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  • Title: A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures
  • Author: Samuel Harsnett
  • Editors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan
  • Coordinating editor: James D. Mardock

  • Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Editors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan
    Not Peer Reviewed

    A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures

    Chapter 14

    Of the strange power of a Catholic Priest's breath, and of the admirable fire that is in a Priest's hands to burn the devil.

    Pliny in his Natural History, tells us of certain people, that do anhelitu oris enecare homines:// Kill men with the breath that comes from their mouths. Scaliger recounts a whole linage of men, that couldoculis fascinare:// bewitch with their eyes, though they did not touch. The Leno in the comedy is noted to be of so strong a breath that he had almost blown down the young gallant that stood in his way, but the poets tell us that hell hath a more deadly breathing then all; so as if a bird do by chance fly over the Stygian flood she is quelled with the smell and falls down stark dead. We have here to acquaint you with a breathing company of priests, that for potency of breath do put down Pliny, Scaliger, the bawd, hell, the devil and all. For the devil, who can well enough endure the loathsome odors, and evaporations of hell, is not able to endure the vapor issuing from the mouth of a priest, but had rather go to hell than abide his smell.

    Now what a monstrous coil would six or seven ignivomous priests keep in hell if they should let loose the full fury of their blasts, as Aeolus did upon the sea, and distend their holy bellows in consort amongst the poor ghosts; were it not a plain danger that they were likely to puff all the devils out of hell? Mengus, the canonist for hell, gives us a rule that if the devil be stubborn and will not obey the formidable exorcism of the priest, then that the priest shall os suum quam-proximè ad energumenum admouere:// bring his mouth as near to the possessed mouth as he can, and by that time the devil hath tasted on his breath, if there be any life in him, he will be glad to stir.

    Here now you see the reason why Trayford's devil rebounded at the dint of the priest's breath and was so glad to get him out at Trayford's right ear like a mouse, rather than he would come out jump against the priest's mouth. The little children were never so afraid of hell mouth in the old plays painted with great fang teeth, staring eyes, and a foul bottle nose, as the poor devils are scared with the hell mouth of a priest.

    Take an example from Sara Williams of the vigorousness of their breath. "She lay," saith the penner of their miracles, "past all sense in a trance, being utterly bereaved of all her senses at once. The priest no sooner came near her but she discerned him by the smell." Was not this, trow you, a jolly rank smell that was able to awake a poor wench out of a trance? Verily these do out-smell the devil by far. For though the devil hath, as is commonly reputed, a fele rank smell, yet I never heard of any that could discern a devil by his smell.

    20The like sovereign smell is in the sacrament of their mass, for Sara "could always" saith our author, "very exactly reckon up how many had communicated, by discerning them by their smell." But for this they may have an easy evasion; happily they had been so deep in the chalice as a quick-scented man might have savored them a far off without help of the devil. Their breath which is nothing but air exhaled from their lungs being, as you see, of this affrighting power over the devil, what may we deem of the power of their holy hands if they come once to be applied to the devil?

    First, their holy fingers had in them the same divine power, if not in an higher measure, that we read to have been in our Savior Christ. With a bare touch of their finger, without any other ceremony used by our blessed Savior in like case, they restored hearing and sight to their patients, being blind and deaf. So hath the miracle-master clearly set down that Sara, being bereaved of all her senses as in a trance, the exorcist toucheth her ears and eyes with his finger, and she sees and hears.

    This is but a flea-biting to that which Ignatius's great grand-child Edmunds exploited with his holy hand. Jupiter armed with his dreadful thunder never made hell so to crack. Hear it thorough the Jesuit's own trumpet, as himself hath proclaimed it to the world. Edmunds "had scarcely begun his adjuration, and laid his hand on Marwood's head, but he presently falls into a fury, stretches out his body, beats with his feet and hands, snatches at the priest's hand, makes all to ring with crying, swearing, and blaspheming." This was well roared of a young devil for a praeludium to the play, upon the bare touch of Edmunds's hand. But mark when the devil grew hot with the continuing of this holy trick, and of hell; Edmunds's hand on his head still, Sacerdos officium reparat manum in capite tenens, the priest falls afresh to his work, holding still his hand on the possessed's head. Now begins hell to work. "Here strange tragical exclamations filled all our ears. Devils why come ye not? And thou Pippin (which was the name of the tormenting devil) dost thou not revenge my quarrel? Is there no aid, no succor left in hell? Take me, miserable caitiff, and hurl me into the infernal flames. But if either you will not, or cannot, right this disgrace, then you lances, swords, and knives dash thorough me; fire, dogs, plague, mischief consume me; house fall upon me, earth swallow me, lightning from heaven devour me. Who can bear my burden? Who can endure my heat? Who can be thus torn in pieces, being rent with a thousand nails?" Who would not think that he heard Hercules furens, or Ajax flagellifer newly come from hell? Was ever Prometheus with his vulture, Sisyphus with his stone, Ixion with his wheel in such a case? Did ever the God-gastring giants, whom Jupiter overwhelmed with Pelion and Ossa, so complain of their load? Or Phaeton so bellow when he was burned with Jupiter's flames, as poor Marwood here bellows and roars under Edmunds's fiery flames—and all with the only touch of his head with his Ignatian hand? Was it not by divine oracle that his master's name should be Ignatius, when his disciple carried such an unsupportable weight of hell fire in his hand? Will not his hand be an excellent instrument for Lucifer in hell, to plague, broil, and torment his infernal fiends, that hath such a fiend-tormenting power here on earth? Now here pitiful Marwood go[es] on in his direful notes.

    "Apage inquit manum illam cum omnibus daemoniis. Take away that dreadful hand in the name of all the devils in hell.Ut me vexas et torques, nunquam sine cruciatibus sine incendio esse patiens? How dost thou vex, how dost thou wring me? Thou art never but plaguing me with torment and fire." Then cries he out of his head, his heart, his bowels, his bones. Manum tamen non dimittit sacerdos. Yet Edmunds would not be moved to remit his hand, but begins a new chase. In sequitur manu per tergum, et cet. He pursues the devil down along his back, his reins, his close parts, his thighs, his legs, usque ad talos, down to his ankle-bone. Thence he fetches him back again, with a Susurrare down his knee, his belly, his breast, his neck, and there grasps him round about the neck with both his holy hands, which cast the devil into so strange an agony and passion as Edmunds himself breaks forth into an exclamation: "Deus imortalis quanta tum ille passeus fuit? nec mille hominum linguas explicare posse existimo." "Good God! into what a passion was he then cast? Not the tongues of a thousand men, I imagine, can express it."

    A little taste of the inexplicable agony he gives us by this, that the sweat that flowed from Marwood's face was in such current streams as it was the office of one man to stand and dry them up. Digitus Ignatii est hic:// this was the finger of Ignatius devil indeed, to teach a young Popish rakehell so cunningly to act and feign the passions and agonies of the devil that the whole company of spectators shall by his false illusions be brought into such commiseration and compassion, as they shall all weep, cry, and exclaim as loud as the counterfeit devil; and the end andplauditeof the act must be this. Oh the Catholic faith, oh the faith Catholic, truly faith, holy, pure, powerful faith. Thou art terrible to devils, formidable to hell; troops submit to thee, legions of devils do tremble at thy voice; they fly from thy unresistable command; they quake and dare not abide thy sound. Now by that time Sara and her play-fellows be come upon the stage and have told you how they were burned and handled likewise I doubt not; but you will help theirplauditewith an "oh" too:O diabolicam fraudem! O fraudem diabolicam! O dirus actores! O ineptos spectatores!

    25Sara was content to play the she-devil, touching your presence and approach, and to grace you with an "Oh I burn, oh I cannot abide the presence of a Catholic." Marry, when you came nearer than in manhood you should offer, or she in modesty suffer, as to hunt her with your holy hot hands, she could in her womanhood have been content you would have forborne, but that way lay your game, and therefore there was no remedy but you would have your hunting sport. Your game being by hot chase embossed, did commonly take soil, and there you let him lodge and hunted him afresh upon the old foil, and counter too, which none but curs of an impure scent will do.

    Sara saith you began with your fiery hands at her foot, and so up all along her leg; so her knee, her thigh, and so along all parts of her body. And that you followed the chase so close, that it could neither double, nor squat, but you were ready to pinch.

    Was this a fair chase for holy anointed priests to make, especially with those holy hands that had instantly before celebrated the holy mass, blessed the chalice, made (as they suppose) a new god, elevated the host, handled and divided the very body of Christ; to bring the same holy hands piping hot from the altar to the chair where Sara sat at mass; to seize with the same hands upon her toe, slip them up along her leg, her knee, her thigh, and so along all parts of her body till you came near her neck; and by the way with the same holy hands to handle, pinch, and gripe, where the devil in his black modesty did forbear till you made her cry "oh," and then you to cry, "Oh, that, oh, is the devil"? Now the great devil pinch you all for me, and that I may say without malignity, for I well know he dares not. You are so devil-holy all over, head, heart, and hands, that the devil dares not come near you. And therefore you need not to care a rush for either devil or hell, for you will either with your holiness make holy both the devil and hell, or make him cry "oh," when you come there with your holy pinch.

    Fid Williams doth complain (look in their own confessions) that with your holy hot burning hands you did hunt the devil counter in her too. And did toe-burn, shin-burn, knee-burn her, and so forth, till you made her cry "oh," for they were the sweet pair of your holy devils that were always in chase.

    And here we see the cause why Trayford was soon dispatched of his devil after a bout or two, and was never devil-hunted from toe to top with your holy hot hands; nor Master Maynie was never troubled with this pinching sport. But Sara and Fid stuck long in your fingers, or your fingers about them; and ever and anon they were at the holy chair, and this dislodging, coursing, and pinching, the devil was still in their parks. Alack, the poor souls had no worse devils than Trayford and Maynie had, for Maynie had the sovereign dictator of hell in him; but their walk was fair for your course, their game pleasing, their suit hot, your scent fuller, and therefore no marvel, though your dogs being curs, did hunt riot so often after this fallow deer.

    30And here I must remember you that you were so fiery hot, and so sharp set upon this game, that you forgot your masters, Mengus, Thyraeus, Sprenger, Nider, and all; and did as schoolboys do when they have an otium to play: give a shout, and for haste of their sport, cast satchel, books, and paper behind at their heels. For in your grand probato, when Sara at my Lord Vaux his house was to receive her solemn grand exorcism and so be quit the court, this high day being held for her final quietus est, where you should have had special regard to have dignified and graced every holy engine in his due order and place, serviceable to this great work, as the amice, the alb, holy water, holy candle, the cross, Brian's bones, and your Master Mengus his formidable devil-whip above the rest; you, having Sara your game set fair in her form, for joy and shout of your sport, could not abstain, but like Lycurgus his hound, that having an hare and a kitchen pot set both before him left the hare and ran to the pot and thrust in his head up to the ears, so you, having in your hand your Master Mengus his dreadful book of exorcism, entitled worthily Fustis, fuga, flagellum daemonum: the cudgel, the whip, and the flight of the devil (lo the furious force of your fiery heat), threw Mengus your devil-whipper away, and ran unto Sara, and with your burning hands catched Sara by the foot and so fired the devil along, till you made him slip out where no man must name.

    Now a few questions I must assoil, and then I will proceed to your holy gear.

    1. It may be asked, how your hands came so holy as to shine at the top of your fingers, like unto the sun. Wherein you shall hear a piece of a dialogue between Fid and Master Maynie, their captain scholar, who, sitting by Fid his pew-fellow, and a priest hard by them, did affirm that "unto his sight the priest's finger, and thumb, did shine with brightness, especially on the inner sides." Whereunto the priest answered that "it might well be so, because," quoth he, "they were anointed with holy oil, when I was made priest." At which words Fid, laughing, and calling Master Maynie dissembling hypocrite, the priest said, "It was not Fid, but the devil, that did so laugh and rail." Here you see a plain reason how the priest's hand comes shining and holy, and hath this pinching holy quality in it, to cause a wench cry "oh," and he that will laugh at this reason may hap to catch a devil.

    2. If any curious merry head will demand what needs the amice, the alb, holy candle, holy cross, holy brimstone, Brian's bones, the sacrament, the cross, Salve Regina, Saint Barbara, Mengus his devil-whip, his devil-club, his fray-devil, and the rest of that infernal rabble, since the only holy hands of Edmunds the Jesuit alone hath power alone to rouse, hunt, chase, baffle, broil, and toast the devil, and to make him to roar that hell itself did quake and tremble, scud, and fly from his holy hand alone, more fearfully and ghastfully than ever poor mouse did tremble and fly from the sight of a glaring cat. To this I answer, that as all stars do not participate alike the light of the sun, so all holy priests do not receive alike the influence of this hell-tormenting fire, but as they come nearer to that Fons caloris, Origo luminis, Oculus caeli Ignatius, the fountain of this holy-devil-driving heat, as his name doth import (as Edmunds his grand-child did), so are there more potent and abundant beams of that miraculous fire communicated unto them, able to fry and broil all the devils in hell. And as they stand farther off from the pure rays of his hell-firing face, so they are as the moon, but spotted and sprinkled with this satanical flame.

    3. If this will not content you, but you will pursue me with questions still, and know why Edmunds, Dibdale, and some other[s] who had the devil's plenty of this devil-frying heat in their holy hands did not dispatch the devil quite and fire him out of his den at once with their holy hands alone, but elongated their work, and took in the alb, the amice, holy candle, holy host, and all the lousy holy wardrobe to assist in the holy work. I answer, this was their good nature, to take in those petty implements and to do them some grace, that their mother Holy Church, whose hangings they are, may thank them for their labor, especially considering they grow nowadays somewhat sullied for want of clean use. And lastly, if they should have dispatched hastily, much good hunting sport had been lost, the pleasure had been short, the action by facility would not have been so admirably esteemed, the holy Church had lost their applause, and the grace of the action by sudden quick passage would have received much eclipse and diminution. And so I proceed to view their holy implements.