Christian demonology

Whatever may be said of this theory of the Rabbis, that the air is full of demons, and that men are in danger of receiving them into their systems it may certainly be said that in the days of the early Christians the air was dangerously full of demonologies, and that men were in peculiar peril of adopting erroneous doctrines on this matter. Theories were everywhere coming from old Oriental religions to take roots in the very heart of the Roman world.

The first Christian converts and the first Christian teachers were for the most part either Jews or Greeks, and many of them were living in the midst of those who professed some or other of the old pagan religions. Some of the earliest ecclesiastical writers such as St. Justin, Origen, or Tertullian were not very clever in their treatment of this topic and indulged in any superstition they could meet.

Moreover, monks and ermits who live in privation, solitude and sexual frustration were easy preys for all the phantasms and hallucinations that can visit an isolated man. The perversity of the Devil was held responsible for all the “trials” they had to face along their retreat. Gregory the Great with his “Dialogs” in 600, but essentially Athanase, who wrote  “The life of St Antony” in 362  give us a luxury of details about the trials of the famous ermit (251 – 356).

Demons are haunting every inch of the paintings that cover most of our Age as a civilization. The early heresies had been cast out, and theological speculation had been directed in the true way by the decision of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (545), which condemned certain Origenist errors on the subject of demons. There is, of course, a true doctrine about demons or evil spirits, namely, that portion of Catholic theology which treats of the creation and fall of the rebel angels, and of the various ways in which these fallen spirits are permitted to tempt and afflict the children of men.

But while the theologians of the great scholastic period were setting forth and elucidating the Catholic doctrine concerning angels and devils there was a darker side in the popular superstitions, and in the men who at all times continued to practice the black arts of magic and witchcraft. In the troubled period of the Renaissance and the Reformation there appears to have been a fresh outbreak of old superstitions and evil practices, and for a time both Catholic and Protestant countries were disturbed by the strange beliefs and the strange doings of real or supposed professors of the black arts and by the credulous and cruel persecutors who sought to suppress them.

This period was called “the Burning Times” and you will have account of it by visiting the witches section.