The Devil: A Biographyby Peter Stanford
Evil - disturbing, inexplicable, deeply rooted - persists. Inching toward the millennium, we speak of the Devil once again: in tabloid accounts of cults, in popular novels, and even in scholarly theological works. We are back where we began 2,000 years ago: going to the Devil. Now, in this informed, lucid, and very readable biography, Peter Stanford introduces us to… See more details below
Evil - disturbing, inexplicable, deeply rooted - persists. Inching toward the millennium, we speak of the Devil once again: in tabloid accounts of cults, in popular novels, and even in scholarly theological works. We are back where we began 2,000 years ago: going to the Devil. Now, in this informed, lucid, and very readable biography, Peter Stanford introduces us to this figure of fascination. Tracing the idea back to the pre-Christian era with its many devils, he pauses to explore Judaism's approach, then moves on to concentrate on Christianity's contribution: the creation of the monster we know today. Stanford casts his net widely to include literature and the arts, folklore and psychology, history and theology, and he distills a wealth of complex information - from early Church teachings to medieval iconography, from witchcraft and satanism to satanic cults and modern-day exorcisms. The result is a lively, engaging account of an age-old enemy.
While most religions have devils, few have placed as much emphasis on this personification of evil as Christianity. His lineage is mixed, with distant relations as diverse as Egyptian gods, the Canaanite's divinity Baal, and the Greek god Pan (from whom he inherited his looks). Because the early Church focused almost exclusively on the supposedly imminent Second Coming, the Devil played only a secondary role. But with apocalypse a no-show, he was rushed onstage to shore up the faltering beliefs on the faithful. Evil is always a problem in a monotheistic system, and the Devil was a useful scapegoat. Those, like the Gnostics, the Cathars, and the Albigensians, who suggested that the world and everything in it (including, perhaps, the religious establishment) was the work of the Devil, were ruthlessly suppressed. In fact, the Devil has usually been more sinned against than sinning, offered up as the thin pretext for a truly horrific Church-sponsored catalogue of repressions, inquisitions, and other general nastiness, from the extirpation of heretics to religious wars to the witch-hunt mania. As medieval superstition gave way to the Enlightenment, the Devil began to fade as an active instrument of malice, but he acquired a compensating literary reputation as Goethe, Milton, Hugo, and Shaw all gave him star treatment, often casting him as a "romantic rebel." The 20th century has not been kind. Despite several recent comeback attempts, he is now largely washed up, with perhaps only Baudelaire's wisdom for comfort: "The Devil's deepest wile is to persuade us that he does not exist."
Stanford, former editor of the Catholic Herald of London, does a thoroughly adequate job of chronicling his subject's career, but there is just too much material for one slim volume to fully examine the significance of the Devil in all his guises.
- Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.75(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.10(d)
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