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The (Re)Invention of Biblical Exorcism in Contemporary Roman Catholic Discourses

In: Religion and Theology
Authors:
Nicole M. Bauer University of Innsbruck Austria Innsbruck

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https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6819-2684
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J. Andrew Doole University of Innsbruck Austria Innsbruck

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Abstract

Exorcism is flourishing once again in the Roman Catholic Church today. Discourse on the topic has been influenced by the publications of exorcists such as Malachi Martin and Gabriele Amorth. They claim biblical precedence and commissioning for their duties as exorcists and seek to emphasise their credentials by interacting with modern medicine. At the same time, they provide descriptions of demonic possession which surpass and even contradict the accounts found in the Gospels. We analyse the claims of modern exorcists concerning demons, those they possess, and how they are expelled, and evaluate these against the evidence in the Gospels. We discover that the narratives constructed by modern exorcists involves both a dramatisation of the supernatural that exceeds the exorcisms of Jesus, and the ‘medicalisation’ of exorcism as a means to legitimise the practice as a valid alternative or complement to modern medicine and psychology.

Abstract

Exorcism is flourishing once again in the Roman Catholic Church today. Discourse on the topic has been influenced by the publications of exorcists such as Malachi Martin and Gabriele Amorth. They claim biblical precedence and commissioning for their duties as exorcists and seek to emphasise their credentials by interacting with modern medicine. At the same time, they provide descriptions of demonic possession which surpass and even contradict the accounts found in the Gospels. We analyse the claims of modern exorcists concerning demons, those they possess, and how they are expelled, and evaluate these against the evidence in the Gospels. We discover that the narratives constructed by modern exorcists involves both a dramatisation of the supernatural that exceeds the exorcisms of Jesus, and the ‘medicalisation’ of exorcism as a means to legitimise the practice as a valid alternative or complement to modern medicine and psychology.

1 Introduction

Exorcism is flourishing once again in the Roman Catholic Church today. Since Vatican II (1962–1965) there has been a revival of a more conservative, ‘mythical’ world view among both the laity and certain clergy.1 The roots of this revival are possibly connected with the 1971 novel and – more importantly – the 1972 film The Exorcist.2 Public discourse on the topic has been greatly influenced by a plethora of publications by exorcists. Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil (1977/1992) is the most famous example in the United States of America3 and a recent Netflix series of the same name looks back on his life and vocation.4 The writings of Italian exorcists such as Gabriele Amorth (1925–2016) have also been translated for international audiences.5 Amorth thereby made a major contribution to the dissemination of exorcism inside and outside the Catholic Church.6 His media presence, interviews, and numerous publications made him the face of Catholic exorcism in Italy. Amorth considered it his divine mission to spread the idea of the devil, demonic possession, and thus the necessity of exorcism throughout the Catholic world.

I’ve done many television interviews and I accepted them willingly, to divulge, make known, to spread as much new information on the topic as possible … I’ve made a whole lot of noise on the subject! I believe the Lord has indeed used me to spread the word on these things, in order to bring back the practice of exorcisms.7

Possession goes hand in hand with the belief in supernatural beings (Satan or demons) who take hold of people in different ways. Such ideas are to be understood in the context of a strongly dualistic worldview and the dichotomy of good and evil. On this framework a multi-layered doctrine of demons with various names was developed. As Brian Levack explains:

The Bible had provided a limited amount of information about the identity, powers, and purposes of demons. It was left to Christian writers […] to speculate on how the demonic world was organized, what functions these fallen angels performed, and why they possessed human beings.8

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God.

CCC 414

For Roman Catholic exorcists, belief in the existence of Satan is an essential theological prerequisite for the implementation of expulsion practices. The devil and demons are real and active in the world today. Those who deny their existence or toy with occult practices are laying themselves open to possession, when Satan or a demon attacks a person in body, mind, and soul. There are different degrees of demonic experience and signs of these states are hard to differentiate from psychological or social problems. Exorcists allow for a similarity to psychological or physiological illnesses like epilepsy or schizophrenia, but they still claim diagnostic authority. As religious experts they come to a decision after an examination of the affected person. The attitude exorcists adopt in relation to psychological and medical interpretations thus remains ambivalent.

Exorcists also appeal to the Bible to justify their calling and activity. Jesus gave his disciples the authority to cast out demons and this chain of command continues today. At the same time, they provide descriptions of demonic possession which surpass and even contradict the accounts found in the Gospels. Certain of these elements are taken directly from the Rituale Romanum: inexplicable familiarity with strange languages, knowledge of people’s secrets, and a strength beyond natural physique. We will argue that there is only a tenuous biblical basis for each of these signs of possession. And yet modern exorcists often go above and beyond to stress the supernatural and dramatic aspects of demon possession and exorcism.

We provide an analysis of the claims of modern exorcists concerning demons, those they possess and why, and how they are expelled. These claims will be evaluated against the evidence in the Gospels. Neither the dramatic and supernatural elements nor the psychological and therapeutic discourses are to be found in the gospels, but both aspects are part of the marketing of exorcism as a viable alternative to modern medicine and other religious healing practices in post-secular society.

2 Contemporary Roman Catholic Exorcism

In this section we will show how exorcism is conceptualised and practised in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. Although there are official rules and guidelines, there remains variation in both theory and practice. We explain who can conduct an exorcism, how they decide whether someone is possessed, and how an exorcism is performed.

2.1 Exorcists in the Roman Catholic Church

Exorcism is not a sacrament in the Catholic Church and therefore there is some degree of variation in the approaches taken and explanations provided. It is rather a sacramental, a liturgical act consisting of prayers and rituals.9 This reflects the modern official understanding of Catholic exorcism practices as primarily an act of praising God more than warding off demonic powers. Nonetheless, the Catechism defines exorcism as a form of protection:

When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism.

CCC 1673

Official Church doctrine posits belief in the existence of demonic powers and a spiritual battle against these as inherent elements of Christian faith.10 Yet with regard to the interpretation of ‘evil’ (and its degree of abstraction), different theological positions can be distinguished. The Catechism says of Satan: ‘He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature’ (CCC 395). Yet towards the end of the 1960s, Catholic theologians Henry Ansgar Kelly (1968)11 and Herbert Haag (1969)12 both called into question the Catholic belief in the existence of Satan as a figure. At the same time, exorcists such as Adolf Rodewyk continued to publish on the contemporary relevance of possession and exorcism.13 And within the Roman Catholic Church there has been much debate about Satan, possession, and exorcism since then. The most recent Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, have all emphasised in different statements the necessity of belief in the existence of the devil and the ministry of exorcism.14 Especially in less mainstream Christian groups, the idea of the devil as a real personal being has found renewed approval and the practice of exorcism has undergone a renaissance.15 This revival of the personification of evil, from which the representatives of Vatican II shied away, can be seen in the publications of Catholic exorcists who emphasise the existence of a real supernatural being who threatens humanity.

Gabriele Amorth claims to have performed 160,000 exorcisms16 and his media presence and fame has provided the most significant contribution to the popularisation of Roman Catholic exorcism.17 His first and most famous book, An Exorcist tells his Story,18 has seen twenty-one Italian reprints and has been translated into twenty-eight languages.19 His reports of his experiences have been published in large numbers and serve as a guideline for exorcists and those affected by possession across the world. He sees the dissemination of his ideas as a central aspect of his work:

I have given a lot of television interviews. I gladly accepted this offer in order to get as much information as possible on this subject among the people, to make them familiar with this subject. […] I believe the Lord has used me, precisely to spread this message, so that one can return to the practice of exorcists.20

In addition to describing his personal experiences as an exorcist, Amorth places ideas of the devil and demons at the center of his teaching and offers a comprehensive framework for identifying possession and practices of expulsion. He affirms that belief in the existence of the devil is part of the established facts of the Bible and the Church,21 and exclaims: ‘What most pleases the devil is that his existence is disbelieved; about this, he is truly happy!’22 Amorth represents the conservative end of the spectrum on theological and moral issues, and criticises the church for its liberalisation in questions of divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. He applies a literal reading to the Bible and thus to his vocation as an exorcist: ‘Read the gospel; believe in the gospel! […] In the gospel, there is everything,’ and, ‘Jesus did exorcisms, and he gave the power to do exorcisms.’23 He opposes the policy of episcopal delegation of exorcists: ‘Why should the bishop have a monopoly? I repeat that I would give all priests, upon receiving the priestly consecration, the right to exorcise.’24 He also opposes the revision of the exorcism ritual: ‘The old ritual was done well, and it was issued without being imposed.’25 And he is not alone in claiming that an exorcism works best when performed in Latin.26

Amorth promoted the idea of personified evil which now occupies a central position in Catholic exorcism discourse. The devil is pure spirit, without a body, and that is why he sometimes enters into people.27 Various descriptions of demonic influences and their causes and manifestations can be found in the publications of contemporary Catholic exorcists.28 The threat to humanity is often driven to the extreme, e.g., ‘The Evil One’s Objective: To Destroy Man.’29 A central narrative in exorcism literature is the idea of spiritual or cosmic warfare between God and the Devil at a much higher level than that on which humanity and the laws of nature exist:

[E]vil spirits, by virtue of preternatural power, are not bound by laws of physical nature and of matter that govern all our human exercise of power in the physical and psychic order.30

This narrative of spiritual warfare, in which a human subject is caught between two fronts of supernatural forces, has become a central element in current Roman Catholic discourse on exorcism: the exorcist, as a human actor, is assigned a special role and position of power to communicate and interact with supernatural forces, addressing God directly through prayer and addressing the demon directly through specific practices, words, and symbols.31 Crucifixes or images of saints are assigned protective and healing effects, and are used to ward off evil influences and powers.32 Such dramatisation of exorcism clearly draws on the narrative of spiritual warfare: supernatural powers are controlled through exorcistic practices, and through the use of Christian symbols there is at the same time a direct interaction with the divine.

The International Association of Exorcists, which was founded in the 1990s, currently consists of around 250 people from various countries across the globe, and has enjoyed recognition in Canon Law since 2014.33 Its current president is Francesco Bamonte. The aim of the Association is to bring together Roman Catholic exorcists from all over the world in order to allow them to network, to share their experiences, and to coordinate religious ideas. Guidelines for carrying out exorcisms have been drawn up, criteria for identifying possession established, and brought into line with practical experience.34 The International Association for Deliverance was founded in 1995 under the presidency of Rufus Pereira (1933–2012) and also boasts membership across the globe. It is closely related to the charismatic renewal movement and organises regular international conferences.35 Yet alongside these official networks there exists an indeterminate number of organisations, small groups, and individuals who offer healing and liberation ministries both with and without official sanction.36

An Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation course has been held annually in Rome since 2005 and is open to the laity.37 It is marketed as ‘the first course in the world on the ministry of exorcism and prayer of liberation.’38 It is hosted by the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in cooperation with the Istituto Sacerdos and the research foundation, Group for Socio-Religious Research and Information (GRIS). The course is structured and organised like a university course, and the topics of possession and exorcism are considered from various academic perspectives. It should however be noted that the course is not an official qualification for exorcists, but rather serves as an orientation and introduction to the topic. The connection to and differentiation from medical-psychological discourses plays a significant role in the course. This is in no small part due to the role played by Gabriele Amorth, who helped to found the course and whose influence is evident throughout. Possession is defined, for example, as a ‘spiritual disorder,’39 using the same terminology yet claiming an inherent difference to psychological disorders. So how is an exorcist to determine whether someone is possessed?

2.2 Diagnosis: Modern Demons

The Roman Catholic Church’s official policy on exorcism is still based on the Rituale Romanum of 1614, which provides guidelines and a script for the rite.40 The exorcism section (De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam) was reworked in 1999,41 long after the impulse for renewal of Vatican II, though it remains officially only in Latin.42 The delay may have been due to a reluctance of the modernising party to touch the controversial topic and the lack of a desire for change among conservatives.43 The text of the Rituale Romanum contains not only a script for the liturgical procedure during exorcism but also guidelines for identifying the possessed. An exorcism is only to be performed if there is good reason to believe that a person’s body has been occupied by a supernatural being, and the revised rite ‘underlines the importance of subjecting all cases of suspected demonization to intensive psychiatric examination.’44 The Rituale Romanum thus sought to stem the flourishing and uncontrolled practice of exorcism by setting out strict criteria to identify truly demonic possession.45 It gives the following three signs of possession:

  1. inexplicable familiarity with strange languages;

  2. knowledge of other people’s secrets;

  3. a strength beyond natural physique.46

The Early Modern period knew of many symptoms of possession. Brian Levack details various examples: convulsions, physical pain, rigidity of the limbs, muscular contortion, strength, levitation, swelling, vomiting, loss of bodily function, fasting, language, voice, trance, clairvoyance, blasphemy, aversion to sacred objects, and immorality.47 Modern Catholic exorcists to a large degree appear to follow such ideas rather than restrict themselves to the three signs of the Rituale Romanum. Malachi Martin48 and Gabriele Amorth49 both include the following: disgust for holy objects (icons, rosaries, relics), sensitivity to holy water, an inability to enter a church, violent reactions, a change of voice, and levitation. And yet the symptoms can be even more extreme: Martin reports flying objects, drops in temperature, and disgusting smells;50 Amorth writes of the production of nails, glass shards, hair, wooden dolls, strings, wire, or other objects from the mouth,51 and plague-like growths, stab-wounds, and bruises.52

Amorth warns of the consequence of the ‘cultivation of imprudent habits; by frequenting wizards or séances. Through repeated and persistent serious sins, or by submitting to spells.’53 Thus those who are considered possessed are also often blamed with regard to their personal responsibility for the possession. Both Malachi Martin and Gabriele Amorth agree that the possessed person has always [sic!] given some degree of consent,54 and both ascribe particular danger to interest in the occult, magic, and spiritism.55 Yet they disagree on whether the victim will want to see an exorcist,56 or has to be brought to an exorcist by others.57

During a demonic possession, the demon occupies the human body, and thus the person who is possessed loses control of their body and their mind, which can be seen in screaming, physical contortions, profanities, and uncoordinated movements.58 Thus the symptoms of demonic possession can often only with difficulty be distinguished from psychological or social problems.59 There is a notable tendency among modern exorcists to demonstrate an awareness of mental illness as a separate category. The ‘Discernment of Spirits,’ an ability to determine whether a person requires an exorcism or medical-psychological treatment, is presented as a particular challenge, and is thus discussed in most publications by contemporary exorcists.60 The symptoms are often hard to distinguish from medical, psychological, or social problems. Although the signs of possession often resemble psychological or physiological illnesses like schizophrenia or epilepsy, it remains within the exorcist’s remit to ‘diagnose’ the problem. Malachi Martin explains that certain conditions which were once treated as demonic possession are now recognised as physical and not supernatural, including multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s syndrome, and Huntington’s chorea.61 In his 1996 publication Esorcisti e Psichiatri, Gabriele Amorth stresses that doctors should always be consulted first, and an exorcist should be a last resort.62 This is justified by the claim that the Church has always [sic!] warned exorcists not to mistake mental illness for demonic evil.63 In order to confirm the diagnosis, an exorcist should speak a short prayer.64 Yet he should first look for signs.

The attitude that exorcists adopt in relation to psychological and medical interpretations is highly ambivalent. On the one hand, they point to collaboration with psychiatrists and psychologists,65 but on the other hand, they still claim interpretational authority over the diagnosis of those affected. This reaches its climax in the idea that the devil may well possess someone who is already mentally ill in order to hide behind the symptoms of mental illness.66

2.3 Modern Exorcism Practices

The Roman Catholic Church maintains an official distinction between two forms of exorcism, the so-called ‘simple’ or ‘minor’ exorcism, and ‘solemn’ or ‘major’ exorcism.67 It is the ‘major exorcism’ which is under discussion here.68 This exorcism is reserved for exorcists as religious ‘experts.’ Canon Law has two requirements for those who perform an exorcism: valid ordination and permission from the diocesan bishop. Permission is only given on a case-by-case basis (CJC 1172). It is the task of the bishop to find a suitable candidate to perform an exorcism based on the Rituale Romanum and Canon Law. The priest must both have proven himself in his Christian way of life and have special qualifications, such as knowledge of possession from both theological and medical points of view (CJC 5).69 The exorcist has the task of communicating with the demonic power to free the victim of possession. In order to do so, he either enters into a dialogue with the demon (imprecative mode of exorcism) or has the demon cast out through prayer or other religious practices (deprecative mode of exorcism). Various Christian symbols and ritual objects such as the crucifix, incense, holy water, salt, bells, relics, icons, holy books, and vestments can be used in this ritual.70 Although she plays no official role in the exorcism, Mary is sometimes mentioned as of particular efficacy.71 All in all, the practice of exorcism takes a form dependent on the cultural context of the exorcist and bishop. This means there is plenty of room for variation.

The Church provides an official text for Exorcism, but this is merely a framework. It can be read out loud in 20 minutes. It merely provides a precise formula of words together with certain words and ritual actions, so that the exorcist has a preset structure in which to address the evil spirit. In fact, the conduct of an exorcism is left very much up to the exorcist.72

The Rituale Romanum does not provide specific stage directions, thus: ‘[The priest] can be to the right, to the left, standing or seated. It is only necessary that he begin with the words Ecce crucem Domini, while he places a strip of his stole on the neck of the presumed demoniac and his right hand on his head.’73

An exorcism usually takes place in a chapel (despite the claim that demons have an aversion to sacred objects!) and in the presence of a small group of people who can support the exorcist with prayer.74 The possessed is encouraged to do their part to help by confessing, praying, and receiving the sacraments.75 Indeed, such voluntary co-operation is essential.76 According to Gabriele Amorth, an exorcism can last from a few minutes to many hours,77 or many sessions over several years.78 Malachi Martin states: ‘Rarely is an exorcism shorter than some hours – more often than not ten or twelve hours. Sometimes it stretches for two or three days. On occasion it lasts even for weeks.’79 Malachi Martin stresses the risk and danger an exorcism poses to the exorcist himself:

[I]n each exorcism he risks literally everything that he values. […] And no matter what the outcome, the contact is in part fatal for the exorcist. He must consent to a dreadful and irreparable pillage of his deepest self. Something dies in him.80

Gabriele Amorth, on the other hand, emphasises that an exorcism is a prayer and does not cause any harm,81 and he has never suffered in conducting an exorcism; rather it is the demon who should be scared of him.82

Modern exorcists draw on the Rituale Romanum and thus portray exorcism as a practice with established efficacy. But their vocation is much older than Rituale Romanum, for as spiritual healers they are in a long line of Christians with particular authority, and this line stretches all the way back to Jesus himself.

3 Biblical Exorcism

Anglo-German biblical studies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (thus almost universally Protestant) saw itself as firmly wissenschaftlich and religionsgeschichtlich and thus tended to eschew any discussion of Jesus’s exorcisms, a phenomenon ill-fitting the contemporary worldview.83 Exorcism is studied as a historical phenomenon.84 Yet some continue to ‘diagnose’ Gospel demoniacs with medical conditions, such as rabies85 and epilepsy,86 and there have been attempts to argue that Jesus healed people with mental illnesses.87 Indeed, there is a newfound interest in demons and exorcism in biblical studies, albeit with a tendency to focus on narrative-literary aspects.88 Again, we will look at biblical exorcism under three aspects: Jesus as exorcist, the identification of who is possessed, and the practices of exorcism.

3.1 Jesus as Exorcist

Jesus lived in a culture which accepted the existence of demons and used formulas and magical instruments to cast out demons and to prevent possessions. In the Gospels, on the other hand, Jesus makes no apparent use of formulas or instruments in his exorcisms, and thus appears somewhat distinct.89 Giovanni Bazzana has recently argued that Jesus was seen by his contemporaries as possessed by a strong demon, with whose help he casts out weaker demons: ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons!’ (Luke 11:15).90 Indeed, a spirit descends on Jesus following his baptism in the Jordan.91 The accusation that Jesus was possessed by a demon also appears in the Gospel of John, but here with negative implications such as paranoia (John 7:20), delusion (John 8:48–52), and madness (John 10:20). In any case, there is really no doubt that the historical Jesus was understood as an exorcist who cast out demons in first-century Galilee.92 At the same time, it must be said that, ‘[E]xorcism is not a prominent theme in the early Christ-believer movement.’93 Indeed, Graham Twelftree proposes that the historical Jesus did not intend his followers to carry out exorcisms, and thus his ministry was intended to be unique.94 But as even the earliest literature attests, demons and exorcism were a frequent topic of interest among certain Christian groups.

3.2 Diagnosis: Ancient Demon

In the Gospels and other early Christian literature there is an implicitly recognised difference between ‘sickness’ and ‘demons.’ The two categories are apparent, for example, in this summary of Jesus’s miracle-working:

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and (kai) those possessed with demons. […] And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and (kai) cast out many demons.95

Mark 1:32–34a

When the disciples are sent out on their own, they are given power over demons and (kai) to heal the sick (Matt 10:1 / Luke 9:1). So, given that these are clearly two different forms of suffering which require two different treatments, how is one to decide whether a person is sick or possessed, and thus whether one should perform a healing or an exorcism?

The Gospels are in this respect not very helpful. It seems that Jesus, the disciples, and indeed everyone is already aware of the cause of any individual’s suffering without the need for a detailed diagnosis. It is simply obvious that while one person is ‘sick,’ another is ‘possessed’; there is no disagreement or debate on the matter. The closest one comes to a form of medical anamnesis is in the case of a possessed son (Mark 9:14–29): Jesus asks, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ (Mark 9:24) and receives more details from the father.96 Yet in the versions of the account provided by Matthew and Luke there is no need for discussion (Matt 17:14–21/Luke 9:37–43a). In all three versions the father is aware that the cause of the suffering is ‘a mute spirit’ and the details are not required for diagnosis. No explanation is given as to how one knows who is possessed and who is merely sick. Indeed, there is no word at all of any symptoms for the man with an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:23–26), only the effects of the exorcism itself, as Brian Levack explains: ‘Only upon the spirit’s departure does the text explain that the exorcism sent the man into convulsions and that he cried out in a loud voice.’97 Nor is there any explanation as to how one knows how many demons are involved in a possession. Luke claims that Mary Magdalene had been freed from seven demons (Luke 8:2). One man (Mark 5:2) is possessed by many demons, though this appears only to be revealed once Jesus asks, ‘What is your (sing.) name?’ and receives the answer, ‘Legion is my name, for we are many’ (Mark 5:9). The number of demons is therefore perhaps one aspect of demon-possession which remains hidden from public knowledge.

The idea that the possessed enjoy supernatural knowledge is also foreign to the Gospels. The closest parallel is the fact that demons know the identity of holy men: ‘I know who you are, the Holy One of God!’ (Mark 1:24/Luke 4:34), ‘Jesus, Son of the Most High God’ (Mark 5:7/Luke 8:28),98 and a possessed girl also knows that Paul and Silas are ‘slaves of the Most High God’ (Acts 16:17).99 It is not the possessed, rather the prophet who is expected to have supernatural insight in the Gospels, to know that a woman touching his feet is a sinner (Luke 7:39) or to know who is hitting him despite his blindfold (Luke 22:64).

The idea of supernatural strength is also foreign to the Gospels. The closest parallel is the possessed man of Gerasa, who is chained by his hands and feet but always breaks free (Mark 5:3–4/Luke 8:29). He is certainly very strong, but appears to be the exemption, as others who are possessed tend to exhibit weakness: a young girl who suffers and lies in bed (Mark 7:24–30/Matt 15:21–28), a woman who has a ‘spirit of weakness’ that has crippled her for eighteen years so that she cannot stand up straight (Luke 13:11), a youth who suffers seizures100 and whose demon tries to kill him (Mark 9:14–27), and a possessed man who is blind and mute (Matt 12:22).

As Brian Levack observes: ‘The texts do not even hint that the biblical demoniacs had entered trances or had visions, hallucinated, spoke in foreign tongues, or acted immorally.’101 The signs of possession that dominate the discourses of both the Early Modern period and contemporary exorcism are simply not attested in the Gospels. The Bible does not provide enough demonic drama for ‘the more spectacular cultural performances’ of possession.102 The possessed in the Gospels suffer much like those with an illness, and there is no role for supernatural abilities or phenomena. Indeed, demonic possession is almost mundane. But what about the exorcism performed to expel these demons?

3.3 Ancient Exorcism Practices

Exorcisms in the New Testament Gospels and Acts are effected by means of command alone. Unlike healing narratives which may involve the use of saliva (Mark 8:23, John 9:6) and the application of fingers (Mark 7:33) or hands (e.g., Mark 6:5), Jesus casts out demons with a rebuke. He says different things to different demons and does not appear to have recourse to any specific formula for an exorcism. He rebukes a demon with the words, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ (Mark 1:25/Luke 4:35) or with the similar words, ‘I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ (Mark 9:25). The only key word appears to be ‘come out.’ Even within the context of antiquity this makes Jesus rather distinct.103 An ancient Jewish exorcism might include the use of the heart and liver and of fish (Tobit 6:8) or a ring (Josephus Ant. 8.47; T. Sol. 5), and indeed the ancient world knew of the use of amulets and magic for the purposes of exorcism.104 But a word alone appears to have been enough even for ancient Greek exorcists such as Apollonius of Tyana (Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 4.20), who was also active in the first century, though Philostratus’s work may have been influenced by the portrayal of Jesus in the gospels.

There are however two references which bear consideration with regard to the use of a finger or hands, both in the Gospel of Luke. The first is Jesus’s claim to cast out demons ‘with the finger of God’ in Luke 11:20. God’s finger is a motif from Exodus, as the Egyptian magicians admit that the plague of gnats is a sign of God’s finger (Exod 8:19), and the tablets given to Moses are inscribed with commandments written with God’s finger (Exod 31:18). Jesus is never described as pointing at the possessed, and this is therefore the closest we come in Luke to a reference to Jesus possibly casting out demons with a pointed finger.105 The only other possible tactile exorcism is Jesus’s laying his hands on a woman with ‘a spirit of weakness’ in Luke 13:10–17. This episode appears on the borderline between possession and sickness, as the physical condition of the woman’s back is ascribed to ‘a spirit’ and ‘Satan.’ She is not described as a ‘demoniac,’ nor is there any explicit mention of a ‘demon,’ so whether this counts as an exorcism is quite unclear.106 If it is an exorcism, it is the only one that includes at most the laying-on of hands.

At the other extreme, Jesus heals the daughter of a non-Jewish woman from afar and without any direct address to the demon (Mark 7:24–30), providing absolutely no ritual, action or words which might serve as a model.107

Exorcisms in the Gospels are quick and easy.108 Once a demon is commanded to leave, it leaves. There is one exception which proves the rule, the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:6–13): the spirit does not leave the man immediately, rather addresses Jesus, begging not to be tormented or to be expelled from that country, and finally asks to be sent into a herd of swine, and only leaves the man once Jesus has given his permission. Nor does it appear to require any effort on the part of Jesus to carry out an exorcism. At no point in the Gospels does Jesus struggle with a demon or lose energy in the process. This is particularly relevant because there are healings in the gospels which do appear to require some effort or to take their toll on Jesus. Jesus heals a blind man in two stages (Mark 8:22–25) and feels his healing power leaving him when touched from behind by a woman (Mark 5:30). Exorcisms performed by clothing material without the consent of the exorcist are however mentioned in Acts, as ‘handkerchiefs or aprons’ which have touched Paul’s skin are brought to the sick and the possessed and heal them (Acts 19:12)! There is nothing similar in the Gospels or in modern exorcist practices.

Finally, the Gospels do allow for the possibility of re-possession: an unclean spirit may return to the person it has left and bring other spirits with it (Luke 11:24–26)109 and – albeit on only one occasion – Jesus adjures a demon ‘I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ (Mark 9:25). Modern exorcism does not include a command not to return.

The evidence for the practice of exorcism in the Gospels and Acts is thus by no means consistent, but it does afford an insight into the worldview of the ancient authors and their contemporaries. In a world in which belief in demons was essentially universal, there were various methods to drive them out and to keep them out. In this regard, Jesus’s method was rather simple and direct.

4 The (Re)Invention of Exorcism

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger describe in The Invention of Tradition110 how traditions that give the impression of being old are very often relatively young and deliberately constructed in order to suggest historical continuity. Customs and rituals are created and reinforced with references to the past. James Lewis and Olav Hammer use this approach to show how constructed references to the past within religious groups serve to legitimise the authenticity of religious practices and identity in what they call The Invention of Sacred Traditon.111 Exorcists are surely correct to point to the Bible – particularly the New Testament Gospels – as attesting clearly to demonic possession112 and the commissioning of the disciples to continue the ministry of exorcism in Mark 16:17.113 There can be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth believed in demons and cast them out. Yet there are, of course, several major differences between the possessions and exorcisms of the Gospels and those in contemporary Roman Catholicism. There is no categorisation of major and minor exorcisms in the Gospel accounts, and the frequency with which Jesus meets demoniacs is by no means reflected even by the most prolific exorcists today. In the Gospels only people (and animals) can be possessed by demons, while modern exorcists also consider buildings and houses to be possessed.114 Nor do the Gospels reflect the idea that the success of the exorcism depends on the cooperation of the possessed person and their loved ones.115 There is of course no hint in the Gospels that the possessed have become so due to a dalliance with the occult or witchcraft; this connection only occurs in mediaeval Christianity,116 and would be a historical anachronism.117 Likewise, the idea that demons abhor incense, organ music, and Gregorian chant118 can obviously not be the case for demons in the Gospels.

Yet the three major differences between the exorcisms performed by Jesus in the Gospels and by Roman Catholic priests today can be divided into the following three areas: the role of Satan and the names of demons, Jesus’s name and religious objects, and the signs or ‘symptoms’ of possession.

4.1 Satan and the Names of Demons

Roman Catholic exorcists ascribe possession to the devil. The various names and titles found in the Bible are all assumed to be references to the same figure. Karl Kertelge, in a preface to the German edition of the ecclesial document Foi chrétienne et demonologie, points to the lack of differentiation between ‘Satan,’ ‘demons,’ ‘evil,’ ‘sin,’ ‘the god of this age,’ and so on.119 Although the revised exorcism rite ‘dispenses with most of the baroque epithets (Prince of Darkness, Accursed Dragon, and so forth),’120 Malachi Martin employs the terms ‘Satan,’ ‘devil,’ ‘Lucifer,’ and ‘evil’ interchangeably,121 and for Amorth ‘The Devil Goes By Many Names.’122 Yet at no point in the Gospels is there a healing of anyone who is possessed by Satan. Jesus never casts out Satan. Jesus casts out demons.123 The closest connection to Satan is found in the comments of Jesus concerning the idea that Satan can cast himself out (Mark 3:23/Matt 12:26) and that Satan has ‘bound’ a woman with a ‘spirit of weakness’ (Luke 13:11). Satan is said to enter Judas during the Passover festival (Luke 22:3 and John 13:27), but of course, Judas does not suffer any symptoms, but rather plans to hand Jesus over to the Jerusalem authorities.124 And of course, Jesus calls Peter ‘Satan!’ in an argument (Mark 8:33/Matt 13:23), but again Peter shows no signs of possession. The actual cases of demonic possession in the Gospels show little or no connection to Satan, and certainly it is never Satan who possesses someone who is then cured by Jesus. In ancient Jewish literature – including the Gospels – Satan remains a cosmic figure with a role in the universal battle of good and evil. He has no direct role in making people suffer.125

The names of other demons also play a role in exorcism according to the Rituale Romanum.126 Although the revised edition of the exorcism ritual (1999) omits the query for the name of the demon, some contemporary exorcists – such as Amorth – continue the practice due to their use of the older rite. Although neither angels nor demons play particularly pivotal roles in the canonical texts of the Tanakh, ancient Judaism – particularly in the Hellenistic period – produced a wealth of literature which featured them, named them, and attributed them with cosmic significance.127 The names of demons play a particularly important role in the Testament of Solomon. In the Gospels, the only demons with names are the group with the Latin designation Legion (Mark 5:9) and Beelzebul, a ruler of demons (Matt 12:24/Mark 3:22/Luke 11:15). The identification of a demon by name plays no role in Jesus’s exorcisms.

4.2 Jesus’s Name and Religious Objects

Exorcisms are certainly carried out ‘in the name of Jesus.’ When the disciples/apostles report to Jesus of their successful exorcisms, they state that these are carried out ‘in your name’ (Luke 10:17). The disciples also report to Jesus that they have discovered a man casting out demons independently using Jesus’s name (Mark 9:38/Luke 9:39). But Jesus will disown even those who call him ‘Lord, Lord’ and cast out demons in his name (Matt 7:21–23). Paul casts out a demon ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 16:16–18) and some Judaean exorcists attempt to cast out a demon using ‘the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 19:13). Justin Martyr attests to exorcisms in the name of Jesus (2 Apol. 5.5; Dial. 30.3 and 85.2) and a Syriac account of the acts of Jesus’s mother Mary includes her healing a girl possessed by two demons by rebuking them ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus the Christ.’128 It thus appears that at a very early stage the ‘name’ of Jesus was enough to rebuke and cast out a demon, regardless as to whether the exorcist was a ‘Christian’ or not.129

Yet the claim that demons cannot endure, and certainly cannot speak the name of Jesus,130 goes directly against the evidence of the Gospels, in which certain demons identify and address Jesus freely by name (e.g., Mark 1:24 and 5:7). This may be an extension of the idea in Rituale Romanum that the possessed show an aversion to religious objects. Malachi Martin claims:

In the records of Christian Exorcism from as far back as the lifetime of Jesus himself, a peculiar revulsion to symbols and truths of religion is always and without exception a mark of the possessed person.131

There is no evidence for an aversion to religious objects in the Gospel accounts of demoniacs, such as the man with an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:23). Later, hagiographical Christian accounts of the exorcisms performed by apostles and saints often include ‘the sign of the cross.’ Eugenia casts out demons ‘by the sign of the cross of our Lord.’132 But what does this mean? In a Greek fragment of the Acts of Peter,133 there is a somewhat fuller description of the use of the sign of the cross in controlling demons: Peter ‘made the sign of the cross between his chest and his God-bearing brow […] and made the sign of the cross and encircled the prince and the demons with him.’ The first sign (sēmeion) is clearly performed by Peter on himself – perhaps for his own protection,134 but the second sign (kharagmē) appears to be performed on the prince and the demons. Thus, while ancient Christian tradition associates the sign of the cross with exorcism, this is obviously not something which can go back to the lifetime of Jesus, who naturally is never reported to have used the sign of the cross when casting out demons. Revulsion towards Jesus’s name and religious objects is thus a ‘tradition’ without basis in the Bible. The idea that demons have an aversion to sacred objects was mostly likely part of attempts of the Counter-Reformation to underscore the validity of Roman Catholic practice over against Protestantism.135 The use of such objects continues today, though no explanation is given, and no Biblical precedent is cited. At the same time, objects from religions or cultures other than Christianity are understood to be dangerous and risk causing possession.136 This idea is reflected in The Exorcist, in which the demonic possession follows the discovery of a statuette of ‘Pazuzu.’

4.3 Signs or ‘Symptoms’

The three signs of possession listed in Rituale Romanum in order to curtail the number of exorcisms carried out limit the identification of demonic possession to the following:

  1. inexplicable familiarity with strange languages;

  2. knowledge of other people’s secrets;

  3. a strength beyond natural physique.

Adolf Rodewyk provides the clearest attempt to connect these to biblical precedent.137 For example, the idea that demons and thus the possessed have powers of clairvoyance can be traced to the Philippian slave girl of Acts 16:16–18.138 For the idea that the possessed enjoy strength beyond their natural physique he provides two examples: the Gerasene demoniac who breaks his chains (Mark 5:1–20) and the demoniac in Ephesus who overpowers, strips, and injures seven Jewish exorcists (Acts 19:13–16).139 Yet he cannot point to any Biblical precedent for the inexplicable knowledge of other languages, with the earliest attestation he finds in Jerome’s Life of Hilarion 22.140 All demons speak to Jesus in Greek.141 It is most likely that inexplicable familiarity with the non-vernacular, biblical languages of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew emerged as a sign of supernatural possession in mediaeval Europe.142

But there are other aspects of these signs which make ‘diagnosis’ and ‘treatment’ difficult. Rodewyk calls into question the reliability of the answers a demon provides,143 and Gabriele Amorth claims that demons do not want to talk, and indeed try to mislead and to hide.144 Amorth also claims that the three supernatural signs of possession as described in the Rituale Romanum only emerge during an exorcism and not before!145

Although none of these three signs is associated with any form of physical or mental suffering, Gabriele Amorth claims that all demonic possession is associated with suffering, even when it brings benefits such as the ability to see into the future or to acquire great wealth.146 This is however apparently not the case for the slave-girl in Acts 16:16–18, who prophesies without any indication of suffering.

The other signs of possession attested in Early Modern cases also lack biblical precedent. For the change in voice,147 there is a possessed youth who speaks with the deep and hollow voice of a man in Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius 3.38, but nothing like this is in Gospels. Likewise, the idea that the possessed commit lurid or obscene acts and blasphemy is by no means attested in the Gospels; demons in the Gospel declare Jesus holy, e.g., Mark 1:24/Luke 4:34.148

Other dramatic details often associated with exorcism – such as drops in temperature, flying objects, levitation, unpleasant smells, bodily discharge, etc. – have no precedent in any of the Gospel exorcisms. According to Malachi Martin, the possessed person is physically restrained for their own safety as they omit insults and profanities.149 This tendency to the dramatic may be an attempt to stress the real and present danger of evil in the world, though it therefore comes at the expense of the ‘authority’ with which Jesus and the apostles cast out demons with relative ease and a distinct lack of drama.

The diagnostic process is another aspect that differentiates the practice of modern exorcists from that of Jesus in the Gospels. Modern exorcists seek to emphasise their credentials by interacting with modern medicine and psychology, a perhaps unconscious consequence of the liberalisation of Vatican II. Demonic possession is, they claim, a separate phenomenon to mental illness, and the exorcist steps in where the psychiatrist cannot help. This argument helps to establish the practice of exorcism not only as equal to the world of medicine, but even as superior, as an exorcist provides a service when modern medicine fails.150

5 Conclusion

Modern exorcists claim legitimacy based on reference to the Bible and see themselves as part of a succession of exorcists going back to Jesus. But at the same time many aspects of modern exorcism practice are based on modern ideas and discourses (e.g., medicine, psychology) and have no Biblical basis. Other, supernatural aspects can be traced to the Counter-Reformation and its social context and again have no Biblical warrant. Gospel exorcisms are ‘quick and easy,’ use only a simple command, and do not cast out Satan.

Modern exorcisms are either very psychologised and medicalised or supernatural and dramatic, or indeed both. This depends on the exorcist himself. The integration of modern medical discourses breathes new life into the ancient demons and legitimises this religious worldview. By including medical-psychiatric expertise in the process of diagnosis, exorcists give demonic possession validity and legitimacy in modern society. At the same time, it is a demonstration of power on the part of the exorcist and can also be placed firmly within the context of marketing. What sets the exorcism of the Catholic Church apart from other similar religious healing practices is the clear inclusion of psychiatric, medical, and psychological expertise and appeal to the tradition of Christian exorcism. References to the Bible and the Rituale Romanum give the impression of an ancient practice with an established efficacy. Exorcists are involved in the eternal battle between God and Satan, the forces of Good and Evil. As spiritual healers they are in a long line of Christians with a particular authority, position, and role in the lives of Christians, and this line stretches all the way back to Jesus.

The evidence suggests that modern-day Roman Catholic exorcists are involved in the (re)invention of exorcism as at the same time a valid medical healing practice, superior even to medical solutions, and often dramatic and paranormal activity which is quite at variance to the exorcisms of Jesus. Exorcism is thus portrayed as an ancient practice with contemporary efficacy. Neither the dramatic and supernatural elements nor the psychological and therapeutic discourses are to be found in the gospels, but both aspects are part of the marketing of exorcism as a viable alternative to modern medicine and other religious healing practices in post-secular society.

1

See especially the overview in Francis Young, A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 209–241.

2

See Michael Cuneo, American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2001), 3–13; Sergio Rueda, Diabolical Possession and the Case behind “The Exorcist” (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2018). Cf. also William S. Chavez, “Modern Practice, Archaic Ritual: Catholic Exorcism in America,” Religions 12, no. 10 (2021): 811, doi.org/10.3390/rel12100811, who notes the more recent boom in exorcism movies (5) and the priests who serve as consultants for these (12).

3

Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Americans (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1992 [1977]).

4

William Friedkin and Mark Kermode, The Devil and Father Amorth, dir. William Friedkin (Los Angeles, CA: LD Entertainment, 2017), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6883152/. For the biography of Malachi Martin, see, e.g., Cuneo, American Exorcism, 14–26; James M. Collins, Exorcism and Deliverance Ministry in the Twentieth Century: An Analysis of the Practice and Theology of Exorcism in Modern Western Christianity, Studies in Christian History and Thought (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), 154–160; Joseph P. Laycock, “Martin, Malachi,” in Spirit Possession Around the World, ed. Joseph P. Laycock (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2015), 227–229.

5

For the biography of Gabriele Amorth, see, e.g., Collins, Exorcism and Deliverance Ministry, 170–175; Laycock, “Amorth, Gabriele,” in Spirit Possession Around the World, ed. Joseph P. Laycock (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2015), 9–10. We have used the English translation of Amorth’s works wherever possible. Gabriele Amorth, Esorcisti e Psichiatri (Rome: Dehoniane, 1996), does not appear to have been published in English translation.

6

Nicole M. Bauer, “Die Popularisierung von katholischen Exorzismus-Praktiken in der Gegenwarts-gesellschaft” in Handbuch der Religionen, Ergänzungslieferung 69 (2021): II-1.2.21.

7

Gabriele Amorth with Marco Tosatti, Memoirs of an Exorcist: My Life Fighting Satan (Milan: Piemme, 2014), 23.

8

Brian P. Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 54–55.

9

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy’ (CCC 1667).

10

Demons as spiritual beings were only defined in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and have taken different forms throughout the religious history of Christianity.

11

Henry Ansgar Kelly, Towards the Death of Satan: The Growth and Decline of Christian Demonology (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1968).

12

Herbert Haag, Abschied vom Teufel, Theologische Meditationen 23 (Einsiedeln: Benziger, 1969).

13

Adolf Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan: The Church’s Teaching on the Devil, Possession and Exorcism (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1975) [trans. of Die dämonische Besessenheit in der Sicht des Rituale Romanum (Aschaffenburg: Pattloch, 1963)] and idem, Dämonische Besessenheit Heute: Tatsachen und Deutungen (Aschaffenburg: Pattloch, 1966).

14

For John Paul II, see, e.g., Ute Leimgruber, Kein Abschied vom Teufel: Eine Untersuchung zur gegenwärtigen Rede vom Teufel im Volk Gottes, Werkstatt Theologie 2 (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2004), 92–97; for Benedict XVI, see, e.g., Joseph Ratzinger, “Abschied Vom Teufel?” in idem, Dogma und Verkündigung (Munich: Wewel, 1973), 221–230; for Francis, see, e.g., Chris French, “Pope Francis and the Psychology of Exorcism and Possession,” The Guardian, Psychology, 9 July 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jul/09/pope-francis-psychology-exorcism-possession.

15

Cf. Leimgruber, Kein Abschied vom Teufel, 15–16.

16

Laycock, “Amorth, Gabriele”, 9. In Amorth, Memoirs, 158–159, the number is only around 70,000.

17

Andreas Resch, “Gabriele Amorth (1925–2016),” Grenzgebiete der Wissenschaft 66, no. 1 (2017): 66; Bauer, “Popularisierung,” 9–11.

18

Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1999) [trans. of Un esorcista racconta (Rome: Dehoniane, 1990)].

19

Gabriele Amorth with Elisabetta Fezzi, Father Amorth: My Battle against Satan (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2018), 26.

20

Amorth, My Battle, 29.

21

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 27.

22

Amorth, My Battle, 30.

23

Amorth, My Battle, 87.

24

Amorth, My Battle, 59. Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 12, on the other hand states that an exorcism can only succeed if it is officially sanctioned.

25

Amorth, My Battle, 59.

26

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 77; Amorth, My Battle, 99 (cf. Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 460). Amorth, My Battle, 61, adds that recitation of certain phrases in ancient Greek (‘the original language of the Gospel’) are also effective. Chavez, “Modern Practice, Archaic Ritual”, 12–14, recently asked exorcists in the USA concerning the efficacy of Latin over English.

27

Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2016), 25.

28

Hans Buob, Befreiung, ein Dienst der Kirche (Fremdingen: Unio Verlag, 2007); Neal Lozano, Resisting the Devil: A Catholic Perspective on Deliverance: A Bridge between Exorcism and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2010); Francesco Bamonte, La Vergine Maria e il diavolo negli esorcismi (Milan: Paoline, 2011); Jean-Régis Fropo, 90 questions à u exorciste: Thérapeutique des emprises maléfiques (Paris: Emmanuel, 2012); Paolo Carlin, An Exorcist Explains How to Heal the Possessed: And Help Souls Suffering Spiritual Crises (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2017). Stephen J. Rossetti, Diary of an American Exorcist: Demons, Possession, and the Modern-Day Battle against Ancient Evil (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021).

29

Carlin, An Exorcist Explains, 49.

30

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 423.

31

Nicole M. Bauer, “Interaktion und Kommunikation mit Teufel und Dämonen. Katholischer Exorzismus in der Gegenwartsgesellschaft,” in Intersoziologie: Menschliche und nichtmenschliche Akteure in der Sozialwelt, ed. Michael Schetsche and Andreas Anton (Weinheim: Beltz Juventa, 2021), 94–111.

32

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 424.

33

Cf. Resch, “Gabriele Amorth,” 2–3.

34

In 2020 the association – in cooperation with other Catholic groups and with the approval of the Vatican – produced an official publication to supplement the official guidelines for exorcism, Associazione Internazionale degli Esorcisti, Linee guida per il ministero dell’esorcismo: alla luce del rituale vigente (Padua: Messaggero, 2020).

35

Alfred Singer, “Teufel – Dämonen – Besessenheit – Exorzismus: Aktuelles zu einem umstrittenen Thema–30 Jahre nach ‘Tod und Teufel in Klingenberg’,” in Materialdienst: Zeitschrift für Religions- und Weltanschauungsfragen 69, no. 7 (2006): 253–266, here 261–262.

36

Singer, “Teufel – Dämonen – Besessenheit – Exorzismus,” 260. Cf. Chavez, “Modern Practice, Archaic Ritual”, 4, for discussion of exorcist training programs developed since 1998.

37

Giuseppe Ferrari, “Esorcismo e preghiera di liberazione: presentazione tredicesimo Corso.” Conference Presentation, “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” Course, Rome, 16th April 2018.

38

On the homepage: https://sacerdos.org/en/training-offer/course-on-the-exorcism-minister-and-the-liberation-prayer/.

39

“Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” Program April 2018 (private copy).

40

The Rituale Romanum is a binding liturgical script that regulates Roman Catholic liturgy, including specifications on baptism, marriage, the anointing of the sick, the last rites, penance, burial and blessings.

41

Ecclesia catholica et Congregatio de cultu divino et disciplina sacramentorum, De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1999).

42

Singer “Teufel – Dämonen – Besessenheit – Exorzismus”, 256. Cf. Ute Leimgruber, Der Teufel: Die Macht des Bösen (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, 2010), 123–128.

43

Francis Young, History of Exorcism, 209–219, points out different tendencies resulting from Vatican II. While the representatives of the Council advocated for a modern theology adapted to the conditions of contemporary society which considers belief in demons outdated, there remained strongly conservative parties that opposed such liberalization.

44

Cuneo, American Exorcism, 265.

45

See, e.g., Moshe Sluhovsky, Believe Not Every Spirit: Possession, Mysticism, & Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism (Chicago, IL; London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 61–93; Young, History of Exorcism, 116–120.

46

The same three signs are listed together in Francesco Maria Guazzo’s 1604 Compendium Maleficarum 3.2.9: “An even more certain sign is when the sick man speaks in foreign tongues unknown to him, or understands others speaking in those tongues; or when, being but ignorant, the patients argue about high and difficult questions; or when they discover hidden and long-forgotten matters, or future events, or the secrets of the inner conscience, such as the sins and imaginings of the bystanders; or if they provoke them to quarrel without cause or become so furious that they cannot be bound or restrained by many strong men.” (Trans. E. A. Ashwin, Compendium Maleficarum [London: John Rodker, 1929], 168). Cf. Daniel P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 93 n. 54 for further such references.

47

Levack, The Devil Within, 6–15.

48

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 10–19.

49

Amorth, Esorcisti e Psichiatri, 98–101, 105, 112.

50

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 10.

51

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 118; Amorth, Esorcisti e Psichiatri, 99–100 and 105.

52

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 80. Contemporary Roman Catholic exorcists also differentiate between different types of demonic influence. These vary in intensity from oppression, a form of satanic harassment in which Satan or a demon has not yet fully taken control, to complete possession. In addition to this most severe form, exorcists report external harassment by demons that can be perceived outside the body, diabolical torments that manifest themselves on an emotional, social and physical level.

53

Amorth, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, 70.

54

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 436–443 and Amorth, Esorcisti e Psichiatri, 106. Cf. Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 110–119. On the other hand, Jean Pliya: Von der Finsternis zum Licht: Handbuch für den Befreiungsdienst in der Katholischen Kirche (Fremdingen: Unio-Verlag, 2004), 40–41 and Fropo, 90 questions, 77 both allow for the virtuous to be the targets of satanic possession in some cases. Indeed Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 56–60, also allows for possession ‘without any human fault.’

55

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, xi–xxv, and Amorth, Esorcisti e Psichiatri, 41–89. Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 105, stresses that a non-practising Christian is more at risk due to a lack of protection, and in The Devil is Afraid of Me: The Life and Work of the World’s Most Famous Exorcist (with Marcello Stanzione; Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2019), 47, Gabriele Amorth adds “Eastern religions” to the list of vices. The re-emergence of exorcism may well be linked to the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s and 1990s (see esp. Cuneo, American Exorcism, 195–216).

56

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 118.

57

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 10.

58

Fropo, 90 questions, 83–85.

59

Fropo, 90 questions, 92.

60

E.g., Hans Buob, Die Gabe der Unterscheidung der Geister (Linz: Veritas, 1989); Amorth Esorcisti e psichiatri; Fropo, 90 questions, 96–106; Carlin, An Exorcist Explains, 95–98.

61

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 11.

62

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 93.

63

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 94. Amorth adds that he has found psychiatrists more open to the idea of demonic possession than many priests (106)! Furthermore, doctors and exorcists will not disagree (115); there is mutual respect and each allows the other to work in their respective field (116). Nevertheless, he also claims (Esorcisti e psichiatri, 113, and An Exorcist tells his Story, 81) that an exorcism can be effective for brain tumours and ovarian cysts.

64

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 44–47; Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 96. Cf. Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 59–60. Amorth and others who use the rite as a diagnostic tool are thus in violation of the official approach as outlined in the revised rite of 1999, in which the rite may not be used as a diagnostic tool (cf. Chavez, “Modern Practice, Archaic Ritual,” 15–16).

65

See especially Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri. Cf. Chavez, “Modern Practice, Archaic Ritual.”

66

E.g., Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 95; Fropo, 90 questions, 84.

67

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 44.

68

Simple exorcism is understood to mean various liturgical practices which are not regulated by canon law. Such ‘prayers for liberation’ are an expression of Christian piety and represent various religious practices of protection, for example the Lord’s prayer, Helmut Pree, “Der Exorzismus im geltenden kanonischen Recht,” in Communio in Ecclesiae Mysterio: Festschrift für Winfried Aymans zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Karl-Theodor Geringer and Heribert Schmitz (St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 2001), 417–438, 418–419. In terms of religious history, such practices are found primarily in the context of initiation rites, i.e., baptism (Leimgruber, Der Teufel, 110–12), though as Helmut Pree, “Der Exorzismus,” 420–421, notes, those being baptised are not considered to be possessed by a demon but are rescued from the domain of evil through the exorcism practice. Another popular simple exorcism is that of Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903), commonly known as ‘Leo’s exorcism,’ which can also be carried out by the laity, invokes the Archangel St. Michael, and is used when clergy are exposed to demonic oppression. A third simple exorcism was the so-called ‘invocation of an object,’ which was however removed from Church practice in the Second Vatican Council due to its resemblance to magical practices, cf. Leimgruber, Kein Abschied vom Teufel, 46–48; Leimgruber, Der Teufel, 112–114.

69

There is therefore no official qualification for an exorcist, though there are introductory courses offered for general education on the topic.

70

E.g., Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 15–17; Amorth, An Exorcist Tells his Story, 117–121.

71

Bamonte, La Vergine Maria; Amorth, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, 105. Rossetti, Diary of an American Exorcist, 67–68.

72

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 17. Martin nonetheless outlines a framework of six stages of exorcism: Presence, Pretense, Breakpoint, Voice, Clash, and Expulsion (17–24).

73

Amorth, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, 105.

74

Amorth, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, 105. Cf. Friedkin, The Devil and Father Amorth.

75

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 113.

76

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 119.

77

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 44.

78

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 103 and 113–114.

79

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 16. In all five case studies that Martin describes the exorcisms lasted over twelve hours, Hostage to the Devil, 24.

80

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 10.

81

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 45; Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 104.

82

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 117, and Amorth, The Devil is Afraid of Me.

83

See recently the discussion in Giovanni Bazzana, Having the Spirit of Christ: Spirit Possession and Exorcism in the Early Christ Groups (New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2020), 5–9.

84

E.g., Eric Sorensen, Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and Early Christianity, WUNT 2.157 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002).

85

Takashi Onuki, “Tollwut in Q? Ein Versuch über Mt 12.43–5/Lk 11.24–6,” NTS 46, no. 3 (2000): 358–374, doi.org/10.1017/S0028688500000217.

86

Andreas Lindemann, “Jesus und das epilepsiekranke Kind: Zur Auslegung der Wundererzählung Mk 9,14–29,” in idem, Die Evangelien und die Apostelgeschichte, WUNT 241 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 93–108; Levack, The Devil Within, 115–117.

87

Donald Capps, Jesus the Village Psychiatrist (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008); J. Harold Ellens, “Biblical Miracles and Psychological Process: Jesus as Psychotherapist,” in idem, Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008), 1–14. Cf. as recently as Bernd Kohlmann, “Exorzismen,” in Jesus Handbuch, eds. Jens Schröter and Christine Jacobi (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017), 310–318, 316: ‘Bei Persönlichkeitsstörungen, Epilepsie und weiteren Leiden ging er von dämonischer Besessenheit aus und bekämpfte sie mit Exorzismen.’

88

See especially the collected volumes Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Diethard Römheld, eds., Die Dämonen: Die Dämonologie der israelitisch-jüdischen und frühchristlichen Literatur im Kontext ihrer Umwelt / Demons: The Demonology of Israelite-Jewish and Early Christian Literature in Context of Their Environment (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003); Jan Dochhorn, Susanne Rudnig-Zelt and Benjamin Wold, eds., Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen / Evil, The Devil, and Demons, WUNT 2.412 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016); Jörg Frey and Enno Edzard Popkes, eds., Dualismus, Dämonologie und diabolische Figuren: Religionshistorische Beobachtungen und theologische Reflexionen, WUNT 2.484 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018); Mikael Tellbe and Tommy Wasserman, eds., Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity, WUNT 2.511 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019). Cf. also the compendium of miracles including exorcisms edited by Ruben Zimmermann, ed., Kompendium der frühchristlichen Wundererzählungen, Bd. 1 & 2 (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2013, 2017).

89

Levack, The Devil Within, 38: ‘Christ did not need to request or rely upon the assistance of a deity to expel an evil spirit.’; Andrew J. Kelley, Thaumaturgic Prowess: Autonomous and Dependent Miracle-Working in Mark’s Gospel and the Second Temple Period, WUNT 2.491 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019) has recently studied Jesus’s autonomous miracle-working – including exorcisms – without the invocation of a higher power.

90

Bazzana, Having the Spirit of Christ, 24–59. One who is possessed by a strong demon may have power over weaker demons, but cannot perform other healing miracles such as giving sight to the blind (John 10:21).

91

Cecilia Wassén and Tobias Hägerland, Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet (London: T&T Clark, 2021), 142–143.

92

See especially Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus, WUNT 2.54 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1993); Pieter F. Craffert, The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective, Matrix: The Bible in Mediterranean Context 3 (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2008), 245–308; and more recently Ian G. Wallis, The Galilean Wonderworker: Reassessing Jesus’ Reputation for Healing and Exorcism, foreword James Crossley (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020), 96–122.

93

Wassén and Hägerland, Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet, 142.

94

Graham H. Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 49–54.

95

Cf. the reference to ‘some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities’ (Luke 8:2)

96

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 101, points to this, but it remains of course a question posed to the father of the boy, not to the demon itself.

97

Levack, The Devil Within, 34. Rossetti, Diary of an American Exorcist, 73, explains that screaming and vomiting are signs that an exorcism is working.

98

Cf. Levack, The Devil Within, 38, who observes that this was not by any means ‘supposed to reflect the demon’s preternatural cognitive abilities.’

99

See especially Friedrich Avemarie, “Warum treibt Paulus einen Dämon aus, der die Wahrheit sagt? Geschichte und Bedeutung des Exorzismus zu Philippi (Act 16,16–18),” in Die Dämonen: Die Dämonologie der israelitisch-jüdischen und frühchristlichen Literatur im Kontext ihrer Umwelt / Demons: The Demonology of Israelite-Jewish and Early Christian Literature in Context of Their Environment, eds. Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Diethard Römheld (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 550–576, who examines why Paul exorcises a demon that speaks the truth and causes no harm. Christoph Markschies, “Demons and Disease,” in Demons in Late Antiquity: Their Perception and Transformation in Different Literary Genres, eds. Eva Elm and Nicole Hartmann, Transformationen der Antike 54 (Berlin; Boston, MA: De Gruyter, 2020), 15–39, 23–26, doi.org/10.1515/9783110632231-002, has recently pointed to the 7th/8th cent. CE papyrus with Christian content (P. Berolinensis 8313), in which a certain Horus invokes a demon to fetch his mother because he has a stomach-ache.

100

Levack, The Devil Within, 37, points to Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 52, who claims that it is the demon who is deaf-mute, not the boy. This would imply an understanding of possession which is sporadic, and that the boy can hear and speak when he is not having a seizure.

101

Levack, The Devil Within, 38. Wassén and Hägerland, Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet, 140, thus overstate their case in claiming that Gospel demoniacs ‘conduct themselves in a decidedly antisocial manner.’

102

Levack, The Devil Within, 38.

103

Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist, 157–165.

104

See, e.g., recently Christopher A. Faraone, The Transformation of Greek Amulets in Roman Imperial Times, (Philadelphia, PA: University of Philadelphia Press, 2018).

105

For discussion of the ‘finger of God’ in Luke, see Martin Hengel, “Der Finger und die Herrschaft Gottes in Lk 11,20,” in La Main de Dieu / Die Hand Gottes, eds. René Kieffer & Jan Bergmann, WUNT 94 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 87–106.

106

Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist, 55, and Levack, The Devil Within, 38, both point out that in Luke healing and exorcism overlap. Annette Weissenrieder has recently shown that this tendency towards the ‘medicalisation’ of possession in Luke continues in the Old Latin translations, Annette Weissenrieder, “Disease and Healing in a Changing World: ‘Medical’ Vocabulary and Exorcism in the Vetus Latina Luke,” in Demons in Late Antiquity: Their Perception and Transformation in Different Literary Genres, eds. Eva Elm and Nicole Hartmann, Transformationen der Antike 54 (Berlin; Boston, MA: De Gruyter, 2020), 41–59, https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110632231-003.

107

Levack, The Devil Within, 37–38.

108

Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist, 53, speaks of ‘extreme brevity.’ Wassén and Hägerland, Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet, 141, describe them as ‘succinct.’

109

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 175, warns of this risk.

110

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition, Past and Present Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

111

James R. Lewis and Olav Hammer, eds., The Invention of Sacred Tradition (Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

112

E.g., Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 93.

113

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 43. Levack, The Devil Within, 32, explains that already in the early modern period ‘Protestants and Catholics appealed to these biblical texts to prove the reality of the phenomenon they were observing in their own day.’

114

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 123–127; Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 101–102; Fropo, 90 questions, 93–94.

115

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 112; Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 103.

116

Walker, Unclean Spirits, 8–9.

117

Nevertheless, Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 112 and 120–121, and An Exorcist tells his Story, 41, also ascribes demonic powers to the Egyptian priests who perform magic in Exod 7:8–12.

118

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 115.

119

Karl Kertelge, “Die Dämonenlehre im Lichte des Neuen Testaments,” in Christlicher Glaube und Dämonologie: eine von Experten im Auftrag der Kongregation für die Glaubenslehre erstellte Studie, vom 26. Juni 1975: französisch-deutsch, eds. Wilhelm Breuning and Karl Kertelge, Nachkonziliare Dokumentation 55 (Trier: Paulinus Verlag, 1977), 7–21.

120

Cuneo, American Exorcism, 265.

121

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 411–417.

122

Amorth, The Devil is Afraid of Me, 25–39.

123

This point was already made by Kelly, Death of Satan, 69 and 98.

124

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 58–59, mentions the possession of Judas. Rossetti, Diary of an American Exorcist, 67–68, claims that Judas(!) can possess people today.

125

For critical studies of the figure of the devil in ancient literature, see, e.g., Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Ryan E. Stokes, The Satan: How God’s Executioner Became the Enemy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).

126

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 105–109, discusses the role of the number of demons and their names.

127

See especially the recent study of Annette Yoshiko Reed, Demons, Angels, and Writing in Ancient Judaism (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2020). Nicholas A. Elder, “Scribes and Demons: Literacy and Authority in a Capernaum Synagogue (Mark 1:21–28)”, CBQ 82.1 (2021): 75.94, argues that in this period scribes had power over demons due to their command of the appropriate literature.

128

Agnes Smith Lewis, Apocrypha Syriaca: The Protevangelium Jacobi and Transitus Mariae, with Texts from the Septuagint, the Corân, the Peshiṭta, and from a Syriac Hymm in a Syro-Arabic Palimpsest of the Fifth and Other Centuries, Studia Sinaitica 11 (London: C.J. Clay & Sons, 1902), 35.

129

Theodore de Bruyn, “What Did Ancient Christians Say When They Cast Out Demons? Inferences from Spells and Amulets,” in Christians Shaping Identity from the Roman Empire to Byzantium: Studies Inspired by Pauline Allen, eds. Geoffrey Dunn and Wendy Mayer, VCSup 132 (Leiden; Boston, MA: Brill, 2015), 64–82; William Q. Parkinson, “ ‘In the Name of Jesus’: The Ritual Use and Christological Significance of the Name of Jesus in Early Christianity” (PhD diss., University of Edinburgh, 2003); Larry W. Hurtado, “The Ritual Use of Jesus’s Name in Early Christian Exorcism and Healing,” in Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity, eds. Mikael Tellbe and Tommy Wasserman, WUNT 2.511 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019), 141–161.

130

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 420; Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 94.

131

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 13.

132

Agnes Smith Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 2 vols., Studia Sinaitica 9 & 10 (London: C.J. Clay & Sons, 1900), 2.15.

133

Bertrand Bouvier and François Bovon, “Un fragment inédit des Actes de Pierre?,” Apocrypha 17 (2006): 9–54, doi.org/10.1484/J.APOCRA.2.302045.

134

Bouvier and Bovon, “Un fragment,” 14.

135

Walker, Unclean Spirits, 4–6; Levack, The Devil Within, 105–107.

136

Cf. Chavez, “Modern Practice, Archaic Ritual”.

137

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 69–93.

138

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 79; cf. Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 40.

139

Rodewyk, Dämonische Besessenheit Heute, 82.

140

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 69.

141

At no point does Jesus address a demon in Aramaic; the only Aramaic that is explicitly quoted in gospel healing accounts apply to a dead girl (talitha qoum, Mark 5:41) and a deaf-mute (ephphatha, Mark 7:34).

142

Levack, The Devil Within, 11–12.

143

Rodewyk, Possessed by Satan, 102–103.

144

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 79 and 91–94.

145

Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, 46–47 and 69.

146

Amorth, Esorcisti e psichiatri, 114.

147

Levack, The Devil Within, 12–13.

148

Levack, The Devil Within, 36.

149

Martin, Hostage to the Devil, 16.

150

Nicole M. Bauer, “The Devil and the Doctor: The (De)Medicalization of Exorcism in the Roman Catholic Church”, Religions (2022), 13(2), 87; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020087

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