I saw a TikTok video saying that "The Catholic church is a pagan mixture" accusation entirely came after the 19th century and none of the 16th-century original reformers make that argument.

Is that true, or did any of the original reformers make that argument?

  • 1
    Link to the TikTok video will be very helpful. May 27, 2023 at 13:28
  • What are the claims, right them down
    – Michael16
    May 28, 2023 at 17:22

3 Answers 3


In a search for the answer, I found no direct evidence for the Reformers making claims against the Catholic church relating to its paganism. The first quote I found was the following, published in 1888, during the 19th century (though not after it).

In Sweden, also, young men who had drunk from the well of Wittenberg carried the water of life to their countrymen. Two of the leaders in the Swedish Reformation, Olaf and Laurentius Petri, the sons of a blacksmith of Orebro, studied under Luther and Melancthon, and the truths which they thus learned they were diligent to teach. Like the great reformer, Olaf aroused the people by his zeal and eloquence, while Laurentius, like Melancthon, was learned, thoughtful, and calm. Both were men of ardent piety, of high theological attainments, and of unflinching courage in advancing the truth. Papist opposition was not lacking. The Catholic priests stirred up the ignorant and superstitious people. Olaf Petri was often assailed by the mob, and upon several occasions barely escaped with his life. These reformers were, however, favored and protected by the king. Under the rule of the Romish Church, the people were sunken in poverty, and ground down by oppression. They were destitute of the Scriptures, and having a religion of mere signs and ceremonies, which conveyed no light to the mind, they were returning to the superstitious beliefs and pagan practices of their heathen ancestors. The nation was divided into contending factions whose perpetual strife increased the misery of all. The king determined upon a reformation in the State and the church, and he welcomed these able assistants in the battle against Rome. (The Great Controversy, p. 242)

As the above was from a literary work based on D'Aubigne's famous History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century by J. H. Merle D'Aubigné" [Links to Volume III], apparently published in multiple volumes 1835–1853, I followed back to that source and found some pertinent quotes, such as this:

...said Erasmus in 1516, "that with the study of ancient literature, the olden paganism will reappear."

And one of Martin Luther's theses is quoted by D'Aubigne as follows:

To make such vows is worse than the priests of Cybele or the vestals of the pagans; for the monks make their vows in the thought of being justified and saved by these vows; and what ought to be ascribed solely to the mercy of God, is thus attributed to meritorious works. (p. 19)

So Luther claimed the monks' vows were worse than "the vestals of the pagans": but this still does not satisfy to make the claim that he called them actual pagans. While this may imply a mixture of paganism, it is not expressly using the term "a pagan mixture."

D'Aubigne also wrote:

The pagan element prevailed especially in that part of the christian doctrine which relates to God. Paganism had[244] corrupted in the catholic church the idea of an infinite Deity, whose power, being perfectly all-sufficient, is at work in all times and in all places. It had established in the Church the reign of symbols, images, and ceremonies; and the saints had become the demigods of popery. . . . Zwingle's reform was particularly directed against the pagan element. It was this element with which he had come in contact at the temple of our Lady of Einsidlen, when a crowd, gathered together from every side, fell down blindly before a gilded idol, as of old in the temple of the Ephesian Diana. (p. 244)

It is not clear whether the reformers themselves were calling the church or its leaders out for paganism or not. It appears that they battled clearly pagan elements, but without denouncing them by the application of this term.


Evidence is still wanting to support the claim that the reformers accused the Catholic church of being "a pagan mixture." It seems possible, as they did reference certain of the church's pagan practices, but I have, as yet, been unable to verify the claim with respect to those actual words.


Actually, the charge leveled by the Reformers was not so much that the Roman Catholic Church was too pagan but rather that it was too Jewish!

Things like incense or icons of heavenly things (Exodus 25:18-20, Ezekiel 41:18-20) were very heavily characteristic of Jewish worship. For the first generation of Reformers, they believed that these Jewish aspects of Catholic worship made it too works-based and to bring things more into the new covenant (as they interpreted it) they taught their flock to abandon these things behind, thinking it will help them abandon works-based salvation.

This is how the first generation of the Protestant reformation interpreted Catholic iconography and statues. Gradually, as this historical context got lost (roughly the 19th century) Protestants started to reinterpret the iconography and incense as paganism.

  • 4
    It's one thing to claim the Reformers said or meant something; it is another thing so show it. Quotes of the Reformers, or at least some references to the same, in support of what you are saying would enhance your answer considerably.
    – Biblasia
    May 28, 2023 at 1:52

There are many accusations about Catholics and paganism.

Here is one from John Calvin who lived 1509-1564 about the Catholic Church and idols, relics, images, and other superstitions adopted from paganism.

Calvin further quotes an "eminent Roman Catholic writer" 13Chateaubriand Etudes Historiques, vol. ii. p. 101..

The frankincense, says an eminent Roman Catholic writer of our time, the flowers, the golden and silver vessels, the lamps, the crowns, the luminaries, the linen, the silk, the chaunts, the processions, the festivals, recurring at certain fixed days, passed from the vanquished altars to the triumphant one. Paganism tried to borrow from Christianity its dogmas and its morals; Christianity took 015from Paganism its ornaments.13 Christianity would have become triumphant without these transformations. It would have done it later than it did, but its triumph would have been of a different kind from that which it has obtained by the assistance of these auxiliaries. Christianity, says the author quoted above, retrograded; but it was this which made its force. It would be more correct to say, that it advanced its external progress at the expence of its purity; it gained thus the favour of the crowd, but it was by other means that it obtained the approbation of the cultivated minds.14

The church made a compromise with Paganism in order to convert more easily its adherents, See chapter II of same link

Eward Gibbon 1737-1794 writes this about paganism and Catholic Church.

Under the successors of Constantine, in the peace and luxury of the triumphant church, the more prudent bishops condescended to indulge a visible superstition, for the benefit of the multitude; and, after the ruin of Paganism, they were no longer restrained by the apprehension of an odious parallel. The first introduction of a symbolic worship was in the veneration of the cross, and of relics. The saints and martyrs, whose intercession was implored, were seated on the right hand if God; but the gracious and often supernatural favors, which, in the popular belief, were showered round their tomb, conveyed an unquestionable sanction of the devout pilgrims, who visited, and touched, and kissed these lifeless remains, the memorials of their merits and sufferings. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Albert Barnes 1798-1870 says this about idolatry, about homage paid to the deceased.

(2.) The statement that idolatry was practised, and continued to be practised, after this invasion: "Repented not that they should not worship idols of gold, silver, and brass." On this point, perhaps it would be sufficient to refer to what has been already noticed in regard to the homage paid to the souls of the departed; but it may be farther and more clearly illustrated by a reference to the worship of images in the Romish communion. Any one familiar with church history will recollect the long conflicts which prevailed respecting the worship of images; the establishment of images in the churches; the destruction of images by the "Iconoclasts;" and the debates on the subject by the council at Hiera; and the final decision in the second council of Nice, in which the propriety of image-worship was affirmed and established. Notes on Revelation

Adolf Harnack 1851-1930 mentions Usener 1834-1905 about paganism and the Catholic Church.

Rome, again, from the time of Liberius pursued and explained that religious policy towards paganism, “by which the Catholic Church gained the means not only of winning but of satisfying the masses of the people who were, and, in spite of 60the confession, remained heathen” (Usener, Relig. Unters., I., p. 293): “it rendered heathenism harmless by giving its blessing to it, i.e., to all that belonged to the pagan cultus.” But that magnanimous way of opposing paganism, which has been rightly adduced, and which Usener (op. cit.) has begun to exhibit to us so learnedly and instructively, concealed within it the greatest dangers. History of Dogma V 5

So to answer the OP, yes, there are numerous claims regarding Catholicism and paganism.

  • Adding dates to the quotations would help. May 27, 2023 at 20:12
  • 1
    Edward Gibbon(8 May 1737 – 16 January 1794)
    – Wenura
    May 28, 2023 at 9:20
  • 1
    Albert Barnes(December 1, 1798 – December 24, 1870)
    – Wenura
    May 28, 2023 at 9:21
  • 1
    Only Calvin's comment is relevant to OP's question.
    – RonJohn
    May 28, 2023 at 19:32
  • paganism “by which the Catholic Church gained the means not only of winning but of satisfying the masses of the people who were, and, in spite of 60the confession, remained heathen” (Usener, Relig. Unters., I., p. 293): “it rendered heathenism harmless by giving its blessing to it, i.e., to all that belonged to the pagan cultus.” Harnack; IOW CC gained adherents by adopting their paganisms, giving its blessing.
    – SLM
    May 29, 2023 at 17:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .