strong popular tendency to attribute the more troublesome cases of it to hostile spiritual influence.
From all these sources, but especially from our sacred books and the writings of Plato, this theory that mental disease is caused largely or mainly by satanic influence passed into the early Church. In the apostolic times no belief seems to have been more firmly settled. The early Fathers and Doctors in the following age universally accepted it, and the apologists generally spoke of the power of casting out devils as a leading proof of the divine origin of the Christian religion.
As a result of this idea, the Christian Church at an early period in its existence virtually gave up the noble conquests of Greek and Roman science in this field, and originated a regular discipline for persons supposed to be possessed, based, as was believed, upon Scriptural theology. But, during the centuries before theology and ecclesiasticism were largely developed, this discipline was, as a rule, gentle and useful. The afflicted, when not too violent, were generally admitted to the exercises of public worship, and a kindly system of cure was attempted, in which prominence was given to holy water, sanctified ointments, the breath or spittle of the priest, the touching of relics, visits to holy places, and submission to mild forms of exorcism. There can be no doubt that many of these things, when judiciously used, in that spirit of love and gentleness and devotion inherited by the earlier disciples from "the Master," produced good effects in soothing disturbed minds and aiding their cure.
Among the thousands of fetiches of various sorts then resorted to may be named, as typical, the Holy Handkerchief of Besançon. During many centuries multitudes came from far and near to be touched by it; for, it was argued, if touching the garments of St. Paul, at Ephesus, had cured the diseased, how much more might be expected of a handkerchief of the Lord himself!
With ideas of this sort was mingled a vague belief in medical
- The Greek word "epilepsy" is itself a survival of the old belief, fossilized in a word, since its literal meaning refers to the seizure of the patient by evil spirits.
- For a striking statement of the Jewish belief in diabolical interference, see Josephus, "De Bello Judaico," vii, 6, iii; also his "Antiquities," viii, Whiston's translation. On the "devil cast out," in Mark ix, 17-29, as an undoubted case of epilepsy, see Cherullier, "Essai sur l'Épilepsie"; also Maury, art. "Démoniaque" in the "Encyclopédie Moderne." In one text, at least, the popular belief is perfectly shown as confounding madness and possession: "He hath a devil and is mad," John x, 20. Among the multitude of texts those most relied upon were Matthew viii, 28, and Luke x, 17; and, for the use of fetiches in driving out evil spirits, the account of the cures wrought by touching the garments of St. Paul in Acts xix, 12. On the general subject see authorities already given, and as a typical passage Tertullian, "ad. Scap.," ii; for the very gross view taken by St. Basil, see Cudworth, "Intellectual System," ii, 648; also Archdeacon Farrar's "Life of Christ." For a curious presentation of Greek views, see Lélut, "Le Démon de Socrate," Paris, 1886; and, for the transmission of these to Christianity, see same, p. 201, and following.