Friday, January 9, 2009

Exorcism: a Study on Faith and Matter


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.'  

34 comments:

St. Michael the Archangel said...

That was an excellent commentary and review of Fr. Amorths' book, you should also read or watch the video of Fr. Fortea who is a spanish exorcist and writes much like Amorth.

I am Catholic and I hope that the internal structure of the church ie: Bishops, Cardinals, and Priests alike that deny the reality of the devil, wake up from their deep sleep of denial and remember the words of Christ and the "Battle Hymn".

Pax Tecum!

Michael

Thos said...

Dear Michael,

Thanks for the encouraging note. I will look into Fr. Fortea.

I saw your profile. Have you looked into the Institute of the Incarnate Word ("IVE")? A dear friend is a seminarian with them: www.iveamerica.org, and they do not seem to shy away from spiritual warfare -- not afraid to talk of the devil.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Deacon Harbey Santiago said...

I've always thought that if protestants were to make an effort to understand the Catholic "Principle of Sacramentality" all the silly accusations of idolatry and superstition they usually rise against the Catholic faith, would stop.

In His love

Catholic Deacon

DrewMON said...

Hello,
I stumbled upon your blog via Spirit Daily. May I suggest that you listen to this talk of a catholic exorcist titled, "An Evening with an Exorcist".

Direct Download Link
http://www.audiosancto.org/auweb/20081007-An-Evening-with-an-Exorcist.mp3

or 2008-10-07 on this page
http://www.audiosacnto.org

Thos said...

Deacon Harbey,

Thanks for the comment. As I've attempted to discern whether God is calling me to become Catholic, a major philosophical adjustment I had to make (early on) was the relationship between spiritual reality and physical reality that I touched on in this post. I agree with you that it is a cause of great disunity, which saddens me.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Thos said...

Dear "DrewMon",

Thank you for the suggestion. I hope to take a listen tomorrow.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Anonymous said...

As a convert, I chose to become a Catholic. I had a real problem with relics at first, until I learned that Blessed objects have the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit behind them. I step out and found a faith that truly enriched my life. As Jesus for guidance and He will lead you in the right direction. God Bless,
Sharon

Thos said...

Dear Sharon,

Thanks for sharing, and may God bless your journey. Pray for unity!

Peace in Christ,
Tom

John Michael said...

Thos,

Excellent post. You stated the facts very clearly. St. Bellarmine would be proud of you as he articulated the oppositions position with acute accuracy.

DrewMON gave you some great links. Here is the correct link to Audio Sancto

Anonymous said...

As convert St. John Newman once said: "To know history is to cease to be a protestant.

Anonymous said...

Acts 19:11-12: "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them."

Thos said...

To my anonymous commenter number 2,

An excellent verse to ponder in this discussion, along with Elijah's jaw bone, Christ's clothing, etc. Even the shadow can heal.

In this instance, I think we can reasonably expect that the faith of those who brought Paul's handkerchief, in conjunction with the cloth itself, were efficacious.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

St. Michael the Archangel said...

Tom,

Thank you so much for the link to the IVE. I have never heard of them, that is, until today! =) They look very orthodox and good. I felt a tremendous boost of grace while viewing their site, I think since I live only 45 min from D.C. That I will contact them and see if I can come up and visit to see first hand is this is where God wants me to be. Sometimes I give up hope of finding where God wants me to be, but then I get inspiration from people like you that remind me that he is continually showing the way to him through the works of other.

Pax Vobiscum!

Michael

Joseph Fromm said...

Thos,

I read the same book about seven years ago as I was coming back into the Church from a long dark absence.
I liken the first 80% of the book to "Scared Strait", another 10% to some serious self-examination and the last 10%, the "Prayers for Deliverance" section, is the self prescribed spiritual medicine needed for re-entrance back into the Sacramental life of the Church portion.
I always recommend this book to fallen away Catholics especially those whom have had or have participated in an abortion.

JMJ

Joe

Anonymous said...

Tom,

Be encouraged in your search for Truth. You are on the right path. God is with you in this and will lead you. You need only continue to pray and listen to Him with an open heart. I believe that the more you learn about Catholicism, the more you will come to understand and appreciate its beauty. God is so very good. Praise be Jesus Christ!

God Bless you now and always!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that this ignorance by the clergy has to stop, many people out there are suffering needlessly due to the fear of priests and bishops. How many people have to become addicted to psych meds and be placed in hopitals because medical professionals labels them sickor crazy, instead of demon infested oppressed ect ect. these poor people end up under the care of doctors due to the fact that the church sends them on a rollercoaster ride, they are passed around like a buck from parish to parish recieveing really no help at all.
The reason christians are so successful at spiritual warfare is the fact that they don't fear satan they know their authority in christ and are taught how to use it against him. most of our priests fear the devil when the 3 things the devil fears the most is Jesus , The Blessed Mother,& priests because they give us the Eucharist. Hello out there it's time to wake up.
no i'm not christian, i'm catholic.

Amy said...

I read that book a few years ago, and it scared the bejabbers out of me!

It's true that every diocese is supposed to have at least one exorcist, but usually their names aren't made public in order to prevent additional spiritual attacks.

Nice to see you posting again :)

Thos said...

Michael,

I'm glad my IVE proposal could at least stimulate some thought. I've had close interactions with them and their affiliated (or whatever the right term is) sisters. They are all extremely devout and committed to orthodoxy. Young too!

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Thos said...

Anonymous,

"no i'm not christian, i'm catholic."

What do you mean by this? I am quite confident the Pope would use this statment. Why would you?

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Thos said...

Dear Amy,

It is good to hear from you. I have only Fr. Amorth's assertion that most dioceses do not have appointed exocists to support my post. If fear from the demons is their cause for remaining anonymous, I think they should read this book. I would want to be anonymous to keep weirdos at bay more than demons (because reliance for protection from demons is on the Holy Spirit, not on anonymity).

Peace in Christ,
Tom

St. Michael the Archangel said...

Hey Thos,

I don't know regarding Amy's suggestion about the exorcists staying under the radar, however, the opportunity for demonic attacks is quite real for those that make themselves well known to the public. In my Diocese (Arlington, VA) we have two exorcists, we have the official diocesan exorcist who is about 70yrs old, I am told. And then we have Fr. Euteneuer the president of Human Life International, he is also an exorcist and from what I heard is working on 4 real cases here in Northern VA with the diocesan exorcist. Here is a link to a recent interview where Fr. speaks about a demonic retaliation after a successful exorcism.. so Amy is correct by saying that they are safeguarding themselves by staying out of the public eye. http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2006/jan/06012705.html

Here is a link to a extensive talk he recently gave as well: http://defendlife.blogspot.com/2007/12/exorcist-draws-huge-crowd.html

Here is an audio of Fr. speaking to Catholic answers live: http://catholicboard.com/2008/06/13/exorcism-and-the-church-militant/

Fr. Tom's first exoricism (around 2002) was with Protestant deliverance ministers.
Below is an audio of Fr. Tom's exorcism talk in MD with the live question and answer.
http://www.davenevins.com/loveofgod/topics/more/exorcist-lecture.htm

Thos said...

Michael,

It's an interesting point, and I should probably be cautious about speaking with any confidence on this subject, since I've only read one little book.

What I did take from Fr. Amorth was NOT that there wouldn't be challenges or attacks from demons, but that the exorcist is mightily guarded against them -- on account of his power or assurance from the Holy Spirit. His conclusion, as I recall it, was that 'fear of reprisal' was no excuse for not becoming an exorcist when there was great need for them.

Fr. Eteneuer said, "The only reason I write this true story is to encourage those who read this to remain vigilant, faithful and confident that Christ and His angels have all-surpassing power over demons." I guess my thought is that the power of God in him is stronger than what the voo-doo'ist or Satanist who does not know him can wage against him from afar, though I don't doubt the attacks are real when he's dealing with an exorcism.

I'm curious if I might be off-base here? I suppose Amy's point can be that their remaining anonymous does not mean that the diocese has to keep quite that it does have an exorcist or two to which it can refer you.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

St. Michael the Archangel said...

Hey Thos,

Sorry, I wrote that at like 2am this morning and what I said just didn't come out right. What I meant to say was that Amy was right about the demonic attacks, however as far as the exorcist hiding, I did not agree with that on the one principle as both Amorth and Fr. Tom stated regarding not being afraid of the devil and when in war you must be a soldier and know that ultimately you are protected from him if you just trust in God. I know that everyone that goes to the diocese for an exorcist is first reviewed by several different psychologists and when they pass that test, they are then referred to the exorcist. I don't think the diocese shies away from it, however I know that alot of really liberal diocese just don't believe any of it and the person then suffers doubly because of it.

Have you per chance seen the ABC documentary on exorcisms that aired back in 2007? It is on youtube if you just type in ABC exorcism documentary, in it, a non catholic lady was deemed possessed and it took a team of two exorcists to exorcise her, it is even recorded on cam a little bit and more importantly, they interview Amorth over in Italy in it. It's a pretty cool 10 minutes, although quite freaky if I must say so myself.

Sorry for the misunderstanding.. I was really tired. =)

St. Michael the Archangel said...

Thos,

I highly recommend that you listen to the audio of Fr. Tom's talk, that was by far the best information on abortion and exorcism I have heard in a long time!

Pax,

Michael

Pablo said...

Salutations.

Here is a book on Exorcism that is very informative:

The Devil Rocked Her Cradle.

It is by David St.Clair.It is a true story.

Only read it if you have courage.

http://www.destroyfreemasonry.com/leo-xiii-original-st-michael-prayer.htm

The above address is for the prayer approved by Holy Mother Church that lay people may also pray; not to perform an exorcism, to keep the devil at bay.

May God our Lord in his infinite and supreme goodness be pleased to give us his abundant grace, that we may know his most holy will, and entirely fulfill it.

pablo

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