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Pretty much everyone has watched at least one horror movie where an exorcism was carried out. Notable examples are The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, to name a few. Yet, these movies only illustrate the Catholic way of carrying out an exorcism. What about the other denominations? What is an overview of how different Christian denominations deal with the topic of demon possession and deliverance?

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  • Even within Catholicism, there have been ways (manners) of liberating the possessed from the demon in more ways than simply using the ritual. The saints of God have had extraordinary ways of dealing with this matter over the centuries – Ken Graham Feb 22 at 23:11
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What is an overview of how different Christian denominations deal with demon possessions?

Many of us have watched the movie The Exorcist which is loosely based on a true American case of possession of an American teenage boy of 14 years old from Missouri in 1949 and who was given the pseudonym Roland Doe in order to protect his identity. The movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the German movie Requiem are loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel.

But where to start?

Let us go above and beyond the question and start with Jewish exorcisms.

There is no instance in the Old Testament of demons being expelled by men. In Tobias 8:3, is the angel who "took the devil and bound him in the desert of upper Egypt"; and the instruction previously given to young Tobias (6:18-19), to roast the fish's heart in the bridal chamber, would seem to have been merely part of the angel's plan for concealing his own identity. But in extra-canonical Jewish literature there are incantations for exorcising demons, examples of which may be seen in Talmud (Schabbath, xiv, 3; Aboda Zara, xii, 2; Sanhedrin, x, 1). These were sometimes inscribed on the interior surface of earthen bowls, a collection of which (estimated to be from the seventh century A.D) is preserved in the Royal Museum in Berlin; and inscriptions from the collection have been published, translated by Wohlstein in the "Zeitschrift für Assyriologie" (December, 1893; April, 1894).

The chief characteristics of these Jewish exorcisms is their naming of names believed to be efficacious, i.e., names of good angels, which are used either alone or in combination with El (=God); indeed reliance on mere names had long before become a superstition with the Jews, and it was considered most important that the appropriate names, which varied for different times and occasions, should be used. Exorcism (Catholicism Encyclopedia)

In Sacred Scriptures, we see Jesus performing exorcisms as part of his Messiahship.

Assuming the reality of demoniac possession, for which the authority of Christ is pledged, it is to be observed that Jesus appealed to His power over demons as one of the recognised signs of Messiahship (Matthew 12:23, 28; Luke 11:20). He cast out demons, He declared, by the finger or spirit of God, not, as His adversaries alleged, by collusion with the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 19); and that He exercised no mere delegated power, but a personal authority that was properly His own, is clear from the direct and imperative way in which He commands the demon to depart (Mark 9:24; cf. 1:25 etc.): "He cast out the spirits with his word, and he healed all that were sick" (Matthew 8:16). Sometimes, as with the daughter of the Canaanean woman, the exorcism took place from a distance (Matthew 15:22 sqq.; Mark 7:25). Sometimes again the spirits expelled were allowed to express their recognition of Jesus as "the Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24) and to complain that He had come to torment them "before the time", i.e the time of their punishment (Matthew 8:29 sqq; Luke 8:28 sqq.). If demoniac possession was generally accompanied by some disease, yet the two were not confounded by Christ, or the Evangelists. In Luke 13:32, for example, the Master Himself expressly distinguishes between the expulsion of evil spirits and the curing of disease.

Christ also empowered the Apostles and Disciples to cast out demons in His name while He Himself was still on earth (Matthew 10:1 and 8; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1; 10:17), and to believers generally He promised the same power (Mark 16:17). But the efficacy of this delegated power was conditional, as we see from the fact that the Apostles themselves were not always successful in their exorcisms: certain kinds of spirits, as Christ explained, could only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:15, 20; Mark 9:27-28; Luke 9:40). In other words the success of exorcism by Christians, in Christ's name, is subject to the same general conditions on which both the efficacy of prayer and the use of charismatic power depend. Yet conspicuous success was promised (Mark 16:17). St. Paul (Acts 16:18; 19:12), and, no doubt, the other Apostles and Disciples, made use of regularly, as occasion arose, of their exorcising power, and the Church has continued to do so uninterruptedly to the present day. - Exorcism (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

In the Early Church exorcisms were not so formula regulated as in some Christian denominations nowadays.

We have it on the authority of all early writers who refer to the subject at all that in the first centuries not only the clergy, but lay Christians also were able by the power of Christ to deliver demoniacs or energumens, and their success was appealed to by the early Apologists as a strong argument for the Divinity of the Christian religion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 6; Dialogue with Trypho 30 and 85; Minutius Felix, Octavius 27; Origen, Against Celsus I.25; VII.4; VII.67; Tertullian, Apology 22, 23; etc.). As is clear from testimonies referred to, no magical or superstitious means were employed, but in those early centuries, as in later times, a simple and authoritative adjuration addressed to the demon in the name of God, and more especially in the name of Christ crucified, was the usual form of exorcism.

But sometimes in addition to words some symbolic action was employed, such as breathing (insufflatio), or laying of hands on the subject, or making the sign of cross. St. Justin speaks of demons flying from "the touch and breathing of Christians" (Second Apology 6) as from a flame that burns them, adds St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures 20.3). Origen mentions the laying of hands, and St. Ambrose (Paulinus, Vit. Ambr., n. 28, 43, P.L, XIV, 36, 42), St. Ephraem Syrus (Gregory of Nyssa, De Vit. Ephr., P.G., XLVI, 848) and others used this ceremony in exorcising. The sign of the cross, that briefest and simplest way of expressing one's faith in the Crucified and invoking His Divine power, is extolled by many Fathers for its efficacy against all kinds of demoniac molestation (Lactantius, Divine Institutes IV.27; Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 47; Basil, In Isai., XI, 249, P.G., XXX, 557, Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 13.3; Gregory Nazianzen, Carm. Adv. iram, v, 415 sq.; P.G., XXXVII, 842). The Fathers further recommend that the adjuration and accompanying prayers should be couched in the words of Holy Writ (Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis 9; Athanasius, Ad Marcell., n. 33, P.G., XXVII, 45). The present rite of exorcism as given in the Roman Ritual fully agrees with patristic teaching and is a proof of the continuity of Catholic tradition in this matter. - Exorcism (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

The practice of exorcism was not confined to clerics in the early ages, as is clear from Tertullian (Apology 23; cf. On Idolatry 11) and Origen (Against Celsus VII.4). The latter expressly states that even the simplest and rudest of the faithful sometimes cast out demons, by a mere prayer or adjuration (Mark 15:17), and urges the fact as a proof of the power of Christ's grace, and the inability of demons to resist it. In the Eastern Church, a specially ordained order of exorcists (or of acolytes, or door-keepers) has never been established but in the Western Church, these three minor orders with that of lectors as a fourth) were instituted shortly before the middle of the third century. Pope Cornelius (261-252) mentions in his letter to Fabius that there were then in the Roman Church forty-two acolytes, and fifty-two exorcists, readers, and door-keepers (Eusebius, Church History VI.43), and the institution of these orders, and the organization of their functions, seems to have been the work of Cornelius's predecessor, Pope Fabian (236-251). Exorcist (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

Catholic exorcisms within the Church in modern days generally use the Rite of Exorcisms, which most are aware of. Once and awhile Holy individuals will have an inspiration that will have the same intended outcome.

For example, here is a story about Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo

His goodness made even Hell tremble. As demons subdued to Jesus and publicly declared that He was the Son of God; as Father Pio from Pietralcina in his fight against Satan succeeded in defeating the devil with the wounds of Christ; also Don Dolindo in the Name of Jesus, when doing exorcisms, thrust out demons who cursed him, from the bodies of the possessed.

Demons are known to obey only those who work by the hand of God.

One day when a very resistant demon made fun of Father Dolindo, refusing to leave the man he possessed, Father Dolindo grasped a rope and began to flagellate himself and his penitence and suffering as consequence inflicted such a suffering on the demon to force him to abandon his victim, leaving him finally free.

St. Francis de Sales had a unique perspective on exorcisms to say the least!

In the life of St. Francis de Sales we read that the saint exorcised heretics before preaching to them, because he said all heretics are to some extent dominated by the devil, who is after all the Father of Lies. The saint’s way of acting was most successful. Seventy-two thousand heretics were converted.

“Francis already knew the country through which he was to pass. For while he was at school in the college at Annecy, M. de Boisy had been obliged to leave the chateau of Sales and to stay for some time at Brens in Chablais. Consequently, during the holidays at this period, Francis had become acquainted with the neighborhood, and his knowledge now served him in good stead.

“As soon as the travellers had crossed the stream of the Chandouze, which, separating the commune of Juvigny from that of St. Cergues, formed in those days the boundary of Chablais, they made a halt for the purpose of prayer. They first of all saluted the angel guardian of the province; then, turning their thoughts to the God of all, they begged him to drive forth from the land the evil spirits which held the inhabitants chained in heresy, and to bless with success the work to which his servants were about to devote themselves.

“Charles Auguste tells us that the Provost and his companions made a custom of reciting within themselves a similar exorcism every time that they were called upon to dispute with the Calvinists, and especially in the case of the ministers; for Francis used to say that all heretics, but especially those who preach and instruct, are possessed or obsessed by the devil, and that for this reason it is a good thing to exorcise them before proceeding to a disputation.”! -"A Notebook on the Devil and Exorcism"

Deliverance ministries are practiced by some denominations like in Anglicanism (Church of England) and even Fr. Gabriele Amorth acknowledges the effectiveness of these types of exorcisms in certain occasions.

In Christianity, deliverance ministry refers to groups that perform practices and rituals to cleanse people of demons and evil spirits. This is done in order to address problems manifesting in their life as a result of demonic presences, which have authority to oppress the person. Believers attribute people's physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional problems to the activities of these evil spirits in their lives. Deliverance rituals are meant to cast out evil spirits, helping people overcome negative behaviors, feelings, and experiences. Each individual event is different, but many include some or all of these major steps: diagnosis, naming the demon, expulsion, and some form of action taken by the exorcised person after their exorcism to keep the demon from returning. Exorcisms may be performed by individuals or by churches or ministries; in casting out spirits, adherents believe they are following the example of Jesus Christ and his disciples given in the New Testament. The doctrines and practices of these ministries are not accepted by all Christians.

Expulsion

The method used to expel demonic presences varies. Some adherents recite Biblical stories about casting out demons, or pray; many also invoke "the blood of Jesus," a reference to Jesus suffering for people's sins and intervening with God on behalf of humanity. In this context, invoking the blood of Jesus is a call for Jesus to intervene specifically on behalf of the possessed individual. The person performing the deliverance might touch the possessed person, or anoint them with oil or water. People may also perform rituals over objects that contain evil spirits, destroy them by breaking or burning them, then remove them from the home. If a place has evil spirits because of sins that were committed there in the past, people may repent on behalf of those who committed the sins as part of the process of casting out the evil spirits. All of these actions are meant to force a demon to leave an afflicted person, place, or thing. The demon may resist the expulsion using the body of the possessed person, and may speak, scream, cry, laugh, vomit, or lash out physically. For this reason, exorcism or deliverance rituals can be loud, dramatic, highly emotional experiences for those involved. Once the demon is gone, people often describe feeling as though weight or darkness has left them. - Deliverance ministry (Wikipedia)

Baptists, like Albert Mohler, the ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, states that Baptists, among other evangelical Christians, do:

believe in the existence, malevolence, and power of the Devil and demons. About these things, the New Testament is abundantly clear. We must resist any effort to 'demythologize' the New Testament in order to deny the existence of these evil forces and beings. At the same time, we must recognize quickly that the Devil and demons are not accorded the powers often ascribed to them in popular piety. The Devil is indeed a threat, as Peter made clear when he warned: 'Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.' [1 Peter 5:8] The New Testament is also clear that very real cases of demonic possession were encountered by Jesus and his followers. Jesus liberated afflicted individuals as he commanded the demons to flee, and they obeyed him. Likewise, the Apostle Paul performed exorcisms as he confronted the powers of evil and darkness in his ministry. A closer look at the crucial passages involved reveals no rite of exorcism, however, just the name of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel. Likewise, there is no notion of a priestly ministry of ordained exorcists in the New Testament. - Mohler, Albert (15 November 2010). "On Exorcism and Exorcists: An Evangelical View". Southern Baptist Convention.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, demonic activity is inextricably associated with disease and blight. As a result, exorcisms are quite common, even finding their way in rituals involving the blessing of fields. The exorcism ritual, found in the Euchologion, is that of St. Basil the Great. The baptism liturgy in Eastern Orthodoxy also contains an exorcism ritual.

Lutheranism

The Lutheran Church traces the practice of exorcism to the Scriptural claim that Jesus Christ expelled demons with a simple command (Mark 1:23–26; 9:14–29; Luke 11:14–26). The apostles continued the practice with the power and in the name of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; Acts 19:11–16). Contrary to some denominations of Christianity, Lutheranism affirms that the individual, both the believer and the non-believer, can be plagued by demons, based on several arguments, including the one that "just as a believer, whom Jesus Christ has delivered from sin (Romans 6:18), can still be bound by sin in his life, so he can still be bound by a demon in his life."

After the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther abbreviated the Roman ritual used for exorcism. In 1526, the ritual was further abbreviated and the exsufflation was omitted. This form of the Lutheran Ritual for Exorcism was incorporated into the majority of the Lutheran service-books and implemented. According to a Pastoral Handbook of the Lutheran Church,

In general, satanic possession is nothing other than an action of the devil by which, from God's permission, men are urged to sin, and he occupies their bodies, in order that they might lose eternal salvation. Thus bodily possession is an action by which the devil, from divine permission, possesses both pious and impious men in such a way that he inhabits their bodies not only according to activity, but also according to essence, and torments them, either for the punishment or for the discipline and testing of men, and for the glory of divine justice, mercy, power, and wisdom.

The Pastoral Handbook then states:

  • Let ardent prayers be poured forth to God, not only by the ministers of the Church, but also by the whole Church. Let these prayers be conditioned, if the liberation should happen for God's glory and the salvation of the possessed person, for this is an evil of the body.
  • With the prayers let fasting be joined, see Matthew 17:21.
  • Alms by friends of the possessed person, Tobit 12:8-9.
  • Let the confession of the Christian faith be once required of Him, let him be taught concerning the works of the devil destroyed by Christ, let him be sent back faithfully to this Destroyer of Satan, Jesus Christ, let an exhortation be set up to faith in Christ, to prayers, to penitence.

An interesting note: The “favourite non-Catholic exorcist” of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio ((now Pope Francis) was reportedly to be a Lutheran pastor in Argentina. When the Pope was a cardinal in Argentina, his home country, he would call on Pastor Manuel Acuña of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Buenos Aires to do exorcisms when the local bishops would not give permission for the Catholic rite. See:The Lutheran Approach to Exorcism

Martin Luther throwing an inkwell at the devil, at Wartburg Castle

Martin Luther throwing an inkwell at the devil, at Wartburg Castle

Pentecostalism

In the Pentecostal Church, Charismatic Movement, and other the less formalized sections of Christianity, the exorcism ritual can take many forms and belief structures. The most common of these is the deliverance ceremony. Deliverance differs from the exorcism ceremony in that the Devil may have gotten a foothold into a person's life rather than gaining complete control . If complete control has been gained, a full-fledged exorcism is necessary. However, a "spirit-filled Christian" cannot be possessed, based on their beliefs. Within this belief structure, the reasons for the devil to get a foothold are usually explained to be some sort of deviation from theological doctrine or because of pre-conversion activities (like dealing with the occult).

The traditional method for determining if a person needs a deliverance is done by having someone present who has the gift of discerning of spirits. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit from 1 Corinthians 12 that allows a person to "sense" in some way an evil presence. While the initial diagnosis is usually uncontested by the congregation, when many people are endowed with this gift in a single congregation, results may vary.

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