Mythology is a very abstract and historic concept which many do not realize has been a vital part of human civilization for centuries before the arrival of the primary world religions. As societies developed with more concrete ideologies and structured religious institutions, mythological concepts were integrated into mainstream religions such as Christianity, to improve acceptance and assimilation by pagan believers. For this paper, the subheading “Cosmic Christianity” was selected from the chapter in Mircea Eliade’s novel Myth and Reality to be reflected upon and analyzed in closer detail.
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This section of the chapter offered a wide variety of interesting and previously unknown facts which the writer of this report finds fascinating. Eliade notes that as Christianity was rapidly spreading and establishing itself throughout Europe, it met the challenge of being conflicted with already existing traditions, many of which were mythologically based on pagan nature and divine figures. Missionaries adopted many of these elements converting them into Christian-based concepts as mythological stories became part of the religious histography, and mythical factors and heroes were turned into saints and divine providence. For over ten centuries, the Christian church had to a continuous rise of pagan culture throughout Europe by accommodating them into Christian practices and legends (Eliade 171).
The author notes that many aspects of pre-Christian Europe were in some way preserved by this approach which became known as Cosmic Christianity. The pagan believers in Europe, consisting of mostly peasants, saw Christianity as a “cosmic liturgy” and the Resurrection as a Nature-based motif to the religious folklore. This and many other cosmic symbols imbued unto Christianity in these regions helped for a natural adoption of the religion. Many saw it as not a paganization of Christianity, but rather the opposite as Cosmic Christianity became celebrated not as a new form of paganism but rather a Christian syncretism (Eliade 172). However, this did not anyhow compromise the belief system of the Gospels as all the essential themes continued to exist and there were no serious contradictions between theological interpretations and religious folklore. The traditions persisted for centuries and mainstream Christianity in many areas of Europe preserves and celebrates many of the “pagan” adopted elements.
The presented findings of this subsection are inherently interesting to examine from a socio-anthropological perspective. Cultural interactions such as this, particularly on religious grounds are often characterized by violence. This becomes one of the few examples in history where the assimilated group of pagan believers was accepted alongside a majority of their folklore, just under a different camouflage. It was a peaceful conversion and preserved numerous traditions that are present in the modern-day. Many of the subpopulations of Europe such as Slavs in South-Eastern Europe, the Irish, and other areas even developed their own unique identities of Christianity which is characterized by the legends and saints that are mentioned in religious texts, hymns, and sermons. In a manner, it helped to unite people as the cosmic elements were relatable to these populations for numerous generations.
The nature of Cosmic Christianity is inherently interesting in its intricate combination of natural, supernatural, and religious elements. In the context of Christianity’s own development, the Old Testament strongly opposes many of these mystical elements. The new form of Christian syncretism took some adaptations quite literary as Christ became not only a historical figure, but rather a form of the Supreme Being which even comes down to the people. It was something to bring hope and guidance, some of the primary concepts and purposes of Christianity in the strive for goodness.
Perhaps the biggest question remains whether the described transition and birth of Cosmic Christianity remains theologically valid. Although Eliade notes that there is no contradiction between religious folklore and theological concepts such as monotheism, the Nativity, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, there are inherent concerns as to the scope of their similarity. While unarguably the central themes of Christianity remained in terms of the purpose of human existence, free will, and judgment, many people see the incorporated pagan beliefs as a vital part of the Christian gospels and theology. Many of the saints that were falsely created as camouflage for myths became patron saints. Therefore, individuals say prayers to them and in Orthodox Christianity, worship them based on their assigned roles by the church. This creates a theological and morally imperative challenge since examining the church’s role in the endeavor suggests that an ultimately false belief system was created.
However, this may be largely irrelevant as organized religion, particularly Christianity, is losing its popularity. Many view it as more of a value system rather than devoutly studying every aspect of its history and legends. The pagan elements have become nothing more than folklore, more commonly used in secular holidays and marketing. Therefore, the theological relevance is largely superficial and comes back around to the primary point that the assimilation of pagan roots was not contradictory to Christianity and did not “paganize” its belief system.
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The writer of this paper believes that the approach discussed in this section in regard to the evolution of Cosmic Christianity was inherently a natural societal development that was a positive outcome based on the realities of the time. Christianity at this point in history was already a powerful institution with many followers which dominated the continent. In order to spread the religion and ensure unity, the approach of creating a Christological approach to the Cosmos was ingenious. It was able to genuinely create a new dimension to the religion without the use of force or significant pressure, but rather a spontaneously occurring belief that began to be widely celebrated. Cosmic Christianity was achieved without compromising the belief system of the original Gospels. The writer of this report believes that culture-religious assimilation was imminent as Christianity spread through Europe. However, the transition described in the section and the fact that mainstream Christianity maintains many of these elements in the modern-day should be applauded and presents a topic for thought regarding the interactions of major and minor religious beliefs throughout history.
The portion of the chapter analyzed in this essay examines how Christianity adopted pagan elements into its theological thought and history for the purpose of assimilating peasants that could not recuse many supernatural beliefs. This led to the birth of “Cosmic Christianity” which on one hand helps accommodate followers through its histography but does not lose its inherent religious and moral foundations. This was inherently the best and most peaceful approach, rather than forcing the religion upon these populations, it provided entirely new dimensions and narratives to Christianity.
Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. Harper & Row Publishers, 1963.