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early Greek philosophers. It is no new speculation, but a mysticism of the most ancient philosophies. The doctrine of the devil, of an evil spirit in antagonism with the Supreme Deity, dates back as far as the Magian doctrine of Persia, and perhaps finds its parentage in India. The ideas of endless punishment, of a future general judgment are equally old, and of the same authority, having their roots far back in the black night of paganism.
In all these particulars and others, we suppose, if some old priest of the Hindoos could rise from the dead, or some mummy from the tombs of Egypt could be galvanized into life, they would pass examination safely, and their orthodoxy be pronounced satisfactory. So slight the change which has taken place on these points since the times of the heathen ascendancy.
Closely allied to the doctrine of the devil and of evil spirits, or demons, are many of the phenomena deemed miraculous in the early Christian times; and the student of history cannot but be struck with their resemblance to some of the wonders of so-called spiritualism in our own time. The comparison of these, and the singular likeness drawn out by it, will give us our present theme.
We shall state here a few of the facts, beginning with certain statements made by IRENÆUS, who flourished about one thousand six hundred and fifty years ago, an hundred years or more after the death of St. John. He makes mention of some who “ cast out devils, so that those from whom they were ejected often turned' believers. Others had knowledge of future events, visions, and prophetical sayings. Others healed the sick, by imposition of hands."
Here we have “visions,” prophesies of events yet future, healing the sick by imposition of hands, or by the manipulations of the operator; all which correspond well with the modern wonders of animal magnetism, clairvoyance and spiritualism. The same powers, mental and physical, the same influence of mind over matter, are seen in these cases, that appear in the phenomena of mesmerism, or biology, and in the action of the so-named “healing mediums.” Again, he says,
" we have many in the church endued with prophetic gifts, speaking with all kinds of tongues, laying open the secret thoughts of men for the public good. Here we have a new item of wonder—" speaking with all kinds of tongues.” This is in perfect keeping with the claims of some in our day, who profess to speak all the dead and all the living languages. If they do, if under any influence brought to bear on the mind, they write or speak a language of which, in their natural or normal condition, they know nothing-still there are those who set up a prior claim to the wonder. It is no new revelation from the spirit world. It cannot be said that Christianity has grown old and threadbare, that the world needs to be quickened into life by some new manifestations of spiritual power—and therefore the marvels of our time. It is no new thing—in the first ages of the church we have the same pretensions, or the same realities, as the case may be. And so far from the wonders in review being proof of growth and new revelations in spiritual things, we are only going back into the old way, to what has been “already of old time which wa before us."
TERTULLIAN, who lived a few years later, challenges the heathen magistrates to call before their tribunals any person possessed with a devil; “ and if the evil spirit, when exorcised by a Christian, did not confess himself a devil, not daring to tell a lie, then they might hang the Christian exorciser on the next tree.” I'ertullian seems quite confident that the devils, or evil spirits, of his time would not dare to lie to a Christian. We can only say, that since his time the spirits have grown worse instead of better, or else they are not particularly afraid of a Christian, for some of them now both lie and are profane!
CYPRIAN, the scholar of Tertullian, who wrote about the middle of the third century, say sixteen hundred years ago, says—“ Beside the visions of the night, even boys among us are filled with the Holy Ghost, and in fits of ecstacy, see, hear and speak things by which the Lord sees fit to instruct us.” Again Tertullian says, “ There is a sister among us, endued with the gifts of revelations, during the time of divine service, which come upon her by an ecstacy of the spirit. In her trance she converses with angels, and sometimes, also, with the Lord; sees and hears mysteries; and knows the hearts of some, and prescribes medicines to those who want them.” One day when preaching on the soul, this woman fell into a trance, and when she was recovered told him she “had seen a soul, in the form of the body, yet so
as to be a spirit, not of a void and empty quality, but what might be handled, tender and transparent, or like light, of an airy color, and in all points of human shape.”
The particulars here given by Tertullian, recall the words of Solomon, " there is nothing new under the sun." Here are all the wonders of spiritualism-boys in ecstacy, women in trances, seeing spirits and conversing with them, repeating the thoughts of others, making known secret and hidden things, and prescribing medicines for the sick. The mediums of our time have not advanced a step beyond the marvels of their brothers and sisters of the early ages.
In that length of time, from the 1st to the 19th century, the world has not grown at all; and no discoveries have been made in the spiritual realms. We have no new developments of the mental, spiritual or physical powers of man, not known fifteen centuries back. So we have all the twitchings of the limbs, contortions, convulsions and groanings, which are witnessed in these days, and are regarded as proofs of the entrance of the spirits into the bodies of the mediums, or the possessed. Cyprian says, the demons, or evil spirits, " insinuate themselves into the bodies of men, raise terrors in the mind, distortions in the limbs, break the constitution, and bring on diseases.” This exactly corresponds with the experience of our times, and shows that the same cause was in operation then as now, and that those who gave themselves up to these beings suffered the penalty of unnatural excitement, ruined health of body, and often the prostration of reason.
And it is further worthy of notice, that those cured of their diseases often fell back again into the same condition of body and mind, or even worse ; like the spirit who, returning, took to himself seven spirits worse than he. This was the case with many of the demoniacs, or people who had become insane.
As if to complete the picture and perfect the resemblance, we have even the tipping of tables and chairs, as an aid in the art of prophecy, or revelation. Tertullian admits the fact that the heathen could do these things, and call up “spirits from the vasty deep,” as well as Christians. not your magicians,” says he, “ perform very amazing feats: call ghosts and departed spirits from the shades below; and by their infernal charins represent an infinite number of delusions ? And how do they perform all this, but by the assistance of evil angels and demons by which they are able even to make tables and chairs to prophesy ? He then offers to make these spirits confess that they are “damned to everlasting misery, and only wait for the general judgment to have their tortures complete.”
It is plain that, with regard to table-rapping and tipping, we cannot say, see,
this is new !" It is sixteen hundred years old at the least-how much older we cannot say. If Tertullian had favored us with a minute description of the modus operandi of the chair and table wonders, we doubt not we should have had an original treatise on spirit communications agreeing in all points with the modern phenomena—for it may be safely said of the whole performance• It has been already of old time.”
In conclusion, let us say that the facts adduced establish two points: 1st. That the physical and mental phenomena which have attracted so much attention at the present day, are of the same class common in the second and third centuries of our era, both among Christians and Pagans. 2nd. That the same philosophy of explanation was current then, which is adopted now, viz., that they are the work of spirits. Of course there is some confusion and contradiction in the accounts given by the ancients; but perhaps not more than is found in modern statements.
One point of difference is worth a notice. The early Christians believed that the contortions of body, the groanings and writhings, the diseases and insanity, were caused by evil spirits or devils; while the cure was wrought through mediums possessed not by human spirits, but by the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
The theory now is that the diseases of body and mind are the result of natural causes, and the cure is wrought by the spirits of the dead coming into the body of the living medium and using it as a means of contact with the afflicted. So with regard to the prophesying, and the revelation of secret things—the explanation now is that the spirits of the departed act through the medium; but the Fathers of the Church explained it by the subject of the trance being filled with the spirit of God.
Doubtless, both in the ancient and modern marvels, it has been abundantly shown that there is a large infusion of imposture on the one hand and of credulity on the other. Yet, with this allowance, if the testimony of honest and sensible persons may be trusted, there are many curious, astonishing and inexplicable facts, which no reasonable man can, or wishes to ignore. There is in some cases a manifestation of intelligence, not general intelligence merely, but particular knowledge of persons and events, truly surprising; and this is equally the fact in ancient examples and in the modern.
This, we think, may be readily admitted ; and yet this is very far from proof that departed human spirits have any thing to do with it. Certainly there is no more evidence of this, than there is of the position of the Church Fathers, that demons, devils and evil angels were the cause of the wonders of their times, or that God entered into and spoke through the entranced boys, or the “illuminated sisters," as Tertullian calls them. The actual phenomena may be allowed—the explanation may be rejected. One by no means follows as the logical sequence of the other.
T. B. T.
In a recent number of the Quarterly we briefly examined the Scripture Record and called up facts of history, in order to determine, if possible, whether the common beliet of christendom in a personal devil had any foundation in primitive Christianity. We arrived at the conclusion that heathen fables had been accepted as Gospel facts, and that the religion of Christ gives us no Satan as a scape-goat for our sins. But temptation and sin are ugly facts in the world, even though they have no concrete spiritual or corporeal representation ; and, that we may not be mere iconoclasts, we now propose to consider what is the true Scripture doctrine on these subjects.