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Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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Straightforward magical thinking was rejected, but not the belief in supernatural intervention as such. On the contrary, the cultural universe of both Christian communions was characterized by other-worldly semantics, even though Protestants rejected the sensory apprehension of the divine and privileged the word whereas Catholics played with rituals, images, and visual symbols.12 Stories about the involvement of angels and devils in earthly affairs continued to be presented as real events in all the churches. In Protestant as well as Catholic sources, heaven protected its chosen saints or the privileged objects of religious transmission, which were made particularly meaningful by these heavenly interventions. Stories abound about indestructible bibles, and incombustible images of Martin Luther or copies of the celebrated book of German Protestant spirituality, the Paradiesgartlein of Johann Arndt (1624).13 Bibliomantics, the semi-magical random use of the Bible for making choices or predicting future events, remained widespread among Protestants. If the range of sacral objects was different, the Protestant use of such objects largely conformed to Catholic ways of dealing with the sacred.

Until well into the early modern era, Catholics and Protestants shared a similar physical and symbolic mental universe. Their perception of natural phenomena and their stories about causalities in the earthly and heavenly worlds continued largely to support one another, despite the combative treatises, sermons, and warnings from controversial theologians on both sides. One need only compare their reactions to the preternatural or the apparent interventions of heaven in this world: magic and witchcraft, comets and eclipses, angels and demons.14 Their experience and perception of the world were strongly dependent on a cultural order that ecclesiastical discourse only very gradually succeeded in influencing. The Calvinist theology of wonders attempted to break from Catholic traditions, but it remained a prisoner of its own vocabulary, which continued to dominate understandings of the miraculous.15 In other respects, religious discourse itself struggled with a certain number of incongruities in the perception of the natural world that the dogmatic ukases pronounced by theologians or synods were unable to eradicate. They were at the base of the theory of accommodation, according to which the Holy Ghost, while inspiring the authors of the Bible, had adapted itself, as far as natural phenomena were concerned, to the modes of perception of ordinary people. This theory, put forward in the sixteenth century by Calvin, himself a disciple of Saint Augustine, was strongly revived from the second half of the seventeenth century when differences were growing between the universe of everyday perception, academic exegesis, and learned science. 16

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