Reflecting the Mind of the Vatican since 1850
Early Christianity and the Religions of the Time: The Lesson of Paul
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In the early centuries, Christianity spread through a world that was completely pervaded by religion. There was no gesture or action that was not accompanied by a religious act, in both the private and public spheres. There was no place, beginning with the stars, that was not associated with some deity. The sun, the moon, the constellations were considered divine beings. As for the things of the Earth: springs, rivers, seas, mountains, forests, everything bore the imprint of a divine being, although of a lower rank. Even the human sphere, made up of emotions, feelings, fears and hopes, was populated by deities, whose myths could be of help in overcoming life’s anxieties and processing its sorrows.

How did the early Christians deal with this widespread religiosity, which we might call “natural”? Those coming from a Jewish background first clearly distinguished the creature from the Creator. The world, however beautiful and orderly, could not be worshiped as divine. The concept of creation from nothing, fundamental to the Judeo-Christian faith, was foreign not only to Greco-Roman religion but also to the various philosophical schools, as well as that of a transcendent God.

The idea of the divine, which can somehow be said to be innate in humans, in the absence of a clear ontological distinction, becomes easily embodied in things. Thus, for example, the Book of Wisdom states, “. . . all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world” (Wis 13:1-2).
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