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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14

Exorcism (Casting out Demons)



Casting out demons

Exorcism in Christianity practice of casting out demons, even Satan, from a person they are believed to have strongly influenced or physically possessed. According to the Bible, demons are fallen angels that have been cast out of heaven to the earth (e.g. Isaiah 14:12), and whose judgment is eternal torment (e.g. 2 Peter 2:4). While demons have been sentenced, their punishment won't be carried out until the end times (e.g. Matt. 25:41). Presently, demons oppose God and believers in subtle, and occasionally in extreme ways like possession, according to orthodox Christian theology.

Exorcism is a debated topic even among devout Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox believers. On one end of the spectrum, some believe that exorcism should be a regular practice of Christian ministry. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that the term "demons" as used in the Bible is nothing more that an outdated way of trying to understand physical or psychological abnormalities.

Yet there are many Christians who hold to a view between these two understandings, believing that demons exist and obstruct God and his people, but don't think possession is often responsible for life's difficulties. Keep reading to learn about exorcists.


What is an exorcist?

An exorcist is a Christian authority figure, frequently a Catholic priest, who has been identified as having unique spiritual gifts, which enable him to successfully perform exorcisms. The Roman Catholic Church has established an ecclesiastical position for exorcists, yet there are Christian ministers, who are neither Catholic nor priests, who perform exorcisms as well. Exorcists may also receive training through seminary or mentorship programs.

Christian ministers who perform exorcisms are often given guidelines for discerning when an exorcism is the best course of action. Their assessment often involves an examination and interview of the allegedly afflicted person. If it is determined the hardship is psychological or physical in nature, exorcism is bypassed in favor of other treatment. Christian leaders who consider demonic possession as a realistic prognosis, and exorcism as a realistic remedy, don't ignore psychological or physiological explanations. Yet if it is discerned that the best explanation for the matter is demonic influence, an exorcism is planned.

What happens at an exorcism?

Formal exorcists often receive extensive training and teaching as well as oversight from an experienced minister. An exorcists training involves significant amounts of communication, as in what prayers to say and when (i.e. speaking to God), what words to say directly to the afflicted person, and in some cases, what to say to the demon(s). Some exorcists incorporate crucifixes (i.e. small figurines of Christ on the cross) and other Christian symbols, as well as readings from the Bible.

Nearly all exorcists evoke the name of the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ. Some outside the Protestant Christian tradition also evoke the names of various saints. Less common are those exorcists who evoke the name of angels to help in an exorcism. Rituals vary depending on the exorcist and the person believed to be possessed. Exorcisms may be considered successful after one session; other exorcisms take countless sessions, sometimes spanning years before they are considered successful. (Learn more about the reverence of saints here and prayer here.)

What is believed about the influenced or possessed?

There is significant debate in Christian theology concerning the extent to which a Christian can be influenced or possessed by an evil spirit. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells believers, who some understand to create a barrier within the believer that demons cannot penetrate to the degree of "possession." Others Christians suggest that through behavior such as habitual sin or occult activity, demons may possess a believer.

(Learn about exorcists like Malachi Martin here and Gabriele Amorth.)

Exorcism in other non-Christian religions

The idea of expelling evil spirits from a person is found in most major world religions. Hinduism refers to using mantras for exorcism. In Islam exorcisms are the means by which people are healed from the damage evil spirits have done. Judaism also includes the practice of exorcism. Christianity’s teaching about exorcism is the most comprehensive and systematic treatment of exorcism among the world’s major religions.

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Bibliography

Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin

Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, by M. Scott Peck

3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare (Three Crucial Questions) by Clint Arnold