Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The History of the Devil By Charles Carroll Everett 1895

The Devil By Charles Carroll Everett 1895

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Almost all peoples have recognized malignant, or at least harmful, spirits. The religious rites of many savages seem designed as a defence against evil rather than as an attempt to win what is good. These early rites are believed to have a certain magical power. If properly performed, the spirits or divinity will be compelled to grant the desire of the worshipper. Professor Roth derives the Sanskrit word for prayer, from which come the terms "Brahman " and "Brahma," from a root meaning "to constrain." Prayer was regarded as a controlling force which the gods could not resist. Above the level of the lowest savage tribes, when a few supernatural beings are regarded as well disposed towards man, the malevolent or harmful spirits still exist by their side. The Vedic hymns show a substratum of demoniacal activity. We find witches and incantations, and to some Vedic singers the air seemed filled with demons. The distinction between spiritual beings friendly or hostile to the worshipper, may be traced in nearly all the historical religions. The line, however, is not one sharply defined. It would be interesting to bring together the negative deities, the supernatural beings that were regarded as hostile to man, in order to compare them with one another, and seek their origin. Even the fair mythology of Greece had a place for these dark forces. But perhaps the Norse religion offers this realm of the negative supernatural under its most awful form. The Midgard serpent, the wolf Fenrir, and all the elements that were to be united in the terrible catastrophe in which the gods should be overthrown, impress the imagination most strongly. Here, too, we find those intermediate beings (giants) that it is not easy to classify as either good or evil.

When we seek the sources of the belief in malevolent supernatural beings, we find them to be exceedingly various. The idea of death has been fertile in such conceptions. Among the lower peoples, the spirits of the dead were regarded as objects of terror. Forms of evil-disposed beings are created by the nameless dread that is associated with death. Other forms are created by certain natural phenomena. From the diseases and the external forces that work harm arise a multitude of diabolical spirits. The deities connected with the religions of hostile peoples, or with religions that have been outgrown, have often been regarded as devils. Demons are also the product of an unbridled imagination. Given the notion of a hell, and the imagination will take a strange pleasure in peopling it with shapes of its own creation.

The sense of sin, no doubt, gives to the devil his most terrible aspect; but the world of demons was formed before this sense had differentiated itself from that of ceremonial impurity, or ritualistic error or neglect.

All these demons, however, are of a comparatively low order; they are very imperfect specimens of diabolical beings. They have been believed to work harm to men, but from this it does not follow that they were even malignant. Wherever man stands in a negative relation to the supernatural powers, they are regarded by him as more or less diabolical in their nature, although he may veil this feeling under a decorous phraseology. The gods of one religion are sometimes regarded as devils from the point of view of another religion. It is the relation of men to these beings, and not the nature of the beings themselves, that constitutes the difference.

The devil, in the highest sense of the word—that is, the lowest--should be a tempter. He must be malignant as well as harmful; must tempt to sin as well as produce physical harm; must do wrong, not by the way, but for the sake of wrong-doing; must love evil because it is evil, and must hate good because it is good. No being can be imagined as thus consciously and wholly evil who does not stand in the presence of an ideal of holiness which he hates, and against which he makes war. Holiness implies the possession of a conscious ideal of goodness, and the love of it. The divinity representing this ideal must be in a sense supreme. The kingdom of the devil is a hostile realm existing over against the Divine realm. The conditions under which the idea of a devil, in the full sense of the term, could be developed existed in the Mazdean religion, which was profoundly ethical. The highest divinity that it recognized was wholly good. Over against this was placed another being who was wholly evil.

It is now very generally admitted that the Jews received from the Parsees during the captivity in Babylon the questionable gift of the devil. Asmodeus, who figures in the apocryphal Book of Tobit, is none other than the Mazdean demon, Aeshma Deva, with hardly a change of name. Before the Captivity, the Jews recognized demons of a certain sort, but they were satyrs that haunted the wilderness. Satan first appears in the Book of Job, which such writers as Davidson, Driver, and Cheyne regard as belonging to the time of the Captivity. The writer may have been influenced by Mazdean ideas. The name Satan, however, has no foreign suggestion. The Satan of Job is still an angel, and is sceptical, not of righteousness in general, but of the righteousness of certain individuals. Satan, the adversary, the one who opposes, is really equivalent to "The Opposition" of the Mazdean books; and he is not properly called "Satan," but "the Satan." We cannot suppose that the Jews could at once admit the idea of an opposition to their God. It would take time for their stern monotheism to relax sufficiently to permit them to conceive even the possibility of this.

The next appearance of Satan is in the Book of Zechariah. Here he appears more diabolical, and is distinctly rebuked, but as he is spoken of as the "angel of the Lord," he has not yet become the real devil. In 1 Chron. xxi. 1 and 2 Sam. xxiv. 16 the development is completed. Satan appears at once as the enemy and the tempter. Though the notion of Satan came to the Jew from without, it came at a time when he was just ready to receive it. He had reached a point where he could no longer ascribe to the Lord some of the acts which before had not seemed foreign to His nature. To the Hebrew his God had been everything. He had been the Source of evil and of good. Now difficulties were felt, and relief was gained by shifting the evil on to a separate being, Satan, and relieving the Deity of everything that seemed unworthy of Him. Jewish and Christian thought did not develop a dualism like that found in the Mazdean religion. The Jewish and Christian devil was not thought of as a creator; he was himself created by God. But the fact that the notion of the devil was gradually evolved has been generally overlooked. And this oversight has introduced a singular confusion into the later thought of him. It has been assumed that the various characteristics he possessed at different times belonged to him permanently and collectively. And so the most contradictory functions have been ascribed to him.

In the New Testament the powers of evil are fully recognized. "The dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan," has commonly been supposed to be identical with the serpent that tempted Eve. But the serpent of the Book of Revelation bears so striking a resemblance to one of the most terrible of the Mazdean demons, that we can hardly fail to recognize it as primarily the same being. Azhi Dahaka is the "destructive serpent," a three-headed monster that keeps back the water in the clouds until he is overpowered by a divinity favourable to man. This destructive serpent was conquered and chained, and kept thus a prisoner till the time of the last battle, in which he was to be slain. In Revelation the serpent is imprisoned in the bottomless pit, and let loose for a time just before the final consummation. In the Mazdean books, the "serpent is burned in the molten metal;" in Revelation he is "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone."

Milton's devil is not purely devilish; after his fall, he is an archangel fallen. In the general thought of the devil in Christendom, the angelic position which he once occupied has been largely left out of the account. The mediaeval devil differs in many respects both from that of the Mazdeans and that of the New Testament. Grimm says, "He is at once of Jewish, Christian, heathen, heretical, elfish, gigantic, and spectral stock." It does not seem possible to trace the source of his limp and his cloven foot. The grotesque form of the mediaeval devil fitted him well for the place of buffoon which he sometimes filled in the Mysteries.

The pictured stupidity of the devil, the shrewdness so sharp that it defeats itself, the sight that is without insight, the assumption of omnipotence in one who is a vanishing element in God's universe, may be associated with an inner contradiction that underlies the entire notion of the devil. He seems to be something, yet he is really nothing.

In the struggle with sin there is a certain help in having the power of sin set over against the spirit. To have an enemy to deal with gives point to the struggle and definiteness to the blow.

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