Come out of them

Come out of them

In Brief

Stephen's gently wise self-admonition, "Come out of them, Stephen. Beauty is not there," is one of the more memorable passages in Proteus. Thornton hears a possible allusion to passages in the gospels in which Jesus commands devils to come out of people who have been possessed. The connection seems improbable, but it is supported by another biblical allusion, Stephen's prayer in Scylla and Charybdis, "O Lord, help my unbelief."

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In Mark 1:23-26, a man "with an unclean spirit" cries out in the synagogue, "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." Jesus replies, "Hold thy peace, and come out of him," and the unclean spirit violently leaves the man's body. (Mark's story is repeated in Luke 4:31-36.) Mark 9:25-27 recounts a similar event: "When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose."

It is not clear exactly what these echoes, if present, could add to one's understanding of Stephen's two sentences: he has committed many youthful follies, but he has never been possessed by a raging madness. It should be noted, however, that the verse just before the passage in which the second exorcism is narrated contains a saying that Stephen explicitly alludes to later in the novel. The father of the possessed boy tells Jesus how the spirit afflicts his son and says that Jesus' disciples have not been able to cast him out (Mark 9:17-18). Jesus responds by bemoaning the "faithless generation" that he must put up with (9:19), and tells the father, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (9:23). The father cries out, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (9:24).

In Scylla and Charybdis Stephen repeats the father's words as he tries to maintain his faith in himself as a writer: "I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief." Since he is thinking in the Proteus passage about what he must do to realize his artistic calling—come out of past follies, because they do not lead to Beauty—it does seem that he may somehow be channeling Jesus' strong sense of faith.

JH 2013
Christ Exorcising a Mute, by Gustave Doré (1865). Source: Wikimedia Commons.