« Prev § 103. Accommodation of the two extreme Theories. Next »

§ 103. Accommodation of the two extreme Theories.

If now the question be asked whether these phenomena are to be considered as wholly natural or as supernatural, we answer, that these two extreme views may be more or less abruptly opposed to each other. On 148the one hand, we may ascribe the origin of the disease to natural causes, and judge of the symptoms accordingly, without excluding the operation of the other concealed cause; the question whether such a cause existed or not can be by no means decided merely by the symptoms.

Christ teaches that all wickedness, and all evil in its connexion with wickedness, must be traced back to a higher cause—to a Spirit232232   “If it could be proved that Christ had only taken up the doctrine of the existence of Satan by way of formal accommodation (p. 114), the question of the demoniacs would be at once decided. It cannot be denied that in many of his expressions we might substitute, for Satan, the objective notion of evil, without at all affecting the thought. We might, in deed, admit that he used the doctrine (borrowed from the circle of popular ideas) merely as a figurative covering for evil, if he himself had any where intimated that he did not intend thereby to confirm the view of the origin of evil which the popular notion involved; just as we showed from his own words that, in transferring the popular figures to his Messianic kingdom, he did distinguish between the substantial truth and its formal covering. But this is by no means the case here. There is not a vestige of evidence in his conversations with his disciples to show that he did not intend to establish the doctrine that a higher intelligence, estranged from God, was the original source of evil. Neither can we class this question (as some do) among those which have no bearing on the interests of religion, and which Christ’s mission did not require him to interfere with; our conception of evil will be very different if we confine it to human nature, from what it would be, if we admit its existence also in spirits of a higher order.
   In John, viii., 44, Christ gives a perfectly defined conception of Satan; he designates him as “the Spirit alienated from truth and goodness (for, according to John’s usage, ἀλήθεια involves both the true and the good); in whom falsehood and wickedness have become a second nature; who can find no abiding-place in the truth.” The revelation of truth which the spirits were to receive from communion with the Father of Spirits passes by him unheeded; he cannot receive and hold it fast, because he has no organ to embrace it, no susceptibility for its impressions. Christ tells the Pharisees that they, serving the Spirit of Lies, and living in communion with him, showed themselves, by the spirit which their actions manifested, to be children of Satan, rather than of Abraham and God. Schleiermacher’s attempt to prove (Works, iii., § 45, p. 214) that even in this passage the idea of a personal Satan is untenable, is by no means successful. “This passage,” says he, “can not be interpreted throughout on the theory of the reality of the devil, without either opposing the devil to God in the Manichaean sense, or else calling Christ the Son of God in the same extended signification in which the Pharisees are called Sons of the Devil. “The argument is unsuccessful, we say, because the proper point of comparison would be, not the sense in which Christ can be called the Son of God, but the sense in which pious men could be so called; and in a comparison it is not necessary that al the relations should be adequate, but only those which are common to the point of comparison itself.

   Nor can we admit that Christ, in making use of the current doctrine as a covering for his own, added nothing new to it. It is true that he made no disclosures on the subject to satisfy the speculative curiosity of science, but here, as elsewhere, made his communications only to meet practical wants. It is, however, precisely in the region of practical religion that the doctrine of the personality of Satan was newly modified by its connexion with the doctrine of Jesus, as the author of salvation. As for the passages in which “evil” might be substituted for “Satan,” it is enough to say, that after the existence of such an intelligence, the first rebel against God, had been given as a fact, it was natural to employ him as the representative of evil in general. We may use “Satan” as a symbol for wickedness in general, without implying any thing against the doctrine of his personal existence. See p. 74
that first rebelled against God, to an Original Sin, which gave birth to the first germ of wickedness. As he lays down a certain connexion between the various stages of the kingdom of God, so he assigns a similar 149connexion between all the manifestations of the powers of evil. It is thus, in perfect accordance with the teaching of Christ, that we ascribe those fearful disturbances of the corporeal, spiritual organism (in which the might of the principle of sin in human nature and the moral degeneracy of that nature are so strikingly exhibited), to the general kingdom of the Evil One.

On the other hand, in admitting the higher and concealed cause, we need not necessarily conceive it as operating in a magical way, without any preparation. A preparation, a point of contact in the pyschological developement, is by no means excluded by such an admission, but, as is the case in all influences wrought upon man’s inner nature, rather presupposed. In every instance we both can and ought to distinguish the symptoms of these diseases (as stated in the narrative) which arose from the hidden cause, from those which might have originated in the current opinions of the times, or in the peculiar psychological condition of the sufferers themselves. In either case we shall have to ascribe the radical cure, which Christ alone could accomplish, to the operation of his Spirit upon the evil principle in the man himself.

« Prev § 103. Accommodation of the two extreme Theories. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection