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Are exorcisms considered, in the various Christian Professions, an effective remedy for possession?

I thought they were just a curiosity from the past, but here's what I found on Wikipedia:

Gabriele Amorth (born 1 May 1925) is an Italian Roman Catholic priest and an exorcist of the Diocese of Rome.

Are exorcisms actually supported, encouraged, and, well, considered official catechism by the various Christian religions?

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closed as too broad by Flimzy, curiousdannii, Lee Woofenden, Dan, Mr. Bultitude Apr 18 at 5:29

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I can relate several eyewitness accounts of exorcisms that were performed by our Vineyard church group when it went to England and Ireland to hold meetings with the churches there. So I do know that the Vineyard church accepted the idea of exorcism then, though not at all with the elaborate rituals of Catholicism. The dramatic change in body contortions and facial shapes made it obvious that the people were possessed and some released. Not sure this is the kind of answer you were seeking. – Steve Jun 18 '14 at 4:57
@Steve sort of, but it should be an answer, not a comment :-) – Sklivvz Jun 18 '14 at 10:31
It's in the comments because I wasn't sure it was the kind of answer you were seeking. – Steve Jun 18 '14 at 12:54
up vote 14 down vote accepted

This answer wants to be objective and won't give a plaidoyer pro or contra exorcism.

First some words about the biblical foundation of exorcism.


The idea of an evil power didn't actually play a role in ancient Israel because of the sole and universal power of JHWH – except for two pericopes:

  1. 1 Sam 16:14-23: Talks of the expulsion of a demonic power that tortures King Saul
  2. 1 Tob 8:1-9: Talks of a ritual expulsion of demons

The evil doesn't lay in any demonic power but rather in the weakness of man … until in the postexilic period a belief in demonic power develops (but still they don't have any dualistic principle which assumes an equivalent power beside God).

Biblical passages are:

  1. Ijob 1:6 – 2:7: Describes Satan as a man at the court of God
  2. Sach 3:1-7: Satan as an adversary and accuser of God
  3. 1 Chr 21,1: The Hebraic word for Satan evolves to a name which represents God's wrath but is not God himself
  4. Wis 2:24: Satan as the adversary of Israel

But nevertheless – the appearance of Satan in the OT is a marginal phenomenon.

Today's image of Satan as a spirit being of divine power is later developed in the non-biblical Jewish literature.


Things are different in the NT – e.g. in the Gospel of Mark: Here we find four exorcistic traditions:

  1. 1,23–27
  2. 5:1-20
  3. 7:24-30
  4. 9:14-27

They all say: Jesus had the ability to heal from illness and possession. Similar passages can also be found in the other synoptic Gospels (of Matthew and Luke).

From the three summaries in Mark's Gospel 1:34, 1:39 and 3:11 we know that Jesus did perform exorcism and gave this ability the twelve apostles.

Alright, enough Biblical evidence – what about exorcism today? What do say …

… Catholics?

Catholic authors (Dr. Holböck, Pater Rodewyk, J.M. Hartmann, Corrado Balducci, a Bishop of Trier (Franz Rudolf Bornewasser), Pope Benedict XVI.) emphasize that there are cases of real possession that cannot be explained by medical doctors and psychologists.

I quote Joseph Ratzinger:

The evil is not only a psychic component, it's rather an oncoming, independent power that accrues humans. [...] Where HE [God] is, appears he [the devil] as void.

Exorcism is still an official doctrine of the Catholic church.

And what do say …

… Protestants?

Luther developed – as part of his Christology – a massive idea of the devil.

But nevertheless an idea of exorcism is practically not present1 in the Protestant Church – there's also no ritual like the Catholic "Rituale Romanum".

There are even some who want to erase an idea of an evil demonic power saying it's superstition, like Rudolf Bultmann:2

The church shall hurry up to exterminate it [the idea of demons]

1: With some exceptions, e.g. Christoph Blumhardt
2: Rudolf Bultmann, ''Kerygma und Mythos'' (1948), p.150

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Thank you, very exhaustive. – Sklivvz Sep 10 '11 at 19:53

This answer may not be "objective", but it's a question about exorcism, it's hard to be objective. But I'm a protestant with "exorcism" training (now it's called "Freedom in Christ" to avoid association with pop culture).


Exorcisms are often not effective, here's why:

Jesus said if you cast out one demon and the person isn't then filled with the Spirit of God, 7 other demons will return to take it's place, Matthew 12:45. So a good "exorcist" won't exercise someone who isn't going to accept Christ shortly after the exorcism. And, although it's not impossible, demons don't take conversion attempts "lying down" (sometimes they do lie down, but normally kicking and screaming). That said, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and success exorcism result in converts.

Support in churches:

In my experience exorcism is supported in some charismatic protestant churches, but they don't often talk about it, because, let's face it, it scares the pants off most believers let alone heathens.

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In Catholicism, it is practised today. It isn't talked much about it, since it is criticised from scientists and medical doctors, which often are Christians themselves, but don't believe in exorcism. To avoid debate, it is a taboo.

And it is dangerous for those, performing the miracle, because if there is serious damage on the client side, it might result in a court case about nonassistance of a person in danger, bodily harm or involuntary manslaughter.

Here are some references:

Here is a 8 years old story from a German newspaper. It talks about a case from Milwaukee, where a protestant [to my surprise] priest accidentally killed a boy, suffering from autism, in kneeing and laying himself on top of the boy while praying. The boy died from suffocation.

Here is a case from the catholic church which shows, that Epilepsy might be for us, what former times thought to be possession. It is interesting, in that a higher, catholic official, Joseph Kardinal Höffner, chairman of the Deutschen Bischofskonferenz in 1978 stated, that daemons are in principal somehing, which his church thinks, are true. They are a sort of angels, build by God, who created them, but some of them turned bad, and then may join humans.

The German version of Wikipedia is more detailed in that respect, so give it a try, if you can read it.

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Eeeeeeek; the Milwaukee story enrages me and saddens me. Very much. The only thing I can say on that is that sadly the secular world can be just as stupid (with restraint/rebirth/etc snake oil). – Marc Gravell Sep 10 '11 at 23:04
@user it also wouldn't amaze me if autism also fell under the vague heading of "possession" (perhaps just as much as epilepsy); it has also, of course, been horribly badly diagnosed medically in the recent past; "childhood schizophrenia", "frigid mothers", etc – Marc Gravell Sep 10 '11 at 23:07
Well - that could lead to a lengthy discussion, how mental illness is the product of a defining process of the society. I don't believe in an objective definition of health in the context of brain, consciousness and identity. I can recommend Michel Foucault, Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique – Folie et déraison, 1961 and Norbert Elias, Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation, Basel, 1939. – user unknown Sep 11 '11 at 0:24
I don't think the topic is avoided because it's taboo so much as because the identity of diocesan exorcists is generally kept secret(for obvious reasons) and the Church is fairly adept at PR/keeping secrets. Making the topic more prominent doesn't help anybody and makes the Church look bad because secrets=evil in the mind of the modern polis. – the dark wanderer Jan 1 '15 at 4:44

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