Trance (ἔκστασις, ecstasy), a supernatural state of body and mind, the nature of which has been well conjectured by Doddndge, who defines it "such a rapture of mind as gives the person who falls into it a look of astonishment, and renders him insensible of the external objects around him, while in the meantime his imagination is agitated in an extraordinary manner with some striking scenes which pass before it and take up all the attention." He refers to some extraordinary instances of this kind mentioned by Gualterius in his note on Ac 10:10,(Family Expositor, ad loc. note g). Stockius also describes it as "a sacred ecstasy, or rapture of the mind out of itself, when, the use of the external senses being suspended, God reveals something in a peculiar manner to prophets and apostles, who are then taken or transported out of themselves." The same idea is intimated in then English word trance, from the Latin transitus, the state of being carried out of one's self. SEE INSPIRATION; SEE PROPHECY.
1. In the only passage (Nu 24:4,16) in which this word occurs in the English of the Old Test. there is, as the italics show, no corresponding word in Hebrew, simply נפֵל , falling," for which the Sept. gives ἐν ἕπνῳ, and the Vulg. more literally qui cadit. In the New Test. we meet with the word three times (Ac 10:10; Ac 11:5; Ac 22:17), the Vulg. giving "excessus" in the two former, "stupor mentis" in the latter. The Greek word ἔκστασις employed in these passages denotes the effect of any passion by which the thoughts are wholly absorbed. In the Sept. it corresponds to שמה, a "wonderful thing" (Jer 5:30), תמהון, "astonishment" (De 28:28), and תרדמה a prophetic lethargy or "deep sleep" (Ge 2:21; Ge 15:12, etc.). In the New Test. it usually represents the absorbing effects of admiration (Mr 5:42; Lu 5:26; Ac 3:10); of terror (Mr 16:8).
2. Used as the Greek word is by Luke (Acts, ut sup.) "the physician," and, in this special sense, by him only, in the New Test., it would be interesting to inquire what precise meaning it had in the medical terminology of the time. From the time of Hippocrates, who uses it to describe the loss of conscious perception, it had probably borne the connotation which it has had, with shades of meaning for good or evil, ever since. Thus, Hesychius gives as the account of a man in an ecstasy that he is ὁ εἰς ἑαυτὸν μὴ ὤν. Apuleius (Apologia) speaks of it as "a change from the earthly mind (ἀπὸ τοῦ γηϊvνου φρονήματος) to a divine and spiritual condition both of character and life." Tertullian (De An. 45) compares it to the dream-state in which the soul acts, but not through its usual instruments. Augustine (Confess. 9:11) describes his mother in this state as "abstracta a prsesentibus," and gives a description of like phenomena in the case of a certain Restitutus (De Civ. Dei, 14:24).
3. We may compare with these statements the more precise definitions of modern medical science. There the ecstatic state appears as one form of catalepsy. In catalepsy pure and simple, there is "a sudden suspension of thought, of sensibility, of voluntary motion." The body continues in any attitude in which it may be placed, there are no signs of any process of thought; the patient continues silent. In the ecstatic form of catalepsy, on the other hand, "the patient is lost to all external impressions, but wrapped and absorbed in some object of the imagination." The man is "as if out of the body." "Nervous and susceptible persons are apt to be thrown into these trances under the influence of what is called mesmerism. There is, for the most part, a high degree of mental excitement. The patient utters the most enthusiastic and fervid expressions or the most earnest warnings. The character of the whole frame is that of intense contemplative excitement. He believes that he has seen wonderful visions and heard singular revelations" (Watson, Principles and Practice, lect. 39; Copland, Dict. of Medicine, s.v. "Catalepsy"). The causes of this state are to be traced commonly to strong religious impressions; but some, though, for the most part, not the ecstatic, phenomena of catalepsy are producible by the concentration of thought on one object, or of the vision upon one fixed point (Quart. Rev. 93, 510-22, by Dr. Carpenter); and, in some more exceptional cases, like that mentioned by Augustine (there, however. under the influence of sound, "ad imitatas quasi lamentantis cujuslibet hominis - voces"), and that of Jerome Cardan ( Vat. Rer. 8:43), men have been able to throw themselves into a cataleptic state at will.
4. Whatever explanation may be given of it, it is true of many if not of most, of those who have left the stamp of their own character on the religious history of mankind, that they have been liable to pass at times into this abnormal state. The union of intense feeling, strong volition, long- continued thought (the conditions of all wide and lasting influence), aided in many cases by the withdrawal from the lower life of the support which is needed to maintain a healthy equilibrium, appears to have been more than the "earthen vessel" will bear. The words, which speak of "an ecstasy of adoration", are often literally true. The many visions the journey through the heavens, the so-called epilepsy of Mohammed-were phenomena of this nature. Of three great mediaeval teachers, St. Francis of Assisi, St.Thomas Aquinas, and Joannes Scotus, it is recorded that they would fall into the ecstatic state, remain motionless, seem as if dead, sometimes for a whole day, and then, returning to consciousness, speak as if they had drunk deep of divine mysteries (Gualterius, Crit. Sac. on Ac 10:10). The old traditions of Aristeas and Epimenides, the conflicts of Dunstan and Luther with the powers of darkness, the visions of Savonarola, George Fox. Swedenborg, and Bihme are generically analogous. Where there has been no extraordinary power to influence others, other conditions remaining the same, the phenomena have appeared among whole classes of men and women in proportion as the circumstances of their lives tended to produce an excessive susceptibility to religious or imaginative emotion. The history of monastic orders, of American and Irish revivals, gives countless examples. Still more noticeable is the fact that many of the improvisatori of Italy are "only able to exercise their gift when they are in a state of ecstatic trance, and speak of the gift itself as something morbid" (Copland, loc. cit.); while in strange contrast with their earlier history, and pointing perhaps to a national character that has become harder and less emotional, there is the testimony of a German physician (Frank), who had made catalepsy a special study, that he had never met with a single case of it among the Jews (Copland, loc. cit.; comp. Maury, La Magie et Astrologie).
5. We are now able to take a true estimate of the trances of Biblical history. As in other things, so also here, the phenomena are common to higher and lower, to true and false systems. The nature of man continuing the same, it could hardly be that the awfulness of the divine presence, the terrors of divine judgment, should leave it in the calm equilibrium of its normal state. Whatever made the impress of a truth more indelible, whatever gave him to whom it was revealed more power over the hearts of others, might well take its place in the divine education of nations and individual men. We may not point to trances and ecstasies as proofs of a true revelation, but still less may we think of them as at all inconsistent with it. Thus, though we have not the word, we have the thing in several clear instances in the Bible. Some, perhaps many, things recorded in Scripture belong to this supernatural state of trance, which are not expressly referred to it. See the long list of such supposed cases in Bp. Law's Consideration of the Theory of Religion (Lond. 1820, p. 85, 86). We notice here only the most marked examples.
In the Old Test. a state of supernatural ecstasy is evidently denoted by the "deep sleep" which fell upon Adam during the creation of Eve (Ge 2:21), and during which, as appears from the narrative, he was made aware of the transaction, and of the purport of the attendant circumstances (ver.
21-24). SEE MARRIAGE. A similar state occurs again in the "deep sleep" which fell upon Abraham (15:12), during which the bondage of his descendants in Egypt was revealed to him. Possibly all the accounts recorded in that chapter occurred in "vision" (ver. 1-12), which ultimately deepened into the trance (ver. 12-21). Comp. ver. 5, 12, where he is said to have seen the stars, though the sun had not gone down. The apparent objection that Abraham was "brought forth abroad" to see the stars is only of the same nature with others explained in the art. SEE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Balaam, as if overcome by the constraining power of a spirit mightier than his own,'" sees the vision of God, falling, but with opened eyes" (Nu 24:4). The incident of the ass speaking to him, etc., is also understood by many learned Jews and Christians to have occurred in a vision (Bp. Law, ut. sup.). To the same mode of divine communication must be referred the magnificent description in Job 4:13-21. Saul, when the wild chant of the prophets stirred the old depths of feeling, himself also "prophesied" and "fell down" (most, if not all, of his kingly clothing being thrown off in the ecstasy of the moment) "all that day and all that night" (1Sa 19:24). Something there was in Jeremiah that made men say of him that he was as one that "is mad and maketh himself a prophet" (Jer 29:26). In Ezekiel the phenomena appear in more wonderful and awful forms. He sits motionless for seven days in the stupor of astonishment, till the word of the Lord comes to him (Eze 3:15). The hand of the Lord" falls on him, and he too sees the visions of God" and hears the voice of the Almighty, is "lifted up between the earth and heaven," and passes from the river of Chebar to the Lord's house in Jerusalem (8:3). As other elements and forms of the prophetic work were revived in "the apostles and prophets" of the New Test., so also was this. More distinctly even than in the Old Test., it becomes the medium through which men rise to see clearly what before was dim and doubtful, in which the mingled hopes and fears and perplexities of the waking state are dissipated at once. Though different in form, it belongs to the same class of phenomena as the "gift of tongues," and is connected with "visions and revelations of the Lord." In some cases, indeed, it is the chosen channel for such revelations. To the "trance" of Peter in the city, where all outward circumstances tended to bring the thought of an expansion of the divine kingdom more distinctly before him than it had ever been brought before, we owe the indelible truth stamped upon the heart of Christendom, that God is "no respecter of persons," that we may not call any man "common or unclean" (Ac 10:11). To the "trance" of Paul, when his work for his own-people seemed utterly fruitless, we owe the mission which was the starting-point of the history of the Universal Church, the command which bade him "depart ... far hence unto the Gentiles" (Ac 22:17-21). Wisely, for the most part, did that apostle draw a veil over these more mysterious experiences. He would not sacrifice to them, as others have often sacrificed, the higher life of activity; love, prudence. He could not explain them to himself. "In the body or out of the body," he could not tell but the outer world of perception had passed away, and he had passed in spirit into "paradise," into the third heaven," and had heard "unspeakable words" (2Co 12:1-4). Those trances too, we may believe, were not without their share in fashioning his character and life, though no special truth came distinctly out of them. United as they then were, but as they have seldom been since, with clear perceptions of the truth of God, with love wonderful in its depth and tenderness, with energy unresting, and subtle tact almost passing into "guile," they made him what he was, the leader of the apostolic band, emphatically the "master-builder" of the Church of God (comp. Jowett, Fragment on the Character of St. Paul).
Persons receiving this divine influence often fell to the earth under its influence, as in ordinary catalepsy (Ge 17:3, etc.; 1Sa 19:24, Heb. or margin; Eze 1:28; Da 8:18; Da 10:15-16; Re 1:10,17). It is important, however, to observe that in all these cases the visions beheld are also related; hence such cases are distinguished from A mere deliquium animni. We find likewise in the case of Peter that "he fell into a trance" (or rather a "trance fell upon him, ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτὸν ἔκστασις), during which he "saw a vision," which is therefore distinguished from the trance (Ac 10:10 comp. Paul's trance, 22:17; 2Co 12:2, etc.). The reality of the vision is established by the correspondence of the event. The nearest approach we can make to such a state is that in which our mind is so occupied in the contemplation of an object as to lose entirely the consciousness of the body a state in which the highest order of ideas, whether belonging to the judgment or imagination, is undoubtedly attained. Hence we can readily conceive that such a state might be supernaturally induced for the higher purpose of revelation, etc. The alleged phenomena of the mesmeric trance and clairvoyance, if they serve no higher purpose, may assist our conceptions of it. SEE VISION.