Superstition In The Protestant And Catholic Reformations
The concept of superstition as a religious error was very influential during the Reformation, when Protestants defined many aspects of traditional Catholic worship, including pilgrimages, prayers for the dead, the cult of the saints, and the veneration of the consecrated host, as superstitious. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) in his essay on superstition quoted Plutarch and followed him in believing atheism preferable to superstition, a position he particularly emphasized by placing the essay on superstition immediately after the one on atheism. Bacon listed as superstitions "pleasing and sensual rites and ceremonies; excess of outward and pharisaical holiness; [and] overgreat reverence of traditions," recapitulating common Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric. The charge of superstition was also a polemical weapon in intra-Protestant battles. Bacon also hinted that there was a "superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best, if they go furthest from the superstition, formerly received" a veiled thrust at the extreme Protestants of his day (Bacon, p. 40).
Catholic accusations of superstition against Protestants were less common, as the principal charge they made was heresy. Heresy differed from superstition in that it resulted from willful error rather than ignorance. In common usage, superstition also differed from heresy in that it was focused more on practices than beliefs. The early modern period also saw more secular analyses of superstition in Sir Thomas Browne's (1605–1682) Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646) and the works of other collectors and denouncers of "vulgar errors" who preceded and followed him. These writers included superstitions among other false beliefs. Although in many places endorsing the theory that superstitions had been handed down from ancient pagans, Browne and his successors had more interest in cataloging and analyzing individual superstitions than did the theologians and religious polemicists. Their work contributed to the later development of the anthropological study of superstition.
- Superstition - The Spectator On Superstition And Enthusiasm
- Superstition - Superstition And Its Foes In The Islamic World
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