Exorcism: Is the Bible to Blame?

· Religion & Science
Authors

Spinello Aretino Exorcism of St Benedict

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Pope Benedict unwittingly performed an exorcism of two men possessed by the Devil in the very heart of the Vatican, according to the Catholic Church’s best-known exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth.

Nick Squires of Rome wrote in a recent article titled, Pope ‘exorcised two men in the Vatican’, claims new book, published in the Telegraph in February of 2014:

In a new book, Father Amorth, the exorcist for the diocese of Rome, gives a bizarre account of how he and two assistants brought a pair of “possessed” Italian men to one of the Pope’s weekly audiences in St Peter’s Square in May 2009.

In his book, “The Last Exorcist – My Fight Against Satan”, he claimed the mere presence of the pontiff cured the men of their demonic afflictions.

Father Amorth said his two female assistants escorted the two men into St Peter’s Square as the Pope was driven between crowds of faithful in the white “Popemobile” jeep.

The women managed to obtain seats for the two men in an area of seating normally reserved for the disabled.

As the Pope approached them, the men, identified only as Marco and Giovanni, began to act strangely, Father Amorth wrote.

He described how they trembled and how their teeth chattered.

When one of the assistants asked Giovanni to control himself, he said “I am not Giovanni” in a voice that was not his own, Father Amorth claimed.

As soon as the Pope stepped down from the “Popemobile’ the two men flung themselves to the floor.

“They banged their heads on the ground. The Swiss Guards watched them but did nothing,” the priest wrote.

“Giovanni and Marco started to wail at the same time, they were lying on the floor, howling.

“They were trembling, slobbering, working themselves into a frenzy.

“The Pope watched from a distance. He raised an arm and blessed the four of them. For the possessed it was like a furious jolt – a blow to their whole bodies – to the extent that they were thrown three metres backwards,” he continued.

“They stopped howling but they cried uncontrollably.”

Father Amorth, who claims to have conducted thousands of exorcisms, wrote: “It is no mystery that the Pope’s acts and words can enrage Satan…that simply the presence of the Pope can sooth and in some way help the possessed in their fight against the one who possesses them.”

Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, disputed the account, saying Benedict was not aware of the men’s afflictions and had not intended to carry out an exorcism.

Father Amorth is a controversial figure whose outspoken views have embarrassed the Vatican in the past.

Whether the Pope performed exorcism or not, but, the Catholic Church has a long history of exorcism and still continues to condone it in many ways, including promoting a specific office for exorcism in Philippines. There are several references to demons in the Bible and according to the Bible, Jesus, may peace be on him, himself performed and taught exorcism.

Painting by Francisco Goya of Saint Francis Borgia performing an exorcism.

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus, may peace be on him, had taken out 7 demons out of Mary Magdalene, who was his disciple and according to some experts his wife:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. (Mark 16:9-13)

In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 17, Jesus gives recipe for casting out the demons:

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. ( Matt 17:14-20)

The world of the New Testament compilation was one with abundant demons and ghosts. Given the license in the Holy Bible itself the world of Christendom remained an era of devils and demons and exorcisms. The Encyclopedia Britannica States about exorcism:

Exorcism, an adjuration addressed to evil spirits to force them to abandon an object, place, or person; technically, a ceremony used in both Jewish and Christian traditions to expel demons from persons who have come under their power. The rites and practices of preliterate people to ward off or to expel evil spirits are also a form of exorcism, though they are sometimes considered witchcraft.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus expelled demons by a word and stated that this act was a sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom. His followers, and others as well, drove out demons “in his name.” In the first two centuries of the Christian era, the power of exorcism was considered a special gift that might be bestowed on anyone, lay or cleric. About ad 250, however, there appeared a special class of the lower clergy, called exorcists, to whom was entrusted this special function. About the same time, exorcism became one of the ceremonies preparatory to baptism, and it has remained a part of the Roman Catholic baptismal service.

In Roman Catholic dogma exorcism is a sacramental[1][2] but not a sacrament, unlike baptism or confession. Unlike a sacrament, exorcism’s “integrity and efficacy do not depend … on the rigid use of an unchanging formula or on the ordered sequence of prescribed actions. Its efficacy depends on two elements: authorization from valid and licit Church authorities, and the faith of the exorcist.”[3] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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.”[2]

The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, though the traditional Rite of Exorcism in Latin is allowed as an option. The ritual assumes that possessed persons retain their free will, though the demon may hold control over their physical body, and involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications.

Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the church, can be exercised only by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness.[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) enjoined: “Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite.” Things listed in the Roman Ritual as being indicators of possible demonic possession include: speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing; an aversion to anything holy; and profuse blasphemy and/or sacrilege.

Growing up in Pakistan, I had observed that the greatest prevalence of the demons (Jinn in local language) was in villages and as we moved from small towns to larger towns and from less educated to more educated parts of the society, the prevalence of demons decreased. A similar trend can be observed in the history of the Catholic Church despite the claims to the infallibility of the Popes. Here, I quote the history from Wikipedia:

In the 15th century, Catholic exorcists were both clerical and lay, since every Christian has the power to command demons and drive them out in the name of Christ. These exorcists used the Benedictine Vade retro satana around this time. By the late 1960s, Roman Catholic exorcisms weren’t as popular or done as often in the United States. But by the mid-1970s, movies and best sellers changed people’s interest and raised demand for Catholic priests to perform exorcisms because of thousands of claims of demonic possession. By the mid-1970s maverick priests who belonged to the right-wing fringes took the opportunities of the growing need for exorcists and went into their own businesses. The exorcisms that they performed were, according to “Contemporary American Religion”, the “clandestine, underground affairs, undertaken without the approval of the Catholic Church and without the rigorous psychological screening that the church (at least in theory) required. In subsequent years the Church took more aggressive action on the demon-expulsion front.”[5] By the eighties and early nineties exorcisms were a common phenomenon.

According to the Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, “the person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness.”[6] Most reported cases do not require an exorcism because twentieth-century Catholic officials regard genuine demonic possession as an extremely rare phenomenon that is easily confounded with natural mental disturbances. Many times a person just needs spiritual or medical help, especially if drugs or other addictions are present. After the need of the person has been determined then the appropriate help will be met. In the circumstance of spiritual help, prayers may be offered, or the laying on of hands or a counseling session may be prescribed.

Moving from Catholicism to Protestantism, to understand the role of Protestant Churches in exorcism and perpetuation of ignorance, let me refer you to a National Geographic documentary, Taboo ‘Devils and Demons.’ Some video clips and photos from this documentary and additional details are available in this link.

Epilogue

The Holy Quran has a nuance position about the Bible. It says that Allah revealed the Torah (Old Testament) and the Injil (parts of the Gospels), but, the pure revelations were interpolated over time. As these revelations were not preserved so these have become mixture of truth and falsehood. Therefore, Allah revealed the final scripture, the Holy Quran, which has been preserved over time.

Even though the Christian apologists have been accusing for centuries that the Holy Quran is plagiarized from the Bible, yet the Holy Quran makes no mention of demons in reference to Jesus, may peace be on him, or his disciples.

The Holy Quran does talk about Jinn, which are sometimes understood as demons by Muslims with medieval mind set. Here, I link a chapter of a book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, with rational and enlightening understanding of the term, Jinn, as mentioned in the Holy Quran: The Jinn.

Given the long history of exorcism and the Catholic Church and now many Protestant Churches, allopathic medicine and the field of psychology have had a long struggle to pull out rationality and science of medicine from the jaws of irrational belief. Read further:

Allopathic Medicine’s long struggle with the Bible

Editor’s note

Within a day after the publication of this article in the Muslim Times, in November of 2012, the original publication of unwitting exorcism by the Pope, was removed from the Telegraph, but is available in the following link.

Appendix: List of mentions of demons in the New Testament, from Wikipedia

The New Testament mentions several episodes in which Jesus drove out demons from persons:

Acts of the Apostles also contains a number of references to people coming under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1:8, 2:4, 2:17-18, 2:38, 4:8, 4:31, 6:3-5, 7:55, 8:15-19, 8:39, 9:17,10:19, 11:12-16, 11:28, 13:9, 16:6-7, 19:2-6, 20:23, 21:11, 23:8-9) which is believed to be a good thing (see Baptism with the Holy Spirit) in contrast to demonic influence.

The 1902 work Demonic possession in the New Testament by Rev. William Menzies Alexander attempted to explain accounts of possession in the synoptic Gospels, outlining their historical, medical and theological aspects.[6]

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