Blame it on Gregory

Greg O Lantern

Another Halloween has passed, with the requisite articles or blogposts explaining, sometimes calmly and sometimes stridently, that Christians should not be involved in this particular holiday. Some use the argument that the holiday is used by Satanists. This may be the  weakest of the arguments– I have never really understood that one. If Satanists like to get Blizzards at Dairy Queen, do we as Christians need to avoid that particular activity or place as a form of self-protection? Is that how we are to interact with the world… backing up and walling ourselves away from groups that we are afraid are bigger and badder than we are? A more subtle argument is that we can disempower a holiday by our lack of participation. With this spin, the issue is not so much spiritual or moral, but political or economic. Perhaps this has merit, but I wonder what statistics would say about the success of Christian boycotts. If it works, and is deemed to be worth the effort, then fine… why not?

<In an act of “full disclosure,” I don’t celebrate Halloween… at least not for many years. I live in the Philippines where Halloween is a very anemic holiday at best, especially as compared to Undas… the day of honoring one’s dead ancestors. But even in the US, I generally preferred to turn off the lights at home, trying to convince the neighbor kids that I am not at home, and then watch a scary movie in the dark.>

A more interesting argument is that Halloween has pagan roots. This same argument will be repeated for Christmas and for Easter. I am very surprised that I have not heard Americans make that argument for Thanksgiving, when Harvests festivals around the world have very strong pagan roots (and the first American Thanksgiving had strong participation by pagans).

But if a holiday has “pagan roots” or at least is on the same day as a pagan holiday, why would we as Christians think that is okay?

Well, I think one could probably blame it on Pope Gregory the Great. And in actuality, it seems like he was actually pretty great. He had great impact on Christian Missions in the Western Church (something that was mostly done by the Eastern Churches during the first millenium), as well as Pastoral Care.

In Pope Gregory’s guidance to a missions team heading to Britain, he said,

“The heathen temples of these people need not be destroyed, only the idols which are to be found in them… If the temples are well built, it s a good idea to detach them from the service of the devil, and to adapt them for the worship of the true God… And since the people are accustomed, when they assemble for sacrifice, to kill many oxen in sacrifice to the devils, it seems reasonable to appoint a festival for the people by way of exchange. The people must learn to slay their cattle not in honour of the devil, but in honour of God and for their own food; when they have eaten and are full, then they must render thanks to the giver of all good things. If we allow them these outward joys, they are more likely to find their way to the true inner joy… It is doubtless impossible to cut off all abuses at once from rough hearts, just as the man who sets out to climb a high mountain does not advance by leaps and bounds, but goes upward step by step and pace by pace.”

Letter by Pope Gregory (18 July 601) to Mellitus. (A History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neill, London: Penguin Books, 1990), pg 58

What is the argument here? Gregory was seeking accommodation. Buildings used to honor “devils” can be converted to honor God. Festivals that are for pagan practices can be converted to worship God and give joy to the people. It seems clear that Gregory believed one of two things (or perhaps both):

  1.  God is more powerful than Satan so days, events, or locations that were used for worship of Satan can be converted, taken over, by Christians for God.    <And/Or>
  2. Prior usage for pagan purposes does in no way corrupt a day, event, or location. In other words, there is no such thing as “contagious magic.”

Both of these above points appear to be in much doubt today. Perhaps the Christian fascination with the War metaphor for Christian interaction with the world, has left us with a tendency to think that we are in constant risk of being on the losing side. And there appears to be a lot of people that reject “magick” but still believe in “contagious magic”– where association with or history of a sinful item or day ruins it forever. So bad things cannot be redeemed, only quarantined.

So if you have read your Bibles and still come to the conclusion that Christians must avoid anything that has pagan association (stand by for a long list in that regard), and believe that such pagan associations are irredeemable, and wonder why some Christians just don’t understand your viewpoint…. just blame it on Gregory.

An interesting article on Halloween is below. I am not a big fan of Item #5, but the rest I think have merit. If you think that since the article is about Halloween has passed, it lacks relevance— you can fish it out again for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and pretty much any other day of the year, since every day has some celebration going on.


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