CHRISTIAN MYSTERY SCHOOLS, CULTS, HERESIES



The Christian Mystery Schools were largely condemned by the early Church Fathers because of the fear that their practitioners were consciously or unconsciously continuing the old pagan ways. As it was, nearly all of the Christian holy days coincided with pagan holidays, from Christmas and the Roman feast of Saturnalia to Easter and the fertility rites of the goddess Eastre. The Church patriarchs were not at all willing to encourage any additional blendings of Christianity with the Old Religions.


Christianity was a young religion when compared to the worship of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and other Middle Eastern and Eastern deities. The mystery schools kept alive the practice of magic and the belief that secret rituals and sacred relics could command the presence of divinity. The ancient mystery rites dedicated to such gods as Osiris, Isis, and Dionysus, together with the magical formulas discovered by Hermes Trimegistus and other masters of the art of theurgy, compelled the gods to manifest and share their powers. The myths of the old gods and the holy scriptures of the Christians, the secret experiences of the ancients and the revelations of the apostles, the personal sense of God developed by the pagan cults, and the promise of the Church Fathers that one could know God through his son—all seemed to some individuals to be harmonious. The rich inheritance of the pagan world seemed too valuable to abandon when such mysteries could be so easily adapted and kept alive in the new rituals.

The Church Fathers disagreed sharply with the devotees of the Christian mystery schools who sought their approval. In their unanimous opinion, those who sought to blend the old pagan rituals with the new revelation of Christ were members of secret cults who were to be condemned as heretics. In response to the rejection of the church establishment, the heretical members of the Christian mystery schools simply became less open and more secretive in the expression of their religious practices.

Originally, the word "heresy" was an unemotional term that meant to engage in the act of choosing a course of action or a set of principles. In contemporary culture, to be called a heretic may be considered something of a compliment, suggesting that one is an independent or adventurous thinker. However, in the epistles of St. Paul, heretics were condemned as being those dangerous teachers who sought to distort or corrupt the teachings of Jesus (c. 6 B.C.E.–c. 30 C.E.). Ironically, it was in Antioch, the city where those who followed Jesus of Nazareth were first called Christians, that Bishop Ignatius (c. 40–107) became the first of the Church Fathers to use the term "heretic" to condemn those he believed were altering the true understanding of Christ.

It was rather easy to be labeled a heretic by the early Church Fathers. Originally composed of a small group of Jews who had followed the teachings of their rabbi until his death on the cross, the first members of that sect—or cult—were sharply divided in what it was that they believed. Was Jesus of Nazareth a great prophet or was he truly the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews? The early Christians had no established doctrines regarding the resurrection of their teacher from the dead or his alleged divinity. They were even uncertain if they should continue to follow the Jewish religious laws. When Gentiles were allowed to join the small Jewish sect, the arguments concerning the true revelation of Jesus the Christ only escalated. Eventually, as the Christians solidified their beliefs, established their doctrines, became recognized as a church, and held councils to establish more rigid creeds and ecclesiasticisms, it became much easier to identify those men and women who were heretics and who truly departed from the established beliefs of the church.

There is often confusion between the terms "cult" and "sect." Generally speaking, if a cult becomes accepted by the mainstream culture, some of its original enthusiasm will eventually cool and it will steadily become more organized and structured until it matures into a "religious organization." Later, as some of the orgnization's members become dissatisfied with the religious routine and yearn for a more passionate expression of faith, they break off into a splinter group of the church and become a "sect." As the sect becomes more organized and is regarded more seriously by the mainstream culture, it becomes known as a "denomination."

The various Christian mystery schools, cults, and heresies that have influenced millions of individuals for two millennia. From the earliest days of Christianity, there were basically two opposing interpretations of Jesus:

  1. Jesus, a rabbi of Nazareth, was a powerful teacher and prophet, a devout man divinely inspired by God.
  2. Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, the true Son of God made flesh to serve as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of humankind.

From these two metaphysical expressions with their vast essential differences, there arose centuries of theological arguments and interpretations of the gospels. What was heresy to some was sacred belief to others. And so it continues to this day.


DELVING DEEPER

Brandon, S. G. F. Religion in Ancient History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.

Clifton, Charles S. Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992.

Ferm, Vergilious, ed. Ancient Religions. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.


DELVING DEEPER

Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1983.

Clifton, Charles S. Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992.

Dorese, Jean. The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics. New York: MJF Books, 1986.

Duricy, Michael P. "Black Madonnas: Our Lady of Czestochowa," maintained by the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute. [Online] http://www.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/olczest.html. 23 January 2002.

Imel, Martha Ann, and Dorothy Myers. Goddesses in World Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Matthews, Caitlin. Sophia Goddess of Wisdom: The Divine Feminine from Black Goddess to World-Soul. London: Aquarian Press, 1992.

Sjoo, Monica, and Barbara Mor. The Great Cosmic Mother. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987.


DELVING DEEPER

Baigent, Michael, Leigh, Richard, and Lincoln, Henry. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1983.

Clifton, Charles S. Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992.

Delaforge, Gaetan. The Templar Tradition. Putney, Vt.: Threshold Books, 1987.

Lea, Henry Charles. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages. New York: Citadel Press, 1963.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. The European Witch-Craze. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.


DELVING DEEPER

Clifton, Charles S. Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992.

Crim, Keith, ed. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1989.

O'Grady, Joan. Early Christian Heresies. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1985.

Robinson, James, ed. The Nag Hammadi Library. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.

DELVING DEEPER

Brandon, S. G. F. Religion in Ancient History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.

Clifton, Charles S. Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992.

Ferm, Vergilious, ed. Ancient Religions. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

Fox, Robin Lane. Pagans and Christians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

O'Grady, Joan. Early Christian Heresies. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1985.



User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA


Christian Mystery Schools, Cults, Heresies forum