The Devil And The Religious Controversies Of

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The Devil And The Religious Controversies Of Sixte Essay, Research Paper The Devil and the Religious Controversies of Sixteenth-Century FranceRESEARCH conducted by social historians in the past few decades has revealed a rich fabric of religious belief and ritual in late medieval and early modern Europe. In concentrating on behavior and practice, as opposed to doctrine and dogma, these historians have shown that Christianity as understood by the masses was at times far removed from the liturgical and doctrinal controversies of the elite. An examination of the accounts of demon possession and of the treatises on demonology written in France in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries can tell us a great deal about the thoughts, beliefs and preoccupations of

contemporary Christians. The impression left by many of these is that the majority were written in an attempt to suppress the unorthodox views of the masses . It should be recognized, however, that many of the Catholic elites defended certain beliefs which their Protestant counterparts regarded as superstitious. One cannot speak, therefore, simply of ‘elite’ versus ‘popular’ culture. ‘Ritual, myth and magic’ often merged imperceptibly with the beginnings of science, a field in which the elites predominated. What is certain is that a whole body of thought and belief which a few decades ago was often dismissed as unworthy of serious historical consideration has now been shown to be a fruitful area of research.Historians working on the ecclesiastical history of France in

the early modern period are fortunate in that a rich collection of pamphlets and demonological tracts has survived and has been made widely accessible in a microfiche series. One of the earliest accounts in this series describes a demon possession which took place at Laon in 1566. The testimony of three eyewitnesses, the Dean of the Cathedral at Laon, one of the canons, and the Royal notary of the city, was compiled by Jean Boulaese, professor of Hebrew at the College De Montaigu in Paris.1 Boulaese’s pamphlet, first published in 1573, provides the following account. It begins in Vervins, a small town in Picardy, and concerns a young girl, Nicole Obri, who was approximately sixteen years of age. She was the daughter of a butcher and the wife of a tailor. On the afternoon of 3

November 1565, while kneeling on the grave of her maternal grandfather in the local parish church, there suddenly appeared before her a man standing upright but entombed. This spirit, who resembled her grandfather, spoke to Nicole and informed her that he was indeed the spirit of her deceased relative. Because she believed this spirit, the author emphasized, it took possession of her body, and she became so ill that it was feared she was on the point of death. Despite such fears, Nicole soon regained her senses and returned home to recount her experience to her parents.2Boulaese records that Nicole told her parents that her grandfather had appeared before her in order to exhort his descendants to make the amends necessary to secure the release of his soul from Purgatory. He told

Nicole that his soul was detained there because he had died suddenly without having received the last rites nor having made arrangements for the fulfillment of the pilgrimages that he had vowed to complete during his lifetime. He demanded that his family have masses performed, that they give alms to the poor, and that they make the promised pilgrimages. These deeds, with the exception of the pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella, were accomplished, but Nicole once again began to exhibit certain behaviors which were regarded as signs of recurring possession. Upon the advice of some friends, the family summoned the local curate to try to conjure this spirit. When interrogated by the curate, the spirit responded that he was “le bon Ange, l’Ame de Joachim Vuillot,” sent by