General Characteristics. A state of mental exaltation in which the patient is supposed to be in intimate communion with the divine. The term connotes a large variety of phenomena, real or pretended, natural or evoked, which occur in connection with religious practises. The external phenomena may take either of two characters, intense vigor of physical action in which more than normal endurance or strength is shown, or a passivity which may reach the extreme of catalepsy. Not infrequently the second condition succeeds the first. During both stages the patient is insensible to pain, and often maims or wounds himself or performs feats at other times impossible to him. The condition includes the prophetic frenzy (mania, see DIVINATION) of the Greek Pythia and of the early Hebrew and heathen seers, the exaltation of the Mohammedan dervishes, the absorbed condition of  Hindu devotees, and in its extreme development takes the form of catalepsy. It may be an unpremeditated result of strong emotion, or it may be induced. In the latter case, among both primitive and developed peoples, it is sought without intent to deceive or defraud, being prized as an especial mark of Deity's favor. It is affected by the shamans, medicine men, and wizards of such tribes as the Tasmanians, Karens, Zulus, Patagonians, Hawaiians and North American Indians, especially when engaged in divination; and also by the lay members of such tribes during their religious exercises. One of the six systems of Hindu philosophy has as its direct object the attainment of this condition. In Christian lands it is often an accompaniment of the religious excitement attending revivals and camp-meetings. When induced by direct effort, the chief means are the religious dance or music, or the two combined; but among more advanced peoples solitary contemplation or physical discipline are also used.


Biblical Examples. The phenomena of ecstasy have left marked traces upon Old and New Testament conceptions, especially in connection with prophecy, and its manifestations are often indicated by the use of the phrase "and the spirit of the Lord [Yahweh] came upon him." In the Old Testament the passage which best describes the condition is Num. xxiv., in which the staring eye (cf. verses 3, 15 R. V. margin) and the epileptic or cataleptic fall (verse 16) tally closely with the manifestations elsewhere observed. Balaam's oracles are pictured as delivered while he was in the ecstatic state, in accordance with the usual phase of prophecy in primitive religion. Gideon is represented as coming into this condition (Judges vi. 34), so also Jephthah (Judges xi. 29) and Samson (Judges xiv. 6, 19, xv. 14), in all these cases the results being much like those of the "berserker rage" of the early Norsemen. The ecstatic condition appears to have been normal to the prophetic gilds of the period of the Judges and the early kingdom, and for the first time in I Sam. x. 510, xix. 20-24 the contagiousness of the condition comes to light, in the case of Saul. Not to be overlooked here is the accompaniment of music and dancing which, with the character of the ensuing phenomena, makes the diagnosis certain. The Baal-prophets in I Kings xviii. 26-28, exhibit characteristic features of the frenzy of ecstasy. The prophecy of Elisha recorded in II Kings iii. 1419 was given under conditions like that of Balaam, induced by music. That "madness" was ascribed to the prophets as a class (II Kings ix. 11) shows what were the characteristic methods of prophecy at that time. Possibly the "chirping and muttering" of Isa. viii. 19 refers to the utterances of ecstasy. The phenomena of the New Testament at Pentecost (Acts ii. 4), the case of Stephen (Acts vii. 55-56), and of Paul (Acts ix. 3 sqq.; II Cor. xii. 1-4) are psychologically explicable as cases of ecstasy. See INSPIRATION, § 1.


Post-Biblical Cases. In post-Biblical times the high estimate of the value of the ecstatic state continued. The Neoplatonic school of philosophy, following Plato himself, placed a high value upon the condition, and Plotinus and Porphyry laid emphasis upon its worth. The Montanistic theory of prophecy necessitated the entire passivity of the prophet in ecstasy. Mohammed's visions are to be explained from this standpoint, and it is to be noted in his case that epileptic symptoms, now regarded by psychologists as a predisposing cause, were manifested from his childhood. The transmissibility of this affection was manifested on a large scale in the Tarantism and Dancing Mania of the Middle Ages (See DANCERS) which involved a large area of Central Europe and thousands of sufferers. That the visions of many of the saints, such as those of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Theresa, are traceable to this cause is highly probable. Böhme claimed the gift. Bonaventura's Itinerarium mentis in Deum aims to mark the steps by which the soul comes in ecstasy into the presence of God. The story of Joan of Arc, with its details of phenomena which seemed to the times to savor of witchcraft, becomes intelligible with ecstasy as the key to the mystery. The unrestrained actions manifested at periods of revival, especially in colored communities, reveal both the effects of abnormal excitement on individuals and the communicability to large numbers of this psychological affection. It is noticeable that the frequency of the affection diminishes before the advance of culture, that the educated are less liable to its attacks, and that emotional peoples and individuals are the most exposed.



General Review. Originally the word "ecstasy" signified the passage of the soul from the body, involving as a complementary conception its absorption into the Godhead. A further Greek term employed to express the state is enthousiasmus, and it implies the possession of man by deity. Early Christian literature uses several terms to carry the idea, such as theophoros (Ignatius, Epist. to Ephesians, ix. 2), entheos (idem, Epist. to Trallians, viii. 2), pneumatophoros (Hermas, Mandates, xi. 16). The word "enthusiasm" received a bad sense at the time of the Reformation, as when Luther spoke of the papacy as "a vain enthusiasm" and when he called Zwingli an enthusiast, and the same term is applied in documents of the Reformation to heretics (G. Arnold, Kirchen- and Ketzerhistorie, part ii., index, and xvi. 357). The phenomena of ecstatic enthusiasm were not uncommon in the later Jewish period, continued from the time of the New Testament, were frequent in the second century, but fell into discredit through the excesses of Montanism. The ecstatic state is discussed by early writers, such as Miltiades, Tertullian, and Augustine. The last-named defines it as "an alienation of the mind from the bodily senses, so that the spirit of man being taken possession of by the divine spirit is free for taking and receiving visions" (MPL, xl. 129); he was influenced by Neoplatonism in his attitude toward it. Dionysius the Areopagite goes so far as to speak of ecstasy on the part of God (MPG, iii. 712A). The development of monasticism gives frequent examples of the phenomenon. Tendencies of the same sort appear in modern Russian sects and in the monastic orders of the Eastern Church. The history of the saints and of heretics affords frequent instances of persons affected by the tendency who see visions and work wonders. The Reformers were firmly opposed to the "fanaticism" which, they claimed, was exhibited among the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and other sects. The exhibitions continued in the later Roman Catholic Church, e.g., Marie Alacoque, and among Protestants, in the case of the Camisards. Although the eighteenth century was especially unsympathetic toward any type of irrationalism in religion, Goethe defended "enthusiasm," and Kant discussed the subject, while Wieland doubted whether the strict philosophical attitude could be justified (Hempel's ed. of his "Works," xxxii. 369 sqq.). The reviews of the subject by Herder and Lessing reached a rather unfavorable conclusion (Herder's "Works," xx. 277 sqq.; Lessing's "Works," ed. Lachmann, xvi. 293 sqq.). The romantic movement of the nineteenth century was rather more favorable, especially in the discussions of about 1830-40. Examples were seen in the frequent Madonna visions and stigmatizations in the Roman Catholic Church. Among Protestants they were connected with the movements of Pietism and Methodism of the last two centuries, and the record is maintained at the present in accounts of visions of Christ, in speaking with tongues, and in religious healing of disease.


The internal working of God's spirit in the individual soul is a certainty, however it may be interpreted in terms of objective reality. It may take the position of historic revelation, but in its influence on the development of the Christian Church it may be distinguished as a kind of secondary revelation. To distinguish between the sound and the unsound in even the derived form is impossible where the emotional and practical sides of religion are concerned. The tendency in modern times is to take an unfavorable view and to label all types of enthusiasm as fanaticism. Modern enthusiasm reveals itself in five particulars: the insistence upon the necessity for new revelations, in a belief in predictive powers, in methods of Christian healing as by the laying on of hands and prayer, in ascetic methods of attaining sanctification, and in millenarian views.



Bibliography: P. Goerres, Die christliche Mystik, Munich, 1836-42; M. Perty, Die mystische Erscheinungen der menschlichen Natur, Leipsic, 1864; J. H. Fichte, Psychologie, pp. 588-655, ib. 1864; F. Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, pp. 354-368, 418-433, Edinburgh, 1867; A. Kuenen, Prophets and Prophecy in Israel, p. 86, London, 1871; E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, i. 123, 436, ii. 130-131, 410, Boston, 1874; Charbonnier de Batty, Les Maladies des mystiques, Paris, 1875; H. Schultz, Old Testament Theology, i. 254, 274 sqq., Edinburgh, 1892; W. Walther, Das Zeugnis des heiligen Geistes neck Luther and nach moderner Schwärmerei, Leipsic, 1899; T. Ache lis, Die Ekstase in ihrer kulturellen Bedeutung, Berlin, 1902; C. A. Briggs, Messianic Prophecy, 5, 7, New York, 1902; W. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, London, 1902; E. Murisièr, Les Maladies du sentiment religieux, pp. 7-72, Paris, 1903; P. Beck, Die Ekstase. Ein Beitrag zur Psychologie und Volkerkunde, Bad Sachsa, 1906.