How many religions are there in the world? Many. Can we provide an exact number? No. We can, however, divide the religions into three classes. These are the monotheistic, the polytheistic, and the pantheistic. The characteristic of monotheistic religions is belief in one God; and some examples of this kind of religion are Judaism and Mohammedanism. Polytheistic religions are marked by the belief in many gods; and such are worship of the stars, animal worship, plant worship, and others. Pantheistic religions are Brahmanism, Buddhism, and others, and their characteristic is the belief that the universe is God and that within the universe the divine remains passive and does not have a personality of its own.
Christianity is distinct from all of the above religions. It is a monotheistic religion. Christians believe in one, personal God. Sometimes certain people confuse things. Non-Christians, especially, accuse Christians of believing in three gods: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The truth is that we believe in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, but these three persons are one God. A Trinitarian God. We shall explain this later, when we deal with the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. At present, we should bear in mind that our God is One, but in three Persons.
Christianity has a divine origin. It was revealed to man by God. Revealed and taught to man by Christ, Who was Perfect God, but became perfect man.
Christianity was not given to man from the beginning. God acted pedagogically, the way a child's guardian or teacher acts. He first tried to cultivate man through Judaism. When the fullness of the time came, then He sent His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become man and to teach mankind the truth.
Judaism was given by God. It was not, nor is, a perfect religion. It was the pedagogical preparation for Christ and is perfected only by being complemented by Christianity. Judaism is a sketch. In order to become a finished painting it must accept Christianity. It is the friend of the Bridegroom, but not the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is Christ and Christianity. Judaism is dusk; it is not the sun. The sun is Christ. Christianity is the light of day, the bright sun.
Christianity teaches the truth. But from where does that truth derive? It comes from Divine Revelation, both oral and written. Oral revelation is Holy Tradition, and written revelation is Holy Scripture; and both Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture are equal. Holy Tradition is chronologically older than Holy Scripture. For example, the Prophets spoke first and afterwards wrote down their inspired words. Christ Himself never wrote anything down. He just spoke. His words were written by the Evangelists many years later, some years indeed after His sacrifice upon the Cross and His Resurrection. And the Apostles spoke and taught Christianity, although in only a few instances did they write epistles.
It is only Holy Tradition that can transmit the divine truths that are not written down in the Bible. Only Holy Tradition can correctly interpret Holy Scripture. When Holy Tradition is rejected and only Holy Scripture is accepted as the basis of our faith, as something to be interpreted by individuals, the unity of the faith is shattered. Then we have the phenomenon of the Protestant churches, which began in the sixteenth century as a single movement and have now ended up including more than twenty thousand churches, all Protestant, but each separate from the other, and at times fighting with each other. Holy Tradition keeps us united--that is, the authentic Holy Tradition. The ark of Holy Tradition is the Church herself. For this reason St. Paul commands, "Maintain and keep the traditions."
We have said that Christianity draws the truth from Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture. We call Holy Scripture simply the Bible. When we say Holy Scripture or Bible we mean both The Old Testament and The New Testament.
The Old Testament is comprised of forty-nine books, which were written by various writers inspired by God. All of these books were written in Aramaic. They were translated into Greek and this translation is known to us as the Septuagint (Translation of the Seventy). The Old Testament is the covenant between God and the Hebrews, the covenant that contains all of the conditions under which the people could be guided to Christ and to salvation.
The New Testament is comprised of twenty-seven books, all of them written in the Greek language, and it is the new covenant between God and mankind that was made with the incarnation of Christ and was signed and sealed with His Sacrifice upon the Cross and with His Resurrection.
In essence Christianity draws the truth from Christ, Who is Himself the truth and life. Whoever wishes to be alive as a Christian must remain united with Christ, for He is the Vine and the Christian is the branch. When he is united with Christ, the Christian draws sap and abundant life from the Vine.
Our Christ, Who are the Truth, the Way, and the Life, we thank You for having revealed Yourself to us and for having given us Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture. Grant us a clear mind and sincere faith with which to study Your Word and to grow spiritually. Abide with us and keep us united with You, so that we may enjoy abundant life. Life eternal.