The Spike or Victoria College Review October 1929
Concerning The Devil
Concerning The Devil
In ancient Judaism, imperfectly as we trace it through the holy books, there is no question of infernal powers. All that is good or bad, whatever be its nature, is attributed to God. He is the author of all things, and these ancient Israelites do not trouble themselves to establish moral distinctions in the sum-total.
The serpent of Genesis (chap. 3) as a form of the Devil, holds a considerable place in the mythology of Christianity, but, prior to the Babylonian exile Judaism never identified it with the Demon. The story was intended, apparently, to explain why man created immortal, became the prey of death. Thus it was imagined that in the Garden of Eden were two trees planted by the Creator, one bearing the fruit of life, the other the fruit of death. The serpent "more subtle than any beast of the field" persuaded Eve and through her Adam, to eat of the fruit of death on the pretext that it was of the tree of knowledge, and thus robbed them of immortality for the benefit of his own race. Among primitive people the serpent is believed to be immortal because it changes its skin. "Originally no moral element comes into this conflict where man is deceived by an astute animal, and the Devil has nothing whatsoever to do with the affair." (Professor Charles Guignebert).
In fact the last time that we meet Satan is in the Book of Job, where he suggests to Jehovah the idea of trying the disinterestedness and constancy of the holy man's piety and receives a mission to torment him. This no doubt is an occupation familiar to him since he calls himself the Adversary, but it does not imply the Adversary of God. He is not a demon for he takes his place among the Sons of God, who surround the throne and he carries out the caprices of Jehovah. He resembles the spirit who in Kings xxii led Ahab astray by uttering lies from the mouth of one of the King's prophets.
Then there gradually grew up in Israel the tendency to personify outside God the will to evil, at first one of the aspects of the sovereignty of Jehovah, then eventually excluded from his character.
At the time of the birth of Christ demons were felt everywhere. Josephus gives a large place to them in his writings. According to him all bad men become demons after their death and this, combined with the shocking fecundity of the she-devils, explains the swarms of evil spirits obstructing the Universe.
"Yet," says Professor C. Guignebert, "these devils have not been altogether unserviceable to men; for example, they have taught them to work with metals, the fabrication of arms, the care and artifice of adornment, and above all magic arts in all its forms." Thus the Devil, the supreme head of the demoniac army, becomes the Adversary of God, Satan, the embodiment of evil, and consequently the Tempter, the enemy of good in the world and in man, and the author of death.
He is specially dangerous since he can disguise himself in alluring page 26 shapes. St. Anthony nearly succumbed to him in the form of a beautiful woman, and Luther threw an ink well at him.
He deceives pagan nations, making them adore him under the guise of their stone and metal gods. Pan, the god of fecundity and wise, was identified by the early Christians with the Devil, and he is usually defected with goat-hoofs and horns and a shaggy beard.
Towards the end of the third century Manechaeism became so powerful as to be a serious rival to Christianity. This religion paid reverence to both God and the Devil on the principle that it costs nothing to be polite. It was originally peculiarly the religion of the Roman garrisons. "Soldiers may have espoused it rather than the rival faith because in the primitive ages Christian discipline denied them the sacraments on the ground that they were professional shedders of blood" (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
At any rate this heresy was only completely wiped out in the 13th century.
In the Middle Ages many peasants oppressed by the Lords spiritual and the Lords temporal, despairing of relief through Christ, tried a change of allegiance, and cults of Devil worshippers grew up. They were, no doubt, influenced by the relics of the archacic religions which still survived. The extermination of these obnoxious sects was to begin that mass hysteria of witch hunting and the estimate of the total number of victims is given by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as from 100,000 to several millions.
Now witches riding on broom sticks are only found in fairy tales, but devils still throw pots and pans about in spiritualist seances.