Religion: Mithraism and Christianity

Cameron Sawyer writes: Here is a good article on Mithraism:
 which has some more interesting facts about the links to Christianity:
 "Link to Christianity

As Christianity gathered momentum and eventually became the Roman Empires state religion, Mithraism was not tolerated. The Apologist saw it as a satanic travesty of the holiest rites of their religion. Nevertheless Catholicism has preserved some of the outer form of Mithraism, to name some; the timing of Christmas, Bishops adaptation of miters as sign of their office, Christians priests becoming 'Father' despite Jesus' specific proscription of the acceptance of such a title. The Mithraic Holy Father wore a red cap and garment and a ring, and carried a shepherd's staff. The Head Christian adopted the same title and outfitted himself in the same manner. While the outer appearance of Mithraism can be detected in Catholicism, some traces of the inner teachings of Mithraism can be found in Sufisim, therefore the study of Sufisim allows a new insight into Mithraism, and possibly vise versa  . . . .

The faithful referred to Mithras as "the Light of the World", symbol of truth, justice, and loyalty. He was mediator between heaven and earth and was a member of a Holy Trinity.

The worshippers of Mithras held strong beliefs in a celestial heaven and an infernal hell. They believed that the benevolent powers of the god would sympathize with their suffering and grant them the final justice of immortality and eternal salvation in the world to come. They looked forward to a final day of judgement in which the dead would resurrect, and to a final conflict that would destroy the existing order of all things to bring about the triumph of light over darkness.

Purification through ritualistic baptism was required of the faithful, who also took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread to symbolize the body and blood of the god. Sundays were held sacred, and the birth of the god was celebrated annually on December the 25th. After the earthly mission of this god had been accomplished, he took part in a Last Supper with his companions before ascending to heaven, to forever protect the faithful from above.

However, it would be a vast oversimplification to suggest that Mithraism was the single forerunner of early Christianity. Aside from Christ and Mithras, there were plenty of other deities (such as Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Balder, Attis, and Dionysus) said to have died and resurrected. Many classical heroic figures, such as Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus, were said to have been born through the union of a virgin mother and divine father. Virtually every pagan religious practice and festivity that couldn't be suppressed or driven underground was eventually incorporated into the rites of Christianity as it spread across Europe and throughout the world. "

Jim Tent says: I wrote a research paper on Mithraism because Ancient History was my minor during my Ph.D. history studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Mithraism was especially close, chronologically to Christianity with respect to Christmas (not Easter) because the followers of Mithras believed that their deity returned to his "Father" (i.e. the sun) after slaying a highly symbolic bull in a cave. His return to the sun coincided roughly with the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, i.e. December 21, the phase when the sun sank lowest on the horizon. Superficial parallels with Christianity are obvious. The son sacrifices something sacred for the father. Then he ascends to "heaven." Mithraic altars carry considerable symbolism on this point.

My conclusion in my paper was that Mithraism, which reached its maximum popularity in approximately the Third Century of the Roman Empire, failed because unlike Christianity, it was highly exclusive. The Mithraic altars and artifacts that survive seem to have been erected by and for elite military commanders and wealthy merchantmen. They are to be found in places like London and Vienna, and along the walls such as those in Great Britain and on the Danube. The poor and the masses in general, including women, were not included. Therefore, based on archaeological evidence, Mithraism was a religion that remained highly exclusionary. By contrast, Christianity was highly inclusive for all of  the masses of humanity.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 12, 2005