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AFTER the sect of the Pharisees among the Jews had become acquainted with the devil, some reasoners among them began to entertain the idea, that the devil and his companions inspired, among all other nations, the priests and statues that delivered oracles. The Sadducees had no belief in such beings. They admitted neither angels nor demons. It appears that they were more philosophic than the Pharisees, and consequently less calculated to obtain influence and credit with the people.
The devil was the great agent with the Jewish populace in the time of Gamaliel, John the baptist, James Oblia, and Jesus his brother, who was our Saviour Jesus Christ. Accordingly, we perceive that the devil transports Jesus sometimes into the wilderness, sometimes to the pinnacle of the temple, and sometimes to a neighbouring hill from which might be discovered all the kingdoms of the world; the devil takes possession, when he pleases, of the persons of boys, girls, and animals.
The Christians, although mortal enemies of the Pharisees, adopted all that the Pharisees had imagined of the devil; as the Jews had long before introduced among themselves the customs and ceremonies of the Egyptians. Nothing is so common as to imitate the practices of enemies, and to use their weapons.
In a short time, the fathers of the church ascribed to the devil all the religions which divided the earth, all pretended prodigies, all great events, comets, plagues, epilepsies, scrofula, &c. The poor devil, who was supposed to be roasting in a hole under the earth, was perfectly astonished to find himself master of the world. His power afterwards increased wonderfully from the institution of monks.
The motto or device of all these new-comers was, "Give me money, and I will deliver you from the devil." But both the celestial and terrestrial power
of these gentry received at length a terrible check from the hand of one of their own brotherhood, Luther, who quarrelling with them about some beggarly trifle, disclosed to the world all the trick and villainy of their mysteries. Hondorf, an eye-witness, tells us, that the reformed party having expelled the monks from a convent at Eisenach in Thuringia, found in it a statue of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, contrived with such art, that when offerings were placed upon the altar, the virgin and child bent their heads in sign of grateful acknowledgment, but turned their backs on those who presented themselves with empty hands. In England the case was much worse. When by order of Henry VIII. a judicial visitation took place of all the convents, half of the nuns were found in a state of pregnancy; and this, at least it may be supposed, was not by the operation of the devil. Bishop Burnet relates, that in a hundred and forty-four convents, the depositions taken by the king's commissioners attested abominations which those of Sodom and Gomorrah did not even approach.* In fact, the English monks might naturally be expected to be more dissolute than the inhabitants of Sodom, as they were more rich. They were in possession of the best lands in the kingdom. The territory of Sodom and Gomorrah, on the contrary, produced neither grain, fruit, nor pulse; and being moreover deficient even in water fit to drink, could be neither more nor less than a frightful desart, inhabited by miserable wretches too much occupied in satisfying their absolute necessities to have much time to devote to pleasures.
In short, these superb asylums of laziness having
It is but fair to observe, that suffering from a strong exertion of despotic power, these dissolute habits of the despoiled monks and nuns were systematically exaggerated by the tools of that power. Voltaire admits this with respect to the persecuted knights templars and others; and indeed this species of detraction has been the common policy of despotism and its satellites in all ages. With respect to the morality of the monasteries at this period, its odour was doubtless strong: and little reason existed then, and certainly none at all at present, for adding "perfume unto the violet."-T.
been suppressed by act of parliament, all the instru→ ments of their pious frauds were exposed in the public places; the famous crucifix of Brocksley, which moved and marched like a puppet; phials of a red liquid which was passed off for blood shed by the statues of saints when they were dissatisfied with the court; candlesticks of tinned iron, in which the lighted candles were carefully placed so as to make the people believe they were the same candles that were always burning; speaking tubes (sarbacans) which communicated between the sacristy and the roof of the church, and by which celestial voices were occasionally heard by ap parent devotees, who were paid for hearing them; in short, everything that was ever invented by knavery to impose upon imbecility.
Many sensible persons who lived at this period, being perfectly convinced that the monks, and not the devils, had employed all these pious stratagems, began to entertain the idea that the case had been very similar with the religions of antiquity; that all the oracles and all the miracles so highly vaunted by ancient times, had been merely the tricks of charlatans; that the devil had never had anything to do with such matters; and that the simple fact was, that the Greek, Roman, Syrian, and Egyptian priests had been still more expert than our modern monks.
The devil therefore thus lost much of his credit; insomuch, that at length the honest Bekker, whose article you may consult,* wrote his tiresome book against the devil, and proved by a hundred arguments that he had no existence. The devil himself made no answer to him, but the ministers of the holy gospel, as you have already seen, did answer him; they punished the honest author for having divulged their secret, and took away his living; so that Bekker fell a victim to the nullity of Belzebub.
It was the lot of Holland to produce the most formidable enemies of the devil. The physician Van Dale, a humane philosopher, a man of profound learn
In the second volume of this Dictionary.
ing, a most charitable citizen, and one whose naturally bold mind became proportionately bolder in consequence of his intrepidity being founded on virtue, undertook at length the task of enlightening mankind, always enslaved by ancient errors, and always spreading the bandage that covers their eyes, until at last some powerful flash of light discovers to them a corner of truth of which the greater number are completely unworthy. He proved, in a work abounding in the most recondite learning, that the devils had never delivered a single oracle, had never performed a single prodigy, and had never mingled in human affairs at all; and that there never had in reality been any demons but those impostors who had deceived their fellow men. The devil should never ridicule or despise a sensible physician. Those who know something of nature are very formidable enemies to all juggling performers of prodigies. If the devil would be advised by me, he would always address himself to the faculty of theology, and never to the faculty of medicine.
Van Dale proved then, by numberless authorities, not merely that the pagan oracles were mere tricks of the priests, but that these knaveries, consecrated all over the world, had not ceased at the time of John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ, as was piously and generally thought to be the case. Nothing was more true, more clear, more decidedly demonstrated, than this doctrine announced by the physician Van Dale; and there is no man of education and respectability who now calls it in question.
The work of Van Dale is not perhaps very metho'dical, but it is one of the most curious works that ever came from the press. For, from the gross forgeries of the pretended Histape and the Sibyls; from the apocryphal history of the voyage of Simon Barjonas to Rome, and the compliments which Simon the Magician sent him through the medium of his dog; from the miracles of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, and especially the letter which that saint wrote to the devil, and which was safely delivered according to its address;
down to the miracles of the reverend fathers the jesuits, and the reverend fathers the capuchins;-nothing is forgotten. The empire of imposture and stupidity is completely developed before the eyes of all who can read; but they, alas! are only a small number.
Far indeed was that empire at that period from being destroyed in Italy, France, Spain, the States of Austria, and more especially in Poland, where the jesuits then bore absolute sway. Diabolical possessions and false miracles still inundated one half of besotted and barbarised Europe. The following account is given by Van Dale of a singular oracle that was delivered in his time at Terni, in the States of the Pope, about the year 1650; and the narrative of which was printed at Venice by order of the government:
A hermit of the name of Pasquale, having heard that Jacovello, a citizen of Terni, was very covetous and rich, came to Terni to offer up his devotions in the church frequented by the opulent miser, soon formed an acquaintance with him, flattered him in his ruling passion, and persuaded him that it was a service highly acceptable to God, to take as much care as possible of money; it was indeed expressly enjoined in the gospel, as the negligent servant who had not put out his lord's money to interest at five hundred per cent was thrown into outer darkness.
In the conversations which the hermit had with Jacovello, he frequently entertained him with plausible discourses held by crucifixes and by a quantity of Italian virgin-marys. Jacovello agreed that the statues of saints sometimes spoke to men, and told him, that he should believe himself one of the elect, if ever he could have the happiness to hear the image of a saint speak.
The friendly Pasquale replied, that he had some hope he might be able to give him that satisfaction in a very little time; that he expected every day from Rome a death's head, which the Pope had presented to one of his brother hermits; and that this head spoke quite as distinctly and sensibly as the trees of Dodona, or even the ass of Balaam. He showed him the iden