SHOULD BELIEVERS IN GOD BOW DOWN TO STATUES?
Exodus 20: 4: “You shall not make for yourself any carved image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5: YOU SHALL NOT BOW DOWN TO THEM or worship them;
Romans 1: 22: Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23: and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
That's a fair question, but soon the discussion got out of hand. At one point, I said, “In large part, in Ancient Rome, the household gods got swapped out for statues of ‘saints’.”
Someone said, “Can you show proof for that claim?”
Someone else said, “Correlation does not show causation.”
I don’t know if either of those were responses to me, but how about “if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it may be a duck”.
In many of the quotes that follow, I’m referencing “Survivals of Roman Religion”, New York, NY: Coopers Square Publishing, ©1963 by Gordon Laing (from the “Our Debt to Greece and Rome” series).
The earliest Roman religion of which we have any record was a system of pandemonism (pan-demon-ism). There was a spirit—a demon it was often called—in every object, every act, every process, and sometimes in every stage of a process. There is no better example of this than the succession of spirits that watched over each period of a man’s life from birth to death….
The steps of this are given of a man’s life, from birth, “first cry”, in the cradle, in a bed, taking mother’s milk, weaning, learning to talk, stand, first ventures out of the house, maturity, sharpening wits, feeling, will, etc.
The names given for each of these processes are the names of various Roman “gods”: Juno Lucina, Candelifera, Carmenetes, Vagitanus, Cunina, Cuba, Ruminia, Edusa, Potina, Fabulinus, Statilinus, Abeona, Adeona, Catius, Sentia, Volumna, Viduus, and tons more. Each had a specialized functionality.
And so he was passed from god to god and the long line of divine relays only ended when Viduus parted body and soul. Extreme specialization is also seen in the list of twelve spirits to whom the priest of Ceres appealed at the beginning of the sowing season.
These included “gods” for plowing, hoeing, reaping, storing, etc., with names like Obarator, Sarritor, Messor, Conditor.
Another instance of this characteristic of Roman religion is seen in the case of the house, every part of which had its guardian divinity, as Servius points out in his commentary on Virgil, where he specifies Forculus (door), Cardea (hinge), and Limentinus (threshold).
But the evidence of this particularistic character of Roman religion is not confined to these lists of obscure spirits. The gods of the Roman pantheon in general—even the greatest of them—showed, in their origin at least, a high degree of specialization. In some cases the original function of the divinity expanded in different directions but others the early specialization maintained its old limits. Janus was the god of the odor, Vesta of the hearth, Faunus of the forest, Pales of pasture land, Fons of springs, Volturnus of running streams, Saturn of sowing, Ceres of Growth, Flora of blossom, Pomona of fruit, and Consus of harvest. Even the great god Jupiter, manifold as his powers subsequently became, was at first only the spirit of the bright sky.
These are just a few. Many more are listed, from the early years of Rome; others are added over time as Rome conquers other peoples (notably the Greeks, but many others). So there we already have specialized “gods” – each with its own specialization of function, in “the Roman pantheon” of “gods”.
So much for the pandemonism (“pan-demon-ism”) of the ancient Romans. Enough has been said to show how deeply rooted in their minds this attitude toward supernatural powers was. It was one of the most important phases of their religious consciousness and it was to such an extent of the very essence of their faith that it was bound to survive. And survive it did.
There is much documentation for this phenomenon throughout the history of the Roman empire. Keep in mind, this “faith” of the Romans was the pagan faith at the time.
Particularization was too inherent a part of Roman religious belief to yield entirely to any influence. Plutarch speaks of spirits who carried men’s wishes to the higher gods. Maximus of Tyre tells us of minor deities who healed disease, aided men in various crises, accompanied and watched over them, and guarded cities and countryside. The stories of miraculous cures in temples told in his “Sermones Sacri” by the Rhetorician Aristides who lived in the time of Marcus Aurelius attest the widespread belief in manifold agencies of supernatural assistance. The vogue of the Neo-platonic philosophy in the third century after Christ resulted in a renewal of belief in the existence of great numbers of subordinate and intermediate spirits….
Laing makes the connection that “it is in the doctrine of the veneration of Saints that the polytheism of the old departmental deities survives.” This is particularly true AFTER Constantine was converted and further, after Christianity became the “official” Roman religion. “It may be that the [leaders of this time] found that the belief of the people—especially the illiterate class—in these specialized spirits of minor grade was one of their greatest problems. They recognized the people’s predilection for spirits that would help in specific situations, and they realized that the masses felt more at home with beings who, while of divine nature or associations, were not too far removed from the human level. They were keenly interested in winning the pagans to the faith and they succeeded. But undoubtedly one element in their success was the inclusion in their system of the doctrine of the veneration of Saints.”
A good example of the closeness of the resemblance of the specialization of function of different Saints to that of pagan spirits is found in the published list of Saints used by Spanish peasants. The very publication of the list emphasizes the similarity of the situation to that which existed in ancient Roman times, when the people, overwhelmed by the number and multiplicity of names of the departmental deities, used to appeal to the official list kept by the pontiffs. Here are some of the examples furnished by the Spanish index: San Serapio should be appealed to in case of stomache-ache; Santa Polonia for toothache; San Jose, San Juan Bautista and Santa Calina for headache; San Bernardo and San Cirilo for indigestion; San Luis for Cholera; San Francisco for colic; San Ignacio and Santa Lutgarda for childbirth; Santa Balsania for Scrofula; San Felix for ulcers; Santa Agueda for nursing mothers; San Babilas for burns; San Gorge for an infected cut; Santa Quiteria for dog’s bite; San Ciriaco for diseases of the ear; Santa Lucia for the eyes; Santa Bibiana for epilepsy; San Gregorio for Frost-bite; San Panaleon for haemorroids; San Roque for the plague; San Pedro for fever; and Santa Rita for the impossible!
There is a similar list for southern Italy, the Saints and their functions sometimes coinciding with the Spanish classification but in other cases showing variations …
Of course, correlation is not causation. Those guys are too smart for me! There really is no way that the Roman cult of “gods” could have become the Roman Catholic pantheon of “saints”.
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If anyone would like to join the group, it could use some knowledgeable Protestant interlocutors. (There are a few there, but there are also some who, frankly, don’t give Protestantism a good name.) If you’d like to join, it’s a closed group, so there’s a process to get in. Email me with a request, and I’ll submit your name for inclusion in the group. (My email address is johnbugay [at] gmail.)