Satan in the Middle Ages

As Christianity met with Paganism over the centuries, it picked up some of the local paganic ideas. J.B. Russell summarizes the situation in this period: “The Christian concept of the Devil was influenced by folklore elements, some from the older, Mediterranean cultures and others from the Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic religions of the north. Pagan ideas penetrated Christianity while Christian ideas penetrated paganism”¹. Thus the Celtic god of the underworld, Cernunnos, “the horned god”, was easily assimilated into Christianity, just as the pagan feast of December 25th was adopted as ‘Christmas’. The horned gods of the Scandinavians were easily compared to the Devil—and hence the idea that the Devil has horns became more popular in Christian art [although there is absolutely no Biblical association of the Devil with horns]. Hilda Davidson carefully researched Scandinavian views of the Devil figure and showed at great length how these ideas were accommodated into Christianity—rather that the radical call of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God being presented as it is, a fundamentally different worldview². Once the Devil was associated with Pan, he became presented as having hooves, goat hair and a large nose³. No longer was Satan pictured with long dark hair, but rather spikey hair like the Northern European gods of evil. Thus ‘converts’ to Christianity were allowed to keep some of their existing ideas, and these soon became part of the core fabric of popular ‘Christianity’. For example, the northern European fear of demons entering a person led them to cover their mouths when they yawned, and to fear sneezing as the intake of air could allow demons to rush in to the person. Christianity adopted these practices, adding the phrase “God bless you” whenever someone sneezed, in an attempt to Christianize the practice.

It’s evident that the Qu’ran was heavily influenced by both Hebrew and surrounding Middle Eastern myths. The Islamic view of the Devil is very similar to the common Christian view, albeit expressed under different names. The Qu’ran teaches that Iblis [Satan] fell because he refused to bow before the newly created Adam. This is at variance with the Biblical account, which says nothing of any Satan in Eden nor the whole of the book of Genesis. But the Qu’ranic teaching is so very similar to the way the Christian ‘fathers’ decided that Satan envied Adam and ‘fell’ because of his envy and wounded pride. This in turn was a view evidently influenced by the apocryphal Jewish “Books Of Adam and Eve”. My point from all this is that the popular Christian views of the Devil have stronger similarities with Jewish myths and Islamic/pagan concepts than they do with the Biblical record.

Gregory “the Great” and others continued to grapple with the contradictions and theological problems inherent within the belief in a personal Satan. Gregory especially developed the idea that Satan has power over humanity because God gave this to him in order to punish us for our sins. Again, this begs many questions. How can someone be punished for their sin by giving them into the hands of a being who wishes to make us sin yet more—and how can this be done by a God whose stated aim is to redeem humanity from sin? And why, then, did God supposedly have to buy us back from the Devil with the blood of His Son? And if this happened at the cross, then how is it that humanity is still under the power of “Satan” just as much after the crucifixion as before it? Seeing God has ultimate foreknowledge, why would He have allowed Satan to get away with all this? It seems to me that all this misses the point—God’s heart is broken by our sin, by our freewill turning away from Him; and not because some rival god temporarily got the better of Him.

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Author: Duncan Heaster

Keywords: Iblis, paganism, Cernunnos, Pan, devil goat, devil horns, Satanology, Demonology, Adversary, Christ tempted, Christ tempted in the wilderness, Christ's temptation, Christ's temptation in the wilderness, Devil, Devil and Jesus, Devil tempts Jesus, diabolos, Evil angel, Evil Inclination, Evil nature, Evil one, Hara Yetser, Ha-ra Yetser, Hara Yetzer, Ha-ra Yetzer, Hara Yezer, Ha-ra Yezer, Jesus' temptation, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Jesus tempted, Jesus tempted by Satan, Jesus tempted by the devil, Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Jesus's temptation, Man's sinful nature, Personification of evil, Satan, Satan and Jesus, Satan tempts Christ, Satan tempts Jesus, Seducer, Sin in the flesh, Sin within, Sinful nature, Snatcher, Temptation, Temptation from within, Temptation in the wilderness, Tempted in the wilderness, Tempted of Satan, Tempted of the devil, Tempted sexually, Tempted to do evil, Tempts Christ, Tempts Jesus, The devil tempts Christ, The devil tempts Jesus, The Evil Inclination, The Evil One, Wicked one, Wilderness temptation, Yatsar, Yetsarim, Yetser ha ra, Yetser ha tov, Yetser ra, Yetser tov, Yetzer, Yetzer ha ra, Yetzer ha tov, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer ra, Yetzer tov, Yezer ha ra, Yezer ha tov, Yezer Hara, Yezer tov, Two inclinations, Tempter, Envy of the devil, Middle Ages, Satan in Middle Ages, Dante's Inferno, Dante

Bible reference(s): 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6-9, Job 1:12, Job 2:1-7, Isaiah 14:12, Zechariah 3:1-2, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 12:26, Matthew 13:19, Matthew 13:38-39, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 25:41, Mark 1:13, Mark 3:23, Mark 3:26, Mark 4:15, Mark 8:33, Luke 4:2-5, Luke 4:13, Luke 8:12, Luke 10:18, Luke 11:18, Luke 13:16, Luke 22:3, Luke 22:31, John 6:70, John 8:44, John 13:2, John 13:27, John 17:15, Acts 5:3, Acts 10:38, Acts 13:10, Acts 26:18, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 3:6, 1 Timothy 3:7, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, Jude 1:9, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 2:24, Revelation 3:9, Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:12, Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:10

Source: “The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration.”

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