The Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather 1693 ed with an intro by Reiner Smolinski (1998).pdf

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The Wonders of the Invisible World. Observations as Well Historical as Theological, upon the Nature, the Number, and the Operations of the Devils (1693)
UniversityofNebraska-Lincoln Year 1693
CottonMather ReinerSmolinski,Editor y
y GeorgiaStateUniversity,
The Wonders of the Invisible World:
C OTTON M ATHER (1662/3–1727/8). The eldest son of
New England’s leading divine, Increase Mather and grand-
son of the colony’s spiritual founders Richard Mather and
John Cotton, Mather was born in Boston, educated at Har-
vard (B. A. 1678; M. A. 1681), and received an honorary
Doctor of Divinity degree from Glasgow University (1710).
As pastor of Boston’s Second Church (Congregational), he
came into the political limelight during America’s version
of the Glorious Revolution, when Bostonians deposed their
royal governor, Sir Edmund Andros (April 1689). During
the witchcraft debacle (1692–93), Mather both warns the Sa-
lem judges against admitting “spectral evidence” as grounds
for indictment and advocates prayer and fasting to cure the
afflicted, but he also writes New England’s official defense
of the court’s procedures on which his modern reputation
largely depends: The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693).
As the Lord’s remembrancer and keeper of the Puritan con-
science, he writes the grandest of American jeremiads, his
epic church history Magnalia Christi Americana (1702).
Like his father a staunch defender of Puritan orthodoxy,
Mather persuades Elihu Yale, a London merchant and prac-
ticing Anglican, to endow Yale University (1703) as the new
nursery of Puritanism, when Harvard seemed to become
too liberal in its teaching and too independent in its think-
ing. If such endeavors bespeak Mather’s partisan politics on
the one hand and his transcendent thinking on the other, it
is his chiliastic credo that leads him to champion Pietist ec-
umenism, his effort to unite all Christian denominations in
New England, nay all Christians, Jews, and Moslems in the
Orient and Occident, under the umbrella of his “3 Maxims
of Piety” to hasten the Second Coming of Christ. Likewise,
his interest in the new sciences and in new medical theories
distinguish Mather from his American contemporaries. He
was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1713), de-
Observations as Well Historical as Theological,
upon the Nature, the Number, and the
Operations of the Devils
by Cotton Mather
Edited, with an Introduction,
by Reiner Smolinski
fended and popularized the new scientific theories of Henry
More, William Derham, John Ray, Thomas Burnet, Wil-
liam Whiston, Sir Isaac Newton, and others, and staunchly
advocates a new germ theory and inoculation against small-
pox in the face of the united opposition of Boston’s physi-
cians during the epidemic of 1721. Whereas Increase Mather
never quite made the transition into the Enlightenment,
his son Cotton had come full circle; he represents the best
of early Enlightenment thinking in Colonial America. His
contributions to the literature of the New England Errand
are as diverse as his publications are prolific and inexhaust-
ible. In all, he published more than four hundred works on
all aspects of the contemporary debate: theological, histori-
cal, biographical, political, and scientific. It is therefore de-
plorable that Mather’s reputation is still largely overshad-
owed by the specter of Salem witchcraft.
No single work of Mather’s gargantuan publication re-
cord does justice to his long, productive career in New Eng-
land’s foremost pulpit, but several representative types afford
a glimpse at his overall achievement. The Diary of Cotton
Mather (Vol. I, 1911; II, 1912; III, 1964) provides a more
comprehensive insight into his volatile nature than his auto-
biography Pa t e r n a (1976). His Diary is a Puritan document
par excellence. It focuses on him as an instrument of divine
providence in the world. If his public persona in his sermons
is overbearing and bombastic, his private persona in his Di-
ary is modest and unostentatious: a doting son, loving fa-
ther, affectionate husband, and caring Pa s t o r e v a ng e li c u s
fully aware of his own weaknesses.
Mather’s mythic image still rests on his involvement in
the Salem witchcraft debacle (1692–93) and on Robert Cal-
ef ’s libelling allegations in More Wonders of the Invisible
Wo r l d (1700). Mather’s most important publications on the
supernatural are Memorable Providences, Relating to Witch-
craft and Possessions (1689) and Wonders of the Invisible World
(1693). The former mostly recounts the possessions and an-
tics of the Goodwin children, the eldest of whom Mather ob-
served in his own home and eventually cured through fast-
ing, prayer, and patient reassurance. While to modern readers
the narrative smacks of singular gullibility, Mather’s practi-
cal tests, careful observations, and—most important—san-
ative procedure in indemnifying the girl’s excesses bespeak
his experimental treatment of the case. The latter work aims
at several purposes. On the one hand, Wo n d e r s is New Eng-
land’s official defense of the court’s verdict and testimony
to the power of Satan and his minions; on the other, it is
Mather’s contribution to pneumatology, with John Gaul,
Matthew Hale, John Dee, William Perkins, Joseph Glan-
ville, and Richard Baxter in the lead. Before Mather excerpts
the six most notorious cases of Salem witchcraft, he but-
tresses his account with the official endorsement of Lt. Gov-
ernor William Stoughton, with a disquisition on the devil’s
machinations described by the best authorities that the sub-
ject affords, with a previously delivered sermon at Andover,
and with his own experimentations. Mather’s Wo n d e r s , how-
ever, does not end without a due note of caution. While ex-
posing Satan’s plot to overthrow New England’s churches,
Mather also recommends his father’s caveat Cases of Con-
science (1693), thus effectively rejecting the use of “spectral
evidence” as grounds for conviction and condemning con-
fessions extracted under torture. What ties the various parts
together is Mather’s millenarian theme of Christ’s immi-
nence, of which Satan’s plot is the best evidence. Robert Cal-
ef ’s accusation that Mather and his ilk incited the hysteria
is, perhaps, unfounded, but Calef ’s charge of Mather’s ambi-
dextrous disposition seems warranted. For while Mather de-
fends the court’s verdict and justifies the government’s po-
sition, he also voices his great discomfort with the court’s
procedure in the matter. Wo n d e r s appeared in print just when
the trials were halting, but it remains, in his own words,
“that reviled Book,” a bane to his name.
His most enduring and, at once, most famous legacy
is his Puritan epic Magnalia Christi Americana (London,
1702), an ecclesiastical history of New England in the con-
temporary tradition of providence literature. In seven books
of uneven length, Mather commemorates on an epic scale
virtually every aspect of New England’s formative period
(1620-1698). From a literary point of view, Mather’s Plutar-
chan biographies of New England’s governors and ministers
(book 2) are of greatest interest. Puritan heroes are juxta-
posed with heroes of classical and biblical antiquity, with the
former surpassing the latter by emulating their outstanding
characteristics. Even though each life follows the pattern
of medieval hagiography, he does not fail to mention some
of his heroes’ shortcomings and how they overcame them.
Since its appearance, Magnalia Christi Americana has been
criticized for its lack of thematic unity, bombastic style, and
undigested material. However flawed by modern standards,
each of the seven books develops a specific theme, unified by
Mather’s Virgilian theme of the mighty works of Christ in
the Western hemisphere; Mather’s Baroque style—though
outdated by contemporary standards—is entirely consistent
with his own stylistic principles delineated in Manuductio
ad Ministerium (1726): to entertain with stylistic flourishes
while instructing with pearls of wisdom. Finally, Mather’s
consistent narrative voice and rhetorical intent unifies his
subject matter as the grandest of jeremiads that American
Puritanism has brought forth.
Out of Mather’s Pietist impulse and scientific endeavor
grow three strands of works, the best examples of which are
his civic-minded Bonifacius (1710), his compendium of the
new science The Christian Philosopher (1720/1), his medical
handbook The Angel of Bethesda (wr. 1723/24, publ. 1972),
his manual for the ministry Manuductio ad Ministerium
(1726), and his hermeneutical defense of eschatology The
Threefold Paradise: “Triparadisus” (wr. 1712, 1720-27; publ.
1995). Mather’s Bonifacius, An Essay . . . to Do Good represents
the most comprehensive expression of his life’s purpose:
Fructuosis ,” to be serviceable to one’s fellow man. His life-
long interest in the German Pietist movement of his Fred-
erician colleague August Hermann Francke, of Halle (Sax-
ony), convinced Mather that specific practical advice rather
than pious exhortations could engender social reform. His
subsequent essays (chapters) address all classes of society and
their various occupations.
In typical Renaissance fashion, Mather was at home in
virtually every discipline of human knowledge, ancient and
modern. Though a theologian by vocation, he was a vir-
tuoso of science by avocation, as his “Curiosa Americana”
(1712, 1714) and his Christian Philosopher (1720/1) attest. In
the former, he describes in more than 23 separate epistles
his pseudo-scientific observations of the American flora and
fauna, ornithology, birth defects, rattlesnakes, earthquakes,
Indian customs, and many other American curiosities. Per-
fectly consistent with European standards of the time, “Cu-
riosa” also pioneers theories of psychogenic causes of dis-
ease and of plant hybridization, the earliest known account,
which became the basis for the Linnaean system of botany.
The Royal Society of London bestowed upon Mather the
prestigious title of F.R.S. (1713). He was only the eighth co-
lonial American to become a Fellow. Like Increase Mather’s
Illustrious Providences (1684), Cotton Mather’s Christian
Philosopher provides a rational foundation for Christian-
ity, attempting to reconcile Scripture revelation with the
new science. But unlike his father’s earlier work, Christian
Philosopher moves with ease between scientific explanations
and theological justifications. Above all else, Cotton Mather
demonstrates the adaptability of Calvinism to a new philos-
ophy in its progress toward the Transcendentalism of the
nineteenth century.
As an experimenter of medicine, Mather was as qualified
as any medical practitioner in the Old and New World, for he
studied medicine at Harvard when his adolescent stammer
seemed to render him unsuitable for the ministry. His life-
long interest and solid foundation is apparent in this single,
most comprehensive medical handbook in colonial America,
The Angel of Bethesda (wr. 1723/24, publ. 1972). Its threefold
purpose—religious, medical, scientific—is an outgrowth of
his practical Pietism: to provide the indigent with a medi-
cal handbook in the absence of a physician. In 66 chapters
(or Capsulae, as he wittily calls them), Mather quotes from
more than 250 of the best medical authorities, borrowing
remedies from the Galenical, chemical, and occult schools
of medicine. Here loom large such worthies as Hippocrates,
Galen, Paracelsus, Zoroaster, Plato, but also van Helmont,
Boyle, and Sydenham. Each capsula follows the same pat-
tern: (1) Mather’s pious improvement on the disease, fol-
lowed by (2) its clear description and interpretation, and (3)
the best-known remedies and dosages for the possible cure of
the ailment. Yet Mather’s Angel is remarkable not for its sin-
gular medical lore, but for its highly advanced theories that
are of continuing interest to modern medicine. Among still
valuable recommendations are his prophylactic rules of tem-
perate diet, physical exercise, and discouragement of smok-
ing. His most enduring legacy, however, is his method of
overcoming stammer, his benevolent treatment of psychiat-
ric cases, his discussion of psychosomatic causes of illness,
his immunological recommendations on inoculation against
smallpox (eighty years before Edward Jenner developed his
vaccine), and his disquisition on germ theory (animalcu-
lae)—long before Lister and Pasteur discovered their bacteri-
ological approaches to preventive medicine in the nineteenth
century. The warm, comforting, and understanding tone of
Mather’s Angel , its clear structure and consistent narrative
voice, are characteristically embellished by his entertaining
wit, nuggets of wisdom, and occasional metaphors and puns.
In light of his scientific achievements, one almost for-
gets that Cotton Mather was a pastor and minister first and
foremost. Anticipating his imminent departure from this
world, he hastened to write his Manuductio ad Ministerium
(1726), a book-length manual for the ministry. Short on sec-
tarian ideology, Manuductio embodies Mather’s educational
principles for the gentleman minister: Next to the tradi-
tional classical languages, he recommends such modern lan-
guages as French and Spanish; he devalues the customary
Aristotelian curriculum of rhetoric, logic, and metaphysics
in favor of the new Cartesian logic implemented at Harvard,
and advises students to spend their time on the study of the
Bible, German Pietism, medicine, mathematics, astron-
omy, the new science, geography, ancient and modern his-
tory and biography, as well as music for refreshment and po-
etry for recreation. His revealing recommendations on style
(not an end in itself but a means to an end), composition of
sermons, and polished oratory, evince, just how far Mather
had come in his old age: the minister of the future was to be
above all a humane, liberal, erudite gentleman pastor, whose
reformed Calvinism, humanistic scholarship, and polished
grace did not neglect such practical matters as a balanced
diet and physical exercise to offset the stress of his duties.
Cotton Mather’s lifelong preoccupation with millen-
nialism and its significance to his thought and work have
only recently attracted full-scale attention. Beginning with
Things to be Look’d for (1691), he published more than fifty
works in which eschatology played a major role, In fact, it is
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