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Originally an enthusiast is a person possessed by a god. Applied by the Greeks to manifestations of divine possession, by Apollo, as in the case of the Pythia, or by Dionysus, as in the case of the Bacchantes and Maenads, the term enthusiasm was also used in a transferred or figurative sense. Thus Socrates speaks of the inspiration of poets as a form of enthusiasm. Its uses, in a religious sense, are confined to an exaggerated or wrongful belief in religious inspiration, or to intense religious fervour or emotion. Thus a Syrian sect of the 4th century was known as the Enthusiasts. They believed that by perpetual prayer, ascetic practices and contemplation, man could become inspired by the Holy Spirit, in spite of the ruling evil spirit, which the fall had given to him. From their belief in the efficacy of prayer, they were also known as Euchites. Several protestant sects of the 16th and 17th centuries were called enthusiastic. During the 18th century, popular Methodists such as John Wesley or George Whitefield were accused of blind enthusiasm (i.e. fanaticism).
In modern ordinary usage, enthusiasm has lost its peculiar religious significance, and means a whole-hearted devotion to an ideal, cause, study or pursuit. Sometimes, in a depreciatory sense, it implies a devotion which is partisan and is blind to difficulties and objections.
- David Hume, Of Superstition and Enthusiasm
- THE RONALD KNOX SOCIETY of NORTH AMERICA
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: enthusiasm
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: enthusiasmcs:Entusiasmus
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