Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in theology and mythology of religion, asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Some religious movements have embraced overt syncretism, such as the case of the amalgamation of Germanic and Celtic pagan views into Christianity during its spread into Gaul, the British Isles, Germany, and Scandinavia, while others have strongly rejected it as devaluing and compromising precious and genuine distinctions; examples of this include post-Exile Second Temple Judaism, Islam, and some Protestant religions. Syncretism tends to facilitate coexistence and unity between otherwise different cultures and worldviews.

Early Christianity arose as a movement within Second Temple Judaism, following the teachings of Jesus, with a missionary commitment to both Jews and Gentiles. Christianity rapidly spread into the Roman empire and beyond.  Christianity came into contact with the dominant pagan religions. By the 2nd century, many Christians were converts from paganism and elements of the older religion and philosophy were melded into Christianity.

A good example of the syncretism of Greek thought and religion into Christianity is evident at the sanctuary of Delphi where both Apollo and Dionysus were worshipped. Apollo was the god of civilization: music, reason, mathematics, and light, while Dionysus was the god of the irrational, wine, and the raw life force. Dionysus is classified by mythologist as a vegetable god, as he died in the fall and was reborn each spring. Jesus, regarded as the divine light, and he, like Dionysus, rose from the grave. Moreover, when artist were called on to portray the image of Jesus, Greek images of Apollo were the usual source.

Apollo and Dionysus also represented the Greek dichotomy of opposites, the tension that held the world together. The axis mundi, which connects heaven with earth, symbolized by the omphalos (The stone that fell at Dephi, which  was considered to be the center of the world).  In his book De Corona, written in 204, Tertullian tells how it was a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross, that symbolized Jesus as the axis mundi.  The crucifix, a cross upon which an image of Christ is present, is not known to have been used as a positive Christian symbol until the 6th century AD.

Also, in Greek mythology Athena, born from the head of Zeus, will be absorbed into Christianity as the Hagia Sophia, holy wisdom, or The Pantokrator, "Sustainer of the World", which is  largely an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic theological conception, less common in Roman Catholicism and largely unknown to most Protestants.

And of course, Zeus, the top male deity, easily corresponds to the Judo-Christian God the father.

Any concept borrowed by the Christian fathers from a source outside of scripture has to be found somewhere in scripture. A process that at time is a stretch, for example, when Jesus in John (14:) says 15, "If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever." and the three angels who visit Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18; 1-8) and Abraham washes their feet as proof of the Trinity, takes a willing audience.

If the early church fathers were to establish a world institution from a popular religious movement, they had to meld the teaching of Jesus not only with the Jewish tradition but with the accepted philosophy and religion of the Greco-Roman world and later with the pagan beliefs of northern Europe. Their accomplishments were remarkable.

The focus of this modest investigation is to understand how the concepts of the Holy Spirit and Logos entered Christian theology and how Greek culture and thought underlies and supports it.                                  

                                                                                                                -JJ,  Penhook, 2017


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