We have shown in Chapter X of the
preceding Question that sometimes devils, through witchcraft,
substantially inhabit certain men, and why they do this: namely, that
it may be for some grave crime of the man himself, and for his own
ultimate benefit; or sometimes for the slight fault of another man;
sometimes for a man's own venial sin; and sometimes for another man's
grave sin. For any of these reasons a man may in varying degrees be
possessed by a devil. Nider in his Formicarius states that
there is no cause for wonder if devils, at the instance of witches
and with God's permission, substantially take possession of men.
It is clear also from the details given in that chapter what are the remedies by which such men can be liberated; namely, by the exorcisms of the Church; and by true contrition and confession, when a man is possessed for some mortal sin. An example is the manner in which that Bohemian priest was set free. But there are three other remedies besides, which are of virtue; namely, the Holy Communion of the Eucharist, the visitation of shrines and the prayers of holy men, and by lifting the sentence of excommunication. Of these we shall speak, although they are plainly set out in the discourses of the Doctors, since all have not easy access to the necessary treatises.
Cassian, in his Collation of the Abbots, speaks in these words of the Eucharist: We do not remember that our elders ever forbade the administration of the Holy Communion to those possessed by evil spirits; it should even be given to them every day if possible. For it must be believed that It is of great virtue in the purgation and protection of both soul and body; and that when a man receives It, the evil spirit which afflicts his members or lurks hidden in them is driven away as if it were burned with fire. And lately we saw the Abbot Andronicus healed in this way; and the devil will rage with mad fury when he feels himself shut out by the heavenly medicine, and he will try the harder and the oftener to inflict his tortures, as he feels himself driven farther off by this spiritual remedy. So says S. John Cassian.
And again he adds: Two things must be steadfastly believed. First, that without the permission of God no one is altogether possessed by these spirits. Second, that everything which God permits to happen to us, whether it seem to be sorrow or gladness, is sent for out good as from a pitying Father and merciful Physician. For the devils are, as it were, schoolmasters of humility, so that they who descend from this world may either be purged for the eternal life or be sentenced to the pain of their punishment; and such, according to S. Paul, are in the present life delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But here there arises a doubt. For S. Paul says: Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the Bread: then how can a man who is possessed communicate, since he has not the use of his reason? S. Thomas answers this in his Third Part, Question 80, saying that there are distinct degrees in madness. For to say that a man has not the use of his reason may mean two things. In one case he has some feeble power of reason; as a man is said to be blind when he can nevertheless see imperfectly. And since such men can to some extent join in the devotion of this Sacrament, it is not to be denied to them.
But others are said to be mad because they have been so from birth; and such may not partake of the Sacrament, since they are in no way able to engage in devout preparation for it.
Or perhaps they have not always been without the use of their reason; and then, if when they were sane they appeared to appreciate the devotion due to the Sacrament, It should be administered to them when they are at the point of death, unless it is feared that they may vomit or spew It out.
The following decision is recorded by the Council of Carthage (26, q. 6). When a sick man wishes to confess, and if on the arrival of the priest he is rendered dumb by his infirmity, or falls into a frenzy, those who have heard him speak must give their testimony. And if he is thought to be at the point of death, let him be reconciled with God by the laying on of hands and the placing of the Sacrament in his mouth. S. Thomas also says that the same procedure may be used with baptized people who are bodily tormented by unclean spirits, and with other mentally distracted persons. And he adds, in Book IV, dist. 9, that the Communion must not be denied to demoniacs unless it is certain that they are being tortured by the devil for some crime. To this Peter of Palude adds: In this case they are to be considered as persons to be excommunicated and delivered up to Satan.
From this it is clear that, even if a man be possessed by a devil for his own crimes, yet if he has lucid intervals and, while he has the use of his reason, is contrite and confesses his sins, since he is absolved in the sight of God, he must in no way be deprived of the Communion of the Divine Sacrament of the Eucharist.
How those who are possessed may be delivered by the intercessions and prayers of the Saints is found in the Legends of the Saints. For by the merits of Saints, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins the unclean spirits are subdued by their prayers in the land where they live, just as the Saints in their earthly journey subdued them.
Likewise we read that the devout prayers of wayfarers have often obtained the deliverance of those possessed. And Cassian urges them to pray for them, saying: If we hold the opinion or rather faith of which I have written above, that everything is sent by the Lord for the good of our souls and the betterment of the universe, we shall in no way despise those who are possessed; but we shall incessantly pray for them as for our own selves, and pity them with our whole heart.
As for the last method, that of releasing the sufferer from excommunication, it must be known that this is rare, and only lawfully practised by such as have authority and are informed by revelation that the man has become possessed on account of the excommunication of the Church: such was the case of the Corinthian fornicator (I. Corinthians v) who was excommunicated by S. Paul and the Church, and delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of our Lord JESUS Christ; that is, as the gloss says, either for the illumination of grace by contrition or for judgement.
And he delivered to Satan false teachers who had lost the faith, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander, that they might learn not to blaspheme (I. Timothy i). For so great was the power and the grace of S. Paul, says the gloss, that by the mere words of his mouth he could deliver to Satan those who fell away from the faith.
S. Thomas (IV. 18) teaches concerning the three effects of excommunication as follows. If a man, he says, is deprived of the prayers of the Church, he suffers a threefold loss corresponding with the benefits which accrue to one who is in communion with the Church. For those who are excommunicated are bereft of the source from which flows an increase of grace to those who have it, and a mean to obtain grace for those who have it not; and, being deprived of grace, they lose also the power of preserving their uprightness; although it must not be thought that they are altogether shut out from God's providence, but only from that special providence which watches over the sons of the Church; and they lose also a strong source of protection against the Enemy, for greater power is granted to the devil to injure such men, both bodily and spiritually.
For in the primitive Church, when men had to be drawn into the faith by signs, just as the Holy Spirit was made manifest by a visible sign, so also a bodily affliction by the devil was the visible sign of a man who was excommunicated. And it is not unfitting that a man whose case is not quite desperate should be delivered to Satan; for he is not given to the devil as one to be damned, but to be corrected, since it is in the power of the Church, when she pleases, to deliver him again from the hands of the devil. So says S. Thomas. Therefore the lifting of the ban of excommunication, when prudently used by a discreet exorcist, is a fitting remedy for those who are possessed.
But Nider adds that the exorcist must particularly beware of making too presumptive a use of his powers, or of mingling any ribaldry or jesting with the serious work of God, or adding to it anything that smacks of superstition or witchcraft; for otherwise he will hardly escape punishment, as he shows by an example.
For Blessed Gregory, in his First Dialogue, tells of a certain woman who, against her conscience, yielded to her husband's persuasions to take pare in the ceremonies at the vigil of the dedication of the Church of S. Sebastian. And because she joined in the Church's procession against her conscience, she became possessed and raged publicly. When the priest of that church saw this, he took the cloth from the altar and covered her with it; and the devil suddenly entered into the priest. And because he had presumed beyond his strength, he was constrained by his torments to reveal who he was. So says S. Gregory.
And to show that no spirit of ribaldry must be allowed to enter into the holy office of exorcism, Nider tells that he saw in a monastery at Cologne a brother who was given to speaking jestingly, but was a very famous expeller of devils. This man was casting a devil out of a man possessed in the monastery, and the devil asked him to give him some place to which he could go. This pleased the Brother, and he jokingly said, “Go to my privy.” So the devil went out; and when in the night the Brother wished to go and purge his belly, the devil attacked him so savagely in the privy that he with difficulty escaped with his life.
But especial care is to be taken that those who are obsessed through witchcraft should not be induced to go to witches to be healed. For S. Gregory goes on to say of the woman we have just mentioned: Her kindred and those who loved her in the flesh took her to some witches to be healed, by whom she was taken to a river and dipped in the water with many incantation; and upon this she was violently shaken, and instead of one devil being cast out, a legion entered into her, and she began to cry out in their several voices. Therefore her kindred confessed what they had done, and in great grief brought her to the holy Bishop Fortunatus, who by daily prayers and fasting entirely restored her to health.
But since it has been said that exorcists must beware lest they make use of anything savouring of superstition or witchcraft, some exorcist may doubt whether it is lawful to use certain unconsecrated herbs and stones. In answer we say that it is so much the better if the herbs are consecrated; but that if they are not, then it is not superstitious to use a certain herb called Demonifuge, or even the natural properties of stones. But he must not think that he is casting out devils by the power of these; for then he would fall into the error of believing that he could use other herbs and incantations in the same way; and this is the error of necromancers, who think that they can perform this kind of work through the natural and unknown virtues of such objects.
Therefore S. Thomas says, Book IV. dist. 7, art. the last: It must not be any corporeal powers; and therefore they are not to be influenced by invocations or any acts of sorcery, except in so far as they have entered into a pact with a witch. Of this Esaias (xxviii) speaks: We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement. And he thus explains the passage in Job xli: Canst thou draw out Leviathan with an hook? and the following words. For he says: If one rightly considers all that has been said before, it will seem that it belongs to the heretical presumption of necromancers when anyone tries to make an agreement with devils, or to subject them in any way to his own will.
Having, then, shown that man cannot of his own power overcome the devil, he concludes by saying: Place your hand upon him; but understand that, if you have any power, it is yet by Divine virtue that he is overcome. And he adds: Remember the battle which I wage against him; that is to say, the present being put for the future, I shall fight against him on the Cross, where Leviathan will be taken with an hook, that is, by the divinity hidden under the bait of humanity, since he will think our Saviour to be only a man. And afterwards it says: There is no power on earth to be compared with him: by which it is meant that no bodily power can equal the power of the devil, which is a purely spiritual power. So says S. Thomas.
But a man possessed by a devil can indirectly be relieved by the power of music, as was Saul by David's harp, or of a herb, or of any other bodily matter in which there lies some natural virtue. Therefore such remedies may be used, as can be argued both from authority and by reason. For S. Thomas, XXVI. 7, says that stones and herbs may be used for the relief of a man possessed by a devil. And there are the words of S. Jerome.
And as for the passage in Tobias, where the Angel says: Touching the heart and the liver (which you took from the fish), if a devil or an evil spirit trouble any, we must make a smoke thereof before the man or the woman, and the party shall be no more vexed; S. Thomas says: We ought not to marvel at this, for the smoke of a certain tree when it is burned seems to have the same virtue, as if it has in it some spiritual sense, or power of spiritual prayer for the future.
Of the same opinion are Blessed Albert, in his commentary on S. Luke ix, and Nicolas of Lyra and Paul of Burgos, on I. Samuel xvi. The last-named homilist comes to this conclusion: that it must be allowed that those possessed by a devil can not only be relieved, but even entirely delivered by means of material things, understanding that in the latter case they are not very fiercely molested. And he proves this by reasoning as follows: Devils cannot alter corporeal matter just at their will, but only by bringing together complementary active and passive agents, as Nicolas says. In the same way some material object can cause in the human body a disposition which makes it susceptible to the operations of the devil. For example, according to physicians, mania very much predisposes a man to dementia, and consequently to demoniac obsession: therefore if, in such a case, the predisposing passive agent be remove, it will follow that the active affliction of the devil will be cured.
In this light we may consider the fish's liver; and the music of David, by which Saul was at first relieved and then entirely delivered of the evil spirit; for it says: And the evil spirit departed from him. But it is not consonant with the meaning of the Scripture to say that this was done by the merits or prayers of David; for the Scripture says nothing of any such matter, whereas it would have spoken notably in his praise if this had been so. This reasoning we take fro Paul of Burgos. There is also the reason which we gave in Question V of the First Part: that Saul was liberated because by the harp was prefigured the virtue of the Cross on which were stretched the Sacred Limbs of Christ's Body. And more is written there which may be considered together with the present inquiry. But we shall only conclude by saying that the use of material things in lawful exorcisms is not superstitious. And now it is expedient that we should speak about the exorcisms themselves.