1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Devil

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7925641911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — DevilAlfred Ernest Garvie

DEVIL (Gr. διάβολος, “slanderer,” from διαβάλλειν, to slander), the generic name for a spirit of evil, especially the supreme spirit of evil, the foe of God and man. The word is used for minor evil spirits in much the same sense as “demon.” From the various characteristics associated with this idea, the term has come to be applied by analogy in many different senses. From the idea of evil as degraded, contemptible and doomed to failure, the term is applied to persons in evil plight, or of slight consideration. In English legal phraseology “devil” and “devilling” are used of barristers who act as substitutes for others. Any remuneration which the legal “devil” may receive is purely a matter of private arrangement between them. In the chancery division such remuneration is generally in the proportion of one half of the fee which the client pays; “in the king’s bench division remuneration for ‘devilling’ of briefs or assisting in drafting and opinions is not common” (see Annual Practice, 1907, p. 717). In a similar sense an author may have his materials collected and arranged by a literary hack or “devil.” The term “printer’s devil” for the errand boy in a printing office probably combines this idea with that of his being black with ink. The common notions of the devil as black, ill-favoured, malicious, destructive and the like, have occasioned the application of the term to certain animals (the Tasmanian devil, the devil-fish, the coot), to mechanical contrivances (for tearing up cloth or separating wool), to pungent, highly seasoned dishes, broiled or fried. In this article we are concerned with the primary sense of the word, as used in mythology and religion.

The primitive philosophy of animism involves the ascription of all phenomena to personal agencies. As phenomena are good or evil, produce pleasure or pain, cause weal or woe, a distinction in the character of these agencies is gradually recognized; the agents of good become gods, those of evil, demons. A tendency towards the simplification and organization of the evil as of the good forces, leads towards belief in outstanding leaders among the forces of evil. When the divine is most completely conceived as unity, the demonic is also so conceived; and over against God stands Satan, or the devil.

Although it is in connexion with Hebrew and Christian monotheism that this belief in the devil has been most fully developed, yet there are approaches to the doctrine in other religions. In Babylonian mythology “the old serpent goddess ’the lady Nina’ was transformed into the embodiment of all that was hostile to the powers of heaven” (Sayce’s Hibbert Lectures, p. 283), and was confounded with the dragon Tiamat, “a terrible monster, reappearing in the Old Testament writings as Rahab and Leviathan, the principle of chaos, the enemy of God and man” (Tennant’s The Fall and Original Sin, p. 43), and according to Gunkel (Schöpfung und Chaos, p. 383) “the original of the ’old serpent’ of Rev. xii. 9.” In Egyptian mythology the serpent Apap with an army of monsters strives daily to arrest the course of the boat of the luminous gods. While the Greek mythology described the Titans as “enchained once for all in their dark dungeons” yet Prometheus’ threat remained to disturb the tranquillity of the Olympian Zeus. In the German mythology the army of darkness is led by Hel, the personification of twilight, sunk to the goddess who enchains the dead and terrifies the living, and Loki, originally the god of fire, but afterwards “looked upon as the father of the evil powers, who strips the goddess of earth of her adornments, who robs Thor of his fertilizing hammer, and causes the death of Balder the beneficent sun.” In Hindu mythology the Maruts, Indra, Agni and Vishnu wage war with the serpent Ahi to deliver the celestial cows or spouses, the waters held captive in the caverns of the clouds. In the Trimurti, Brahmă (the impersonal) is manifested as Brahmā (the personal creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Siva (the destroyer). In Siva is perpetuated the belief in the god of Vedic times Rudra, who is represented as “the wild hunter who storms over the earth with his bands, and lays low with arrows the men who displease him” (Chantepie de la Saussaye’s Religionsgeschichte, 2nd ed., vol. ii. p. 25). The evil character of Siva is reflected in his wife, who as Kali (the black) is the wild and cruel goddess of destruction and death. The opposition of good and evil is most fully carried out in Zoroastrianism. Opposed to Ormuzd, the author of all good, is Ahriman, the source of all evil; and the opposition runs through the whole universe (D’Alviella’s Hibbert Lectures, pp. 158-164).

The conception of Satan (Heb. שָׂטָן, the adversary, Gr. Σατανᾶς, or Σατᾶν, 2 Cor. xii. 7) belongs to the post-exilic period of Hebrew development, and probably shows traces of the influence of Persian on Jewish thought, but it has also its roots in much older beliefs. An “evil spirit” possesses Saul (1 Sam. xvi. 14), but it is “from the Lord.” The same agency produces discord between Abimelech and the Shechemites (Judges ix. 23). “A lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” as Yahweh’s messenger entices Ahab to his doom (1 Kings xxii. 22). Growing human corruption is traced to the fleshy union of angels and women (Gen. vi. 1-4). But generally evil, whether as misfortune or as sin, is assigned to divine causality (1 Sam. xviii. 10; 2 Sam. xxiv. 1; 1 Kings xxii. 20; Isa. vi. 10, lxiii. 17). After the Exile there is a tendency to protect the divine transcendence by the introduction of mediating angelic agency, and to separate all evil from God by ascribing its origin to Satan, the enemy of God and man. In the prophecy of Zechariah (iii. 1-2) he stands as the adversary of Joshua, the high priest, and is rebuked by Yahweh for desiring that Jerusalem should be further punished. In the book of Job he presents himself before the Lord among the sons of God (ii. 1), yet he is represented both as accuser and tempter. He disbelieves in Job’s integrity, and desires him to be so tried that he may fall into sin. While, according to 2 Sam. xxiv. 1, God himself tests David in regard to the numbering of the people, according to 1 Chron. xxi. 1 it is Satan who tempts him.

The development of the conception continued in later Judaism, which was probably more strongly influenced by Persian dualism. It is doubtful, however, whether the Asmodeus (q.v.) of the book of Tobit is the same as the Aēshma Daēwa of the Bundahesh. He is the evil spirit who slew the seven husbands of Sara (iii. 8), and the name probably means “Destroyer.” In the book of Enoch Satan is represented as the ruler of a rival kingdom of evil, but here are also mentioned Satans, who are distinguished from the fallen angels and who have a threefold function, to tempt, to accuse and to punish. Satan possesses the ungodly (Ecclesiasticus xxi. 27), is identified with the serpent of Gen. iii. (Wisdom ii. 24), and is probably also represented by Asmodeus, to whom lustful qualities are assigned (Tobit vi. 14); Gen. iii. is probably referred to in Psalms of Solomon xvii. 49, “a serpent speaking with the words of transgressors, words of deceit to pervert wisdom.” The Book of the Secrets of Enoch not only identifies Satan with the Serpent, but also describes his revolt against God, and expulsion from heaven. In the Jewish Targums Sammael, “the highest angel that stands before God’s throne, caused the serpent to seduce the woman”; he coalesces with Satan, and has inferior Satans as his servants. The birth of Cain is ascribed to a union of Satan with Eve. As accuser affecting man’s standing before God he is greatly feared.

This doctrine, stripped of much of its grossness, is reproduced in the New Testament. Satan is the διάβολος (Matt. xiii. 39; John xiii. 2; Eph. iv. 27; Heb. ii. 14; Rev. ii. 10), slanderer or accuser, the πειράζων (Matt. iv. 3; 1 Thess. iii. 5), the tempter, the πονηρός (Matt. v. 37; John xvii. 15; Eph. vi. 16), the evil one, and the ἐχθρός (Matt. xiii. 39), the enemy. He is apparently identified with Beelzebub (or Beelzebul) in Matt. xii. 26, 27. Jesus appears to recognize the existence of demons belonging to a kingdom of evil under the leadership of Satan “the prince of demons” (Matt. xii. 24, 26, 27), whose works in demonic possessions it is his function to destroy (Mark i. 34, iii. 11, vi. 7; Luke x. 17-20). But he himself conquers Satan in resisting his temptations (Matt. iv. 1-11). Simon is warned against him, and Judas yields to him as tempter (Luke xxii. 31; John xiii. 27). Jesus’s cures are represented as a triumph over Satan (Luke x. 18). This Jewish doctrine is found in Paul’s letters also. Satan rules over a world of evil, supernatural agencies, whose dwelling is in the lower heavens (Eph. vi. 12): hence he is the “prince of the power of the air” (ii. 2). He is the tempter (1 Thess. iii. 5; 1 Cor. vii. 5), the destroyer (x. 10), to whom the offender is to be handed over for bodily destruction (v. 5), identified with the serpent (Rom. xvi. 20; 2 Cor. xi. 3), and probably with Beliar or Belial (vi. 15); and the surrender of man to him brought death into the world (Rom. v. 17). Paul’s own “stake in the flesh” is Satan’s messenger (2 Cor. xii. 7). According to Hebrews Satan’s power over death Jesus destroys by dying (ii. 14). Revelation describes the war in heaven between God with his angels and Satan or the dragon, the “old serpent,” the deceiver of the whole world (xii. 9), with his hosts of darkness. After the overthrow of the Beast and the kings of the earth, Satan is imprisoned in the bottomless pit a thousand years (xx. 2). Again loosed to deceive the nations, he is finally cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (xx. 10; cf. Enoch liv. 5, 6; 2 Peter ii. 4). In John’s Gospel and Epistles Satan is opposed to Christ. Sinner and murderer from the beginning (1 John iii. 8) and liar by nature (John viii. 44), he enslaves men to sin (viii. 34), causes death (verse 44), rules the present world (xiv. 30), but has no power over Christ or those who are his (xiv. 30, xvi. 11; 1 John v. 18). He will be destroyed by Christ with all his works (John xvi. 33; 1 John iii. 8).

In the common faith of the Gentile churches after the Apostolic Age “the present dominion of evil demons, or of one evil demon, was just as generally presupposed as man’s need of redemption, which was regarded as a result of that dominion. The tenacity of this belief may be explained among other things by the living impression of the polytheism that surrounded the communities on every side. By means of this assumption too, humanity seemed to be unburdened, and the presupposed capacity for redemption could, therefore, be justified in its widest range” (Harnack’s History of Dogma, i. p. 181). While Christ’s First Advent delivered believers from Satan’s bondage, his overthrow would be completed only by the Second Advent. The Gnostics held that “the present world sprang from a fall of man, or from an undertaking hostile to God, and is, therefore, the product of an evil or intermediate being” (p. 257). Some taught that while the future had been assigned by God to Christ, the devil had received the present age (p. 309). The fathers traced all doctrines not held by the Catholic Church to the devil, and the virtues of heretics were regarded as an instance of the devil transforming himself into an angel of light (ii. 91). Irenaeus ascribes Satan’s fall to “pride and arrogance and envy of God’s creation”; and traces man’s deliverance from Satan to Christ’s victory in resisting his temptations; but also, guided by certain Pauline passages, represents the death of Christ “as a ransom paid to the ‘apostasy’ for men who had fallen into captivity” (ii. 290). He does not admit that Satan has any lawful claim on man, or that God practised a deceit on him, as later fathers taught. This theory of the atonement was formulated by Origen. “By his successful temptation the devil acquired a right over men. God offered Christ’s soul for that of men. But the devil was duped, as Christ overcame both him and death” (p. 367). It was held by Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, who uses the phrase pia fraus, Augustine, Leo I., and Gregory I., who expresses it in its worst form. “The humanity of Christ was the bait; the fish, the devil, snapped at it, and was left hanging on the invisible hook, Christ’s divinity” (iii. 307). In Athanasius the relation of the work of Christ to Satan retires into the background, Gregory of Nazianzus and John of Damascus felt scruples about this view. It is expressly repudiated by Anselm and Abelard. Peter the Lombard asserted it, disregarding these objections. Bernard represents man’s bondage to Satan “as righteously permitted as a just retribution for sin,” he being “the executioner of the divine justice.” Another theory of Origen’s found less acceptance. The devil, as a being resulting from God’s will, cannot always remain a devil. The possibility of his redemption, however, was in the 5th century branded as a heresy. Persian dualism was brought into contact with Christian thought in the doctrine of Mani; and it is permissible to believe that the gloomy views of Augustine regarding man’s condition are due in some measure to this influence. Mani taught that Satan with his demons, sprung from the kingdom of darkness, attacked the realm of light, the earth, defeated man sent against him by the God of light, but was overthrown by the God of light, who then delivered the primeval man (iii. 324). “During the middle ages,” says Tulloch, “the belief in the devil was absorbing—saints conceived themselves and others to be in constant conflict with him.” This superstition, perhaps at its strongest in the 13th to the 15th century, passed into Protestantism. Luther was always conscious of the presence and opposition of Satan. “As I found he was about to begin again,” says Luther, “I gathered together my books, and got into bed. Another time in the night I heard him above my cell walking on the cloister, but as I knew it was the devil I paid no attention to him and went to sleep.” He held that this world will pass away with its pleasures, as there can be no real improvement in it, for the devil continues in it to ply his daring and seductive devices (vii. 191). I. A. Dorner (Christian Doctrine, iii. p. 93) sums up Protestant doctrine as follows:—“He is brought into relation with natural sinfulness, and the impulse to evil thoughts and deeds is ascribed to him. The dominion of evil over men is also represented as a slavery to Satan, and this as punishment. He has his full power in the extra-Christian world. But his power is broken by Christ, and by his word victory over him is to be won. The power of creating anything is also denied the devil, and only the power of corrupting substances is conceded to him. But it is only at the Last Judgment that his power is wholly annihilated; he is himself delivered up to eternal punishment.” This belief in the devil was specially strong in Scotland among both clergy and laity in the 17th century. “The devil was always and literally at hand,” says Buckle, “he was haunting them, speaking to them, and tempting them. Go where they would he was there.”

In more recent times a great variety of opinions has been expressed on this subject. J. S. Semler denied the reality of demonic possession, and held that Christ in his language accommodated himself to the views of the sick whom he was seeking to cure. Kant regarded the devil as a personification of the radical evil in man. Daub in his Judas Ishcarioth argued that a finite evil presupposes an absolute evil, and the absolute evil as real must be in a person. Schelling regarded the devil as, not a person, but a real principle, a spirit let loose by the freedom of man. Schleiermacher was an uncompromising opponent of the common belief. “The problem remains to seek evil rather in self than in Satan, Satan only showing the limits of our self-knowledge.” Dorner has formulated a theory which explains the development of the conception of Satan in the Holy Scriptures as in correspondence with an evolution in the character of Satan. “Satan appears in Scripture under four leading characters:—first as the tempter of freedom, who desires to bring to decision, secondly as the accuser, who by virtue of the law retorts criminality on man; thirdly as the instrument of the Divine, which brings evil and death upon men; fourthly and lastly he is described, especially in the New Testament, as the enemy of God and man.” He supposes “a change in Satan in the course of the history of the divine revelation, in conflict with which he came step by step to be a sworn enemy of God and man, especially in the New Testament times, in which, on the other hand, his power is broken at the root by Christ.” He argues that “the world-order, being in process as a moral order, permits breaches everywhere into which Satan can obtain entrance” (pp. 99, 102). H. L. Martensen gives even freer rein to speculation. “The evil principle,” he says, “has in itself no personality, but attains a progressively universal personality in its kingdom; it has no individual personality, save only in individual creatures, who in an especial manner make themselves its organs; but among these is one creature in whom the principle is so hypostasized that he has become the centre and head of the kingdom of evil” (Dogmatics, p. 199). A. Ritschl gives no place in his constructive doctrine to the belief in the devil; but recognizes that the mutual action of individual sinners on one another constitutes a kingdom of sin, opposed to the Kingdom of God (A. E. Garvie, The Ritschlian Theology, p. 304). Kaftan affirms that a “doctrine about Satan can as little be established as about angels, as faith can say nothing about it, and nothing is gained by it for the dogmatic explanation of evil. This whole province must be left to the immediate world-view of the pious. The idea of Satan will on account of the Scriptures not disappear from it, and it would be arrogant to wish to set it aside. Only let everyone keep the thought that Satan also stands under the commission of the Almighty God, and that no one must suppose that by leading back his sins to a Satanic temptation he can get rid of his own guilt. To transgress these limits is to assail faith” (Dogmatik, p. 348). In the book entitled Evil and Evolution there is “an attempt to turn the light of modern science on to the ancient mystery of evil.” The author contends that the existence of evil is best explained by assuming that God is confronted with Satan, who in the process of evolution interferes with the divine designs, an interference which the instability of such an evolving process makes not incredible. Satan is, however, held to be a creature who has by abuse of his freedom been estranged from, and opposed to his Creator, and who at last will be conquered by moral means. W. M. Alexander in his book on demonic possession maintains that “the confession of Jesus as the Messiah or Son of God is the classical criterion of genuine demonic possession” (p. 150), and argues that, as “the Incarnation indicated the establishment of the kingdom of heaven upon earth,” there took place “a counter movement among the powers of darkness,” of which “genuine demonic possession was one of the manifestations” (p. 249).

Interesting as these speculations are, it may be confidently affirmed that belief in Satan is not now generally regarded as an essential article of the Christian faith, nor is it found to be an indispensable element of Christian experience. On the one hand science has so explained many of the processes of outer nature and of the inner life of man as to leave no room for Satanic agency. On the other hand the modern view of the inspiration of the Scriptures does not necessitate the acceptance of the doctrine of the Scriptures on this subject as finally and absolutely authoritative. The teaching of Jesus even in this matter may be accounted for as either an accommodation to the views of those with whom he was dealing, or more probably as a proof of the limitation of knowledge which was a necessary condition of the Incarnation, for it cannot be contended that as revealer of God and redeemer of men it was imperative that he should either correct or confirm men’s beliefs in this respect. The possibility of the existence of evil spirits, organized under one leader Satan to tempt man and oppose God, cannot be denied; the sufficiency of the evidence for such evil agency may, however, be doubted; the necessity of any such belief for Christian thought and life cannot, therefore, be affirmed. (See also Demonology; Possession.)  (A. E. G.*)