ENTHUSIASME [Late Latin enthūsiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein, to be inspired by a god, from entheos, possessed :]
Political,economic and social stresses take their toll on normative behavior. The late “early modern period” let’s call it 1590-1680 (pre Newton?) was a period of hegemonic disillusion, simultaneously there was an ‘outbreak’ or interpretation of behavior as aberrant and named Enthusiasme characterize by those who were thought guilty of feigned inspiration, impostures, sectarianism, and extremes of religious passion. Enthusiasm was also associated with sets of physical symptoms—convulsions, ecstatic dancing, prophesying, speaking in foreign tongues.
The England of Burton and Casaubon, the two authors who dedicated a great amount of scholarship to Enthusiame was very different, Burton died (1640) before The Death of Charles I . Causaubon’s book was published in the period between the execution of King Charles 1st in 1649, and the restoration of Charles 2nd in 1660. At this time, religious sects were multiplying profusely and their conflicting demands for a restructuring of society were a threat to political stability in England. The investigation of the etiology of what was regarded as a religious distemper,ceased to be operative in theological or political terms. This insufficiency inspired a great mind such as Casaubon to look for a better ( and maybe more peaceful) understanding of these behaviors.
In Casaubon’s etiological journey he sets out to impose on general Enthusiasme, distinctions, and specific causes for each of these. He stipulates that some types can arise from mental abnormalities without supernatural intervention. In this view Casaubon is investigating mental illness.
“Physiological accounts of enthusiasm and the application of the category to religious history are indicative of an important shift in Western understandings of the basis of religious belief. The quest for the natural causes of the diversity of religious beliefs, incipient in the treatments of Burton, Casaubon, and More, heralds the beginning of Enlightenment attempts to provide religious beliefs with natural, rather than supernatural, explanations. To a degree, these treatments also lessened the moral stigma associated with religious heterodoxy. Enthusiasm and its critics played a significant role in the secularization of European thought and culture.”
A further not of interest is that Casaubon was concern for the spread of Mahometisme, in the greater part of the world ( America being set aside)
344F Casaubon, Meric. 1599-1671
A Treatise Concerning Enthusiasme, As It is an Effect of Nature: but is mistaken by many for either Divine Inspiration, or Diabolicall Possession. By Meric Casaubon, D.D. Second edition: revised, and enlarged.
London: Printed by Roger Daniel, and are to be sold by Thomas Iohnson, at the Golden Key in St. Paul’s Church-yard, Anno, 1656 $1,500
Ocatvo, 6.4 x 4.2 inches. Second edition. A-T8, V6. 297 pages. This is a good copy in a later quarter calf binding.
“This was the first separate treatise on enthusiasm, a term used for conditions attributed to possession by a superior power. Casaubon divided it into two kinds; supernatural which was ‘a true possession, whether divine or diabolical,’ and natural ‘whereof all men are capable’ to which belonged the delusions and hallucinations of the insane; the first not less real for being rare, the second common. “Casaubon had read ‘The Life of Sister Katharine of Jesus’ published at Paris, 1628, ‘a long contexture of severall strange raptures and enthusiasms, that had hapned unto a melancholick, or if you will, a devout maid.’ Despite approbations from a cardinal, an archbishop, a bishop and several doctors of divinity, Casaubon could find ‘no great matter of wonder’ in it but instead ‘a perpetuall coherence of naturall causes.’ Disturbed ‘that what by such, and so many, was judged God, and Religion, should be nothing but Nature and Superstition,’ he determined to investigate the whole matter thoroughly and this book was the result. Its main purpose was to survey historically cases and opinions so as to distill and preserve the belief in true divine intervention from adulteration with ‘natural enthusiasm’ with which it was often confused to its disrepute: ‘to embrace a cloud, or a fog for a deity; it is done by many, but it is a foul mistake: let him take heed of it.’
“ ‘A Treatise Concerning Enthusiasm,’ was an enlightened work since in it Casaubon set out to show how various enthusiasms, such as ‘divinatory,’ ‘contemplative,’ ‘rhetorical,’ ‘precatory,’ and others could arise from mental abnormalities without supernatural intervention or imposture. Read today in this sense it was a psychiatric treatise devoted to mental illness with religious coloring and the special problems raised by it. The first extract shows how epileptic phenomena in particular made it difficult to accept all mental illness as ‘natural.’ This was partly because of the dramatic effect of sudden, short-lived, episodic disturbances of consciousness accompanied by convulsions in otherwise normal persons which had given epilepsy its popular name of sacred disease and rise to Hippocrates’s famous pronouncement: ‘it appears to me to be nowise more divine nor more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause from which it originates like other affections. Men regard its nature and cause as divine from ignorance and wonder, because it is not at all like to other diseases.’ Another difficulty was that persons suffering from minor epileptic conditions such as temporal lobe disturbances with twilight, dreamy or confusional states — surprisingly known to Casaubon and called by him ‘a more gentle and remiss kind of Epilepsie’ — often report hallucinatory experiences as of another world. These are sometimes elaborated into delusional systems on religious themes. — ‘for it is natural to those that have been epileptical to fall into melancholy’ — especially if repetition of vivid experience perhaps reinforced by a feeling of reminiscence or deja vu has convinced the patient of direct contact with superior powers. A third difficulty was the overzeal in religious matters or religiosity which is a common manifestation of epileptic personality change.
“The mental disturbances in another group of patients seemed also to be inexplicable on natural grounds, namely those whose ‘distemper’ was ‘confined to some one object or other, the brain being otherwise sound and sober’ such as the ‘poor woman in Warwick-shire’ mentioned by Joseph Glanvill, ‘whose habitual conceit it was, that she was Mother of God, and of all things living, and yet when I diverted her to anything else of ordinary matters, she spoke usually with as much sobriety and cold discretion, as could well be expected from a person of her condition.’ This apparent paradox of ‘a sober kind of distraction’ as Casaubon called it, has always been a major stumbling block in psychiatric systems and classifications. […] Casaubon realized that it touched on the fundamental question whether insanity ‘was an error of imagination only, and not of understanding.’ and wondered whether by natural means one faculty could be ‘depraved’ without the other. This dichotomy between an ‘intellective’ or ‘ratiocinative’ and an ‘imaginative’ faculty is still implied in the current psychiatric distinction of mental illness into ‘thought disorder’ or schizophrenia and ‘affective disorder’ or manic-depressive psychosis, and of course forms the basic tenet of the McNaughton Rules (1843) by which ‘a defect of reason, from disease of the mind’ is the ultimate medico-legal test for the presence or absence of absolving insanity.” (Hunter and MacAlpine)
Wing C-813. Please see Heyd, Michael. “Be Sober and Reasonable”: The Critique of Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries. Leiden, 1995. Argues that reactions against enthusiasm provide important background to the Enlightenment.