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In this alternate history, the Papacy becomes worried when those such as Martin Luther began complaining about the Church's practices. At this point, Luther breaks away, beginning Lutheranism. Fear of more Christians forming their own groups, such as Calvinism, Anglicanism, etc., the Pope decides there is one solution: Revive Paganism.

Of course, there are some conditions to this:

  • They are not reviving all paganism, rather just and only Roman Paganism. They are more culturally familiar with it, and is still within their own domain to control

  • Their goal is to create an "Us vs. Them" kind of unification

    • Also used to undermine Judaism
  • They have updated parts of it, so that it fits more with 15th-16th Renaissance society (no sacrifices, some elements of Christianity, appeals to women and political leaders, etc.)

  • The Church funds the building of a few Pagan temples, and have some cathedrals become temples as well

  • The Church will also enforce authorities to prevent CERTAIN hate crimes. Christians and Pagans can hate and attack each other, but they cannot:

    • Destroy Pagan temples
    • Persecute Pagans and execute them for their deities
    • Have large-scale riots and violence
  • Roman Gods in Renaissance art is encouraged more

With these provided conditions, could it be possible for the Roman Catholic Church to reduce Protestantism and prevent the Protestant Reformation with Paganism, or at least make the conflict smaller? And if not, what could I improve on, or also consider?

Note: For a better understanding of the question: What conditions could help the Roman Catholic's scheme actually work?

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    $\begingroup$ The thing about "paganism" is that it's from local traditions (that's many, many local traditions each localised). What you're talking about is a second rival religion, but without the tradition behind it. Besides, the R/C church already integrates some local beliefs. I'm not sure what you expect to happen. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have any reason to believe it would? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ I am not certain I understand what you mean by Roman paganism. If by Roman Paganism you mean the old Roman state religion, well, that religion had been on life support for centuries, with no popular base and being kept alive only be the state machinery, when the Edict of Thessalonica replaced it with Christianity in 380 CE. By the 1st century BCE It had already become a small minority religion in the empire, with more than 90% of the inhabitants (Greeks, Egyptians, Iberians, Gauls etc.) practicing different religions. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 1:34
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    $\begingroup$ This is like noticing a hangnail and deciding that total limb amputation is the correct course of action. $\endgroup$
    – user71781
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium worse, it's cutting off the wrong limb $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 21:22

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What would happen is that the Pope would immediately be locked up, forced to abdicate, and subjected to exorcism, at best, and surreptiously done away with otherwise.

The rest of the clergy and the other people of the Church would regard it as diabolical possession, or possibly insanity. Why on earth would anyone fight the corruption of true religion by bringing back false religion?

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The key problem, to me, would be finding any pagans in the first place. At the time of the story, it's been centuries since any kind of paganism really flourished. The religion is dead, and the community is long gone. There's no wellspring of believers to tap into.

And recruitment is going to be difficult. Anyone who joins this pagan church knows that they're painting a target on their back. They know because they're being lectured in the church right now about how those pagans are a threat, and all good Christians need to put aside their differences, come together, and deal with them.

Even if there's an official ban on serious violence - riots, killings - that hardly guarantees that people will actually obey. Religious fervor is notoriously difficult to pin exactly where you want it; you'll always have a subset of believers who think they'll gain favor by going further, being more zealous than called for. Realistically, a neo-pagan would have to weigh the danger of getting killed by a Christian mob no matter what the Pope says.

Getting people to stick with their long-held, sincere religious beliefs in the face of such threats is hard enough. Getting them to abandon the religion and culture they were raised in, to adopt a new, essentially foreign religion that no one has practiced in centuries? Virtually impossible. Sure, you'd get a few sincere converts and a few curious hangers-on, but nothing that could give a serious impression of damaging the status quo.

Frankly, anyone who could convince people to become pagan in such circumstances could surely talk them around to Catholicism just as easily without needing an elaborate conspiracy.

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    $\begingroup$ "It's been centuries": By the 15th century (which is the timeframe given in the question) it was been more than a millennium, some 1,200 years, since the Roman religion "flourished". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 2:31
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There are No Pagans Left

Protestantism was a reaction to the corruption in the Catholic church. Bishops were rich and incompetent. Taxes went to Rome rather than the local lord. Only priests were allowed read the Latin Bible.

Protestantism was an attempt to rebuild the Church from the ground up, while keeping it spiritually almost identical.

Europe was a Christian nation. Not a Pagan Nation. People did not want a new religion. They wanted the old religion. They just wanted it to work properly.

Consider the options:

Catholicism $-$ Right religion. Poorly implemented.

Protestantism $-$ Right religion. Correctly implemented.

Paganism $-$ Wrong religion. Poorly implemented.

No one will choose the last one.

But why is Paganism poorly implemented? Because it is run by the Catholics, remember? And they are corrupt. That is the problem.

And if not, what could I improve on, or also consider?

If you want to quash the Protestants, simply make sure the Catholic church is not corrupt. I leave this to your imagination.

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  • $\begingroup$ "because it is run by the Catholics" - maybe this is just my interpretation of the question, but I assumed they wouldn't tell people that. They're basically agent provocateurs running a fake religion to scare people into the arms of the "right" one, it doesn't benefit them at all to admit that they're in cahoots. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence Two things. (a) From the question, I did not get the impression the Catholics were attempting to "scare people into the arms of Catholicism". The idea of manufactured opposition is worthy of an answer in its own right. (b) It doesn't matter if people know the Pagans are secretly Catholics or not. They will eventually notice the corruption. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 14:54
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NO

This is an absolutely bizarre solution to the problem of Luther and his revolt. I honestly can't see how this would cause Luther to turn around and say "hey, wow, Paganism! I guess the Pope isn't that bad of a guy after all!"

That's just a no. The Church has had some pretty wonky popes, and they've made all kinds of bad decisions, but this one is just not likely. Not even within the realm of possibility.

Honestly, the only way to head off Luther's revolt is to deal with Luther himself. Too many people here (and in general) seem to be of the opinion that the Church was, for 1500 years, this horrible, mismanaged, utterly corrupt organisation that was in total need of scrapping; and then Martin Luther came along, nailed his thesis onto a church door, told the pope to sod off and die and came up with a perfectly reformed church to replace the old.

The truth is much closer to: the Church has always been corruptible yet has also always been in a state of constant reform. Luther was not some golden tongued reformer that showed up all of a sudden on the scene; he was one voice of reform in a long line of reformers and the seeds of his particular revolt had been planted some two centuries previous.

The only way to really reduce (or perhaps even ward off) Protestantism as we know it is to deal with Luther himself. He was an extremely intelligent man, but also was a manic-depressive, possibly OCD, definitely self-loathing, neurotic and suffered greatly from scrupulosity.

His later theology and system of biblical hermeneutics largely came out of his neuroses. And several key doctrines he flat out made up all on his own. If his abbot father (Luther was a priest and a monastic) and brothers had the tools to deal with some pretty severe mental health issues, I think he never would have ended up doing the things he did.

And without Luther intentionally leaving the Church, rather than simply seeking to tread the long path of reform, I don't know if we would see any great protesting movement coming from Calvin and Zwingli et al. Luther seemed to be the great spark, and I think that if he could have been 'controlled' or set to work on proper reform, history might have turned out quite different.

Without the need for a revived paganism that no one actually wanted or needed.

NOTE: here is an excellent synthesis and exposition of Luther, with loads of sources.

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Probably Not

You're approaching this from an existentialist/postmodernist point of view; namely, that whether a religion is actually true or not doesn't matter (usually with the unstated underlying assumption that there is no "true" religion).

Contrary to popular opinion, most Christians (leastways, educated ones) prior to the mid nineteenth century weren't superstitious idiots or hippies like modern media often portrays them. They had faith, but it was largely a scientific faith, like how most people have faith that the sun will come up in the morning. This was especially true of Protestantism, as the movement was founded in response to Rome's corruption and abandonment of Christian doctrine.

As a result, the sorts of people who became Protestants are also the sorts of people who would immediately reject a revised paganism on the grounds that it's a made up construct with no basis in reality.

Also, as I previously mentioned, Protestantism was a response to the established Church abandoning Biblical doctrine in favor of tradition and Papal fiat. Thus, even if Rome did come up with a form of Paganism which could even remotely pass scientific muster, Protestants would still reject it. Soli Deo gloria, and all that.

However, do not abandon all hope! There's still a chance the Pope's hare-brained plot will work. As I said, people who have taken the time to actually study the Bible, philosophy, and science will immediately reject revived Paganism, most people don't take that time. Thus, they are much more lucky to be taken in by the Popes shenanigans.

Now, in real life, both clergy and the civil authorities would immediately take action to end these shenanigans. For example, take the Servetus affair. However, this is a story. While it's bad form to ignore real life entirely, you can take creative liberties. For example, perhaps the religious authorities have a miscommunication that slows their response down in the critical early stages. It's unlikely to happen, but not entirely unfeasible. The key is to have the response from those who know better be delayed long enough for those who don't to be taken in.

EDIT: All this presupposes that the Inquisition doesn't nip it in the bud, as @Mary pointed out.

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    $\begingroup$ Most objections from civil or clerical authorities can be resolved with a sufficiently large bag of florins. That's why Martin Luther broke from the church in the first place, after all. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence Good point. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ "[Protenstantism] was founded in response to Rome's syncretism with Pagan superstition": Ugh, no. That's propaganda. First, "Protestantism" is a meta-label, which simply means "any of the various religious sects which diverged from the western Church". Nobody founded "Protestantism"; several different sects adopted this label when they realized that they needed to become allies. Second, why each of those sects were founded and gain traction is a specific and complex question. "Rome's syncretism with Pagan superstition" played no role in this, mostly because there was no such thing. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ There were two other factors behind the Reformation; the ancient Germanic tradition of free men allowed to have their own opinions (britannica.com/topic/Germanic-law), and the economic strains that the Roman church placed on the northern kingdoms. The economic strains were why the nobility supported the Reformation instead of stamping it out like they did with previous reform movements. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidR True. I left those out for simplicity's sake, since they don't have much bearing on my answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 19:27
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This seems far more convoluted and harder to do than just exterminating the Protestants, rather than just trying to kill enough of them until they submit.

That is something that the papacy would have a hard time justifying, but an easier one than this.


Also, in a timeline where the papacy is organised enough to do this, I don't see how Martin Luther could end up happening.

The Protestants being a problem (the Vatican cares about) requires both Martin Luther's weird life journey happening and the Holy Roman Empire to get unlucky 😈🎲 and get a fundamentalist Catholic in charge. With a strong papacy, Martin would have been weeded out or bent into line, and there would have been a lot less reason for regime change.


Also, this ignores the simple fact, the Vatican has no real reason to care about Protestants. The members will be long dead, before enough Catholics convert to dry up funds, and they will always find some nation to be on their side.



Anyway, the way to actually make this happen easily, is just to change the Bible ✝️, so it mandates keeping the Pagan shrines alive. This is weird, but so is the scenario, so let's go with it.

The Bible says to maintain Pagan shrine, because of reasons. Let's go with:

The shrines of the demons (let's pretend they are more gnostic in this timeline) must be maintained, with all the proper rites, otherwise they will devour the world. Let them bask in the adoration of their worshipers. God saves only those who save themselves.

The injustice of the demons he will restrain, but not their desire for food. Don't bring harm to them, and God will ensure they will not harm you.

Anyway, the papacy does a 0 enthusiasm version of this for centuries, but when the Protestant reformation happens, they say the Protestants won't do the shrine thing and destroy the world.

They also take it much more seriously, because they have a reason to now.

That explains their actions, though the Vatican, for the simple reason it has no reason to, doesn't have a lot of enthusiasm to crush the revolt. Maybe a tinge of their own morality makes them want to crush their enemies. Nothing else.

It needs to at least pretend it does care though.

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