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Earthdate 2003-06-02

Monotheistic Paganism — or, Just what was it Christianity fought and faced?  by Michael McNeil

I was astounded years ago to discover that Hinduism — that supposedly “polytheistic” religion with many hundreds and thousands of deities — was actually, in essence, monotheistic: the supreme gods Vishnu and Shiva (according to different Hindu cults) partaking of the attributes of that Absolute Being from Whom all things emanate (usually termed capital-G “God” in Western monotheistic religions), while lesser deities in Hinduism possess characteristics one might attribute to angels or daemons (maybe even saints) in Christian parlance.  (Hinduism is extraordinarily diverse, including within its orthodox folds schools as various as one [Samkhya] holding that no deities exist: i.e., atheistic.  A fit subject for extensive discussion in its own right, Hinduism is beyond the scope of the present work.)

Pagan Sun God from temple of Aquae Sulis, Bath, England

Somewhat later, however, I was even more astonished to learn that the so-called paganism — the heathen religions facing Christianity during their final struggle for supremacy in the Roman world of the third and fourth centuries A.D. — was itself, in essence, monotheistic.  The pagan religions of late Roman times not only shared many characteristics with each other and the Christianity they all opposed, but formed a kind of single, multi-form, monotheistic religion, incorporating varied means of expressing (and reaching out and touching) the one Supreme Being that all envisioned.

To consider more deeply the nature of these non Judeo-Christian, “pagan” but fundamentally monotheist faiths, let's delve into that renowned comprehensive history of the Middle Ages, Cambridge University's (originally) eight-volume Cambridge Medieval History, which has become justly famed over nearly a century since the first volume's publication in 1911.  Volume I of the series, entitled “The Christian Roman Empire and the Foundation of the Teutonic Kingdoms,” has now passed into the public domain, beyond even the multiply extended periods of copyright protection, so this fine work is available for wider distribution than the dusty university library shelves that had been its commonest abode.

As a result of Impearls' desire to see this excellent book better read, we're taking this opportunity to republish in its entirety Chapter IV from Volume I of the original Cambridge Medieval History, to wit, the Reverend T. M. Lindsay's powerful essay “The Triumph of Christianity” (in the Roman Empire of the third and fourth centuries), into which we are here segueing via the question, “Just what was it Christianity fought and faced?”  Lindsay answers it superbly.

UPDATE: 2003-06-20 21:00 UT:  A handful of typographical errors have been found and fixed in the text of Lindsay's essay since publication earlier this month.  Sorry about that.  Also, see this Update.

UPDATE: 2003-06-28 14:45 UT:  The Bibliography to Chapter IV from the (1911) Cambridge Medieval History has now been published in Impearls, and the Contents below updated to reflect that. 



1 comments:  (End
(Perma)  On Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 7:28:00 AM GMT, Blogger hjkl wrote:   
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