Fr. Gabriele Amorth's An Exorcist Tells His Story was not precisely what I expected, but entirely worth the read. I expected the book to be a series of sci-fi-like accounts of demon encounters and exorcisms. Instead, it was a masterful blend of describing the exorcist's practice, giving vignettes of demonic encounters, and articulating the theological realities at play during these encounters. The need for exorcisms is great, Fr. Amorth explains, even if encounters with actual demons are rare.
I was struck, in reading this book, by the dependent relationship between spirit and matter. This is a perspective that is absent in Reformed groups, but perhaps more active in Pentecostal sects. The Reformed view tends to see matter as either leading to idolatry, as our attraction to it grows and replaces our spiritual devotion to Christ, or irrelevant. Either way, the matter itself is not seen as possessing a spiritual quality; the concern is over our negative spiritual persuasion toward matter.
But in conducting an exorcism, matter is highly relevant, and demonstrative of spirital truth. At one point Fr. Amorth attributed 10% of the efficacy of an exorcism to the sacramental objects used (e.g., holy oils and water, his stole, or the laying on of his hands). The remainder of an efficacious exorcism he attributed to the victim's participation in the sacramental life of the Church, the victim's prayerfulness, the prayers of his family and community, and the faith of those involved in the exorcism in Christ's power over real demons. In this way the spiritual quality of blessed matter is neither denied nor magnified to the derogation of the need for faith and prayer.
I see a close analogy between the small but essential role of matter in exorcisms to the small but efficacious role of other matter in Catholic practice. When the Church extols the virtues of relics, blessed icons, or the like, the Protestant sees nothing better than superstition (and perhaps even idolatry). "How can some silly piece of bone make a faithless house safe from harm?", we might ask. If the analogy to Fr. Amorth's expertise with exorcisms holds, the answer is that the relic will likely not be efficacious absent some faith.
Fr. Amorth rounds out his book with a frank tongue-lashing of those within the Catholic Church (especially bishops) who have neglected its own instruction on providing an exorcist in each diocese. He attributes this failure to such causes as a lack of belief that demons are real in practice, and to fear of retribution from demons that are exorcised (which results from a lack of faith in God's protection). But the biblical and patristic account of the demon world, which he forcefully articulates, puts the strange reality of demons before us. Denial of their continuing reality by one committed to Scripture and tradition seems inexcusable.
Of particular interest to this ecumenist was Fr. Amorth's expressions of solidarity with Protestants who believe in demons and practice exorcism. He expresses with admiration their faithfulness in this regard, while simultaneously castigating those within Catholicism who have here departed from 'the Christian faith.'