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Asclepius – enemy of Christianity

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic from the 2nd-3rd century CE showing Asclepius
Roman mosaic from the 2nd-3rd century CE showing Asclepius

Asclepius (Roman Aesculapius), who was the patron of doctors, was admitted to the pantheon of Roman deities in the 3rd century BCE. However, it was not until the second century CE he became an important god for the Romans, who was not only a healer of the body, but also a savior of souls. A morally correct attitude guaranteed his followers the initiation into a posthumous life. But where does the hatred of Christians to Asclepius come from?

Christians were hostile to this returning worship, for there were many similarities between Christ and Asclepius. They were both born of God and woman, they were merciful, they had the power to heal and help those in need – while Asklepios provided such help only to the just. An expression of dislike from the followers of Jesus of Nazareth can be found in the texts of Tertullian, Lactantius or Eusebius. They considered Asclepius a false copy of their Messiah. The attitude of Christians was relaxed thanks to Clement of Alexandria (2nd – 3rd century CE), who appreciated the positive features of worship.

But why was Asclepius so popular? In the Greco-Roman world, people valued health because they considered it a source of happiness. This deity was close to all social strata: both patricians and plebeians. Temples were built throughout the Empire – Asclepius – which were largely financed by private donations from richer layers. This proves how many believers have accumulated the cult of Asclepius.

Sources
  • Żuławski Stanisław, Pax Christiana. Od apokaliptycznych nadziei do sojuszu z Rzymem. Polityczna ewolucja chrześcijaństwa, Kraków 2016

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