Detail of fresco from Mithraic temple in Marino,Italy.
Second century A.D. Photography by Luther Martin
"Roman Mithras was perhaps the greatest rival to early Christianity for many reasons. As well as being a popular pagan religion practised by the Roman Army, Mithraism had many similarities to Christianity. Mithras was born of a virgin, remained celibate, his worship involving baptism, the partaking of bread marked with a cross and wine as sacrificial blood, held Sundays sacred and Mithras was born on 25th of December. Mithraist called themselves 'brother' and were led by a priest called 'father' (Pater). The symbol of the father were a staff, a hooked sword, a ring and hat.
These similarities frightened the early Christian leaders - that almost 500 years before arrival of Christ all of the Christian mysteries were already known. To combat this, Christian writers said that the Devil knew of the coming of Christ in advance and had imitated them before they existed in order to denigrate them. As Christianity gained strength and became the formal religion of the Roman Empire, the 'Cult of Mithras' was one of the first pagan cults to come under attack in the fifth century; Temples of Mithras, like most other pagan Temples, were destroyed and Churches built on them."
An excerpt from Mithras and Mithraism By: Payam Nabaraz Originally published at Lughnasa 1999
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Constantine and Mithraism
"For three centuries both religions ran parallel, Mithraism first becoming known to the Romans in 70 BC, Christianity following a century later, and it wasn’t until AD 377 that Christianity became sufficiently strong to suppress its former rival, although Mithraism was to remain a formidable opponent for some time after that, only slowly being forsaken by the people. It was only the absorption of many Mithraist ideas into Christianity which finally saw its downfall."
"The big turning point was brought about by the Congress of Nicaea in AD 325. Constantine, a great supporter of the Christian religion, although not converting to it until the time of his decease, gathered together 2,000 leading figures in the world of theology, the idea being to bring about the advent of Christianity as the official state religion of Rome. It was out of this assembly that Jesus was formally declared to be the Son of God, and Saviour of Mankind, another slain saviour god, bringing up the tally of slain god-men to seventeen, of which Mithra, together with such men as Bel and Osiris, was included."
"Had Constantine decided to retain Mithraism as the official state religion, instead of putting Christianity in its place, it would have been the latter that would have been obliterated. To Constantine however, Christianity had one great advantage, it preached that repentant sinners would be forgiven their sins, provided that they were converted Christians at the time of their Passing, and Constantine had much to be forgiven for, He personally did not convert to the new religion until he was on his death bed, the reason being that only sins committed following conversion were accountable, so all sins committed by a convert, prior to conversion, didn’t matter, and he could hardly have sinned too much whilst he was lying on his death bed. Mithraism could not offer the same comfort to a man like Constantine, who was regarded as being one of the worst mass-murderers of his time."
Excerpts from Christianity or Mithraism:
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