Pagan Parallels. II.
About two months ago we told how at the age of twenty-five we confided to a friend the two decisive reasons against believing in any sort of religion. The one of which we were then writing was the prospect of all life becoming extinct upon the earth. The other was the existence of a number of different religions all claiming to teach the truth and all teaching differently.
We were not then in a position to see that in so far as any of the non-Catholic religions or sects had vitality it . was because it contained part of the Catholic whole.
At a later date we were more impressed by another aspect of the anti-Christian argument from comparative religions. It is concerned with questions of origin. It dwells not on the differences between religions but on what they have in common. It attributes this to the common propensities of human nature or else to borrowings by Christianity from the other religions, and claims to destroy the exclusive claims of Christianity.
Our speculations along these lines were brought to an end by the discovery that Christianity had after all been revealed by God. Its resemblances to other religions ceased then to matter much one way or the other. The anti-Christian book we discussed last week was a reminder that they still mattered a good deal to less fortunate persons.
Suppose you were inventing a religion. It would inevitably show points of resem blance to existing religions. The more sincere you were in trying to answer the fundamental human questions the greater would these resemblances be.
In the case of a true and revealed religion there would be much that transcended human imagination, but certain classes of resemblances would be more and not less striking.
For example, if there had been any previous revelation of truth there would necessarily be parallels to the freshly revealed doctrines wherever some fragment of the
original revelation survived. And the scorn that has been poured in recent times on the idea of a primitive revelation is not an argument against it, nor does it dispose of the discoveries amongst savages in different parts of the world of secret traditions embodying high monotheistic and ethical conceptions.
As for traditions concerning historical events, such.anhe Flood, nothing but antireligibus bias could use them as arguments against the truth of the Biblical account.
Again, a genuine revelation of God's mercy to man would of necessity find anticipations wherever men had given expression in myth to their genuine religious needs. Even their blindest gropings after God would be likely to reflect hopes of redemption from sin and of the coming of a divine saviour. And the nature-cycles of the sun or the corn would afford a common framework for myth-making about these things.
A large group of parallels falls under this head, and another arises out of it— parallel incidents in the story of the corning of the divine saviour. The various attempts to picture it could hardly fail to include between them incidents such as the welcome given by adorers, angelic and human, that did actually take place when the divine child really came. For most men have quite a reasonably good idea of the fitness of things. • In particular, they thought that he should be born of a virgin, and in this too the reality proved them right, though in other ways it completely transcended their notions of a divine incarnation.
In some cases, no doubt, there was actual borrowing from Jewish anticipations, for there were Jews scattered all over the near East.
Another group of inevitable parallels comprises the attempts of pagan religions to express their aspirations in symbolic rites. For the sacraments which Christ gave His Church, though much more than symbols, were themselves symbols, and the range of suitable symbols was very limited if they were to be intelligible to simple people.
Thus, the pouring of water over the sinner is a plain symbol of spiritual cleansing, though it needed a real God-man to make the symbol effect the actual spiritual cleansing.
Much the same could be said concerning the greatest sacrament of all, though in this case some marvellously contrived differences were introduced into the symbolism as if to guard against any honest confusion.
The notion of diabolic inspiration sounds odd even to devout Catholics in this age of enfeebled spiritual perceptions. Yet it is possible that the fathers of the Church were right when they ascribed some of the pagan parallels to diabolical influences.
After all, to side-track enquirers after truth by plausible imitations has been a favourite device from the earliest times down to the latest developments of AngloCatholicism. Indeed, it is the very mark of Anti-Christ, whose title does not mean " against Christ but " instead of Christ."
Next time you come across a list of pagan parallels made impressive by being piled up in confusion, sort them out into groups such as these. You will find that they arrange themselves around revealed Christianity along definite " lines of force" like steel filings scattered near a magnet.