A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom
Chapter 11 - From 'The Prince of the Power of the Air' to Meteorology

Diabolical Agency in Storm

While the fathers and schoolmen were labouring to deduce a science of meteorology from our sacred books, there oozed up in European society a mass of traditions and observances which had been lurking since the days of paganism; and, although here and there appeared a churchman to oppose them, the theologians and ecclesiastics ere long began to adopt them and to clothe them with the authority of religion.

Both among the pagans of the Roman Empire and among the barbarians of the North the Christian missionaries had found it easier to prove the new God supreme than to prove the old gods powerless. Faith in the miracles of the new religion seemed to increase rather than to diminish faith in the miracles of the old; and the Church at last began admitting the latter as facts, but ascribing them to the devil. Jupiter and Odin sank into the category of ministers of Satan, and transferred to that master all their former powers. A renewed study of Scripture by theologians elicited overwhelming proofs of the truth of this doctrine. Stress was especially laid on the declaration of Scripture, "The gods of the heathen are devils." Supported by this and other texts, it soon became a dogma. So strong was the hold it took, under the influence of the Church, that not until late in the seventeenth century did its substantial truth begin to be questioned.

With no field of action had the sway of the ancient deities been more identified than with that of atmospheric phenomena. The Roman heard Jupiter, and the Teuton heard Thor, in the thunder. Could it be doubted that these powerful beings would now take occasion, unless hindered by the command of the Almighty, to vent their spite against those who had deserted their altars? Might not the Almighty himself be willing to employ the malice of these powers of the air against those who had offended him?

It was, indeed, no great step, for those whose simple faith accepted rain or sunshine as an answer to their prayers, to suspect that the untimely storms or droughts, which baffled their most earnest petitions, were the work of the archenemy, "the prince of the power of the air."

The great fathers of the Church had easily found warrant for this doctrine in Scripture. St. Jerome declared the air to be full of devils, basing this belief upon various statements in the prophecies of Isaiah and in the Epistle to the Ephesians. St. Augustine held the same view as beyond controversy.

During the Middle Ages this doctrine of the diabolical origin of storms went on gathering strength. Bede had full faith in it, and narrates various anecdotes in support of it. St. Thomas Aquinas gave it his sanction, saying in his all authoritative Summa, "Rains and winds, and whatsoever occurs by local impulse alone, can be caused by demons." "It is," he says, "a dogma of faith that the demons can produce wind, storms, and rain of fire from heaven."

Albert the Great taught the same doctrine, and showed how a certain salve thrown into a spring produced whirlwinds. The great Franciscan - the "seraphic doctor" - St. Bonaventura, whose services to theology earned him one of the highest places in the Church, and to whom Dante gave special honour in paradise, set upon this belief his high authority. The lives of the saints, and the chronicles of the Middle Ages, were filled with it. Poetry and painting accepted the idea and developed it. Dante wedded it to verse, and at Venice this thought may still be seen embodied in one of the grand pictures of Bordone: a shipload of demons is seen approaching Venice in a storm, threatening destruction to the city, but St. Mark, St. George, and St. Nicholas attack the vessel, and disperse the hellish crew.

The popes again and again sanctioned this doctrine, and it was amalgamated with various local superstitions, pious imaginations, and interesting arguments, to strike the fancy of the people at large. A strong argument in favour of a diabolical origin of the thunderbolt was afforded by the eccentricities of its operation. These attracted especial attention in the Middle Ages, and the popular love of marvel generalized isolated phenomena into rules. Thus it was said that the lightning strikes the sword in the sheath, gold in the purse, the foot in the shoe, leaving sheath and purse and shoe unharmed; that it consumes a human being internally without injuring the skin; that it destroys nets in the water, but not on the land; that it kills one man, and leaves untouched another standing beside him; that it can tear through a house and enter the earth without moving a stone from its place; that it injures the heart of a tree, but not the bark; that wine is poisoned by it, while poisons struck by it lose their venom; that a man's hair may be consumed by it and the man be unhurt.

These peculiar phenomena, made much of by the allegorizing sermonizers of the day, were used in moral lessons from every pulpit. Thus the Carmelite, Matthias Farinator, of Vienna, who at the Pope's own instance compiled early in the fifteenth century that curious handbook of illustrative examples for preachers, the Lumen Animae, finds a spiritual analogue for each of these anomalies.

This doctrine grew, robust and noxious, until, in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, we find its bloom in a multitude of treatises by the most learned of the Catholic and Protestant divines, and its fruitage in the torture chambers and on the scaffolds throughout Christendom. At the Reformation period, and for nearly two hundred years afterward, Catholics and Protestants vied with each other in promoting this growth. John Eck, the great opponent of Luther, gave to the world an annotated edition of Aristotle's Physics, which was long authoritative in the German universities; and, though the text is free from this doctrine, the woodcut illustrating the earth's atmosphere shows most vividly, among the clouds of mid-air, the devils who there reign supreme.

Luther, in the other religious camp, supported the superstition even more zealously, asserting at times his belief that the winds themselves are only good or evil spirits, and declaring that a stone thrown into a certain pond in his native region would cause a dreadful storm because of the devils, kept prisoners there.

Just at the close of the same century, Catholics and Protestants welcomed alike the great work of Delrio. In this, the power of devils over the elements is proved first from the Holy Scriptures, since, he declares, "they show that Satan brought fire down from heaven to consume the servants and flocks of Job, and that he stirred up a violent wind, which overwhelmed in ruin the sons and daughters of Job at their feasting." Next, Delrio insists on the agreement of all the orthodox fathers, that it was the devil himself who did this, and attention is called to the fact that the hail with which the Egyptians were punished is expressly declared in Holy Scripture to have been brought by the evil angels. Citing from the Apocalypse, he points to the four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the winds and preventing their doing great damage to mortals; and he dwells especially upon the fact that the devil is called by the apostle a "prince of the power of the air." He then goes on to cite the great fathers of the Church - Clement, Jerome, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas.

This doctrine was spread not only in ponderous treatises, but in light literature and by popular illustrations. In the Compendium Maleficarum of the Italian monk Guacci, perhaps the most amusing book in the whole literature of witchcraft, we may see the witch, in propria persona, riding the diabolic goat through the clouds while the storm rages around and beneath her; and we may read a rich collection of anecdotes, largely contemporary, which establish the required doctrine beyond question.

The first and most natural means taken against this work of Satan in the air was prayer; and various petitions are to be found scattered through the Christian liturgies - some very beautiful and touching. This means of escape has been relied upon, with greater or less faith, from those days to these. Various medieval saints and reformers, and devoted men in all centuries, from St. Giles to John Wesley, have used it with results claimed to be miraculous. Whatever theory any thinking man may hold in the matter, he will certainly not venture a reproachful word: such prayers have been in all ages a natural outcome of the mind of man in trouble.

But against the "power of the air" were used other means of a very different character and tendency, and foremost among these was exorcism. In an exorcism widely used and ascribed to Pope Gregory XIII, the formula is given:

"I, a priest of Christ,... do command ye, most foul spirits, who do stir up these clouds,... that ye depart from them, and disperse yourselves into wild and untilled places, that ye may be no longer able to harm men or animals or fruits or herbs, or whatsoever is designed for human use."

But this is mild, indeed, compared to some later exorcisms, as when the ritual runs:

"All the people shall rise, and the priest, turning toward the clouds, shall pronounce these words: `I exorcise ye, accursed demons, who have dared to use, for the accomplishment of your iniquity, those powers of Nature by which God in divers ways worketh good to mortals; who stir up winds, gather vapours, form clouds, and condense them into hail.. I exorcise ye,. that ye relinquish the work ye have begun, dissolve the hail, scatter the clouds, disperse the vapours, and restrain the winds.' "

The rubric goes on to order that then there shall be a great fire kindled in an open place, and that over it the sign of the cross shall be made, and the one hundred and fourteenth Psalm chanted, while malodorous substances, among them sulphur and asafoetida, shall be cast into the flames. The purpose seems to have been literally to "smoke out" Satan.

Manuals of exorcisms became important - some bulky quartos, others handbooks. Noteworthy among the latter is one by the Italian priest Locatelli, entitled Exorcisms most Powerful and Efficacious for the Dispelling of Aerial Tempests, whether raised by Demons at their own Instance or at the Beck of some Servant of the Devil.

The Jesuit Gretser, in his famous book on Benedictions and Maledictions, devotes a chapter to this subject, dismissing summarily the scepticism that questions the power of devils over the elements, and adducing the story of Job as conclusive.

Nor was this theory of exorcism by any means confined to the elder Church. Luther vehemently upheld it, and prescribed especially the first chapter of St. John's gospel as of unfailing efficacy against thunder and lightning, declaring that he had often found the mere sign of the cross, with the text, "The word was made flesh," sufficient to put storms to flight.

From the beginning of the Middle Ages until long after the Reformation the chronicles give ample illustration of the successful use of such exorcisms. So strong was the belief in them that it forced itself into minds comparatively rational, and found utterance in treatises of much importance.

But, since exorcisms were found at times ineffectual, other means were sought, and especially fetiches of various sorts. One of the earliest of these appeared when Pope Alexander I, according to tradition, ordained that holy water should be kept in churches and bedchambers to drive away devils. Another safeguard was found in relics, and of similar efficacy were the so-called "conception billets" sold by the Carmelite monks. They contained a formula upon consecrated paper, at which the devil might well turn pale. Buried in the corner of a field, one of these was thought to give protection against bad weather and destructive insects.

But highest in repute during centuries was the Agnus Dei - a piece of wax blessed by the Pope's own hand, and stamped with the well-known device representing the "Lamb of God." Its powers were so marvellous that Pope Urban V thought three of these cakes a fitting gift from himself to the Greek Emperor. In the Latin doggerel recounting their virtues, their meteorological efficacy stands first, for especial stress is laid on their power of dispelling the thunder. The stress thus laid by Pope Urban, as the infallible guide of Christendom, on the efficacy of this fetich, gave it great value throughout Europe, and the doggerel verses reciting its virtues sank deep into the popular mind. It was considered a most potent means of dispelling hail, pestilence, storms, conflagrations, and enchantments; and this feeling was deepened by the rules and rites for its consecration. So solemn was the matter, that the manufacture and sale of this particular fetich was, by a papal bull of 1471, reserved for the Pope himself, and he only performed the required ceremony in the first and seventh years of his pontificate. Standing unmitred, he prayed:

"O God,... we humbly beseech thee that thou wilt bless these waxen forms, figured with the image of an innocent lamb,... that, at the touch and sight of them, the faithful may break forth into praises, and that the crash of hailstorms, the blast of hurricanes, the violence of tempests, the fury of winds, and the malice of thunderbolts may be tempered, and evil spirits flee and tremble before the standard of thy holy cross, which is graven upon them."

Another favourite means with the clergy of the older Church for bringing to naught the "power of the air," was found in great processions bearing statues, relics, and holy emblems through the streets. Yet even these were not always immediately effective. One at Liege, in the thirteenth century, thrice proved unsuccessful in bringing rain, when at last it was found that the image of the Virgin had been forgotten! A new procession was at once formed, the Salve Regina sung, and the rain came down in such torrents as to drive the devotees to shelter.

In Catholic lands this custom remains to this day, and very important features in these processions are the statues and the reliquaries of patron saints. Some of these excel in bringing sunshine, others in bringing rain. The Cathedral of Chartres is so fortunate as to possess sundry relics of St. Taurin, especially potent against dry weather, and some of St. Piat, very nearly as infallible against wet weather. In certain regions a single saint gives protection alternately against wet and dry weather - as, for example, St. Godeberte at Noyon. Against storms St. Barbara is very generally considered the most powerful protectress; but, in the French diocese of Limoges, Notre Dame de Crocq has proved a most powerful rival, for when, a few years since, all the neighbouring parishes were ravaged by storms, not a hailstone fell in the canton which she protected. In the diocese of Tarbes, St. Exupere is especially invoked against hail, peasants flocking from all the surrounding country to his shrine.

But the means of baffling the powers of the air which came to be most widely used was the ringing of consecrated church bells.

This usage had begun in the time of Charlemagne, and there is extant a prohibition of his against the custom of baptizing bells and of hanging certain tags on their tongues as a protection against hailstorms; but even Charlemagne was powerless against this current of medieval superstition. Theological reasons were soon poured into it, and in the year 968 Pope John XIII gave it the highest ecclesiastical sanction by himself baptizing the great bell of his cathedral church, the Lateran, and christening it with his own name.

This idea was rapidly developed, and we soon find it supported in ponderous treatises, spread widely in sermons, and popularized in multitudes of inscriptions cast upon the bells themselves. This branch of theological literature may still be studied in multitudes of church towers throughout Europe. A bell at Basel bears the inscription, "Ad fugandos demones." Another, in Lugano, declares "The sound of this bell vanquishes tempests, repels demons, and summons men." Another, at the Cathedral of Erfurt, declares that it can "ward off lightning and malignant demons." A peal in the Jesuit church at the university town of Pont-a-Mousson bore the words, "They praise God, put to flight the clouds, affright the demons, and call the people." This is dated 1634. Another bell in that part of France declares, "It is I who dissipate the thunders"(Ego sum qui dissipo tonitrua).

Another, in one of the forest cantons of Switzerland, bears a doggerel couplet, which may be thus translated:

"On the devil my spite I'll vent,
And, God helping, bad weather prevent."

Very common were inscriptions embodying this doctrine in sonorous Latin.

Naturally, then, there grew up a ritual for the consecration of bells. Knollys, in his quaint translation of the old chronicler Sleidan, gives us the usage in the simple English of the middle of the sixteenth century:

"In lyke sorte [as churches] are the belles used. And first, forsouth, they must hange so, as the Byshop may goe round about them. Whiche after he hath sayde certen Psalmes, he consecrateth water and salte, and mingleth them together, wherwith he washeth the belle diligently both within and without, after wypeth it drie, and with holy oyle draweth in it the signe of the crosse, and prayeth God, that whan they shall rynge or sounde that bell, all the disceiptes of the devyll may vanyshe away, hayle, thondryng, lightening, wyndes, and tempestes, and all untemperate weathers may be aswaged. Whan he hath wipte out the crosse of oyle wyth a linen cloth, he maketh seven other crosses in the same, and within one only. After saying certen Psalmes, he taketh a payre of sensours and senseth the bel within, and prayeth God to sende it good lucke. In many places they make a great dyner, and kepe a feast as it were at a solemne wedding."

These bell baptisms became matters of great importance. Popes, kings, and prelates were proud to stand as sponsors. Four of the bells at the Cathedral of Versailles having been destroyed during the French Revolution, four new ones were baptized, on the 6th of January, 1824, the Voltairean King, Louis XVIII, and the pious Duchess d'Angouleme standing as sponsors.

In some of these ceremonies zeal appears to have outrun knowledge, and one of Luther's stories, at the expense of the older Church, was that certain authorities thus christened a bell "Hosanna," supposing that to be the name of a woman.

To add to the efficacy of such baptisms, water was sometimes brought from the river Jordan.

The prayers used at bell baptisms fully recognise this doctrine. The ritual of Paris embraces the petition that, "whensoever this bell shall sound, it shall drive away the malign influences of the assailing spirits, the horror of their apparitions, the rush of whirlwinds, the stroke of lightning, the harm of thunder, the disasters of storms, and all the spirits of the tempest." Another prayer begs that "the sound of this bell may put to flight the fiery darts of the enemy of men"; and others vary the form but not the substance of this petition. The great Jesuit theologian, Bellarmin, did indeed try to deny the reality of this baptism; but this can only be regarded as a piece of casuistry suited to Protestant hardness of heart, or as strategy in the warfare against heretics.

Forms of baptism were laid down in various manuals sanctioned directly by papal authority, and sacramental efficacy was everywhere taken for granted. The development of this idea in the older Church was too strong to be resisted; but, as a rule, the Protestant theologians of the Reformation, while admitting that storms were caused by Satan and his legions, opposed the baptism of bells, and denied the theory of their influence in dispersing storms. Luther, while never doubting that troublesome meteorological phenomena were caused by devils, regarded with contempt the idea that the demons were so childish as to be scared by the clang of bells; his theory made them altogether too powerful to be affected by means so trivial. The great English Reformers, while also accepting very generally the theory of diabolic interference in storms, reproved strongly the baptizing of bells, as the perversion of a sacrament and involving blasphemy. Bishop Hooper declared reliance upon bells to drive away tempests, futile. Bishop Pilkington, while arguing that tempests are direct instruments of God's wrath, is very severe against using "unlawful means," and among these he names "the hallowed bell"; and these opinions were very generally shared by the leading English clergy.

Toward the end of the sixteenth century the Elector of Saxony strictly forbade the ringing of bells against storms, urging penance and prayer instead; but the custom was not so easily driven out of the Protestant Church, and in some quarters was developed a Protestant theory of a rationalistic sort, ascribing the good effects of bell-ringing in storms to the calling together of the devout for prayer or to the suggestion of prayers during storms at night. As late as the end of the seventeenth century we find the bells of Protestant churches in northern Germany rung for the dispelling of tempests. In Catholic Austria this bell-ringing seems to have become a nuisance in the last century, for the Emperor Joseph II found it necessary to issue an edict against it; but this doctrine had gained too large headway to be arrested by argument or edict, and the bells may be heard ringing during storms to this day in various remote districts in Europe. For this was no mere superficial view. It was really part of a deep theological current steadily developed through the Middle Ages, the fundamental idea of the whole being the direct influence of the bells upon the "Power of the Air"; and it is perhaps worth our while to go back a little and glance over the coming of this current into the modern world. Having grown steadily through the Middle Ages, it appeared in full strength at the Reformation period; and in the sixteenth century Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Upsala and Primate of Sweden, in his great work on the northern nations, declares it a well-established fact that cities and harvests may be saved from lightning by the ringing of bells and the burning of consecrated incense, accompanied by prayers; and he cautions his readers that the workings of the thunderbolt are rather to be marvelled at than inquired into. Even as late as 1673 the Franciscan professor Lealus, in Italy, in a schoolbook which was received with great applause in his region, taught unhesitatingly the agency of demons in storms, and the power of bells over them, as well as the portentousness of comets and the movement of the heavens by angels. He dwells especially, too, upon the perfect protection afforded by the waxen Agnus Dei. How strong this current was, and how difficult even for philosophical minds to oppose, is shown by the fact that both Descartes and Francis Bacon speak of it with respect, admitting the fact, and suggesting very mildly that the bells may accomplish this purpose by the concussion of the air.

But no such moderate doctrine sufficed, and the renowned Bishop Binsfeld, of Treves, in his noted treatise on the credibility of the confessions of witches, gave an entire chapter to the effect of bells in calming atmospheric disturbances. Basing his general doctrine upon the first chapter of Job and the second chapter of Ephesians, he insisted on the reality of diabolic agency in storms; and then, by theological reasoning, corroborated by the statements extorted in the torture chamber, he showed the efficacy of bells in putting the hellish legions to flight. This continued, therefore, an accepted tenet, developed in every nation, and coming to its climax near the end of the seventeenth century. At that period - the period of Isaac Newton - Father Augustine de Angelis, rector of the Clementine College at Rome, published under the highest Church authority his lectures upon meteorology. Coming from the centre of Catholic Christendom, at so late a period, they are very important as indicating what had been developed under the influence of theology during nearly seventeen hundred years. This learned head of a great college at the heart of Christendom taught that "the surest remedy against thunder is that which our Holy Mother the Church practises, namely, the ringing of bells when a thunderbolt impends: thence follows a twofold effect, physical and moral - a physical, because the sound variously disturbs and agitates the air, and by agitation disperses the hot exhalations and dispels the thunder; but the moral effect is the more certain, because by the sound the faithful are stirred to pour forth their prayers, by which they win from God the turning away of the thunderbolt." Here we see in this branch of thought, as in so many others, at the close of the seventeenth century, the dawn of rationalism. Father De Angelis now keeps demoniacal influence in the background. Little, indeed, is said of the efficiency of bells in putting to flight the legions of Satan: the wise professor is evidently preparing for that inevitable compromise which we see in the history of every science when it is clear that it can no longer be suppressed by ecclesiastical fulminations.

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