Mithraism

(Sanskrit: mitra, friend)

[Mithra and the bull] A pagan religion which consisted mainly of the cult of the ancient Indo-Iranian sun-god Mithra. Its origin dates from the time the Hindus and Persians formed one people. After the Babylonian conquest it came in contact with Chaldean astrology and the national worship of Marduk, became the state religion of Armenia, and later spread to Asia Minor where it adopted ideas from the Phrygian cult of Attis and Cybele. After the Roman invasion of Asia Minor (c.133 B.C.) it was diffused through the West and only ceased during the reign of Theodosius I (c.346-395) as a result of drastic laws issued against it. According to the doctrine of Mithraism the highest God was Infinite Time, who begat Heaven and Earth, which in turn begat their son and equal, Ocean. Pluto, or Incarnate Evil, was also begotten of Infinite Time, but warred against Heaven with his army of darkness. These evil spirits wandered over the world afflicting man, who roust worship the four simple elements, fire, air, earth, and water. The mediator between God and man was Mithra, the sun-god, a divinity of fidelity, manliness, and bravery, who floats midway between upper heaven and the earth, and who protects man. Mithraists believed in the immortality of the soul, a place of punishment for the wicked, and a place of immortal bliss for the just. They laid stress on good-fellowship and brotherliness, excluded women from the practise of the cult, insisted on a high moral standard among their followers, and formed a social, legal, and religious congregation. There were seven degrees of initiation into the Mithraic mysteries. The highest, that of father, included those who ruled the cult, and the chief among them resided at Rome. Members of the six lower degrees addressed one another as "brother," regardless of social distinction. They worshiped in caves, where a fire was kept perpetually burning in the sanctuary. To the casual observer a superficial similarity exists between Mithraism and Christianity. Christ, however, was an historical personage born of a Virgin while Mithra was an abstraction, born of a rock. Christ became man's Redeemer by suffering crucifixion, Mithra by slaying a bull. Moreover, Christianity is for all people, while Mithraism excluded women, sought to attract men, particularly those in military life, and was perishable. It allowed its members to profess other religions, while Christianity is enduring, unique and sufficient for its adherents.

New Catholic Dictionary

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