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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Defense of the Devil
By Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754)
 
From the ‘Epistles’: Translation of William Morton Payne

OUR last conversation was about apologetic or defensive writings, which I confessed I could not endure; partly because an honest man and a good book need no apology, partly because it is possible to write in defense of anything, even of the Devil. You laughed at my words, and replied that the latter task might prove somewhat difficult. I retorted that it would be no more difficult than to frame the defense that is made for the ass, wherein this beast is credited with various heroic qualities. In order to show that the thing may be done, I will briefly set forth what an apologist willing to trouble himself in such a cause may find to say in defense of the Devil.  1
  I will say nothing of his capacity and intelligence; for all, including his greatest enemies, are agreed that a person who bears six thousand years on his shoulders, and who has lived twice as long as the Shoemaker of Jerusalem, must possess more learning and wisdom than the seven wise men of Greece, perhaps more than all the professors on earth if they were made into one. Nor will it be urged that he is falling into the childishness of age; a thing that cannot be asserted without médisance, since the most learned theologians, who have made a thorough study of the man’s character, and know him to a nicety, are quite sure that he is in full vigor, so that age cannot have bitten him much if at all. Similarly, the learned men of the last century who had the honor of talking with the Shoemaker of Jerusalem bore witness that this self-same shoemaker was still in full possession of his five senses; so that neither understanding nor memory was at fault, although he had wandered about the world for sixteen hundred years. There can therefore be no dispute about the understanding and knowledge of the Devil, which cannot be other than vast, when we take his great age into consideration; and this is the reason why the Norse peasants bestow upon him the venerable title of Old Erik.  2
  But let us examine the evil characteristics that are ascribed to him. The Devil is frequently said to go about plunging men into misfortune and leading souls astray. But since he has plainly, and by manifesto, so to speak, declared war upon the human race, he is more excusable than many men who under the guise of friendship mislead their neighbors; who make peaceful compacts only to break them, and who call God to witness the uprightness of their hearts, that are yet full of hatred, enmity, and predatory desire. Hence it is said that we can guard ourselves against the Devil, but not against men. That he should seek to lead souls astray is nothing more than that he should be desirous of strengthening his power, and showing that he is an alert politician, statesman, and economist. In the matter of pacts and contracts his dealings are far more honorable than those of most men; for although the latter make agreements straightway to break them, and have thus brought themselves into so ill credit that none will contract with them save under the protection of a guarantee, experience on the other hand teaches us that the Devil fulfills his agreements to the letter, performs exactly his promises to the contracting party, and seizes upon no one before the stipulated time is out; as we may see from the history of Dr. Faustus and other worthy men, whom by virtue of executed contracts he has instructed in arts, learning, and statesmanship, or aided with great cash subsidies, and demanded no payment for the work until the time of expiry, the term, and the hour, came to hand. Among all the harsh things that are said of the Devil, we hear no one accuse him of failing to perform his contracts, or even of cheating anybody with false coin or false wares, as great numbers of our merchants and writers do,—the former by giving false names to their wares, the latter by attaching false titles to their writings, for which they ask payment in advance; while the Devil, for his part, carries out his agreements, neither giving nor exacting any advance payment. For that reason, we never hear of any one who has contracted with the Devil exacting any guarantee, which is indisputable evidence that he keeps his agreements honestly.  3
  It may be objected to this, that the uprightness shown by the Devil in his pacts and contracts does not proceed from honesty but from self-interest; since thereby he supports himself, and entices many to contract with him. But do you suppose our so-called upright merchants in all their dealings are honest merely for the sake of being honest? May not the rectitude of their conduct spring from the same source? It is said that when two things are one, they are yet not one; for what we call a virtue in the merchant is depicted as a vice in the Devil. Since then the Devil has thus come into ill repute, we ascribe to his influence adultery, murder, theft, and all evil doings. I do not go so far in this matter as wholly to acquit him; but I venture to say that the charges ordinarily brought against him have a bad effect, and are not well based. Their effect is bad, because they persuade sinners to put their guilt off their own shoulders and use the Devil as a shield for their misdoings. They are ill based, because the corrupt flesh and blood of men are sufficient, without any co-operation, to drive them to sin.  4
  Further, the Devil is said to prowl about at night for the disturbance of mankind. The conception one is bound to have of a cunning and evil spirit has prevented me from sharing the opinion of the learned in this matter; partly because I find the thing improbable,—unless people admit, as no one does, that he is in his second childhood,—and partly because such spooking would oppose his own interests. But since I have been blamed for this opinion, I have renounced it, and now confess with the orthodox that it really is the Devil who spooks by night in church-yards, houses, and nurseries. But in that case it follows that people are made God-fearing, and that the Devil by this practice of spooking shows himself a friend rather than an enemy of mankind, so that he should be praised rather than blamed for the habit. His function as the judge and executioner of the lost should not be a blot upon his name and good report; for that is a necessity, and just as no city can dispense with an executioner, so mankind in general cannot get along without such a general officer to execute the judgments pronounced upon the guilty. The office in itself is not only necessary, but even honorable, as we may see from the ancient Greeks, who made two men of importance, Minos and Rhadamanthus, the executioners in Pluto’s realm. We see from all these considerations that the Devil is not as black as he is painted; that on the contrary he has many good qualities, so that it is far less difficult to defend him than many men upon whose record there is no blot. It is quite to be believed, as many unpartisan men have observed, that we go too far in such judgments; and that if the learned and unpartisan theologian Gotfried Arnold, who was the advocate for many despised persons, had lived longer, he would have undertaken the defense of this notorious spirit, which we see is not a task so difficult but that with the help of a good rhetorica it may be given some color of success. That the Devil tempts men cannot well be disputed; but since experience shows that these alleged temptations may often be driven off by means of powders and drops, we see that even this accusation is often ill-founded, unless one is willing to contend that the Devil himself may be driven off by crabs’ eyes and purgative pills; which would be to hold the enemy too cheap.  5
  See, here you have the Devil’s defense, written in haste. You may see from it what a skillful disputator might accomplish, who should undertake to defend his case ex cathedra, or an advocate who had won a reputation for turning evil to good. Logica and rhetorica are two of the chief sciences. It was with the aid of logica that Zeno Eleates proved that nothing in the world had motion. It was by the same aid that Erasmus Montanus distinctly showed Peder Degn to be a cock, and that to beat one’s parents is a meritorious act. But to speak seriously, I beg that you will not show this letter to anybody, and particularly not to Herr Niels or Peder Degn; for they might take it all literally, and find in it the text for a sermon, and it might fare with me as with a certain man who was dubbed cardinal by the jovial papal collegio organized in this town a few years ago: after his death a number of letters were found giving him the title of Cardinal Orsini, and this the authorities took literally, discussing with their colleagues whether the deceased might be permitted burial in Christian earth.
I remain, etc.    
  6
 
 
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