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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/464

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of idiocy, on the account in Genesis of the birth, of children whose fathers were "sons of God" and whose mothers were "daughters of men."

One idea of his was especially characteristic. The descent of Christ into hell was a frequent topic of discussion in the Reformed Church; Melanchthon, with his love of Greek studies, held that the purpose of the Saviour was to make himself known to the great and noble men of antiquity—Plato, Socrates, and the rest; but Luther insisted that his purpose was to conquer Satan in a hand-to-hand struggle.

This idea of diabolic influence pervaded his conversation, his preaching, and his writings, and spread thence to the Lutheran Church in general.

Calvin also held to the same theory; and, having more power, with less kindness of heart, than Luther, carried it out with yet greater harshness.

Under the influence, then, of such infallible teachings, in the older Church and in the new, this superstition was developed more and more into cruelty; and, as the Biblical texts, popularized in the sculptures and windows and mural decorations of the great mediæval cathedrals, had done much to develop it among the people, so Luther's translation of the Bible, especially in the numerous editions of it illustrated with engravings, wrought with enormous power to spread and deepen it. In every peasant's cottage some one could spell out the story of the devil bearing Christ through the air and placing him upon the pinnacle of the Temple,—of the woman with seven devils,—of the devils cast into the swine. Every peasant's child could be made to understand the quaint pictures in the family Bible or the catechism which illustrated vividly all those texts. In the ideas thus deeply implanted, the men who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries struggled against this mass of folly and cruelty found the worst barrier to right reason.[1]

So was the treatment of demoniacs developed by theology; and such was the practice enforced by ecclesiasticism for more than a thousand years.

How an atmosphere was spread in which this belief began to dissolve away, how its main foundations were undermined by science, and how there gradually came in a reign of humanity, will be related in the next chapter.

  1. As to the grotesques in mediæval churches, the writer of this article, in visiting the town church of Wittenberg, noticed just opposite the pulpit where Luther so often preached, a very spirited figure of an imp peering out upon the congregation. One can but suspect that this mediæval survival frequently suggested Luther's favorite topic during his sermons.