Chapter 16 - From Diabolism to Hysteria
Theological 'Restatements' - Final Triumph of Scientific View and Methods
But, happily, long before these latter occurrences, science
had come into the field and was gradually diminishing this class
of diseases. Among the earlier workers to this better purpose was
the great Dutch physician Boerhaave. Finding in one of the wards
in the hospital at Haarlem a number of women going into
convulsions and imitating each other in various acts of frenzy,
he immediately ordered a furnace of blazing coals into the midst
of the ward, heated cauterizing irons, and declared that he would
burn the arms of the first woman who fell into convulsions. No
more cases occurred.
These and similar successful dealings of medical science
with mental disease brought about the next stage in the
theological development. The Church sought to retreat, after the
usual manner, behind a compromise. Early in the eighteenth
century appeared a new edition of the great work by the Jesuit
Delrio which for a hundred years had been a text-book for the use
of ecclesiastics in fighting witchcraft; but in this edition the
part played by Satan in diseases was changed: it was suggested
that, while diseases have natural causes, it is necessary that
Satan enter the human body in order to make these causes
effective. This work claims that Satan "attacks lunatics at the
full moon, when their brains are full of humours"; that in other
cases of illness he "stirs the black bile"; and that in cases of
blindness and deafness he "clogs the eyes and ears." By the close
of the century this "restatement" was evidently found untenable,
and one of a very different sort was attempted in England.
In the third edition of the Encyclopæ dia Britannica,
published in 1797, under the article Dæ moniacs, the orthodox
view was presented in the following words: "The reality of
demoniacal possession stands upon the same evidence with the
gospel system in general."
This statement, though necessary to satisfy the older
theological sentiment, was clearly found too dangerous to be sent
out into the modern sceptical world without some qualification.
Another view was therefore suggested, namely, that the personages
of the New Testament "adopted the vulgar language in speaking of
those unfortunate persons who were generally imagined to be
possessed with demons." Two or three editions contained this
curious compromise; but near the middle of the present century
the whole discussion was quietly dropped.
Science, declining to trouble itself with any of these
views, pressed on, and toward the end of the century we see Dr.
Rhodes at Lyons curing a very serious case of possession by the
use of a powerful emetic; yet myth-making came in here also, and
it was stated that when the emetic produced its effect people had
seen multitudes of green and yellow devils cast forth from the
mouth of the possessed.
The last great demonstration of the old belief in England
was made in 1788. Near the city of Bristol at that time lived a
drunken epileptic, George Lukins. In asking alms, he insisted
that he was "possessed," and proved it by jumping, screaming,
barking, and treating the company to a parody of the Te Deum.
He was solemnly brought into the Temple Church, and seven
clergymen united in the effort to exorcise the evil spirit. Upon
their adjuring Satan, he swore "by his infernal den" that he
would not come out of the man - "an oath," says the chronicler,
"nowhere to be found but in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, from
which Lukins probably got it."
But the seven clergymen were at last successful, and seven
devils were cast out, after which Lukins retired, and appears to
have been supported during the remainder of his life as a
monument of mercy.
With this great effort the old theory in England seemed
Science had evidently carried the stronghold. In 1876, at a
little town near Amiens, in France, a young woman suffering with
all the usual evidences of diabolic possession was brought to the
priest. The priest was besought to cast out the devil, but he
simply took her to the hospital, where, under scientific
treatment, she rapidly became better.
The final triumph of science in this part of the great field has
been mainly achieved during the latter half of the present century.
Following in the noble succession of Paracelsus and John
Hunter and Pinel and Tuke and Esquirol, have come a band of
thinkers and workers who by scientific observation and research
have developed new growths of truth, ever more and more precious.
Among the many facts thus brought to bear upon this last
stronghold of the Prince of Darkness, may be named especially
those indicating "expectant attention" - an expectation of
phenomena dwelt upon until the longing for them becomes morbid
and invincible, and the creation of them perhaps unconscious.
Still other classes of phenomena leading to epidemics are found
to arise from a morbid tendency to imitation. Still other groups
have been brought under hypnotism. Multitudes more have been
found under the innumerable forms and results of hysteria. A
study of the effects of the imagination upon bodily functions has
also yielded remarkable results.
And, finally, to supplement this work, have come in an array
of scholars in history and literature who have investigated
myth-making and wonder-mongering.
Thus has been cleared away that cloud of supernaturalism
which so long hung over mental diseases, and thus have they been
brought within the firm grasp of science.
Conscientious men still linger on who find comfort in holding fast
to some shred of the old belief in diabolic possession. The sturdy
declaration in the last century by John Wesley, that "giving up
witchcraft is giving up the Bible," is echoed feebly in the latter
half of this century by the eminent Catholic ecclesiastic in
France who declares that "to deny possession by devils is to
charge Jesus and his apostles with imposture," and asks, "How
can the testimony of apostles, fathers of the Church, and saints
who saw the possessed and so declared, be denied?" And a still
fainter echo lingers in Protestant England.
But, despite this conscientious opposition, science has in
these latter days steadily wrought hand in hand with Christian
charity in this field, to evolve a better future for humanity.
The thoughtful physician and the devoted clergyman are now
constantly seen working together; and it is not too much to
expect that Satan, having been cast out of the insane asylums,
will ere long disappear from monasteries and camp meetings, even
in the most unenlightened regions of Christendom.