CHRISTIAN MYSTERIES AND PAGAN MYSTERIES
"Come, I will show you the Word and the mysteries of the Word, and I will give you understanding of them by means of images familiar to you."1
THESE words are from the Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria and I have placed them at the head of this section of my book because they concisely summarize what I have to say in it. As we all know, the term "mystery" was thoroughly familiar to the ancient world and its application to the Logos no doubt seemed natural enough. Certainly St Paul had no qualms about thus using the word. He speaks of "the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but is now manifested to his saints" ( Col. 1. 26). For all that, however, we are confronted by a question. Is it really legitimate from a historical, let alone from a religious, point of view to compare the Christian mystery with the mystery cults that surrounded Christianity at the time of its emergence? And to what extent, if any, may we apply the verbal figures and general terminology of the Hellenistic mystery cults to the mysterium of Christianity?
Yet this immediately raises a second and related question. Did not -- from the second to the fifth century at any rate -- a broad stream of Greek piety force its way into the Church, transforming Christianity's pristine biblical simplicity into the mystic sacramental form that lives on in the worship of the Russo-Byzantine Churches and to a more limited extent in Latin Christianity? If so, may not an apparent affinity between Christianity and the cults have been rather more marked at the end of this period than at its beginning? These are problems with which religious historians have for half a century sought to come to terms, problems which____________________