ENTHUSIASM: An intense moral impulse or all-engrossing temper of mind. The term as applied to religion designates both a noble temper of mind and moral fervor, and also a misdirected and even destructive intensity of feeling. In the better sense of the term, our Lord was the highest illustration of enthusiasm. His soul was possessed with overwhelming affection for men, and an intense impulse to help them. The apostles were enthusiasts in a good sense. The early monks, St. Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Huss, the Reformers, the early Methodists, are all examples of religious enthusiasm. Heathen religions have had their enthusiasts as well as the Christian.
Christian enthusiasm in the good sense is derived from two motives,--love for men and love for Christ. In the bad sense, enthusiasm is almost synonymous with fanaticism, and enthusiasts with zealots. It is fervor of soul drawn from wrong principles, founded on wrong judgments, and applied to wrong ends. Neither selfish nor impure motives necessarily prevail in such a temper of mind, and zeal of activity. Such enthusiasm may proceed from a sincere desire to glorify God. It substitutes fancies for the truth, and in its last stages the disorder of the mind becomes mental insanity.
The term "enthusiasts" has also had a technical sense, as in the Elizabethan period. Jewel, Rogers (Thirty-nine Articles, Parker Society ed., Cambridge, 1854, p. 158), and others speak of "Enthusiasts" as they do of Anabaptists. During the Commonwealth period, and afterward the term was frequently applied to the Puritans in a tone of depreciation, as by Robert South, who preached a special sermon on the subject, "Enthusiasts not Led by the Spirit of God," meaning by " enthusiasts" the Puritans. See ECSTASY. (Sermons, ed. W. G. T. Shedd, sermons lv. lvi, vol. iii., pp. 157-190, 5 vols., New York, 1866-1871.)
Bibliography: I. Taylor, Natural History of Enthusiasm, New York, 1849; G. Lavington, Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists, ed. R. Polwhele, London, 1833; J. Mackintosh, Miscellaneous Works, p. 731, ib. 1851; C. Wesley's Sermon on Enthusiasm is in his Works, ii. 331 sqq.