and our communion with His mysteries. It is worth quoting at length:

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” (Redemptor Hominis, 11) Christ did not live His life for Himself but for us, from His Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to His death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us. He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before Him all that He lived and suffered for us.”

In all of His life Jesus presents Himself as our model. He is “the perfect man” who invites us to become His disciples and follow Him. In humbling Himself, He has given us an example to imitate, through His prayer He draws us to pray, and by His poverty He calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way.

Christ enables us to live in Him all that He Himself lived, and He lives it in us. “By His Incarnation, He, the Son of God, has in a certain way united Himself with each man.” We are called only to become one with Him, for He enables us as the members of His Body to share in what He lived for us in His flesh as our model:

“We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and His mysteries and often to beg Him to perfect and realize them in us and in His whole Church. . . For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in His mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us and in His whole Church. This is His plan for fulfilling His mysteries in us.   (St.John Eudes)

The mysteries that Christ lived in the flesh are our mysteries too. They are meant for us. We can unite ourselves each day with them. His divine, sanctified humanity, which conquered death, gives eternal life to our mortal humanity. This is the whole point. We are doomed to die, but in Christ we have the blessed hope of resurrection and eternal life. And, how should we live? We can habituate ourselves to try to please God in all things, even the smallest of our actions, in order to be united with Christ in all that we do. This is a key to the sacramental life, living with the intentionality of pleasing God. This will orient all of our activity towards God, and unite our lives with the life of Christ. He will recreate His mysteries within us. Just think, even more so than adoring the life of Christ, Christ’s very own sanctifying humanity – His divine essence as manifested in His flesh – lives on with us, even now, He is still here, in the real presence of the Eucharist. We can merge ourselves with His sacred humanity and His sanctifying grace by consuming His body and blood in reception of the Eucharist, our Holy Communion. Then, Christ will live within our dying bodies and souls, His sanctifying humanity transfiguring our humanity, and resurrecting us to eternal life.