Angels of Light? Sanctity and the Discernment of Spirits in the Early Modern Period 


"And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14) Paul's warning of false apostles and false righteousness struck a special chord in the period of the European Reformations. At no other time was the need for the discernment of spirits felt as strongly as in this newly confessional age. More than ever, the ability to discern was a mark of holiness and failure the product of demonic temptation. The contributions to this volume chart individual responses to a problem at the heart of religious identity. They show that the problem of discernment was not solely a Catholic concern and was an issue for authors and artists as much as for prophets and visionaries.

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Biographical Note

Jan Machielsen, DPhil (2011) in History, University of Oxford, is a Junior Research Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford and a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow. He has published several articles on the interplay of demonology and late humanism.

Clare Copeland, DPhil (2010) in Theology, University of Oxford is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Early Modern Catholicism at Somerville College, Oxford. Her monograph on canonization in early modern Italy is forthcoming with Oxford University Press

Review Quotes

“fascinating analyses […] these essays will be of interest to anyone interested in the history of early modern religion; among other things, they make useful, nuanced contributions to the debate on whether the Reformation fostered the disenchantment of the world.”
Jeffrey R. Watt, University of Mississippi. In: The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 65, No. 1 (January 2014), pp. 184-185.

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Editors’ Acknowledgments
Notes on Contributors

Clare Copeland & Jan Machielsen

I Angels, Demons, and Everything in Between: Spiritual Beings in Early Modern Europe
Euan Cameron

II Dangerous Visions: The Experience of Teresa of Avila and the Teaching of John of the Cross.
Colin Thompson

III Participating in the Divine: Visions and Ecstasies in a Florentine Convent
Clare Copeland

IV Heretical Saints and Textual Discernment: The Polemical Origins of the Acta Sanctorum (1643–1940)
Jan Machielsen

V Discerning the “Call” and Fashioning Dead Disciples: The Many Lives of Augustine Baker
Victoria Van Hyning

VI A Seventeenth-Century Prophet confronts His Failures: Paul Felgenhauer’s Speculum Poenitentiae, Buß-Spiegel (1625)
Leigh T. I. Penman


VII Visions, Dreams, and the Discernment of Prophetic Passions: Sense and Reason in the Writings of the Cambridge Platonists and John Beale, 1640–60
R. J. Scott

VIII Gijsbert Voet and Discretio Spirituum after Descartes
Anthony Ossa-Richardson

IX “Incorporeal Substances”: Discerning Angels in Later Seventeenth-Century England
Laura Sangha

Afterword: Angels of Light and Images of Sanctity
Stuart Clark


All those interested in religious history in the early modern period.

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