The enabling environment created for the spread of religion as we unraveled in our last edition was not meant for Christians alone. There were also some mystery religions spreading at that time, including philosophy.
The underlying factor was the incessant quest for spiritual fulfilment and not the love for Christianity so, every religion and philosophy was opened to satisfy the growing spiritual hunger of the Romans. Meanwhile, some found consolation in philosophy. The stoic philosophers, for instance, won many followers by their doctrine that one could put oneself in harmony with the universe by attending to the underlying rationality of its laws; they also emphasized the need for self-discipline in order to attain inner peace and equilibrium of soul amid the vexing contingencies of life. Philosophy, however, as always, was only a refuge for an elite. The ordinary man searched for spiritual peace in some form of religion, astrology on magic.
Unlike the mystery religions, the old Roman religion was not much more power as a rival to Christianity. This is simply because, the spiritually dislocated Emperors after Augustus could not revive the faith in the ancient gods. The mystery religions were very challenging and rapidly spread because they were syncretic kind of faith that fused Hellenic and Oriental thought. They are called mysteries because their central rites were kept secret from all but initiatives. Common among their beliefs were a sublime view of the godhead, a profound sense of cleavage between spirit and flesh, and a great yearning for a redeemer who would deliver devotees from all guilt and confer on them eternal life.
Among all the mystery religions which include the Dionysian and Orphic mysteries of Thrace, the Eleusinian from Elensis, near Athens, the Persian religion of Mithra, and the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris, the best-known mystery religion is that of Cybele, the great Mother from Anatolia in Asia Minor. Popularly addressed as death in Winter, and resurrection in the spring. Tradition holds that Cybele, the mother of all gods and men, had as her companion the semi-divine Attis, who betrayed her and then in remorse castrated himself and died. The Great Mother, however restored him to life and deified him, making him immortal. This myth is celebrated in two rituals: In the taurobolium, the faithful reenacted the death of Attis by slaying a bull, then baptizing themselves in his blood, smearing it over themselves and even drinking it. In the spring’s festival of Attis resurrection, they engaged in frenzied dancing while lacerating themselves and in final ecstasy, some of the men would castrate themselves in imitation of their god. By participating in such rituals the devotee believed himself regenerated, liberated from guilt, and reborn as a new person, sharing in the divinity and immortality of his gods.
Above all, Mithraism was the mystery religion that proved to be the most serious rival of Christianity. It was restricted to men and very popular with soldiers; because his images always show him fighting for right against wrong. Meanwhile, Mithra was a Persian sun-god who had slain the cosmic bull whose blood was the source of all life. And the cult promised immortality for its initiates. Its shrines have been uncovered in many places, a large one recently in London.
As a kind of comparison, it is worthy to note that although the mysteries and the Christian church used certain rites such as washings, anointing, and sacred meals, it does not justify the claim that Christianity belongs in the same category as the mystery religions. This is predicted on the following reasons – the Christian conception of salvation is in no way liken to that of the mysteries. The devotees of Cybele of Mithra saw their salvation as a magical liberation from the flesh. Christians, on the other hand, assumed the existence of sin and free will and conceived redemption as the forgiveness of sin. Indications therefore emerge that Christians preached sin and repentance with a frightening earnestness that had nothing in common with the orgiastic, sex-laden ceremonies of the mysteries. So, that any religious person uses certain Christian rites to express an experience transcending this world with a non-Christian belief, is not sufficient enough to be liken with Christianity.
Besides, unlike the mystery religious with their timeless myths linked with the rhythms of nature and legendaries, Christianity was founded on a historical person, Jesus Christ, and connected with datable events.
Far more significantly, the ethical demands of Christianity are very far from mystery religions. Unlike the mystery religious that manifests vague yearnings for a better life, the church laid down dear and precise norms of conduct for a Christian and indissoluble character of marriage, strict avoidance of abortion and infanticide, condemnation of all forms of greed and dishonesty in business life, all materialistic hedonism. Moreover, Christianity teaches the adherents to rely not on their own strength in the moral struggle but on the power of God’s grace.
Above all, the superiority of Christianity is hinged upon their effective demonstration of the power of love; it proved an irresistible magnet for many souls and caused the pagans to exclaim, “look how they love one another!” This love was even extended to widows, orphans, the sick and infirm and the disabled. Christians cared for the prisoners and the poor and also furnished work to the unemployed. There is indeed and no doubt that the Christian Gospel led the world to a higher stage of morality. Two of its greatest thinkers in the second century, Tatian and Justin, for instance, were converted by moral attractiveness of Christians they know. Following from the above, it therefore implies that Christianity provided the best satisfaction to the growing spiritual hunger of the time