It has already been stated that
witches can afflict men with every kind of physical infirmity;
therefore it can be taken as a general rule that the various verbal
or practical remedies which can be applied in the case of those
infirmities which we have just been discussing are equally applicable
to all other infirmities, such as epilepsy or leprosy, for example.
And as lawful exorcisms are reckoned among the verbal remedies and
have been most often considered by us, they may be taken as a general
type of such remedies; and there are three matters to be considered
First, we must judge whether a person who has not been ordained as an exorcist, such as a layman or a secular cleric, may lawfully exorcise devils and their works. Bound up with this question are three others: namely; first, what constitutes the legality of this practice; secondly, the seven conditions which must be observed when one wishes to make private use of charms and benedictions; and thirdly, in what way the disease is to be exorcised and the devil conjured.
Secondly, we must consider what is to be done when no healing grace results from the exorcism.
Thirdly, we must consider practical and not verbal remedies; together with the solution of certain arguments.
For the first, we have the opinion of S. Thomas in Book IV, dist. 23. He says: When a man is ordained as an exorcist, or into any of the other minor Orders, he has conferred upon him the power of exorcism in his official capacity; and this power may even lawfully be used by those who belong to no Order, but such do not exercise it in their official capacity. Similarly the Mass can be said in an unconsecrated house, although the very purpose of consecrating a church is that the Mass may be said there; but this is more on account of the grace which is in the righteous than of the grace of the Sacrament.
From these words we may conclude that, although it is good that in the liberation of a bewitched person recourse should be had to an exorcist having authority to exorcise such bewitchments, yet at times other devout persons may, either with or without any exorcism, cast out this sort of diseases.
For we hear of a certain poor and very devout virgin, one of whose friends has been grievously bewitched in his foot, so that it was clear to the physicians that he could be cured by no medicines. But it happened that the virgin went to visit the sick man, and he at once begged her to apply some benediction to his foot. She consented, and did no more than silently say the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, at the same time making use of the sign of the life-giving Cross. The sick man then felt himself at once cured, and, that he might have a remedy for the future, asked the virgin what charms she had used. But she answered: You are of little faith and do not hold to the holy and lawful practices of the Church, and you often apply forbidden charms and remedies for your infirmities; therefore you are rarely healthy in your body, because you are always sick in your soul. But if you would put your trust in prayer and in the efficacy of lawful symbols, you will often be very easily cured. For I did nothing but repeat the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, and you are now cured.
This example gives rise to the question, whether there is not any efficacy in other benedictions and charms, and even conjurations by way of exorcism; for they seem to be condemned in this story. We answer that the virgin condemned only unlawful charms and unlawful conjurations and exorcisms.
To understand these last we must consider how they originated, and how they came to be abused. For they were in their origin entirely sacred; but just as by the means of devils and wicked men all things can be defiled, so also were these sacred words. For it is said in the last chapter of S. Mark, of the Apostles and holy men: In My Name shall they cast out devils; and they visited the sick, and prayed over them with sacred words; and in after times priests devoutly used similar rites; and therefore there are to be found to-day in ancient Churches devout prayers and holy exorcisms which men can use or undergo, when they are applied by pious men as they used to be, without any superstition; even as there are now to be found learned men and Doctors of holy Theology who visit the sick and use such words for the healing not only of demoniacs, but of other diseases as well.
But, alas! superstitious men have, on the pattern of these, found for themselves many vain and unlawful remedies which they employ these days for sick men and animals; and the clergy have become too slothful to use any more the lawful words when they visit the sick. On this account Gulielmus Durandus, the commentator on S. Raymond, says that such lawful exorcisms may be used by a religious and discreet priest, or by a layman, or even by a woman of good life and proved discretion; by the offering of lawful prayers over the sick: not over fruits or animals, but over the sick. For the Gospel says: They shall place their hands upon the sick, etc. And such persons are not to be prevented from practising in this way; unless perhaps it is feared that, following their example, other indiscreet and superstitious persons should make improper use of incantations. It is these superstitious diviners whom that virgin we have mentioned condemned, when she said that they who consulted with such had weak, that is to say bad, faith.
Now for the elucidation of this matter it is asked how it is possible to know whether the words of such charms and benedictions are lawful or superstitious, and how they ought to be used; and whether the devil can be conjured and diseases exorcised.
In the first place, that is said to be lawful in the Christian religion which is not superstitious; and that is said to be superstitious which is over and above the prescribed form of religion. See Colossians ii: which things indeed have a show of wisdom in superstition: on which the gloss says: Superstition is undisciplined religion, that is, religion observed with defective methods in evil circumstance.
Anything, also, is superstition which human tradition without higher authority has caused to usurp the name of religion; such is the interpolation of hymns at Holy Mass, the alteration of the Preface for Requiems, the abbreviation of the Creed which it to be sung at Mass, the reliance upon an organ rather than upon the choir for the music, neglect to have a Server on the Altar, and such practices. But to return to our point, when a work is done by virtue of the Christian religion, as when someone wishes to heal the sick by means of prayer and benediction and sacred words, which is the matter we are considering), such a person must observe seven conditions by which such benedictions are rendered lawful. And even if he uses adjurations, through the virtue of the Divine Name, and by the virtue of the works of Christ, His Birth, Passion and Precious Death, by which the devil was conquered and cast out; such benedictions and charms and exorcisms shall be called lawful, and they who practise them are exorcists or lawful enchanters. See S. Isidore, Etym. VIII, Enchanters are they whose art and skill lies in the use of words.
And the first of these conditions, as we learn from S. Thomas, is that there must be nothing in the words which hints at any expressed or tacit invocation of devils. If such were expressed, it would be obviously unlawful. If it were tacit, it might be considered in the light of intention, or in that of fact: in that of intention, when the operator has no care whether it is God or the devil who is helping him, so long as he attains his desired result; in that of fact, when a person has no natural aptitude for such work, but creates some artificial means. And of such not only must physicians and astronomers be the judges, but especially Theologians. For in this way do necromancers work, making images and rings and stones by artificial means; which have no natural virtue to effect the results which they very often expect: therefore the devil must be concerned in their works.
Secondly, the benedictions or charms must contain no unknown names; for according to S. John Chrysostom such are to be regarded with fear, lest they should conceal some matter of superstition.
Thirdly, there must be nothing in the words that is untrue; for if there is, the effect of them cannot be from God, Who is not a witness to a lie. But some old women in their incantations use some such jingling doggerel as the following:
Blessed MARY went a-walking
Over Jordan river.
Stephen met her, and fell a-talking, etc.
Fourthly, there must be no vanities,
or written characters beyond the sign of the Cross. Therefore the
charms which soldiers are wont to carry are condemned.
Fifthly, no faith must be placed in the method of writing or reading or binding the charm about a person, or in any such vanity, which has nothing to do with the reverence of God, without which a charm is altogether superstitious.
Sixthly, in the citing and uttering of Divine words and of Holy Scripture attention must only be paid to the sacred words themselves and their meaning, and to the reverence of God; whether the effect be looked for from the Divine virtue, or from the relics of Saints, which are a secondary power, since their virtue springs originally from God.
Seventhly, the looked-for effect must be left tot he Divine Will; for He knows whether it is best for a man to be healed or to be plagued, or to die. This condition was set down by S. Thomas.
So we may conclude that if none of these conditions be broken, the incantation will be lawful. And S. Thomas writes in this connexion on the last chapter of S. Mark: And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall take up serpents. From this it is clear that, provided the above conditions are observed, it is lawful by means of sacred words to keep serpents away.
S. Thomas says further: The words of God are not less holy than the Relics of the Saints. As S. Augustine says: The word of God is not less than the Body of Christ. But all are agreed that it is lawful to carry reverently about the person the Relics of the Saints: therefore let us by all means invoke the name of God by duly using the Lord's Prayer and the Angelic Salutation, by His Birth and Passion, by His Five Wounds, and by the Seven Words which He spoke on the Cross, by the Triumphant Inscription, by the three nails, and by the other weapons of Christ's army against the devil and his works. By all these means it is lawful to work, and our trust may be placed in them, leaving the issue to God's will.
And what has been said about the keeping off of serpents applies also to other animals, provided that the attention is fixed only on the sacred words and the Divine virtue. But great care is to be used in incantations of this nature. For S. Thomas says: Such diviners often use unlawful observances, and obtain magic effects by means of devils, especially in the case of serpents; for the serpent was the devil's first instrument by which he deceived mankind.
For in the town of Salzburg there was a certain mage who one day, in open view of all, wanted to charm all the snakes into a particular pit, and kill them all within an area of a mile. So he gathered all the snakes together, and was himself standing over the pit, when last of all there came a huge and horrible serpent which would not go into the pit. This serpent kept making signs to the man to let it go away and crawl where it would; but he would not cease from his incantation, but insisted that, as all the other snakes had entered the pit and there died, so also must this horrible serpent. But it stood on the opposite side to the warlock, and suddenly leapt over the pit and fell upon the man, wrapping itself round his belly, and dragged him with itself into the pit, where they both died. From this it may be seen that only for a useful purpose, such as driving them away from men's houses, are such incantations to be practised, and they are to be done by the Divine virtue, and in the fear of God, and with reverence.
In the second place we have to consider how exorcisms or charms of this kind ought to be used, and whether they should be worn round the neck or sewn into the clothing. It may seem that such practices are unlawful; for S. Augustine says, in the Second Book on the Christian Doctrine: There are a thousand magic devices and amulets and charms which are all superstitious, and the School of Medicine utterly condemns them all, whether they are incantations, or certain marks which are called characters, or engraved charms to be hung round the neck.
Also S. John Chrysostom, commenting on S. Matthew, says: Some persons wear round their neck some written portion of the Gospel; but is not the Gospel every day read in the church and heard by all? How then shall a man be helped by wearing the Gospel round his neck, when he has reaped no benefit from hearing it with his ears? For in what does the virtue of the Gospel consist; in the characters of its letters, or in the meaning of its words? If in the characters, you do well to hang it round your neck; but if in the meaning, surely it is of more benefit when planted in the heart than when worn round the neck.