Devil’s advocate drama in which a representative of Satan appeals to God for his right to lead humanity astray. The Processus Sathane, or “play of Masscheroen,” as it is also known, dates to the 12th century, a time when mariolatry, or devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was at a peak.
The earliest known version of the Processus Sathane dates to 1260 in Jacob van Maerlant’s Merlijn, a translation of Robert de Boron’s Merlin. The original form of the Processus Sathane was that of a debate. Over time, citations from canonical law were added. It was produced as a pageant by the 14th century in a variety of languages.
The general story line is as follows:
Now that mankind can be forgiven for sins, Satan and his Demons worry that they will be cheated out of their right to tempt people into sin. The devils decide to elect a representative to go to the Court of Heaven to plead their case. Masscheroen, the elected one, asks God to summon mankind before the court and plead against him. God agrees, deciding that Good Friday shall be the day. Masscheroen objects, but God assures him that he will be given dispensation.
Masscheroen appears early on Good Friday and susses out the court for the best place to make his case as the accuser. He is armed with the Bible for reference. Nothing happens—no representative of the accused arrives—and, by noon, Masscheroen is impatient. God tells him to have patience. Masscheroen snaps, “I have spent all this day in the kingdom of justice, but there is no justice.” God adjourns court until the following day.
Meanwhile, Mary finds out about the situation and offers herself as the advocate of humankind. The next day, she arrives in court with a retinue of Angels, patriarchs, and prophets, much to Masscheroen’s dismay. Mary sits at the side of Jesus, the judge. Masscheroen protests, but Mary is allowed to remain.
Masscheroen pulls out his Bible and reads a verse God spoke to Adam and Eve: “This thou shalt know: thou mayest eat from all the fruits except this one and thou shalt regret the hour thou eatest thereof, for thou shalt die the one after the other.”
Masscheroen demands that these words be executed at all times. Mary counters that the Devil is guilty of falsehood for beguiling Adam and Eve, and she blames him for the Fall. Masscheroen is laughed at by the court. He says that offenses should be punished even if there is no accuser. Mankind sinned publicly, and neither he, Masscheroen, nor Mary can have any bearing on the case. This worries Mary, and she makes a compassionate appeal to the court. She tears off her clothes and exposes her breast, reminding Jesus how she bore and fed him. Weeping, she asks him to choose between her and Masscheroen. Jesus denies Masscheroen.
Masscheroen replies: “Flesh and blood have counseled thee and not the justice of heaven. I knew this would happen. It is hard to have the Judge’s mother as opponent.” But he does not give up and refigures his strategy. He advocates dividing up mankind. He should get the lion’s share, for good people are only a mustard seed. Mary answers by addressing Jesus, “This was done long ago, when thou didst hang on the cross, and bought mankind. We shall, therefore, have no further weighing.” Masscheroen roars in fury. He demands two advocates, and Justice and Truth are given to him. The angels advise Mary to choose advocates, and she selects Mercy and Peace. The four advocates continue the debate. Eventually, all four side with Mary, and Masscheroen makes a humiliating retreat.
– de Bruyn, Lucy. Woman and the Devil in Sixteenth-Century Literature. Tisbury, England: Bear Book/The Compton Press, 1979.
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