Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy

How the overemphasis on Christian mysticism from the sixteenth century onwards, and the reaction to it, removed Patristic literature from the public conscience.

Contemporary study of ecclesiastical literature has delegated most records to the realm of myths and legends; it is not reliable for any historical pursuit. Therefore, any serious study of the subject has been popularly abandoned.

How did this happen?

The story begins with the emergence of the Renaissance era, especially so in Italy. The Renaissance is a fundamental movement that started in fourteenth-century Europe and spread throughout the western world. Indeed, it is the framework we live by today. The revitalization sparked a renewed interest in classical learning, languages1, science, and literature.

The invention of the printing press, the fall of Constantinople to Muslim invaders which led to the emigration of Greek teachers and their valuable manuscripts, and the insatiable thirst for acquiring manuscripts, even by force, by luminaries such as Poggio Bracciolini, allowed for a greater expression of intellectual curiosity.

This intellectual freedom not only was found in some catholic circles such as Dante, and Erasmus, but became a cornerstone, and influenced the burgeoning protestant faith, especially those of Germany and England whose christian traditions and ways of thought have deeply influenced the English speaking world for centuries.

The correction against mystic rule

The ecclesiastical and political authorities during the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries were occupied with the works of the devil and intent on cleansing their society of any perceived evils. The ideal world was one that pursued holiness; questions of science, and explanations behind the forces of nature were matters of little importance. Their imagination ran wild with witches who flew on brooms during the Sabbath, demonic influences, possessions, exorcisms, people transforming into wolves, and hexes to name a few extravagances. This enthusiasm encouraged the authorities to rid themselves of such evils through tortures, and trials. These commonly led to purging by fire, or strangulation.

For more information the following works are recommended:

Lecky described a world where miracles and superstition had become seriously ingrained within the towns and cities:

Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.2

He saw no difference in the attitudes between either the Protestants or the Catholics on the subject.

Church authority and leadership, which was often the government at the time, was established through the confirmation of miracles. If God so sponsored such a divine activity in a person or institution, how could the general population or individuals question such an institution or person? It was as if going against God.

Mysticism on a personal level is not a problem, but a whole society cannot operate being run by mystics or mystical guidance. It was a source of severe psychological, emotional, and social damage with everyone involved; a tyranny of fear. The only way to bring about correction was to sever the connection with the foundation of miracles and the supernatural. In order to accomplish this, the ancient ecclesiastical texts had to be removed from their high authority.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) through his idea of miracles and it is hard to decipher a clear position because of his semantics and wordiness. He does reaffirm the mantra that miracles had ceased. Partly out of the abuses that he had witnessed, and the other was because most miracles, if examined with the proper apparatus and intelligence, would be found to be a natural phenomena.3

The great philosopher and physician John Locke (1632–1704) didn’t reject miracles altogether, but recognized the need for certain criteria to be met.

The eighteenth century English philosopher David Hume was one of the first to make such a clear attack against the abuse of miracles. He introduced a new structure based on reason in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. He included a methodology on defining miracles with little representation to that of religion.

The deletion of Patristic literature as a reliable source

When Conyers Middleton published Free Inquiry, he brought a death-blow to Patristic miracles and their authority. Middleton rallied that the miracles by the Church Fathers were dubious:

. . . and knowing no distinction between faith and credulity, take a facility of believing, to be the surest mark of a found Christian. Their arguments are conformable to their principles: for instead of entering into the merits of the cause, and shewing my opinion to be false or contradictory to any truth subsisting in the world, they think it a full confutation of it, to prove it contrary to the belief of the primitive ages, to the testimony of the ancient Fathers, and to the tradition of the Catholic Church: by the help of which venerable names, they insinuate fears and jealousies, of I know not what consequences, dangerous to Christianity, ruinous to the faith of History, and introductive of a universal skepticism. Terrors purely imaginary; grounded on error and prejudice ; which if suffered to prevail, would produce consequences more to be dreaded ; subversive of all true religion, as well as of every thing else, that is rational and virtuous among men.4

William Lecky described how deep the cultural shift changed towards Patristic writings after the conclusion by Middleton:

It is manifest that an attack of this kind opened out questions of the gravest and widest character. It shook the estimate of the Fathers which had been general, not only in the Church of Rome, but in a great degree among the ablest of the Reformers. In the Church of England especially, the Patristic writings had been virtually regarded as almost equal in authority to those of the inspired writers.5

. . . if the Fathers were in truth men of the most unbounded credulity and of the laxest veracity ; if the sense of the importance of dogmas had, in their mind, completely superseded the sense of rectitude, it was absurd to invest them with this extraordinary veneration. They might still be reverenced as men of undoubted sincerity, and of the noblest heroism ; they might still be cited as witnesses to the belief of their time, and as representing the tendencies of its intellect ; but their pre-eminent authority had passed away. The landmarks of English theology were removed. The traditions which it rested were disturbed.6

From this point onwards the Church Fathers were either ignored entirely or were reduced to a collection of stories, and legends.

Middleton’s arguments rested on a number of patristic writers. Five in particular were prominently displayed: Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenæus, Clemens of Alexandria and Tertullian.

He noted some inconsistencies with the texts:

There is such an uniformity in all the primitive accounts of them, tho’ given by different Fathers and in different ages, of the Devils being scourged, burned and tortured by the Christian Exorcists ; and of their howlings, discourses and confessions, that they all seem to have been cast in the same mould ; and to have been the copies of an original story, transcribed by the later writers from the earlier than the natural descriptions, of what each of them had severally seen, at different times, and in distant places.

This evolution leads to Germany and the example of Erwin Rohde who authored one of the greatest works on the pagan Greek religion called Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. He was a great classical scholar and monumental writer in the latter half of the nineteenth-century.

However, when one peruses his literary masterpiece the reference to ancient christian literature is noticeably absent. But then, Rohde is not the only one to ignore the patristic writers. This approach can be found in commentaries, theological works, and Greek dictionaries produced in this period onwards. For example, in a study to determine the ecclesiastical doctrine of tongues, which is based on the Greek word γλῶσσα, glôssa, the source-books severely limit the Patristic references to only seven. These seven are not the best selections from the corpus of works available on the topic. It makes the ecclesiastical writers appear silent on the topic. Instead, the majority of the source-books concentrate on finding a definition from Greek classical sources, sparingly utilizing any Patristic works to validate the classical claim. They do not let the term stand on ecclesiastical usage.

This rejection of ancient ecclesiastical literature has gone to excess. A better balance in coverage is required. The ancient church fathers should not be considered infallible or their records sacred, but should be valued as key-pieces of literature reflective of different epochs.

The decline of the study of Patristics cannot be restricted simply to the rise of rationalism but reduced also because of anti-catholic bias. For this reason it was a diminished genre in Protestant circles. For example, Isaac Taylor wrote in 1842 that the Nicene miracles should be rejected because they “were wrought chiefly, or exclusively, in attestation of those practices and opinions which the protestant churches have rejected as popish.”7

Mark Pattison, a Church of England priest who served as a rector at Oxford’s Lincoln College opined similar sentiments in the late 1800s:

In this protestant delineation, the church starts in the apostolic age in perfect purity, and is perverted by a process of slow canker, till it has become changed into its opposite, and is now the church not of Christ, but of anti-christ, an instrument not for saving men but for destroying them.9

David Hume made his case from philosophy in the late 1700s with his publication, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.10 and it evolved a century later to Germany where Erwin Rohde produced his highly praised work, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks.11 He along with many others supported Greek classical philosophy as the solution because it was untouched by religious dogma, institutions, subservience to myths, and allowed free inquiry. On this subject Rhode wrote:

This was the direction pursued by these earliest pioneers of philosophy ; and they pursued it unhampered by any subservience to mythical or religious modes of thought. . . . And in fact, the foundations were now laid of that tremendous structure of free inquiry, which finally succeeded in weaving out of its treasure new worlds of thought, where even those who had quarelled or were dissatisfied with the old religion (now inwardly falling into decay for all its outward appearance of being at the most brilliant zenith of its powers) might yet find a refuge if they would not fall back upon sheer nothingness.

. . . Religion on its side was not represented by any priestly caste which might have been led to take up arms for religion and for what it believed to be its own interest alike. Theoretic contradictions might the more easily remain unobserved when religion depended so little upon fixed dogma or upon a world-embracing whole of opinions doctrines ; while Theology, wherever it accompanied the worship of the gods (εὐσέβεια), which was the real core of religion, was, just as much as philosophy, the business of individuals and their adherents gathered together outside the limits of the official religion of the state. Philosophy (except in a few special and unrepresentative cases) never sought open war with religion–not even with the weakened and diluted religion of the masses. In fact the juxtaposition of philosophy and religion (with theology itself by their side) sometimes went beyond the external conditions of the time, and affected the private intellectual life of certain thinkers. It might seem as if religion and philosophy were not merely different but dealt with different provinces of reality, and thus even strict and philosophically minded thinkers could honestly and without imagining disloyalty to philosophy, adopt particular and even fundamental conceptions from the creed of their fathers, and allow them to grow up side by side and at peace with their own purely philosophical ideas.12

Click on the link to go to Part 2 More on the Historical Rejection of Patristics

Rohde's Psyche: The Cult of Souls

Erwin Rhode’s work, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks, stands above any other work in its genre. He covers the ancient Greek religion in such vivid detail and clarity.

Although his work is over one hundred years old, it has withstood the test of time. It is not a widely known work outside of scholastic circles, but it deserves more public praise.

Enclosed is Chapter 9 from Erwin Rohde’s Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks, (Books for Libraries Press 1972 edition, reprinted from the English translation of 1920. W.B. Hillis translator.)

Many commentators inevitably refer to Rohde when it comes to religion and ecstasy. A number of Greek dictionaries and commentaries refer to him as a primary source for defining the tongues of Corinth, although he himself does not plainly make this correlation.

This book is highly recommended for any student of ancient Greek literature.

The actual Copy




The Greeks received from the Thracians and assimilated
to their own purposes the worship of Dionysos, just as, in all
probability, they received the personality and worship of
Ares and the Muses. Of this assimilation me cannot give any
further particulars ; it took place in a period lying before the
beginnings of historical tradition. In this period a multiplicity
of separate tendencies and conceptions, freely mingled
with features borrowed from foreign creeds, were welded.
together to form the religion of Greece.

Homer is already acquainted with the fanatical worship of
Dionysos ; the god is called by the name under which Greek
worshippers made themselves familiar with the stranger.
But in Homer, Dionysos appears only once or twice for a
moment in the background. He is not the bountiful giver of
wine ; he does not belong to the Round Table of the great
gods assembled on Olympos. Nowhere in the story told in
either of the Homeric poems does he influence the life and
destiny of human beings. There is no need to seek far for the
reason of Dionysos’ subordinate position in the Iliad and the
Odyssey. Homer’s silence makes it quite plain that at that
time the Thracian god had not yet emerged from a position
of insignificance or merely local importance in the life and
faith of Greece. Nor is this hard to understand : the cult of
Dionysus only gradually won recognition in Greece. Many
legends tell of the battles that had to be fought by the new
worship and of the opposition that met the invader. We hear
how the Dionysiac frenzy and the ekstasis of the Dionysiac
dance-festival took possession of the whole female population
of many districts of Central Greece and the Peloponnese.
Sometimes a few women would venture to join the wandering
choruses of wild Bacchants who danced upon the mountain
tops ; here and there the king of the land would oppose the
progress of this tumultuous worship. Such stories are told of
the daughters of Minyas in Orchomenos, of Proitos in Tiryns,
of King Pentheus at Thebes, and Perseus at Argos ; their
opposition to the Dionysiac form of worship, occurring in


reality at no precise date, assumed at deceptive distinctness in
the artificial systems of the mythologists and developed
the character of historical events. In reality what we are told
of these individuals–how the opponents of Dionysos them-
selves fell into even wilder frenzy and in Bacchic delirium slew
and tore in pieces their own children instead of the victim-
animal, or (as in the case of Pentheus) became themselves the
victim slain and torn in pieces by the raging women–all this
belongs to the class of aetiological myth. They are legends in
which special features of worship (for example, the existing
or dimly remembered sacrifice of human beings at the feasts
of Dionysus) are provided with a mythical prototype in the
supposed historical past of mythology. and thus receive their
justification. Still, there remains a substratum of historical
fact underlying such stories. They all presuppose that the
cult of Dionysus arrived from abroad and entered into Greece
as something foreign. This presupposition notoriously
corresponds to the actual facts of the case, and we are bound
to assume that the account which they intermediately proceed to
give of the violent opposition which this cult, and only this
cult, met with in many parts of Greece, is not pure fiction.
We are obliged to recognize that such stories preserved a trace
of’ real historical memory expressed in the one form which
was invariably assumed by the earliest Greek tradition, namely
mythology, in which all the accidents and varieties of earthly
experience were condensed into types of universal applicability.

It was then not without opposition. it appears, that the
worship of Dionysos, descending from the north into Boeotia,
spread from thence to the Peloponnese and at an early period
invaded even some of the islands as well. In truth, even if
we had no evidence at all on the point, we should have
expected the Greeks to feel a profound repugnance to this
disorderly and tumultuous Thracian worship ; a deep-seated
instinct must in their case have resisted such extravagance
of emotional excitement and refused to lose itself in the limitless
abyss of mere feeling. This unchecked roaming over the
mountain sides in nocturnal revelry might be suitable enough
for Thracian women-folk, but respectable Greek citizens
could not give themselves up to such things without a struggle
–without, indeed, a break with all inherited propriety and
decorum. It seems to have been the women who were the
first to give into the invading worship, carried away in a real
frenzy of inspired enthusiasm, and the new cult may really
have owed its first success chiefly to them. What we are told
of the irresistible progress and widespread success of the


Bacchic dance-worship and its exaltation reminds us of the
phenomena which have attended similar religious epidemics
such as have in more recent times occasionally burst out
and overflowed whole countries. We may in particular recall
to mind the accounts which we have of the violent and wide-
spread dance-madness which, soon after the severe mental
and physical shock suffered by Europe in the Black Death of
the fourteenth century, broke out on the Rhine and for centuries
could not be entirely stamped out. Those who were attacked
by the fever were driven by an irresistible impulse to dance
The bystanders, in convulsions of sympathetic and imitative
fury joined in the whirling dance themselves. Thus the
malady was spread by contagion, and soon whole companies
of men, women, and girls, wandered dancing through the
country. In spite of the insufficiency of the surviving records,
the religious diameter of this dance-enthusiasm is unmistakably
apparent. The Church regarded it as a “ heresy”.
The dancers called upon the name of St. John or of “ certain
demons ”; hallucinations and visions of a-religions nature
accompanied their ecstasies. Can it have been another such
popular religious malady which attacked Greece-perhaps
in the train of the disturbance of spiritual equilibrium caused
by the destructive migrations which take their name from the
Dorians? The circumstances of the time must have
predisposed men’s minds in that direction and made them
ready to accept the Thracian Dionysos and his enthusiastic
dance-worship. In any case this invasion did not, like its
medieval counterpart, break down by coming into conflict
with a well-established religion and an exclusive ecclesiastical
organization of a very different temper from its own. In the
deceptive twilight of myth we can only dimly discern the
arrival and progress of the Dionysiac religion in Greece. But
so much at least is evident : the Bacchic cult, though it had
to overcome many obstacles, at last established itself in
Greece and triumphantly overran both mainland and islands,
until in the course of time it obtained a profound and far-
reaching importance in Greek life of which Homer could
scarcely give a hint.


It was no longer simply the old Thracian Dionysus who now
took his place beside the other great gods of the Greek Olympus
as one of themselves. He had become Hellenized and humanized
in the meantime. Cities and states celebrated him in
yearly festivals as the giver of the vine’s inspiring fruit, as


the daimonic patron of vegetation, and the whole of Nature’s rich and flourishing growth. He was worshipped as the incarnation of all natural life an vigour in the fullest and widest sense ; as the typical exponent of the most eager enjoyment of life. Even Art, the highest expression of the courage and pride of life, drew much of its inspiration ant is aspiration towards the infinite from the worship of Dionysos ; and the drama, that supreme achievement of Greek poetry, arose out of the choruses of the Dionysiac festival.

Now the art of the actor consists in entering into a strange personality, and in speaking and acting out of a character not his own. At bottom it retains a profound and ultimate connexion with its most primitive source–that strange power of transfusing the self into another being which the really inspired participator in the Dionysiac revels achieved in his ekstasis The essential features of the god as he first arrived Greece from foreign lands, in spite of much alteration and transformation of the primitive type, were thus not entirely lost. There remained also, in addition to the cheerful festivity of the daylight worship of Dionysos, as it was celebrated more particularly in Athens, certain vestiges fo the old ecstatic worship which drove men and women over the mountains in nocturnal revelry. In many places there were still celebrated the trieteric festivals in which recurrent intervals the “ Epiphany ” of Dionysos, his appearance in the world of men and ascent from the underworld, was solemized by night. The primitive character of Dionysos the Lord of Spirits and the Souls of the dead–a very different figure indeed from the tender and delicate Wine-God of later times–was still obscurely present in many features of the Dionysiac festivals, in those of Delphi especially, but even to some extent at Athens too. The ecstasy and the violence, even the dark savagery of the ancient cult did not quite die out in the midst of all the refinements of Greek civilization ; recognizable traces of such things were preserved in the Nuktelia and Agrionia and in the various trieteric festivals that were offered to the god in many different localities. In Greece the awful god received the blood of human victims. Nor did the outward signs of delirious frenzy, such as the eating of raw flesh, the killing and tearing in pieces of snakes, entirely disappear. So little, indeed, did the Bacchic frenzy that could exalt and lift the worshipper to communion with the god and his train, disappear before the gentler attractions of the gracious wine-god and his festival, that the raving and “ possession ” which characterized the cult of Dionysos were


now actually regarded by foreign peoples as the essentially
Hellenic form of the worship of the god.

Thus, a sympathetic understanding of the orgiastic cult
and its tremendous capabilities lived on. The “ Bacchants ”
of Euripides still preserves for us a breath of its magic, a trace
of the enthusiasm and exaltation that overwhelmed the senses
and enthralled the will and consciousness of those who gave
themselves up to the powerful Dionysiac influence. Like an
irresistible current that overwhelms a swimmer or like the
mysterious helplessness that frustrates the dreamer, the magic
power emanating from the neighbourhood of the god took
complete possession of the worshipper and drove him whither
it willed. Everything in the world was transformed for him ;
he himself was altered. Every character in the play falls under
the spell as soon as he enters into the magic circle. Even the
modern reader who turns over the pages of Euripides’ poem
feels something of that strange power to subdue the soul
wielded by the Dionysiac mysteries and experiences in his
own person a faint reflection of these extraordinary states of

Probably as a result of this profound Dionysiac fever
which had once raged through Greece like an epidemic and
was liable to periodic returns in the nocturnal festivals of the
god, there remained in the constitution of the Greek people
a certain morbid weakness, a susceptibility to suddenly appearing
and as suddenly disappearing crises in which the normal
powers of perceiving and feeling were temporarily overthrown.
A few stray accounts have come down to us in which we read
how such brief attacks of passing insanity ran through whole
cities like an infectious disease. The Korybantic form of the
malady, which was religious in character and took its name
from the daimonic companions of the Phrygian Mountain
Mothcr, was a phenomenon quite well-known to doctors and
psychologists. Those affected by such fevers saw strange
figures that corresponded to no objective reality, and heard
the sound of invisible flutes, until at last they were excited
to the highest pitch of frenzy and were seized with a violent
desire to dance. The initiation festivals of the Phrygian
deities were specially directed to the discharge and so eventually
to the cure and “ purgation ” of such emotional states ; the
means employed being principally dance and music -more
especially the music composed for the flute by the old Phrygian
masters ; music that could fill the soul with inspiration in
suitably disposed natures. By such methods the ecstatic
element was not simply suppressed or expelled, it was taken


up as a special disciplinary process by the physician-priesthood
who recognized in it a vital movement and added it to the
regular worship of the god.

In a similar fashion Greece in its most enlightened period
accepted and practised the “ enthusiastic ” cult of Dionysos.
Even the tumultuous night-festivals of’ the Thracian god-
festivals closely related to those of Phrygia from which they
had borrowed and to which they had given so many features-
were made to serve the “ purgation ” of’ the ecstatically
exalted soul. The worshipper in such festivals “initiated
his soul into the company of the god in holy purifications, while
he raged over the mountains in Bacchic frenzy”. The
purification consisted in this case, too, of violent excitement
in which the soul was stimulated to the highest pitch of
religious ecstasy. Dionysos as “ Bakcheus ” awoke the holy
madness which he himself again, alter it had reached its
highest point of intensity, stilled and tranquillized as Lysios
and Meilichios. The old Thracian cult of ecstasy has here
been modified in a fashion that belonged only to Greek soil
and to Greek modes of thought. Legend, allegorizing the
facts, threw back this final development of the Dionysiac
norship into the remotest antiquity. Even Hesiodic poems
related how the daughters of King Proitos of Tiryns wandered
in the holy frenzy of Dionysus over the mountain of Peloponnesesos,
until at last they and all the multitude of women who
had joined them were healed and “ purified ” by Melampous
the seer of Pylos famed in legend. The cure was effected
through the intensification of the Dionysizic frenzy “with
loud crying and inspired dancing,” and, further, by the use
of certain special purificatory devices. Melampous did not
put an end to the Dionysia cult and its “ enthusiasm ”;
he rather regulated and developed it. For this reason Herodotos
can even call him the “ Founder ” of the Dionysiac
cult in Greece. Legend, however, always recognized in this
“ founder ” of the Dionysiac festival an adherent of the
specifically Apolline form of religion. “ Apollo had favoured
him especially,” and bestowed upon him the Seership which
became ancestral in his family. Legend used him as a type
in which the reconciliation between the Apolline and the
Dionysiac was figuratively expressed. The reconciliation is
an historical fact, but it did not happen in the primitive past
of legend.

It is a fact, however, that Apollo did at last, doubtless after
prolonged resistance, enter into the closest alliance with this
remarkable divine brother of his, the Hellenized Dionysos


The covenant must have been made at Delphi. There at
least on the heights of Parnasos. in the Korykian Cave, the
trieteric festival of Dionysos was held every second year in the
close neighbourhood of Apollo the Lord of Delphi. Nay, more,
in Apollo’s own temple the “ grave ” of Dionysos was shown,
and at this grave, while the Thyiades of the god rushed over
the mountain heights, the priests of Apollo celebrated a
secret festival of their own. The festal year of Delphi was
divided, though unequally it is true. between Apollo and
Dionysus. To such an extent had Dionysus taken root at
Delphi, so closely were the two gods related, that while
the front pediment of the temple showed the form of Apollo,
the back pediment represented Dionysos-and the Dionysus
of the nocturnal ecstatic revels. Apollo, too. shared in the
trieteric festival of Dionysus, while Dionysos in later times
at the penteteric festival of the Pythia. received, as well as
Apollo, his share of sacrifice and the contests of cyclic choruses.
The two divinities have many of their titles and attributes
in common ; in the end the distinction between them seems
to disappear entirely.

Antiquity never forgot that at Delphi, the radiating centre
of his cult, Apollo was an intruder. Among the older deities
whom he supplanted there, the name of Dionysos also
occurred ; but the Delphic priesthood thought it wise to
tolerate the Thracian god and his ecstatic cult that at first
seemed so opposed to that of their own deity. Dionysos
may have been too vigorous a spirit to allow his worship
to lie suppressed like that of the Earth divinity who sent the
prophetic dreams. Apollo is the “ Lord of Delphi ”; but
the priesthood of the Delphic Apollo, following in this the
tendency to religious syncretism which is so recognizable
in them, took the worship of Dionysus under their protection.
The Delphic Oracle in fact introduced Dionysus into localities
where he had hitherto been a stranger, and nowhere so
successfully or with such momentous consequences as at
Athens. It was this promoting of the Dionysiac form of
religion by the great corporation which had the leadership
in Greece in all matters of religion that did more than
anything else to secure for the god and his worship that
found wide-reaching influence on Greek religion that
Homer, who knows little even of the Delphic Oracle, completely

But it was a gentler and more civilized Dionysos whom
Delphi popularized and even helped to re-shape ; the extravagance
of the ecstatic abandonment was pruned and moderated


to suit the more sober temper of ordinary city-life, and the
brighter, daylight festivals of urban and countryside worship.
Hardly a trace of the old Thracian worship of ecstasy and
exaltation is discoverable in the Dionysiac worship of Athens.
In other places, and especially in the districts ruled over by
the Delphic Apollo himself, Dionysiac worship preserved
more of its primitive nocturnal wildness. Even Athens, in
obedience to an oracular command, sent a religious embassy
of elected women to the Delphic Trieteria. It is plain enough
however, that in all this there was nothing but a dim counterpart
of the former tumultuous mountain-worship of the god,
and its profound soul-stirring ceremonies : the worship of
Athens and Delphi had reduced all that to a vague ritual

§ 3

But in spite of all attempts to moderate and civilize it
outwardly, the cult of Dionysus retained as its most enduring
feature a tendency to the ecstatic and the extravagant that was
continually breaking out in threatening or alluring guise.
So strong indeed was the ecstatic element in Dionysiac worship,
that when the Apolline and Dionysiac forms of religion became
united, as at Delphi, it was the Apolline worship–once so
hostile to anything in the nature of ecstasy–that had to
accept this entirely novel feature.

The “ prophecy of inspiration ”, deriving its knowledge
of the unseen from an elevation of the human soul to the divine,
was not always a. part of Greek religion. Homer, of course,
knows of the prophetic art,/em> in which specially instructed seers
explained such signs of the gods’ will as occurred accidentally
or were purposely sought out by men, and by this means
claimed to discover the will of heaven both at the moment
and for the future. This is, in fact, the sort of prophecy that
Apollo bestowed upon his seers. But the prophecy of
which there was no “ art ” and which “ no man could be
taught ” (for it came in a moment by “ inspiration ”)–
of this Homer shows no trace. In addition to professional
and independently working prophets the Odyssey, and even
the Iliad, too, are aware of the enclosed oracular institutions
belonging to the temple of Zeus at Dodona and that of Apollo
at Pytho. Both these used the names of the gods with
whose service they were concerned to increase the effect and
the credit of their utterances. In the Odyssey (but not the
Iliad) there is at reference to the influence wielded by the oracle
of Apollo in the more important circumstances of a people’s


life. But whether at that time it was an inspired prophetess
who gave replies at Delphi we cannot he sure from the poet’s
words. There must have been oracles of Sortilege at that
place from an early period under the protection of the god
and it is these we should naturally expect a poet to mean who
nowhere shows any knowledge of the striking phenomena
of ecstatic mantike.

In any case this new mantike of inspired prophets, which
subsequently enjoyed such enormous development and gave
the Delphic oracle such peculiar power, was a late-coming
innovation in the Apolline cult. Over the chasm in the rock
at Pytho, out of which arose a strange and potent vapour
from the depths of the earth, there had once existed an oracle
of Gaia at which perhaps inquirers had received their instruction
through the means of premonitory dreams by night.
The earth-goddess was displaced by Apollo here as at many
other oracular sites. The accuracy of this tradition is
confirmed by the Delphic temple legend which speaks of the
overthrow of the oracular earth-spirit Python by Apollo.
The change may have been gradually wrought about ; in
any case, where once the earth-divinity had spoken directly
in dreams to the souls of’ men, there Apollo now prophesied–
no longer indirectly through the intervening medium of signs
and omens, but directly answering those who, in open-eyed
wakefulness, inquired of him, and speaking to them out of
the mouth of his ecstatically inspired prophetess.

This Delphic prophecy of inspiration is as far removed from
the old Apolline art of interpreting omens as it is closely
allied to the mantike which we found attached from the earliest
times to the Thracian cult of Dionysos. It appears that in
Greece Dionysios but rarely obtained an official priesthood
that could have organized or maintained a permanent oracular
institute attached to a particular place or temple. In the
one Dionysiac oracle in Greece, however, of winch we have
certain knowledge a priest gave prophecies in a state of
“ enthusiasm ” and “ possession ” by the god. Enthusiasm
and ecstasy are invariably the means of the Dionysiac prophecy
just as they were the means of all Dionysiac religious
experience. When we find Apollo in Delphi itself-the place
where he most closely allied himself with Dionysos-deserting
his old omen-interpretation and turning to the prophecy of
ekstasis, we cannot have much doubt as to whence Apollo
got this new thing.

With the mantic ekstasis

, Apollo received a Dionysiac
element into his own religion. Henceforward, he, the cold,


aloof, sober deity of former times, can be addressed by titles
that imply Bacchic excitement and self-abandonment. He is
now the “ enthusiastic ”, the Bacchic god : Aeschylus strikingly
calls him “ ivy-crowned Apollo, the Bacchic-frenzied prophet ”.
It is now Apollo, who more than any other god, calls
forth in men’s souls the madness that makes them clairvoyant
and enables them to know hidden things. At not a
few places there are founded oracular sites at which priests
or priestesses in frenzied ecstasy utter what Apollo puts into
their mouths. But the Pythian oracle remained the pattern
of them all. There, prophecy was uttered by the Pythia,
the youthful priestess who sat upon the tripod over the earth-
chasm and was inspired by the intoxicating vapour that arose
from it, until she was filled with the god, and with his spirit.
The god, so ran the belief, entered into the earthly body; or
else the soul of the priestess, “ released ” from her body,
received the heavenly revelation with spiritual sense. What
she then “ with frenzied mouth ” proclaimed, that the god
spoke out of her ; when she said “ I Apollo was speaking
of himself and of what concerned him.” It is the god who
lives, thinks, and speaks in her so long as the madness lasts.


A profound and compelling tendency of the human mind
must have been the source of the great religious movement
that could succeed in establishing, with the ecstatic prophecy of
the Delphic priestess, a seed of mysticism in the very heart
of Greek religion. The introduction of ekstasis into the
ordered stability of the Delphic mode of religion was only a
symptom of that religious movement and not its cause.
But now, confirmed hy the god himself, and by the experience
which the mantic practice seemed to make so evident, the
new belief, so long familiar to Dionysiac religion and worship,
must have at last invaded the older and original type of Greek
religion, and taken hold of it in spite of that religion’s natural
antipathy to anything of the kind. And this belief was that
a highly exalt state of feeling could raise man above the
normal level of his limited, everyday consciousness, and
could elevate him to heights of vision and knowledge
unlimited ; that, further, to the human soul it was not denied,
in very truth and not in vain fancy, to live for a moment
the life of divinity. This belief is the fountain-head of all
mysticism, and tradition still records a few traces of the way
in which it grew and spread at that time.


It is true that the formal and official worship of the gods in
Greece (where their cults were not obviously affected by foreign
influence) remained as fast-bound as ever within the confines
of order and lucidity. We hear very little of the entrance of
ecstatic exaltation into the constitution of the older cults.
The irresistible religious impulse to such things found an
outlet through other channels. Men and women began to
appear who on their own initiative began to act as intermediaries
between the gods and the needs of individual men.
They were natures, we must suppose, of unusual susceptibility
to “ enthusiastic ” exaltation ; having a strange capacity for
projecting themselves into the infinite. Nothing in the
organization of Greek religion prevented such men and
women, if they could not obtain authority from any religious
community of the state itself, from acquiring a real influence
in religious matters simply from their own experience of
divine favour, their own inward communion with divine

In the darkness and ferment of this period of growth, from
the eighth to the sixth centuries, we can vaguely discern many
such shadowy figures ; they look uncommonly like those
strange products of the earliest infancy of Christianity when
prophets, asectics, and exorcists wandered from land to land,
called to their work by nothing but the immediate grace of
god (span class=”greek”>χάρισμα), and not attached to any permanent religious
community. It is true that what we hear of Sibyls and
Bakides–men and women who wandered from land to land
prophesying the future, independently of and uncommissioned
by any particular oracular institute–is mostly legend ; but
these are the sort of legends that preserve real historical
tradition condensed into single types and pictures. The
nomenclature itself tells us much ; Sibyls and Bakides are not
individual names, but titles belonging to various types of
ecstatic prophet, and we are entitled to suppose that the
types so named once existed. The appearance in many places
of Greek Asia Minor and the old mainland of Greece of such
divinely inspired prophets is among the distinguishing marks
of a clearly defined period in Greek history ; the age of
promise that came immediately before the philosophic period
of Greece. The later age, entirely given up as it was to the
pursuit of philosophic enlightenment, made so little claim to
the inheritance in their own time of the divine favour that
had once enabled the Sibyls and Bakides to see their visions
and utter their wisdom, that there actually began to appear
in large numbers prophets at second-hand, who were satisfied


with preserving the traditional wisdom of the inspired
prophets of the past, and with the judicious interpretation
of their treasures. The age of enthusiastic prophets was
evidently a thing of the past. The very literature of Sibylline
and Bakid oracles, which began to appear just at that time
and showed itself capable of an almost indefinite extension,
was itself largely responsible for the veil of myth and legend
which completely enveloped the original bearers of the
prophetic title. Earlier and earlier became the historic
events of the past which they had foretold ; further and
further into the mythical past, before the time of the events
prophesied, receded the imaginary period of the great prophets.
In spite of which the scientific chronologists of antiquity,
who were far from being imposed upon by the delusive anticipations
of prophetic poems, found reason for fixing the date
of particular Sibyls–which means for our purpose the whole
prophetic age of Greece–in the fully historical period of the
eighth and seventh centuries.

We may recognize, in what we hear of these prophets, the
shadowy representatives of a once real and living past ; they
are reminiscences of a striking and therefore never quite
forgotten phase of Greek religious life. The Bakids and Sibyls
were independent agents–though not entirely without connexion
with the regular worship of the gods, they were
not attached to any particular temple–who wandered from
land to land according to the needs of those who sought their
counsel. In this respect, at least, they resembled the Homeric
amen-interpreters, and continued their work ; but they
differed from them profoundly in the mode of their prophesying.
They were “ seized by the god ” and in ecstatic
clairvoyance saw and proclaimed unseen things. It was
no academic skill that they possessed, enabling them to
interpret the meaning of signs and omens that anyone could
see–they saw what was visible only to God and to the
soul of man filled with God. In hoarse tones and wild words
the Sibyl gave utterance to what the divine impelling power
within her and not her own arbitrary fancy suggested ;
possessed by the god, she spoke in a divine distraction. An
echo of such daimonic session, and of the horrible reality
and terror that it had for the possessed, can still be heard in
the cries and convulsions which Aeschylus in the Agamemnon
gives to his Kassandra–a true picture of the primitive
Sibyl, and a type that the poets of that prophetic
generation had reflected backwards into the earlier past of



The activity of the seer was not confined to foreseeing and
foretelling the future. We hear of a “ Bakis ” who “ purified ”
and delivered the women of Sparta from an attack of
madness that had spread like an epidemic among them.
The prophetic age of Greece must have seen the origin of what
later became part of the regular duties of the “ seer ” ; the
cure of diseases, especially those of the mind ; the averting
of evil of every kind by various strange means, and particularly
the supply of help and counsel by “ purifications ” of a
religious nature. The gift or art of prophecy, the purification
of “ the unclean ”, the healing of disease, all seem to be
derived from one source. Nor can we be long in doubt as to
what the single source of this threefold capacity must have
been. The world of invisible spirits surrounding man, which
ordinary folk know only by its effects, is familiar and accessible
to the ecstatic prophet. the Mantis, the spirit-seer. As exorcist
he undertakes to heal disease ; the Kathartic process is
also essentially and originally an exorcism of the baleful
influences of the spirit-world.

The wide popularity and elaboration given to the notion–
hardly hinted at as yet in Homer–of the universally
present menace of “ pollution ” which is only to be averted
or got rid of by means of a religious process of purification–
this is one of the chief distinguishing features of the over-
anxious piety that marked the post-Homeric age when men
could no longer be content with the means of salvation
handed down to them by their fathers. If we confined our
attention to the fact that now we find purification required
for such actions as murder and the spilling of blood which
seem to imply at moral stain to the doer of’ them, we might be
tempted to see in the development of Kathartic practices a
fresh step in the history of Greek ethics, and to suppose
that the new practices arose out of a refinement and deepening
of the “ conscience ” which now desired to be free from the
taint of “ sin ” by the help of religion. But such an interpretation
of Katharsis (favourite as it is) is disposed of by a consideration
of the real essence and meaning of the thing. In
later times the methods of Katharsis were nearly always in
competition and conflict (rarely in friendly alliance) with “ conscience ”,
with the independently developed ethical thought
that based itself upon the unchanging requirements of a moral
law transcending all personal will and feeling, and even the
will of daimonic powers. In its origin and essence Katharsis


had nothing whatever to do with morality or with what we
should call the voice of conscience, On the contrary, it
usurped the place which in a more advanced and morally
developed people would have belonged to a true morality
based on an inner feeling for what is right. Nor did it fail
to hinder the free and unfettered development of such a
morality. Kathartic practices required and implied no feeling
of offence, of personal guilt, of personal responsibility. All
that we know of these practices serves to bring this out and
set the matter in a clearer light.

Ceremonies of “ purification ” accompany every step of
a man’s life from the cradle to the grave. The woman with
child is “ unclean ” and so is anyone who touches her ; the
new-born child is unclean ; marriage is fenced about with
a series of purificatory rites ; the dead, and everything that
approaches them, are unclean. Now, in these instances of
the common and almost daily occurrence of purification
ceremonies, there can be no moral stain involved that requires
to be washed off, not even a symbolical one. Equally little
can there be any when ritual purifications are employed
after a bad dream, the occurrence of a prodigy, recovery
from illness, or when a person has touched an offering made to
deities of the lower world or the graves of the dead ; or when
it is found necessary to purify house and hearth, and even
fire and water for sacred or profane purposes. The purification
of those who have shed blood stands on exactly the same
footing. It was necessary even for those who had killed a
man with just cause, or had committed homicide unknowingly
or unwillingly; the moral aspect of such cases, the guilt
or innocence of the doer is ignored or unperceived. Even in
the case of premeditated murder, the remorse of the criminal
or his “ will to amend ” is quite superfluous to the efficacy
of purification.

It could not be otherwise. The “ stain ” which is wiped
out by these mysterious and religious means is not within
the heart of man. It clings to a man as something hostile,
and from without, and that can he spread from him to others
like an infectious disease. Hence, the purification is effected
by religious processes directed to the external removal of the
evil thing ; it may be washed off (as by water from a running
:spring or from the sea), it may be violently effaced and obliterated
(as by fire or even smoke alone), it may be absorbed (by
wool, fleece of animals, eggs), etc.

It must be something hostile and dangerous to men that is
thus removed ; since this something can only he attacked by


religious means, it must belong to the daimonic world to
which alone Religion and its means of salvation have reference.
There exists a population of spirits whose neighbourhood or
contact with men renders then “ unclean ”, for it gives them
over to the power of the unholy. Anyone who touches their
places of abode, or the offerings made to them, falls under
their spell ; they may send him sickness, insanity, evils of
every kind. The priest with his purifications is an “ exorcist ”
who sets free those who have fallen victims to the surrounding
powers of darkness. He certainly fulfils this function when
he dispenses diseases. i.e. the spirits who send the diseases,
by his ministrations ; when he employs in his purificatory
ritual hymns and incantatory formulæ which regularly imply
an invisibly listening being to whom they are addressed ;
when he uses the clang of bronze instruments whose well-
known property it is to drive away ghosts. Where human
blood has been shed and requires “ purification ” the Kathartic
priest accomplishes this “ by driving out murder with
murder ” i.e. he lets the blood of a sacrificed animal fall
over the hands of the polluted person. Here, the purification
is plainly in the nature of a substitution-sacrifice (the animal
being offered instead of the murderer). In this way the
anger of the dead is washed-away–for this anger is itself the
pollution that is to be removed. The famous scapegoats
were nothing but sacrifices offered to appease the anger of the
Unseen, and thereby release a whole city from “ pollution ”.
At the Thargelia or on extraordinary occasions of need in
Ionic cities, and even in Athens, unfortunate men were in
ancient times slain or stoned to death or burnt “ for the
purification of the city ” Even the materials of purification
that in private life served to free the individual and his
house from the claims of invisible powers, were thought of as
offerings to these powers ; this is proved clearly enough by the
custom of removing such materials, when they had served
their purpose as “ purifications ”, to the cross-roads, and of
making them over to the unearthly spirits who have their
being there. The materials of purification so treated are in
fact identical with offerings to the dead or even with “ Hekate’s
banquets ” In this case we can see most clearly what the
forces are which Kathartic processes essentially aim at
averting. In them no attempt was made to satisfy a heartfelt
consciousness of sin or a moral sense that has become delicate ;
they were much rather the result of a superstitious fear of
uncanny forces surrounding men and stretching out after
them with a thousand threatening hands in the darkness.


It was the monstrous phantasies of their own imagination
that made men call upon the priests of purification and
expiation for much-needed aid and protection.


It is simply the invasion of human life by the sinister
creatures of the daimonic world that the clairvoyant mantis
is supposed to avert with his “ purifications ”. Among
these sinister influences Hekate and her crew are particularly
noticeable. This is without doubt an ancient product of
religious phantasy–though it is not mentioned by Homer
–which did not till a late period emerge from the obscurity
of local observance and obtain general popularity ; even then
it only here and there ceased to be a private and domestic
cult and reached the dignity of public city-worship. The
cult of Hekate fled the light of day, as did the wild farrago of
weird and sinister phantoms that surrounded her. She is
cthonic, a goddess of the lower world, where she is at home ;
but, more easily than other lower-world creatures, she finds
her way to the living world of men. Wherever a soul is
entering into partnership with a body–at birth or in child
bed-she is at hand ; where a soul is separating from a
body, in burials of the dead, she is there. Amidst the dwelling-
places of the departed, the monuments of the dead and
the gloomy ritual of their worship, she is in her element.
She is the queen of the souls who are still fast bound to the
upper world. It shows her deep-seated connexion with
the primeval worship of’ the dead at the household hearth,
when we hear of Hekate as dwelling “ in the depth of the
hearth ”, and being honoured together with the underworld
Hermes, her masculine counterpart, among the domestic gods
who “ were left to us by our forefathers ”.

This domestic cult may be a legacy from times when in
familiar intercourse with the lower world men did not yet
fear “ pollution ” therefrom. To later ages Hekate was
the principal source and originator of all that was ghostly
and uncanny. Men came upon her suddenly and to their
hurt by night, or in the dreamy solitudes of midday’s blinding
heat ; they see her in monstrous shapes that, like the figures
in a dream, are continually changing. The names of many
female deities of the underworld of whom the common
people had much to say–Gorgyra (Gorgo), Mormo. Lamia,
Gello or Empousa, the ghost of midday–denote in reality
so many different personifications and variations of Hekate.


She appeared most frequently by night, under the half-light
of the moon, at the cross-roads. She is not alone but is
accompanied by her “ crew ”, the hand-maidens who follow
in her train. These are the souls of those who have not had
their share of burial and the holy rites that accompany it ;
who have been violently done to death, or who have died
“ before their time ”. Such souls find no rest after death ;
they travel on the wind now, in the company of Hekate and
her daimonic pack of hounds. It is not without reason that
we are reminded of the legends of “ wild hunters ” and the
“ furious host ”, so familiar in modern times in many countries.
Similar beliefs produced similar results in each case ; perhaps
there is even some historical connexion between them,
These night-wandering spirits and souls of the dead bring
pollution and disaster upon all who meet them or fall into
their hands ; they send evil dreams, nightmares, nocturnal
apparitions, madness and epilepsy. It is for them, the
unquiet souls of the dead and Hekate their queen, that men
set out the “ banquets of Hekate ” at the cross-roads.
To them men consign with averted facts the remains of the
purificatory sacrifices that they may not come too close
to human dwelling places. Puppies, too, were sacrificed to
Hekate for “ purifications ”, i.e. “ apotropaic ” sacrifices.

Gruesome inventions of all kinds were easily attached to
this province of supernaturalism ; it is one of the sources
which, with help from other Greek conceptions and many
foreign creations of fancy, let loose a stream of anxious
and gloomy surreptitiousness that spread through the whole
of later antiquity and even reached through the Middle Ages
to our own day.

Protection and riddance from such things were sought at
the hands of seers and “ Kathartic priests ” who, in addition
to ceremonies of purification and exorcism had other ways of
giving help–prescriptions and recipes of many strange sorts
which were originally clear and natural enough to the fantastic
logic of superstition and were still credited and handed down
as magic and inexplicable formula after their real meaning
had been entirely forgotten. Others, again, were driven by a
fearful curiosity to attempt to bring the world of surrounding
spirits–of whose doings such strange stories were told in
legend–even closer to themselves. By magic arts and
incantations, they compelled the wandering ghosts and even
Hekate herself to appear before them : the magic power
forces them to do the will of the spirit-raiser or to harm his
enemies. It was these creatures of the spirit-world that


magicians and exorcists claimed to banish or compel. Popular
belief was on their side in this, but it is hardly possible that
they never resorted to deceit and imposture in making good
their claims.


The mantic and Kathartic practices, together with what
arose out of them, are known to us almost exclusively as they
were in the time of their decay. Even in the brief sketch
just attempted of this notable by-way of Greek religion,
many details have had to be taken from the accounts left
to us by later ages that had quite outgrown the whole idea
of mantic and Kathartic procedure. Compared on the one
hand with science, seriously engaged in studying the real and
inward sources of being and becoming throughout the world.
together with the limitations of man’s estate, and on the
other hand with the practical and cautious medical study
of the physical conditions of human life in health and sickness,
the mantic and Kathartic practices and all the myriad
superstitious arising from them seemed like a legacy from a
forgotten and discredited past. But such things persisted
in many circles of old-fashioned and primitive-minded people,
though by the emancipated and cultured they~were despised
as the silly and dangerous quackery of mendicant priests and

But this product of the religious instinct cannot always
have appeared in such a light ; it certainly was not so regarded
when it first came into prominence. A movement that was
zealously taken up by the Delphic oracle, which influenced
many Greek states in the organization of their religious
cults, must have had a period when its right to exist was
incontestable. It must have answered to the needs of a time
when the dawning sense of the profound unity and inter-connexion
of all being and becoming in the world still contented
itself with a religious explanation of what seemed mysterious,
and when a few chosen natures were seriously credited with
the power to communicate with the all-embracing spirit-world.
Every age has its own ideal of Wisdom ; and there
came a time when the ideal of the Wise Man, who by his own
innate powers has achieved a commanding spiritual position
and insight, became embodied in the persons of certain great
men who seemed to fulfil the highest conceptions of wisdom
and power that were attributed to the ecstatic seer and priest
of purification. The half-mythical stories in which later
ages preserved the memory of the times lying just before the


age of the philosophic exploration of nature tell us of certain
great masters of a mysterious and occult Wisdom. It is true
that they are credited with powers over nature of a magical
kind rather than with a purely intellectual insight into the
laws of nature; but even in the scanty accounts of them
which have come down to us there are clear indications that
their work already included the tirst attempts at a mode of
study based on theory. We cannot call them philosophers–
not even the forerunners of Greek philosophy. More often
their point of view was one which the real philosophic impulse
towards self-determination and the freedom of the soul
consciously and decisively rejected, and continued to reject,
though not indeed without occasional wavering and back-
sliding. These men must be counted among the magicians
and exorcists who so often appear in the earliest dawn of the
spiritual history of civilized nations, and, as primitive and
marvellous types of the spirit of inquiry, precede the philosophers.
They all belong to the class of ecstatic seers and
Kathartic priests.

Legend related how, out of the country of the Hyperboreans.
that distant Wonderland where Apollo hid himself in winter.
there came to Greece one Abaris, sent by the god himself. He
was a saint and needed no earthly food. Carrying in his hand
the golden arrow, the proof of his Apolline origin and mission,
he passed through many lands dispelling sickness and pestilence
by sacrifices of a magic kind, giving warning of earthquakes
and other disasters. Even in later times prophecies
and “ purifications ”, going under his name, were still to be
read. –This man, and also another like him, called Aristeas,
were already mentioned by Pindar. Aristeas, a man
of high rank in his native city of Prokonnesos, had the magic
gift of prolonged ekstasis. When his soul left his body behind,
being seized by Phoibos, it (as his second self made visible)
was seen in distant places. As Apollo’s attendant he also
appeared together with the god in Metapontum. A bronze
statue in the market-place of that city remained to testify
to his presence there, and to the astonishment awakened
by his inspired utterances. But among all these examples
of the type, Hermotimos of Klazomenai is the most striking.
His soul could desert his body “ for many years ”, and on its
return from its ecstatic voyages, brought with it much mantic
lore and knowledge of the future. At last, enemies set fire
to the tenantless body of Hermotimos when his soul was
away. and the latter returned no more.

The greatest master of all these magically gifted men was,


according to tradition, Epimenides. His home was in Crete.
an ancient centre of Kathartic wisdom, where Epimenides
was instructed in this lore as an adherent of the cult of
the underworld Zeus. Through a mist of legend and fable
we hear of his prolonged stay in the mysterious cave of Zeus
on Mt. Ida, his intercourse with the spirits of the darkness,
his severe fasting, the long ecstasy of his soul, and his
final return from solitude to the light of day, much experienced
and far-travelled in “ enthusiastic wisdom ”. Next he
journeyed through many lands bringing his health-giving
arts with him, prophesying the future as an ecstatic seer,
interpreting the hidden meaning of past occurrences, and as
Kathartic priest expelling the daimonic evils that arose from
specially foul misdeeds of the past. The Kathartic activity of
Epimenides in Delos and other Greek cities was famous.
It was in particular never forgotten how in Athens at the end
of the seventh century he brought to a satisfactory close the
expiation of the godless murder of the followers of Kylon.
With potent ceremonies of which his wisdom alone knew the
secret, with sacrifice of animals and men, he appeased the
anger of the offended spirits of the depth who in their rage
were “ polluting ” and harming the city…

It was not without reason that later tradition, undeterred
by questions of chronological possibility, brought all the names
just mentioned into connexion with Pythagoras or his adherents,
and was even accustomed to refer to Pherekydes of
Syros, the latest of the band, as the teacher of Pythagoras.
The practice, if not the philosophy, of the Pythagorean sect
grew up among the ideas and what may be called the teaching
of these men. and belongs to the epoch which honoured them as
Wise Men. We still possess a few scraps of evidence to show
that the conceptions guiding their life and work tended to
reach some sort of unification in the minds of these visionaries
who were yet something more than the mere practicians of a
magical species of religion. We cannot, indeed, tell how far
the fanciful pictures of the origin of the world of men which
Epimenides and Pherekydes drew were connected with
the business and professional activity of these men ; but
when it is related of Hermotimos that he, like his countryman
Anaxagoras, attempted a distinction between pure “ mind ”
and matter, we can see very clearly how this theory might
arise out of his special “ experiences ”. The ecstasies of the
soul of which Hermotimos himself and this whole generation
had such ample experience seemed to point to the separability
of the soul from the body–and, indeed, to the superiority of


the sou1’s essence in its separate state over that of the body–
as to a fact of the most firmly established authenticity. In
contrast with the soul the body could hardly help appearing
as an encumbrance, an obstacle to be got rid of. The conception
of an ever-threatening pollution and “ uncleanness ”
which was nourished by the teaching and activities of those
innumerable purification-priests of whom Epimenides is
known to us as the supreme master, had gradually so penetrated
the whole of the official religion itself with purification-
ceremonies that it might very well have seemed as though.
in the midst of this renovation and development of a type of’
religious thought that had been more than half forgotten in
the Homeric period, Greek religion was fast approaching
the condition of Brahmanism or Zoroastrianism and becoming
essentially a religion of purification. Those who had become
familiar with the contrast between body and soul, especially
if they lived in the atmosphere of Kathartic ideas and their
practical exercise, were almost bound to proceed to the idea
that even the “soul ” required to be purified from the polluting
embarrassment of the body. That such ideas were almost a
commonplace is shown by many stories and turns of
phrase which represent the destruction of the body by fire
as a “ purification ” of the man himself. Wherever these
ideas–the precise opposite and contrary of the Homeric
conception of the relation between body and soul-image–
had penetrated more deeply they must have led to the idea
that even in the lifetime of the body the purification of
the soul should be prepared by the denial and inhibition of
the body and its impulses. The first step was thus taken
towards a purely negative system of morality, not attempting
the inner reformation of the will, but aiming simply at averting
from the soul of man a polluting evil threatening it from without
–in fact to a morality of religious asceticism such as later
became such an important and decisive spiritual movement in
Greece. In spite of all the inadequacy of our information about
these Wise Men of the early pre-philosophic period, we can still
dimly make out the fact that their natural bent lay in this
ascetic direction (the abstention from food practised by Abaris
and Epimenides are distinct cases of it). How far exactly,
they went in this direction is indeed more than we can say.

Thus, the ascetic ideal was not absent even from Greece. It
remained, however–in spite of the influence it had in some
quarters–always a foreign thing in Greece, having its obscure
home among sects of spiritualistic enthusiasts, and regarded
in contrast with the normal and ruling view of life as a paradox,


almost a heresy. The official religion itself is not entirely
without the seeds of an ascetic system of morality but the
ascetic ideal, fully developed and distinguished from the
simple and normal religious attitude, was in Greece
found only among minorities who cut themselves off in closed
and exclusive conventicles of a theological or philosophical
temper. The “ Wise Men ”, as idealized in the legends of
Albaris, Epimenides, etc., were as individuals not far removed
from the ideal of asceticism. Nor was it long before the
attempt was made to use these ideals as the basis on which
to found a society.


The formatting of quote marks and spacing remains the same as the original. The copious footnotes supplied by Rohde have been omitted. If one wants to read the full copy along with the footnotes, the following options are available:

The contents were scanned using OCR software and the results are about 98% accurate, but there are some problems such as periods supposed to be a comma or quote marks not appearing in the right place or mixed with inch marks. If you find such an error, please contact me and forward the error so it can be corrected.

For more information:

  • For a printed version click here.

  • For an online digital version (payment required) click here.

  • Or you can go to your local university library, or use inter-library loan through a public library.

Dionysius Exiguus and the AD Calendar System

When the AD calendar system was created, by whom, and for what purpose.

The beginnings of the AD calendar system can be credited to Dionysius Exiguus. He was a sixth-century Scythian monk who lived in what is now known as Romania.

Ironically, his intent was not to create a new time-system, rather, it was expressly designed to allow all Churches throughout Christendom to celebrate Easter on the same day. Churches celebrating Easter on different days existed for centuries and was considered a major problem during his time.

In Dionysius’ description of a new calendar, he provided a graphic table, much similar to an Excel spreadsheet, with different reference systems to calculate Easter. Dionysius main concern was to fix the Easter rite correct for every year because the previous table was almost complete. The lunar cycle was of the utmost importance for calculating Easter and had to be correlated with the Julian calendar. In order to accomplish this, he had a 7-point system. Two of the more important ones to dating the birth of Christ were the indictions and the then accepted 19-year lunar cycle. The indictions were a 15-year cyclical taxation system first initiated by Julius Caesar in 48 B.C.1

One of the intents of Dionysius’ dating system was to totally eliminate the name of the Emperor Diocletian in any reference to a time chart. The AD first meant “Anni Diocletiani” which related to the beginning of his reign at 284 AD. Diocletian’s laws, persecutions and punishments against the Christian community were severe. So great was his persecution that Dionysius did not believe it was right to associate the acronym AD with his name and changed it. The following is found in his work, Liber de Paschate Praefatio.

Verily the holy Cyril began the first cycle from the 143rd year of Diocletian and ended in the 247th year, rather than commence by the leader in the 248th year from the Tyrant, we did not wish to include in our circle the memory of an impious and persecutor, but we chose above to mark the time from the year of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.2

The table devised by Dionysius began at 513 AD which was 229 years after the start reign of Diocletian. He marked the first 229 years as “Anno Diocletiani.” Then at 532 AD he changed the acronym to mean “Anni Domini nostri Jesu Christi.” His table ends at 626 AD with no reference to the reign of Diocletian.

It is not an easy read, as the variables he used are not contemporary ones.

The best place to start reading and understanding the Dionysius English text from especially a mathematical perspective is Michael Decker’s article, Nineteen Year Cycle of Dionysius. It is not the prettiest web page but full of important information.

For more information

What Year was Christ Born?

What year was Christ born? This may seem like a simple question but it is actually very complex.

It is not a problem of Biblical accuracy that the date is difficult to exactly come by but a problem of human dimensions.

The answer is found in understanding the ancient calendar systems along with their complex histories and reconciling them into a unified corpus. Along the way, one will see a picture of how our present calendar system came into being.

At the time of Christ’s birth, there was no universal time system. Actually, there have been well over 10 major time systems and many more regional ones used over the course of history to define Christ’s birth-year. The majority of these ancient systems are not the most accurate, consistent or in agreement with other calendars.

Here are a few of the more prominent ones which have had an influence on the calendar we use today.

The regnal time system. This is where time is calculated from the time a Roman leader took office. A good example can be found in Luke’s narrative of the birth of Christ ” In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) NIV. Another example can be found in the Bible as well. Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius. However, we don’t have accurate historical records when the census happened with Quirinius, and there is also invariably disagreements on when exactly a ruler began and ended his career such as gauging when the 15th year of Tiberius exactly occurred.

The popular first century historian Josephus avoided using this system exclusively and liked to use Olympiads associated with political events for his reckoning. An Olympiad is a time-system invented by the Greeks that ran in 4 year rotations. His political work on the middle-east is so detailed and close to the time of Christ, that it is the de-facto standard to dating the birth year.

He hardly wrote about Jesus and gave no time-frame when he did mention Christ. So many try to apply Christ’s birth-date according to the events of Herod’s life as illustrated by Josephus. This has its problems too.

Many of the Church Fathers preferred to date using the Adamic method, that is dating everything from what they believe was the creation of the world. This is sometimes called the Anno Mundi system or A.M. for short.

Then there is the Roman consular system which dates everything in relation to who were the consuls in Rome at the time. Problem is, not all the records consistently have these people dated.

Around 526 AD, the calendar system we use today had its origins. It was popularized by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus. He wanted to create a new time system that would no longer honour the wicked and cruel Roman emporer Diocletian. This was what the A.D. first stood for-Anno Diocletiani. He changed it to “Anni Domini nostri Jesu Christi” or A.D. for short.

See Dionysius Exiguus and the AD Calendar System for more info.

It was originally used for Easter calculations. It was not intended as a calendar system for daily living and was not accepted initially as a year time system either.

Many medieval Church Fathers preferred to date everything from the passion of Christ, but to the angst of the great 8th century theologian, the Venerable Bede, it was at least two years wrong.

Bede made a strong attempt using his skills in mathematics, astronomy, history, knowledge of regional calendars, and theology to reconcile the calendars into one cohesive system. At one point when he tried to publicly correct the Anno Mundi system, he got into a lot of controversy and was almost branded a heretic. In the end, he set a general basis with some minor variations for the calendar we have today.

He was one of the first authors to differentiate between before Christ and after in an A.D. type calendar system, though his abbreviations are not quite the same as ours.

See Bede on the Problem of 1 AD for more info.

As one delves even more deeper into the subject, it gets into astronomy, lunar phases, solstices, solar calculations and more. To make matters worse, since many of these calendars are based on lunar rather than solar, some years are 11 days shorter than others. So what they thought was March 21 may actually be March 10th or if the lunar calendar has been used for many years without any reconciliation with a solar one, it may be even more.

To top it off, not everyone was in agreement that the year started January 1st. Some thought it to start in March.

There are other calendars used such as the Roman indiction system (which operated on 15 year cycles), and Christian Arabs traced time from Alexander the Great. The Jews at one point, at least according to Bede, liked to use the 49 year Jubilee calendar system.

One must not forget the AUC method too. “Ad Urbe Condita”–from the founding of Rome. Annual times were calculated from the year that Rome was established.

“Modern historians use it much more frequently than the Romans themselves did.”1 Many contemporary writers use 753 AUC as the birth date of Christ. But there are debates with this one too as to what year one should begin dating from.

To top it all off, the mathematics was very primitive. The Romans didn’t use the numeral zero “0” in any calendar calculations. This modification came later. It makes this investigation all the more interesting.

Throughout all of these time systems there is a 2 to 5 to 10 year discrepancy that pops up in a different location with each system that effects accurately dating the birth-year. This is a challenge to figure out.

This is just an abbreviated form of the research done so far. The birth year of our Lord is an interesting journey into human time systems.

This is why this subject is looked into more detail than many others and is listed as a special project under the main menu. More posts will be coming…

The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues

A detailed account of the 19th century Irvingite Church and its founder Edward Irving; who they were, what they believed, and why they are considered the source of the modern tongues movement.

Edward Irving

Edward Irving was a Scottish clergyman in London, England during the 1830s. Pockets of England were in a period of prophetic expectation and excitement — a sense that the end was drawing near and the supernatural gifts of the original Apostles would return. Margaret Oliphant, one of the foremost biographers of Irving’s life, described this angst among her generation: “unclaimed and unexercised supernatural endowments, which had died out of use so long, would be restored only at the time of the Second Advent, in the miraculous reign, of which they form a fitting adjunct,”1 and “that the Holy Ghost ought to be manifested among us all, the same as ever He was in any one of the primitive Churches.”2

Irving had this same prophetic feeling and believed that when the Holy Spirit had been released for the end of the world, one of the significant expressions of this occurring would be through the appearance of supernatural tongues — the same manifestation described in the Book of Acts. Oliphant wrote that Irving and the movement found it fulfilled in a woman named Mary Campbell. Here is a portion of the description given by Oliphant:

“When in the midst of their devotion, the Holy Ghost came with mighty power upon the sick woman as she lay in her weakness, and constrained her to speak at great length, and with superhuman strength, in an unknown tongue, to the astonishment of all who heard, and to her own great edification and enjoyment in God, –’for he that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself.” She has told me that this first seizure of the Spirit was the strongest she ever had…”3

Another Biographer, Washington Wilks, remained more decidedly general on who started it and did not specifically ascribe it to Campbell:

“When therefore, in the spring of 1830, he heard of Scottish women speaking as did the Twelve on the day of Pentecost, he suspected no travestie of that wondrous story, but felt only hope and thanfulness. He despatched an elder to inquire into the thing, who brought back a good report, and found the tongues of flame sitting on his own wife and daughters,”4

Margaret Oliphant declared that Mary’s experience was the beginnings of the modern tongues movement, “It was thus that agitating and extraordinary chapter in the history of the modern Church, which we have hereafter to deal with, began.”5 She also added that the movement grew fast and became a national phenomenon, “There is not a corner of this part of the island where the subject of Prophecy and the Second Advent have not in the Church firm and able supporters.”6

Irving himself became very popular. On at least one occasion he spoke before 12-13,000 people.7 One Church he pastored began with 50 people and quickly went up to 1500.8 Seating became a problem and had to be resolved with the issuing of tickets.9

The concept of a tongues revival had become a top story in “every periodical work of the day,”10 and made its way into the then popular Fraser’s Magazine, where Irving was granted three articles on the topic. This helped to quickly expand this message.

Irving had a wide range of influence. Washington Wilkes described it best:

“The Duke of York repeated his visit, and carried with him other members of the royal family. …The parliamentary leaders of both sides, and even the Tory premier, Lord Liverpool (much to the lord Eldon’s horror)–the judges, and barristers of every degree–fashionable physicians and medical students–duchesses, noted beauties, city madams–clerics and dissenters–with men and women who rather followed the fashion than made particular to either intellect or religion…”11

It also extended to the philosophical arena, where he held a friendship with the philosopher/writer, Thomas Carlyle; an acclaimed figure when London was at its peak of world dominance.12 Carlyle’s community included people such as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Tennyson, John Stuart Mills and more.

What attracted Carlyle to the movement was not his longtime friendship to Irving or the Second Advent angst expressed in Tongues and Prophecy, but to “root out Established Churches altogether,”13 which was a reference to the Scottish National Church. Carlyle reflected the public wariness of this Church entity. This may have been part of the initial attraction with such a wide audience. When Carlyle wrote the obituary of Edward Irving in the Fraser’s magazine in 1834, he exclaimed how Irving opposed the fashion of the day and sought after the spiritual; an antithesis to was occurring in the Church during that era.

Irving’s end-time fervour, prophecy and gift of tongues became so popular that some reactionary forces began to develop. Andrew Drummond, author of Edward Irving and his Circle described that anti-Irvingite pamphlets were disseminated to counter Irvings theology and practices.14

The gift of tongues was central to Irving’s message, believing that this was the precursor to the end of the world. In Irving’s personal appearances and speeches, the emphasis on tongues-speaking was central to his platform. So much so, Thomas Carlyle had him nicknamed “gift-of-tongues Irving.”15

Over the years, Irving’s emphasis on tongues became a serious point of disagreement with Carlyle. To Carlyle, this was no longer an intellectual or religious pursuit, but a personal one that led Carlyle to believe Irving was mentally unstable. Carlyle described this state in some of his letters, “his body and mind seem much broken; yet if he could but live, we rather fancied he might shake off the Tongue-work.”16 And that he was overzealous with it, “the Tongue concern is quite out in this quarter: my poor lost Friend! Lost to me, to the world and to himself.”17 One night Irving demonstrated personally the gift of tongues to Carlyle and company, to which Carlyle wrote, “with singular calmness, [Irving] said only “There, hear you, there are the Tongues!” And we too, except by our looks which probably were eloquent, answered him nothing, but soon came away, full of distress, provocation, and a kind of shame.”18

His prominence as a national and international phenomenon was a short lived span of three to four years. Oliphant summed it:

“Never was congregation of Scotch Presbyterians, lost in the mass of a vast community, which never more than half comprehends, and is seldom more than half respectful of Presbyterianism, so followed by the observation of the world, so watched and noted. In the mean time, the mystic world within concentrated more and more around the only man who to bear the brunt, he whom the outside world accused of endless vagaries, whom his very friends declared to be seeking notoriety at any cost, and from whose side already the companions of his life were dropping off in sad but inevitable estrangement…”19

Wilks took on a different, albeit more populous conclusion:

“Fashion had gone, her idle way, to gaze on Egyptian crocodiles, Iroquois hunters, or what else there might be: forgetting this man–who, unhappily, could not in his turn forget.”20

The biggest question in relation to this work, relates to what Irving and his followers thought this gift of tongues to be. Mary Campbell initially thought herself to have miraculously spoken in the language of the Pelew islands, which M. Oliphant noted could not be authoritatively disputed.21 On at least one occasion it was believed to be Turkish or Chinese.22 The definition immediately became a source of discussion. For example, there was an account of a member of the Regent Square Church who argued that the gift of tongues was not a short-cut to missionary success;23 inferring that the gift of tongues was xenoglossolalia. This question also brought on the debate of whether a spirit-filled Christian really needed to perform the intensive process of studying a language, or wait for a spiritual infilling which would consequently render the spontaneous ability.

Robert Baxter, a close and controversial associate to Irving, initially believed it to be a foreign language, for when he spoke in tongues:

“of which he recognised Latin and French, both of which he appears to have understood previously; and Italian, which his wife recognised; and a fourth language, which she declared to be Spanish. Mr. B. forgets to state whether he had ever studied these latter languages, and he confesses that his wife neither remembered nor was able to translate what he spoke in them.”24

One must note that Baxter recanted on all that he had said or done later on, but the quote above still validly reflects what the common opinion was at the time.

Andrew Drummond also described in his book, Edward Irving and his Circle, that Irving had changed his position on the gift of tongues. It moved from the historic traditional position to that of a dual one. He made a distinction between the tongues of Pentecost and that of Corinth.

“The final article in Fraser’s Magazine appeared in April, 1832. He opens by claiming that tongue-speech was same form of utterance given at Pentecost; whereas in his March article he distinctly denied that glossolalia in his time was designed as a miraculous way of evangelising by languages unlearnt – Pentecost being unique and modern manifestations resembling rather those at Corinth.”25

It is clear here that Irving believed that the xenoglossolalia that occurred in the Book of Acts, was unreproducible. The question naturally arises then, what did Irving think was the tongues at Corinth.

Drummond once again supplied the answer, “Irving replied that he had not the least idea of the meaning of Tongues”, and “aspired to be no more than the humble pastor of the flock”.26 It is clear from both Oliphant’s history and especially Carlyle’s correspondence that tongues was integral to Irving’s religious experience. His “least idea” statement initially may lead the reader to believe that he was avoiding the definition, but in reality, it was an important part of his glossolalic doctrine which will be clarified in the following paragraphs.

First of all George Pilkington’s first-hand experience with Edward Irving and his followers documented a clue to his theology. Pilkington thought he was destined to be a tongues interpreter in Irving’s assembly but shortly discovered major problems. In his autobiographical writing, The Unknown Tongues discovered to be English, Spanish, and Latin; and the Rev. Edward Irving proved to be erroneous in attributing their utterance to the influence of the Holy Spirit, he outlined the perceived failures, specifically about his participation in the use of glossaly in the public worship. He assumed the glossaly as nuances of different languages mixed together, and attempted to publicly expound translations. In the initial try, he was called into a meeting with Irving and his leaders, by which he was told, “You cannot interpret by human understanding; interpretation must be given by the Spirit.”27 Irving believed tongues to be entirely divine and to be mixed with human reason or language he thought to be impossible. If humans were to be able to define it, then it is no longer supernatural.

Another person named Vero Catholicus, who personally visited Edward’s Church around 1830, gave another clue about Irving’s opinion on tongues:

“I accordingly took convenient lodgings in London and attended Mr. Irving’s Lectures, &c. especially at 6 every morning for about a week, when he closed his lectures on “the Unknown Tongues.” His reasoning to prove that the unknown tongue spoken in the apostolic times as well as by themselves, was in many instances a language not spoken or understood by any people of the earth, and only to be comprehended by immediate revelation, was to my mind quite unsatisfactory and inconclusive…”28

Thomas Carlyle noted that whatever Irving was doing had little association with a human language. This was demonstrated by a meeting where Irving walked around with his child in his arms and “burst forth a shrieky hysterical, “Lah lall lall!” (little or nothing else but l’s and and a’s continued for several minutes)”29

Wilks gave a very good commonsense observation of the whole matter:

“The mental condition out of which it arose was just then a very common one in the religious world, and is not without parallel in ecclesiastical history–namely, despair of the world’s conversion by the ordinary methods of evangelization; and the desire of supernatural manifestations as a prelude to the Lord’s second advent.”30

Oliphant also notes that there is a discrepancy between the definition at the start of the movement and later on, “the hypothesis of actual languages conferred seems to have given way to that of a supernatural sign attestation of the intelligible prophecy.”31

Pilkington, Vero Catholicus, and Oliphant clearly demonstrated that Irving and his followers later believed that the gift of tongues was a heavenly language that could not be translated by human interpreters. Any attempt to do so was to limit the divine into human terms, a concept that was sacrilegious to the Irvingites.

It is clear from the evidence submitted so far, that Irving and his followers shifted from the traditional position of tongues being a spontaneous utterance of a foreign language unknown beforehand by the speaker to a heavenly language. Which naturally begs the question, why?

Obvious nonetheless and described from his article in Fraser’s Magazine, the historical gift of tongues as outlined in the Book of Acts was not happening in the context of his community. This brought on a serious dilemma, the gift of tongues was so central to Irving believing the end-time was coming, that he could not withdraw an activity already stated to have begun. This forced Irving and his followers into a quick re-definition.

Did Irving and his circle come up with this new definition themselves or did they borrow from some other source?

Irving had the intellectual capacity to come up with his own definition and also to borrow from the literary and philosophical community. He was well-read and aware of the current theology. Wilks described him thusly, “though devoted to the pulpit, he had prepared himself for a possible application to the bar, and indeed for any learned profession. He added large classical knowledge to his mathematical excellence, and acquaintance with the modern languages and their literature to both”.32 The naming of his literary favourites also demonstrates a strong intellectual capacity: “I fear not to confess that Hooker, and Taylor, and Baxter, in theology; Bacon, and Newton, and Locke, in philosophy; have been my companions, as Shakespeare, and Spencer, and Milton, have been in poetry.”33 He also treasured the works of the Spanish Jesuit priest, Manuel Lacunza. It inspired him to publish a translation of Lacunza’s work regarding the second coming in 1827.34 More importantly was his close relationship with Thomas Carlyle who lived with him for a brief period and was a writer concentrating on German literature for English Magazines.35

At the same time Irving redefined tongues as a non-xenoglossolalic language not understood by the people on earth, German theologians introduced a similar sentiment with the Irvingites albeit from a more scientific perspective. Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer in his book, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, attributed the redefinition to two German scholars, Friedrich Bleek and FC Baur.36 “Bleek believes that glôssai is a poetic, inspired mode of speech, whereas Baur believes it to be “a speaking in a strange, unusual phrases which deviate from the prevailing use of language.” – partly borrowed from foreign languages.”37 Meyer does not indicate exactly when Bleek or Baur introduced this thinking, but does date the opposition to it; 1829 for Bleek, and 1830 for Baur, which falls right into the same years as Irving’s prominence.

It was 1830 when the Scottish women first spoke in tongues38 which began the Irvingite movement and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Irving syncretized this German definition within the context of their experience, especially when the original definition was failing.

Irving had made the personal decision to allow the practice of utterances in all the Regent Church services. This became very disruptive. The Trustees of the Regent Square Church advised Irving that this gift no longer be part of the Sunday worship service, but free to do otherwise on any other day. Irving refused, “If it be so, it will be simply because I have refused to allow the voice of the Spirit of God to be silence in this church… And now I am ready to go forth and leave them, if the Lord’s will be so. If we should be cast out for the truth, let us rejoice; yea, let us exceedingly rejoice,”39 believing it to be an unholy thing to deny such an expression and if forced to do so, he would resign.

This matter was referred to the London Presbytery in 1832, where he was charged with allowing the Church service to be interrupted on the Sabbath, speaking by people not licensed; neither members or seatholders, allowing females to speak, and for the Church service to have a time for the gifts. Note that neither tongues nor prophecy is mentioned specifically.40 The Presbytery concluded:

“…that the charges in said complaint are fully proven; and therefore, while deeply deploring the painful necessity thus imposed upon them, they did and hereby do, decern that the said Rev. Edward Irving has rendered himself unfit to remain the minister of the National Scotch Church aforesaid, and ought to removed therefrom, in pursuance of the conditions of the trust-deed of the church.”41

The Times newspaper gave a strong indictment on Irving and his band of tongues speakers, “It would, indeed, have been a subject of wonder had they come to a different conclusion, though they had the benefit of a concert upon the ‘tongues’ from the whole male and female band of Mr. Irving’s select performers….- when he profaned the sanctuary of God, but introducing hideous interluded of ‘the unknown tongues,’ it was impossible any longer to tolerate the nuisance.”42

Two years later in 1834, Irving died of tuberculosis.

Irving and associates began a new independent Church, called the Catholic Apostolic Church, and although he was one of the central figures in the initial development, he was not considered the founder.

The Catholic Apostolic Church continued with their understanding of this gift until the gradual decline of this movement in 1901.43

The broad evangelical movement in that century did not accept the theology of the Irvingites or the Catholic Apostolic Church as a fundamentalist standard. Rather, many, if not most, exemplified them as frauds and charlatans, as the following examples provide.

The Christian examiner and Church of Ireland magazine 1833, wrote:

“I am strongly inclined to adopt Mr. Baxter’s opinion, and conclude that there really is now, as there was in the case of the French prophets, and that of other honest but misled souls, a special agency of the evil spirit, and that Mr. Irving and Sir R. Bulkeley are the passive subjects and victim of supernatural delusion, so as to believe a lie.”44

The great Ulster revival in 1859, in which William Arthur, a leader and extensive writer on the subject, was well aware of the Irving doctrine of tongues and purposely excluded it:

““THEY began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It is not said, “with unknown tongues.” In fact, the expression, “unknown tongues,” was never used by an inspired writer. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, it is found in the English version but the word “unknown” is in italics, showing that it is not taken from the original. Speaking unknown tongues was never heard of in the apostolic days. That miracle first occurred in London some years ago. On the day of Pentecost no man pretended to speak unknown tongues; but just as if we in London suddenly began to speak German, French, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, and other foreign languages, so it was with them.”45

The nature of his writing can be understood from two perspectives: the miracle in London was not the ancient tongues as the established Church understood, or, that this was fraudulent with people pretending to speak in tongues. The latter understanding of the text appears to be more correct.

Mr. Arthur took the ancient Church position that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in the spontaneous endowment of a foreign language for missionary purposes.46

William Gibson, another eyewitness writer on the Ulster revival, wrote that Ulster was one of the greatest movements since Pentecost “… a work has had its rise in the past year, not inferior in interest and importance to any, even the most striking manifestations of the Spirit of God, that have been witnessed since the pentecostal period itself.”47 And of containing, “the occasional suspension of the bodily powers, as indicated by the loss of speech, sight, and hearing; the subjects of them affected as in a trance –deaf, dumb, blind, and motionless–while they would frequently fall into a sleep, in which they continued for hours, and the commencement and termination of which the intimated beforehand to the bystanders,”48 did not contain the gift of tongues as one of his expressions. He was actively trying to distance himself and the Ulster revival from the Irvingites and their ecstasies.

The British historian, Thomas Arnold, tried to personally make sense of the tongues outbreak and concluded, “(In answer to a question about Irvingism at Port Glasgow.) . . . If the thing be real I should take it merely as a sign of the coming of the day of the Lord, – the only use, as far as I can make out, that ever was derived from the gift of tongues.”49

The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues was temporarily at the forefront of the religious community for a brief period, but was quickly marginalized in the Western Christian religion. But as, Margaret Oliphant noted, it was the start of the modern tongues movement, setting the framework for a bigger manifestation in the years to come.