Saving Bull (2)

Duomo di Monreale | Art and FaithHistory of the Devil
By Paul Carus, [1900]


Part 1 Here

In the days of Augustus and his successors the people were taught to expect salvation, the dispensation of justice, protection, peace, and prosperity from the emperor; and just as we have to-day monarchies where the king regards himself as the Anointed One by the grace of God and a representative of God on earth, so the Roman emperor arrogated to himself divine honors, and even philosophers such as Seneca did not hesitate to acknowledge the claim. The practical significance of this view is that the government should be regarded with religious awe, and its officers, as such, are divine. The Christians who refused to worship before the emperor’s images must have appeared to the Romans of those days as anarchists and rebels. But when Nero committed matricide and other most outrageous crimes, the belief in the emperor’s divinity dwindled away, and the idea of the suffering God, the man who died on the cross because he would rather be than appear just, gained ground among the people.

Christianity was not the only religion which promised deliverance from evil through the saving power of blood and by means of a vicarious atonement, for we know of the immortality-promising mysteries, and especially of the cult of Mithras, which had embodied many ideas and ceremonies that are also met with in Christianity.

The early Christians belonged exclusively to the lower walks of life, and the earliest Church authorities, with few exceptions, were by no means cultured or highly educated persons. Some Christian writers were quite talented men; but few of the Church fathers can be said to have enjoyed more than a mediocre education. Platonic philosophy, for instance, did not enter into Christian minds directly, but only through the channels of Philo’s books. Thus it is natural that Christians were lacking both in knowledge as to the origin of many of their rites and also in critique, and when they were confronted with the same practices and conceptions among non-Christians, they were puzzled and found no other explanation for such remarkable coincidences, than the guiles of Satan.[] MITHRAS MONUMENT OF OSTBURKEN.

Even the most peculiarly Christian sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, was, according to the testimony of Justin Martyr, celebrated by the Persians in the same way as by the Christians (Apol., 86.); and Justin is ingenuous enough to attribute this coincidence without the slightest hesitation to the influence of evil spirits. Tertullian is also aware of many similarities between Church institutions and the pagan modes of Mithras worship, which observation prompted him to declare that “Satan imitates the sacraments of God.” (Dei sacramenta Satanas affectat. De exh. cast., 13.2) The Devil appears to have been very cunning in those days, for if he had not daring spies in heaven, he must himself have anticipated the Lord’s plans; for the pagan institutions spoken of as Satanic imitations, such as the Persian haoma sacrifice, the eating of consecrated cakes in commemoration of the dead for the sake of obtaining life immortal are older than Christianity.[] MITHRAIC SYMBOLS.

After Chiflet, reproduced from C. W. King. Two erect serpents stand like supporters, on both sides. Mithras, between the stars of the twins (the Dioscuri), holds the horses of the rising and of the setting sun, or of life and death. Above his head, the raven; in the sky, the emblems of sun and moon. Underneath. the table with the consecrated bread and the cup of the Eucharist.[] MITHRAS THE SAVIOUR. (Borghesi Monument, now at the Louvre in Paris.)

The Monument bears the inscription “Den Soli Invicto Mithrae.” Mithras sacrifices in a cave a bull for the forgiveness of sins. A dog licks the dripping blood, called “nama sebesion” (the sacred fluid). A serpent crawls on the ground. A scorpion pinches off the bull’s testicles. A youth at the left turns a torch upwards; at the right, downwards. A raven, which here looks like an owl, witnesses the scene. Over the cave, the sungod, Helios, and the goddess of the moon, Selene, drive past in their chariots. Whether the sacrifice of the bull was practised or only commemorated is not known. Concerning the significance of the Mithras mysteries little is known, except that initiations were by penances, fasts, self-mortifications, lustrations, and water and fire probations. Baptism was practised, and Mithras was called the mediator for the remission of sin. The most important references besides the monuments are passages in Justin Martyr, Apol., I., 66, and Tertullian, Praescr. haeret., 40. The Mithras cult had many votaries among the Roman soldiery garrisoned in the northern provinces.

The competitors of Christianity which endeavored to embody the religious ideals of the age, for various reasons failed to be satisfactory, leaving the field to Christianity, which in its main doctrines was simple and in its morality direct and practical. But it is to be regretted that the fanaticism of Christian monks has almost totally wiped out the traces of other religious aspirations, leaving only scattered fragments, which are, however, very interesting to the historian, partly on account of their similarity to Christianity, partly through their dissimilarities. We know of several Oriental gods who became fashionable at Rome, among whom Mithras, the [Babylonian] Serapis, and Iao-Abraxas were the most celebrated.

The influence of Mithras worship on Christianity is well established. (The mysteries of Mithras were introduced into Greece at the time of Alexander the Macedonian. They gained more and more influence until they reached a climax in the second century of the Christian era. Most of the many monuments which the Mithras worship left all over the Roman empire, especially in Gallia and Germany, date from this period when it had almost become a rival of Christianity.) We mention especially the rites of baptism, the Eucharist, facing the Orient in prayer, the sanctification of the day of the sun, and the celebration of the winter solstice as the birthday of the Saviour. Concerning this latter institution, the Rev. Robert Sinker says in William Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (pp. 357-8):

“As Mithraicism gradually blended with Christianity, changing its name but not altogether its substance, many of its ancient notions and rites passed over too, and the Birthday of the Sun, the visible manifestation of Mithras himself, was transferred to the commemoration of the Birth of Christ.

“Numerous illustrations of the above remarks may be found in ancient inscriptions, e. g., SOLI INVICTO ET LUNAE AETERNAE C. VETTI GERMANI LIB. DUO PARATUS ET HERMES DEDERUNT, 1 or ΗΑΙΩ ΜΙΘΡΑ ΑΝΙΚΗΤΩ 2 (Gruter, Inscriptiones Antiquae, p. xxxiii). In the legend on the reverse of the copper coins of Constantine, SOLI INVICTO COMITI, 3 retained long after his conversion, there is at once an idea of the ancient Sun-God, and of the new Sun of Righteousness.

“The supporters of this theory cite various passages from early Christian writers indicating a recognition of this view. The sermon of Ambrose, quoted by Jablonsky, is certainly spurious, and is so marked in the best editions of his works; it furnishes, however, an interesting illustration of an early date. The passage runs thus: ‘Bene quodammodo sanctum hunc diem Natalis Domini Solem novum vulgus appellat, et tanta sui auctoritate id confirmat, ut Judaei etiam atque Gentiles in hanc vocem consentiant. Quod libenter amplectandum nobis est, quia oriente Salvatore, non solum humani generis salus, sed etiam solis ipsius claritas innovatur.’ 4 (Serm. 6, in Appendice, p. 397, ed. Bened.)

“In the Latin editions of Chrysostom is a homily, wrongly ascribed to him, but probably written not long after his time, in which we read: ‘Sed et Invicti Natalem appellant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi Dominus noster, qui mortem subactam devicit? Vel quod dicunt Solis esse Natalem, ipse est Sol Justitiae, de quo Malachias propheta dixit, Orietur vobis timentibus nomen ipsius Sol Justitiae et sanitas est in pennis ejus.’ 5 (Sermo de Nativitate S. Joannis Baptistae; vol. ii. 1113, ed. Paris, 1570.

1 “To the unconquerable sun and the eternal moon this is given by P. and H., the two children of C. V. G.”
2 I. e., Helios (or the sun) Mithras the invincible.
3 “To the invincible Sun, the protector.”
4 “Well do the common people call this somehow sacred day of the birth of the Lord ‘a new sun,’ and confirm it with so great an authority of theirs that Jews and Gentiles concur in this mode of speech. And this should willingly be accepted by us, because with the birth of the Saviour there comes not only the salvation of mankind, but the brightness of the sun itself is renewed.”
5 “But they call it the birthday of the Invincible (i. e., Mithras). Who, however, is invincible if not our Lord, who has conquered death? Further, if they say ‘it is the birthday of the sun,’ He is the sun of righteousness, about whom the prophet Malachi says, ‘Unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.'” Observe in this passage that the prophet thinks of the sun of God after the Babylonian and Egyptian fashion, as having wings which are of a wholesome or healing influence.
The preceding lines of this quotation from Chrysostom (Hom. 31) plainly state that Christ’s birthday has been fixed upon the day of the birth of Mithras: “On this day (the birthday of Mithras) also the birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome in order that whilst the heathen were busied with their profane ceremonies, the Christians might perform their holy rites undisturbed.”

“Leo the Great finds fault with the baneful persuasion of some ‘quibus haec dies solemnitatis nostrae, non tam de Nativitate Christi, quam de novi ut dicunt solis ortu, honorabilis videtur.’ 1 (Serm. 22, § 6, vol. i. p. 72, ed. Ballerini.) Again, the same father observes: ‘Sed hanc adorandam in caelo et in terra Nativitatem nullus nobis dies magis quam hodiernus insinuat, et nova etiam in elementis luce radiante, coram (al. totam) sensibus nostris mirabilis sacramenti ingerit claritatem.’ 2 (Serm. 26, § I, p. 87.)

“We may further cite one or two instances from ancient Christian poets: Prudentius, in his hymn Ad Natalem Domini, thus speaks (Cathemerinon, xi. init., p. 364, ed Arevalus):

‘Quid est, quod arctum circulum sol jam recurrens deserit?
Christusne terris nascitur qui lucis auget tramitem?’ 3

Paulinus of Nola also (Poema xiv. 15-19, p. 382, ed. Muratori):

‘Nam post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus
Sole novo gelidae mutavit tempora brumae,
Atque salutiferum praestans mortalibus ortum,
Procedente die, secum decrescere noctes Jussit.’ 4

1 “Some to whom this day of our celebration is worthy of honor not so much on account of the birth of Christ as for the sake of the renewal of the sun.”
2 “But no other day appears to us more appropriate than to-day for worshipping in heaven and earth the Feast of the Nativity, and while even in the material world (in the elements) a new light shines, He confers on us before our very senses, the brightness of His wonderful sacrament.”
3 “Why does the sun already leave the circle of the arctic north?
Is not Christ born upon the earth who will the path of light increase?
4 “Truly, after the solstice, when Christ is born in the body,
With a new sun he will change the frigid days of the north wind.
While he is offering to mortals the birth that will bring them salvation,
Christ with the progress of days gives command that the nights be declining.”

Reference may also be made to an extract in Assemani (Bibl. Or. i. 163) from Dionysius Bar-Salibi, bishop of Amida, which shows traces of a similar feeling in the East; also to a passage from an anonymous Syrian writer, who distinctly refers the fixing of the day to the above cause; we are not disposed, however, to attach much weight to this last passage. More important for our purpose is the injunction of a council of Rome (743 A. D.): ‘Ut nullus Kalendas Januarias et broma (= brumalia) colere praesumpserit’ 1 (can. 9, Labbé vi. 1548), which shows at any rate that for a long time after the fall of heathenism, many traces of heathen rites still remained.”

1 “No one shall celebrate the 1st of January and the Brumalia.”[] ÆON OR ZRVAN AKARANA.
Unlimited Time.

The statue here reproduced was found in the Mithraeum of Ostia, where C. Valerius Heracles and his sons dedicated it in the year 190 A. D.; it was figured for the first time by Layard in his Recherches sur Mithra, Plate LXX. Similar statues are found in various Mithras caves.

Æon, the lion faced, with key, torch, and measuring staff is a divinity of considerable importance in the religion of Mithras. He is the Zrvan Akarana (Time unlimited) of the Zend-avesta, not so much a personality as a personified abstraction, representing the primordial state of existence from which Ahura Mazda is born. The serpent’s coils that surround his body represent the revolutions of time, his wings the four seasons. His relation to the deities of the Greek pantheon, Hephæstus, Æsculapius, Hermes, and Dionysius, is indicated by the presence of their emblems.

Mr. W. C. King quotes from Flaminius Vacca (No. 117) the interesting story of the discovery of an Æon statue as follows:

“I remember there was found in the vineyard of Sig. Orazio Muti (where the treasure was discovered), opposite S. Vitale, an idol in marble, about 5 palms high (31/2 feet), standing erect upon a pedestal in an empty chamber, with the door walled up. Around him were many little lamps in terra cotta, set with their nozzles towards the idol. This had a lion’s head, and the rest of the body that of a man. Under his feet was a globe, whence sprang a serpent which encompassed all the idol, and its head entered into his mouth. He had his hands crossed upon the breast: a key in each, four wings fastened upon the shoulders, two pointing upwards, two downwards. I do not consider it a very antique work, being done in a rude manner; or perhaps it is so ancient that at the time it was made the good style was not yet known. Sig. Orazio, however, told me that a theologian, a Jesuit Father, explained its meaning, saying it signified the Devil, who in the time of heathenism ruled over the world; hence the globe under his feet; the serpent which begirt him and entered into his mouth, his foretelling the future with ambiguous responses; the keys in his hands, his sovereignty over the world; the lion’s head, the ruler of all beasts. The wings signified his presence everywhere. Such was the version given by the aforesaid Father. I have done everything to see the idol, but Sig. Orazio being now dead, his heirs do not know what has become of it. It is not unlikely that by the advice of the theologian, Sig. Orazio may have sent it to some lime-kiln to cure its dampness, for it had been buried many and many a year.”

Iao, the god with the adorable name (i. e., Abraxas), bears the cock’s head, which is the emblem of Æsculapius, the god of healing. (Abrak is Egyptian, and means “bow down” or “adore.” The word occurs in the Bible, Gen. 41, 43. Sas (standing for Sadshi) means “name.” Abraxas is the name to be adored. (See King, The Gnostics, p. 36.)

When Socrates died he requested his friends to sacrifice a cock to Æsculapius because his soul had recovered from the disease of bodily existence. The serpent (the emblem of mystery, of eternity, of wisdom, the prophet of the gnosis) walks without feet, and therefore Iao is serpent-legged.

The God of Goodness, or Agathodæmon, exercised a great charm upon the minds of the people. He is represented on gems in the shape of a serpent whose head is surrounded with solar rays, hovering about the sacred cista, the cylindrical box, from which the priest emerged at the celebration of the mystery.[] ABRAXAS GEM.

The inscription reads, “Gabriel Sabaoth,” i. e., The strong God Zebaoth. The second Ρ (i. e., R) is a mistake which the stone cutter made for Λ (i. e., L).
Bellermann, in his remarks on Abraxas-gems, in a “Programm des Grauen Klosters” (Berlin, 1817-1819) describes the gem. The priest of Abraxas carries a serpent coiled up in the form of a ring, and a lance round which entwines another serpent. His head is crowned by a strange head-dress of four feathers (presumably of the Phœnikopteros) and surrounded by three stars.[] AGATHODÆMON.

From C. W. King. The first line of the inscription is between Χ crosses; it is explained to mean “I am the Good Spirit, the Eternal Sun.”



The design of the Agathodæmon is as common as the Iao design and that it was used as an amulet appears from a passage of Galen, who says:

“Some, indeed, assert that a virtue of this kind is inherent in certain stones, such as is in reality possessed by the green jasper, which benefits the chest and mouth of the stomach, if tied upon them. Some, indeed, set the stone in a ring and engrave upon It a serpent with his head crowned with rays, according as is prescribed by King Nechepsos in his thirteenth book.”

How excusable these gnostic superstitions were in those days appears from the strange fact that such a sober man as Galen believed in the efficiency of these amulets. He continues:

“Of this I have had ample experience, having made a necklace of such stones and hung it round the patient’s neck, descending low enough for the stones to touch the mouth of the stomach, and they proved to be of no less benefit thus than if they had been engraved in the manner laid down by King Nechepsos.” (De Simp. Med., IX.)

To us who have grown up under the influence of Christian traditions, the idea of representing the Good God under the allegory of a serpent seems strange, but we must bear in mind that other people and other ages had different ideas associated with the serpent. To the people of the Orient the limbless serpent was a symbol of mystery, and represented health and immortality. Eusebius (I., 7) informs us:

“The serpent never dies naturally, but only when injured by violence, whence the Phoenicians have named it the good genius (Agathodæmon). Similarly the Egyptians have called him Cneph and given him a hawk’s head on account of the special swiftness of that bird.”

Serapis, which is a Hellenised form of Osiris-Apis, was a religion which in many respects resembled Christianity. Their sacred symbol was the cross, as we know through Christian authors, and Emperor Adrian (no mean authority in such matters) speaks of Serapis worshippers as Christians, saying that those who consecrated themselves to Serapis called themselves “bishops of Christ.” (See Socrates, Eccl. Hist., 5, 17, which report is repeated by Sozomenes.) Even if a local blending of Christianity with the Serapis cult in Egypt had not taken place we must recognise that the monkish institutions of the Serapean temples were an exact prototype of the Christian monasteries which originated in Egypt and flourished there better than anywhere else.

The Serapis cult was a reformation of the old Egyptian Osiris worship, introduced by Ptolemy Soter for the purpose of adapting the old traditions of Egypt to the Hellenic culture of Alexandria.[] SERAPIS GEM.

Akin in spirit but independent in its development, is the worship of the Egyptian Tot, the ibis-headed scribe of the gods. Originally a personification of the moon, Tot, or Tehuti, was the deity of all measure, and thus his importance grew to signify the divine cosmic order. He is called “Ibis the Glorious,” and “the Ibis who proceeded from Ptah.” Osiris, the dying and resurrected God, is identified with him as “Osiris the Ibis, the Blessed One.” Together with the moon god, Xunsu and Máut, he is worshipped in the trinity Xunsu-Máut-Tehuti as the “child ever being born again.” (R. Pietschmann. Hermes Trismegistos, p. 7.)

Among the Greeks, Tot was identified with Hermes, who now begins to play a very prominent rôle as Hermes Trismegistos, the thrice great, the saviour of souls. Hermes is now adored as the first-born son of Zeus, and is even identified with the father of the gods as his representative and plenipotentiary.

The philosophers of the time bear the stamp of their age. Thus Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and other pagan sages are kindred in spirit to the Christian religion; they are under the influence of Platonism; they object to the idolatry of polytheism and demand a[] HERMES, SAVIOUR OF SOULS.



pure theism; they speak of the fatherhood of God; they insist upon morality and are inclined to conceive the soul as distinct from, and superior to, the body which is regarded as its temporal tabernacle, and as the seat, if not cause, of all evil. Yet they are philosophers, not pastors. They are too aristocratic to appreciate their kinship to Christianity. They even show a contempt for the religion of the vulgar, and they themselves appeal to the thinkers, not to the toilers, not to the multitudes, not to the poor in spirit.

Græco-Egyptians developed a religious philosophy upon the basis of ancient Egyptian traditions, compiled in a book called the Divine Pymander, which contains many beautiful sayings that remind us of Christian views; but the Divine Pymander (like other philosophical books) is addressed to the few not to the many, and its mysticism rendered it unfit to become the religion of mankind. (231:1 The term “Pymander” is commonly explained to mean ποιμὴν ἀνδροῶν, i. e., shepherd of man.”)

Apollonius of Tyana is a figure in many respects similar, but by no means superior, to Jesus Christ. For in him the philosophy of the age becomes a religion. His followers, however, were neither better nor wiser than the early Christians; they shared with them the same superstitions, cherishing the same trust in miracles, yet for all we know, they had only few of their redeeming features.

Julian, surnamed by Christian authors the Apostate, is in spite of his idealism a reactionary man who set his face against Christianity because he recognised in the latter the most powerful representative of the coming faith. This last pagan emperor, it is true, was a noble-minded and thoughtful man who opposed Christianity mainly on account of its shortcomings, its Jewish affiliations, and the narrowness of its devotees, but he was enamored with the past, and his highest ambition was to revive the barbarism of pagan institutions, which tendency appears most plainly in his retention of bloody sacrifices, his esteem for oracles and a general indulgence in the mysteries of Neo-Platonism.

The various schools of post-Christian gnosticism were in all probability the most dangerous competitors of Christianity, which explains the bitterness with which the Church-fathers revile gnostic doctrines. But the gnostics were after all so similar to the Christians that some Church-fathers use the name “Gnostic” as a synonym for Christians. Gnostic teachers are looked upon less as strangers than as heretics, and their speculations have been an important factor in the development of Christian dogmas.

The gnostics, as a rule, represent the demiurge, i. e., the architect of the world, whom they identify with the Jewish Yahveh, as the father of all evil. They describe him as irascible, jealous, and revengeful, and contrast him with the highest God who had nothing to do with the creation. As the demiurge created the world, he has a right to it, but he was overcome through the death of Jesus. The demiurge thought to conquer Jesus when he let him die on the cross, but his triumph was preposterous, for through the passion and death of the innocent Jesus the victory of God was won and the salvation of mankind became established.

One peculiarly interesting sect of gnostics is called the Ophites, or serpent worshippers. The demiurge (so they hold), on recognising the danger that might result from the emancipation of man through gnosis (i. e., knowledge or enlightenment), forbade him to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But the God, the highest Lord, the all-good and all-wise Deity, took compassion on man and sent the serpent to induce him to eat of the tree of knowledge so that he might escape the bondage of ignorance in which Yahveh, the demiurge, tried to hold him.

The serpent appears on many gnostic gems and is never missing in the Mithras monuments. Frequently it is found on Christian devices where it is sometimes difficult to interpret it as the representative of evil.

Irenaeus, an adversary of the gnostic view, replaced the demiurge by the Devil, whom he regards as a rebel angel, having fallen by pride and arrogance, envying God’s creation (Adv. hær., No. 40). He agrees, however, with the gnostics, in that he maintains that the Devil had claims upon man because of man’s sin. Jesus, however, having paid the debt of mankind, has the power to redeem the souls of men from the clutches of the Devil who, by having treated a sinless man as a sinner, became now himself a debtor of mankind.[] A SHIP SYMBOLISING THE CHURCH.


This juridical theory of the death of Jesus and his relation to the Devil was further elaborated by Origen. According to Origen the sacrifice of Jesus is not rendered to make an atonement to God or satisfy his feeling of justice (which is the Protestant conception), but to pay off the Devil. Jesus is, as it were, a bait for the Devil. Satan imagines he must destroy Jesus, but having succeeded in killing him, finds out to his unspeakable regret that he has been outwitted by the Lord. God had set a trap, and the Devil was foolish enough to allow himself to be caught.


Manes, a man educated in the Zoroastrian faith, endeavored to found a universal religion through the synthesis of all the religions he knew; and because Manicheism, as this view is called, contains many Christian elements, it is commonly regarded as a Christian or a gnostic sect, but it was strongly denounced as heretical by St. Augustine. Manes taught the Persian dualism, but St. Augustine, who formulated the orthodox Christian doctrine denying the independent existence of evil, explains the presence of sin in the world by the free will with which Adam was endowed at creation, and regards evil as a means to an end in God’s plan of education.[] CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS OF THE CATACOMBS.

Christianity triumphed over paganism, and it did so by embodying in its fabric everything that in those days was regarded as true and good and elevating. Thus the adoration of statues and images, at first so vehemently denounced by Christians as heathenish, was reintroduced with all the pagan methods of worship, the burning of incense, processions, sprinkling with holy water, and other rituals. The old symbol of the labarum was interpreted as the monogram of Christ; and the sacred mark of two intersecting lines, a religious emblem of great antiquity, was identified with the cross of Golgotha. The figure of two intersecting lines was a mark of salvation among the Syrians and other nations, and the probability is that it represented the four quarters of the compass; but now since is was called a cross, it recovered in a higher degree its traditional reputation as a powerful magic charm and was extensively used for exorcisms. There is no doctrine on which the Christian fathers so thoroughly agree as on the belief that the Devil is afraid of the cross. (For further details see the author’s articles on The Cross, Its History and Significance in The Open Court, 1899 and 1900. Their publication in book form is contemplated by The Open Court Publishing Co.)

(The equilateral cross of Paganism is frequently, though not always, ornamented with four dots, one in each corner. We interpret the dots as emblems of the sun in its four respective positions, in the east, south, west and north. Egyptian wall-pictures show the Apis covered with this sacred symbol, (see e. g. Lenormant, L’Hist. Anc. de l’Orient, V., 183,) and it serves as a not uncommon pattern on the dresses of various Greek deities.)[] ARAMÆAN WARRIORS, WEARING THE CROSS AS AN AMULET FOR PROTECTION IN BATTLE.

From Egyptian monuments of the eighteenth dynasty. (After Wilkinson.) The same use of the cross, as an amulet worn round the neck, was made in Greece, as we know from ancient pictures, published by Gerhard.

The Greek gods were regarded as demons by the early Christians, but the ideas which found expression in the mythology of Greece, in the tales of Greek deities and heroes, were retained and Christianised. The old Greek saviours simply changed names and became Christian saints, or at least contributed important features to the legends of their lives.

Christianity is a religion of peace, but the Western nations are warlike, and at the very beginning of the Christian era the need was felt to have the spirit of belligerency consecrated by religious sentiment and represented in struggling saints and angels.[] ST. ANTHONY FIGHTING THE DEVIL WITH THE CROSS.
(After Salvator Rosa.)

(Traditional representation.)

The Christian patron saint of fighters is St. George, and it is natural that the English, who among the Christian nations are not the least pious and at the same time not the least belligerent, have chosen the name of St. George for their battle-cry. The legend and pictures of St. George remind us strongly of the myths of Perseus. In its Christian form the tale appears first in the Legendæ Sanctorum of Jacobus de Voragine, who tells us of a pagan city, the neighborhood of which was infested by a dragon that had to be appeased by human sacrifices. The monster was finally slain by St. George, a chivalrous Christian knight, who arrived at the moment the king’s daughter was offered as a victim. The princess, at the request of the knight, tied her girdle round the dragon’s neck, who now, although the beast had been reported dead, rises and follows the virgin like a tame lamb to the city. The people are frightened by the sight, but St. George kills him once more, this time for good. St. George is richly rewarded, but he distributes his wealth among the poor, converts the King and his subjects to Christianity, and goes to another land, where he dies a martyr’s death.

The historical St. George, an archbishop of Alexandria and a follower of Arius, possesses no features whatever of the heroic dragon-slayer of the legend. According to the unanimous report of Christian and pagan historians, he was an abject, cringing fellow, and when he had attained the high position of archbishop, proved a cruel and extortionate tyrant who was greatly hated by the people. He was deposed by the worldly authorities and put in jail on Christmas eve, 361. But his enemies, mostly poor people belonging to his diocese, grew tired of the delay of the law; a mob broke open the prison doors and lynched the deposed archbishop on January 17, 362. His violent death was later on regarded as a sufficient title to the glory of the martyr’s crown. The most important service he rendered the Church consisted in the fact, that the official recognition of an Arian saint helped to reconcile the followers of Arius.

Gelarius seems to be the first Roman Catholic Pope who mentions St. George, and he knows nothing of his life, but counts him among those saints “who are better known to God than to mankind.” (Qui Deo magis quam hominibus noti sunt.) It is difficult to say whether His Holiness was conscious of the irony of passage.

(By Raphael. In the Louvre.)

(After Lorenzo Sabbatieri.)

Reproduced from Scheible, Das Kloster.

It is an unsolved problem how St. George could have been identified with the dragon-slaying deities of ancient pagan mythologies. The connecting links are missing, but it is probable that there is no deeper reason than a similarity in the sound of names. Perhaps a solar deity was somewhere worshipped under the name γεωργός, i. e., tiller of the ground, because the civilisation of agriculture overcame the dragon of savage barbarism.

The final conqueror of the dragon, however, is not St. George, but the Archangel Michael, who, on the day of judgment, plays the part of Zeus defeating the giants and Typhaeus, or the Teuton God Thor, slaying the Midgard serpent; and when the victory is gained Michael will hold the balances in which the souls are weighed.

The belligerent spirit did not remain limited to Michael and St. George, but was also imputed to other saints who proved their prowess in various ways in their encounters with the Evil One. St. Anthony, of Egypt (251-356), the founder of the Christian monastery system, is reported to have battled with evil spirits in the desert near Thebes, whither he withdrew from the world to practise severe penances. His heroic deeds, which consist of frightful struggles with the demons of his imagination, have been recorded by the good Bishop Athanasius, whose book on the subject is of special interest because it contains an essay written by St. Anthony himself, containing the gist of his wisdom and experience in struggling with evil spirits. (See the Acta Sanctorum of the Bolandists for January 17, which is observed as St. Anthony’s day. In addition there are several Latin translations of St. Anthony’s letters extant in the Biblioteca Patrum.)

The artistic genius of Salvator Rosa gave a concrete plausibility to the story in a highly dramatic picture illustrating the combat in a critical moment when only the cross saved the undaunted saint from defeat during a daring onslaught of the fiend in his most horrible shape. (See the illustration on page 236.)

There can scarcely be any doubt that the original doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth was an ethics of peace; not only peacefulness and gentleness of mind in general, but peace at any price, and a non-resistance to evil. The warlike spirit among later Christians and the worship of belligerent archangels and saints were introduced into the writings of the early Church from pagan sources and the importance of this phase of Christianity grew with its expanse among the energetic races of the North. The Teutonic nations, the Norsemen, the Germans, the Anglo-Saxons and their kin, whose conversion is the greatest conquest Christianity ever made, proved no less belligerent than the Greek and Roman, but they were their superiors in strength, in generosity, in fairness toward their enemies, and in purity of morals.




Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

One thought on “Saving Bull (2)

  1. Salve Tores | The Seven Worlds October 23, 2017 at 9:13 pm Reply

    […] Continued -> Part 2 […]

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: