In Catholicism, as an outsider, as such one is immediately struck by the notion of the Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Mary the Mother of God and the immense overflowing panoply of saints.

Given that Catholicism is 'Roman' Catholicism, an anthropological question presents itself; and this in opposition to a certain perspective that presents Catholic Theology not only for itself, but also as a synthesis between Greek Philosophy and Christian Revelation; and this as a synthesis between the older order of the Polytheism of Rome/Athens:

For example, certain Greek/Roman Heroes were 'semi-divine' being the offspring between a God and a human-being.

And Zeus, being the Patriarch of the gods - did he have a mother?

closed as off-topic by Keelan, Rex Kerr, Five σ, David Titarenco, Hunan Rostomyan Mar 30 '15 at 4:33

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question is primarily about history, and not specifically about the history of philosophy. – Rex Kerr Mar 27 '15 at 14:50
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    That the mother of Zeus was Rhea, a Titan, is common knowledge enough that a childhood interest in Greek mythology sufficed for me to know it now. Most mythological gods had (divine) mothers, usually barring the ones at the dawn of creation, and the odd one aside (e.g. Aphrodite, Athena). – Niel de Beaudrap Mar 27 '15 at 15:52
  • @kerr: it's about the philosophical history of religion; which is why it's tagged 'philosophy of history'; as for the 'anthropological tag' - Kant wrote on and about practical anthropology. – Mozibur Ullah Mar 27 '15 at 16:35
  • These question my shed some light for the OP. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/4113/… and christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/11/… – Neil Meyer Mar 28 '15 at 11:12

I think what you're looking for is "comparative religion." There are any number of texts out there --one I found particularly good is Karen Armstrong's History of God, although it strongly focuses on the so-called Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

One thing I learned in my studies of comparative religion is that there are certain general forms which tend to be reflected in different religions around the world, even when they are not natural fits. These include:

  • monotheistic
  • polytheistic
  • messianic
  • mystical/philosophical

Thus, even though Catholicism is monotheistic, the panoply of saints has echos of polytheism (similarly, there are strains of Buddhism that revere a canon of bodhisattvas). Conversely, Hinduism is polytheistic, but there are Hindu sects that are essentially monotheistic.

  • well, it's not so much the "panoply of saints" that echos polytheism, it's the Trinity. that sounds like polytheism. and it's not only Roman Catholics that have a theology of Trinitarianism. nearly all Christian denominations (at least those in the World Council of Churches have a theology of the Trinity which, at least ostensibly, might be critiqued as polytheistic by those who do not hold to such a tenent. – robert bristow-johnson Mar 27 '15 at 20:24

Here are a few resources that address different philosophical-anthropological aspects of your question. I haven't come across one resource that covers everything, but will checkout Chris Sunami's suggestion.

Greek (and Roman) Philosophy and Christian Revelation

Greek thought came in multiple waves: the Eastern portion of the Church (today's Orthodox Churches) had Greek as it's primarily language, and so necessarily had some intellectual borrowings from Greek Philosophy.

The second wave one can point to comes in the later Middle Ages, by way of Aquinas, who heavily use Aristotle's work. I seem to remember this being discussed in the History of Philosophy podcast, I can't remember which episode though, but my recollection is that Aristotle was mostly not well read in the West, but was read frequently in the East (where Greek was spoken), and he continued to be read after the areas that were Greek speaking became Arabic speaking after Islam came to power in those areas.

Augustine was heavily influenced by Roman writers, primarily Cicero. Most editions of his work that have preface material discuss this, and he himself includes many details of what works influenced him philosophically in his Confessions.

The Saints

The challenge here is that the presence of similarities between having a patron Saint of this-or-that and having the god or goddess of this-or-that is often used by Christians who are not Catholics as a way of attacking Catholicism, without asking where it comes from, and so are often more about grinding a particular axe then a search for truth.

While similar, there is a fundamental difference, and Augustine in City of God addresses why he thinks that polytheism does not make sense. I don't recall him explicitly mentioning it, but the extension of his argument seems natural: it doesn't make sense to have gods of human inventions, because gods are supposed to precede humans, meanwhile it is natural to say that particular saints are important to such-and-such a human invention or cause, because those saints were human and therefore cared about the cause during their earthly lives.

Semi-divinity of Heros

Rightly or wrongly (I would argue rightly, but since I am Catholic I am biased), orthodox Christianity (little-o, meaning those who accept the Nicene creed) has always gone to great efforts to distinguish itself from pagan religions by stressing Jesus as not half-man-half-god, but as fully man and fully God. This is the central point of many, if not most, heresies before 1500. For a good video description of these different heresies, I would recommend the Yale course on the Middle Ages or the relevant episodes from Jim Papandrea, or any resource on this question, which theologians call "Christology."

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