A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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reader comments: satan

13 Jul 1996
When water gathers from the rain, it is directed to the LOWEST places and DUMPED (in the lowest places) at the end of the river it follows Do you see your life in 20 or 30 years ?

So whenever GOOD people who are NOT involved with DEMONIC activity make GOOD, demonic activity strives to use any MEDIA available to make GOOD PEOPLE look bad.

It is obvious, even to the most casual observer what has taken place here.

Unfortunately, you have NO LIFE, no POSITIVE goals, or no POSITIVE directions.

reply. What is obvious is not always obvious. And remember: you cannot lock a broken door. Nor is it chivalrous to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.

In your "Satan" entry, you write: "As the power of the Christian Church has waned, so too has the power of Satan It is no accident that Satan reached the peak of his career at the same time the Church did, during the thirteenth century." This is not true!

The peak of the satanic scare and of the witch trials happened in the early part of the seventeenth century. Heresy trials did happen during the middle ages, but the large scale inquisition trials happened in the modern era, mostly in Spain.

The thirteenth century was the peak of the church influence (it was the era of the great cathedrals.) But it was not the era of the inquisition or of the witch trials. And the inquisition (catholic) and the witch trials (mostly Protestant) were two basically distinct phenomena.

Get your facts right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Filippo Neri
Los Alamos National Laboratory

reply: Good idea. The era of the great gothic cathedrals was not the 13th century, but the 11th and 12th. And the witch trials were not mostly Protestant, although the Protestants were every bit as prolific and sadistic as the Catholics when it came to witches.

Europeans started building massive stone cathedrals after the earliest crusades. The crusaders brought back from the east more than blood and gold. They must have taken some time to admire the mosaics and icons of "Notre Dame," Our Lady, that are dominant features of many Byzantine churches. Before the crusades the Blessed Mother was not a dominant Christian motif in the west. After the crusades, she was elevated nearly to the status of goddess.

The title "inquisitor" (judge in matters of faith) was first granted by Pope Alexander III in 1163 at the Council of Tours. The main "devils" at that time were the Albigensians. But the Inquisition really got started by Innocent III, who became pope in 1198. Jones claims that he initiated the Fourth Crusade (which took Constantinople) to channel the divisive crusading energy of nearly all of Europe which had led to "an open war between Satan and the church." [Jones, p. 255] Maybe. But Innocent certainly used the power he gained for the church to extend his political domain. And in 1209 he called for a crusade against the Albigensians to drive the devil out of France. "He gathered an army which in its hatred of satan and its zeal for god's service established new precedents." [Jones, 256] And he is reported to have said, when asked what to do with the heretics, something to the effect of kill them all; God will sort them out. It is estimated that by the end of the century (the 13th century) a mil lion people were slaughtered in God's name. [Jones, 257] Also, it was in 1232 that Gregory IX empowered the Dominicans (the Domini canes, hounds of God) to be inquisitors as well as itinerant preachers. Gregory's major crusade was against a fishing community accused of worshipping the devil, who was, according to the inquisitors, appearing to these people under the guise of a duck, a goose or a youth. And "when they kissed him and danced around him, [he] enveloped them in total darkness whereupon they all, males and females, gave themselves up to debauchery." [Jones, 258] Gregory's chief inquisitor was Conrad of Marburg, a man in no way inferior to Torquemada in understanding the wiles of the devil and the need to be merciless in fighting Satan.

The thirteenth century saw the edges between heresy and witchcraft blur so that the distinction between the two is often unrecognizable. Satan was behind heresy and he was behind witchcraft. He was everywhere, gaining more and more in power and influence. The methods of fighting Satan had to become more and more brutal and savage; fire had to be fought with fire, evil with evil. This is why Paul Carus writes: "In the thirteenth century the Devil reached the acme of his influence...." [Carus, 282] Of course, this was before the invention of the printing press, so the written accounts from this period are scarce compared to the seventeenth century when anyone with a pen and a clerical education could publish a book in God's honor. But we do have some writings from this period besides those of Thomas Aquinas.

Yet, we should probably start with Aquinas. His theory of incubi and succubi reflects a widely held view of the time. The devil is everywhere and he has a potent sex drive. Any person or animal you meet could be the devil in disguise. Other writings give testimony to the pervasiveness of satanic superstition which emerged in full force during the thirteenth century. It had been growing for centuries, but it peaked in the thirteenth century. In 1211, Tilberiensis explains nightmares as caused by the devil [Carus, 283] Caesarius von Heisterach (died about 1245) writes of Satan as the cause of thunder-storms, hail-storms, inundations, diseases, unexpected noises, the rustling of leaves. Satan appears "as a bear, a monkey, a toad, a raven, a vulture, a gentleman, a soldier, a hunter, a peasant, a dragon, and a negro." [Carus, 284] Caesarius's work is called Dialogus Miraculorum; it was written mainly for instructing young monks. It presents in detail the many superstitious beliefs about Satan pervasive in the thirteenth century.

In my view, Satan was at his peak when his influence was felt by nearly everyone; when his presence in the world was an acknowledged fact; when he became a major player in the daily lives of everyman. That happened in the thirteenth century. The persecution of heretics and witches continued for over four hundred years. The Protestant Reformation did not protest either, nor did it reform these practices. The Protestants did not initiate them but, when they had their chance, they equalled or surpassed the Catholics in ferocity and zeal.

My opinion is that the ferocious persecutions of heretics and witches from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries is symbolic of the waning power of the Church. It was losing its magic, literally. Satan's magic had to be fought with diabolical weapons. In my view, it was not the last witch trial or heretic burning that signalled the end of the Christian era of power. A more symbolic event might be picked, such as, putting lighting rods on the tops of church steeples. Churches resisted for years because, as everyone knows, lightning is caused by the magic of God or Satan. If God zaps the church or let's the devil do it, there must be a divine reason for it. Prayers and incantations should be enough to fight off Satan. I'll finish with a quote from Jones:

It was long before the churches consented to be protected by the heretical tool [known as the lightning rod]. The tower of St. Mark's in Venice had at the time of Franklin's invention been struck again and again by lightning, sometimes with such disastrous effects that it had been almost destroyed. The Almighty, or alternatively the Powers of Darkness, seemed to have singled it out for special punishment, in spite of the angel that adorned its summit, the consecrated bells which were repeatedly rung to drive away the thunder, the holy relics in the cathedral nearby and the processions of the Virgin and the patron saint. The tower was struck again in two successive summers after the lightning rod was introduced in Italy, whereupon the authorities succumbed and a rod erected. The edifice has never been struck since, but God alone has received the thanks of a grateful people. [Jones, 295]

I guess we can say that, for some people, faith is stronger than the lightning rod.

p.s. My opinions may differ from yours, but I think I have most of the facts right.

Fillipo Neri's reply

You are, of course, right about the gothic cathedrals being mostly built (in France) in the 11th and 12th century. But I would say that the the "age of the cathedral" extends from about 950 to about 1450. The subtitle of C. Wilson's book "The Gothic Cathedral" is "The Architecture of the Great Church, 1130-1530". Gothic Cathedrals in Italy were built starting in the 13th century: most of the 12th century cathedrals there were still Romanesque. For instance, the Assisi cathedral, arguably the second most important, in Italy, after S. Peter (and a great example of Italian gothic art) was started in 1228. Another example is S. Croce in Florence. Both Assisi and S. Croce are Franciscan cathedrals. Since St. Francis died in 1226 it is obvious that all churches named after him are 13th century or later! In many Italian and several other cities (including Santa Fe, NM), the cathedral is named "St. Francis". Your point about the influence of the eastern orthodox cult of Mary on the post-crusade cathedral building is certainly right. Another influence was the doctrine of the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist: it greatly increased the importance of the cathedrals. The doctrine of the Transubstantiation was affirmed in the first Canon of the great Lateran Council (the fourth) of 1215.

A third influence was the cult of the saints. St. Francis was, by far, the most important of them in the 13th century. My main point was about the prevalence of satanic panic and witch burning. I would say that, while belief in satanic possession was common, in fact mandatory (it is in the Bible!) during the middle ages, the large scale burning of witches was not. Satanic possession, during the middle ages was considered a disability, to be cured by exorcism, not a sign of guilt. It was not necessarily linked to heresy (which was a capital crime). Many important people were believed to have been fathered by Satan himself, not all of them bad people. Merlin is one that comes to mind. The speculations by Aquinas on the ways demons could produce offsprings with humans were just an attempt to explain popular beliefs. They were not the theoretical foundations for a systematic prosecution of witchcraft. The Malleus Maleficarum was a product of modern "malaise", not of scholastic theology, even though the authors were Catholics. Large scale witchcraft trials were most prevalent in northern Europe, mainly in Germany, during the period of the wars of religion. The peak was reached during the thirty years war, in the first half of the seventeenth century. They were not restricted to Protestant areas, but they were less common in catholic regions. In the solidly catholic countries of the south, Italy and Spain, witchcraft trials were relatively rare. The Spanish inquisition was not interested in witchcraft, mostly, but in heresy, apostasy and crypto Judaism and Islamism. It was an instrument for the ethnic cleansing of the Iberian peninsula after the Christian victory there. If you think about it, there was a strong ethnic influence in the "crusade" against the Albigensians.

The northern French barons went on rape-and-pillage expedition to the south. They did help create an unified, modern France. That kind of exercise had been common earlier, but in the 13th century some kind of excuse was needed, beside lust for blood and booty. The pope provided it. The person that profited the most was the French king, who was not directly involved in the expedition. In those times, most people were killed in God's name, never mind the real motives. The Albigensian "crusade" became a full scale war of conquest. Incidentally, the Spanish king of Aragon fought on the side of the southerners. The king of Aragon was not interested in heresy, but in keeping France divided. Eventually, the kingdom of Aragon became the target of a "crusade". But they survived it and that was the end of the "crusade" phenomenon. The Albigensians crusade is still an emotional subject, after 700+ years, even if we cannot really understand the reasons for it. It was the start of a sequence of events that greatly reduced the prestige of the papacy and eventually led to a split of Christianity. Terrible crimes were committed. For all the political machinations, there were deep ideological and theological reasons for the war. Innocent III wanted to help his French allies, but his horror for the Cathar heresy was real. The Satanic influence in Catharism was not a superstition, it was a "fact". The Manicheans explained the world as produced by two opposing gods, one good, the other bad. The two gods were equally eternal. So the good in the world was the product of the good god, the evil of the evil one. It was a simple, attractive theology. But it was anathema to the orthodox. For an orthodox Christian, it was natural, and not completely wrong, to believe that a Manichean was a Satan worshipper, because, in some sense, the Manichean believed in Satan as one of the creators.

In the case of the Cathars, the fact that they were honest and virtuous at a time the church was neither, was another problem. They had to be eradicated. It was not an irrational fear, but a real doctrinal and political struggle. And "Satan" was at the center of it. Cathars, or at least Manicheans, existed in many other places, including southern Italy. There the extreme efforts of the Inquisitors (they were Inquisitors in all but the name, as the Inquisition was officially founded in 1233, after the death of Innocent III, in 1216) managed to suppress the heresy without extreme loss of life. It was only in southern France that large scale massacres were perpetrated. This was because in Languedoc the Cathars had strong political support. The count of Toulouse protected the Cathars and even killed (maybe) a papal envoy, before being defeated (at Muret, in 1213). Incidentally, I am using Cathars and Albigensians interchangeably. I think Albigensians is the name of the sect (from a city), while Cathar (pure) was probably the generic name of an Albigensian preacher. I still think that mixing up two phenomena as different as the heresies of the 13th century and the Satanic panics and trials for witchcraft of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, is an error. That the Inquisition was not particularly interested in burning witches has been the position of catholic historians for centuries. The catholic position is now being rediscovered by mainstream history.

The best thing I can do is to quote in its entirety a passage from "The Civilization of the Middle Ages", by N. F. Cantor, professor of history at New York University. The quote, starting at page 425 of the Harper paperback edition (1994) (The highlights are, of course, mine): --BEGIN QUOTE-- "Contrary to widespread belief in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Inquisitors were, with few exceptions, not psychotic sadists who were insatiably seeking vengeance upon heretics through death penalties. The Inquisitors were normally well trained canon lawyers and frequently Dominican friars or members of another religious order. RECENT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT THEY WERE SUFFICIENTLY ASTUTE TO BE SKEPTICAL OF THE WITCHCRAFT CRAZE OF THE FIFTEENTH AND SIXTEENTH CENTURIES AND TO FIND THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST OLD WOMEN AND SIMILAR MARGINAL PEOPLE WHO WERE ALLEGED TO BE WITCHES TO BE WITHOUT SUBSTANCE. Therefore, the courts of the papal mandated Inquisition should never be considered in the same category as the Nazi holocaust or Stalinist purges. Surviving Inquisitorial records are sparse. But it is a good guess that even including the Spanish Inquisition of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which in a more Draconian fashion operated directly under the aegis of the Spanish crown rather than the papacy, THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO DIED AT THE HANDS OF THE CATHOLIC INQUISITIONS DID NOT EXCEED FIVE FIGURES AND PROBABLY DID NOT TOTAL MORE THAN TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE." --END QUOTE-- The Protestant "Inquisitors" were much less astute and they did mostly burn old women and other marginal people. The Roman Inquisition was executing a few tens of people a year, while in Germany thousands of innocent women were burned at the stake by Protestant (mostly) fanatics. The difference was that the men burned by the roman Inquisition are very famous, like Giordano Bruno, while the women burned in Germany are largely nameless. In conclusion, I mostly agree with your opinions, but some of the "facts" need more work. Try "Witchcraft in the Middle Ages", by J. B. Russel (Cornell University Press, 1972) and the more available book by Cantor, which has lots of basic information (but, unfortunately, no primary references).

reply: I'm not sure what "facts" you are referring to but I stand by my opinion that the reign of terror throughout Christendom and beyond by both Catholic and Protestant churches from the 13th through the 17th centuries exceeds the horrors of Stalin and Hitler....even if the death counts were significantly higher in the 20th century. I also stand by my opinion that it was when Satan became omnipresent in Christendom during the 13th century that Satan reached the peak of his power,and not during the Inquisition nor when the witchcraft trials peaked several centuries later. (Of course, I take it as a fact that Satan doesn't really exist. Maybe that is where we disagree.) Finally, I am fully aware that heresy, satanic possession and witchcraft are not identical. However, I think it would be a mistake to ignore the church's claim that satan was an influential cause behind heresies.

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