BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION #1
by Ralph Woodrow (published 1966)
HE MYSTERY RELIGION of Babylon has been I symbolically described in the last book of the Bible as a woman "arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Revelation 17:1-6).
When the Bible uses symbolic language, a "woman" can symbolize a church. The true church, for example, is likened to a bride, a chaste virgin, a woman without spot or blemish (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 19:7, 8). But in striking contrast to the true church, the woman of our text is spoken of as an unclean woman, a defiled woman, a harlot. If it is correct to apply this symbolism to a church system, it is clear that only a defiled and fallen church could be meant! In big capital letters, the Bible calls her "MYSTERY BABYLON."
When John wrote the book of Revelation, Babylon—as a city—had already been destroyed and left in ruins, as the Old Testament prophets had foretold (Isaiah 13:19-22; Jer. 51-52). But though the city of Babylon was destroyed, religious concepts and customs that originated in Babylon continued on and were well represented in many nations of the world. Just what was the religion of ancient Babylon? How did it all begin? What significance does it hold in modern times? How does it all tie in with what John wrote in the book of Revelation?
Turning the pages of time back to the period shortly after the flood, men began to migrate from the east, "and it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there" (Gen. 11:2). It was in this land of Shinar that the city of Babylon was built and this land became known as Babylonia or later as Mesopotamia. Here the Euphrates and Tigris rivers had built up rich deposits of earth that could produce crops in abundance. But there were certain problems the people faced. For one thing, the land was overrun with wild animals which were a constant threat to the safety and peace of the inhabitants (cf. Exodus 23:29,30). Obviously anyone who could success fully provide protection from these wild beasts would receive great acclaim from the people.
It was at this point that a large, powerfully built man by the name of Nimrod appeared on the scene. He became famous as a mighty hunter against the wild animals. The Bible tells us: "And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty HUNTER before the Lord: wherefore it is said, “Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord" (Gen.l0: 8, 9).
Apparently Nimrod's success as a mighty hunter caused him to become famous among those primitive people. He became "a mighty one" in the earth—a famous leader in worldly affairs. Gaining, this prestige, he devised a better means of protection. Instead of constantly fighting the wild beasts, why not organize the people into cities and surround them with walls of protection? Then, why not organize these cities into a kingdom? Evidently this was the thinking of Nimrod, for the Bible tells us that he organized such a kingdom. "And the beginning of his KINGDOM was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Caleh, in the land of Shinar" (Gen.l0:10). The kingdom of Nimrod is the first mentioned in the Bible.
Whatever advances may have been made by Nimrod would have been well and good, but Nimrod was an ungodly ruler.
The name Nimrod comes from marad and means, "he rebelled," The expression that he was a mighty one "before the Lord" can carry a hostile meaning—the word "before" being sometimes used as meaning "against" the Lord.1 The Jewish Encyclopedia says that Nimrod was "he who made all the people rebellious against God." 2
The noted historian Josephus wrote: "Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God...He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God...the multitudes were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod...and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high...The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon." 3
Basing his conclusions on information that has come down to us in history, legend, and mythology, Alexander Hislop has written in detail of how Babylonian religion developed around traditions concerning Nimrod, his wife Semiramis, and her child Tammuz. 4 When Nimrod died, according to the old stories, his body was cut into pieces, burnt, and sent to various areas. Similar practices are mentioned even in the Bible (Judges 19:29; 1 Sam. 11:7). Following his death, which was greatly mourned by the people of Babylon, his wife Semiramis claimed he was now the sun-god. Later, when she gave birth to a son, she claimed that her son, Tammuz by name, was their hero Nimrod reborn. (The accompanying cut shows the way Tammuz came to be represented in classical art.) The mother of Tammuz had probably heard the prophecy of the coming Messiah to be born of a woman, for this truth was known from the earliest times (Gen. 3:15). She claimed her son was supernaturally conceived and that he was the promised seed, the "savior." In the religion that developed, however, not only was the child worshipped, but the mother was worshipped also!
[THERE ARE MANY DRAWING AND PHOTOS IN WOODROW’S BOOK…..THIS WEBSITE BEING ONLY A TEXT WEBSITE, ALL DRAWINGS AND PHOTOS ARE NOT SHOWN - Keith Hunt]
Much of the Babylonian worship was carried on through mysterious symbols—it was a "mystery" religion. The golden calf, for example, was a symbol pf Tammuz, son of the sun-god. Since Nimrod was believed to be the sun-god or Baal, fire was considered as his earthly representation. Thus, as we shall see, candles and ritual fires were lighted in his honor. In other forms, Nimrod was symbolized by sun images, fish, trees, pillars, and animals.
Centuries later, Paul gave a description which perfectly fits the course that the people of Babylon followed: "When they knew God, they glorified him not as God...but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an IMAGE made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things...they changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the CREATURE more than the CREATOR...for this cause God gave them up unto vile affections." (Rom. 1:21-26).
This system of idolatry spread from Babylon to the nations for it was from this location that men were scattered over the face of the earth (Gen.11:9). As they went from Babylon, they took their worship of the mother and child, and the various mystery symbols with them. Herodotus, the world traveler and historian of antiquity, witnessed the mystery religion and its rites in numerous countries and mentions how Babylon was the primeval source from which all systems of idolatry flowed. Bunsen says that the religious system of Egypt was derived from Asia and "the primitive empire in Babel." In his noted work Nineveh and its Remains Layard declares that we have the united testimony of sacred and profane history that idolatry originated in the area of Babylonia —the most ancient of religious systems. All of these historians were quoted by Hislop.5
When Rome became a world empire, it is a known fact that she assimilated into her system the gods and religions from the various pagan countries over which she ruled.6 Since Babylon was the source of the paganism of these countries, we can see how the early religion of pagan Rome was but the Babylonish worship that had developed into various forms and under different names in the countries to which it had gone. Bearing this in mind, we notice that it was during this time —when Rome ruled the world—that the true savior, Jesus Christ, was born, lived among men, died, and rose again. He ascended into heaven, sent back the Holy Spirit, and the New Testament church was established in the earth. What glorious days! One only has to read the book of Acts to see how much God blessed his people in those days. Multitudes were added to the church—the true church. Great signs and wonders were performed as God confirmed his word with signs following. True Christianity, anointed by the Holy Spirit, swept the world like a prairie fire. It encircled the mountains and crossed the oceans. It made kings to tremble and tyrants to fear. It was said of those early Christians that they had turned the world upside down!—so powerful was their message and spirit.
Before too many years had passed, however, men began to set themselves up as "lords" over God's people in place of the Holy Spirit. Instead of conquering by spiritual means and by truth—as in the early days—men began to substitute their ideas and their methods. Attempts to merge paganism into Christianity were being made even in the days when our New Testament was being written, for Paul mentioned that the "mystery of iniquity" was already at work, warned that there would come a "falling away" and some would "depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils"—the counterfeit doctrines of the pagans (2 Thess. 2:3, 7; 1 Tim. 4:2). By the time that Jude wrote the book that bears his name, it was necessary for him to exhort the people to "earnestly contend for the faith that was ONCE delivered unto the saints", for certain men had crept in who were attempting to substitute things that were no part of the original faith (Jude 1: 3, 4).
Christianity came face to face with the Babylonian paganism in its various forms that had been established in the Roman Empire. The early Christians refused to have anything to do with its customs and beliefs. Much persecution resulted. Many Christians were falsely accused, thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, and in other ways tortured and martyred.
Then great changes began to be made. The emperor of Rome professed conversion to Christianity. Imperial orders went forth throughout the empire that persecutions should cease. Bishops were given high honors. The church began to receive worldly recognition and power. But for all of this, a great price had to be paid! Many compromises were made with paganism. Instead of the church being separate from the world, it became a part of this world system. The emperor showing favor, demanded a place of leadership in the church; for in paganism, emperors were believed to be gods. From here on, wholesale mixtures of paganism into Christianity were made, especially at Rome. We believe the pages which follow prove it was this mixture that produced that system which is known today as the Roman Catholic church. We do not doubt that there are many fine, sincere, and devout Catholics. It is not our intention to treat lightly or to ridicule anyone whose beliefs we may here disagree with. Instead, we would hope that this book would inspire people —regardless of their church affiliation —to forsake Babylonish doctrines and concepts and seek a return to the faith that was once delivered unto the saints.
MOTHER AND CHILD WORSHIP
ONE OF THE MOST outstanding examples of how Babylonian paganism has continued to our day may be seen in the way the Romish church invented Mary worship to replace the ancient worship of the mother goddess.
The story of the mother and child was widely known in ancient Babylon and developed into an established worship. Numerous monuments of Babylon show the goddess mother Semiramis with her child Tammuz in her arms.1 When the people of Babylon were scattered to the various parts of the earth, they carried the worship of the divine mother and her child with them. This explains why many nations worshipped a mother and child—in one form or another - centuries before the true savior, Jesus Christ, was born into this world! In the various countries where this worship spread, the mother and child were called by different names, for, we will recall, language was confused at Babel.
The Chinese had a mother goddess called Shingmoo or the "Holy Mother." She is pictured with child in arms and rays of glory around her head.2
The ancient Germans worshipped the virgin Hertha with child in arms. The Scandinavians called her Disa who was also pictured with a child. The Etruscans called her Nutria, and among the Druids the Virgo-Patitura was worshipped as the "Mother of God." In India, she was known as Indrani, who was also represented with child in arms, as shown in the accompanying illustration.
The mother goddess was known as Aphodite or Ceres to the Greeks; Nana, to the Sumerians; and as Venus or Fortuna to her devotees in the olden days of Rome, and her child as Jupiter.3 The accompanying illustration below shows the
mother and child as Devaki and Crishna. For ages, Isi, the "Great Goddess" and her child Iswara, have been worshipped in India where temples were erected for their worship.4
In Asia, the mother was known as Cybele and the child as Deoius. "But regardless of her name or place", says one writer, "she was the wife of Baal, the virgin queen of heaven, who born fruit although she never conceived."5
When the children of Israel fell into apostasy, they too were defiled with this mother goddess worship. As we read in Judges 2:13: "They forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth." Ashtaroth or Ashtoreth was the name by which the goddess was known to the children of Israel. It is pitiful to think that those who had known the true God would depart from him and worship the heathen mother. Yet this is exactly what they did repeatedly (Judges 10:6; 1 Sam.7: 3, 4; 12:10; 1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13). One of the titles by which the goddess was known among them was "the queen of heaven" (Jeremiah 44:17-19). The prophet Jeremiah rebuked them for worshipping her, but they rebelled against his warning.
In Ephesus, the great mother was known as Diana. The temple dedicated to her in that city was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! Not only at Ephesus, but throughout all Asia and the world was the goddess worshipped (Acts 19:27).
In Egypt, the mother was known as Isis and her child as Horus. It is very common for the religious monuments of Egypt to show the infant Horus seated on the lap of his mother.
This false worship, having spread from Babylon to the various nations, in different names and forms, finally became established at Rome and throughout the Roman Empire. Says a noted writer concerning this period: "The worship of the Great Mother... was... very popular under the Roman Empire. Inscriptions prove that the two (the mother and the child) received divine honors... not only in Italy and especially at Rome, but also in the provinces, particularly in Africa, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Bulgaria."6
It was during this period when the worship of the divine mother was very prominent that the savior, Jesus Christ, founded the true New Testament church. What a glorious church it was in those early days! By the third and fourth centuries, however, what was known as the "church" had in many ways departed from the original faith, falling into the apostasy about which the apostles had warned. When this "falling away" came, much paganism was mixed with Chris-tianity. Unconverted pagans were taken into the professing church and in numerous instances were allowed to continue many of their pagan rites and customs—usually with a few reservations or changes to make their beliefs appear more similar to Christian doctrine.
One of the best examples of such a carry-over from paganism may be seen in the way the professing church allowed the worship of the great mother to continue—only in a slightly different form and with a new name! You see, many pagans had been drawn to Christianity, but so strong was their adoration for the mother goddess, they did not want to forsake her. Compromising church leaders saw that if they could find some similarity in Christianity with the worship of the mother goddess, they could greatly increase their numbers. But who could replace the great mother of paganism?
Of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the most logical person for them to choose. Why, then, couldn't they allow the people to continue their prayers and devotion to a mother goddess, only call her by the name of Mary instead of the former names by which she was known? Apparently this was the reasoning employed, for this is exactly what happened!
Little by little, the worship that had been associated with the pagan mother was transferred to Mary.
But Mary worship was no part of the original Christian faith. It is evident that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a fine, dedicated, and godly woman—especially chosen to bear the body of our savior—yet none of the apostles or Jesus himself ever hinted at the idea of Mary worship. As The Encyclopedia Britannica states, during the first centuries of the church, no emphasis was placed upon Mary whatsoever.7
This point is admitted by The Catholic Encyclopedia also:
"Devotion to Our Blessed Lady in its ultimate analysis must be regarded as a practical application of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. Seeing that this doctrine is not contained, at least explicity, in the earlier forms of the Apostle’s Creed, there is perhaps no ground for surprise if we do not meet with any clear traces of the cultus of the Blessed Virgin in the first Christians centuries.” the worship of Mary being a later developement.”8
It was not until the time of Constantine—the early part of the fourth century—that anyone began to look to Mary as a goddess. Even at this period, such worship was frowned upon by the church, as is evident by the words of Epiphanius (d. 403) who denounced certain ones of Trace, Arabia, and elsewhere, for worshipping Mary as a goddess and offering cakes at her shrine. She should be held in honor, he said, "but let no one adore Mary."9 Yet, within just a few more years, Mary worship was not only condoned by what is known today as the Catholic Church, it became an official doctrine at the Council of Ephesus in 431!
At Ephesus? It was in this city that Diana had been worshipped as the goddess of virginity and motherhood from primitive times!10 She was said to represent the generative powers of nature and so was pictured with many breasts. A tower-shaped crown, a symbol of the tower of Babel, adorned her head.
When beliefs are held by a people for centuries, they are not easily forsaken. So church leaders at Ephesus—as the falling away came—also reasoned that if people would be allowed to hold their ideas about a mother goddess, if this could be mixed into Christianity and the name Mary substituted, they could gain more converts. But this was not God's method. When Paul had come to Ephesus in earlier days, no compromise was made with paganism. People were truly converted and destroyed their idols of the goddess (Acts 19:24-27). How tragic that the church at Ephesus in later centuries compromised and adopted a form of mother goddess worship, the Council of Ephesus finally making it an official doctrine! The pagan influence in this decision seems apparent.
A further indication that Mary worship developed out of the old worship of the mother goddess, may be seen in the titles that are ascribed to her. Mary is often called "The Madonna." According to Hislop, this expression is the translation of one of the titles by which the Babylonian goddess was known. In deified form, Nimrod came to be known as Baal.
The title of his wife, the female divinity, would be the equivalent of Baalti. In English, this word means, "My Lady"; in Latin, "Mea Domina", and in Italian, it is corrupted into the well-known "Madonna"!11
Among the Phoenicians, the mother goddess was known as "The Lady of the Sea"12, and even this title is applied to Mary—though there is no connection between Mary and the sea!
The scriptures make it plain that there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Yet Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary is also a "mediator." Prayers to her form a very important part of Catholic worship. There is no scriptural basis for this idea, yet this concept was not foreign to the ideas linked with the mother goddess. She bore as one of her names "Mylitta", that is "The Mediatrix" or mediator.
Mary is often called "the queen of heaven." But Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not the queen of heaven. "The queen of heaven" was a title of the mother goddess that was worshipped centuries before Mary was ever born. Clear back in the days of Jeremiah, the people were worshipping "the queen of heaven" and practicing rites that were sacred to her. As we read in Jeremiah 7:18-20: "The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven."
One of the titles by which Isis was known was the "mother of God." Later this same title was applied to Mary by the theologians of Alexandria. Mary was, of course, the mother of Jesus, but only in the sense of his human nature, his humanity. The original meaning of "mother of God" went beyond this; it attached a glorified position to the MOTHER, and in much the same way, Roman Catholics have been taught to think of Mary!
So firmly written in the paganistic mind was the image of the mother goddess with child in her arms, when the days of the falling away came, according to one writer, "the ancient portrait of Isis and the child Horus was ultimately accepted not only in popular opinion, but by formal episcopal sanction, as the portrait of the Virgin and her child."13 Representations of Isis and her child were often enclosed in a framework of flowers. This practice too was applied to Mary, as those who have studied Medieval art well know.
Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of fertility, was associated with the crescent moony as seen on an old medal. The Egyptian goddess of fertility, Isis, was represented as standing on the crescent moon with stars surrounding all over Europe may be seen pictures of Mary exactly the same way! The accompanying illustration below (as seen in Catholic catechism booklets) pictures Mary with twelve stars circling her head and the crescent moon under her feet!
In numerous ways, leaders of the falling away attempted to make Mary appear similar to the goddess of paganism and exalt her to a divine plane. Even as the pagans had statues of the goddess, so statues were made of "Mary." It is said that in some cases, the very same statues that had been worshipped as Isis (with her child) were simply renamed as Mary and the Christ child. "When Christianity triumphed", says one writer, "these paintings and figures became those of the madonna and child without any break in continuity: no archaeologist, in fact, can now tell whether some of these objects represent the one or the other."15
Many of these renamed figures were crowned and adorned with jewels—in exactly the same way as the images of the Hindu and Egyptians virgins. But Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not rich (Luke 2:24; Lev. 12:8). From where, then, did these jewels and crowns come that are seen on these statues supposedly of her?
By compromises—some very obvious, others more hidden—the worship of the ancient mother was continued within the "church" of the falling away, mixed in, with the name of Mary being substituted inplace of the older names.
PERHAPS THE MOST outstanding proof that Mary worship developed out of the old worship of the pagan mother goddess may be seen from the fact that in pagan religion, the mother was worshipped as much (or more) than her son! This provides an outstanding clue to help us solve the mystery of Babylon today! True Christianity teaches that the Lord Jesus—and HE alone—is the way, the truth, and the life; that only HE can forgive sin; that only HE, of all earth's creatures, has ever lived a life that was never stained with sin; and HE is to be worshipped—never his mother. But Roman Catholicism—showing the influence that paganism has had in its development—in many ways exalts the MOTHER also.
One can travel the world over, and whether in a massive cathedral or in a village chapel, the statue of Mary will occupy a prominent position. In reciting the Rosary, the "Hail Mary" is repeated nine times as often as the "Lord's Prayer." Catholics are taught that the reason for praying to Mary is that she can take the petition to her son, Jesus; and since she is his mother, he will answer the request for her sake. The inference is that Mary is more compassionate, understanding, and merciful than her son Jesus. Certainly this is contrary to the scriptures! Yet this idea has often been repeated in Catholic writings.
One noted Roman Catholic writer, Alphonsus Liguori, wrote at length telling how much more effectual prayers are that are addressed to Mary rather than to Christ. Liguori, incidently, was canonized as a "saint" by Pope Gregory XIV in 1839 and was declared a "doctor" of the Catholic church by Pope Pius IX. In one portion of his writings, he described an imaginary scene in which a sinful man saw two ladders hanging from heaven. Mary was at the top of one; Jesus at the top of the other. When the sinner tried to climb the one ladder, he saw the angry face of Christ and fell defeated. But when he climbed Mary's ladder, he ascended easily and was openly welcomed by Mary who brought him into heaven and presented him to Christ! Then all was well. The story was supposed to show how much easier and more effective it is to go to Christ through Mary.1
The same writer said that the sinner who ventures to come directly to Christ may come with dread of his wrath. But if he will pray to the Virgin, she will only have to "show" that son "the breasts that gave him suck" and his wrath will be immediately appeased!2 Such reasoning is in direct conflict with a scriptural example. "Blessed is the womb that bare thee", a woman said to Jesus,"and the paps that thou has sucked!" But Jesus answered, "Yea, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk. 11:27, 28).
Such ideas about the breasts, on the other hand, were not foreign to the worshippers of the pagan mother goddess. Images of her have been unearthed which often show her breasts extremely out of proportion to her body. In the case of Diana, to symbolize her fertility, she is pictured with as many as one hundred breasts!
Further attempts to exalt Mary to a glorified position within Catholicism may be seen in the doctrine of the "immaculate conception." This doctrine was pronounced and defined by Pius IX in 1854—that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instant of her conception...was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."3 It would appear that this teaching is only a further effort to make Mary more closely resemble the goddess of paganism, for in the old myths, the goddess was also believed to have had a supernatural conception! The stories varied, but all told of supernatural happenings in connection with her entrance into the world, that she was superior to ordinary mortals, that she was divine. Little by little, so that the teachings about Mary would not appear inferior to those of the mother goddess, it was necessary to teach that Mary's entrance into this world involved a supernatural element also!
Is the doctrine that Mary was born without the stain of original sin scriptural? We will answer this in the words of The Catholic Encyclopedia itself: "No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture." It is pointed out, rather, that these ideas were a gradual development within the church.4
Right here it should be explained that this is a basic, perhaps the basic, difference between the Roman Catholic approach to Christianity and the general Protestant view. The Roman Catholic church, as it acknowledges, has long grown and developed around a multitude of traditions and ideas handed down by church fathers over the centuries, even beliefs brought over from paganism if they could be "Christianized" and also the scriptures. Concepts from all of these sources have been mixed together and developed, finally to become dogmas at various church councils. On the other hand, the view which the Protestant Reformation sought to revive was a return to the actual scriptures as a more sound basis for doctrine, with little or no emphasis on the ideas that developed in later centuries.
Going right to the Scriptures, not only is any proof for the idea of the immaculate conception of Mary lacking, there is evidence to the contrary. While she was a chosen vessel of the Lord, was a godly and virtuous woman —a virgin— she was as much a human as any other member of Adam's family. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), the only exception being Jesus Christ himself, like everyone else, Mary needed a savior and plainly admitted this when she said: "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my SAVIOR" (Lk. 1:47).
If Mary needed a savior, she was not a savior herself. If she needed a savior, then she needed to be saved, forgiven, and redeemed —even as others. The fact is, our Lord's divinity did not depend on his mother being some type of exalted, divine person. Instead, he was divine because he was the only begotten son of God. His divinity came from his heavenly Father.
The idea that Mary was superior to other human beings was not the teaching of Jesus. Once someone mentioned his mother and brethren. Jesus asked, "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?'' Then, stretching forth his hand toward his disciples, said, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For WHOSOEVER shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and MOTHER" (Matt. 12:46-50). Plainly enough, anyone who does the will of God is, in a definite sense, on the same level with Mary.
Each day Catholics the world over recite the Hail Mary, the Rosary, the Angelus, the Litanies of the Blessed Virgin, and others. Multiplying the number of these prayers, times the number of Catholics who recite them each day, someone has estimated that Mary would have to listen to 46,296 petitions a second! Obviously no one but God himself could do this. Nevertheless, Catholics believe that Mary hears all of these prayers; and so, of necessity, they have had to exalt her to the divine level —scriptural or not!
Attempting to justify the way Mary has been exalted, some have quoted the words of Gabriel to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women" (Lk. 1:28). But Mary being "blessed among women" cannot make her a divine person, for many centuries before this, a similar blessing was pronounced upon Jael, of whom it was said: "Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be .. ."(Judges 5:24).
Before Pentecost, Mary gathered with the other disciples waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. We read that the apostles "all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brethren" (Acts 1:14). Typical of Catholic ideas concerning Mary, the illustration (as seen in the Official Baltimore Catechism*) attempts to give to Mary a central position. But as all students of the Bible know, the disciples were not looking to Mary on that occasion. They were looking to their resurrected and ascended CHRIST to outpour on them the gift of the Holy Spirit. We notice also in the drawing that the Holy Spirit (as a dove) is seen hovering over her! Yet, as far as the scriptural account is concerned, the only one upon whom the Spirit as a dove descended was Jesus himself—not his mother! On the other hand, the pagan virgin goddess under the name of Juno was often represented with a dove on her head, as was also Astarte, Cybele, and Isis!6
Further attempts to glorify Mary may be seen in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity. This is the teaching that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. But as The Encyclopedia Britannic a explains, the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary was not taught until about three hundred years after the ascension of Christ. It was not until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that this fabulous quality gained the official recognition of Rome.7
According to the Scriptures, the birth of Jesus was the result of a supernatural conception (Matt. 1:23), without an earthly father. But after Jesus was born, Mary gave birth to other children —the natural offspring of her union with Joseph, her husband. Jesus was Mary's "firstborn " son (Matt. 1: 25); it does not say he was her only child. Jesus being her firstborn child could certainly infer that later she had a second-born child, possibly a third-born child, etc. That such was the case seems apparent, for the names of four brothers are mentioned: James, Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13: 55). Sisters are also mentioned. The people of Nazareth said: "... and his sisters, are they not all with us?" (verse 56). The word "sisters" is plural, of course, so we know that Jesus had at least two sisters and probably more, for this verse speaks of "all" his sisters. Usually if we are referring to only two people, we would say "both" of them, not "all"of them. The implication is that at least three sisters are referred to. If we figure three sisters and four brothers, half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus, this would make Mary the mother of eight children.
The scriptures say: "Joseph…. knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS" (Matt. 1:25). Joseph "knew her not" until after Jesus was born, but after that, Mary and Joseph did come together as husband and wife and children were born to them. The idea that Joseph kept Mary as a virgin all of her life is clearly unscriptural.
During the times of the falling away, as though to more closely identify Mary with the mother goddess, some taught that Mary's body never saw corruption, that she bodily ascended into heaven, and is now the "queen of heaven." It was not until this present century, however, that the doctrine of the "assumption" of Mary was officially proclaimed as a doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. It was in 1951 that Pope Pius XII proclaimed that Mary's body saw no corruption, but was taken to heaven.8
The words of St. Bernard I sum up the Roman Catholic position: "On the third day after Mary's death, when the apostles gathered around her tomb, they found it empty. The sacred body had been carried up to the Celestial Paradise... the grave had no power over one who was immaculate… But it was not enough that Mary should be received into heaven. She was to be highest of the archangels. Mary was to be crowned Queen of Heaven by the eternal Father: she was to have a throne at her Son's right hand...Now day by day, hour by hour, she is praying for us, obtaining graces for us, preserving us from danger, shielding us from temptation, showering down blessings upon us."
All of these ideas about Mary are linked with the belief that she bodily ascended into heaven. But the Bible says absolutely nothing about the assumption of Mary. To the contrary, John 3:13 says: "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven" —Jesus Christ himself. HE is the one that is at God's right hand, HE is the one that is our mediator, HE is the one that showers down blessings upon us - not his mother!
Closely connected with the idea of praying to Mary is an instrument called the rosary. It consists of a chain with fifteen sets of small beads, each set marked off by one large bead. The ends of this chain are joined by a medal bearing the imprint of Mary. From this hangs a short chain at the end of which is a crucifix. The beads on the rosary are for counting prayers —prayers that are repeated over and over. Though this instrument is widely used within the Roman Catholic church, it is clearly not of Christian origin. It has been known in many countries.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "In almost all countries, then, we meet with something in the nature of prayer-counters or rosary-beads." It goes on to cite a number of examples, including a sculpture of ancient Nineveh, mentioned by Layard, of two winged females praying before a sacred tree, each holding a rosary. For centuries, among the Mohammedans, a bead-string consisting of 33, 66, or 99 beads has been used for counting the names of Allah. Marco Polo, in the thirteenth century, was surprised to find the King of Malabar using a rosary of precious stones to count his prayers. St. Francis Xavier and his companions were equally astonished to see that rosaries were universally familiar to the Buddhists of Japan.9
Among the Phoenicians a circle of beads resembling a rosary was used in the worship of Astarte, the mother goddess, about 800 B. C.10 This rosary is seen on some early Phoenician coins. The Brahmans have from early times used rosaries with tens and hundreds of beads. The worshippers of Vishnu give their children rosaries of 108 beads. A similar rosary is used by millions of Buddhists in India and Tibet. The worshipper of Siva uses a rosary upon which he repeats, if possible, all the 1,008 names of his god.11
Beads for the counting of prayers were known in Asiatic Greece. Such was the purpose, according to Hislop, for the necklace seen on the statue of Diana. He also points out that in Rome, certain necklaces worn by women were for counting or remembering prayers, the monile, meaning "remembrancer."12
The most often repeated prayer and the main prayer of the rosary is the "Hail Mary" which is as follows: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death, Amen." The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "There is little or no trace of the Hail Mary as an accepted devotional formula before about 1050."13 The complete rosary involves repeating the Hail Mary 53 times, the Lord's prayer 6 times, 5 Mysteries, 5 Meditations on the Mysteries, 5 Glory Be's, and the Apostles' Creed.
Notice that the prayer to Mary, the Hail Mary, is repeated almost NINE times as often as the Lord's prayer! Is a prayer composed by men and directed to Mary nine times as important or effective as the prayer taught by Jesus and directed to God?
Those who worshipped the goddess Diana repeated a religious phrase over and over—"...all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:34). Jesus spoke of repetitious prayer as being a practice of the heathen. "When ye pray," he said, "use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him" (Matt. 6:7-13). In this passage, Jesus plainly told his followers NOT to pray a little prayer over and over. It is significant to notice that it was right after giving this warning, in the very next verse, that he said: "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven..." and gave the disciples what we refer to as "The Lord's Prayer." Jesus gave this prayer as an opposite to the heathen type of prayer. Yet Roman Catholics are taught to pray this prayer over and over. If this prayer was not to be repeated over and over, how much less a little man-made prayer to Mary! It seems to us that memorizing prayers, then repeating them over and over while counting rosary beads, could easily become more of a "memory test" than a spontaneous expression of prayer from the heart.
SAINTS, SAINT’S DAYS AND SYMBOLS
IN ADDITION TO the prayers and devotions that are directed to Mary, Roman Catholics also honor and pray to various "saints." These saints, according to the Catholic position, are martyrs or other notable people of the church who have died and whom the popes have pronounced saints.
In many minds, the word "saint" refers only to a person who has attained some special degree of holiness, only a very unique follower of Christ. But according to the Bible, ALL true Christians are saints—even those who may sadly lack spiritual maturity or knowledge. Thus, the writings of Paul to Christians at Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, or Rome, were addressed "to the saints" (Eph. 1:1, etc.). Saints, it should be noticed, were living people, not those who had died.
If we want a "saint" to pray for us, it must be a living person. But if we try to commune with people that have died, what else is this but a form of spiritism? Repeatedly the Bible condemns all attempts to commune with the dead (see Isaiah 8:19, 20). Yet many recite the "Apostles' Creed" which says: "We believe...in the communion of saints," supposing that such includes the idea of prayers for and to the dead. Concerning this very point, The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "Catholic teaching regarding prayers for the dead is bound up inseparably with the doctrine...of the communion of saints which is an article of the Apostles' Creed." Prayers “to the saints and martyrs collectively, or to some one of them in particular" are recommended.1 The actual wording of the Council of Trent is that "the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God."2
What are the objections to these beliefs? We will let The Catholic Encyclopedia answer for itself. "The chief objections raised against the intercession and invocation of the saints are that these doctrines are opposed to the faith and trust which we should have in God alone... that they cannot be proved from Scriptures.."2 With this statement we agree. Nowhere do the scriptures indicate that the living can be blessed or benefited by prayers to or through those who have already died. Instead, in many ways, the Catholic doctrines regarding "saints" are very similar to the old pagan ideas that were held regarding the "gods."
Looking back again to the "mother" of false religion —Babylon—we find that the people prayed to and honored a plurality of gods. In fact, the Babylonian system developed until it had some 5,000 gods and goddesses.4 In much the same way as Catholics believe concerning their "saints", the Babylonians believed that their "gods" had at one time been living heroes on earth, but were now on a higher plane.5 "Every month and every day of the month was under the protection of a particular divinity."6 There was a god for this problem, a god for each of the different occupations, a god for this and a god for that.
From Babylon—like the worship of the great mother—such concepts about the "gods" spread to the nations. Even the Buddhists in China had their "worship of various deities, as the goddess of sailors, the god of war, the gods of special neighborhoods or occupations."7 The Syrians believed the powers of certain gods were limited to certain areas, as an incident in the Bible records: "Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they" (1 Kings 20:23).
When Rome conquered the world, these same ideas were very much in evidence as the following sketch will show. Brighit was goddess of smiths and poetry. Juno Regina was the goddess of womanhood and marriage. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, handicrafts, and musicians. Venus was the goddess of sexual love and birth. Vesta was the goddess of bakers and sacred fires. Ops was the goddess of wealth. Ceres was the goddess of corn, wheat, and growing vegetation. (Our word "cereal", fittingly, comes from her name.) Hercules was the god of joy and wine. Mercury was the god of orators and, in the old fables, quite an orator himself, which explains why the people of Lystra thought of Paul as the god Mercury (Acts 14:11,12). The gods Castor and Pollux were the protectors of Rome and of travellers at sea (cf. Acts 28:11). Cronus was the guardian of oaths. Janus was the god of doors and gates. "There were gods who presided over every moment of a man's life, gods of house and garden, of food and drink, of health and sickness."8
With the idea of gods and goddesses associated with various events in life now established in pagan Rome, it was but another step for these same concepts to finally be merged into the church of Rome. Since converts from paganism were reluctant to part with their "gods"—unless they could find some satisfactory counterpart in Christianity—the gods and goddesses were renamed and called "saints." The old idea of gods associated with certain occupations and days has continued in the Roman Catholic belief in saints and saints' days, as the following table shows.
Actors St. Genesius August 25
Architects St. Thomas December 21
Astonomers St. Cominic August 4
Athletes St. Sebastain January 20
Bakers St. Elizabeth November 19
Bankers St. Matthew September 21
Beggars St. Alexius July 17
Book Sellers St. John of God March 8
Bricklayers St. Steven December 26
Builders St. Vincent Ferrer April 5
Butchers St. Hadrian September 28
Cab drivers St. Fiarce August 30
Can die-makers St. Bernard August 20
Comedians St. Vitus June 15
Cooks St. Martha July 29
Dentists St. Appollonia February 9
Doctors St. Luke October 18
Editors St. John Bosco January 31
Fishermen St. Andrew November 30
Florists St. Dorothy February 6
Hat makers St. James May 11
Housekeepers St. Anne July 26
Hunters St. Hubert November 3
Laborers St. James Greater July 25
Lawyers St. Ives May 19
Librarians St. Jerome September 30
Merchants St. Francis Assisi October 4
Miners St. Barbara December 4
Musicians St. Cecilia November 22
Notaries St. Mark Evangelist April 25
Nurses St. Cathrine April 30
Painter St. Luke October 18
Pharmacists St. Gemma Galgani April 11
Plasterers St. Bartholomew August 24
Printers St. John of God March 8
Sailors St. Brendan May 16
Scientists St. Albert November 15
Singers St. Gregory March 12
Steel workers St. Eliguis December 1
Students St. Thomas Aquinas March 7
Surgeons St. Cosmas & Damian September 27
Tailors St. Boniface June 5
Tax Collectors St. Matthew Septem
The Roman Catholic Church also has saints for the following :
Barren women St. Anthony
Old maids St. Andrew
Beer drinkers St. Nicholas
Poor St. Lawrence
Children St. Dominic
Pregnant women St. Gerard
Domestic animals St. Anthony
Television St. Clare
Emigrants St. Francis
Temptation St. Syriacus
Family troubles St. Eustachius
To apprehend thieves St. Gervase
Fire St. Lawrence
To have children St. Felicitas
Floods St. Columban
To obtain a husband St. Joseph
Lightning storms St. Barbara
To obtain a wife St. Anne
Lovers St. Raphael
To find lost articles St. Anthony
Catholics are taught to pray to certain "saints" for help with the following afflictions:
Arthritis St. James
Epilepsy, nerves St. Vitus
Bite of dogs St. Hubert
Fever St. George
Bite of snakes St. Hilary
Foot diseases St. Victor
Blindness St. Raphael
Gall stones St. Liberius
Cancer St. Peregrine
Gout St. Andrew
Cramps St. Murice
Headaches St. Denis
Deafness St. Cadoc
Heart trouble St. John of God
Disease of breast St. Agatha
Insanity St. Pyrnpna
Disease of eyes St. Lucy
Skin disease St.Roch
Disease of throat St. Blase
Sterility St. Giles
St. Hubert was born about 656 and appeared on our list as the patron saint of hunters and healer of hydrophobia. Before his conversion, almost all of his time was spent hunting. On a Good Friday morning, according to legend, he pursued a large stag which suddenly turned and he saw a crucifix between its antlers and heard a voice telling him to turn to God.
But why pray to saints when Christians have access to God? Catholics are taught that through praying to saints, they may be able to obtain help that God otherwise might not give! They are told to worship God and then to "pray, first to Saint Mary, and the holy apostles, and the holy martyrs, and all God's saints....to consider them as friends and protectors, and to implore their aid in the hour of distress, with the hope that God would grant to the patron what he might otherwise refuse to the supplicant."9 Everything considered, it seems evident that the Roman Catholic system of patron saints developed out of the earlier beliefs in gods devoted to days, occupations, and the various needs of human life.
Many of the old legends that had been associated with the pagan gods were transferred over to the saints. The Catholic Encyclopedia even says these "legends repeat the conceptions found in the pre-Christian religious tales...The legend is not Christian, only Christianized...In many cases it has obviously the same origin as the myth...Antiquity traced back sources, whose natural elements it did not understand, to the heroes; such was also the case with many legends of the saints...It became easy to transfer to the Christian martyrs the conceptions which the ancients held concerning their heroes. This transference was promoted by the numerous cases in which Christian saints became the successors of local deities, and Christian worship supplanted the ancient local worship. This explains the great number of similarities between gods and saints."10
As paganism and Christianity were mixed together, sometimes a saint was given a similar sounding name as that of the pagan god or goddess it replaced. The goddess Victoria of the Basses-Alpes was renamed as St. Victoire, Cheron as St. Ceranos, Artemis as St. Artemidos, Dionysus as St. Dionysus, etc. The goddess Brighit (regarded as the daughter of the sun-god and who was represented with a child in her arms) was smoothly renamed as "Saint Bridget." In pagan days, her chief temple at Kildare was served by Vestal Virgins who tended the sacred fires. Later her temple became a convent and her vestals, nuns. They continued to tend the ritual fire, only it was now called "St. Bridget's fire."11
The best preserved ancient temple now remaining in Rome is the Pantheon which in olden times was dedicated (according to the inscription over the portico) to "Jove and all the gods." This was reconsecrated by Pope Boniface IV to "The Virgin Mary and all the saints" Such practices were not uncommon. "Churches or ruins of churches have been frequently found on the sites where pagan shrines or temples originally stood...It is also to some extent true that sometimes the saint whose aid was to be invoked at the Christian shrine bore some outward analogy to the deity previously hallowed in that place. Thus in Athens the shrine of the healer Asklepios...when it became a church, was made sacred to the two saints whom the Christian Athenians invoked as miraculous healers, Kosmas and Damian."12
A cave shown in Bethlehem as the place in which Jesus was born, was, according to Jerome, actually a rock shrine in which the Babylonian god Tammuz had been worshipped. The scriptures never state that Jesus was born in a cave.
Throughout the Roman Empire, paganism died in one form, only to live again within the Roman Catholic church. Not only did the devotion to the old gods continue (in a new form), but the use of statues of these gods as well. In some cases, it is said, the very same statues that had been worshipped as pagan gods were renamed as Christian saints. Through the centuries, more and more statues were made, until today there are churches in Europe which contain as many as two, three, and four thousand statues.13 In large impressive cathedrals, in small chapels, at wayside shrines, on the dashboards of automobiles - in all these places the idols of Catholicism may be found in abundance.
The use of such idols within the Roman Catholic Church provides another clue in solving the mystery of modern Babylon; for, as Herodotus mentioned, Babylon was the source from which all systems of idolatry flowed to the nations. To link the word "idols" with statues of Mary and the saints may sound quite harsh to some. But can this be totally incorrect?
It is admitted in Catholic writings that at numerous times and among various people, images of the saints have been worshipped in superstitious ways. Such abuses, however, are generally placed in the past. It is explained that in this enlightened age, no educated person actually worships the object itself, but rather what the object represents. Generally this is true. But is this not also true of heathen tribes that use idols (unmistakably idols) in the worship of demon-gods? Most of these do not believe the idol itself is a god, but only representative of the demon-god they worship.
Several articles within The Catholic Encyclopedia seek to explain that the use of images is proper on the basis of them being representative of Christ or the saints. "The honor which is given to them is referred to the objects which they represent, so that through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likenesses they are."14 Not all Christians are convinced, however, that this "explanation" is strong enough reason to bypass verses such as Exodus 20:4, 5: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is underneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them."
In the Old Testament, when the Israelites conquered a heathen city or country, they were not to adopt the idols of these people into their religion. Such were to be destroyed, even though they might be covered with silver and gold!
"The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire; thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein; for it is an abomination to the Lord" (Deut. 7:25). They were to "destroy all their pictures" of pagan gods also (Numbers 33:52). To what extent these instructions were to be carried out under the New Testament has been often debated over the centuries. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a historical sketch of this, showing how people fought and even died over this very issue, especially in the eighth century. Though upholding the use of statues and pictures, it says "there seems to have been a dislike of holy pictures, a suspicion that their use was, or might become, idolatrous, among certain Christians for many centuries," and mentions several Catholic bishops who were of this same opinion.15 For people to fight and kill each other over this issue—regardless of which side they were on—was unmistakably contrary to the teachings of Christ.
The pagans placed a circle or aureole around the heads of those who were "gods" in their pictures. This practice continued right on in the art of the Romish church. The accompanying illustration is the way St. Augustine is shown in Catholic books—with a circular disk around his head. All Catholic saints are pictured this same way. But to see that this practice was borrowed from heathenism, we need only to notice the drawing of Buddha (illustration on page 38) which also features the circular symbol around his head! The artists and sculptors of ancient Babylon used the disk or aureola around any being they wished to represent as a god or goddess.16 The Romans depicted Circe, the pagan goddess of the sun, with a circle surrounding her head. From its use in pagan Rome, the same symbolism passed into papal Rome and has continued to this day, as evidenced in thousands of paintings of Mary and the saints. Pictures, supposedly of Christ, were painted with "golden beams" surrounding his head. This was exactly the way the sun-god of the pagans had been represented for centuries.
The church of the first four centuries used no pictures of Christ. The Scriptures do no give us any description of the physical features of Jesus whereby an accurate painting could be made of him. It seems evident, then, that the pictures of Christ, like those of Mary and the saints, have come from the imaginations of artists.
We only have to make a short study of religious art to find that in different centuries and among different nationalities, many pictures of Christ—some very different—may be found. Obviously all of these cannot be what he looked like. Besides, having now ascended into heaven, we no longer know him "after the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16), having been "glorified" (John 7:39), and with a "glorious body" (Phil. 3:21), not even the best artist in the world could portray the King in his beauty. Any picture, even at its best, could never show how wonderful he really is!
OBELISKS, TEMPLE, AND TOWERS
MONG THE ANCIENT nations, not only were statues of the gods and goddesses in human form made, but many objects that had a hidden or mystery meaning were a part of heathen worship. An outstanding example of this is seen in the use of the ancient obelisks.
Diodorus spoke of an obelisk 130 feet high that was erected by Queen Semira-mis in Babylon.1 The Bible mentions an obelisk-type image approximately nine feet in breadth and ninety feet high. "The people...fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up" in Babylon (Daniel 3:1-7). But it was in Egypt (an early stronghold of the mystery religion) that the use of the obelisk was best known. Many of the obelisks are still in Egypt, though some have been removed to other nations. One is in Central Park in New York, another in London, and others were transported to ROME.
Originally, the obelisk was associated with sun-worship, a symbol of "Baal" (which was a title of Nimrod). The ancients—having rejected the knowledge of the true creator - seeing that the sun gave life to plants and to man, looked upon the sun as a god, the great life giver. To them, the obelisk also had a sexual significance. Realizing that through sexual union life was produced, the phallus (the male organ of reproduction) was considered (along with the sun) a symbol of life. These were the beliefs represented by the obelisk.2
The word "images" in the Bible is translated from several different Hebrew words. One of these words, matzebah, means "standing images" or obelisks (1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 18:4; 23:14; Jer. 43:13; Micah 5:13). Another word is hammanim which means "sun images", images dedicated to the sun or obelisks (Isaiah 17:8; 27:9).
In order for the obelisks to carry out their intended symbolism, they were placed upright--erect. Thus they pointed up—toward the sun. As a symbol of the phallus, the erect position also had an obvious significance. Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to notice that when divine judgment was pronounced against this false worship, it was said that these images (obelisks) "shall not stand up", but would be cast down (Isaiah 27:9).
When the Israelites mixed heathen worship into their religion in the days of Ezekiel, they erected an "image of jealousy in the entry" of the temple (Ezekiel 8:5). This image was probably an obelisk, the symbol of the phallus, for (as Scofield says) they were "given over to phallic cults."3 Placing an obelisk at the entrance of a heathen temple was, apparently, not an uncommon practice at the time. One stood at the entrance of the temple of Turn and another in front of the temple of Hathor, the "abode of Horus" (Tammuz).4
Interestingly enough, there is also an obelisk at the entrance of St. Peter's in Rome, as the photograph shows on the next page. It is not a mere copy of an Egyptian obelisk, it is the very same obelisk that stood in Egypt in ancient times! When the mystery religion came to Rome in pagan days, not only were obelisks made and erected at Rome, but obelisks of Egypt—at great expense—were hauled there and erected by the emperors. Caligula, in 37-41 A.D., had the obelisk now at the Vatican brought from Heliopolis, Egypt, to his circus on the Vatican Hill, where now stands St. Peter's.5 Heliopolis is but the Greek name of Bethshemesh, which was the center of Egyptian sun-worship in olden days. In the Old Testament, these obelisks that stood there are mentioned as the "images of Bethshemesh" (Jer. 43:13)!
The very same obelisk that once stood at the ancient temple which was the center of Egyptian paganism, now stands before the mother church of Romanism! This seems like more than a mere coincidence.
The red granite obelisk of the Vatican is itself 83 feet high (132 feet high with its foundation) and weighs 320 tons. In 1586, in order to center it in front of the church in St. Peter's square, it was moved to its present location by order of Pope Sixtus V. Of course moving this heavy obelisk-especially in those days—was a very difficult task. Many movers refused to attempt the feat, especially since the pope had attached the death penalty if the obelisk was dropped and broken!6
Finally a man by the name of Domenico Fontana accepted the responsibility. With 45 winches, 160 horses, and a crew of 800 workmen, the task of moving began. The date was September 10, 1586. Multitudes crowded the extensive square. While the obelisk was being moved, the crowd, upon penalty of death, was required to remain silent. Finally, after near failure, the obelisk was erected—to the sound of hundreds of bells ringing, the roar of cannons, and the loud cheers of the multitude. The Egyptian idol was dedicated to the "cross" (the cross on top of the obelisk is supposed to contain a piece from the original cross), mass was celebrated, and the pope pronounced a blessing on the workmen and their horses.7
The drawing on the next page shows the pattern of St. Peter's and the circular court in front of it. At the center of this court stands the obelisk. This court is bordered by 248 Doric style columns which cost approximately one million dollars. The style for such columns was borrowed from the styling of pagan temples.
Like the obelisk, pagan columns were often regarded as "mystery" forms of the phallus. In the vestibule of the pagan temple of the goddess at Hierapolis, an inscription referring to the columns reads: "I, Dionysus, dedicated these phalli to Hera, my step-mother."
Even as Roman Catholic leaders borrowed other ideas from paganism, it is no surprise that building elaborate and expensive temples also became the custom. Worldly-minded leaders thought they should build a temple of greater splendor than those of the old Roman religion.
We know that God directed his people under the rulership of Solomon to build a temple—in the Old Testament—and chose to put his presence there. But in the New Testament, it is clear that the Holy Spirit no longer dwells in temples made with men's hands (Acts 17:24). Now, God dwells in his people—-his true church—by the Spirit! Says Paul: "YE are the temple of God...the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (1 Cor. 3:16). Understanding this grand truth, the early church—filled with the Spirit—never went forth to build temples of stone and steel. They went forth to preach the gospel. Their time was not spent in financial drives and oppressive pledges in order to build a fancier building than a temple down the street! According to Halley 's Bible Handbook, we do not have a record of a church building (as such) being built prior to 222-235 A. D. !
This is not to suggest it is wrong to have church buildings. Probably the reason church buildings were not built earlier was because, due to persecutions, the first Christians were not allowed to own title to property. But had they been allowed this privilege, we feel certain that such buildings would have been built simply—not for outward show. They would not have tried to compete with the expensive styling of the heathen temples of splendor—like the temple of Diana at Ephesus or the Pantheon of Rome.
But when the church came to political power and wealth under the reign of Constantine, a pattern for building elaborate and expensive church buildings was set and has continued to this day. This idea has become so implanted in the minds of people, that the word "church" (to most people) means a building. But in its Biblical use, the word refers to an assembly or group of people who are—themselves—the temple of the Holy Spirit! As strange as it may sound, a church building could be totally destroyed, and yet the actual church (the people) remain.
The majority of expensive church buildings that have been built over the centuries have featured a tower. Each generation of church builders has copied the former generation, probably never questioning the origin of the idea. Some towers have cost fortunes to build. They have added no spiritual value. Jesus, of course, never built such structures when he was on earth, nor did he give any instructions for them to be built after his departure. How, then, did this tower tradition in church architecture begin?
If the reader will permit us a certain liberty at this point, we will suggest a theory which points back to Babylon. Of course we all remember the tower of Babel. The people said, "Let us make brick...let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven" (Gen. 11:3,4). The expression "unto heaven" is no doubt a figure of speech for great height, as was also the case when cities with walls that reached "up to heaven" were mentioned (Deut. 1:28). We are not to suppose those Babel builders intended to build clear up in the heaven of God's throne. Instead, there is sufficient evidence to show that the tower (commonly called a "ziggurat") was connected with their religion—with sun-worship.
"Of all the lofty monuments of Babylon, the towering 'Ziggurat' must certainly have been one of the most spectacular constructions of its time, rising majestically above its huge encircling wall of a thousand towers...around the vast square, chambers were set aside for pilgrims, as well as for the priests who looked after the 'Ziggurat.' Koldewey called this collection of buildings the 'Vatican of Babylon'."9
It has been suggested that one of the meanings of the name of the goddess Astarte (Semiramis), written as "Asht-tart", means "the woman that made towers."10. The goddess Cybele (who also has been identified with Semiramis) was known as the tower bearing goddess, the first (says Ovid) that erected towers in cities and was represented with a tower-like crown on her head, as was also Diana (see page 17). In the symbolism of the Catholic church, a tower is emblematic of the virgin Mary!11 Does all of this somehow connect?
Some ancient towers, as we all know, were built for military purposes, for watchtowers. But many of the towers that were built in the Babylonian Empire were exclusively religious towers, connected with a temple! In those times, a stranger entering a Babylonian city would have no difficulty locating its temple, we are told, for high above the flat roofed houses, its tower could be seen 12. The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "It is a striking fact that most Babylonian cities possessed a... temple-tower."13
Is it possible that Babylon (as with other things we have mentioned) could be the source for religious towers? We recall that it was while they were building the huge tower of Babel that the dispersion began. It is certainly not impossible that as men migrated to various lands they took the idea of a "tower" with them. Though these towers have developed into different forms in different countries, yet the towers in one form or another remain!
Towers have long been an established part of the religion of the Chinese. The "pagoda" (linked with the word "goddess") at Nankin is shown in our illustration.
In the Hindu religion, "scattered above the large temple inclosures are great pagodas or towers...rising high above the surrounding country, everywhere they could be seen by the people, and thus their devotion to their idolatrous worship was increased. Many of these pagodas are several hundred feet high, and are covered with sculptures representing scenes in the lives of the gods of the temple, or of eminent saints."14
Among the Mohammedans also, though in a somewhat different form, can be seen the towers of their religion. The first illustration on the following page shows the numerous towers, called minarets, at Mecca. Towers of this style were also used at the famous Church of St. Sophia at Constantinople (above illustration).
The use of towers is also carried out in Christendom—Catholic and Protestant.
The tower of the great Cathedral of Cologne rises 515 feet above the street while that of the Cathedral of Ulm, Germany, is 528 feet high. Even small chapels often have a tower of some kind. It is a tradition that is seldom questioned.
At the top of many church towers, a spire often points to the sky! Several writers link, and perhaps not without some justification, the steeples and spires with the ancient obelisk. "There is evidence", says one, "to show that the spires of our churches owe their existence to the uprights or obelisks outside the temples of former ages."15 Another says: "There are still in existence today remarkable specimens of original phallic symbols...steeples on the churches...and obelisks...all show the influence of our phallus-worshipping ancestors."16
IS THE CROSS A CHRISTIAN SYMBOL?
THE CROSS IS recognized as one of the most important symbols of the Roman Catholic Church. It is displayed on top of roofs and towers. It is seen on altars, furnishings, and ecclesiastical garments. The floor plan of the majority of Catholic churches is laid out in the shape of the cross. All Catholic homes, hospitals, and schools have the cross adorning the walls. Everywhere the cross is outwardly honored and adored—in hundreds of ways!
When an infant is sprinkled, the priest makes the sign of the cross upon its forehead saying: "Receive the sign of the cross upon thy forehead." During confirmation, the candidate is signed with the cross. On Ash Wednesday, ashes are used to make a cross on the forehead. When Catholics enter the church building, they dip the forefinger of the right hand in "holy water", touch the forehead, the chest, the left and the right shoulder—thus tracing the figure of the cross. The same sign is made before eating meals. During Mass, the priest makes the sign of the cross 16 times and blesses the altar with the cross sign 30 times.
Protestant churches, for the most part, do not believe in making the sign of the cross with their fingers. Neither do they bow down before crosses or use them as objects of worship. They have recognized that these things are un-Scriptural and superstitious. But the use of the cross has been commonly retained on steeples, on pulpits, and in various other ways as a form of decoration.
The early Christians did not consider the cross as a virtuous symbol, but rather as "the accursed tree", a device of death and "shame" (Heb. 12:2). They did not trust in an old rugged cross. Instead, their faith was in what was accomplished on the cross; and through this faith, they knew the full and complete forgiveness of sin! It was in this sense that the apostles preached about the cross and gloried in it (1 Cor. 1:17, 18). They never spoke of the cross as a piece of wood one might hang from a little chain around his neck or carry in his hand as a protector or charm. Such uses of the cross came later.
It was not until Christianity began to be paganized (or, as some prefer, paganism was Christianized), that the cross image came to be thought of as a Christian symbol. It was in 431 that crosses in churches and chambers were introduced, while the use of crosses on steeples did not come until about 586.1 In the sixth century, the crucifix image was sanctioned by the church of Rome.2 It was not until the second Council at Ephesus that private homes were required to possess a cross.3
If the cross is a Christian symbol, it cannot be correctly said that its origin was within Christianity, for in one form or another it was a sacred symbol long before the Christian Era and among many non-Christian people. According to An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the cross originated among the Babylonians of ancient Chaldea. "The ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross...had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tarnmuz (being in the shape of the Mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt...In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system, pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ"!4
In any book on Egypt that shows the old monuments and walls of ancient temples, one can see the use of the Tau cross. The accompanying illustration shows the Egyptian god Amon holding a Tau cross.
This illustration, taken from a building at Amenophis IV at Thebes, Egypt, shows a king praying. Notice the round sun circle with a mystery form of the sun-god beneath it. Says a noted historian in reference to Egypt: "Here unchanged for thousands of years, we find among her most sacred hieroglyphics the cross in various forms...but the one known specially as the 'cross of Egypt', or the Tau cross, is shaped like the letter T, often with a circle or ovoid above it. Yet this mystical symbol was not peculiar to this country, but was reverenced...among the Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Mexicans, and every ancient people in both hemispheres."5
As the cross symbol spread to various nations, its use developed in different ways. Among the Chinese, "the cross is... acknowledged to be one of the most ancient devices...it is portrayed upon the walls of their pagodas, it is painted upon the lanterns used to illuminate the most sacred recesses of their temples."6
The cross has been a sacred symbol in India for centuries among non-Christian people. It has been used to mark the jars of holy water taken from the Ganges, also as an emblem of disembodied Jaina saints. In the central part of India, two crude crosses of stone have been discovered which date back to a time centuries before the Christian Era—one over ten feet, the other over eight feet high. The Buddhists, and numerous other sects of India, marked their followers on the head with the sign of the cross.7
On the continent of Africa, at Susa, natives plunge a cross into the River Gitche. The Kabyle women, although Mohammedans, tatoo a cross between their eyes. In Wanyamwizi walls are decorated with crosses. The Yaricks, who established a line of kingdoms from the Niger to the Nile, had an image of a cross painted on their shields.8
When the Spaniards first landed in Mexico, "they could not suppress their wonder", says Prescott, "as they beheld the cross, the sacred emblem of their own faith, raised as an object of worship in the temples of Anahuac. The Spaniards were not aware that the cross was the symbol of worship of the highest antiquity ... by pagan nations on whom the light of Christianity had never shone."9
In Palenque, Mexico, founded by Votan in the ninth century before the Christian Era, is a heathen temple known as "The Temple of the Cross." There inscribed on an altar slab is a central cross six and a half by eleven feet in size. The Catholic Encyclopedia includes a photograph of this cross, beneath which are the words "Pre-Christian Cross of Palenque."10
In olden times, the Mexicans worshipped a cross as tota (our father). This practice of addressing a piece of wood with the title "father" is also mentioned in the Bible. When the Israelites mixed idolatry with their religion, they said to a stock, "Thou art my father" (Jer. 2:27). But it is contrary to the Scriptures to call a piece of wood (or a priest) by the title "father."
Ages ago in Italy, before the people knew anything of the arts of civilization, they believed in the cross as a religious symbol. It was regarded as a protector and was placed upon tombs. In 46 B.C., Roman coins show Jupiter holding a long scepter terminating in a cross.11 The Vestal Virgins of pagan Rome wore the cross suspended from their necklaces, as the nuns of the Roman Catholic church do now.12
The Greeks depicted crosses on the headband of their god corresponding to Tammuz of the Babylonians. Porcelli mentions that Isis was shown with a cross on her forehead. Her priests carried processional crosses in their worship of her. The temple of Serapis in Alexandria was surmounted by a cross. The temple of the Sphinx when it was unearthed was found to be cruciform in shape. Ensigns in the form of a cross were carried by the Persians during their battles with Alexander the Great (B.C. 335).
The cross was used as a religious symbol by the Aborigines of South America in ancient times. New born children were placed under its protection against evil spirits. The Patagonians tatooed their foreheads with crosses. Ancient pottery in Peru has been found that is marked with the cross as a religious symbol. Monuments show that Assyrian kings wore crosses suspended on their necklaces, as did some of the foreigners that battled against the Egyptians.13
Crosses were also figured on the robes of the Rotnno as early as the fifteenth century before the Christian Era.14
The Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that "the sign of the cross, represented in its simplest form by a crossing of two lines at right angles, greatly antedates, in both the East and the West, the introduction of Christianity. It goes back to a very remote period of human civilization."15
"But since Jesus died on a cross", some question, "does this not make it a Christian symbol?" It is true that in most minds the cross has now come to be associated with Christ. But those who know its history and the superstitious ways it has been used—especially in past centuries—see another side of the coin. Though it sounds crude, someone has asked: "Suppose Jesus had been killed with a shotgun; would this be any reason to have a shotgun hanging from our necks or on top of the church roof?" It comes down to this: The important thing is not what, but who—who it was that died, not what the instrument of death was. St. Ambrose made a valid point when he said, "Let us adore Christ, our King, who hung upon the wood, and not the wood"
Crucifixion as a method of death "was used in ancient times as a punishment for flagrant crimes in Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Palestine, Carthage, Greece, and RomE. Tradition ascribes the invention of the punishment of the cross to a woman, the queen Semiramis.16
Christ died on one cross—whatever type it was—and yet many kinds of crosses are used in the Catholic religion. A few different types are shown here. A page in The Catholic Encyclopedia shows forty. If the Roman Catholic use of the cross began simply with the cross of Christ—and was not influenced by paganism-why are so many different types of crosses used?
Says a noted writer: "Of the several varieties of the cross still in vogue, as national and ecclesiastical emblems, distinguished by the familiar appellations of St. George, St. Andrew, the Maltese, the Greek, the Latin, etc., there is not one amongst them the existence of which may not be traced to the remotest antiquity" 17
The cross known as the TAU cross was widely used in Egypt. "In later times the Egyptian Christians (Copts), attracted by its form, and perhaps by its symbolism, adopted it as the emblem of the cross."18
What is known as the GREEK cross was also found on Egyptian monuments. This form of the cross was used in Phrygia where it adorned the tomb of Midas. Among the ruins of Nineveh, a king is shown wearing a MALTESE cross on his chest. The form of the cross that is today known as the LATIN cross was used by the Etruscans, as seen on an ancient pagan tomb with winged angels to each side of it.
Among the Cumas in South America, what has been called the ST. ANDREW'S cross, was regarded as a protector against evil spirits.19
It appeared on the coins of Alexander Bala in Syria in 146 B.C. and on those of Baktrian kings about 140 to 120 B.C.—long before "St. Andrew" was ever born!
The cross which we show here is today called the CALVARY cross, yet this drawing is from an ancient inscription in Thessaly which dates from a period prior to the Christian Era!
A final question remains. Jesus died on one cross—what shape was it? Some believe it was simply a torture stake with no cross piece whatsoever. The word "cross" automatically conveys the meaning that two pieces of wood cross each other at some point or angle. But the Greek word from which "cross" is translated in the New Testament, stauros, does not require this meaning. The word itself simply means an upright stake or post.20
If the instrument on which Jesus died was no more than this, it was not a "cross" (as such) at all! This would clearly show the folly of many types of crosses being "Christianized." But we need not insist on this conclusion.
The statement of Thomas about the print of nails (plural) in the hands of Jesus (John 20:25) would seem to indicate a cross piece, for on a single stake his hands would have probably been driven through with one nail. Allowing room above his head for the inscription (Luke 23:38), these things would tend to favor what has been termed the Latin cross.
Crosses shaped like a "T" or "X" can be eliminated since these would probably not allow sufficient room above the head for the inscription.
As to the exact shape of the cross of Christ, we need not be too concerned. All such arguments fade into insignificance when compared to the real meaning of the cross—not the piece of wood—but the eternal redemption of Christ.
CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS
AN OUTSTANDING FACTOR THAT contributed to the adoration of the cross image within the Romish church was the famous "vision of the cross" and subsequent "conversion" of Constantine. As he and his soldiers approached Rome, they were about to face what is known as the Battle of Milvian Bridge. According to the custom of the time, the haruspices (those who employed divination by such means as reading the entrails of sacrificial animals) were called to give advice. (The use of divination before battles was also practiced by the king of Babylon: "For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver"—Ezekiel 21: 21.) In the case of Constantine, he was told that the gods would not come to his aid, that he would suffer defeat in the battle. But then in a vision or dream, as he related later, there appeared a cross to him and the words, "In this sign conquer." The next day—October 28, 312—he advanced behind a standard portraying a cross. He was victorious in that battle, defeated his rival, and professed conversion. Of course such a seeming victory for Christianity did much to further the use of the cross in the Romish church.
It is admitted on all sides, however, that Constantine's vision of the cross is probably not historically true. The only authority from whom the story has been gathered by historians is Eusebius, who confessedly was prone to edification and was accused as a "falsifier of history." But if Constantine did have such a vision, are we to suppose its author was Jesus Christ? Would the Prince of Peace instruct a pagan emperor to make a military banner embodying the cross and to go forth conquering and killing in that sign?
The Roman Empire (of which Constantine became the head) has been described in the Scriptures as a "beast."
Daniel saw four great beasts which represented four world empires—Babylon (a Lion), Medo-Persia (a bear), Greece (a leopard), and Rome. The fourth beast, the Roman Empire, was so horrible that it was symbolized by a beast unlike any other (Daniel 7:1-8). We see no reason to suppose that Christ would tell Constantine to conquer with the sign of the cross to further the beast system of Rome!
But if the vision was not of God, how can we explain the conversion of Constantine? Actually, his conversion is to be seriously questioned. Even though he had much to do with the establishment of certain doctrines and customs within the church, the facts plainly show that he was not truly converted—not in the Biblical sense of the word. Historians admit that his conversion was "nominal, even by contemporary standards."1
Probably the most obvious indication that he was not truly converted may be seen from the fact that after his conversion, he committed several murders—including the murder of his own wife and son! According to the Bible "no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15). Constantine's first marriage was to Minervina, by whom he had a son named Crispus. His second wife, Fausta, bore him three daughters and three sons. Crispus became an outstanding soldier and help to his father. Yet, in 326—very shortly after directing the Nicaean Council—he had his son put to death. The story is that Crispus had made love to Fausta. At least this was the accusation of Fausta. But this may have been her method of getting him out of the way, so one of her sons might have claim to the throne! Constantine's mother, however, persuaded him that his wife "had yielded to his son." Constantine had Fausta suffocated to death in an overheated bath. About this same time he had his sister's son flogged to death and his sister's husband strangled—even though he had promised he would spare his life.2
These things are summed up in the following words from The Catholic Encyclopedia: "Even after his conversion he caused the execution of his brother-in-law Licinius, and of the latter's son, as well as of Crispus his own son by his first marriage, and of his wife Fausta… After reading these crudities it is hard to believe that the same emperor could at times have mild and tender impulses; but human nature is full of contradictions."3
Constantine did show numerous favors toward the Christians, abolished death by crucifixion, and the persecutions which had become so cruel at Rome ceased. But did he make these decisions purely from Christian convictions or did he have political motives for doing so? The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "Some bishops, blinded by the splendor of the court, even went so far as to laud the emperor as an angel of God, as a sacred being, and to prophesy that he would, like the Son of God, reign in heaven. It has consequently been asserted that Constantine favored Christianity merely from political motives, and he has been regarded as an enlightened despot who made use of religion only to advance his policy."4
Such was the conclusion of the noted historian Durant regarding Constantine.:
“Was his conversion sincere—was it an act of religious belief, or a consummate stroke of political wisdom? Probably the latter… He seldom conformed to the ceremonial requirements of Christian worship. His letters to Christian bishops make it clear that he cared little for the theological differences that agitated Christendom— though he was willing to suppress dissent in the interests of imperial unity. Throughout his reign he treated the bishops as his political aides; he summoned them, presided over their councils, and agreed to enforce whatever opinion their majority should formulate. A real believer would have been a Christian first and a statesman afterward; with Constantine it was the reverse. Christianity was to him a means, not an end.”5
Persecutions had not destroyed the Christian faith. Constantine knew this. Instead of the empire constantly being divided—with pagans in conflict with Christians—why not take such steps as might be necessary to mix both paganism and Christianity together, he reasoned, and thus bring a united force to the empire? There were similarities between the two religious systems. Even the cross symbol was not a divisive factor, for by this time it was in use by Christians, and "to the worshipper of Mithra in Constantine's forces, the cross could give no offense, for they had long fought under a standard bearing a Mithraic cross of light."6
The Christianity of Constantine was a mixture. Though he had his statue removed from pagan temples and renounced the offering of sacrifices to himself, yet people continued to speak of the divinity of the emperor. As pontifex maximus he continued to watch over the heathen worship and protect its rights. In dedicating Constantinople in 330 a ceremonial that was half pagan and half Christian was used. The chariot of the sun-god was set in the market-place and over it the cross of Christ. Coins made by Constantine featured the cross, but also representations of Mars or Apollo. While professing to be a Christian, he continued to believe in pagan magic formulas for the protection of crops and the healing of disease. All of these things are pointed out in The Catholic Encyclopedia.7 Yet, the concept by which the Roman Catholic Church developed and grew—the concept of mixing paganism and Christianity together as a united force—is clearly linked with Constantine and the years that followed in which the church became rich and increased with goods.
A story that greatly influenced cross worship within the Romish church—even more than that of Constantine's vision—centered around his mother Helena. When almost eighty years of age, she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Legend has it that she found three crosses buried there—one the cross of Christ and the other two the ones upon which the thieves were crucified. The cross of Christ was identified because it worked miracles of healing at the suggestion of Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, while the other two did not.
Says an article in The Catholic Encyclopedia, "A portion of the True Cross remained at Jerusalem enclosed in a silver reliquary; the remainder, with the nails, must have been sent to Constantine... One of the nails was fastened to the emperor's helmet, and one to his horse's bridle, bringing to pass, according to many of the Fathers, what had been written by Zacharias the Prophet: ‘In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord’ (Zach. 14:20)"8 This same article, while attempting to hold to the general teachings of the church regarding the cross, admits that the stories about the discovery of the cross vary and the tradition (which actually developed years later) may be largely based on legend.
That Helena did visit Jerusalem in 326 appears to be historically correct. But the story of her discovery of the cross did not appear until 440—about 114 years later!9 The idea that the original cross would still be at Jerusalem almost 300 years after the crucifixion seems very doubtful. Besides, laws among the Jews required crosses to be burned after being used for crucifixion.10
What if someone in our day did find the actual cross of Christ and could prove it to be such? This would be of great interest, of course; but would there be any virtue in that piece of wood? No, for the cross has already served its purpose as did the brass serpent of Moses. We recall that "Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived" (Numbers 21:9). Lifting up the serpent in the wilderness was a type of the way Christ was lifted up in death (John 3:15). But after the brass serpent had served its intended purpose, the Israelites kept it around and made an idol out of it! Thus, centuries later, Hezekiah "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord... he removed the high places, and brake the images and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it" (2 Kings 18:1-4). Hezekiah did "right" —not only by destroying heathen idols—but even that which God had ordained, for it had served its original purpose and was now being used in a superstitious way. On this same basis, if the original cross was still in existence, there would be no reason to set it up as an object of worship. And if there would be no power in the original cross, how much less is there in a mere piece of wood in its shape?
Even as the pagan Egyptians had set up obelisks, not only as a symbol of their god, but in some cases the very image was believed to possess supernatural power, even so did some come to regard the cross. Had it not helped Constantine in the Battle of Milvian Bridge? Had not the cross worked miracles for Helena? It came to be regarded as an image that could scare away evil spirits. It was worn as a charm. It was placed at the top of church steeples to frighten away lightning, yet because of its high position, was the very thing that attracted lightning! The use of the cross in private homes was supposed to ward off trouble and disease. Many pieces of wood—supposedly pieces of the "original" cross—were sold and exchanged as protectors and charms.
THE RELICS OF ROMANISM
THE GROSS SUPERSTITION that has accompanied the use of relics reveals the deception and inconsistency with which Romanism has been plagued for centuries. Among the most highly venerated relics have been pieces of the "true cross." So many of these were scattered throughout Europe and other parts of the world that Calvin once said that if all pieces were gathered together, they would form a good ship-load; yet the cross of Christ was carried by one individual! Are we to believe that these pieces miraculously multiplied as when Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes? Such was apparently the belief of St. Paulinus who spoke of "The redintegration of the Cross, i. e. that it never grew smaller in size, no matter how many pieces were detached from it"!1
The noted reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), mentioned the inconsistency of various relics of his day. Several churches claimed to have the crown of thorns; others the water-pots used by Jesus in the miracle of Cana. Some of the wine was to be found at Orleans. Concerning a piece of broiled fish Peter offered Jesus, Calvin said, "It must have been wondrously well salted, if it has kept for such a long series of ages." The crib of Jesus was exhibited for veneration every Christmas eve at St. Mary Major's in Rome. Several churches claimed to have the baby clothes of Jesus. The church of St. James in Rome displayed the altar on which Jesus was placed when he was presented in the temple. Even the foreskin (from his circumcision) was shown by the monks of Charroux, who, as a proof of its genuineness, declared that it yielded drops of blood.2
Several churches claimed to possess the "holy prepuce", including a church at Coulombs, France, the Church of St. John in Rome, and the Church of Puy in Velay!3
Other relics include Joseph's carpenter tools, bones of the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the cup used at the Last Supper, the empty purse of Judas, Pilate's basin, the coat of purple thrown over Jesus by the mocking soldiers, the sponge lifted to him on the cross, nails from the cross, specimens of the hair of the Virgin Mary (some brown, some blond, some red, and some black), her skirts, wedding ring, slippers, veil, and even a bottle of the milk on which Jesus had been suckled.4
According to Catholic belief, Mary's body was taken to heaven. But several different churches in Europe did claim to have the body of Mary's mother, even though we know nothing about her and she was not even given the name "St. Ann" until a few centuries ago! Even more difficult is the story about Mary's house. Catholics believe that the house in which Mary lived at Nazareth is now in the little town of Loreto, Italy, having been transported there by angels!
The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "Since the fifteenth century, and possibly even earlier, the 'Holy House' of Loreto has been numbered among the most famous shrines of Italy... The interior measures only thirty-one feet by thirteen. An altar stands at one end beneath a statue, blackened with age, of the Virgin Mother and her Divine Infant…venerable throughout the world on account of the Divine mysteries accomplished in it...It is here that most holy Mary, Mother of God, was born; here that she was saluted by the Angel; here that the eternal Word was made Flesh. Angels conveyed this House from Palestine to the town Tersato in Illyria in the year of salvation 1291 in the pontificate of Nicholas IV. Three years later, in the beginning of the pontificate of Boniface VIII, it was carried again by the ministry of angels and placed in a wood...where having changed its station thrice in the course of a year, at length, by the will of God it took up its permanent position on this spot...That the traditions thus boldly proclaimed to the world have been fully sanctioned by the Holy See cannot for a moment remain in doubt. More than forty-seven popes have in various ways rendered honor to the shrine, and an immense number of Bulls and Briefs proclaim without qualification the identity of the Santa Casa di Loreto with the Holy House of Nazareth"!5
The veneration of dead bodies of martyrs was ordered by the Council of Trent, the Council which also condemned those who did not believe in relics: "The holy bodies of holy martyrs...are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these bodies many benefits are bestowed by God on men, so that they who affirm that veneration and honor are not due to the relics of the saints...are wholly to be condemned, as the Church has already long since condemned, and also now condemns them."6 Because it was believed that "many benefits" could come through the bones of dead men, the sale of bodies and bones became big business!
In about 750, long lines of wagons constantly came to Rome bringing immense quantities of skulls and skeletons which were sorted, labeled, and sold by the popes.7 Graves were plundered by night and tombs in churches were watched by armed men! "Rome", says Gregorovius, "was like a mouldering cemetery in which hyenas howled and fought as they dug greedily after corpses." There is in the Church of St. Prassede a marble slab which states that in 817, Pope Paschal had the bodies of 2,300 martyrs transferred from cemeteries to this church.8 When Pope Boniface IV converted the Pantheon into a Christian church in about 609, "twenty-eight cartloads of sacred bones were said to have been removed from the Catacombs and placed in a prophyry basin beneath the high altar."9
Placing bones beneath a church or other relics were required to "consecrate" the ground and building.10 The Castle Church at Wittenberg, to the door of which Luther nailed his famous "Ninety-five Theses", had 19,000 saintly relics!11 Bishops were forbidden by the second Nicaean Council in 787 to dedicate a building if no relics were present; the penalty for so doing was excommunication! Were these ideas taken from the Bible or from paganism?
In the old legends, when Nimrod the false "savior" of Babylon died, his body was torn limb from limb—part being buried one place, and part another. When he was "resurrected", becoming the sun-god, it was taught that he was now in a different body, the members of the old body being left behind. This is in contrast to the death of the true savior, Jesus Christ, of whom it was prophesied, "A bone of him shall not be broken" (John 19:36) and who was resurrected in the true sense of the word. The resurrection of Christ resulted in an empty tomb, no parts of his body being left behind for relics!
In the old mystery religion, the various places where it was believed a bone of their god was buried were considered sacred—"consecrated" by a bone. "Egypt was covered with sepulchres of its martyred god; and many a leg and arm and skull, all vouched to be genuine, were exhibited in the rival burying places for the adoration of the Egyptian faithful."12
The influence of Egypt on the children of Israel is evidenced in their setting up of the golden calf. Since Egypt was a place of multiplied relics, the wisdom of God in the secret burial of Moses is apparent (Deut. 34:6). No one knew the place of his burial and no sacred pilgrimages could be made to his tomb. Years later, the brass serpent that Moses made was named "Nehustan" and was worshipped as a sacred relic by the Israelites (2 Kings 18:4). If such idolatry was practiced with something Moses made, how much deeper in idolatry would they have gone had they possessed one of his bones!
Perhaps needless to say, the use of relics is very ancient and did not originate with Christianity. The Catholic Encyclopedia rightly says that the use "of some object, notably part of the body or clothes, remaining as a memorial of a departed saint" was in existence ''before the propagation of Christianity" and "the veneration of relics, in fact, is to some extent a primitive instinct associated with many other religious systems besides that of Christianity."13
If Christ and the apostles did not use relics, but the use of such was known prior to Christianity and among other religions, do we not have another example of a pagan idea being "Christianized"?
We do not see that relics have any part in true worship, for "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
The extremism to which the use of relics has led, is certainly not "truth." Some of the bones that were at one time acclaimed as the bones of saints have been exposed as the bones of animals! In Spain, a cathedral once displayed what was said to be part of a wing of the angel Gabriel when he visited Mary. Upon investigation, however, it was found to be a magnificent ostrich feather!14
It is not necessary to labor long on this point. The Catholic Encyclopedia itself recognizes that many relics are doubtful. "Many of the more ancient relics duly exhibited for veneration in the great sanctuaries of Christendom or even at Rome itself must now be pronounced to be either certainly spurious or open to grave suspicion...difficulties might be urged against the supposed 'column of the flagellation' venerated at Rome in the Church of Santa Prassede and against many other famous relics”15. How, then, is this discrepancy explained? The Catholic Encyclopedia continues: "...no dishonor is done to God by the continuance of an error which has been handed down in perfect good faith for many centuries...Hence there is justification for the practice of the Holy See in allowing the cult of certain doubtful ancient relics to continue."16
But, again, we would point out that true worship is in spirit and in truth—not by the continuance of an error. Even if we did have one of Mary's hairs, or a bone of the apostle Paul, or the robe of Jesus, would God be pleased with these things being set up as objects of worship? According to the example of the brass serpent of Moses, he would not. We can only ask: if there would be no real virtue in the actual hair, bone, or robe, how much less merit can there be in relics which are known to be fakes ?
TO BE CONTINUED