Pagan Symbols Used in Catholic Church

Dear Catholic Exchange:

Why is the symbol of the triquetra being used as a representation of the Holy Trinity if it is also used as a symbol in witchcraft? Didn’t pagans use it as symbol for other gods as well?


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Dear Patricia,

Peace in Christ!

The triquerta is an ancient Celtic symbol. It appears originally to have symbolized either the threefold nature of a Celtic goddess or the three elements of nature (earth, air, and water). When Ireland was Christianized, the symbol was “borrowed” as a representation of the Trinity, Who is three in one. More recently, the new “religion” of Wicca has adopted this symbol.

It was not uncommon for the Church to “baptize” already existing symbols, imagery, etc. in order to evangelize people. Many think that any association with things pagan is anti-Christian and blasphemous. St. Paul, though, taught and acted differently. When he came upon Athenians who worshipped “an unknown God,” he did not chastise them for idolatry and ignorance: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” (Acts 17:22-23).

St. Paul redirected them away from created realities (Acts 17:29) to the Creator (Acts 17:24-25, 30-31). He told them about God’s plan of salvation and though some mocked him, “some other men joined and believed” (Acts 17:32-34). If Paul could do this, and do it successfully, why not the Church in later centuries, which utilized the triquerta to evangelize the Celts?

There are other examples. In fact, using rings in wedding ceremonies is a custom that most Protestant critics of Catholicism have adopted. In addition, the common practices of the bride wearing white and receiving flowers also have pagan origins. In addition, the date of Christmas, December 25th, was chosen because it was the Roman feast of the “invincible sun” (For more on this, see our FAITH FACT on Christmas).

In contrast, Scripture teaches us that idolatrous pagan worship is wrong and should be categorically rejected. For example, on another occasion, Paul cures a man in Lystra who could not walk (Acts 14:8-18). As a result of the cure, the crowds began calling Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes,” Greek gods worshipped by pagans of this period. Paul and Barnabas then rent their garments, an action associated with protests against blasphemy, and explained to the people that they were only men, not God.

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