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Good and Evil Angels in Daniel Defoe’s Demonological Treatises

Anges et démons dans les traités démonologiques de Daniel Defoe
Yannick Deschamps

Résumé

Longtemps négligés par la critique, tout comme nombre de ses autres écrits non-fictionnels, les traités démonologiques de Defoe sont maintenant jugés dignes d’intérêt par plusieurs spécialistes de l’auteur. Dans ces œuvres, Defoe propose une vision relativement complète du monde des esprits. Cette vision est à maints égards conforme à l’orthodoxie protestante en matière d’angélologie et de démonologie. Toutefois, l’influence exercée par les traditions patristique et scolastique sur la conception qu’a Defoe du monde invisible et des événements qui s’y déroulent ne saurait être prise à la légère. Ceci est particulièrement évident en ce qui concerne son récit de la rébellion et de la chute angéliques. Par ailleurs, Defoe exprime à l’occasion des vues qui ne sont guère compatibles avec la doctrine protestante orthodoxe. Tel est le cas de son attirance sporadique pour le manichéisme – bien qu’il semble finalement la surmonter. Tel est également le cas de sa croyance en l’existence d’esprits bienfaisants intermédiaires – dont il n’est pas certain qu’ils soient angéliques ou non. Cette croyance reflète la foi de Defoe en une providence bienveillante. Sa défense de l’existence de la providence, notion rejetée par les déistes et autres libres-penseurs de son époque, révèle l’influence de son héritage puritain. Mais sa perception de la providence comme étant essentiellement bienveillante suggère que le puritanisme de Defoe est quelque peu adouci par l’optimisme religieux qui règne au début du XVIIIe siècle.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Daniel Defoe, The Political History of the Devil [PHD], ed. Irving N. Rothman and R. Michael Bower (...)
  • 2 James Sutherland, Defoe, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1937, 263-265; and Daniel Defoe: A Critical St (...)
  • 3 See, for example, John Robert Moore, Daniel Defoe, Citizen of the Modern World, Chicago: the U of (...)
  • 4 Rodney M. Baine, Daniel Defoe and the Supernatural, Athens: U of Georgia P, 1968; Ian Bostridge, W (...)

1In the 1720s, Defoe wrote three occult treatises: A Political History of the Devil (1726), A System of Magick (1726) and An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727).1 James Sutherland was rather dismissive of these works: they were only potboilers, books banking on people’s interest in the supernatural and the sensational; at any rate, they were an anomaly in Defoe’s corpus.2 This was also the opinion of scholars who were intent on stressing the “modernity” of Defoe.3 His demonological treatises did not fit in with their perception of Defoe as a down-to-earth, forward-looking, Lockean writer. As a result, they tended to overlook these works or, at least, to downplay their significance. However, a few scholars, including Rodney M. Baine, Ian Bostridge, Maximillian E. Novak and, more recently, Katherine Clark, have taken Defoe’s occult treatises seriously, and looked upon them as reliable expositions of Defoe’s views on the supernatural as well as a key to understanding the supernatural elements in his fictional works.4

  • 5 Daniel Defoe, The Consolidator, ed. Michael Seidel, Maximillian E. Novak and Joyce D. Kennedy, New (...)
  • 6 Novak, 654.

2 Defoe’s demonological treatises were not his first attempt to explore the supernatural. He had already investigated it in The Consolidator (1705), The Apparition of Mrs. Veal (1706) – the most famous ghost story of the 18th century –, in several Review articles, as well as some of his novels, including Robinson Crusoe (1719) and its second sequel, which contained Crusoe’s “vision of the angelick world”.5 In the 1720s, when Defoe’s occult works were published, heterodox religious views were flourishing. Deism and free-thinking were gaining ground. Following in the footsteps of John Toland, Anthony Collins, William Wollaston and others launched what Maximillian Novak has called ”the great deistic offensive of the 1720s”.6 Meanwhile, heresies such as Socinianism or Arianism were still thriving, as the writings of Samuel Clarke, William Whiston, and several other authors testified, not to mention religious scepticism and even “atheism”, which were also making some headway. To Defoe, it seemed that traditional Protestantism was under threat. Thus, one of the main goals of his occult treatises was to reassert the existence of the supernatural and to vindicate traditional religion. If an invisible world of spirits existed, at the very least God and the Devil, who were spirits themselves, were bound to exist as well.

3Thus, in his three demonological treatises, Defoe provides a rather detailed survey of good and evil angels. How does he account for their origins? What are his views on their organization, their nature and their operations? How does he conceive of their final destination and condition? As we answer these questions, we shall assess the extent of Defoe’s debt to previous Protestant demonologists, while highlighting the idiosyncrasy – verging at times on heterodoxy – of some of his positions on these pneumatological issues. We shall also determine how far his view of the spirit world reflected his conception of divine providence.

  • 7 See, for instance, Henry Lawrence, Militia Spiritualis; or a Treatise of Angels, London, 1652, 6-7 (...)
  • 8 “The angels, of necessity, were made by God”: Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aq (...)
  • 9 Baine, 54-55.
  • 10 See, for instance, Lawrence, 7 ; Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, 3 vols., Peabody, (...)
  • 11 Heywood, 334. Henry Lawrence also estimates that angels were created on the first day of the Hexam (...)

4Defoe’s writings on the supernatural give the reader two precious pieces of information concerning the origin of angels: firstly, they were God’s creatures; secondly, they were created before the world came into existence. (EHRA, 6; PHD, 36-37, 62, 70) When he asserts that angels were created by God, Defoe is endorsing the orthodox Protestant position,7 which is, more generally speaking, the orthodox Christian position as it was formulated by Aquinas.8 On the other hand, by placing the creation of angels before the Hexameron, Defoe is expressing a heterodox point of view,9 as most of the Protestant theologians of his day considered that angels had been created at the same time as the visible world.10 Indeed, according to Genesis 2:1, the creation of the heavens and the earth was completed on the sixth day; right from the start, the heavens were inhabited by angels; therefore, the latter were created during the Hexameron, together with their place of residence. Sometimes, these exegetes also cite Genesis 1:3: the appearance of light commanded by God on the first day bore witness to the creation of angels, which could thus be dated precisely to the first day of the Hexameron.11

5Defoe also provides an account of the origin of evil angels, or demons. The latter, he explains, were good angels, initially. As such, they were created by God, (PHD, 49) but they went on to rebel against their Maker. This rebellion, which broke out long before the creation of man, was led by Satan – or Lucifer, as he was then called –, who, before his fall, had been the most glorious, powerful, and beautiful angel in the celestial kingdom: “It is agreed by all Writers, as well sacred as prophane, that this creature we now call a Devil, was originally an Angel of light, a glorious Seraph; perhaps the choicest of all the glorious Seraphs”. (PHD, 26) However, rather than remaining loyal to God, Lucifer preferred to revolt against him and lead “the greatest half” of the angelic armies into his rebellion, a fateful decision which brought about a celestial war between Lucifer and his fellow rebel angels, on the one hand, and Michael and the angels who had remained loyal to God, on the other. The latter eventually won the war, which resulted in Lucifer and his fellow apostate angels being expelled for ever from the celestial kingdom, and cast headlong into the bottomless pit. They lost their angelic nature and became demons. (PHD, 23, 25-29, 49-50, 57-58) Defoe puts forward several reasons why Lucifer made the unreasonable decision to defy God. The main one was pride, which induced the archange to challenge God’s power and precipitated his fall. Defoe, however, is at a loss to determine how pride was able to steal into heaven and corrupt holy angels:

How came seeds of crime to rise in the Angelic Nature? created in a state of perfect, unspotted holiness? how was it first found in a place where no unclean thing can enter? how came ambition, pride, or envy to generate there? could there be offence where there was no crime? could untainted purity breed corruption? could the nature contaminate and infect, which was always partaking nourishment from, and taking in principles of perfection? (PHD, 50).

  • 12 Clark, 189.

6All these questions remain unanswered. Together with pride, Defoe includes envy among the causes of Lucifer’s rebellion, but without giving precise details. Lucifer was not jealous of Christ, for Defoe denies that “Satan […] hearing this sovereign Declaration, that the Son of God was declar’d to be Head or Generalissimo of all the heavenly Host, took it ill to see another put into the high station over his head ”. (PHD, 57) On the other hand, Lucifer was jealous of man,12 but obviously this played no part in triggering off Lucifer’s rebellion, since man was created by God after the angelic revolt. Besides, Defoe does not take seriously the view that “crime broke in upon [good angels] at some interval, when they omitted but one moment fixing their eyes and thoughts on the glories of the divine face, to admire and adore, which is the full employment of Angels”. (PHD, 50)

  • 13 For the influence exerted by patristic writings on Paradise Lost, particularly on the progress of (...)
  • 14 Origen, On First Principles, trans. G.W. Butterworth, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973, 44-51; (...)
  • 15 Revard, 39-42, 46-47.
  • 16 See, for instance, Poole, II, 358, 748-750.
  • 17 For the interpretation of Apocalypse 12:7-9 worked out by Gregory the Great and for its influence, (...)
  • 18 See, for instance, Poole, III, 981.
  • 19 [Richard Saunders], Angelographia : or, a Discourse of Angels : their Nature and Office, or Minist (...)

7Defoe’s narrative of the angelic rebellion is strikingly similar to John Milton’s account of it in Paradise Lost (1667, 2nd ed. 1674). Incidentally, Defoe himself acknowledges this debt to Milton – even though, in other respects, he has no qualms about denouncing the latter’s supposed heterodoxies and Arianism. (PHD, 57) By grounding most of his narrative of the angelic rebellion in Paradise Lost, Defoe is led to embrace the views of some Church Fathers on whom Milton relied to build his own narrative.13 Thus, Defoe incorporates into his account of the angelic revolt some patristic and scholastic elements which are hardly compatible with a strict brand of Protestantism. For example, his portrait of Lucifer before the Fall rests to a large extent on the exegetical work of Origen and Tertullian, who identify the Nebuchadnezzar/Lucifer of Isaiah 14:15 and the Prince of Tyre of Ezekiel 28:12-19 with Satan.14 The part which Defoe puts down to pride in Lucifer’s rebellion also depends heavily on this identification and on the conclusions which were drawn from it by Augustine and Aquinas.15 But, following Luther and Calvin, the Protestant theologians of Defoe’s time were disinclined to identify the Nebuchadnezzar /Lucifer of Isaiah or the Prince of Tyre of Ezekiel with Satan.16 Besides, Defoe’s narrative of the angelic rebellion is based on Gregory the Great’s interpretation of the so-called “war in heaven”, which identifies the celestial war mentioned in Apocalypse 12:7-9 with the primeval war sparked off by Lucifer’s revolt.17 But orthodox Protestant theologians consider this identification to be groundless.18 As a result, they usually have few words to devote to Satan’s rebellion and fall, when they do not overlook them altogether. Richard Saunders, for example, considers that the only biblical passages which deal with the angelic fall are John 8:44, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 1:6. As for Calvin, he only retains the last two references.19

  • 20 Aquinas, I, 312-313 (Pt. 1, Q. 63, Art. 1-2); Revard, 67.

8In some respects, however, Defoe endeavours to ground his narrative in the Protestant tradition. He evinces a typically Puritan restraint when he admits that he is unable to account for the way in which the sins of pride and envy managed to steal into paradise and corrupt holy angels. By contrast, the scholastics, led by Aquinas, boldly contended that pride and envy were sins of which angels were capable by “original nature”, and that their corruption could therefore be accounted for.20 Defoe seems to be poking fun at the scholastics and their fascination with pneumatological details when he comments on the hypothesis that the holy angels’ defection may have been caused by a momentary failure to stare at God’s face and sing his praises. Although Defoe’s narrative of Lucifer’s rebellion and fall usually follows Milton’s, he does depart from it on rare occasions, a case in point being Defoe’s decision not to attribute Lucifer’s fall to his envy of Christ. (PHD, 27) Indeed, Defoe argues that, by presenting Satan’s rebellion as the consequence of Christ’s being “begotten” – or “raised” to favour – by his Father and proclaimed the Son of God, Milton “is not orthodox […] but lays an avow’d foundation for the corrupt Doctrine of Arius, which says, there was a time when Christ was not the Son of GOD”. (PHD, 57) Whatever the validity of this charge of Arianism, Defoe shows here his determination to denounce heresy and to assert his own orthodoxy in the process.

  • 21 In EHRA, Defoe refers his reader to Eph. 1:21 and 6:12 concerning the titles Thrones, Dominions, P (...)
  • 22 In De Coelesti Hierarchia (The Celestial Hierarchy), Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite divides angel (...)
  • 23 See also PHD, 168-169; and EHRA, 25-26, 57.

9Besides inquiring into the origin of good and evil angels, Defoe examines their organization. According to him, there are distinctions of rank among angels. In order to make his point, he calls on several passages from the Bible. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians mentions four angelic degrees: Thrones, Dominions, Powers and Principalities. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians and the Book of Jude testify to a distinction between angels and archangels. Therefore, there is no denying the existence of angelic degrees, (PHD, 49-50; EHRA, 54-55)21 although Defoe does not attempt to establish a strict hierarchy between them. He does not endorse the elaborate theory of angelic orders worked out by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and developed by Aquinas,22 but he does make a distinction between superior and inferior angels. The former are the angels of the Christian tradition, of whom Michael and Gabriel are the most illustrious representatives; they live near God in heaven. The latter are benevolent intermediate spirits; they are closer to men than their heavenly counterparts and they are not in charge of an individual in particular, but of the whole of mankind. (EHRA, 127) Defoe is very sceptical about the existence of traditional guardian angels: “There is much said of Guardian Angels, and some seeming ground from Scripture, but not enough to be called an Authority from whence to ground an Hypothesis of the manner”. 23 (SM, 283)

  • 24 For a discussion of the position of 17th-century Protestant theologians concerning the angelic hie (...)
  • 25 Poole, III, 709. See also Isaac Ambrose, War with the Devils: Ministration of, and Communion with (...)
  • 26 Calvin, Institutes, I, 146-147. It should be pointed out, however, that this moderately sceptical (...)
  • 27 Baine, 17.

10By admitting that a certain form of order prevails among angels, while refusing to subscribe to the theory of Dionysian orders, Defoe is in conformity with orthodox Protestant doctrine.24 The Puritan pastors Isaac Ambrose, Richard Gilpin and Matthew Poole, to name but a few, had adopted a similar position: “[There are] some distinctions and orders amongst angelical beings, but what that is we know not, (whatever is disputed in the Roman schools from the spurious Denys.) and therefore having no ground from Scripture, account it no better than curiosity to inquire, and rashness to determine”.25 Similarly, when he voices scepticism concerning the existence of guardian angels, Defoe is at one with most Protestant theologians, including Calvin.26 On the other hand, Defoe’s theory of benevolent spirits, as against the angels revealed by the Bible, obviously strays away from orthodox Protestant theology.27

  • 28 Gilpin, 20; Shepherd, 25 (sermon II); and Henry Hallywell, Melampronoea: or a Discourse of the Pol (...)
  • 29 Aquinas, I, 537-538 (Pt. 1, Q. 109, Art. 1-2).
  • 30 See, for instance, Gilpin, 19-20.

11According to Defoe, the order which prevails among good angels is also to be found among their evil counterparts, even though it is of a different nature. Satan is the prince, the king and the emperor of hell, all at the same time. He rules tyrannically over the other demons, who are his subjects and his slaves. Satan is also endowed with military attributes: he is the general, even the generalissimo of the infernal hosts. (PHD, 17-18, 24-25, 270) Defoe discards the notion that the organization of demons is based on egalitarian principles: “All the notions of a parity of Devils, or making a commonwealth among the black Divan, seem to be enthusiastic and visionary, but with no consistency or certainty, and is so generally exploded, that we must not venture so much as to debate the point”. (PHD, 24) He suggests that there are distinctions of rank between demons, (PHD, 33, 270) but he refrains from working out an infernal hierarchy. Thus, when he asserts that order prevails among demons, Defoe is conforming to orthodox Christian doctrine. (Protestant theologians such as Richard Gilpin, Thomas Shepherd and Henry Hallywell had expressed similar views,28 and Aquinas had also defended this position).29 However, by refusing to dwell on matters of demonic hierarchy, Defoe is following a more strictly Protestant tradition, as Calvin and his heirs showed little interest in issues of infernal precedence.30

12In his writings on the supernatural, Defoe also informs us about the nature and operations of angels and demons. On the issue of angelic substance, he is somewhat hesitant. In The Political History of the Devil, he asserts that they are “all flame”, (276, 277) which seems to imply that they have a thin body of celestial fire or ether. On the other hand, in An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, he argues that they have no bodies, that they are incorporeal spirits. (35, 54) Be that as it may, Defoe is in no doubt that angels are endowed with considerable intellectual abilities. Their gifts are many: they are powerful and invisible, even though they can take on a corporeal appearance and, therefore, make themselves visible; they move very quickly; no material obstacle can stop them; their range of vision is almost unlimited; they are insensitive to cold and heat. (EHRA, 35, 54; PHD, 41; SM, 139, 294) Besides, they can disturb our senses, and inject thoughts and dreams into our heads. Superior angels, i.e. those mentioned in the Bible, spend most of their time worshipping God. In the past, they used to intervene in human affairs, visiting men to acquaint them with God’s will, to guide them, to rescue them, or to chasten them when they broke God’s commands. But, now, superior angels do not usually mix with mankind as the revelation of God’s Word through the gospels has made their interventions less necessary. Only under exceptional circumstances do they appear to men. (EHRA, 18-21, 55-56, 127, 199-200, 341) The rest of the time, mankind is taken care of by inferior angels – at any rate by good spirits, as Defoe is not quite sure whether these spirits are, strictly speaking, angelic or not (EHRA, 54, 55, 127) – who endeavour to shield men from Satan’s assaults. Endowed with partial foresight, these benevolent spirits attempt to warn men through dreams, apparitions, suggestions or signs (SM, 97, 101-102, EHRA, 3, 17, 29, 33, 56, 151-152, 179, 292, 295, 299) against the dangers which lie in wait for them. (SM, 278, 282, 330-332; EHRA, 4, 31-33, 41, 46, 57-59, 91-93, 111, 127, 179, 184, 302, 309) Thus, according to Defoe, a true communication exists between men and angels, between embodied and disembodied spirits: “There is a Converse of Spirits, an intelligence, or call it what you please, between our Spirits embodied and cased up in Flesh, and the Spirits unembodied; who inhabit the unknown Mazes of the invisible world”. (EHRA, 4) Defoe stresses the usefulness of this communication. By paying attention to the messages of these benevolent spirits, it is possible to avoid a great many pitfalls. But there are limits to the efficiency of benign spirits, whether they act on God’s instructions or on their own initiative, for although they have the capacity to give warnings, they are in no position to ensure that these messages will be heeded. While they can point to a danger to come, there is no way in which they can let us know how to fend it off. (EHRA, 32-41, 59, 73-74, 222-223, 261-262)

  • 31 West, 140-142.
  • 32 Aquinas, I, 262 (Pt. 1, Q. 50, Art. 4). More generally, see Aquinas, I, 259-264 (Pt. 1, Q. 50, Art (...)

13Defoe’s treatment of angelic substance is very brief. The restraint with which he handles this subject is in keeping with Puritan usage, as is his describing angelic substance as “flame” (in PHD).31 But when he asserts (in EHRA) that angels have no bodies, he is siding with the scholastics. According to Aquinas, “angels […] are incorporeal substances”.32 Defoe is more prolix when it comes to discussing the ministry of benevolent intermediate spirits. In fact, this was one of his favourite subjects. He had already dealt with it in Robinson Crusoe, in which he has his eponymous hero declare:

  • 33 Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 181-182.

I cannot but advise all considering men, whose lives are attended with such extraordinary incidents as mine, or even though not so extraordinary, not to slight such secret intimations of providence, let them come from what invisible intelligence they will […] they are a proof of the converse of spirits, and the secret communication between those embody’d and those unembody’d; and such a proof as can never be withstood.33

  • 34 Defoe, Serious Reflections, 267.
  • 35 The existence of a “converse of spirits” is vindicated by several orthodox Protestant writers, but (...)
  • 36 Baine, 17.

14Defoe had also investigated the subject at great length in the second sequel to Robinson Crusoe, using the persona of Crusoe to reassert his conviction that “there is a certain converse between the world of spirits, and the spirits of this world; that is to say, between spirits uncased or unembody’d, and souls of men embody’d or cased up in flesh and blood, as we all are on this side [of] death”.34 Obviously, the existence and the ministry which Defoe attributes to these spirits do not quite conform to orthodox Protestant doctrine.35 However, in the 17th century, some Protestant angelologists – from the neo-platonic tradition essentially – had suggested the possibility of a communication with benevolent spirits other than the biblical angels. Defoe may have been influenced by their writings, in particular by those of Henry More and Joseph Glanvill, with whom he was acquainted.36 In Saducismus Triumphatus (1681), Glanvill asserts the existence of spiritual entities which fulfill the same functions as those of Defoe’s benevolent intermediate spirits:

  • 37 Joseph Glanvill, Saducismus Triumphatus : or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Appari (...)

There is a sort of Spirits over us, and about us, who can give a probable Guess at the most remarkable futurities […] And I yet perceive no reason we have to fancy, that whatever is done in this kind, must needs be either immediately from Heaven, or from the Angels, by extraordinary Commission and Appointment. But it seems to me not unreasonable to believe, that those officious Spirits that oversee our Affairs, perceiving some mighty and sad alterations at hand, in which their Charge is much concerned, cannot chuse, by reason of their affection to us, but Give us some seasonable hints of those approaching Calamities.37

15As regards the substance of demons, it is, according to Defoe, the same as that of good angels (now “flame”, now incorporeal). Besides, like the latter, evil angels are clever, powerful, quick, etc., but they use these assets to reach goals that are the exact opposite of those sought by their good counterparts. Being bent on damning men, demons disturb their senses and inject guilty thoughts and shameful dreams into their heads, (PHD, 46, 77-78, 91-92, 110, 152, 246-251) or sometimes go as far as to possess them. According to Defoe, the various cases of diabolic possession mentioned in the Bible testify to this phenomenon. (PHD, 18, 250, 261-262) However, evil angels cannot force men to sin, and can only operate within the bounds prescribed by God:

Tis evident [the devil] is not permitted to fall upon [men] with force and Arms, that is to say, to muster up his infernal Troops, and attack them with Fire and Sword; if he was let loose to act in this Manner as he was able, by his own seraphic Power to have destroy’d the whole Race, and even the Earth they dwelt upon, so he would certainly, and long ago have effectually done it. (PHD, 241-242)

  • 38 Lawrence, 71.
  • 39 Ibid., 80.
  • 40 Ibid., 107.
  • 41 Ibid., 118.
  • 42 Ambrose, 22.

16Concerning the powers ascribed to demons, Defoe is at one with orthodox Protestant theologians. For instance, Henry Lawrence notes that “evill angells are indued with Great strength, because they have a mighty work to do”.38 According to him, “all the evill Angells have knowledge, power, and will enough to tempt to all vices”.39 If necessary, “they can immediately beleaguer a man, co[m]passing him round, possess every part of him: Seaven divells can enter at once into one man, or if need be a whole legion”.40 However, like Defoe, Lawrence considers that “all the Divells can doe nothing without a formed commission from God, this the example of Job makes most cleare, the Divell ruin’d his estate, by the Sabeans, but not till God had given him power”.41 Similarly, Ambrose is adamant that “the Lord only is Almighty; he hath all devils in a chain, and he straitens or enlargeth it as he pleaseth”.42 In fact, these views concerning the powers of demons and their limits are shared by most Christian demonologists from Aquinas to Calvin. It should be noticed, however, that Defoe wonders on several occasions about the validity of his position concerning the limits set by God on the action of demons. This leads him to investigate the hypothesis that the Devil abstains from resorting to force not because God prevents him, but because he prefers to use cunning rather than violence to promote his dark designs. (PHD, 73-76, 154) In the process, Defoe raises the issue of Satan’s autonomy and toys with the idea of religious Dualism, or Manichaeism, although he finally seems to reject it.

  • 43 Defoe traces his conception of hell as interior to Sir Thomas Browne’s: “As that learned and pleas (...)

17 In his demonological treatises, Defoe also inquires into the final destination of good and evil angels. As spirits, they are immortal: their existence has a beginning, as they are created beings, but it will have no end. (PHD, 40, 276) However, elect and fallen angels will not have the same fate. The former will go on living in a state of bliss near God, as the Christian tradition requires. The latter will undergo the eternal torments of hell, since demons will not be given the opportunity to redeem themselves. (PHD, 31-32, 74-75, 147-148, 276) For the time being, they still enjoy some measure of freedom (PHD, 24, 59, 61, 70, 146, 150); their hell is interior: “The Devil is in HELL, and HELL is in the Devil. (PHD, 147)43 This hell is caused in the first place by God’s absence; it is fuelled by pride, jealousy, and a feeling of guilt. (PHD, 30-31, 146-149) But an even harsher punishment awaits demons. At some point, they will be deprived of all freedom, and chained in hell, which will not be a state of mind, but a local hell. (PHD, 24, 59, 61, 70, 146) It is vain to try and describe it as it is indescribable, (PHD, 70-71, 149-150, 278) which leads Defoe to deride medieval representations of the infernal world:

I must own, that to me nothing can be more ridiculous than the Notions that we entertain and fill our Heads with about Hell, and about the Devil’s being there tormenting of Souls, broiling them upon Gridirons, hanging them up upon Hooks, carrying them upon their Backs, and the like, with the several Pictures of Hell, represented by a great Mouth with horrible Teeth, gaping like a Cave on the Side of a Mountain. (PHD, 149)

  • 44 That material fire cannot harm spirits is also stressed by the Baptist writer Samuel Richardson: “ (...)

18Defoe does not believe in the existence of a hell of fire and brimstone, for, as fire is a material substance, it cannot affect demons which, as spirits, are immaterial.44 Infernal fire, therefore, is a metaphor. It is the image which God has chosen to convey the intensity of infernal torments, which demons will not be able to avoid. This punishment is just: the evil angels have defied God and made mankind miserable, so they must pay for their evil deeds. (PHD, 148-149; 276-278)

  • 45 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. The Calvin Translation Society, 22 vols., Grand Rapids, (...)
  • 46 See, for instance, Calvin, Commentaries, XVII, 182; Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest: o (...)

19 When he asserts that demons do not have the possibility to redeem themselves and that their torments will be endless, Defoe is subscribing to orthodox Protestant dogma. Calvin points out that “the devil […] was long ago sentenced and condemned to hell, without any hope of deliverance”.45 He also asserts the eternity of hell fires, as do the Presbyterian minister Richard Baxter, the Anglicans William Dawes and Thomas Lewis, and most other Protestant controversialists.46 According to Lewis:

  • 47 Lewis, 1.

No one Principle has been more Universally Received than the Doctrine of hell and of Eternal Punishments in a future State; and this notion has been so powerfully imprinted on the Minds of Men, that no People of the World was so Barbarous as not to confess it; nay it is impossible to eradicate the Belief of it out of any one Person, the faculties of whose Mind are perfect and regular, not disorder’d by Phrenzy, or disabled by Distemper or Stupidity.47

  • 48 Almond, 146, 153, 160. In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe, through the persona of Crusoe, explicitly denies (...)
  • 49 Almond, 145-151.

20Defoe does not show the slightest attraction to Universalism – Origen’s doctrine that all creatures, including the Devil, will eventually be saved – which was defended by Francis van Helmont and Henry Hallywell, among others.48 Nor does he betray any partiality to Annihilationism – Arnobius’s theory that the souls of the damned will eventually be destroyed – which could boast the support of men such as Thomas Hobbes, William Whiston, and Isaac Barrow, Newton’s predecessor as occupier of the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge.49 Besides, by suggesting that the torments of the evil angels will, to a large extent, be due to their estrangement from God, that, for all their intensity, these torments will not be caused by material fire, and that it is vain to attempt to determine their precise nature, Defoe is following in the footsteps of Calvin:

  • 50 Calvin, Commentaries, XVII, 182.

The term fire represents metaphorically that dreadful punishment which our senses are unable to comprehend. It is therefore unnecessary to enter into subtle inquiries, as the sophists do, into the materials or form of this fire; for there would be equally good reason to inquire about the worm, which Isaiah connects with the fire: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, (Isa.Lxvi.24.) Besides, the same prophet shows plainly enough in another passage that the expression is metaphorical; for he compares the Spirit of God to a blast by which the fire is kindled, ands adds a mixture of brimstone, (Isa. xxx. 33.) Under these words, therefore, we ought to represent to our minds the future vengeance of God against the wicked, which, being more grievous than all earthly torments, ought rather to excite horror than a desire to know it.50

  • 51 Thomas Bilson, The Survey of Christs Sufferings for Mans Redemption: and of his Descent to Hades o (...)
  • 52 Almond, 100.

21Not all Protestants shared this position. Bishop Thomas Bilson, Thomas Lewis, and others vindicated the reality of hell fire.51 However, the conception of hell fire as metaphorical was to gain ground throughout the 18th century, especially from the 1750s onwards.52

22Thus, in his demonological treatises, Defoe provides a relatively complete vision of the “world of spirits”. This vision is in many respects in keeping with orthodox Protestant angelology and demonology. However, the influence exerted by the patristic and scholastic traditions on his conception of the invisible world and of the events taking place in it should not be underestimated. It is particularly conspicuous in his account of the angelic rebellion and fall. Besides, Defoe does occasionally express views that are hardly compatible with orthodox Protestant doctrine. A case in point is his sporadic attraction to Manichaeism – although he eventually seems to overcome it. Another is his belief in the existence of intermediate benevolent spirits – although he is not quite sure whether they are truly angelic or not. This belief reflects Defoe’s faith in a benevolent providence. His endorsement of providence, a notion denied by the Deists and other free-thinkers of his day, reveals the influence of his Puritan background. But his perception of providence as essentially benevolent suggests that Defoe’s Puritanism was somewhat softened by the religious optimism which prevailed in the early 18th century.

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Bibliographie

Works cited

ALMOND Philip C., Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, [1994] 2008.

AMBROSE Isaac, War with the Devils: Ministration of, and Communion with Angels, Glasgow, [1661] 1769.

AQUINAS Thomas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Trans. Fathers of the Dominican Province, 5 vols., Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, [1911] 1981.

BAINE Rodney M., Daniel Defoe and the Supernatural, Athens: U of Georgia P, 1968.

BAXTER Richard, The Saints Everlasting Rest: Or, a Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in their Enjoyment of God in Glory, London, 1649.

BILSON Thomas, The Survey of Christs Sufferings for Mans Redemption: And of his Descent to Hades or Hel for our Deliverance, London, 1604.

BOSTRIDGE Ian, Witchcraft and its Transformations c. 1650-1750, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

BROWNE Sir Thomas, Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici, Letter to a Friend &c., and Christian Morals, ed. W. A. Greenhill, Peru, Illinois: Sherwood Sugden & Company Publishers, [1881] 1990.

CALVIN John, Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. The Calvin Translation Society, 22 vols., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993.

CALVIN John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols., Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, [1989] 2001.

CLARK Katherine, Daniel Defoe: the Whole Frame of Nature, Time and Providence, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

DAWES William, The Eternity of Hell-torments. Sermon preach’d before King William, at Kensington, January 1701, 2nd ed., London, 1707.

DEFOE Daniel, A System of Magick [SM], with a new introduction by Richard Landon, East Ardsley, Wakefield, Yorkshire: EP Publishing Limited, [1726] 1973.

DEFOE Daniel, A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal, the Next Day after her Death: to One Mrs. Bargrave at Canterbury. The 8th of September, 1705, London, 1706.

DEFOE Daniel, An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions [EHRA], London, 1727.

DEFOE Daniel, Defoe’s Review, ed. Arthur Wellesley Secord, 22 vols., New York: AMS Press, [1938] 1965.

DEFOE Daniel, Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the Angelick World. Written by himself, London: Constable & Company Ltd, [1720] 1925.

DEFOE Daniel, The Consolidator, ed. Michael Seidel, Maximillian E. Novak, and Joyce D. Kennedy, New York: AMS Press, [1705] 2001.

DEFOE Daniel, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, ed. Angus Ross, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, [1719] 1985.

DEFOE Daniel, The Political History of the Devil [PHD], ed. Irving N. Rothman and R. Michael Bowerman, New York: AMS Press, [1726] 2003.

GILPIN Richard, Daemonologia Sacra; or, a Treatise of Satan’s Temptations, London: James Nisbet, [1677] 1867.

GLANVILL Joseph, Saducismus Triumphatus: Or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions. In Two Parts, 2 vols., London, 1681.

HALLYWELL Henry, Melampronoea: Or a Discourse of the Polity and Kingdom of Darkness; Together with a Solution of the Chiefest Objections Brought against the Being of Witches, London, 1681.

HEYWOOD Thomas, The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells. Their Names, Orders and Offices; The Fall of Lucifer with his Angells, London, 1635.

LAWRENCE Henry, Militia Spiritualis; Or a Treatise of Angels, London, 1652.

LEWIS Thomas, The Nature of Hell, the Reality of Hell-Fire, and the Eternity of Hell-Torments, Explain’d and Vindicated, London, 1720.

MATHER Increase, Angelographia; Or, a Discourse Concerning the Nature and Power of the Holy Angels, and the Great Benefits which the True Fears of God Receive by their Ministry, Boston, 1696.

MOORE John Robert, Daniel Defoe, Citizen of the Modern World, Chicago: the U of Chicago P, 1958.

NOVAK Maximillian E., Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.

ORIGEN, On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973.

POOLE Matthew, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, 3 vols., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, [1688] 1985.

REVARD Stella Purce, The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion, Ithaca, London: Cornell UP, 1980.

RICHARDSON S[amuel], A Discourse of the Torments of Hell. The Foundations and Pillars thereof Discovered, Searched, Shaken and Removed, n. p., 1660.

[SAUNDERS Richard], Angelographia: Or, a Discourse of Angels: their Nature and Office, or Ministry, London, 1701.

SHEPHERD Thomas, Several Sermons on Angels. With a Sermon on the Power of Devils in Bodily Distempers, London, 1702.

SUTHERLAND James, Daniel Defoe: A Critical Study, Cambridge, Massachussetts: Harvard UP, 1971.

SUTHERLAND James, Defoe, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1937.

TERTULLIAN, Against Marcion, 5 vols., Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

WEST Robert H., Milton and the Angels, Athens: U of Georgia P, 1955.

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Notes

1 Daniel Defoe, The Political History of the Devil [PHD], ed. Irving N. Rothman and R. Michael Bowerman, New York: AMS Press, [1726] 2003; A System of Magick [SM], with a new introduction by Richard Landon, East Ardsley, Wakefield, Yorkshire: EP Publishing Limited, [1726] 1973; and An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions [EHRA], London, 1727.

2 James Sutherland, Defoe, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1937, 263-265; and Daniel Defoe: A Critical Study, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1971, 231-232.

3 See, for example, John Robert Moore, Daniel Defoe, Citizen of the Modern World, Chicago: the U of Chicago P, 1958.

4 Rodney M. Baine, Daniel Defoe and the Supernatural, Athens: U of Georgia P, 1968; Ian Bostridge, Witchcraft and its Transformations c. 1650-c. 1750, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997, 111-128, 136-138; Maximillian E. Novak, Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001, 653-668; Katherine Clark, Daniel Defoe: The Whole Frame of Nature, Time and Providence, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, 185-208.

5 Daniel Defoe, The Consolidator, ed. Michael Seidel, Maximillian E. Novak and Joyce D. Kennedy, New York: AMS Press, [1705] 2001; A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal, the Next Day after her Death: to One Mrs. Bargrave at Canterbury. The 8th of September, 1705, London, 1706; Defoe’s Review, ed. Arthur Wellesley Secord, 22 vols., New York: AMS Press, [1938] 1965, I, “A Supplement to the Advice from the Scandal Club” (November, number 3), 5-7, IV, 326-327 (Thursday, August 21 1707), VIII, 94-96 (Thursday, May 17 1711); The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, ed. Angus Ross, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, [1719] 1985; and Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the Angelick World. Written by himself, London: Constable & Company Ltd, [1720] 1925, 255-337.

6 Novak, 654.

7 See, for instance, Henry Lawrence, Militia Spiritualis; or a Treatise of Angels, London, 1652, 6-7, 10, 12.

8 “The angels, of necessity, were made by God”: Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Fathers of the Dominican Province, 5 vols., Allen Texas: Christian Classics, [1911] 1981, I, 302 (Pt. 1, Q. 61, Art. 1).

9 Baine, 54-55.

10 See, for instance, Lawrence, 7 ; Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, 3 vols., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, [1688] 1985, I, 5; Increase Mather, Angelographia; or, a Discourse Concerning the Nature and Power of the Holy Angels, and the Great benefits which the True Fearers of God Receive by their Ministry, Boston, 1696. For a 17th-century account of the arguments for and against this thesis, see Thomas Heywood, The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells. Their Names, Orders and Offices; the Fall of Lucifer with his Angells, London, 1635, 334-335.

11 Heywood, 334. Henry Lawrence also estimates that angels were created on the first day of the Hexameron (Lawrence, 7).

12 Clark, 189.

13 For the influence exerted by patristic writings on Paradise Lost, particularly on the progress of Lucifer’s rebellion and the war in heaven, see Stella Purce Revard, The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion, Ithaca, London: Cornell UP, 1980, 28-86, 129-198.

14 Origen, On First Principles, trans. G.W. Butterworth, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973, 44-51; and Tertullian, Against Marcion, 5 vols., Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004, II, 19-21.

15 Revard, 39-42, 46-47.

16 See, for instance, Poole, II, 358, 748-750.

17 For the interpretation of Apocalypse 12:7-9 worked out by Gregory the Great and for its influence, see Revard, 134.

18 See, for instance, Poole, III, 981.

19 [Richard Saunders], Angelographia : or, a Discourse of Angels : their Nature and Office, or Ministry, London, 1701, 51 ; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols., Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, [1989] 2001, I, 152-153.

20 Aquinas, I, 312-313 (Pt. 1, Q. 63, Art. 1-2); Revard, 67.

21 In EHRA, Defoe refers his reader to Eph. 1:21 and 6:12 concerning the titles Thrones, Dominions, Principalities and Powers, and to Thess. 4:16 and “Jude ver. 3” regarding the distinction between angels and archangels. However, the Epistle to the Ephesians does not mention Thrones, who only appear in Col. 1:16. Besides, the reference to “Jude ver. 3” is erroneous: the archangel Michael is mentioned in Jude 1:9.

22 In De Coelesti Hierarchia (The Celestial Hierarchy), Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite divides angels into three ranks, each of which contains three orders based on their closeness to God. To the first rank (in descending order) belong Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; the second rank consists of Dominions, Virtues, and Powers; the third includes Principalities, Archangels and Angels. This classification is vindicated by Thomas Aquinas: Aquinas, I, 528-536 (Pt. 1, Q. 108, Art. 1-8).

23 See also PHD, 168-169; and EHRA, 25-26, 57.

24 For a discussion of the position of 17th-century Protestant theologians concerning the angelic hierarchy established by Denys the Areopagite, see Robert H. West, Milton and the Angels, Athens: U of Georgia P, 1955, 49-52, 131-136.

25 Poole, III, 709. See also Isaac Ambrose, War with the Devils: Ministration of, and Communion with Angels, Glasgow, [1661] 1769, 220-221; and Richard Gilpin, Daemonologia Sacra; or, a Treatise of Satan’s Temptations, London: James Nisbet, [1677] 1867, 19-20.

26 Calvin, Institutes, I, 146-147. It should be pointed out, however, that this moderately sceptical attitude was not shared by the totality of Protestant theologians. Matthew Poole and Thomas Shepherd, for example, are unambiguous in their rejection of the doctrine of guardian angels. On the other hand, John Salkeld and John Beaumont subscribe to it unreservedly. Obviously, there was a certain diversity of opinion on this subject in Protestant circles. See Poole, III, 84; Thomas Shepherd, Several Sermons on Angels. With a Sermon on the Power of Devils in Bodily Distempers, London, 1702, 85-86 (sermon V); and Baine, 22-23. It should be further noted that, according to those Puritan theologians who vindicate the existence of guardian angels, the latter only minister to the elect. See, for instance, Lawrence, 19-25.

27 Baine, 17.

28 Gilpin, 20; Shepherd, 25 (sermon II); and Henry Hallywell, Melampronoea: or a Discourse of the Polity and Kingdom of Darkness. Together with a Solution of the Chiefest Objections Brought against the Being of Witches, London, 1681, 19.

29 Aquinas, I, 537-538 (Pt. 1, Q. 109, Art. 1-2).

30 See, for instance, Gilpin, 19-20.

31 West, 140-142.

32 Aquinas, I, 262 (Pt. 1, Q. 50, Art. 4). More generally, see Aquinas, I, 259-264 (Pt. 1, Q. 50, Art. 1-5).

33 Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 181-182.

34 Defoe, Serious Reflections, 267.

35 The existence of a “converse of spirits” is vindicated by several orthodox Protestant writers, but, according to them, the spirits involved in this “converse”, besides those of men, are necessarily angelic, and their exchanges are endowed with an essentially spiritual dimension. See, for instance, Ambrose, 219-222; and Lawrence, 11, 16-27, 40-41, 48-51.

36 Baine, 17.

37 Joseph Glanvill, Saducismus Triumphatus : or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions. In Two Parts, 2 vols., London, 1681, I, 47-48 (the pagination is specific to the chapter entitled “Some considerations about witchcraft. In a letter to Robert Hunt, Esq.”).

38 Lawrence, 71.

39 Ibid., 80.

40 Ibid., 107.

41 Ibid., 118.

42 Ambrose, 22.

43 Defoe traces his conception of hell as interior to Sir Thomas Browne’s: “As that learned and pleasant Author, the inimitable Dr. Brown says, the Devil is his own Hell” (PHD, 145). Or to use Brown’s exact words: “Every Devil is an Hell unto himself” (“Religio Medici,” in Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici, Letter to a Friend &c., and Christian Morals, ed. W. A. Greenhill, Peru, Illinois: Sherwood Sugden & Company Publishers, [1881] 1990, 81 [part I, section li]).

44 That material fire cannot harm spirits is also stressed by the Baptist writer Samuel Richardson: “Corporal Fire cannot work upon a Spirit, the Devils are spirits, therefore cannot be tormented with corporal Fire” (S[amuel] Richardson, A Discourse of the Torments of Hell. The Foundation and Pillars thereof Discovered, Searched, Shaken and Removed, n.p., 1660, 42).

45 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. The Calvin Translation Society, 22 vols., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993, XVII, 183 (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke by John Calvin, trans. William Pringle, vol. 3 of 3).

46 See, for instance, Calvin, Commentaries, XVII, 182; Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest: or, a Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in their Enjoyment of God in Glory, London, 1649, 327-328; William Dawes, The Eternity of Hell-Torments. Sermon Preach’d before King William, at Kensington, January 1701, 2nd ed., London, 1707; and Thomas Lewis, The Nature of Hell, the Reality of Hell-Fire, and the Eternity of Hell-Torments, Explain’d and Vindicated, London, 1720, 29-38 (Chap. V, “Of the Eternity of Hell Torments”). See also Philip C. Almond, Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, [1994] 2008, 144-161 (Chapter V, “Eternal torments").

47 Lewis, 1.

48 Almond, 146, 153, 160. In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe, through the persona of Crusoe, explicitly denies that demons will be saved, arguing that Christ died for men, but not for fallen angels (Robinson Crusoe, 221).

49 Almond, 145-151.

50 Calvin, Commentaries, XVII, 182.

51 Thomas Bilson, The Survey of Christs Sufferings for Mans Redemption: and of his Descent to Hades or Hel [sic] for our Deliverance, London, 1604, 39-55; and Lewis, 13-29 (Chap. IV “Of the reality of Hell Fire”). See also Almond, 88-89.

52 Almond, 100.

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Yannick Deschamps, « Good and Evil Angels in Daniel Defoe’s Demonological Treatises », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Écrivains, écritures, Literary studies – Varia, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2011, consulté le 23 avril 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/8934

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Yannick Deschamps

Université Paris Est Créteil, France. Yannick Deschamps is a senior lecturer in British studies at Paris Est Créteil University. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Daniel Defoe’s part in promoting the Anglo-Scottish Union (1707). Since then, he has published articles on various aspects of the Union debate as well as on Defoe’s non-fictional works, in particular those dealing with religion and the supernatural. He is preparing a book on the historiography of the Anglo-Scottish Union (1707).

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