Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages

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Cornell University Press, 1986 - Religion - 356 pages
3 Reviews
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Evil is an intrinsically fascinating topic. In Lucifer, Jeffrey Burton Russell continues his compelling study of the personification of evil in the figure of the Devil. The previous two volumes in this remarkable tertalogy--The Devil and Satan--trace the history of the concept of the devil comparatively as it emerged in diverse cultures and followed its development in Western thought from the ancient Hebrew religion through the first five centuries of the Christian era.The present volume charts the evolution of the concept of the devil from the fifth century through the fifteenth. Drawing on an impressive array of sources from popular religion, art, literature, and drama, as well as from scholastic philosophy, mystical theology, homiletics, and hagiography, Russell provides a detailed treatment of Christian diabology in the Middle Ages. Although he focuses primarily on Western Christian thought, Russell also includes, for the sake of comparison, material on the concept of the devil in Greek Orthodoxy during the Byzantine period as well as in Muslim thought.Russell recounts how the Middle Ages saw a refinement in detail rather than a radical alteration of diabological theory. He shows that the medieval concept of the devil, fundamentally unchanged over the course of the centuries, eventually gave rise to the unyielding beliefs that resulted in the horrifying cruelties of the witch-hunting craze in the 1500s and 1600s. This major contribution to the history of the Middle Ages and to the history of religion will enlighten scholars and students alike and will appeal to anyone concerned with the problem of evil in our world.


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User Review  - Strider66 - LibraryThing

Pros: quite thorough in some areas, decent number of images, very interesting subject matter Cons: fair amount of repetition, some sections could have been fleshed out more This is the third book in ... Read full review

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Lucifer is the third volume in the four volumes series, and above all other volumes this one is the most meticulous and authoritative, one can clearly see that this area is the author's area of expertise. Russell delves into the minds of the most influential thinkers of the time, explaining it as effortlessly as one would expect from an authority. The only complaint that I have is the same one that I have had for all the volumes, Russell fails to link was the leading theologians believed to what the populace believe, this I believe is a serious fault, because there is quite often a vast chasm between the two. Though Russell may not have intended to address this in his works, it seems to be a big part of the stated purview, after all, the population was part of the Middle Ages too.
Russell ends this volume with the chapter on "The Existence of the Devil". Here Russell puts forward his personal opinion and makes an impassioned plea for modern theology not to throw away the idea of the devil, however one may perceive him. Russell makes a very poignant point when he states; "The subtraction of the devil has in fact led some modern theologians to evade or trivialise evil. It is curious that at a time when evil threatens to engulf us totally, when evil has already claimed more victims in this century than in all previous centuries combined, that one hears less and less on the subject from theology. Any religion that does not come to terms with evil is not worthy of attention."
Having said this though, Russell goes on to state that the devil as an entity is not real, but that "the devil is a metaphor for the evil in the cosmos....We may now be in need of another name for this force." While these two views are not totally mutually exclusive, they are in some way contradictory. Russell's stated personal opinion is on a very steep slope, and is probably how so many scholars today came to disavow any type of evil entity, Russell's view is only a very small step away from what he is warning against; denying evil totally.
So conservative Christians beware, this study of the devil is biased from the opinion that an independent entity such as the devil does not exist.
Overall this is a great treatise on the theological personification of evil in the Middle Ages.
Four stars.


List of Illustrations
The Life of Lucifer
The Devil in Byzantium
The Muslim Devil
Early Medieval Diabology
Lucifer in Early Medieval Art and Literature
Lucifer in High Medieval Art and Literature
Lucifer on the Stage
Nominalists Mystics and Witches
The Existence of the Devil
Essay on the Sources

The Devil and the Scholars

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About the author (1986)

Jeffrey Burton Russell is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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