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Marya Dempsey wrote:

Hi, guys —

My non-Catholic friend said the Catholic Church is pagan. She also sent me a video that I attached below. In her e-mail she said:

This is a good overview of the early history of the Catholic Church.

Dr. [Name Withheld] goes quickly, so you will need to pay close attention and pause it.

I recommend you listen carefully if you have the time. The Catholic Church is responsible for the death of more Christians than any other institution on Earth. Pope John Paul II seemed to be one of the rare true Christian popes, but the guy that holds that office today is not.

Here is the video. [Video hidden.]

  • My question is How do I respond?

Marya D.

  { How do I respond to a non-Catholic friend who is telling me that the Catholic Church is pagan? }

Eric replied:


I remember when I was in college and my best friend made a comment at Bible Study that the Catholic Church was pagan. I was not the most faithful Catholic at the time, in fact I was wandering off into Evangelicalism, but this comment motivated me to look into the matter and I ended up discovering that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth and I fully embraced it. I've looked into all of these charges of paganism and found them unsubstantiated. They are based on misunderstandings, distortions, and who knows what else.

My first comment on this video would be never to trust anyone who tries to argue a major point from the book of Revelation. Interpreting Revelation is fraught with so much danger that it was almost not accepted into the canon of Scripture and to this day is not read in the Greek Eastern Christian churches.

He makes a comment about the Nicolaitians being condemned in Revelation, claiming it comes from the words for "rule" and "laity" and thus condemns a clerical structure: anyone who would attempt to rule over the laity. This is spurious. These were the followers of Nicholaus of Antioch, mentioned dead last in the list of deacons in Acts 6:5. He's listed last, as Judas was always listed last in the list of Apostles, because ancient authors attest he was disgraced because he started this heresy spoken of in the book of Revelation (although this view is not shared by all today).

"Early tradition links these heretics with Nicolaus, one of the seven deacons ordained in Acts 6:5. Whatever their background and origin, the Nicolaitans are said to have had a dangerously casual attitude toward idolatry and sexual immorality."

(The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 495)

Even if the tradition isn't true, it's a real stretch to conclude, that because a sect has a name that resembles the words for "rule" and "people" and "laity", that somehow this makes a clerical distinction immoral, especially when Nicolaitians were known for sexual immorality, not for clericalism.

He then cites Hislop in The Two Babylons (more on that later) citing yule logs, mistletoe, wassail, winter solstice, etc. and tries to transfer that to Christmas to implicate Catholicism in paganism. The problem here is that with the exception of the timing of Christmas, none of these things are endorsed by the Church or intrinsic to its celebration. They are secular cultural trappings. You will not see yule, mistletoe, or wassail mentioned in any prayers or liturgical books. To try to link them to Catholicism is absurd.

With respect to the winter solstice, the solstice is on December 21st to 22nd, not December 25th. Ancients were good enough astronomers to be precise about this. Moreover, we have records of the discussions of the early Christians over the rationale behind the dating of Christmas. No one argued that we should take it from Babylonian legends. They argued from Jewish ideas about the length of lives of prophets and rendered it from when they thought Jesus died, March 25th. The fact that Christmas is celebrated in some places on January 6th is more evidence, as some traditions said Jesus died on April 6th. So this has nothing to do with Babylonian legend.

  • But if it did, what difference would it make?

Paganism involves worshipping idols and other gods. It doesn't have to do with innocently sharing dates with pagan events. I find this brouhaha amusing as many Evangelicals, who believe the Catholic Church is pagan because they argue she adopted dates of certain pagan celebrations, will think nothing of having a Harvest Party in lieu of Halloween.

In other words, they are doing exactly the same thing the Catholic Church did: Co-opt pagan customs and christianize them. Yes, there were certain ideas the Church christianized, such as the title Pontifex Maximus, but first of all this was a plot to co-opt and supplant paganism, not embrace it, and,

  • Why does using a title employed by pagan emperors have anything to do with idolatry anyway?
  • Evangelicals use wedding rings, which have roots in paganism, does that make them pagan?
  • Are people who use the expression knock on wood pagans because this originated as a way to placate Druid gods?
  • Pagans went to the bathroom, too. Shall we declare that pagan as well?

It can get ridiculous. If you can't see an obvious connection today between a given custom and paganism, for all intents and purposes, it is no longer functioning as pagan.

Much of Dr. [Name Withheld]'s time line for pagan Catholicism starts in the 4th century, yet if you study the first three centuries of the Church (i.e. before this time line), you will find that the vast majority of specifically Catholic doctrines were established by then. The best you could do is accuse Catholicism of employing certain trappings of paganism, such as liturgical vestments and elements of popular piety (Christianized, of course), but as I've shown you this does not prove that we are worshipping idols or pagan gods. Anyone who has been to a Catholic Mass should be able to very clearly tell what we worship, and it isn't pagan gods.

I recommend a few things written by Catholic Answers apologists to address much of this stuff, in particular Hislop's claims. Hislop wrote, by the way, in the 19th century, which tells you just how up-to-date and accurate his "research" is.

These comments are based on watching 22 minutes of the video you sent us. It's time for me to retire for the night but I wanted to send at least this commentary off before I do. I will try to watch more of the video; I can't make any promises but I think the Catholic Answers tracts will cover most of it.


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