« PreviousContinue »
tenance of his honour and reputation, though unto blood: another white, he bids him be tongue-proof; that he may render the party shamelessly desperate in evil doing.
One while, he allows us to pray long; that we may love to hear ourselves speak, and may languish in our devotion : another while, he tells us there is no need of vocal prayers, since God hears our thoughts,
One while, he urgeth us to a busy search and strong conclusion of the unfailable assurance of our election to glory, upon slippery and unsure grounds : another while, to a careless indifferency and stupid neglect of our future estate ; that we may perish through security,
One while, slighting the measure of contrition, as unsufficient ; another while, working the heart to take up with the least velleity of penitent sorrow, without straining it to any further afflictive degrees of true penance.
One while, suggesting such dangerous points of our self-examination, that the resolution is every way unsafe ; so as we must presume upon our strength, if we determine affirmatively; if negatively, decline towards despair : another while, encouraging a man, by the prosperous event of his sin, to re-act it; and, by the hard successes of good actions, to forbear them.
One while, under pretence of giving glory to God for his graces, stirring up the heart to a proud over-valuing our own virtues and abilities : another while, stripping God of the honour of his gifts ; by a causeless pusillanimity.
One while, aggravating our unworthiness to be sons, servants, subjects, guests, alms-men of the holy and great God: another while, upon some poor works of piety or charity, raising our conceits to a secret gloriation of our worthiness, both of acceptance and reward, and God's beholdingness to us.
Shortly, for it were easy to exceed in instances, one while, casting undue fears into the tender hearts of weak regenerates, of God's just desertions, and of their own sinful deficiencies : another while, puffing them up, with ungrounded presumptions of present safety and future glory.
These, and a thousand more such arts of deceit, do the evil spirits practise upon the poor soul of wretched man, to betray it to everlasting destruction. And if, at any time, they shall pretend fair respects, it is a true observation of a strict votary, That the Devils of Consolation are worse than the Afflictive. O my soul, what vigilance can be sufficient for thee, while thou art so beset with va, riety of contrary temptations ? :
SECT. VI. OF THE APPARITIONS AND ASSUMED SHAPES OF EVIL SPIRITS. Besides these mental and ordinary onsets, we find when these malignant spirits have not stuck, for a further advantage, to clothe themselves with the appearances of visible shapes; not of meaner creatures only, but of men, both living and dead; yea, even of the good angels themselves *.
It were easy to write volumes, of their dreadful and illusive apparitions : others have done it before me: my pen is for other use. The times are not past the ken of our memory, since the frequent, and in some part true, reports of those familiar devils, fairies, and goblins, wherewith many places were commonly haunted: the rarity whereof, in these latter times, is sufficient to descry the difference, betwixt the state of ignorant superstition, and the clear light of the Gospel. I doubt not, but there were many frauds intermised, both in the acting and relating divers of these occurrences; but he, that shall detract from the truth of all, may as well deny there were men living in those ages before us. Neither can I make question of the authentic records of the examinations f and confessions of witches and sorcerers, in several regions of the world, agreeing in the truth of their horrible pacts with Satan, of their set meetings with evil spirits, their beastly homages and conversations. I should hate to be guilty of so much incredulity, as to charge so many grave judges and credible historians with lies.
Amongst such fastidious choice of whole dry-fats of voluminous relations, I cannot forbear to single out that one famous story I of Magdalen de la Croix, in the year of our Lord Christ, 1545: who, being born at Cordova in Spain, whether for the indigence or devotion of her parents, was, at five years' age, put into a convent of nuns. At that age, an evil spirit presented himself to her, in the form of a blackınoor, foul and hideous : she startled at the sight, not without much horror; but, with fair speeches and promises of all those gay toys wherewith children are wont to be delighted, she was wont to hold society with him ; not without strong charges of silence and secrecy : in the mean time, giving proof of a notable quick wit, and more than the ordinary ability incident into her age; so as she was highly esteemed, both of the young novices, and of the aged nuns. No sooner was she come to the age of twelve or thirteen years, than the Devil solicits her to marry with him; and, for her dowry, promises her, that, for the space of thirty years, she shall live in such fame and honour for the opinion of her sanctity, as that she shall be for that time the wonder of all Spain. While this wicked spirit held bis unclean conversation with her in her chamber, he delegates another of his hellish complices, to supply the place and form of his Magdalen, in the church, in the cloister, in all their meetings; not without marvellous appearance of gravity and devotion : disclosing unto her also the affairs of the world
* Diabolus, gloriosa forma, diademate gemmeo et aureo redimitus, veste re. giá indutus, apparuit Martin precanti ; se Christum dicit : cui, post silentium aliquod, Sanctus : Ego Christum, nisi in illo habitu formâque quâ passus est, nisi crucis stigmala proferentem, venisse non credam : hini evanuit. Hoc nar. ravil Sulpitio Martinus ipse; w refert idem Sever. Sulp. in vitâ Martini, t Bodin Dæmonomania ; ubique. Sim. Goul. Hist. admirables. Casside Reney en ses Relations. Zuinger. Theatre de vie Human Bodin. Dæmonoma. nia; 1, ij.
abroad; and furnishing her with such advertisements, as made her wondered at; and won her the reputation, not of a holy virgin only, but of a prophetess. Out of which height of estimation, although she was not, for years, capable of that dignity, she was, by the general votes of the sisterhood, chosen unanimously, to be the abbess of that convent. Wonderful were the feats, which she then did : the priest cries out in his celebration, that he missed one of the holy host, which he had consecrated ; and, lo, that was, by her wonted angel, invisibly conveyed to holy Magdalen : the wall, that was betwixt her lodging and the quire, at the elevation of the host, clave asunder, that holy Magdalen might see that sacred act : and, which was yet more notorious, on so.emn festivals, when the nuns made their procession, Magdalen was, in the sight of the beholders, lift up from the earth, the height of three cubits, as if she should have been rapt up to heaven : and, sometimes, while she bore in her arms a little image of the child Jesus, new born and uaked, weeping, like a true Magdalen, abundantly over the babe; her hair seemed, by miracle, suddenly lengthened so low as to reach unto her ankles, for the covering of the naked child ; which, so soon as she had laid aside that dear burden, returned suddenly to the wonted length. These, and many other the like miracles, made her so famous, that Popes, Emperors, the Grandees of Spain wrote to her, beseeching her in their letters to recommend their affairs to God in her powerful devotions, and in requiring her advice and advertisements in matters of high importance; as appeared afterwards, by the letters found in her cabinet. And the great ladies of Spain, and other parts, would not wrap their newborn infants in any clouts or swaddling-bands, but such as the sacred hands of abbess Magdalen had first touched and blessed. All the nuns of Spain were proud of so great an honour of their order, and such miraculous proofs of their sanctity. At last, it pleased God to lay open this notable fraud of the Devil : for Magdalen, after thirty years' acquaintance with this paramour, having been abbess now twelve years, began to receive some remorse of her former practices; and, growing to a detestation of her horrible society with that evil spirit, found means freely to discover to the Visitors of her Order, all the whole carriage of this abominable and prodigious wickedness : although some credible, wise, and learned persons have reported, that she, perceiving the nuns to have taken secret notice of her foul pranks, lest she should run into a deserved condemnation, did, under the favour of those laws which give pardon to self-accusing offenders, voluntarily confess her monstrous villainy and impiety. This confession blanked many of her favourers and admirers; and seemed so strange, that it was held fit not to believe it, without strict and legal examinations and proceedings. Magdalen was close imprisoned in her convent; and, being called to question, confessed all this mystery of iniquity. Yet still her Moor continued his illusions : for, while she was fast locked up in her cell, with a strong guard upon her doors; the nuns were ng
sooner come into the quire, towards morning, to say their matins, than this deputy-apparition of Magdalen took up her wonted stall, and was seen devoutly tossing her beads amongst her sisters; so as they thought the Visitors had surely freed her of the crimes objected, upon her vehement penitence: but, bearing that Magdalen was still fast caged in her prison, they acquainted the Visitors with what they had seen, the morning before; who, upon full examination, found, that she had never looked out of the doors of her gaol. The process was at last sent up to Rome; whence, since the con, fession was voluntary, she had her absolution.
A story of great note and use, for many occasions; and too well known to the world, to admit of either denial or doubt, and ratified, as by the known consent of the time, so by the faithful records of Zuingerus, Bodin, Reney, Goulartius. Lord God, what cunning conveyances are here of the foul spirit! what subtle hypocrisy ! what powerful illusions ! enough to make sanctity itself suspected ; enough to shame the pretence of miracles. He can, for an advantage, be a holy Nun, as well as an ugly Moor: he can be as devout at Matins, Sacraments, Processions, as the best : what wonder? when he can, at pleasure counterfeit, an Angel of Light? In that glorious form, did he appear to Simon Stylites of old; to Gertrude of Westphalia, not without the entertainment of her joy and devotion : till Hermanus of Arnsburgh descried the fraud; and taught her to avoid it, by a means no less advantageous to that ill spirit, than her former devotion. Yea, yet higher, to Pachomius, and to Valens the monk, as Palladius reports, he durst appear and call for adoration; and had it, under the form of the Lord of Life, blessed for ever.
How vain is the observation of those authors, who make this the difference, betwist the apparitions of good angels and evil: That the good make choice of the shapes, either of beautiful persons, or of those creatures which are clean and hurtless ; as of the shape of a lamb to Clement, or a hart to Eustace, or a dove to Gummarus : whereas the evil put themselves into the forms of deformed men, or of harmful and filthy beasts; as of a goat to the assembly of witches, of hogs in the churches of Agatha profaned by the Arians; of serpents, dragons, toads, and other loathsome and terrible creatures, to St. Hilary and Anthony, as Athanasius and Jerome, in their suppositious relations, have reported; and that, if at any time he take upon him the shape of a man, yet it is with some notable defect and incongruity of limbs * ; as with a right-foot cloven, or with a whole hoof; never entirely hunian: when we see that the very glory of angels escapes not their counterfeisance. We know how easy it is for the Almighty to ordain some such mark to be set upon the false shapes of evil spirits, for their better discovery : but why should we rather suppose this to be done, in the case of human bodies, than of heavenly angels? why more, in the resem. blance of men, than of all other creatures; since their deceit may be no less dangerous, in either ?
* Est hæc res mirabilis, nunquam visos esse dæmones utroque pede humano ullibi apparuisse. Forner, de Ang, Ser.ix,
But as for these visible devils, they are, in these days, very rare ; and, where they have appeared, have wont to work more affright, than spiritual prejudice. Evil spirits are commonly most pernicious to the soul, when they are least seen; not caring so much for our terror, as our seduction.
O God, they are crafty ; but thou art wisdom itself: they are malicious; but thou art goodness. Let thy goodness and wisdom ever protect and safeguard us : so shall we be, not more wretched and unsafe in ourselves, than we shall be in thee secure and happy.
SECT. VII. THE VEHEMENCE OF SATAN'S LAST CONFLICTS. THESE spirits, because such are neither capable of sleep or weariness; as they are therefore ever busy and restless in their assaults, so their last conflicts use to be most vehement: whether it be, for that, now, the soul is passing out of their reach, as we find they did most tear and torture the demoniac, when they saw themselves upon the point of their ejection ; or, whether it be, for that the painful agonies of death yield them more hopes of advantage, since the soul, while it is struggling with those last pangs, must needs have her powers distracted in her resistances. Cruelty, where it would prevail, will be sure to lay most load upon the weakest.
Hereupon it is, that holy men have been most careful to arm themselves strongliest, against those last onsets; and to bend all the forces of their souls, upon their safe dissolution. The holy sister of St. Basil, and Melania, whom St. Jerome magnifies for their sanctity, beseech God, with great fervency, that those envious spirits may not hinder them in their last passage ; and devout Bernard, to the same purpose, when he drew near his end, sues to his friend for his earnest prayers, that the heel of his life might be kept safe from the Serpent; so as he might not find where to fix his sting.
Hence it is, that, in former times, good souls have been so provident to hearten themselves against the faint pulse of their death, beds, with that vitiacum sacruni, the strongest spiritual cordial of the Blessed Eucharist : which hath yielded them such vigour of heavenly consolation, that they have boldly defied all the powers of darkness; and, in spite of all those assaults, have laid themselves down in peace.
O God, I know Satan can want no malice nor will to hurt. I should be his, if I looked for favour from him. He must and will do so much of his worst to me, as thou wilt permit. Whether thou wilt be pleased to restrain him, or strengthen me, thy will be done. Oh, lead me not into temptation; and, when thou doest so, shew thyself strong in my weakness : arm me, for iny last brunt : stand by me, in my last combat ; make me faithful to the death, that thou mayest give me a crown of life,