4 Nov 2013



Medieval writers often assumed paganus as a religious term was a result of the conversion patterns during the Christianization of Europe, where people in towns and cities 
were converted more readily than those in remote regions. However, this idea has multiple problems. First, the word's usage as a reference to non-Christians pre-dates that 
period in history. Second, paganism within the Roman Empire centred on cities. The concept of an urban Christianity as opposed to a rural paganism would not have 
occurred to Romans during Early Christianity. Third, unlike words such as rusticitas, paganus had not yet fully acquired the meanings (of uncultured backwardness) used to 
explain why it would have been applied to pagans. Paganus more likely acquired its meaning in Christian nomenclature via Roman military jargon. Early Christians adopted 
military motifs and saw themselves as "Milites Christi" ("soldiers of Christ"). A good example of Christians still using paganus in a military context rather than religious is in 
Tertullian's De Corona Militis XI.V, where Christians are referred to as "paganus" (civilian). Paganus acquires its religious connotations by the mid-4th century. As early as 
the 5th century, paganos was metaphorically used denote persons outside the bounds of the Christian community. Following the sack of Rome to pagan Visigoths just over 
fifteen years after the Christian persecution of paganism under Theodosius I, murmuring that the old gods had taken greater care of the city than the Christian God began to 
spread. Defining paganism is problematic. Understanding the context of its associated terminology is important. Early Christians referred to the diverse array of cults around 
them as a single group for convenience and rhetoric. While paganism generally implies polytheism, the primary distinction between classical pagans and Christians was not 
one of monotheism versus polytheism. Not all pagans were strictly polytheist. Throughout history, many of them believed in a Supreme deity. (Although, most such pagans 
believed in a class of subordinate gods/daimon.) To Christians, the most important distinction was whether or not someone worshipped the one true God. Those who did not 
(polytheist, monotheist, atheist, or otherwise) were outsiders to the Church and thus pagan. Similarly, classical pagans would have found it peculiar to distinguish groups by 
the number of deities followers venerate. They would have considered the priestly colleges (such as the College of Pontiffs or Epulones) and cult practices more meaningful 
distinctions. Referring to paganism as "pre-Christian indigenous religions" is equally untenable. Not all historical pagan traditions were pre-Christian or indigenous to their 
places of worship. Owing to the history of its nomenclature, paganism traditionally encompass the collective pre- and non-Christian cultures in and around the classical 
world; including those of the Greco-Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic tribes.However, modern parlance of folklorists and contemporary Pagans in particular has extended the 
original four millennia scope used by early Christians to include similar religious traditions stretching far into prehistory. Paganism came to be equated by Christians with a 
sense of Epicureanism, representing those who are sensual, materialistic, self-indulgent, unconcerned with the future, and uninterested in sophisticated religion. Pagans 
were usually described within this worldly stereotype, especially among those drawing attention to what they perceived as the limitations of Paganism. Thus G. K. 
Chesterton wrote: "The Pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and continue 
to enjoy anything else." In sharp contrast, Swinburne the poet would comment on this same theme: "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from 
thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death. 

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