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ENTHUSIASM, a word originally meaning inspiration by a divine afflatus or by the presence of a god. The Gr. ἐνθουσιασμός, from which the word is adapted, is formed from the verb ἐνθουσιάζειν, to be ἔνθεος, possessed by a god θέος. 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, it was also used in a transferred or figurative sense; thus Socrates speaks of the inspiration of poets as a form of enthusiasm (Plato, Apol. Soc. 22 C). 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 εὐχή, they were also known as Euchites. In 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. (See further Inspiration, for a comparison of the religious meanings of “enthusiasm,” “ecstasy” and “fanaticism.”)
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History of the Universe eBook

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