Christianity, to be specific Catholicism has for long being threatened and under disputes, and this dates back in the first to the fifth century. The conflicts between the papacy and the kings and princes were the basis of the crisis as the kings were opposed to the divine authority the popes had assumed, to the extent that the popes could excommunicate them if they were not acting following the divine command. The rise of the Christendom, schism, and heresy further minimized the position of these Catholic leaders, most of whom were situated in Avignon and after that moved to Rome. Theologians opposed the existence of the divine authority of God were on the rise and this with time led to the emergence of Protestant believers (Ferber, 4). Many of the popes and Catholic leaders attributed this form of thought and belief to the devil, who took over the bodies and thoughts of those opposed to the light. Exorcism was, therefore, necessary to restore the dignity of the church and uphold the authority of God as being supreme and above all others.
Exorcism was the ritual for controlling and invoking the demons possessing an individual using sacred texts, exhortations, and prayers (Silverstein and urban 160). The authority of the church at this stage was under threat, and those concerned had to be vigilant to restore the relevance and power of the Catholic family. The exorcising process was in most cases violent as those possessed had prowess, violence, and other disturbing behavior. The women were the most affected population, and judging by the weak nature attached to them, it can be deduced that these demons looked for a soft spot and took advantage of the weakness by taking over the identity of the individual and controlling every move they make. These exorcisms could sometimes result in manslaughters if the demons being exorcised were too stubborn and the exorcists had to kill the individual possessed so at to ensure the devil dies along with them. Different exorcists utilized different exorcism methods from the basic singing and praying to mass proselytizing, collective confessions, and ardent religious processions (Ted, Kerr and Zenger, 111). Demons could also possess places and to protect those residing within them; exorcism involved acts like the burial of an inverted bowl within their homes to trap the demon or make him flee.
Jesus Christ was the pioneer for the exorcism as he commanded his disciple to go around the world and exorcise the demons in his name. The gospels in the Bible give accounts of Jesus healing the sick and commanding evil spirits out of them. In some instances, he ordered the demons to talk through the possessed individual, asked it what it wanted within the person, commanded it out and barred it from returning and repossessing the individual (Graham, p.46). Unlike the priestly or the humanly exorcisms that utilized both incantations and artifacts, Jesus gave verbal commands to the demons, and they obeyed and left immediately, and the possessed was restored back to his former self, with an added grace of the encounter with Jesus. In the Luke gospel, Jesus cast out a legion of demons in a man on the tombs of Gerasene and directed them into a swine of pigs which drowned themselves in the sea. Jesus, the son of god, was as divine, but he also exorcised these demons through the finger of God, a more divine authority.
The Pre-Easter exorcisms were conducted by the seventy-two commissioners and the twelve disciples of God. Jesus sent them out to preach of the kingdom of God and command the demons. The disciples came back and reported of the seven sons of Sceva and other exorcists who were commanding demons in his name, yet they had no affiliation to the discipleship. Jesus' response ruled out the significance of the exorcist, as long as they did it in the name of God the father, and in his name (Graham, 51). This idea holds true to the early Catholic exorcisms as a priest, or a cardinal could do it, but this didn't matter as long as they utilized the incantation, prayers, the Host, and others utilized herbal rings to tie the demon and pull him out of the possessed. However, the charismatic exorcisms relied heavily on the individual conducting the exorcisms. Abraham, for instance, was casting the pharaoh demon threatening his people, and he was the right person to do it, based on his unshaken faith in God. Demons possessed King Saul after he had defied God, and all his magicians and exorcists tried to get it out in vain (Graham, 44). David, however, connected with the king's soul and his presence and as he played the lyre calmed the king and the demonic spirit would be lifted.
Back in the 16th century, the religious war had drawn a bold line between the Catholics and the Protestants, as the latter viewed the beliefs and the exorcism as superstitious or staged occurrences (Ferber, 4). There are instances when the possessed individual could speak, in the form of the demon, and declare that the Huguenots were his. The priests were becoming more vigilant and some, during the exorcism, could force the words out of the demons, by making them admit their alignment with the Protestants, and confess that they feared Rome. Then it happened that some of the nuns within the Catholic convents became demon possessed. This was the hardest blow the church authority had received so far. Upon exorcisms, some of them, I mean the demons within them, pointed out some of the priests as their commanders through witchcraft (Ferber, 7). The presiding priests had to turn their backs on their brothers and prosecute them.
The so-called authority of the Catholic Church wasn't accepted by many, and some went ahead and challenged the exorcism integrity and legitimacy. Charismatic exorcism was condemned for exposing the church to uncontrolled folk practices. The over-enthusiastic and notorious priests were using mesmerism and invoking the name of Jesus during the exorcism. The possessed would go into a crisis involving violent convolutions, fainting, crying, and weird bodily sensations. Two Protestants came up with trick trials and a placebo-control experiment to disrepute the exorcisms (Ted, Kerr and Zerger, 107). The possessed were going all that wild because of the liquid that was used to perform the exorcism and not the alleged demons within them. The trick trials included the interchangeable use of the holy water and regular water, and the possessed couldn't seem to display the difference in reaction when the priests used either. The exorcism caused a convolution to the possessed whether it was an ordinary iron used instead of a holy cross, and this made many critics name it as the power of imagination.
Many Huguenots believed that the exorcism process was either a reaction to a chronic illness or an attempt by zealous priests to prove their authority and power by conniving with the allegedly possessed individuals and make them act out the entire process. Religious skepticism gradually emanated from this doubts on the exorcisms and the authority of the church, and upon renaissance, the suspicion shifted to medicine (Ted, Kerr and Zerger 110). A group of humanists claimed that maybe the medical treatment was not medical but made the patients exhibit unimpeachable signs of healing. If one imagined of a cure by a non-medical stone, then they became cured.
The modern Catholic population still holds on the existence of the devil, and the exorcism exercises, although time relativity has made the process less physical and more spiritual (Young, 40). The rise of evil in the world is the one undeniable pointer to this existence, and the priests receive exorcism training to counter this evil. Catholic catechism distinguishes demon possession from psychological illnesses and demands the lifting of the demonic spirit through the spiritual mandate and authority that Jesus bestowed on his church. Baptismal exorcism is an example of the contemporary exorcism, and before the immersion of pouring of water on the baptized, the priest performs a catechumen exorcism aimed at relieving the individual of the original or secondary sins (Giuseppe and Adam 94). This sanctifies them as they proceed to leave behind all their sins and become new beings. The sprinkling of holy water before the commencing of mass is also a form of exorcism that purifies the hearts of the believers and makes them worthy of receiving the word of God and the Holy Communion (Giordan and Possamai 70). According to Pope Francis, baptism is not a magic formula but a spiritual tool gifted by the Holy Spirit to fight against the devil and his endeavors.
Ferber, Sarah. Demonic possession and exorcism in early modern France. Routledge, London.2004. Pp. 1-13.
Giordan G. and Possamai A. Case Study of Catholic Exorcism: Undergoing Exorcism. In: Sociology of Exorcism in Late Modernity. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. 2018. Pp. 65-80
Giuseppe G. and Adam P. Branding the devil in New Age and Catholicism: sociology of exorcism. Fabrizio Serra Editore, Italy. 2016. Vol. 86, pp. 90 - 96
Graham H. T. In the name of Jesus: exorcism among early Christians. Backer academic. 2007. Pp. 25-77.
Silverstein M. and urban G. Natural histories of discourse: Exorcism and the description of participant roles. University of Chicago Press. 1996. P. 160
Ted J. K., Kerr C. E. and Zerger A. Placebo-control, exorcism and the devil. 2010. Pp. 105- 112
Young F. Exorcism in the Early Christian West, 300-900. In: A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity. Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. 2016. Pp. 27-59
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