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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/601

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NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

Peter, showing that the devils had been confined by the Almighty, and therefore could not be doing on earth the work which was imputed to them. But Bekker's Protestant brethren drove him from his pulpit, and he narrowly escaped with his life.

The last struggles of a great superstition are very frequently the worst. So it proved in this case. In the first half of the seventeenth century the cruelties arising from the old doctrine were more numerous and severe than ever before. In Spain, Sweden, Italy, and, above all, in Germany, we see constant efforts to suppress the evolution of the new truth.

But, in the midst of all this reactionary rage, glimpses of right reason began to appear. It is significant that at this very time, when the old superstition was apparently everywhere triumphant, the declaration by Poulet that he and his brother and his cousin had, by smearing themselves with ointment, changed themselves into wolves and devoured children, brought no severe punishment upon them. The judges sent him to a mad-house. More and more, in spite of frantic efforts from the pulpit to save the superstition, great writers and jurists, especially in France, began to have glimpses of the truth and courage to uphold it. Malebranche spoke against the superstition; Siguier led the French courts to annul several decrees condemning sorcerers; the great chancellor, D'Aguesseau, declared to the Parliament of Paris that, if they wished to stop sorcery, they must stop talking about it—that sorcerers are more to be pitied than blamed.[1]

But just at this time, as the eighteenth century was approaching, the theological current was strengthened by a great ecclesiastic—the greatest theologian that France has produced, whose influence upon religion and upon the mind of Louis XIV was enormous—Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux. There had been reason to expect that Bossuet would at least do something to mitigate the superstition; for his writings show that in much, which before his time had been ascribed to diabolic possession, he saw simple lunacy. Unfortunately, the same adherence to the literal interpretation of Scripture which led him to oppose every other scientific truth developed in his time led him also to attack this: he delivered and published two great sermons which, while showing some progress in the form of his belief, showed none the less that the fundamental idea of diabolic possession was still to be tenaciously held. What this idea was may be seen in one typical statement: he declared that "a single devil could turn the earth round as easily as we turn a marble."[2]

  1. See Esquirol, "Des Maladies mentales," i, 488, 489; ii, 529.
  2. See the two sermons, "Sur les Demons" (which are virtually but two forms of the same sermon), in Bossuet's works, edition of 1845, iii, 236 d scq.; also Dzwiecki, in the "Nineteenth Century," as above. On Bossuet's resistance to other scientific truths, espe-