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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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A human being whose volition and other mental faculties are overpowered and restrained, and his body possessed and actuated by some created spiritual being of superior power. Such seems to be the determinate sense of the word; but it is disputed whether any of mankind ever were in this unfortunate condition. That the reader may form some judgment, we shall lay before him the argument on both sides. I. Daemoniacs, arguments against the existence of. Those who are unwilling to allow that angels or devils have ever intermeddled with the concerns of human life, urge a number of specious arguments. The Greeks and Romans of old, say they, did believe in the reality of daemoniacal possession. They supposed that spiritual beings did at times enter into the sons and daughters of men, and distinguish themselves in that situation by capricious freaks, deeds of wanton mischief, or prophetic enunciations. But in the instances in which they supposed this to happen, it is evident no such thing took place. Their accounts of the state and conduct of those persons whom they believed to be possessed in this supernatural manner, show plainly that what they ascribed to the influence of daemons were merely the effect of natural diseases. Whatever they relate concerning the larvati, the cerriti, and the lymphatici, shows that these were merely people disordered in mind, in the same unfortunate situation with those madmen, ideots, and melancholy persons, whom we have among ourselves.

Festus describes the larvati, as being furiosi et mente moti. Lucian describes daemoniacs as lunatic, and as staring with their eyes, foaming at the mouth, and being speechless. It appears still more evident that all the persons spoken of as possessed with devils in the New Testament, were either mad or epileptic, and precisely in the same condition with the madmen and epileptics of modern times. The Jews, among other reproaches which they threw out against our Saviour, said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? The expressions he hath a devil, and is mad, were certainly used on this occasion as synonymous. With all their virulence, they would not surely ascribe to him at once two things that were inconsistent and contradictory. Those who thought more favourably of the character of Jesus, asserted concerning his discourses, in reply to his adversaries, These are not the words of him that hath a daemon; meaning, no doubt, that he spoke in a more rational manner than a madman could be expected to speak. The Jews appear to have ascribed to the influence of daemons, not only that species of madness in which the patient is raving and furious, but also melancholy madness. Of John, who secluded himself from intercourse with the world, and was distinguished for abstinence and acts of mortification, they said, He hath a daemon.

The youth, whose father applied to Jesus to free him from an evil spirit, describing his unhappy condition in these words, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic, and sore vexed with a daemon; for oft times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water, was plainly epileptic. Every thing, indeed, that is related in the New Testament concerning daemoniacs, proves that they were people affected with such natural diseases as are far from being uncommon among mankind in the present age. When the symptoms of the disorders cured by our Saviour and his apostles as cases of daemoniacal possession correspond so exactly with those of diseases well known as natural in the present age, it would be absurd to impute them to a supernatural cause. It is much more consistent with common sense and sound philosophy to suppose that our Saviour and his apostles wisely, and with that condescension to the weakness and prejudices of those with whom they conversed, which so eminently distinguished the character of the Author of our holy religion, and must always be a prominent feature in the character of the true Christian, adopted the vulgar language in speaking of those unfortunate persons who were groundlessly imagined to be possessed with daemons, though they well knew the notions which had given rise to such modes of expression to be ill founded, than to imagine that diseases which arise at present from natural causes, were produced in days of old by the intervention of daemons, or that evil spirits still continue to enter into mankind in all cases of madness, melancholy, or epilepsy.

Besides, it is by no means a sufficient reason for receiving any doctrine as true, that it has been generally received through the world. Error, like an epidemical disease, is communicated from one to another. In certain circumstances, too, the influence of imagination predominates, and restrains the exertions of reason. Many false opinions have extended their influence through a very wide circle and maintained it long. On every such occasion as the present, therefore, it becomes us to enquire not so much how generally any opinion has been received, or how long it has prevailed, as from what cause it has originated, and on what evidence it rests. When we contemplate the frame of Nature, we behold a grand and beautiful simplicity prevailing, through the whole: notwithstanding its immense extent, and though it contains such numberless diversities of being, yet the simplest machine constructed by human art does not display greater simplicity, or an happier connection of parts. We may, therefore, infer by analogy, from what is observable of the order of Nature in general to the present case, that to permit evil spirits to intermeddle with the concerns of human life, would be to break through that order, which the Deity appears to have established through his works; it would be to introduce a degree of confusion unworthy of the wisdom of Divine Providence. II. Daemoniacs, arguments for the existence of. In opposition to these arguments, the following are urged by the Daemonianists. In the days of our Saviour, it would appear that Daemoniacal possession was very frequent among the Jews and the neighbouring nations.

Many were the evil spirits whom Jesus is related in the Gospels to have ejected from patients that were brought unto him as possessed and tormented by those malevolent daemons. His apostles too, and the first Christians, who were most active and successful in the propagation of Christianity, appear to have often exerted the miraculous powers with which they were endowed on similar occasions. The daemons displayed a degree of knowledge and malevolence which sufficiently distinguished them from human beings: and the language in which the daemoniacs are mentioned, and the actions and sentiments ascribed to them in the New Testament, show that our Saviour and his apostles did not consider the idea of daemoniacal possession as being merely a vulgar error concerning the origin of a disease or diseases produced by natural causes. The more enlightened cannot always avoid the use of metaphorical modes of expression; which though founded upon error, yet have been so established in language by the influence of custom, that they cannot be suddenly dismissed. But in descriptions of characters, in the narration of facts, and in the laying down of systems of doctrine, we require different rules to be observed. Should any person, in compliance with popular opinions, talk in serious language of the existence, dispositions, declarations, and actions of a race of beings whom he knew to be absolutely fabulous, we surely could not praise him for integrity: we must suppose him to be either exulting in irony over the weak credulity of those around him, or taking advantage of their weakness, with the dishonesty and selfish views of an impostor.

And if he himself should pretend to any connection with this imaginary system of beings; and should claim, in consequence of his connection with them, particular honours from his contemporaries; whatever might be the dignity of his character in all other respects, nobody could hesitate to brand him as an impostor. In this light must we regard the conduct of our Saviour and his apostles, if the idea of daemoniacal possession were to be considered merely as a vulgar error. They talked and acted as if they believed that evil spirits had actually entered into those who were brought to them as possessed with devils, and as if those spirits had been actually expelled by their authority out of the unhappy persons whom they had possessed. They demanded, too, to have their professions and declarations believed, in consequence of their performing such mighty works, and having thus triumphed over the powers of hell. The reality of daemoniacal possession stands upon the same evidence with the Gospel system in general. Nor is there any thing unreasonable in this doctrine. It does not appear to contradict those ideas which the general appearances of Nature and the series of events suggest, concerning the benevolence and wisdom of the Deity, by which he regulates the affairs of the universe.

We often fancy ourselves able to comprehend things to which our understanding is wholly inadequate; we persuade ourselves, at times, that the whole extent of the works of the Deity must be well known to us, and that his designs must always be such as we can fathom. We are then ready, whenever any difficulty arises to us in considering the conduct of Providence, to model things according to our own ideas; to deny that the Deity can possibly be the author of things which we cannot reconcile; and to assert, that he must act on every occasion in a manner consistent with our narrow views. This is the pride of reason; and it seems to have suggested the strongest objections that have been of any time urged against the reality of daemoniacal possession. But the Deity may surely connect one order of his creatures with another. We perceive mutual relations and a beautiful connection to prevail through all that part of Nature which falls within the sphere of our observation. The inferior animals are connected with mankind, a nd subjected to their authority, not only in instances in which it is exerted for their advantage, but even where it is tyrannically abused to their destruction. Among the evils to which mankind have been subjected, why might not their being liable to daemoniacal possession be one? While the Supreme Being retains the sovereignty of the universe, he may employ whatever agents he thinks proper in the execution of his purposes; he may either commission an angel, or let loose a devil; as well as bend the human will, or communicate any particular impulse to matter.

All that revelation makes known, all that human reason can conjecture, concerning the existence of various orders of spiritual beings, good and bad, is perfectly consistent with, and even favourable to, the doctrine of daemoniacal possession. It is mentioned in the New Testament in such language, and such narratives are related concerning it, that the Gospels cannot be well regarded in any other light than as pieces of imposture, and Jesus Christ must be considered as a man who took advantage of the weakness and ignorance of his contemporaries, if this doctrine be nothing but a vulgar error; it teaches nothing inconsistent with the general conduct of Providence; in short, it is not the caution of philosophy, but the pride of reason that suggests objections against this doctrine.

See the essays of Young, Farmen, Worthington, Dr. Lardner, Macknight, Fell, Burgh, &c. on Daemoniacs;

Seed's Posthumous Sermons, ser. 6: and article DAEMONIAC in Enc. Brit.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Daemoniac'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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