Expert Answer Forum
Origins of Sun Worship QUESTION from Ray A. January 4, 2000 Suzanne-
My question is in regards to the origins/proliferation of the idea that Catholics worship the sun in the way that many early pagans did. I realize that during the early years of the church when paganism was still a large part of society, that many people on the time did in fact worship the sun as a diety, and my question is, where does the idea that Catholics did and still do worship the sun in such a way come from? There are many remnants, as these people who would assert that Catholics worship the sun, of this idea in the chuch tody, a few being architecture, stained glass arrangements, the Monstrance,ect., that make much use of the sun in thier design. If you could give me a little backround and explenation into this matter I would be most appreciative.
Thanks and God Bless, Ray A.
P.S.-- I just wanted to say that i stumbled apon this site just today, and i've found it to be a WONDERFULL source of information on the faith, and i'd like to say job well done!! Keep up the good work ;)
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on January 11, 2000 Dear Ray,
Thank you for your kind words.
I was not very familiar with the accusation of sun-worship before you asked your question, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about the history of this particular idea. If anyone knows of a good book which details the origins of this accusation, I would be extremely grateful if he emailed the title and author to me at email@example.com.
But I will tell you what I do know. One source whose ideas seems to have permeated the minds of anti-Catholics is The Two Babylons, written in 1853 by the Rev. Alexander Hislop, and expanded in 1858. I have frequently seen his ideas promoted on the internet.
In his book, Rev. Hislop attempts to prove that Catholicism originated from Babylonian paganism and therefore does not deserve to be considered Christian; it is the whore of Babylon (surprise!) of Revelation. He writes:
(...)The Providence of God, conspiring with the Word of God, by light pouring in from all quarters, makes it more and more evident that Rome is in very deed the Babylon of the Apocalypse; that the essential character of her system, the grand objects of her worship, her festivals, her doctrine and discipline, her rites and ceremonies, her priesthood and their orders, have all been derived from ancient Babylon; and, finally, that the Pope himself is truly and properly the lineal representative of Belshazzar. (From the Introduction). Rev. Hislop knows very well that the historical sources will not establish any continuity between the paganism of ancient Babylonia and Catholicism. So how does he intend to prove his thesis? He writes:
Now to establish the identity between the systems of ancient Babylon and Papal Rome, we have just to inquire in how far does the system of the Papacy agree with the system established in these Babylonian Mysteries. In prosecuting such an inquiry there are considerable difficulties to be overcome; [Ed: No kidding!] for, as in geology, it is impossible at all points to reach the deep, underlying strata of the earth's surface, so it is not to be expected that in any one country we should find a complete and connected account of the system established in that country. But yet, even as the geologist, by examining the contents of a fissure here, an upheaval there, and what crops out of itself on the surface elsewhere, is enabled to determine, with wonderful certainty, the order and general contents of the different strata over all the earth, so is it with the subject of the Chaldean Mysteries. What is wanted in one country is supplemented in another; and what actually crops out in different directions, to a large extent necessarily determines the character of much that does not directly appear on the surface. Taking, then, the admitted unity and Babylonian character of the ancient Mysteries of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, and Rome, as the clue to guide us in our researches, let us go on from step to step in our comparison of the doctrine and practice of the two Babylons--the Babylon of the Old Testament and the Babylon of the New. (Chapter II Section I) In plain English: He is comparing his job to a geologist. In the 19th century, geologists couldn't dig very deep to get evidence for their research, so they would have to rely on cracks in the earth's surface to gather data. Hislop is admitting there's no chain of continuity, no complete and connected account of the history of the transformation of paganism to Catholicism. He says you can't expect one, there's not enough concrete evidence to support his claim. So he has to base his proof on deductions and assumptions. He says that just as you can make educated guesses in geology without concrete evidence, by examining what occurred after the fact, you can examined what happened in history by examining what happened after the fact.
Guesswork is fine when you're dealing with natural science, because research is independently verifiable. If 100 geologists perform the well-designed experiment under the same conditions, in the majority of cases, their conclusions will be similar. That's not true of history. You can't assume that events occurred without sufficient evidence pointing to an event, or without good logic. In science, the number of conclusions you can draw from a certain amount of evidence is much more limited, because results are more predictable-- 2+2 always equals 4; there are only so many ways common chemicals will react and physical constants always remain the same. Through reasoning and experimentation, you can eliminate certain conclusions as impossible, and thereby gradually come to a valid theory.
History is not like that at all. There are no unbreakable laws of behaviour or thought You can't assume that because Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians were pagans, that similar conclusions and practices point to a common origin or mindset, or that they borrowed from one another. While there are certainly similarities between each form of paganism, they should not be treated as if there was no differences, or as if paganism constituted one homogenous religious tradition. Sometimes two people or two groups can come to the same conclusion or the same behaviour using totally different reasoning. For instance, Israel and Pagan Rome both believed that prosperity was a sign of God's approval and they also both insisted on correct ritual. Does that mean that Israel borrowed from Rome or vice-versa? Obviously not. But this is exactly the kind of reasoning Hislop is using. He says-- if two groups have similar ideas and practice, one group must have borrowed it from the other, even if there's no concrete evidence pointing to particular people adopting these ideas and practices.
Hislop uses this faulty reasoning to try to prove that Catholics engage in sun-worship when they adore the Blessed Sacrament. According to him, the host is a symbol of the sun because it's round, and because there are parallels in pagan worship:
The importance, however, which Rome attaches to the roundness of the wafer, must have a reason; and that reason will be found, if we look at the altars of Egypt. The thin, round cake, says Wilkinson, occurs on all altars. Almost every jot or tittle in the Egyptian worship had a symbolical meaning. The round disk, so frequent in the sacred emblems of Egypt, symbolised the sun. Now, when Osiris, the sun-divinity, became incarnate, and was born, it was not merely that he should give his life as a sacrifice for men, but that he might also be the life and nourishment of the souls of men.( --Chapter IV Section III) There you have it: because Egyptians had a ceremony where they had a round cake on their altars, it must have symbolized the sun (though there's no evidence for that) and that that round cake is a precursor to the Eucharist. And this symbol, represents the sun, who is to feed all men's souls. Note that the parallel isn't even perfect, as Catholics believe that the eucharist is actually Christ, whereas, the thin round cake is only a symbol of the sun, and that only be association. Note also that Hislop has difficulty in transmitting his ideas in a clear and concise fashion. He doesn't make explicit the link between the round cake and the sun symbolism, so the reader is left wondering about the purpose of mentioning the round cake. An inability to clearly communicate is a sign of the inability to reason. You know that anti-Catholic propaganda cannot be intellectually sound if such a poorly written and fallacious book is invoked as authoritative.
Hislop draws even more parallels.
What more natural then, if this incarnate divinity is symbolised as the bread of God, than that he should be represented as a round wafer, to identify him with the Sun? Is this a mere fancy? Let the reader peruse the following extract from Hurd, in which he describes the embellishments of the Romish altar, on which the sacrament or consecrated wafer is deposited, and then he will be able to judge: A plate of silver, in the form of a SUN, is fixed opposite to the SACRAMENT on the altar; which, with the light of the tapers, makes a most brilliant appearance. What has that brilliant Sun to do there, on the altar, over against the sacrament, or round wafer? In Egypt, the disk of the Sun was represented in the temples, and the sovereign and his wife and children were represented as adoring it. Near the small town of Babain, in Upper Egypt, there still exists in a grotto, a representation of a sacrifice to the sun, where two priests are seen worshipping the sun's image, as in the accompanying woodcut (Fig. 38). In the great temple of Babylon, the golden image of the Sun was exhibited for the worship of the Babylonians. In the temple of Cuzco, in Peru, the disk of the sun was fixed up in flaming gold upon the wall, that all who entered might bow down before it. The Paeonians of Thrace were sun-worshippers; and in their worship they adored an image of the sun in the form of a disk at the top of a long pole. In the worship of Baal, as practised by the idolatrous Israelites in the days of their apostacy, the worship of the sun's image was equally observed; and it is striking to find that the image of the sun, which apostate Israel worshipped, was erected above the altar. (Chapter IV Section III) In short: all the other pagans were doing it, so Catholicism must be pagan.
Aside from the fact that this account is illogical, it's anachronistic. Neither the monstrance nor eucharistic adoration could not have been borrowed from paganism because they were not introduced until the Middle Ages. The doctrine of transubstantiation had always been implicitly taught by the Church, but the practice of exposition was not known until about the 13th century. And classical paganism had long been dead by that point. I find it puzzling that Hislop states that the Church insists on round wafers. I have never in my life heard of such a thing. My husband tells me that when he was in the Phillippines, he attended a mass in which strips of bread were used. I would surmise that the roundness of the host is probably due to the fact that Passover bread is traditionally round.
The accusation that Catholicism borrowed heavily from paganism still abounds today, and there are a number of people who presume themselves to be terribly sophisticated in holding this belief. Many scholars have written books attempting to prove this thesis, but its appeal has diminished in the last few decades because historians realize that religious parallels don't necessarily signify that one group borrowed from another. Resemblances are often very superficial and it's lazy thinking that draws one to conclude a common origin.
I couldn't find any evidence of accusation of sun-worship before the 19th century. If you are aware of any books or authors that propagated the accusation of sun worship before 1858, I would very much appreciate if you could email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
God Bless, Suzanne
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