Quantcast
Connect with us

Exorcisms have been part of Christianity for centuries

Published

on

The Exorcist,” a horror film released 45 years ago, is a terrifying depiction of supernatural evil. The film tells the story of a young American girl who is possessed by a demon and eventually exorcised by a Catholic priest.

Many viewers were drawn in by the film’s portrayal of exorcism in Christianity. As a scholar of Christian theology, my own research into the history of Christian exorcisms reveals how the notion of engaging in battle against demons has been an important way that Christians have understood their faith and the world.

ADVERTISEMENT

Early and medieval Christianity

The Bible’s account of the life of Jesus features several exorcism stories. The Gospels, reflecting views common in Judaism in the first century A.D., portray demons as spirits opposed to God that haunt, possess or tempt people to evil.

Exorcism by St. Exupere, Bishop of Toulouse, France, at the beginning of fifth century.
Philippe Alès, CC BY-SA

Possessed individuals are depicted as displaying bizarre and erratic behaviors. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, a boy is possessed by a demon that makes him foam at the mouth and experience violent spasms. Jesus is shown to have a unique power to cast out demons and promises that his followers can do the same.

In the centuries that followed, accounts of using Jesus’ name for casting out demons are common. Origen, an early Christian theologian, writing in the second century, explains how the name of Jesus is used by Christians to expel “evil spirits from … souls and bodies.”

Over the years exorcism came to be associated more widely with the Christian faith. Several Christian writers mention exorcisms taking place publicly as a way to convince people to become Christians. They argued that people should convert because the exorcisms Christians performed were more effective than those of “pagans.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Early Christian texts mention various exorcism methods that Christians used, including making the sign of the cross over possessed persons or even breathing on them.

Minor exorcism

Beginning some time in the early Middle Ages, specific priests were uniquely trained and sanctioned for exorcism. This remains the case today in Roman Catholicism, while Eastern Orthodox traditions allow all priests to perform exorcisms.

Early Christians also practiced what is sometimes called a “minor exorcism.” This type of exorcism is not for those considered to be acutely possessed.

ADVERTISEMENT

This took place before or during the ritual of baptism, a ceremony whereby someone officially joins the Church. The practice emerges from the assumption that all people are generally susceptible to evil spiritual forces. For this reason some sort of prayer or statement against the power of the devil would often be recited during catechesis, a period of preparation prior to baptism, baptism, or both.

Demons and Protestants

Between the 15th to 17th centuries, there was an increased concern about demons in Western Europe. Not only are there abundant accounts of priests exorcising individuals from this time period, but also of animals, inanimate objects and even land.

A woodcut from 1598 shows an exorcism performed on a woman by a priest and his assistant, with a demon emerging from her mouth.
Pierre Boaistuau, et al., Histoires prodigieuses et memorables, extraictes de plusieurs fameux autheurs, Grecs, & Latins, sacrez & prophanes (Paris, 1598), vol. 1.

The narratives are also much more detailed. When someone possessed by a demon was confronted by an exorcist priest, it was believed that the demon would be aggravated and cause the individual to engage in more intense and violent behavior. There are reports of physical altercations, floating around the room, and speaking or screaming loudly and angrily during the exorcism process.

ADVERTISEMENT

Protestants, who were skeptical of many Catholic rituals, combated demonic possession with more informal practices such as impromptu prayer for the afflicted individual.

During the Enlightenment, between 17th to 19th centuries, Europeans began to cast doubt on so-called “superstitious” elements of religion. Many intellectuals and even church leaders argued that people’s experiences of demons could be explained away by psychology and other sciences. Exorcism began to be viewed by many as unnecessary or even dangerous.

Exorcism today

Many Christian denominations still practice some form of minor exorcism. Before people are baptized in the Episcopal Church, for example, they are asked: “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”

ADVERTISEMENT

Exorcism is practiced by Christians across the world.
Lutsenko_Oleksandr/Shutterstock.com

The Catholic Church still has an active ministry devoted to performing exorcisms of possessed individuals. The current practice includes safeguards that require, among others, persons suspected of being possessed to undergo medical and psychiatric evaluation before an exorcism takes place.

Exorcism is particularly common in Pentecostalism, a form of Christianity that has grown rapidly in recent decades. This branch of Christianity emphasizes spiritual experience in everyday life. Pentecostals practice something akin to exorcism but which is typically called “deliverance.” Pentecostals maintain that possessed persons can be delivered through prayer by other Christians or recognized spiritual leader. Pentecostalism is an international Christian tradition and specific deliverance practices can vary widely around the world.

In the United States belief in demons remains high. Over half of all Americans believe that demons can possess individuals.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, despite modern-day skepticism, exorcism remains a common practice of Christians around the world.The Conversation

S. Kyle Johnson, Doctoral Student in Systematic Theology, Boston College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ADVERTISEMENT

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and legal efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. And unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from billionaires and corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click to donate by check.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



Report typos and corrections to: [email protected]. Send news tips to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

CNN

‘It is all crazy’: CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin goes off on people who try to insist Trump’s rants are just jokes

Published

on

On Thursday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin scorned the idea from President Donald Trump's defenders that rants like his recent anointment of himself as "the chosen one" are made in jest, for entertainment value.

"One of the strange things about President Trump is that nobody has ever seen him laugh, like a full laugh on camera," said Toobin. "Think about it. You never see it. And this notion of explaining crazy things he says as jokes is not — that is just not true. He does not joke. When he said 'Russia, you know, I want you to find Hillary Clinton's emails,' they tried to explain it as a joke. It wasn't. Russia went right to work trying to find Hillary's emails."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump’s DOJ sent white nationalist blog post to judges — complete with anti-Semitic attacks

Published

on

On Thursday, BuzzFeed News reported that the Department of Justice sent a virulently racist blog post to immigration judges, from the infamous white nationalist blog VDare.

VDare, named after the first English child born in a New World possession, is known for peddling virulent racism. Its contributors have claimed that "America was defined — almost explicitly, sometimes very explicitly — as a white nation, for white people" and that "Jewish activity collectively, throughout history, is best understood as an elaborate and highly successful group competitive strategy directed against neighboring peoples and host societies."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Donald Trump’s tax cut was even worse than we thought

Published

on

From the moment it was proposed, the Republicans’ 2017 tax cut law was criticized for benefiting corporations and wealthy Americans. doing comparatively little for low-income Americans, and needlessly blowing a hole in the federal deficit.

About a year and a half since its passage, the criticisms are looking apt. And none of the supposed benefits promised by Republicans — moderate and extremist alike — have materialized. No boom in business investment, no supercharged wages, and no phenomenal jobs growth.

In fact, as new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act appears to have done even less on the “jobs” side of the equation than we previously thought.

Continue Reading
 
 

Thank you for whitelisting Raw Story!

As a special thank you, from now until August 31st, we're offering you a discounted rate of $5.99/month to subscribe and get ad-free access. We're honored to have you as a reader. Thank you. :) —Elias, Membership Coordinator
LEARN MORE
close-link
close-image