Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin (cont.)
By Flavio Barbiero
As for the Roman senators, several contemporary sources, starting from St. Jerome, affirm that most of their wives and daughters were Christian. An extant example is St. Ambrose, himself a pagan and the son of a mithraic pagan (the prefect of Gaul Ambrose), according to historians, although there is no doubt that his family was Christian and lived in a profoundly Christian environment. From his childhood, indeed, Ambrose loved to play the part of a bishop, and in the year 353, in St. Peter’s, his sister Marcellina, still a young girl, received the veil of the consecrated virgins from Pope Liberius in person. Formally, however, he remained a pagan until he was designated bishop of Milan. He was actually baptized only fifteen days before being consecrated bishop. The fact is that in that period, Christians destined for a public career were baptized only at the point of death, or else when, for one reason or another, they decided to embrace the ecclesiastic career. This was normal practice. The senator Nectarius, who was designated bishop of Antioch by the council of Constantinople in 381, was forced to postpone the consecration ceremony because first he had to arrange his own baptism.
After the abolition of paganism all Roman senators became Christian overnight, starting from that Symmachus who went down in History for his stern defence of “pagan” traditions in front of emperor Valentinian. A few years later, in fact, emperor Teodosius, the most fanatic persecutor of heretics and pagans, appointed him as a consul, the highest position in the Roman bureaucracy.
How is it possible, one might ask, that people could follow two different religions at the same time? This is the essential point. There is an enormous and incredible misunderstanding (that in some way might be deliberate) about the so called “cult” of the Sol Invictus Mithras, which is always presented as a “religion”, arisen in parallel with Christianity and in competition with it. Some historians go so far as to maintain that this religion was so popular and deeply rooted in Roman society that it very nearly won the race with Christianity.
Yet there is absolute evidence that the so called “cult” of Mithras, in Rome, was not a religion, but an esoteric organization, with several levels of initiation, which from the oriental religion had borrowed only the name and a few exterior symbols. For what concerns contents, scope and operative procedures, however, the Roman Mithras had nothing in common with the Persian god.
The Roman mithraic institution can in no way be defined as a religion devoted to the worship of the Sun – no more than modern Freemasonry can be defined a religion devoted to the worship of the Great Architect of the Universe (G:.A:.O:.T:.U:.). The comparison with modern Freemasonry is quite appropriate and very helpful for understanding what kind of organization we are talking about. Actually, the two institutions are quite similar in their essential characteristic. Freemasonry’s adepts are not requested to profess any particular creed, but only to believe in the existence of a supreme Being, however defined. This Entity is represented in all masonic temples as the Sun, inserted in a triangle, and with a name (Great Architect of the Universe) which is the same given by the Pythagoreans to the Sun. In these temples ceremonies of various kind and rituals are performed that never have a religious character. Religion is explicitly banned from the masonic temples, but in his private life every adept is free to follow whatever creed he likes.
A link between the mithraic and the masonic institutions is far from improbable, as there are profound similarities in the architecture and decoration of the respective temples, symbols, rituals and so on; but it’s a theme outside the scope of this article. The comparison has been made only with the purpose of stressing the point that mithraism was not a religion dedicated to the worship of a specific divinity, but a secret association of mutual assistance, whose members were free, in their public life, to worship whatever god they liked.
And yet all the adepts of Mithras apparently shared a common attitude towards religion. This is a well known fact. It is the same Praetextatus who exposes in an exhaustive way the philosophy of his organisation in the book “Saturnalia”, written by Macrobius around 430 a.D. (well after the abolition of paganism). In a long conversation with other great mithraic senators, like Symmachus and Flavianus, Praetextatus affirms that all the different gods of the pagan religion are only different manifestations (or even different names) of a unique supreme Entity, represented by the Sun, the Great Architect of the Universe. This syncretistic vision has been defined, with full reason, as “monotheistic paganism”.
Most historians agree that the followers of Mithras were monotheists; what they fail to underline is the fact that their particular syncretistic vision allowed them to “infiltrate” and get hold of the cult (and revenues) of all pagan divinities. In fact all mithraic grottos harboured (exactly as the masonic temples of today) a host of pagans gods like Saturn, Athena, Venus, Hercules and so on, and the adepts of Mithras in their public life were priests at the service not only of the Sun (who was worshipped in public temples which had nothing to do with the mithraic grottos), but also of all the other Roman gods.