|The Spanish Inquisition - Burning at the stake|
Epilepsy, which we know as a physical illness of the brain today, and a host of other physical and mental illnesses, which in earlier times were seen to be evidences of demonic possession, continued in more rational/commonsense religious circles to be illnesses still in need of religious intervention in the form of exorcisms (especially in Roman Catholic circles), blessings from priests and of other religious interventions like masses, penances and pilgrimages. Burnings at the stake were seen as far too extreme, especially after 1650.
As I have already stated the Anglicans showed a more balanced approach to mental illnesses than did either the Roman Catholic Church or the more fundamentalist and evangelical wings of Protestantism. Thomas Willis (1621 – 1675), a staunch Anglican believer was an English doctor who played an important part in the history of anatomy, neurology and psychiatry. He was a founding member of the Royal Society. In fact, he was the coiner of the term "neurologie" - which thus excluded the Devil as so-called possession was now all a matter of defects of the nerves and brain. Porter continues the tale thus:
Especially after 1650, elites thus washed their hands of witchcraft: it was not a satanic plot but individual sickness or collective hysteria; eighteenth-century magistrates similarly deemed converts who shrieked and swooned at Methodist meetings fit for Bedlam - John Wesley himself, by contrast, upheld belief both in witchcraft and in demonic possession. (Porter, op.cit., p. 29)Porter goes on to delineate the gradual retreat - quite a slow one at that - of the attribution of demonic causes to mental illnesses. In the 1630s a learned medical doctor still gave evidence backing the reality of witchcraft. However, around 1700 most knowledgeable medical doctors were of the opinion that "spectres are fictitious representations, against the laws of nature." (Quoted ibid., p. 30) Our author mentions many eminent physicians by name who argued against the folly of demonic attribution for mental illnesses. They had to argue their cases for many years against the persisting fundamentalist beliefs of many religionists. For several hundred years more enlightened medical personnel and scientists had to argue against the persistence of the survival of popular belief in the workings of the Devil or Satan and his influence on mental equilibrium.
|Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles|