Tag Archives: Rationalism

A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe

The book A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865) is a seminal piece of literature. This well written work helps to provide valuable insights for the modern reader with the backstory on the conversion of Europe from a mystical to a rational society.

This book was written by William Lecky, an Irish-Anglican historian and politician (1838–1903). He greatly succeeded in studying and narrating the complex and evolving web of rationalism, morals, miracles, the supernatural, Catholicism, and Protestantism into a systematic and comprehensive portrait.

His work assists this blog in three different ways. Firstly, it demonstrates why the patristic writings were blotted out of the modern history on the doctrine of tongues. Lecky provided the logic behind this notable absence. (The following article on this blog The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy covers this in detail.)

Secondly, the book provides some history behind the doctrine of cessation in the protestant movement. He gives some hints as to why this doctrine arose.

Thirdly, he contributes to another interest of this blog and that is with the intersection of faith and mental health. He outlined a period that was consistently engaged in moral and spiritual purity – one which was percieved to bring them safety, health, stability, and protection from the elements. It was the antidote for humanity’s ills. Science was considered tertiary in this struggle for security. The greatest enemy to these four aims was the devil and his army of angels. Society felt that the active pursuit and limitation of the powers of evil would ensure their personal physical, emotional, and spiritual security. This fight against the devil allowed the excess imagination of many to run wild and caused countless executions. This supernatural crusade was especially against women. Many of whom were accused of being witches. Most of these women today would likely be listed with some form of mental illness, but back in this period, there was little concept of such a thing. It is a sad chapter in Western history.

However, this was not always the exclusive approach by the Church. Jean Claude Larchet demonstrates in his book Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing that at least from the Eastern Christian Church perspective, the treatment of mental health by the institutional church has had some progressive and merciful aspects too.

The reader must keep in mind that the irrational social response to the fear of the unknown cannot be restricted or blamed on the christian faith. It is a problem of the human psyche. Today we wrestle with the same problems of fear. Our world has significantly changed after the events of 9/11. The ever apparent fear of terrorists at the door have weakened citizen rights and has created serious suspicion upon any Muslim or anybody who looks Arab. The United States decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim dominated countries from entering their land underscores this irrationalism. This is but one of many examples. North American society is now driven by an irrational culture of fear in almost all of its decision making.

Many readers will not have the time to soak in Lecky’s voluminous treaty. The following are snippets from his work. The book itself is available at the Online Library of Liberty.

Quotes from A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe

Pg. 27 “There is certainly no change in the history of the last 300 years more striking, or suggestive of more curious enquiries, than that which has taken place in the estimate of the miraculous. At present, nearly all educated men receive an account of a miracle taking place in their own day, with an absolute and even derisive incredulity which dispenses with all examination of the evidence. Although they may be entirely unable to give a satisfactory explanation of some phenomena that have taken place, they never on that account dream of ascribing them to supernatural agency, such an hypothesis being, as they believe, altogether beyond the range of reasonable discussion. Yet, a few centuries ago, there was no solution to which the mind of man turned more readily in every perplexity. A miraculous account was then universally accepted as perfectly credible, probable, and ordinary. There was scarcely a village or a church that had not, at some time, been the scene of supernatural interposition. [Pg. 28] The powers of light and the powers of darkness were regarded as visibly struggling for the mastery. Saintly miracles, supernatural cures, startling judgments, visions, prophecies, and prodigies of every order, attested the activity of the one, while witchcraft and magic, with all their attendant horrors, were the visible manifestations of the other.”

Pg. 32 is in reference to cleansing the nation of perceived evil, and of demons, witchcraft and sorcery, the author goes into great detail showing the innumerable deaths that were caused by this superstitious conflagration.

Pg. 32 “Such was the attitude of the Church of Rome with reference to this subject, but on this ground the Reformers had no conflict with their opponents. The credulity which Luther manifested on all matters connected with diabolical intervention, was amazing, even for his age; and, when speaking of witchcraft, his language was emphatic and unhesitating. ‘I would have no compassion on these witches,’ he exclaimed, ‘I would burn them all!’ In England the establishment of the Reformation was the signal for an immediate outburst of the superstition; and there, as elsewhere its decline was represented by the clergy as the direct consequence and the exact measure of the progress of religious scepticism. In Scotland, where the Reformed ministers exercised greater influence than in any other country, and where the witch trials fell almost entirely into their hands, the persecution was proportionately atrocious.”

Pg. 36 “Indeed, the philosophy of madness is mainly due to Pinel, who wrote long after the superstition had vanished; and even if witchcraft had been treated as a disease, this would not have destroyed the belief that it was Satanic, in an age when all the more startling diseases were deemed supernatural, and when theologians maintained that Satan frequently acted by the employment of natural laws.”

Pg. 37 “It may be stated, I believe, as an invariable truth, that, whenever a religion which rests in a great measure on a system of terrorism, and which paints in dark and forcible colours the misery of men and the power of evil spirits, is intensely realised, it will engender the belief in witchcraft of [pg. 38] magic. The panic which its teachings will create, will overbalance the faculties of multitudes. The awful images of evil spirits of superhuman power, and of untiring malignity, will continually haunt the imagination. They will blend with the illusions of age or sorrow or sickness, and will appear with an especial vividness in the more alarming and unexplained phenomena of nature.”

Pg. 63 “Amid all this strange teaching, there ran, however, one rein of a darker character. The more terrible phenomena of nature were entirely unmoved by exorcisms and sprinklings, and they were invariably attributed to supernatural interposition. In every nation it has been believed, at an early period, that pestilences, famines, comets, rainbows, eclipses, and other rare and startling phenomena, were effected, not by the ordinary sequence of natural laws, but by the direct intervention of spirits. In this manner, the predisposition towards the [Pg. 64] miraculous, which is the characteristic of all semi-civilised nations, has been perpetuated, and the clergy have also frequently identified these phenomena with acts of rebellion against themselves. The old Catholic priests were consuin mate masters of these arts, and every rare natural event was, in the middle ages, an occasion for the most intense terrorism. Thus, in the eighth century, a fearful famine afflicted France, and was generally represented as a consequence of the repugnance which the French people manifested to the payment of tithes. In the ninth century, a total eclipse of the sun struck terror through Europe, and is said to have been one of the causes of the death of a French king.”

Pg. 69 “We find then that, all through the middle ages, most of the crimes that were afterwards collected by the inquisitors in the treatises on witchcraft were known; and that many of them were not unfrequently punished. At the same time the executions, during six centuries, were probably not as numerous as those which often took place during a single decade of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the twelfth century, however, the subject passed into an entirely new phase. The conception of a witch, as we now conceive it—that is to say, of a woman who had entered into a deliberate compact with Satan, who was endowed with the power of working miracles whenever she pleased, and who was continually transported through the air to the Sabbath, where she paid her homage to the Evil One—first appeared. The [Pg. 70] panic created by the belief advanced at first slowly, but after a time with a fearfully accelerated rapidity. Thousands of victims were sometimes burnt alive in a few years. Every country in Europe was stricken with the wildest panic. Hundreds of the ablest judges were selected for the extirpation of the crime. A vast literature was created on the subject, and it was not until a considerable portion of the eighteenth century had passed away, that the executions finally ceased.”

Pg. 81 “When the belief is confined to the lower class, its existence will be languishing and unprogressive. But when legislators denounce it in [Pg. 82] their laws, and popes in their bulls; when priests inveigh against it in their pulpits, and inquisitors burn thousands at the stake, the imaginations of men will be inflamed, the terror will prove contagious, and the consequent delusions be multiplied.”

Pg. 84 -85 “I know, indeed, few stranger, and at the same time more terrible pictures, than are furnished by the history of witchcraft during the century that preceded and the century that followed the Reformation. Wherever the conflict of opinions was raging among the educated, witchcraft, like an attendant shadow, pursued its course among the ignorant; and Protestants and Catholics vied with each other in the zeal with which they prosecuted it. Never was the power of imagination—that strange faculty which casts the shadow of its images over the whole creation, and combines all the phenomena of life according to its own archetypes—more strikingly evinced. Superstitious and terror-stricken, the minds of men were impelled irresistibly towards the miraculous and the Satanic, and they found them upon every side. The elements of imposture blended so curiously with the elements of delusion, that it is now impossible to separate them. Sometimes an ambitious woman, braving the dangers of her [Pg. 85] act, boldly claimed supernatural power, and the haughtiest and the most courageous cowered humbly at her presence. Sometimes a husband attempted, in the witch courts, to cut the tie which his church had pronounced indissoluble; and numbers of wives have, in consequence, perished at the stake. Sometimes a dexterous criminal availed himself of the panic; and, directing a charge of witchcraft against his accuser, escaped himself with impunity. Sometimes, too, a personal grudge was avenged by the accusation, or a real crime was attributed to sorcery; or a hail-storm, or a strange disease, suggested the presence of a witch. But, for the most part, the trials represent pure and unmingled delusions. The defenders of the belief were able to maintain that multitudes had voluntarily confessed themselves guilty of commerce with the Evil One, and had persisted in their confessions till death. Madness is always peculiarly frequent during great religious or political revolutions; and, in the sixteenth century, all its forms were absorbed in the system of witchcraft, and caught the colour of the prevailing predisposition.”

Pg. 86-87 “It is very difficult for us in the present day to do justice to these works, or to realise the points of view from which they were written. A profound scepticism on all subjects [Pg. 87] connected with the Devil underlies the opinions of almost every educated man, and renders it difficult even to conceive a condition of thought in which that spirit was the object of an intense and realised belief. An anecdote which involves the personal intervention of Satan is now regarded as quite as intrinsically absurd, and unworthy of serious attention, as an anecdote of a fairy or of a sylph. When, therefore, a modern reader turns over the pages of an old treatise on witchcraft, and finds hundreds of such aneedotes related with the gravest assurance, he is often inclined to depreciate very unduly the intellect of an author who represents a condition of thought so unlike his own. The cold indifference to human suffering which these writers display gives an additional bias to his reason; while their extraordinary pedantry, their execrable Latin, and their gross scientific blunders, furnish ample materials for his ridicule. Besides this, Sprenger, who is at once the most celebrated, and, perhaps, the most credulous member of his class, unfortunately for his reputation, made some ambitious excursions into another field, and immortalised himself by a series of etymological blunders, which have been the delight of all succeeding scholars.”

Pg. 102-103 “The foregoing pages will, I trust, be sufficient to elucidate the leading causes upon which witchcraft depended. They will show that it resulted, not from accidental circum stances, individual eccentricities, or even scientific ignorance but from a general predisposition to see Satanic agency in life. It grew from, and it reflected, the prevailing modes of religious thought; and it declined only when those modes were weakened or destroyed. In almost every period of the [Pg. 103] middle ages, there had been a few men who in some degree dissented from the common superstitions; but their opinions were deemed entirely incomprehensible, and they exercised no appreciable influence upon their contemporaries.”

Pg. 114-115 “From the publication of the essays of Montaigne, we may date the influence of that girted and ever enlarging rationalistic school, who gradually effected the destruction of the belief in witchcraft, not by refuting [Pg. 115] or explaining its evidence, but simply by making men more and more sensible of its intrinsic absurdity.”

Pg. 119 “The history of witchcraft in Protestant countries differs so little from its history in Catholic ones, that it is not necessary to dwell upon it at much length. In both cases, a tendency towards the miraculous was the cause of the belief; and the degree of religious terrorism regulated the intensity of the persecution.”

Pg. 157 “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.”

Pg. 159 “All this has now passed away. It has passed away, not only in lands where Protestantism is triumphant, but also in those where the Roman Catholic faith is still acknowledged, and where the mediæval saints are still venerated.”

Pg. 161 “If these propositions be true—and I scarcely think that any candid person who seriously examines the subject can [Pg. 162] question them—they lead irresistibly to a very important general conclusion. They show that the repugnance of men to believe miraculous narratives is in direct proportion to the progress of civilisation and the diffusion of knowledge.”

Pg. 163 “We find, accordingly, that from the very beginning, Protestantism looked upon [Pg. 164] modern miracles (except those which were comprised under the head of witchcraft) with an aversion and distrust that contrasts remarkably with the unhesitating credulity of its opponents. The history of its sects exhibits, indeed, some alleged miracles, which were, apparently, the result of ignorance or enthusiasm, and a very few which were obvious impositions.”

Pg. 169 “Middleton met it by an attack upon the veracity of the Fathers, which was so eloquent, so uncompromising, and so admirably directed, that all England soon rang with the controversy. He contended that the religious leaders of the fourth century had admitted, eulogised, and habitually acted upon principles that were diametrically opposed, not simply to the aspirations of a transcendent sanctity, but to the dictates of the most common honesty.”

Pg. 171 “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 minds, 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 on which it rested were disturbed. It had entered into new conditions, and must be defended by new arguments.”

Pg. 186 “Whatever is lost by Catholicism is gained by Rationalism; wherever the spirit of Rationalism recedes, the spirit of Catholicism advances. Towards the close of the last century France threw off her allegiance to Christianity, endeavoured to efface all the traditions of her past, and proclaimed a new era in the religious history of mankind. She soon repented of her temerity, and retired from a position which she had found untenable. Half the nation became ultramontane Roman Catholics; the other half became indifferent or Rationalist.”

Pg. 194-195 “. . .and the spirit of Rationalism has become the great centre to which the intellect of [Pg. 195] Europe is manifestly tending. If we trace the progress of the movement from its origin to the present day, we find that it has completely altered the whole aspect and complexion of religion. When it began, Christianity was regarded as a system entirely beyond the range and scope of human reason: it was impious to question; it was impious to examine; it was impious to discriminate. On the other hand, it was visibly instinct with the supernatural. Miracles of every order and degree of magnitude were flashing forth incessantly from all its parts. They excited no scepticism and no surprise. The miraculous element pervaded all literature, explained all difficulties, consecrated all doctrines. Every unusual phenomenon was immediately referred to a supernatural agency, not because there was a passion for the improbable, but because such an explanation seemed far more simple and easy of belief than the obscure theories of science. In the present day Christianity is regarded as a system which courts the strictest investigation, and which, among many other functions, was designed to vivify and stimulate all the energies of man. The idea of the miraculous, which a superficial observer might have once deemed its most prominent characteristic, has been driven from almost all its entrenchments, and now quivers faintly and feebly through the mists of eighteen hundred years.”

History of Glossolalia: Patristic Citation

How ecclesiastical literature has been woefully neglected by the sourcebooks in drawing conclusions on the christian doctrine of tongues and reasons why this happened.

There is a considerable amount of literature devoted by many christian writers over the first thousand years since the inception of the church on this topic. However, many are not popularly available in English. They remain in their Greek, Latin, Syriac and likely many more original forms, waiting to be rediscovered.

Had the last few generations had access to this literature in their modern language, then the tongues argument would be significantly different. The Gift of Tongues Project demonstrates that the arguments from both the pro and con camps are based on ignorance of ecclesiastical literature.

The selective and inaccurate use of Church writings make the topic appear historically obscure. The lack of comprehensiveness naturally produces an outcome of glossolalia.

Glossolalia may not necessarily be the wrong the conclusion but it has omitted very important ecclesiastical writings in the process.

The deficiency of ecclesiastical usage is clearly found throughout:

Moulton and Milligan’s, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, alluded to the fact that the tongues in Acts were ecstatic. Not a single reference was made from the Church Fathers.1

Walter Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tried to develop a connection between Hellenistic ecstasy and christian tongues. The author or the revisionist of this dictionary used only one patristic writing to emphasize the concept, and it is a weak one – Origen’s writing, Against Celsus.2

Thayer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Nove Testamenti declared the Corinthian problem was people in ecstasy and made no reference to early Church writings.3

Johannes Behm’s article, γλῶσσα, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, also failed to give a comprehensive account of tongues in the early Church. The author does quote Origen from the book, Against Celsus, and Irenaeous, Against Heresies, to support his view that the Christian gift of tongues parallels similar phenomena in different religious systems and various time periods.4 However, Behm failed to point out that in both his examples, the word γλῶσσα does not even occur. He neglected the use of γλῶσσα employed by Origen and Irenaeous elsewhere.

Behm is an interesting and controversial figure within theological circles and is debated whether his contributions should be blotted out of the historical records. He was ignominiously deposed from his position at the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin after World War II in 1945 because of his Nazi affiliation. It is unclear what happened to him after he was dismissed.5

The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament used only one Patristic reference, Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata to substantiate their connection of tongues with Hellenism.6

Lampe’s, 1978 version of the Patristic Greek Lexicon does touch on some relevant passages but fails to be comprehensive. It does refer to nine distinct writers but does not offer anything new outside of the standard modern interpretations.7

Hans Conzelmann’s well received, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians used only Origen to support his claim that “speaking with tongues is unintelligible to a normal man, even a Christian.” However, if one examines the source text quoted more closely, there is little about tongues and more about prophecy. It is a weak correlation.8

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, which claims to be an authority of Patristic interpretation on Scripture, quotes nine church fathers, including a weak reference to Augustine, neglecting his larger and more important works on the subject. The Ancient Christian Commentary has a strong emphasis on Chrysostom’s commentary on Corinthians – a book far from being definitive. Their coverage makes it appear that there is little Patristic literature on the subject.9

The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible in Five Volumes, defined the New Testament doctrine of Tongues as “ecstatic spirititual utterances not consciously or rationally controlled by the speaker,” without one reference to ancient Church literature.10

The New International Bible Encyclopedia gave scant reference to the ancient Church sages on the subject, quoting Irenaeous, Tertullian, and Chrysostom as found in the source-books. He does use Origen’s commentary on Romans to demonstrate briefly the view of tongues as a foreign language. He also believed tongues as an ecstatic utterance needs to be tempered but fails to give a clear alternative.11

Many discussions on the historical definition from a Pentecostal perspective can be traced to George H. Williams and Edith Waldvogel’s analysis which is found in The Charismatic Movement, Michael P. Hamilton ed. The authors surveyed the glossolalic movement from the early Church onwards. It is well-written and one of the better researched publications but it has a number of important flaws as it relates to the ecclesiastical writings:

  • It follows the same pattern and almost identically cites the same Church Fathers found in the source-books. One can see a heavy influence here; especially the focus on Montanism.12. It does add Pope Leo I, Pachomius, Bede and Thomas Aquinas to the historical record but fails to clearly show the reader that all these examples specifically demonstrate the miracle being speaking or hearing in a foreign language.

  • Williams and Waldvogel limited their analysis of Church literature to those already translated into English. As noted above, most of the critical literature on the subject is not popularly available in English. They made a critical mistake to assume already existent English translations are fairly representative of the historic Christian doctrine.

  • Neither do they alert the reader to different historic movements, perceptions or doctrines that existed during early centuries of the Church that differed from their own. Consequently, they made no effort to resolve any historical tensions.

  • Williams’ and Waldvogel’s historical record regarded three forms of tongues as equally authentic: ecstatic, foreign languages and as a psychological phenomenon.13 They aggregated all three together as one comprehensive unit without first establishing a historical precedent for doing such. These three streams could be independent of each other, each one introduced at different time periods, or simply one or more could be a wrong assumption.

  • They do briefly recognize Augustine and Gregory Nazianzus’ contribution but fail to recognize how powerful their opinions, and the ensuing controversies surrounding especially Nazianzus, influenced the Church for over a thousand years.

An analysis of the Patristic literature cited in the sourcebooks.

There are numerous references from the ecclesiastical writers on the Christian doctrine of tongues. From personally looking at and indexing approximately 135 volumes of Migne Patrologia Graeca, there are at least 34 passages that clearly define the gift of tongues, 51 more references that are strong indicators, 109 indirect references or parallels and Biblical citations about the tongues phenomena. There are 360 occurrences of keywords that can be analyzed for grammar, syntax and comparative work and 35 references to early Church liturgy that helps understand the context of tongues. This is a conservative tally, there are more that are coming to light as this study proceeds.

Out of the 34 or more passages covered by Ecclesiastical writers spanning over a one thousand year period, only seven have been popularly used in the primary sourcebooks. These seven are not the best choices regarding the topic at hand, but better fit in with the ideology that the Christian rite of tongues is a syncretization of Greek pagan practices — an effort to transform the Christian message into an international one.

Many of the other 34 can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project Intro page. Not all are available because they have yet to be analyzed, digitized, or translated.

The seven typically used to affirm tongues as an ecstatic utterance will be analyzed and compared to the historical corpus of literature available on the subject. They are going to be listed along with the relevant quote, and some commentary.

1. Irenaeous:

Against Haeresies I, 13, 3

It appears probable enough that this man possesses a demon as his familiar spirit, by means of whom he seems able to prophesy, and also enables as many as he counts worthy to be partakers of his Charis themselves to prophesy. He devotes himself especially to women, and those such as are well-bred, and elegantly attired, and of great wealth, whom he frequently seeks to draw after him, by addressing them in such seductive words as these: “I am eager to make you a partaker of my Charis, since the Father of all does continually behold your angel before His face. Now the place of your angel is among us: it behooves us to become one. Receive first from me and by me [the gift of] Charis. Adorn yourself as a bride who is expecting her bridegroom, that you may be what I am, and I what you are. Establish the germ of light in your nuptial chamber. Receive from me a spouse, and become receptive of him, while you are received by him. Behold Charis has descended upon you; open your mouth and prophesy.” On the woman replying, “I have never at any time prophesied, nor do I know how to prophesy;” then engaging, for the second time, in certain invocations, so as to astound his deluded victim, he says to her, “Open your mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to you, and you shall prophesy.” She then, vainly puffed up and elated by these words, and greatly excited in soul by the expectation that it is herself who is to prophesy, her heart beating violently [from emotion], reaches the requisite pitch of audacity, and idly as well as impudently utters some nonsense as it happens to occur to her, such as might be expected from one heated by an empty spirit. (Referring to this, one superior to me has observed, that the soul is both audacious and impudent when heated with empty air.) Henceforth she reckons herself a prophetess, and expresses her thanks to Marcus for having imparted to her of his own Charis. She then makes the effort to reward him, not only by the gift of her possessions (in which way he has collected a very large fortune), but also by yielding up to him her person, desiring in every way to be united to him, that she may become altogether one with him.14

This passage is weak in establishing the nature and definition of tongues. It would make a stronger case for defining the office of prophecy. The Greek word for tongues, γλῶσσα, does not appear in the text.

The more relevant passage that ought to have been quoted is from Irenaeous’ Against Heresies text, Book V, Chapter 6:1:

For this reason does the apostle declare, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” [1 Corinthians 2:6] terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual.15

There are others too, not so strong as the above that allude to foreign languages such as Against Heresies Book 3, Chapter 12:1, and Book 3, Chapter 17:2. None of these are mentioned or wrestled with in the source-books when drawing up their conclusion of tongues as an ecstatic utterance.

2. Origen

This third century writer is the most quoted. Why he was chosen as the leading Church writer on the subject is questionable. It may be that he was one of the earlier writers on the subject, along with the fact that his works have such a high standard of both piety and intellectual foresight that many other writers shortly after him lacked. As demonstrated in my previous article, Origen on the Gift of Tongues, his contribution to the subject is very small compared to other writers such as Gregory Nazianzus or Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

Against Celsius VII:8-9

” Then he goes on to say: “To these promises are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning: for so dark are they, as to have no meaning at all; but they give occasion to every fool or impostor to apply them to suit his own purposes.”16

A number of authors use this passaged to correlate the historical gift of tongues with ecstasy. However, it does not have the word for tongues γλῶσσα in it. Nor does Origen even propose or intend this to be a didactic on tongues.

The following have used this to support their position: Frederick Farrar, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Johannes Behm: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Bauer: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

Origen’s Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans is closer to what he believed, though it is seldom found or discussed in the major works.

Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans 1:13

Now one must ask how the Apostle is under obligation to the Greeks and the non-Greeks with the teachers of wisdom and the foolish ones. How is it then he heard from these very ones from which he was bound under obligation? I indeed believe thereupon him to have accomplished the obligation within the diverse nations that he received through the grace of the Holy Spirit [the ability] to speak in the languages of all the nations, even as he himself says, “I speak in tongues more than you all,” because then the knowledge of languages is not according to anything within himself, but he received on behalf of those which were about to be preached. The obligation is being brought forth in all those which he receives from God the knowledge of language.

C.M. Robeck Jr. in The New International Bible Encyclopedia wrote about Origen’s Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans 1:13 as an affirmation that he “viewed it as a bridge to cross-cultural preaching.”17 Romans 1:13, is a good argument, but he then cited 7:6 which is very vague. It is difficult to find the correlation with 7:6 and he may be stretching his argument here. This discussion once again can be found in more detail inside the previous article, Origen on the Gift of Tongues.

The most important Origen contribution has been overlooked by most authors. His position is defined in Against Celsus 8:37: “if I may so say, but one voice, expressing itself in different dialects.” This is the first time the concept of one voice — many dialects occurs in any Patristic writing. This tongues doctrine may be the earliest definition found by any writer on the subject. Gregory Nazianzus covered this one voice — many dialects position and caused more tension than resolution. This is a very serious oversight.

3. Eusebius

Ecclesiastical History V:16

There is said to be a certain village called Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.18

Almost all authors who trace tongues as an ecstatic utterance ultimately arrive at this passage for validation. The problem with this passage is twofold. Number one, the greek word for tongues, γλῶσσα, does not appear, and secondly Eusebius does not make any correlation between the Montanist ecstasy and the gift of tongues. It is extrapolated by modern researchers.

If the higher criticists were more familiar with ancient church writings, they would have been able to build a stronger case around the Donatists than the Montanists (see An Analysis of Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists for details). However, the Donatists were not even mentioned in any source work.

This whole controversy is an important one. It is covered in more detail here: A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism.

4. Tertullian

Against Marcionem V: 8

Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer – only let it be by the Spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him; let him show to me also, that any woman of boastful tongue in his community has ever prophesied from among those specially holy sisters of his.19

This is the first time the Greek word γλῶσσα is used in the primary proof-texts of tongues as ecstasy. It is an obscure passage though. It does not give enough information to build an argument.

Irenaeous, Origen, Eusebius and Tertullian, these four are the most referenced and earliest citations on the gift of tongues. These Church writers are all first cited together in August Neander’s 1832 publication Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel later translated into English as History of the Planting and training of the Christian Church by the Apostles.20 As outlined earlier in A History of Glossolalia: Origins Neander is one of the leading founders of the modern definition. The Patristic construct that he promoted has not been analyzed or changed much since his publishing in the mid 1800s.

5. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis

PKE Feine’s account found in the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge is the only modern author found to use Epiphanius’ account as validation for tongues as ecstasy.

Against Haeresies XlVIII: 4 (MPG: Vol. 41. Col. 861ff)

There is no translation given because the subject matter does not make a compelling argument and it is a waste of resources and time to translate from the Greek into English.

It is difficult to pin-point exactly why this passage was referenced in relation to the gift of tongues. Tongues is not directly referenced and it is a problem to even find the inference. The greek key-word γλῶσσα is not used in this passage, nor any noun of the equivalent meaning. The word ecstasy is located but only in relation to prophecy.

He described the Montanist practice of ecstatic utterance from Epiphanius’ book, Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses XLVIII:4) to strengthen his argument but then neglected to mention Epiphanius’ direct discourse on Pentecost (Adversus Haereses XXXIX) and incredible description of the Corinthian tongues (Adversus Haereses XLII) — a place where Epiphanius argued that the conflict in Corinth was about ethnic problems between Attic, Aeolic and Doric Greeks. Both of these passages, which the writer ignored, seriously erodes his argument of tongues as an ecstatic utterance relative to the Greek culture of the time. Feine also quoted the Montanist practice from Eusebius’ book, Ecclesiastical History, where the term γλῶσσα does not occur.

The discussion of Epiphanius on the tongues of Corinth, Adversus Haereses XLII, omitted by all the source-books, can be found here: Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth.

6. John Chrysostom

Homily 29 on I First Corinthians

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles, you were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.

This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity has produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?21

This passage has been utilized and interpreted many ways. It is not used by the majority of the source books, but does exist in the more conservative religious publications. Some have used it to mean the gift had died in the earliest ages of Christianity. Others have interpreted it to mean that the institutional Church quelched it, and later it was re-introduced by the Montanist movement.

The utilization of Chrysostom’s statement makes it appear as a final event that already happened in history and is not bound to be repeated again.

Unfortunately, the majority of publications are being too selective here. He wrote more on this subject that gives some insights.

It is clear from reading Chrysostom’s Homilies on I Corinthians, especially 29-36 that he believed it was speaking in foreign languages. There is no doubt. For example he wrote in Homily 35:

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification:” i.e., so many tongues, so many voices of Scythians, Thracians, Romans, Persians, Moors, Indians, Egyptians, innumerable other nations.22

One of the most important contributions that Chrysostom wrote which reflected the mood and theological position of his era has been left out in any publication. It is found in Homily 35 in his Homilies on I Corinthians:

At this point he makes a comparison between the gifts, and lowers that of the tongues, showing it to be neither altogether useless, nor very profitable by itself. For in fact they were greatly puffed up on account of this, because the gift was considered to be a great one. And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages.23

Here Chrysostom outlined a framework to the miracle of tongues very similar to that of Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Augustine Bishop of Hippo asserted. The idea of tongues as a supernatural endowment of foreign language(s) unknown beforehand by the speaker.

There may be more in Chrysostom’s writings on the subject too. He has not been covered in any detail yet in the Gift of Tongues Project. This is just a preliminary finding.

Whether it continued or ceased in the Church is a different question than the nature and definition of tongues.

7. Clement of Alexandria

Stromata I:431:1?

Plato attributes a dialect also to the gods, forming this conjecture mainly from dreams and oracles, and especially from demoniacs, who do not speak their own language or dialect, but that of the demons who have taken possession of them. He thinks also that the irrational creatures have dialects, which those that belong to the same genus understand.24

This early Church writer is quoted only occasionally to prove that the miracle of tongues was an ecstatic utterance.

The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament used this citation to support the claim of tongues as an ecstatic utterance.25 It is difficult to find the actual quote due to different numbering and chapter conventions between English translations. The chapter and verse subdivision I:431:1 is not typical and cannot be confirmed. Conjecture postulates that it would likely be 1:2 in the English translation of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and this is the quote given above.

Clement made no allusion or direct correlation between Plato’s discourse and that of the miracle of tongues in the Bible.

The above seven are the main Ecclesiastical citations used by most of the major books on defining the gift of tongues. There are other seldom used citations such as the Testament of Job,26 Justyn Martyr27, Cyprian, Hippolytus28, Novatian29, a certain Dionysius,30 and Firmilian,31 but these have not been repetitively used within scholastic circles such as the ones stated above. They offer no further contribution to the nature and definition of tongues but all, except for the Testament of Job, are more aimed at the continuance or cessation of the miraculous in the Church.

Hilary of Poitiers is referred to but his position is under-appreciated: “And we learn that all this prophecy was fulfilled in the case of the Apostles, when, after the sending of the Holy Spirit, they all spoke with the tongues of the Gentiles.”32. He clearly defined the miracle as foreign languages but few have seriously consulted his position.

Patristic citations severely under-reported.

In comparing what works are available and what have been cited in the source-books, it has been found that the majority of church writings available are severely under-utilized, and the ones that are chosen are very selective and weak. Most of the important ones cited in major dictionaries do not even contain the word γλῶσσα in it. This is what has led to the current theological dilemma.

Why have the ancient Church records been neglected on this subject?

There is a number of reasons why patristics and ecclesiastical writings have been ignored within major source-books on this subject. One of the reasons is the rejection of patristics as a valid source of history. There was once a time where Patristic studies had an elevated status, but for various reasons, had to be dethroned. Most of the primary source books come from an era that reflects this. This is outside the scope of this article. More on this can be found at The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy, which documents the rise of the rationalist movement and the de-authorization of Patristics and Ecclesiastical writings.

The second reason is because there are so few that have access to, or knowledge of the Church Fathers in Latin or Greek. Access to ecclesiastical writings have always been very limited until the advent of digital technologies. It would be a very difficult task to sew together the various writers manually. The last ten years have opened up the availability of Church writers in a way unheard of in the vestibules of history. This subject can be reopened under a new light.

Another problem is the lack of Protestant scholars trained in patristics. The contemporary practice and debate of the tongues doctrine is largely restricted to a number of protestant sects — it hardly dints the catholic psyche. There are few, if any, Protestants, especially those of the the gifts of the spirit persuasion that are trained in Latin or Greek. The contemporary catholic scholars on the other hand, many who have the expertise, have had little interest in the subject, because it has little impact on their communities. This has also added to the contemporary tension on the christian doctrine of tongues.

For further reading:

Introduction to the History of Glossolalia

An examination on why the traditional doctrine of tongues as a supernatural endowment of a foreign language all but died and was replaced by the doctrine of glossolalia.

This series of articles will demonstrate how the new definition originated in the early 1800s and has progressed to the strong doctrine that presently exists.

The reader will discover a rich story behind the development of this concept with exact names, disputes, and places. The series will clearly show the change from a miracle of speech or hearing to glossolalia. This change was a process that took over a century to develop and became universally and unquestionably entrenched.

What is glossolalia and were the ancient Christian writers aware of this practice?

Though there are a number of words to describe modern tongues speaking such as ecstasy, ecstatic utterance, frenzy, etc., glossolalia will be used throughout this series as a blanket term.

Glossolalia, ecstasy, and ecstatic utterances are the same words to explain something that is unintelligible and meaningless. “Glossolalia is language-like because the speaker unconsciously wants it to be language-like.”1

This new definition has its own history separate from that of the ecclesiasts who guarded the old doctrine of tongues as a miracle of either a person spontaneously speaking a foreign language or the recipient hearing sounds in one’s own tongue. Rarely has the new definition of glossolalia been critically examined or traced from its initial beginnings to the present. This is what the series, A History of Glossolalia, is all about.

This series is part of the Gift of Tongues Project that has a fourfold purpose of collecting, digitizing, translating and analyzing important texts relating to the christian doctrine of tongues. The overwhelming evidence collected so far maintains the church had always understood the miraculous use of tongues at Pentecost as either spoken or heard as foreign languages. Historical leaders such as Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, the Ambrosiaster text, Pachomius, the Venerable Bede, Pope Benedict XIV and more have covered the subject. The details may be different but all agree that it was a foreign human language. Their critical debates were whether it was a miracle of hearing or speaking, or whether the language constructed itself in the mind or converted at the last moment on the lips.2

These church writers were not aware of an alternate interpretation of tongues as ecstasy or glossolalia.

Michael Psellos in the eleventh century was well aware of the Greek prophetesses going into an ecstatic state and speaking in foreign languages. He knew that there could have been a relationship between this and the Christian practice but dispelled the correlation outright. Neither did he believe that the ancient Greek prophetesses spoke gibberish or a highly exalted language. He believed they were speaking a foreign human language. When the connection between the Greek prophetesses and Christian tongues was made in the early 1800s, Psellos important contribution to the debate was neglected out of ignorance or wilfully ignored.3

The initial problem connecting glossolalia with the christian doctrine of tongues.

An implicit bias in the doctrine of glossolalia is its absence or little use of the church fathers. Many scholars who were proponents of tongues as glossolalia failed to recognize or integrate base christian texts, selectively choosing weaker ones instead. They neither wrestled with the church texts in any detail to assert or repudiate their claims.

The church fathers focused mainly on the Day of Pentecost in Acts where they believed the experience to be people supernaturally endowed with the ability to speak in foreign languages. Paul’s coverage of the tongues problem in Corinth has been more difficult for the ancient church writers to cover. Most have avoided literally explaining it, choosing to go into allegory or emphasizing the moral force of the text: the need for charity instead of pride. Noted exceptions to this were: Epiphanius, who saw the Corinthian problem as an ethno-linguistic conflict, the Ambrosiaster text, which summed it up as conflict between Aramaic and Greek speaking Jews; and the Cyril of Alexandria text which explained problems arising from hypothetically speaking in Eastern languages such as Mede in a Greek speaking community. These church writings can be found documented at the Gift of Tongues Project.

Problems connecting Montanism and their glossolalia with the christian doctrine of tongues.

Scholars from the realm of higher criticism have introduced Eusebius’ coverage of the Montanist movement and their ecstasies as the historical definition of speaking in tongues in the church. However, the Greek keyword for tongues doesn’t even occur in the text. This omission is very problematic and weakens this solution. The ecclesiastical writers made no connection with the Montanists regarding speaking in tongues. Neither can any person find documents with the church specifically arguing for or against Montanist tongues. The Montanist experience for explaining Christian tongues didn’t arrive until 1500 years after the Montanist experience by Conyers Middleton in his publication, Free Inquiry.4 This is a later interpretation that cannot be substantiated through early historical literature.

An overview on the history of glossolalia series.

How the doctrine of glossolalia first appeared and took over this subject matter is a complex journey that requires a series of articles to answer. To get started, here are a number of brief thoughts to set things up for the articles to follow:

The nineteenth-century Irvingite Movement can be blamed for renewed interest into the subject. They brought the tongues theology out of a deep sleep and into the critical attention of the international community; from the layperson to magazines, newspapers and scholars. It summoned a deep theological debate that was in the cross-hairs between the traditional supernaturalists and the quickly rising rationalist movement. The Irvingite event was the litmus test for both parties credibility.

The rise of the glossolalia definition and the abandonment of the traditional one was also largely due to the casualty of ecclesiastical writings being dropped as historical literature and switched to the category of legends and myths. There is a purposeful de-emphasis of ecclesiastical writings in the primary, secondary and tertiary sourcebooks from the 19th century onwards.

This has had a profound impact on the controversies surrounding this doctrine. In fact, if this de-emphasis on ecclesiastical writings did not exist, it would change the modern debate altogether.5

The series of articles.

These are all generalizations here, which the Gift of Tongues Project normally tries to avoid. In this case, some introduction was necessary. This is a large work and is broken into a number of articles. Here is the complete listing:

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.


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