Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (8/12)

Before moving to the 18th century, it is necessary to review the work of two 17th century authors who also contributed usefully to the ongoing debate regarding supernatural evil. These two men were Joseph Mede and Thomas Hobbes.

* 1640: Joseph Mede, prominent Anglican professor of Greek at Cambridge University, puzzled over the accounts of demon possession in the New Testament. He noted their complete absence from the Old Testament, and wondered that such possession was so common in the 1st century, yet so rare in his own time:

‘Now, to come toward my Text; a like instance to this, I take to be that of the Daemoniacks so often mentioned in the Gospel: For I make no question, but that now and then the same befals other men; whereof I have experience my selfe, to wit, To marvell how these Daemoniacks should so abound in, and about that Nation, which was the People of God; whereas in other Nations and their writings wee heare of no such; And that too, as it should seem, about the time of our Saviours being on earth onely; because in the time before we finde no mention of them in Scripture.

The wonder is yet the greater, because it seems notwithstanding all this, by the Story of the Gospel, not to have been accounted then by the people of the Jews, any strange or extraordinary thing, but as a matter usuall; nor besides is taken notice of by any forraine Story.’

Joseph Mede, ‘S. Iohn 10.20. He hath a Devill, and is mad’, published posthumously in ‘DIATRIBAE. DISCOVRSES ON DIVERS TEXTS OF SCRIPTVRE: Delivered upon severall occasions’, pages 122-123, 1642

Mede’s conclusion was that those described as ‘demoniacs’, or possessed by demons, were in fact mentally ill:

‘To meet with all these difficulties, (which I see not how otherwise can be easily satisfied) I am perswaded (till I shall heare better reason to the contrary) that these Daemoniacks were no other then such as well call mad-men, and Lunaticks; at least that we comprehend them under those names, and that therefore they both still are, and in all times and places have been, much more frequent then we imagine. The cause of which our mistake, is that disguise of another name, and notion, then we conceive them by; which makes us take them to be diverse which are the same.”’

Joseph Mede, ‘S. Iohn 10.20. He hath a Devill, and is mad’, published posthumously in ‘DIATRIBAE. DISCOVRSES ON DIVERS TEXTS OF SCRIPTVRE: Delivered upon severall occasions’, pages 123-124, 1642

Mede’s argument was firmly based on Scripture, observing the parallel in the expression ‘He has a devil, and is mad’ (hence the title of his discourse):

‘Having thus sufficiently stated, and explicated my assertion; now you shall hear what grounds I have for the same. First therefore, I prove it out of the Gospel it selfe, & that in the first place from this Scripture, which I have chosen for my text, Daimonion echei kai mainetai [transliterated from the Greek], he hath a Devil & is mad.

Where I suppose the latter words to be an explication of the former. Secondly, I prove it out of Mat. 17.15. where it is said, There came to our Saviour a certain man kneeling down to him, and saying; Lord have mercy on my sonne, hoti seleniazetai [transliterated from the Greek], because he is Lunatick and sore vexed; For oft times he falleth into the Fire, and oft into the water.

That this Lunatick was a Dжmoniack, is evident both out of the 15. ver. of this Chapter, where it is said, Our Saviour rebuked the Devill and he departed out of him, and the child was cured from that very houre: As also out of the 9. of the Gospel of Saint Luke, where it is said of the self-same person, Lo, a spirit taketh him, and he cryeth out, and it teareth him, that he foameth againe, and bruising him, hardly departeth from him.

By comparing of these places, you may gather, what kind of men they were which Scripture calls Daimonizomenoi [transliterated].’

Joseph Mede, ‘S. Iohn 10.20. He hath a Devill, and is mad’, published posthumously in ‘DIATRIBAE. DISCOVRSES ON DIVERS TEXTS OF SCRIPTVRE: Delivered upon severall occasions’, pages 126-127, 1642

Neither the conclusions nor the arguments made here by Mede were entirely original, but Mede deserves mention for reaching them unaided and for teaching them in his public discourses. In his work ‘The Apostasy Of The Latter Times’ (1642), Mede interpreted the ‘doctrines of demons’ in 1 Timothy 4:1 as ‘doctrines concerning demons’, as Thomas Ady had, and gives the same interpretation as Ady, namely that the ‘orthodox’ beliefs in demons were an apostasy from the true Christian faith.

Mede did make two important advances in demonological studies in the Bible. The first was that he did not simply say, as others had before him, that some of those thought to be possessed by demons were in fact only mentally ill. This argument had already been made by Johannes Weyer, Edweard Jordan, Tobias Tandler, John Cotta, Richard Bernard, Thomas Ady, and Balthasar Bekker. Mede’s advance was to declare explicitly that all of those thought to be possessed by demons were suffering from a natural pathology. This completely de-mythologized madness and all other psychological disorders, and brought them within the domain of the natural physician.

The second was to note that the demon possession accounts in the Bible are confined almost exclusively to the synoptic gospels. This realisation led others to develop a more accurate understanding of the demon distribution pattern of the New Testament, a much neglected subject.

Yet Mede’s precise stand on the existence of supernatural evil remains unclear. Although it is certain that Mede identified those thought to be demon possessed as suffering from a mental illness, it is uncertain as to whether or not he retained a belief in demons as personal supernatural beings of evil. Whatever his views on this may have been however, he was influential on a number of later expositors who took his ideas further, and developed a more complete New Testament demonology.

* 1651: The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, a massive socio-political treatise which encompassed moral philosophy and religion. Of particular interest is Hobbe’s total rejection of supernatural evil, as well as the immortal soul:

‘The Enemy has been here in the Night of our naturall Ignorance, and sown the tares of Spirituall Errors; and that, First, by abusing, and putting out the light of the Scriptures: For we erre, not knowing the Scriptures. Secondly, by introducing the Daemonology of the Heathen Poets, that is to say, their fabulous Doctrine concerning Daemons, which are but Idols, or Phantasms of the braine, without any reall nature of their own, distinct from humane fancy; such as are dead mens Ghosts, and Fairies, and other matter of old Wives tales.’

Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, Book 4, chapter 1, 1651

Like Mede before him, Hobbes identified a belief in demons as the ‘doctrine of demons’ in 1 Timothy 4:1, and believed that those thought to be suffering from demon possession were in reality suffering from a natural medical condition:

‘And therefore, they called Daemoniaques, that is, possessed by the Devill, such as we call Madmen or Lunatiques; or such as had the Falling Sicknesse; or that spoke any thing, which they for want of understanding, thought absurd: As also of an Unclean person in a notorious degree, they used to say he had an Unclean Spirit; of a Dumbe man, that he had a Dumbe Devill; and of John Baptist (Math. 11. 18.) for the singularity of his fasting, that he had a Devill; and of our Saviour, because he said, hee that keepeth his sayings should not see Death In Aeternum, (John 8. 52.) “Now we know thou hast a Devill; Abraham is dead, and the Prophets are dead:” And again, because he said (John 7. 20.) “They went about to kill him,” the people answered, “Thou hast a Devill, who goeth about to kill thee?”’

Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, Book 4, chapter 2, 1651

‘How That Doctrine Was Spread The Graecians, by their Colonies and Conquests, communicated their Language and Writings into Asia, Egypt, and Italy; and therein, by necessary consequence their Daemonology, or (as St. Paul calles it) “their Doctrines of Devils;” And by that meanes, the contagion was derived also to the Jewes, both of Judaea, and Alexandria, and other parts, whereinto they were dispersed.’

Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, Book 4, chapter 2, 1651

Also like Mede, Hobbes found it curious that demon possession appeared so frequently in the synoptic gospels, and yet was so rare in his own day. He explains this much as Mede did:

That there were many Daemoniaques in the Primitive Church, and few Mad-men, and other such singular diseases; whereas in these times we hear of, and see many Mad-men, and few Daemoniaques, proceeds not from the change of Nature; but of Names.’

Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, Book 4, chapter 2, 1651

Even before Bekker and Muggleton, Hobbes taught that ‘satan’ was a term used for adversarial men, or the natural impulse in men to sin:

‘Satan, Devill, Not Proper Names, But Appellatives And first for the Tormenters, wee have their nature, and properties, exactly and properly delivered by the names of, The Enemy, or Satan; The Accuser, or Diabolus; The Destroyer, or Abbadon. Which significant names, Satan, Devill, Abbadon, set not forth to us any Individuall person, as proper names use to doe; but onely an office, or quality; and are therefore Appellatives; which ought not to have been left untranslated, as they are, in the Latine, and Modern Bibles; because thereby they seem to be the proper names of Daemons; and men are the more easily seduced to beleeve the doctrine of Devills; which at that time was the Religion of the Gentiles, and contrary to that of Moses, and of Christ.

And because by the Enemy, the Accuser, and Destroyer, is meant, the Enemy of them that shall be in the Kingdome of God; therefore if the Kingdome of God after the Resurrection, bee upon the Earth, (as in the former Chapter I have shewn by Scripture it seems to be,) The Enemy, and his Kingdome must be on Earth also. For so also was it, in the time before the Jews had deposed God. For Gods Kingdome was in Palestine; and the Nations round about, were the Kingdomes of the Enemy; and consequently by Satan, is meant any Earthly Enemy of the Church.’

Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, Book 3, chapter 7, 1651

‘Again, where St. Luke sayes of Judas Iscariot, that “Satan entred into him, and thereupon that he went and communed with the Chief Priests, and Captaines, how he might betray Christ unto them:” it may be answered, that by the Entring of Satan (that is the Enemy) into him, is meant, the hostile and traiterous intention of selling his Lord and Master. For as by the Holy Ghost, is frequently in Scripture understood, the Graces and good Inclinations given by the Holy Ghost; so by the Entring of Satan, may bee understood the wicked Cogitations, and Designes of the Adversaries of Christ, and his Disciples.

For as it is hard to say, that the Devill was entred into Judas, before he had any such hostile designe; so it is impertinent to say, he was first Christs Enemy in his heart, and that the Devill entred into him afterwards. Therefore the Entring of Satan, and his Wicked Purpose, was one and the same thing.’

Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil’, Book 4, chapter 2, 1651

A large section of ‘Leviathan’ was dedicated to a Biblical exposition of the gospel, including the natural mortality of man, the rejection of the immortal soul, hell, heaven-going, the devil, demons, ghosts, and the doctrine that the Kingdom of God was the church. Although these may seem incongruent in such a work, Hobbes considered them essential since they determined his socio-political conclusions.

He believed that since the Kingdom of God was a future kingdom on earth ruled by Christ, and since Christians belonged to the Kingdom of God, church and state should be separate, and the Christian should be subject to the laws of the state insofar as they were able to do so without contravening the laws of God.

Hobbes was unjustly accused by his contemporaries of atheism because of his unorthodox views of God (he believed that everything which existed must be material, and that God therefore had a material form), but he was certainly no atheist. His defence of the Scriptures and the formative effect of the gospel on his socio-political views demonstrates this. On the basis of his rejection of supernatural evil, some modern atheists prefer to label Hobbes a rationalist skeptic or agnostic, but he maintained an active believe in a God who was personally involved with His creation, and his rejection of supernatural evil was reached entirely from the Scriptures, as can be seen from his work.
* 1693-1700: Robert Calef, an English cloth maker living in Boston, corresponded with a number of ministers on the subject of supernatural evil generally, and witchcraft specifically. In 1700 he published ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, a collection of his correspondence together with his own additional comments on the subject.

The title was deliberately derived from ‘Wonders of the Invisible World’, published in 1693 by the Puritan minister Cotton Mather as a defence of the belief in supernatural evil, and as a defence of the handling of the now infamous Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 (for which Mather was largely responsible, and completely unrepentant).

Calef’s work shows an excellent handling of Scripture, arguing that the devil had no power to give to a witch to perform evil, and that God would certainly not provide such power either to the devil or to the witch. This being the case, he reasoned that those accused of witchcraft were accused falsely.

Although he did not renounce a belief in satan as an evil supernatural being, Calef believed that the powers of the devil were restricted only to temptation. He argued further that the definition of a witch in the Bible was not the definition used in his own day, and that on this basis those accused of witchcraft should not be punished. Like Johannes Weyer long before him, Calef argued that bringing a witch to trial was senseless unless the co-conspirator (the devil), could also be brought to trial, rendering the entire trial a farce.

Calef’s work contains letter after letter sent to various ministers, with repeated appeals sent directly to Cotton Mather asking him to justify his position from Scripture, and to address the Biblical arguments made by Calef. Unfortunately Mather refused to write a comprehensive reply, as Calef’s own letters record:

‘[to] Mr. Cotton Mather. Boston Feb. the 19th. 1693.

Reverend Sir, Having received as yet no Answer to mine of Novem. the 24th. except an offer to peruse Books, &c. relating to the Doctrinals therein contain’d: Nor to my last of January the 18th. In which I did again pray that if I err’d I might be shewed it by Scripture…’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, page 37, 1700

Cotton Mather was in fact greatly irritated by Calef’s correspondence and book (which included considerable criticism of Mather’s involvement in the Salem witchcraft trials), and eventually refused to respond to either. His father (Increase Mather), had Calef’s work burned in public, and an entry in Cotton Mather’s daily journal illustrates the strength of feeling felt against Calef by the pious Puritan supporters of the Mather family:

‘My pious neighbours are so provoked at the diabolical Wickedness of the Man who has published a Volume of Libels against my Father and myself, that they sett apart whole Dayes of Prayer, to complain unto God against him.’

Cotton Mather, journal entry of December 6, 1700

Calef’s introduction sets out the purpose of his work clearly:

‘And now whether the Witches (such as have made a compact by Explicit Covenant with the Devil, having thereby obtained a power to Commissionate him) have been the cause of our miseries.

Or whether a Zeal governed by blindness and passion, and led by president, has not herein precipitated us into far greater wickedness (if not Witchcrafts) than any have been yet proved against those that suffered.

To be able to distinguish aright in this matter, to which of these two to refer our Miseries is the present Work. As to the former, I know of no sober Man, much less Reverend Christian, that being ask’d dares affirm and abide by it, that Witches have that power; viz. to Commissionate Devils to kill and destroy. And as to the latter, it were well if there were not too much of truth in it, which remains to be demonstrated.’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, page 4, 1700

As others before him had done (such as John Wagstaffe), Calef wrote specifically condemning the bloodshed which had been caused by the witchcraft trials, and pointed out rightly that surely the devil would be far more satisfied with such an outcome than a more peaceful resolution:

Truly I take this to be just as the Devil would have it, so much to fear disobliging men, as not to endeavour to detect his Wiles, that so he may the sooner, and with the greater Advantages set the same on foot again (either here or else where) so dragging us through the Pond twice by the same Cat. And if Reports do not (herein) deceive us, much the same has been acting this present Year in Scotland. And what Kingdom or Country is it, that has not had their bloody fits and turns at it.

And if this is such a catching disease, and so universals I presume I need make no Apology for my Endeavours to prevent, as far as in my power, any more such bloody Victims or Sacrifices; tho indeed I had rather any other would have undertaken so offensive, tho necessary a task; yet all things weighed, I had rather thus Expose my self to Censure, than that it should be wholly omitted.’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, page 4, 1700

The argument that the witchcraft hunts and trials were simply carrying out the devil’s work for him, in causing panic, false accusations, and innocent deaths, was a recurring theme of anti-witch hunt literature.

As other writers before him had done, Calef denounced the ‘orthodox’ views of witches and witchcraft as superstition derived from apostasy and paganism, and pointed out that the sole result of such doctrines was dishonour to God and the destruction of men:

‘Were the notions in question, innocent and harmless, respecting the Glory of God, and well being of Men, I should not have engaged in them, but finding them in my esteem, so intolerably destructive of both. This together with my being by Warrant called before the Justices, in my own Just Vindication, I took it to be a call from God, to my Power, to Vindicate his Truths, against the Pagan and Popish Assertions, which are so prevalent; for tho Christians in general do own the Scriptures to be their only Rule of Faith and Doctrine, yet these Notions will tell us, that the Scriptures have not sufficiently, nor at all described the crime of Witchcraft, whereby the culpable might be detected, tho it be positive in the Command to punish it by Death; hence the World has been from time to time perplext in the prosecution of the several Diabolical mediums of Heathenish and Popish Invention, to detect an Imaginary Crime (not but that there are Witches, such as the Law of God describes) which has produced a deluge of Blood; hereby rendering the Commands of God not only void but dangerous.’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, pages 4-5, 1700

Note that Calef acknowledged the existence of witches as defined in the Bible, but denied that the Biblical definition was being used in his day. His argument that the Bible contained no instructions on detecting, trying, or executing the kinds of witches commonly supposed to exist had been used before by a number of previous commentators, and would become an important issue in future works on the subject.

Likewise, Calef used the standard argument that attributing such power to the devil denied the power of God as described explicitly in the Bible:

‘So also they own Gods Providence and Government of the World, and that Tempests and Storms, Afflictions and Diseases are of his sending; yet these Notions tell us, that the Devil has the power of all these, and can perform them when commission’d by a Witch thereto, and that he has a power at the Witches call to act and do, without and against the course of Nature, and all natural causes, in afflicting and killing of Innocents; and this is that so many have died for.

Also it is generally believed, that if any Man has strength, it is from God the Almighty being: But these notions will tell us, that the Devil can make one Man as strong as many, which was one of the best proofs, as it was counted, against Mr. Burroughs the Minister; tho his contemporaries in the Schools during his Minority could have testified, that his strength was then as much superiour to theirs as ever (setting aside incredible Romances) it was discovered to be since. Thus endring the power of God, and his providence of none Effect.’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, page 5, 1700

So also Calef argued that the current doctrines concerning witches and witchcraft were an apostate belief derived from paganism, an argument used at least as early as Joseph Mede (1641):

‘From all which it may be easily perceived, that in the Primitive times of Christianity, when not only many Heathen of the Vulgar; but also many learn’d Men and Philosophers had imbraced the Christian Faith; they still retained a love to their Heathen-learning, owhich as one Observes being transplanted into a Christian Soile, soon proved productive of pernicious Weeds, which over-ran the face of the Church, hence it was so deformed as the Reformation found it.

Among other pernicious Weeds arising from this Root, the Doctrine of the power of Devils, and Witchcraft as it is now, and long has been understood, is not the least…’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, page 6, 1700

Repeatedly Calef requests that the contemporary beliefs be examined with Scripture:

‘In which I did again pray that if I err’d I might be shewed it by Scripture…’

‘Such explicit Covenant being as is said in this Age reckoned essential to compleat a Witch: Yet I finding nothing of such covenant (or power thereby obtain’d) in Scripture…’

‘This then being so Important a case, it concerns all to know what Foundations in Scripture is laid for such a Structure…’

‘Are these the Expressions of Orthodox believers? or are they not rather expressions becoming a Maniche, or a Heathen, as agreeing far better with these than with the sacred Oracles our only rule; the whole current whereof is so Diametrically opposite thereto, that it were almost endless to mention all the Divine cautions against such abominable belief; he that runs may read, Psal. 62. 11. and 136. 4. Lam. 3. 37. Amos 3. 6. Jer. 4. 22. Psal. 78. 26. and 148. 6, 8. Job 38. 22. to the 34. v.’

‘And (to add) what less can be expected, when Men having taken up such a belief, of a covenanting, afflicting and killing Witch; and comparing it with the Scripture, finding no footsteps therein of such a sort of Witch, have thereupon desperately concluded; that tho the Scripture is full in it, that a Witch should not live; yet that it has not at all described the crime, nor means whereby the culpable might be detected.’

Robert Calef, ‘More Wonders of the Invisible World’, pages 37, 60, 61, 1700

One particularly significant argument can be seen in Calef’s reasoning above, and that is that the doctrine of belief in a supernatural evil being who can exercise such power as is commonly believed, is nothing short of a belief in two gods, one good and one evil, just as the ancient Manichean heretics believed.

This argument had been made earlier than Calef, and would become one of the most commonly used arguments of the 18th century. It appears to have been one of the foundation arguments on which Sir Isaac Newton would later develop his own rejection of a belief in a supernatural evil being.

* 1703: Nicolas Aubin’s work ‘The Cheats and Illusions of Romish Priests and Exorcists. Discovered’ (first published in French in 1693), was republished in English. It was a denunciation of the fraudulent case of possession at the Ursuline convent, and the subsequent execution of local priest Urbain Grandier.

Aubin places great emphasis on the injustice of the proceedings, and the doubtful worth of the witness accounts. Although not doubting the existence of satan, witches, and witchcraft, he believed that the entire incident had been feigned, and noted Grandier’s appeal to historical cases of illusion and trickery which were indistinguishable from the symptoms of the allegedly possessed:

‘The unfortunate Grandier had already said in his Case, That the Art of Man could do things more approaching to supernatural, than all that which had been seen done by the Nuns; He cited for a Witness Philip Camerarius in his Historical Meditations, Chap. 75. and another Historian, who relates many surprizing things which a Polander did at the time of the Circumcision of the Son of Amurath. How many Rope-Dancers, added he, and other such like People, Men and Women, do perform things extraordinary? Which however are done by Art, and are far worthier of admiration, than any of those that have been perform’d by those Maids.

Duncan expresseth himself in his Book in these Words; ‘What has there been supernatural in all this? There needs no more than the Testimony of St. Augustine to condemn rash Judgments, and those who are so bold as to set bounds to the power of Nature; possibly it will have more Efficacy upon the Exorcist and other Friars, than if it had been taken out of the Writings of Aristotle, Hyppocrates and Galen. That Father in the 24th Chap. of the 14th Book of the City of God, declares, that he knew People, who made their Bodies to perform things, which other Men would hardly believe.’

Nicolas Aubin, ‘The Cheats and Illusions of Romish Priests and Exorcists. Discovered’, page 224, 1703

* 1711: French abbot Laurent Bordelon published a fictional work entitled ‘A history of the ridiculous extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle’, mocking contemporary beliefs in witches, demons, astrology, ghosts, spectres, and various other forms of superstition. The name of the main character who experiences the stereotypical encounters with supernatural evil (Oufle), is an anagram of the French ‘le fou’, meaning ‘the madman’, demonstrating Bordelon’s view of those who held such ideas.

Bordelon accompanied the text with footnotes from genuine commentaries on these subjects, ridiculing these commentaries by showing how their authors were prepared to accept as true the most nonsensical stories in support of their beliefs.

Bordelon’s novel depicts such works as the direct cause of Monsieur Oufle’s gullible superstition, and declares explicitly his intention to prove them false by quoting them in such a way as exposes their stupidity:

‘The exactness with which those Passages in the Superstitious Books, which tainted Mons. Oufle are pointed out, gives reason to hope, that the Notes which faith, fully recite them, will help to render this History the more agreeable, and consequently giving the Reader the greater pleasure, will not be unworthy his Curiosity; and indeed these Notes alone, wou’d furnish sufficient Matter for a Book equally Amusing and Instructive: Amusing by the variety of extraordinary and surprizing Incidents; and Instructive, by their many Learned Quotations, which either shew the Extent of Superstition, or confute it, and demonstrate its Ridiculousness.’

Laurent Bordelon, ‘A history of the ridiculous extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle’, page 3, 1711

Bordelon mocks the credulity of those who believe in such superstition by using Oufle to encourage the reader to become as gullible as he is:

‘But as I always believe whatever is related, tho’ I am not inform’d of the possibility and manner of its happening, I don’t see why you shou’d on this Account be less Credulous than I am; and therefore to the end that you may believe as I do, I proceed to inform you of what I know, and what I have been engag’d to believe.’

Laurent Bordelon, ‘A history of the ridiculous extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle’, page 205, 1711

Although largely a satirical work, Bordelon’s ‘history’ makes a number of serious arguments which had been made previously by other protestors against contemporary beliefs in supernatural evil, and raise the question of whether or not Bordelon believed in the devil and demons himself:

‘I can’t help making the following Reflection, in which I believe the Reader will join with me. How comes it, if these miserable Wretches have Liberty to get out of Prison, that they are such Fools as to return, and expose themselves to the almost inevitable danger of suffering the Torments with which those of their Profession are punish’d?

If it be said that the Devil forces them to it, I desire to know how he forces them: Does he absolutely deprive them of the Liberty of doing what they please? How comes he by this Power? Has he it of himself, or from God? I don’t think that any one will dare venture to affirm that he has of himself, the Power of forcing Men to do whatever he pleases, without their being able to avoid obeying him. If ‘cis pretended that he holds this Power of God, what Proof is there of it?

Whatever Arguments may be form’d to prove this, can it possibly suit with the Wisdom, Goodness and Majesty of God? Is there any Agreement betwixt this so great Power being lodg’d in a wicked Creature, and the Love of God to Men, join’d with his Knowledge of their Weakness, and consequently how easily they are surpriz’d and seduc’d?’

Laurent Bordelon, ‘A history of the ridiculous extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle’, pages 320-321, 1711

Interestingly, the very same argument made by Bordelon regarding the return of witches to their prisons, would be made also by an English physician in a booklet published a year later (and was perhaps the inspiration for the physician).

Part nine.


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