Egyptian Christianity: Origins and Destruction

OsirisDionysus– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term Osiris-Dionysus is used by some historians of religion[1] to refer to a group of deities worshipped around the Mediterranean in the centuries prior to the emergence of Jesus. It has been argued that these deities were closely related and shared many characteristics, most notably being male, partly-human, born of virgins, life-death-rebirth deities and other similar characteristics.

The Egyptian god Osiris and the Greek god Dionysus had been equated as long ago as the 5th century BC by the historian Herodotus (see interpretatio graeca). By Late Antiquity, some Gnostic and Neoplatonist thinkers had expanded this syncretic equation to include Aion, Adonis, Attis, Mithras and other gods of the mystery religions. The composite term Osiris-Dionysus is found around the start of the first century BC, for example in Aegyptiaca by Hecateus of Abdera, and in works by Leon of Pella.

The JesusMysteries – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Freke and Gandy base the Jesus Mysteries thesis partly on a series of parallels between their suggested biography of Osiris-Dionysus and the biography of Jesus drawn from the four canonical gospels. Their suggested reconstruction of the myth of Osiris-Dionysus, compiled from the myths of ancient dying and resurrected “godmen,” bears a striking resemblance to the gospel accounts. The authors give a short list of parallels at the beginning of the book:

Later chapters add further parallels, including Mary’s 7 month pregnancy.

Serapis– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Serapis (Latin spelling, or Sarapis in Greek) was a syncretic HellenisticEgyptian god in Antiquity. His most renowned temple was at Alexandria,[1]. Under Ptolemy Soter, efforts were made to integrate Egyptian religion with that of their Hellenic rulers. Ptolemy’s policy was to find a deity that should win the reverence alike of both groups, despite the curses of the Egyptian priests against the gods of the previous foreign rulers (i.e Set who was lauded by the Hyksos). Alexander the Great had attempted to use Amun for this purpose, but he was more prominent in Upper Egypt, and not as popular with those in Lower Egypt, where the Greeks had stronger influence. The Greeks had little respect for animal-headed figures, and so a Greek-style anthromorphic statue was chosen as the idol, and proclaimed as the equivalent of the highly popular Apis.[2]It was named Aser-hapi (i.e. Osiris-Apis), which became Serapis, and was said to be Osiris in full, rather than just his Ka (life force).

Water into Wine, Tom Harpur

p 242: When it comes to the widespread first-century cult of Serapis, Barb explains: “Serapis is fundamentally Osiris/Horus… and he serves as the expression of monotheistic tendencies: [there is] one god, Serapis,” it says on numerous monuments.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock

pp 31-32: As in Christianity, within the Egyptian solar religion the sun god’s power is illustrated by the divine qualities of omnipresence, omnipotence and oniscience, typically defining the god of the cosmos within monotheism.  For example, demonstrating his omnipresence, the God Sun is contained in everything, as in the Great Hymn,” which addresses the sun as “you create millions of incarnations from yourself, the One.”6  In a section about the god “Re-Horakhty,” Dr. Assman entitles a selection of hymns, “oOmnipresence of the Light: God-Filled World.’  This material reflecting omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience includes scriptures such as: “Every way is full of your light”; “Are you not the leader on all ways?”; and “There are no limits to the field of his vision and no place hidden to his ka.”1  The ka is defined by James Allen as the “force of conscious omniscience in its worshippers – called in the texts the “sun-folks”3 – as highlighted in this line from a sun hymn: “The morning sun which enables one to know all things.”4

This concept of the “omniscience of light” is part of the “new solar theology” in which “the unattainably distant sun comes palpably near to earth creatures,” providing ” the idea of the simultaneous remoteness and proximity of god…”5 The German scholar next says:

The idea of proximity of god arises not from the sensual experience of light, but from the transcendental idea of a divine omniscience and omnipresence, in which god is right next to the heart “that turns to him.”6

As we can see, the Egyptian concept of God here is highly reminiscent of that found in Judeo-Christianity.  The Egyptian God Sun is also depicted as hearing “the prayers of all who call him.”7

pp 53-54: Regarding the Egyptian and Christian trinities and scriptural parallels, Morenz is prompted to conclude, “The multifarious links between Egypt and Judeo-Christian scriptures and trinitariantheology can already be traced with some degree of plausibility.”5  In his discussion of “Egyptian trinities,” as he terms them, Morenz includes a section addressing the idea of “unity in plurality.”6  The German scholar also points out that a “trinity” can likewise be created out of the “primordial One” and “the first pair of gods to be begotten”7  Regarding the motif of the trinity, Morenz further states:

…thus three gods are combined and treated as a single being, adressed in the singular.  In this way the spiritual force of Egyptian religion shows a direct link with Christian theology.

Deconstructing Jesus, Robert M. Price

p 26: Egypt presents us with the same picture yet again.  The first attested workers for Christ there were the Gnostics Valentinus, Basilides, Apelles, Carpocrates, and his son Isidore.  Phlegon preserves a letter attributed to Hadrian noting that all Christian priests in Egypt worshipped Serapis, too!  The leading gospels in Egypt, the Gospels according to the Hebrews and according to the Egyptians, as far as we can tell from their extant fragments, were Gnostic or heretical in color.  Bauer could detect no trace of Demetrius.  But does not tradition make the gospel-writer Mark the first bishop of Egypt?  Indeed it does, but like the letters of Jesus and Abgarus, this legend seems to be but another spurious “orthodox” origin for Egyptian Christianity (assuming Mark and his gospel could themselves be judged orthodox!).

pp 26-27: About the Nag Hammadi library – “What makes this discovery all the more astonishing is that associated documents show the collection of leather-bound volumes to have been from the monastic library of the Brotherhood of Saint Pachomius, the first known Christian monastery.  Apparently when the monks received the Easter Letter from Athanasius in 367 C.E., which contains the first known listing of the canonical twenty-seven New Testament books, warning the faithful to read no others, the brethren must have decided to hide their cherished “heretical gospels, lest they fall into the hands of the ecclesiastical book burners.  We may perhaps take that monastery as a cameo, a microcosm of Egyptian Christianity in the fourthcentury, diverse in doctrine, though soon to suffocate beneath the smothering veil of catholic orthodoxy.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock

pp 23-24: Dr. Richard A. Gabriel in Jesus the Egyptian… tersely recounts this disturbing history:

In 356 C.E. ConstantiusII ordered the Egyptian temples of Isis-Osiris closed and forbade the use of Egyptian hieroglyphics as a religious language.  In 380 C.E. Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity to be the official Roman state religion and all pagan cults were thereafter forbidden.  These edicts were devastating to the Egyptian culture and religion, both of which had been preserved over millennia through the Egyptian language and the writing systems of Egyptian priests.  In 391 C.E., the patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, summoned the monks to arms and turned them against the city of Memphis and the great shrine of Serapis, the Serapeum, the main temple of the Osiran-Isis religion.  The attack was akin to ordering the destruction of the Vatican.  Egyptian priests were massacred in their shrines and in the streets.  The ferocity of the violence consumed priests, followers, and the Egyptian intellectual elite of Alexandria, Memphis and the other cities of Egypt who were murdered and their temples and libraries destroyed.  The institutional structure of Egyptian religion, then more than four millennium old, was demolished in less than two decades.”

Christ in Egypt, by D.M. Murdock

Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection 
By D.M. Murdock (AKA Acharya S)

 Christ In Egypt is more than 500 pages crammed full of examples and quotations all fully cited. This book follows the same theme as Murdock’s earlier books, but it’s different in that the author is focusing on just one mythological parallel to Christianity. I’ve never studied Egyptian religion too deeply, but the way she presents it makes me very curious to learn more. In particular, she has helped me to better understand the importance of the Coptic Christians and the Alexandrian Jews, and this has given me more of the context behind the development of Gnosticism.

If you’re not familiar with the authors work, she mostly writes about comparative mythology in terms of Christianity. In particular, she emphasizes astrotheology (related to cultural astronomy, ethnoastronomy, and archeoastronomy) which is a field that is growing in popularity within a certain sector of scholars. If you’d like to learn more before deciding whether you want to buy this book, I’d recommend checking out the following: 

her main website (Truth Be Known), her blogs (Truth Be Known News & Freethought Nation), her forum (Freethought Nation forum), her Yahoo Group (The Christ Conspiracy) her Stellar Publishing House the Youtube channel.

You might be familiar with astrotheology from the first part of the movie Zeitgeist, but that movie is only a very basic presentation. So, don’t dismiss Murdock’s work based on criticisms that you’ve read about Zeitgeist. Christ In Egypt is partly a response to those criticisms and it’s a very thorough response. If you’re genuinely interested in this topic, I’d recommend reading the book (which is something many of her critics don’t do) and making up your own mind.

As for the issue of Murdock’s scholarship, here is an excerpt from the preface of Christ In Egypt:

“I have been compelled to do extensive and exhaustive research in the pertinent ancient languages, such as Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Coptic, while I have also utilized authorities in modern languages such as German and French. . . . In my analysis of the ancient Egyptian texts, I consulted and cross-referenced as many translations as I could find, and I attempted to defer to the most modern renditions as often as possible.”

Murdock cites more than nine hundred scholarly sources and primary texts which includes thousands of footnotes, around 60 illustrations, and a 36 page long bibliography. She references the contemporary mythicist scholars Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, and G.A. Wells; she goes into great detail about the criticisms of Gerald Massey; and she has a large section where she discusses her disagreement with Richard Carrier. Both Price and Doherty praise her work and reference it, and Price wrote a foreword to one of her earlier books (Who Was Jesus?). Also, here are some of the modern Egyptologists she references: Rudolf Anthes, Jan Assman, Hellmut Brunner, Claas J. Bleeker, Bob Brier, Henri Frankfort, Alan H. Gardiner, John Gwyn Griffiths, Erik Hornung, Barry Kemp, Barbara Lesko, Bojana Mojsov, Siegfried Morenz, William Murnane, Margaret A. Murray, Donald B. Redford, Herman te Velde, Claude Traunecker, Reginald E. Witt, and Louis V. Zabkar. One nice thing about Murdock’s books is that the bibliographies give you many directions in which to study further.

As a side note, many would like to separate Murdock’s work from authors who act as popularizers, but I noticed that she includes Freke and Gandy in her bibliography. I’m glad she did because I personally get tired of the haughty attitude many people get about scholarship. Popularizers like Freke and Gandy (along with Tom Harpur) play an important role as their books make for excellent introductions, but keep in mind that Murdock is a very large step beyond introductory material. If you feel a need to be dismissive towards the lesser scholarship of popularizers, please realize that Murdock’s Christ In Egypt is as scholarly as it gets.

As such, even though I highly recommend this book, it might not be a good introduction for most people partly because of its massive size. She is meticulous in her scholarship which means that you have to be seriously interested in the subject to want to read a book like this. I personally appreciate the excess of data. And, with a subject that attracts many critics, the more details and examples provided the better the argument is supported.

Murdock’s Christ in Egypt seems to be quite unique… despite there being many books that discuss Christianity and Egyptology. She realized how much info was out there, but the problem was that it was scattered across many sources. Her enormous goal was to collect as many scholarly references as she could find. In doing this, she researched materials that had never been published before and materials that had never appeared in English before. She amazingly managed to stuff a lot into a single book (although I suspect she could’ve expanded it into multiple volumes). As far as I know, there presently is no better resource available.

Biographical info (from her website):

“Acharya S, whose real name is D.M. Murdock, was classically educated at some of the finest schools, receiving an undergraduate degree in Classics, Greek Civilization, from Franklin & Marshall College, the 17th oldest college in the United States. . . . Acharya is also a member of one of the world’s most exclusive institutes for the study of Ancient Greek Civilization, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. . . . Acharya S has served as a trench master on archaeological excavations in Corinth, Greece, and Connecticut, USA, as well as a teacher’s assistant on the island of Crete. Acharya S has traveled extensively around Europe,and she speaks, reads and/or writes English, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese and a smattering of other languages to varying degrees.”

I’ve only so far read parts of Christ in Egypt. It’s large and I’ll mostly use it as a reference. This book follows the same theme as her earlier books, but it’s different in that the author is focusing on just one mythological parallel to Christianity. Egyptian religion is very fascinating and Murdock provides tons of information. I’ve never studied Egyptian religion too deeply, but this makes me even more curious.

If you’re not familiar with the authors work, she mostly writes about comparative mythology in terms of Christianity. In particular, she emphasizes astrotheology which is a field that is growing in popularity within a certain sector of scholars. If you’d like to learn more before deciding whether you want to buy this book, I’d recommend checking out her website or blog (Truth Be Known). She has some good introductory articles that explain what astrotheology is.

You might be familiar with astrotheology from the first part of the movie Zeitgeist. If you’d like to explore similar authors, then check out Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur and Freke and Gandy. All of those authors have written about the Egyptian religion. There are many others as well. One nice thing about Murdock’s books is that the bibliographies give you many directions in which to study further.

Anyways, I highly recommend this book. But it probably wouldn’t be a good introduction for most people. She is meticulous in her scholarship which means that you have to be seriously interested in the subject to want to read a book like this. The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light by Tom Harpur would be a better first book to read. He covers similar territory, but in a more concise way.

I personally like the author’s large books filled with tons of information. And, with a subject that attracts many critics, the more details and examples provided the better the argument is supported.

Even though there are many books out there that discuss Christianity and Egyptian religion, Murdock’s Christ in Egypt is unique. She realized how much info was out there, and no one had yet collected it all in one place before. Her enormous goal was to find every scholarly reference to the Egyptian correlations to Christianity. In doing this, she researched materials that had never been published before and materials that had never appeared in English before. At this time, there is no better resource available.

If you want to see more info about this subject, the author has a forum about it at her discussion board: Truth Be Known Nation: Christ in Egypt.  And here is the Table of Contents from the Stellar House Publishing website.

 
 

Jesus Christ the Sun

“Christ, Constantine, Sol Invictus: the Unconquerable Sun” by Ralph Monday:

Ironically, Constantine being a pragmatic Roman, interpreted Christ as a war god, not the “prince of peace,” and he apparently never truly understood the mysteries of Christianity, retaining his right to worship the pagan gods, especially the sun. He never took baptism until shortly before his death.

Charles Freeman questions whether or not Constantine’s famous adoption of Christianity was a spiritual conversion or simply a matter of political expediency, because the suggesting evidence is that Constantine viewed the God of Christianity as being very similar to the old pagan gods, like Apollo, and this latter god was one that Constantine paid particular homage to. Indeed, the triumphal arch of Constantine, built in 315 by the senate of Rome after his “conversion,” contains reliefs of Jupiter, Mars and Hercules, and Constantine apparently associated his victory at the Milvian Bridge with the power of the sun, but no Christian symbol can be found on the structure and there is no reference to Christ; however, there are images and homage paid to Mithras, another sun god whose birthday is December 25th (Emperor’s State of Grace).

Another example of the influence of this official sun worship on Christianity is:

Constantine’s law of…321 [C.E] uniting Christians and pagans in the observance of the “venerable day of the sun” It is to be noted that this official solar worship, the final form of paganism in the empire…, was not the traditional Roman-Greek religion of Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, and the other Olympian deities. It was a product of the mingling Hellenistic-Oriental elements, exemplified in Aurelian’sestablishment of Eastern Sun worship at Rome as the official religion of the empire, and in his new temple enshrining Syrian statutes statues of Bel and the sun…. Thus at last Bel, the god of Babylon, came into the official imperial temple of Rome, the center of the imperial religion. It was this late Roman-Oriental worship of one supreme god, symbolized by the sun and absorbing lesser divinities as subordinates or manifestations of the universal deity, that competed with young Christianity. This was the Roman religion that went down in defeat but infiltrated and colored the victorious church with its own elements, some of which can be seen to this day. (Cramer 4)

All the evidence suggests that Constantine viewed Christ as one of many gods in a crowded pantheon, a war god at that, who had provided him with his victory over Maxentius, and that this new Christian god could be used as a political tool to solidify his power and prestige in the empire, as well as bringing about a total homogeneity of culture to ancient Rome as witnessed by his calling of the council of Nicea in 325 C.E. to settle the Arian controversy, and also by the later solidification of the dates of Easter and Christmas, for he well knew that power and control in a complex organization depended upon common agreement in regard to the symbols that held it together. For example, in May 330 at the dedication of the new Roman capital Constantinople Constantine was “[d]ressedin magnificent robes and wearing a diadem encrusted with jewels (another spiritual allegiance of Constantine’s, to the sun, a symbol of Apollo, first known from 310 was expressed through rays coming from the diadem”) (Freeman). The ancient connection to the sun as a god clearly exemplifies Constantine’s adoration and admiration for such a “heavenly” deity.

The Pagan Christ, by Tom Harpur, p 83:

Few Christians today realize that in the fifth century, Pope Leo the Great had to tell Church members to stop worshipping the sun.  The first ostensibly Christian emperor, Constantine, who converted to the new faith at the beginning of the fourth century, was still worshipping the sun god Helios many years later, as coins and other evidence reveal.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock, pp 112-113:

Concerning this solar celebration and the obvious correlation to Jesus Christ, Kellner states:

…The comparison of Christ with the sun, and His work with the victory of light over darkness, frequently appears in the writings of the Fathres.  St. Cyprian spoke of Christ as the true sun(sol verus).  St. Ambrose says precisely, ” He is our new sun (Hic sol novus noster).”  Similar figures are employed by Gregory of Nazianzus, Zeon of Verona, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, etc.1

 As we have seen from Luke 1:24-27 and John 3:30, it would appear that the “holy Scriptures” in fact may have suggested this idea!

In reality, so common was the contention of Christians worshipping the sun that Church fathers such as Tertullian (c. 155-230 AD/CE) and Augustine (354-430 AD/CE) were compelled to compose refutations of the claim.  In Ad Nationes(1.13), Tertullian writes:

The Charge of Worshipping the Sun Met by a Retort.

…Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, supposethat the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity.  What then? Do you do less than this? Do not many among you with an affectation of sometimes worshipping the heavenly bodies likewise, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise?

Once more, in his Apology(6), Tertullian addresses what appears to be a widespread insight that he surprisingly asserts comes from those with”more information” and “greater verisimilitude,” or truth:

…Others, again, certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude, believe that the sun is our god.  We shall be counted Persians perhaps, though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth, having himself everywhere in his own disk.  The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer.  But you, many of you, also under pretence sometimes of worshipping the heavenly bodies, move our lips in the direction of the sunrise.

In addition to turning to the east for prayer, early Christians oriented their churches to the sun, a practice tht continued into more modern times in some places…

Who Was Jesus?, D.M. Murdock, pp 244-45:

Hence, an early Christian apologist not only felt compelled to address what appears to be a frequent contention that the Christians were sun-worshippers and that Christ was the sun, but he also seems to be asserting that such a contention is more accurate than other observations about his religion!

These contentions of sun worship persisted for centuries and remained prevalent enough by the time of St. Augustine (354- 430 AD/CE) that he too was forced to protest then min his Tractates on the Gospel of John (XXXIV):

I Think that the Lord says, “I am the light of the world,” is clear to those that have eyes, by which they are made partakers of this light: but they who have not eyes except in the flesh alone wonder at what is said by the Lord Jesus Christ, “I am the light of the world.”  And perhaps there may not be wanting some one too who says with himself: Whether perhaps the Lord Christ is that sun which by its rising and setting causes the day?  For there have not been wanting heretics who thought this.  The manichaeans have supposed that the Lord Christ is that sun which is visible to carnal eyes, exposed and public to be seen, not only by men, but by the beasts.  But the right faith of the Catholic Church rejects such a fiction, and perceives it to be a devilish doctrine; not only by believing acknowledges it to be such, but in the case of who it can, proves it even by reasoning.  Let us therefore reject this kind of error, which the Holy Church has anathematized from the beginning.  Let us not suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ is this sun which we see rising from the east, setting in the west, to whose course succeeds night, whose rays are obscured by a cloud, which removes from place to place by a set motion: the Lord Christ is not such a thing as this.  The Lord Christ is not the sun that was made, but He by whom the sun was made.  For all things were made by Him, and without him was nothing made.

Thus, we have clear evidence that for centuries Christianity was perceived as sun worship and Christ as sun.  This fact represents a major clue as to who Jesus was, demonstrating the environment into which the gospel tale was introduced and the prevailing religious concepts against which his priesthood was competing.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock, p 115:

Although Augustine doth evidently protest too much in attempting to delineate Christ from the physical sun, the fact remains that this distinction is precisely the same as was said of Amen, Re, Osiris and other sun gods or epithets of the sun and/or creators of the solar disc, which was distinguished by the epithet “Aten.”

p114:

Interestingly, in the Coffin Texts (CT Sp. 196, 207) appear references to the “festival of the seventhday,”3 instantly reminding one of the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday.  Not only is the Sun’s day also the Lord’s day, but from early times Christ himself was depicted with his face “shining as the sun” (Mt 17:2), as “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) and “a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).  Lord Jesus was also called by a number of solar epithets, such as “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal 4:2), “the true sun,” “our sun” and the “sun of Resurrection.”4 This latter epithet, which sounds very Egyptian, especially as concerns Osiris, was given to Christ by Clement of Alexandria, for one. 5 Furthermore, in the late second century Theophilus of Antioch (“Autolychus,” 2.15) specifically stated that the sun is a “type of God,” thereby imbuing it withdivine qualities and essentially identifying it with Christ, who is likewise a “type of God.”

The World of Augustine

I was just thinking I should do a post about the context of Augustine’s life.  It was an interesting moment in history.

Constantine died less than two decades before Augustine was born.  The first Council of Nicea had profound impact, but the Empire was still largely Pagan.  Constantine himself mixed Christianity and Paganism.  Constantine probably didn’t even really distinguish between the different varieties of sun worship.  He probably understood Jesus in the terms of his own understanding of Pagan sun gods who also were saviors.  In fact, Constantine carried on the Roman tradition of Sol Invictus.  He wasn’t even baptized until on his death bed.  Certainly, he was far from being an exemplary Christian Emperor.  He was ruthless and it’s likely he chose Christianity in order to try to prop up the Empire that was already starting to show hints of weakening.  The major contribution he made was that in legalizing Christianity he encouraged a legalistic approach to defining Christianity.  Orthodoxy is rooted in this legalistic tradition.

Eusebius became the Emperors official propagandist and is now known as the first major Church historicist.  However, modern academics have shown that he was very loose with the truth.  It was a common practice amongst the Church Fathers to lie and deceive partly because people in general at the time were less idealistic about objective truth.  Also, the common style of debate was aggressively polemical.  I’ve read that the first few centuries of Christianity created more scriptural forgeries and alterations than almost any other period of Western history.  The early Christians were quite industrious in manufacturing their religion.

It should be noted that by the fourth century, Christianity had changed quite a bit.  The earliest Christian commentators were considered heretical by the end of the second century, and the Christian commentators of the third century were also starting to seem suspect by the fourth century heresiologists.  Christianity was evolving very quickly.  By the time Christianity was legalized, Christians were beginning to forget their own origins.  The sects that were based on the earliest commentaries were now heretical.  Heresiology was the foundation of orthodoxy.  As an example, Basilides wrote the earliest commentaries of any Christian.  He was alive in the first century and would’ve known the very first Christians.  Guess who destroyed his work?  Later Christians.  If there ever was a single original Christianity, the fighting between Christians very well may have entirely annihalated it by the third century.  And by the fourth and fifth centuries, the Church Fathers were creating creeds that probably had only a vague connection to the beliefs of first century Christians.

Anyways, the Nicene Creed set forth the doctrine of the Trinity… which by the way has no scriptural foundation as the Trinity was Pagan in origin.  Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity came from Neo-Platonism.  But not all Christians believed in a Trinity.  Arianism was the major opposing opinion and is named after one of the dissenting voices at the Council of Nicea.  Some of the Emperors of the fourth century were Arian Christians.  Arianism had become quite popular and was probably the single biggest issue of the fourth century and would survive for several more centuries.

 In the middle of the fourth century, Julian the Apostate temporarily revived Paganism as the official state religion when Augustine was a child.  Besides the still strong traditions of Paganism, there were many traditions of Christianity.  Possibly the largest (psuedo-) Christian tradition in the world at that time was Manichaeism.  I say ‘pseudo’ because Mani included many influences, but still it was Christian.  The Manichaean Christ was worshipped as a solar deity and this was a major component of Augustine’s early education in Christianity.

Astrology and astro-theology in general was a major force in the ancient world.  Many early Christians referred to Jesus as Sol, and it was a practice within the early Catholic church to pray towards the rising sun.  The early Christian allegorists were aware of the astrotheological symbolism within Christianity.  Augustine certainly would’ve been aware of this as well.  It was through the allegorical interpretations of Ambrose that Judeo-Christian scripture began to seem respectable to Augustine.  Ambrose had connected Jesus to the sun, but Augustine denied this connection.  So, sun worship was still a major issue within the Church even as Catholicism was coming into power.

The distinction between Christianity and Paganism wasn’t absolutely clear at that time because Christianity and the Roman Empire grew up together.  The two were inseparable.  Augustine admitted that Christianity began before Jesus in earlier religions.  This was a Neo-Platonic view of Christianity that Augustine was less accepting of later in life.  Even Eusebius the greatest Christian propagandist who ever lived admitted to the similarities between Christianity and Paganism.  These similarities were so obvious that it was pointless in trying to deny them.  Unlike modern Christians, many of the early Church Fathers had educations in Paganism.  Anyways, in the ancient world it gave a religion respectability to show that it has its roots in older traditions.  There was no more embarassment in admitting Christianity had Pagan roots than in admitting it had Jewish roots.  However, in the fourth century, it was starting to become more important to explain it  away.  Christianity needed to justify its growing dominance, and so it became necessary to increasingly distinguish itself from Paganism.  It would take until the sixth century for Catholicism to destroy all of the institutions of Classical Paganism.

Along with this, it became necessary for Catholic orthodoxy to distinguish itself from the diverse traditions of Christianity.  Catholicism was only barely becoming the dominant form of Christianity in the fourth century.   Basically, all of the heresies named in the second and third centuries were still around.  The Marcionites and the Valentinians were the most influnential sects of early Christianity and they were still living traditions.  Gnosticism was everywhere and it was rather difficult to distinguish it from orthodoxy as there was much cross-pollination.  Augustine himself was a good example of cross-polination as he first seriously studied Christianity as a Manichaean Gnostic.  That might be why he was critical of the Old Testament before meeting Ambrose.  The New Testament was originally canonized by the Gnostic Marcion in order to create a Christian canon separate from and opposed to the Jewish scripture.

Along with the early heresies, new ones were also popping up.  Two traditions that Augustine fought to make heretical were Donatism and Pelagianism.  The Donatists were a schism from Augustine’s homeland of North Africa.  The Donatists believed that once someone had denied Catholicism they shouldn’t be allowed back into the Church.  This relates to Pelagianism as well.  Pelagius was the same age as Augustine and he also preached the necessity of believers being held responsible for their actions.  Augustine opposed these two groups because he held the fatalistic belief that everyone was born a sinner.  As such, believers and clergy shouldn’t be expected to be morally better than anyone else.  Augustine’s created the Christian foundations for the theory of just war in his criticisms of the Donatists.  His oratorical and legal arguments led to the declaration of heresy against the Donatists and their harsh persecution which he only partly protested against.  These heresies, however, would continue to attract adherents for centuries to come.

In 379, Theodosius I became Roman Emperor.  He united the Eastern and Western Empire and was the last Emperor to rule both.  Also, he made the Nicene Creed the official state religion.  Augustine was still a Manichaean at this time and this must’ve influenced his later decision in 386 to convert to Catholicism.  In 381, Theodosius I began to inhibit Paganism.  In 388, he began the persecution and destruction of Paganism.  This was the Catholicism that Augustine converted to and which he helped to support.

After Theodosius reign, the beginning of the fifth century was more of the same.  The last remnants of Egyptian religion was destroyed.  Also, Hypatia (the last great Pagan teacher, philosopher, and mathematician) was killed by a Christian mob.  I don’t know what Augustine’s opinion was about this destruction of Pagan culture all around him, but he certainly took notice of the sacking of Rome.  Rome was attacked by the Visigoths who were Arian Christians.  Augustine wrote The City of God in response to the fall of Rome because Pagans were blaming Christians for this event.   At the end of his life, the Arian Vandals were ravaging Roman Africa.  Augustine was on his deathbed in Hippo when it was overrun by Vandals.