Here, we will take a closer look behind the scenes at the Vatican and the Catholic Church, exploring what is not taught in schools and the media.

But first, a bit of background history: One of the oldest known religions on Earth is Mithraism, which dominated ancient Persia and large parts of the Orient. The name Mithra was first mentioned in a peace treaty between the Hittite Empire and Mitanni around 1450 BCE. In the Rig-Veda, the oldest linguistic document of Indo-Aryan India believed to be from 1700-1100 BCE, Mithra represents friendship, integrity, harmony, and other elements crucial to the order of existence. He is closely allied with the god Varuna, the guardian of cosmic order.

After Alexander the Great’s vast conquests, Mithraism eventually reached Europe and was brought to Rome in 67 BCE by General Pompey, where it took a different form and became popular in the Roman army under the name Mithraism. It evolved into a cult among soldiers with a ranking system. The head was called Pater Patrum, the father of fathers, and, like future popes, had his seat in Rome. There was a baptism where followers were said to be freed from sins, and there was confirmation and communion where bread was eaten and water was drunk from a cup. Priests were to live in celibacy, and women were prohibited in the temples.

Mithras was born from a rock on December 25 and visited by shepherds who brought him gifts. He performed miracles and was often depicted alongside the sun god Helios. Mithras is also known as ”sol invictus,” the unconquerable sun. Ancient stone tablets depict star maps with Mithras battling a bull surrounded by the 12 zodiac signs, sometimes called Mithras’s twelve companions. Mithras’s (the sun’s) battle with the bull (the moon) represents death and resurrection. An inscription from the late 2nd century reads, ”And you saved us too by shedding the eternal blood,” suggesting that followers were promised immortality.

Like Horus and Christ, Mithras is part of a trinity, and the theologian and later bishop Dionysius of Areopagite described in the 6th century that a festival was held in honor of the triune Mithras. The sacrifice of the bull can be seen as a precursor to the Christian offering of the lamb. Before ascending to the heavens, Mithras has a final meal where he drinks the blood and eats the flesh of a bull. Mithras is just one of many similar precursors to the figure of Christ. Krishna, Adonis, Osiris, Horus, and Askleipos are other well-known predecessors.

During antiquity, the god Saturn was also worshiped in Rome. From December 17 to 24, ”Saturnalia” was held in his honor, a festival during which friends ate, drank, and exchanged gifts. The conclusion was the last major festive day, occurring on December 25.

The Catholic Church had its beginnings around 312 AD at the time of the so-called ”miraculous” conversion to Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine, although Christianity did not become the official religion of the Roman Empire until the decree of Theodosius I in 380-381 AD. Legend has it that before a crucial battle against his rival Maxentius, Constantine saw a cross and heard a voice saying, ”In this sign, you will conquer.” After the victory at the Milvian Bridge, he converted to Christianity, entering Rome on October 29 to the cheers of the crowd. Maxentius was beheaded, and his head was then paraded on a pole through the streets.

After the ceremony, Maxentius’s head was sent to Carthage, prompting Africa to surrender all resistance. Constantine’s victory gave him undisputed control over the western half of the Roman Empire. During his time, Constantine made two historic decisions: he moved the capital of the empire eastward and made Christianity the new state religion. The pragmatic Constantine realized that Christianity could be used as a unifying factor in the empire.

By the 4th century, several different branches of Christianity had emerged, leading to occasional conflicts, especially regarding Jesus and whether he was human or the son of God. Constantine took on the role of protector of the Christian faith. He supported the church financially, built a large number of churches, and granted privileges to priests. Between 324-330, he built a new capital in Byzantium on the Bosporus, which was named after him, Constantinople.

The old Rome was no longer the center of the empire. However, many were dissatisfied with a monarch who rejected their pagan beliefs. Christian chroniclers tell that Constantine had to ”teach” his subjects to abandon their old rituals and get used to despising their temples and the images they contained. In reality, a despotism similar to that in the East was applied. It is questionable how much Constantine himself believed in Christian doctrine; he executed his own son and then his wife Fausta, and it is said that afterward, he turned to pagan priests to seek forgiveness for his sins. Constantine was baptized only on his deathbed.

According to the Catholic Church, the Pope is the representative of Christ on Earth. At the Council of Trent in 1545, it was declared: ”We establish that the holy apostolic see and the Roman pontiff have precedence over the whole world.” In the same century, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine proclaimed that ”all the names applied to Christ in the Scriptures, by virtue of which it is established that he is above the Church, all these names must also be applied to the pope.”

In other words, since Jesus is occupied elsewhere, the pope acts as his substitute.

The Catholic Church claims that Jesus assigned to Peter and his successors the highest authority concerning faith and morals over the other apostles and all Christians in the Church. The doctrine is based on a passage in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus, in 16:18-19, speaks to Peter:

”And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In the preceding passage, Jesus had asked his disciples who the people said he was, and Peter answered that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus agreed with Peter’s statement and used it to teach that he himself would be the rock. In the original Greek translation, it states that Jesus said:

”You are Petros (which means a small stone), and on this Petra (which means a large stone), I will build my church.”

The Petra referred to by Jesus is, according to many biblical scholars, the strong faith that Peter demonstrated when Jesus previously asked him who he is, and Peter answered that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Therefore, it is on this faith that Jesus will build his church and not on Peter himself. Ironically, Jesus says a little later in Matthew 16:23 to Peter because of his weakness:

”Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

One might find it a bit far-fetched that the Son of God would entrust the responsibility for the church meant to spread his doctrines to someone he calls Satan.

The Vatican is built on land that was previously a site for the worship of Mithras. Not only that, in 2003, when excavations were made to build a large parking lot for Vatican employees, it was discovered that it is built on top of an ancient Roman cemetery. Many of the churches we see worldwide today are intentionally built on sites where there were previously pagan temples.

In the English Catholic Encyclopedia, we can read that the area on the right hill of the Tiber between Monte Mario and Gianicolo (Janiculum), known as Ager Vaticanus during ancient times, had a bad reputation due to its marshy nature. The encyclopedia suggests that the origin of the name Vaticanus is uncertain, and some claim that the name comes from the vanished Etruscan city of Vaticum. The place, located on the western side, was a refuge for fortune-tellers who sold their services to passersby and was called the Vatican Hill. It did not belong to ancient Rome and was not included in the city built by Aurelius.

Through extensive land purchases, medieval popes eventually acquired the entire hill. Between 848 and 852, Pope Leo IV had the area surrounded by a wall. Until Pope Sixtus V, this part of Rome remained a private papal possession. In the 14th century, when papal power returned to Rome after a period in Avignon, France, the Vatican became the residence of popes, and the word came to refer to the enclave in the middle of Rome that had become the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.

There is also a theory that the word ”Vatican” or ”vaticanus” derives from the words ”vatic” (oracle, prophet). Another theory claims that the word derives from ”anus,” which, in turn, comes from Latin ”nus” (ring).

In reality, the word ”Vatican” originates from Latin ”vates,” meaning seer or prophet, and ”can,” meaning serpent. Consequently, its original meaning is the serpent’s prophet or, more accurately, a place for the serpent’s prophecies. The word ”vates” likely traces its oldest roots to the mentioned Etruscans who ruled the area centuries before Christ, and in ancient times, it was the name of the priests during the so-called paganism.

”Can” is also an ancient word found in many cultures where it was a name for the serpent, considered sacred and worshiped by many peoples. The Babylonians used the word ”acan” to denote the serpent, and the Mayans used the word ”can.” The Romans’ name for Hephaestus, the god of fire in Greek mythology, was Vulcan, derived from ”vul” for fire and ”can” for serpent. The Scots use the word ”can” for serpent, and from there comes the word ”canny” (cunning, wise). Indeed, the Vatican is filled with serpent symbols.

Also read part 5

Sources:

Mithraism , Religion facts
Index To Catholicism
The Vatican, New Advent
Vatican reveals Roman burial site, BBC News

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