Mystery cult

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Mystery religions, sacred Mysteries or simply mysteries, were religious cults of the Greco-Roman world, participation in which was reserved to initiates.[1] The main characterization of this religion is the secrecy associated with the particulars of the initiation and the cult practice, which may not be revealed to outsiders. The most famous mysteries of Greco-Roman antiquity were the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were of considerable antiquity and predated the Greek Dark Ages. The popularity of mystery cults flourished in Late Antiquity; Julian the Apostate in the mid 4th century is known to have been initiated into three distinct mystery cults. Notable among these late cults was the Mithraic Mysteries.

Due to the secret nature of the cult, and because the mystery religions of Late Antiquity disappeared after the 4th century (Theodosius I closed the Eleusian sanctuaries by decree in 392 AD), the details of these religious practices are unknown to scholarship, although there are educated guesses as to their general content.[2]:50f

Christianity, in as much as participation in its religious life is open only to the baptised, is a mystery religion. Its central theology and ritual being available, and indeed actively preached, it had many parallels to the popular mystery cults in terms of terminology (salvation, resurrection, eternal life) and in the particulars of the performance of initiation and ritual (the sacraments). Justin Martyr explicitly noted these parallels and identified them as "demonic imitations" of the true faith, and that "the devils, in imitation of what was said by Moses, asserted that Proserpine was the daughter of Jupiter, and instigated the people to set up an image of her under the name of Kore" (First Apology). Through the 1st to 4th century, it stood in direct competition for adherents with the mystery cults, insofar as "[t]he mystery cults too [were] an intrinsic element of the non-Jewish horizon of the reception of the Christian message." They too were "embraced by the process of the inculturation of Christianity in its initial phase," and they made "their own contribution to this process."[3]:152 In Klauck and McNeil's opinion, "the Christian doctrine of the sacraments, in the form in which we know it, would not have arisen without this interaction; and Christology too understood how to 'take up' the mythical inheritance, purifying it and elevating it."[3]:152



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