Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Exorcism Test

And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
Luke 10:17-20

Here is a challenge to the clergy, a measure to apply to our own lives. Just as surely as frequent Communion requires all Christians to remain in a right relationship with God, this little test is a healthy way for priests to keep spiritually fit. This comes from me, a priest who lives in a highly visible rectory where the people from the town, all of the people of the town, may find me with ease- and where some have.

What do you do if that unexpected person comes to you with a credible case of demon activity- perhaps the possession of person or place? Do you fear to take action? Do you have that secret place reserved for sin that prevents you from taking on the enemy? Do you lack faith and therefore courage? Have you been failing in the life of prayer accompanied by a reasonable amount of fasting?

If you say yes to any of those questions, then you need to shape up now, whether this particular test comes your way or not.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

No......when possession occurs, you do what every other Christian Church does......You Call on the Catholic Priest! They have been dealing with this for centuries. Plus.....there is no exorcism ritual in the Anglican BCP.

Timotheus

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I hope, Timotheus, that you are trying to be funny. As for an exorcism ritual, Acts 16:18 is all we need. I trust the KJV version is Anglican enough for you.

You Call on the Catholic Priest! They have been dealing with this for centuries.

And I have been dealing with it for years (personally,I have not dealt with anything for centuries, and neither has any Roman Catholic priest I know). Being a real priest, I never need to call on that other church for this. I do it myself, and have always done it myself. Want to hear some hair raising true life, Biblical sounding stories? I have'em.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was being funny. That is exactly what I was told by a Lutheran Pastor. Also, I have not met many Anglican pastors really speak of or believe in the reality of Demonic Possession. I am quite relieved to hear that you DO believe in this subject.
I Too believe that we have scripture and the historic Church and Christ on our side......who can be against us?

Timotheus

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

As I understand it, not every priest in the RCC will perform the most serious exorcisms or is permitted to do so. Each diocese has at least one priest who has this role, and this may be because it is seen as a special ministry that not all are equally equipped to do. It is certainly possible to interpret Scripture to imply that exorcism is a particular gift, in that it is listed with other particular gifts in Mk 16.17,18, i.e., tongues, miracles (of protection) and healings (Cf. the Pauline lists in Rom. 12 and 1 Co. 12.) Given that none of the others on this list has been traditionally seen as promised universally either to all Christians or even all pastors, the restriction of this ministry to certain people appears not unreasonable.

Fr Jerome OSJV said...

Rather like being granted a faculty to hear Confessions, Exorcisms in the RC Church are performed by dedicated and "qualified" priests. Though it is worth remembering that one of the old minor orders of Exorcist was a remnant of that ministry from the Early Church.

The Devil's greatest achievement? Convincing the world that he no longer exists!

If only there were more Christians let alone priests who could understand that the spiritual battle is a REAL battle and goes on all the time. Spirits and demons do exist in the same way that angels do. It is a sad thing to note that even Christians consider these things "superstitious" nonesense! They most decidedly are NOT and I write as one who KNOWS!

Keep the Faith!

poetreader said...

I seem to have an impression, gathered from years of reading and observation, that exorcism should be a normal part of the life of a fully active church. Satan has not ceased his activity, nor have his hosts of servants, simply because modern man has forgotten him or chooses to ignore him.

It would appear, on reading Scripture, that exorcism is a gift given (to some degree) to every Christian, not entirely restricted to the ordained. Many are the passages which seem to say that it is a normal thing to be able to cast out demons.

However, it also appears, both in Scripture and in Christian history (AKA tradition) that not every attempted exorcism is successful, and some of those attempting have been hurt in the process; and that, thus, such an action should be approached with care.

One should therefore be living a life of prayer and fasting (not a technique for doing the job, but a lifestyle to make one always ready), and should be closely associated with one's superiors in the faith, before one consideres the attempt. In anything other than an emergency situation, it is important, nearly essential, that one have the approval and backup support of one's bishop and/or spiritual director.

All this being said, there are demonic forces in this world today, and it is part of the mission of the church to confront them in Jesus' Name.

ed

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Ed wrote:
It would appear, on reading Scripture, that exorcism is a gift given (to some degree) to every Christian, not entirely restricted to the ordained. Many are the passages which seem to say that it is a normal thing to be able to cast out demons.

The most visible and dramatic exorcism I have done was in 1985, years before I was ordained. But, it was an emergency, not something planned (and the results were very good indeed). I was simply leading prayers and teaching that night in a chapel (under the authority of the priest, who was not present himself), and the situation demanded immediate action. We have no reason to assume that exorcism is a priestly function in any exclusive sense; it is not one of the sacraments restricted to our office. To whom was the Lord speaking in that passage from Luke that I quoted? The answer appears to come in the words that follow, implying that this power belongs to those whose names are written in Heaven.

It is wise, however, to consider the normal practice of the Church to be the general rule. When these things allow time and planning it ought to carried out by a priest appointed by the bishop. The opposite is not wise, and leads to all kinds of "deliverance ministries" from laymen who just might be playing with people's fears and confusion, or who have serious problems themselves.

poetreader said...

Precisely, Father,

It is indeed a thing Christians have done throughout history, including a considerable number of unordained saints, the same may be said for healing.

However, for a layperson (or indeed a priest without the blessing of his bishop) to claim on his own to have a 'ministry of ****, whatever the asterisks may represent, is a dangerous thing indeed, building up spiritual pride and encouraging division.

Even the ministry of laypeople is, in truly Catholic polity, under the direction of and responsible to the Church, through her ordained ministers.

ed

agrarian said...

Fr. Hart,

Thank you for posting this. I was happily agnostic for many, many years and scoffed at such seemingly absurd (according to the wisdom of this world) notions. But I was finally brought to Christ through direct experience of the reality of these "unbelievable" things. The Truth has indeed been revealed to us Christians in its fullness and we ought to accept it. There is no need to second guess it.

The most heart-breaking thing I experienced once converted was the discovery that far too many clergy did not in fact believe in such things, and in fact appeared to believe in less than I did when I called myself an agnostic. This is part of the Christian revelation and any postulant who hedges in his belief in the reality of these things should be summarily rejected for ordination. How is one to lead a flock effectively if he doubts the reality of the vicious battle taking place for each and every soul?

Anglicanism is especially susceptible to this form of clerical unbelief. There is that famous "positive" message which embraces everything done in the name of Christ as being good, as if no invisible intelligence is continually acting to deceive anybody. This is the traditional "broad church" perspective held by those who would have been better served to stay in academia. They may wear collars, but they sure aren't priests.

I hope and pray that we in the Continuum will know better discernment of candidates for Holy Orders in the future. "Philosophy majors looking for jobs" need no longer apply. This is the most serious work that is done on earth for there is indeed a battle going on for each and every soul. The ignorant fools in collars with the "beautiful message" about the "battle already won" need to be sent packing. Non-hackers need to be sent back behind the lines where they will no longer pose a danger to any Christian.

BTW, are diocesan exorcists commonplace in the Continuum? If not, they need to be. After all, that is how things are done in a "real" church.

poetreader said...

In Pentecostal circles where I ministered for years, there is a common mindset that has a 'demon behind every bush'. Everything is blamed on demonic activity and there is consequently a lack of consciousness of personal responsibility. I'm very much offput by the air of spookiness and unreality, and a certain fearfullness, that this engenders.

However, Satan is real, and his forces are real and God's people need, desperately need, support of the Church in fighting these battles.

As in all things, there is a true middle way between these errors. We need to be on it. While realizing that Satan indeed has been defeated by the Cross and Resurrection, that the war is already won,we need to be very aware that he and his cohorts will still wreak all the damge they can. We do need to be ready.

I don't know of any diocesan exorcists. I do pray that the Lord raise some up among us, and that bishops be ready to take on the responsibility that this work be done.

ed

agrarian said...

In Pentecostal circles where I ministered for years, there is a common mindset that has a 'demon behind every bush'. Everything is blamed on demonic activity and there is consequently a lack of consciousness of personal responsibility. I'm very much offput by the air of spookiness and unreality, and a certain fearfullness, that this engenders.


Ed, there may in fact be a "demon behind every bush." We have the testimony of many saints and monastics that, if the demons were fully visible, they would blot out the sun they are so numerous.

But of course, we are not to fear. God could have destroyed the demons at any point in the past but, in His wisdom, he kept them around for our purification. They are actually here for our benefit and we are assured that we will not be tested beyond our ability to resist. Since they no longer reflect the divine light, they draw their energy by inciting our passions and feeding off them. The passion which they excite most, and which provides them with the most energy, is of course fear. Thus, fear not, Christian!

The Pentecostals' lack of personal responsibility is a function of their flawed theology, not their belief that there is a demon behind every bush (which, again, there may well be). We have the Tradition of the Church. We have the writings of the Saints and monastics. That is what we need to understand the preternatural world as well as relevant passages in Scripture. The Pentecostals here exemplify the failings of personal interpretation of Scripture.

poetreader said...

Thanks Agrarian, for a statement much in support of what I wanted to say.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shaow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me"

"A thousand shall fall beside thee and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee."

However many demons there are, their purpose in being allowed to continue in existence is not that they be constantly seen, but that their presence cause us to turn our eyes upon the Cross of our salvation.

We will often, very often indeed, be indirectly confronted by such servants of darkness. Our knowledge of the Lord and His Will (if we have troubled to seek it) will be sufficient to enable us to resist these temptations.

Sometimes (perhaps not often) we will directly encounter them. It is the Lord Jesus who has all power to defeat them (to remind them that He has already done so) and to drive them away.

If the driving out of demons has the demons as its focus, it will fail, and should, as it feeds the very sin that converted angels into demons in the first place -- pride. If in doing exorcism the worship of God is the center of the act, then Demons must flee.

To look for a demon behind every bush is to glorify demons by giving them the attention. To realize that they may be there, but cannot conquer 'he that is within me', unless I allow it, well, that is wisdom.

ed

agrarian said...

poetreader wrote:

Sometimes (perhaps not often) we will directly encounter them.

How many times were you tempted to sin today, Ed?

To look for a demon behind every bush is to glorify demons by giving them the attention.

Agreed, but we were discussing a simple acknowledgment (as an indicator of basic clerical competency) that they may well exist behind every bush, not an active search to find them there.

To realize that they may be there, but cannot conquer 'he that is within me', unless I allow it, well, that is wisdom.

Yes, indeed. Now to ensure that all our clergy are competent to impart this wisdom where needed. A necessary precondition is acceptance that there is an actual battle taking place for each and every soul. Competence begins when they throw out the foolish psychology texts and start reading the relevant saints and monastics in detail. Given the flourishing "New Age" spirituality of today, that sort of clerical competence is in very high demand even if, tragically, few seem to realize it.

John A. Hollister said...

At the beginning of this thread, Timotheus wrote:

"[W]hen possession occurs, you do what every other Christian Church does......You Call on the Catholic Priest!"

Tim, we can't follow your advice unless we know which brand of Catholic Priest you are recommending. A "Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Priest"? (That's the name on the title page of the prayer book I found in the pew during the Liturgy for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross yesterday.)

An Old Catholic Priest? (There's still one legitimate Old Catholic body, the Polish National Catholic Church.)

An Armenian? A Copt? Come on, clue us in so we can narrow this down.

John A. Hollister+

poetreader said...

agrarian said...
poetreader wrote:

Sometimes (perhaps not often) we will directly encounter them.

How many times were you tempted to sin today, Ed?


Very many. Yes, indeed, their whispering campaign is always going on. But I only heard them whispering. I did not confront them directly. There's a difference, a crucial difference -- I know, by experience.

To look for a demon behind every bush is to glorify demons by giving them the attention.

Agreed, but we were discussing a simple acknowledgment (as an indicator of basic clerical competency) that they may well exist behind every bush, not an active search to find them there.


but that is exactly why I brought up the Pentecostal experience, and precisely what I was talking about. The active effort to blaim everything on the demonic is one of the surest ways to make certain that their more important strategies go unnoticed, and also to confirm the demonic lie that we are helpless before them.

ed

Rob Eaton+ said...

Fr. Hart,
In a comment at "Surrounded", "Nick" passed along your post URL. Great question re: exorcism and the demon possessed. If the question was asked of the Diocese of San Joaquin I could tell that there are quite a few clergy who have had many stories of spiritual battle by casting out demons.

"What do you do if that unexpected person comes to you with a credible case of demon activity- perhaps the possession of person or place? Do you fear to take action? Do you have that secret place reserved for sin that prevents you from taking on the enemy? Do you lack faith and therefore courage? Have you been failing in the life of prayer accompanied by a reasonable amount of fasting?"

My answer -- as I face off in spiritual battle I expect all these questions to manifest themselves. And then I go ahead and do what Jesus would do -- anyway.

RGEaton

agrarian said...

Ed,

The fact that each of us appears to be repeating the same things to each other in successive posts would suggest that we are not communicating effectively with each other. In fact, I do not know how else to respond to your latest but by repeating what I have already repeated. So I will just close by restating my original point which was to thank Fr. Hart for his obviously sincere belief in the Christian revelation (which is a breath of fresh air to me), and to recommend a discernment process worthy of its name which specifically screens out candidates who claim to profess the Christian faith while curiously rejecting the part about demons. In other words, where we have been slack, let's get serious. It would do us all a world of good.

Thanks again, Fr. Hart.