Category Archives: Hell

Once saved, better stay saved


-the right panel of a diptych “The Crucifixion, The Last Judgment, by Jan van Eyck, 1440-41, Northern Renaissance painting, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, 11 x 32.5 cm, 4.3 x 12.8 inches 


-by Karlo Broussard

“No, seriously, you could go to Hell. Some Christians think the possibility of going to hell is solely for unbelievers. They don’t believe that a true born-again Christian can lose his salvation, hence the common phrase once saved, always saved.

But for other Christians, hell is a stark reality to contend with, even for justified Christians, since they believe that a Christian can lose the gift of salvation initially received. There are several Scripture passages they commonly turn to for support—e.g., Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26-31 and John 15:2-3. Each of these passages warns Christians about removing themselves from the source of salvation—namely, Jesus—which implies the possibility of damnation even for Christians. So it’s more like once saved, better stay saved.

There’s a way to rebut these biblical passages, but we’ll have to see how good it is. To get a good look at it, we can check Protestant theologian Michael Norton in his chapter of the book Four Views on Eternal Security.

Basically, the argument goes, scriptural warnings about falling away from the Faith refer to those Christians who trust only in their baptism rather than in what baptism signifies: faith in Christ. Such Christians, it’s argued, are satisfied with having merely an external relation with Christ. As Norton puts it, these are Christians “in the covenant [via baptism] but not personally united by living faith to Jesus Christ.” Such Christians would be akin to those Jews who trusted in their natural descent from Abraham as grounds for their membership in the New Covenant but were cut off (Rom. 11:19-22).

Note that the interpretive principle here entails that someone can be in the covenant via baptism, and thus a member of the covenant community, but at the same time not be regenerate, or saved, or justified. Now, there seem to be only two ways that this could be true.

Either . . .

A) A believer was initially regenerated through baptism, became a visible member of the covenant community, and then lost that saving grace,

. . . or . . .

B) A believer became a visible member of the covenant community through baptism but was never regenerated in the first place, which implies that baptism doesn’t make someone regenerate, or, as Norton puts it, “united by living faith to Jesus Christ.”

Of course it can’t be A, because then everyone agrees, and there’s no argument. So it has to be B—but B is not true. Baptism does regenerate and unite a person to Christ by living faith.

Consider what Paul teaches in Romans 6:3-4:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Paul furthers spell out the effects of this union with Christ through baptism. In verses 6-7, he writes,

We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died [the baptismal death] is freed [Greek, dedikaiōtai] from sin.

What’s interesting about this passage, as pointed out in Catholic circles by apologist Jimmy Akin, is that the Greek doesn’t say “freed from sin.” The Greek word translated “freed” is dikaioō, which means “to put into a right relationship (with God); acquit, declare and treat as righteous.” This is the same word Paul uses when he speaks of our justification by faith: “Since we are justified [Greek, dikaiōthentes] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). So the phrase “freed from sin” in Romans 6:7 can literally be translated “justified from sin.”

Modern translations render it as “freed from sin” because the context is clearly about sanctification. In the verse before Paul speaks of baptismal death, he speaks of those in Christ as having “died to sin.” As quoted above, Paul speaks of those who have died the death of baptism as “no longer enslaved to sin.”

So, for Paul, justification can include sanctification, which is the interior renewal of the soul whereby the objective guilt of sin is removed. And that justification, or regeneration, takes place in baptism.

So the contention that baptism doesn’t make us “united by living faith to Jesus Christ” is false. It has to be. And if so, then we can reject the idea that “trusting in baptism” is somehow to be separated from “trusting in Christ,” and doing the former keeps you off the heavenly guest list.

There’s one more thing to bring up here. The “trusting in baptism” principle fails to account for the other Scripture passages that are often cited for the belief that regenerate believers can lose their salvation, like Galatians 5:4. The text reads,

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Notice that Paul says the Galatians were “severed from Christ” and that they had “fallen away from grace.” Both statements imply that the Galatians were saved, or regenerate, since to be in Christ and in grace is to be free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). If you’re trying to reject the Catholic position on losing salvation, you can’t say here that these Christians merely had an external relationship with Jesus by being members of the Christian community through their baptism. They were in Christ.

Why would Paul speak of the Galatians being in Christ if they didn’t have faith in him? It’s not as if Paul were talking about baptized infants or baptized people who can’t use reason. How can someone who doesn’t fall into these categories of baptized people be in Christ, and thus be not subject to condemnation, and not have faith? Isn’t faith necessary to be free from condemnation, at least for those who can exercise it? It is: “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6).

In the end, the interpretive principle embedded in the counter-response above introduces a novel theology that we shouldn’t accept as Christians: baptized adults united with Christ but without faith. Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6:3-4, 7, and 17-18, and his teaching that believers can be “severed from Christ” (Gal. 5:4), provide the reason why.

The possibility of hell is not a message just for unbelievers. It’s a message for Christians as well, and a sobering one at that. Let’s not forget it.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Can you lose your salvation? Jn 10:27-29


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“How can the Catholic Church teach that it’s possible for us to lose our salvation when Jesus says that his sheep always hear his voice and that no one can snatch us out of his hand?

Recall that the Catechism warns of “offending God’s love” and “incurring punishment” (2090). To fear incurring the punishment of hell implies that a person can’t have absolute assurance of his salvation. Protestants use 1 John 5:13 to challenge this belief. But there is another Bible passage that some Protestants [64] use to mount the challenge: John 10:27-29:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, Who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

If Jesus says that no one shall snatch Christians out of his and the Father’s hand, doesn’t it follow that we are eternally secure?

1. Jesus’ promise to protect his sheep is on the condition that his sheep remain in the flock. It doesn’t exclude the possibility that a sheep could wander off and thus lose the reward of eternal life.

The condition for being among Jesus’ sheep and being rewarded with eternal life is that we continue hearing Jesus’ voice and following him. Jesus teaches this motif of continued faithfulness a few chapters later with his vine and branch metaphor in John 15:4-6:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

Just as we the branches must remain in Christ the vine lest we perish, so, too, we the sheep must continue to listen to the voice of Jesus the shepherd lest we perish.

Even the verbs suggest continuous, ongoing action by the sheep and the shepherd, not a one-time event in the past [65]. Jesus doesn’t say, “My sheep heard my voice, and I knew them.” Instead, he says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” (v.27). His sheep are those who hear His voice in the present.

2. Jesus only says that no external power can snatch a sheep out of his hands. He doesn’t say that a sheep couldn’t exclude itself from His hands.

The passage says that no one shall snatch—take away by force—Christians out of the hands of Jesus and the Father. This doesn’t preclude the possibility that we can take ourselves out of Jesus’ protecting hands by our sin. A similar passage is Romans 8:35-39 where Paul lists a series of external things that can’t take us out of Christ’s loving embrace. But he never says that our own sin can’t separate us from Christ’s love.

Like Paul in Romans 8:35-39, Jesus is telling us in John 10:27-29 that no external power can snatch us out of his hands. But that doesn’t mean we can’t voluntarily leave his hands by committing a sin “unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). And if we were to die in that state of spiritual death without repentance, we would forfeit the gift that was promised to us: eternal life.

3. There is abundant evidence from Scripture that Christians do, in fact, fall from a saving relationship with Christ due to sin.

The Bible teaches that sheep do go astray. Consider, for example, Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep whom the shepherd goes to find (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7). Sure, the shepherd finds the sheep (Jesus never stops trying to get us back in His flock). But the point is that the sheep can wander away.

The same motif is found in Jesus’ parable about the wicked servant who thinks his master is delayed and beats the other servants and gets drunk (Matt. 24:45-51). Notice that the servant is a member of the master’s household. But because of his failure to be vigilant in preparing for his master’s return, he was found wanting and was kicked out with the hypocrites where “men will weep and gnash their teeth” (v.51). Similarly, Christians can be members of Christ’s flock and members of His household, but if we don’t persevere in fidelity to him we will lose our number among the elect. That Christians can fall out of Christ’s hands due to sin is evident in Paul’s harsh criticism of the Galatians:

Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:2,4).

If some of the Galatians were “severed from Christ” and “fallen from grace,” then they were first in Christ and in grace. They were counted among the flock, but they later went astray. Not because they were snatched but by their own volition.

Didn’t Jesus give a parable about a sheep wondering away from the flock? (Matt. 18:10-14).

Peter teaches that those who “have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”—that’s to say born-again Christians—can return back to their evil ways: “They are again entangled in them and overpowered” (2 Pet. 2:20). Peter identifies their return to defilement as being worse than their former state, saying, “The last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (vv.20-21). He adds salt to the wound by comparing their return to defilement to a dog returning to its vomit (v.22). Clearly, Peter didn’t believe in the doctrine of eternal security.”

Love & Truth,
Matthew

[64] See Waiss and McCarthy, Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical, 381; Norm Geisler, “A Moderate Calvinist View,” in Four Views on Eternal Security, ed. J Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 71.

[65] See Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981), 357.

Broussard, Karlo. Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs (p. 74-77). Catholic Answers Press. Kindle Edition.

The demonic is real


-Gustave Dore, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“One reason that we might find it hard to believe the New Testament is because we don’t know what to do with all that talk about the devil and the demonic. Jesus drives out demons throughout the Gospels. For instance, St. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, describing only thirteen healings, yet four of them (1:21-28, 5:1-20, 7:24-30, and 9:14-29) are exorcisms.

There are several reasons that we might struggle to believe in such accounts. Let’s briefly consider three possible objections before looking at how we might respond to them.

First, there’s the claim that belief in the devil is really an import from paganism. Elon Gilad argues in Haaretz that the Jewish belief in Satan derives from Zoroastrianism, which envisions the universe “as a battle ground between [two] opposing supreme gods[:] Ahura Mazda, the ‘wise lord,’ and Angra Mainyu, the ‘destructive spirit.’” Much of his argument is circular: for instance, he claims that the earliest biblical books don’t depict Satan but also argues that if a book does depict Satan, it must not be very old.

Gilad gets one thing right: there is an evil god of Zoroastrianism. That said, Angra Mainyu is said “to have existed ‘from the beginning’, independent of Ahura Mazda (i.e. he is coeval).” That’s not particularly similar to Satan, a creature created by God who then rebels. But still, Gilad is raising an important question: What should Christians make of the fact that many other religions do have a supreme evil figure?

Second, we might struggle with biblical accounts of possession and exorcism because such stories are common in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Lutheran theologian and New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann points out that we find similar accounts in non-biblical Jewish literature and in Greek literature, with authors like Philostratus and Lucian describing exorcisms. Bultmann argues that their common “stylistic characteristics” suggest that the New Testament description of exorcisms is really just “folk stories of miracles” that made their way into the Bible.

Third, there’s the idea that exorcisms are a belief of a pre-scientific age. The usual story goes something like this: back before we knew about disease or mental health, people believed that demons were responsible for physical and mental illness, but today we know better. Bultmann argues that “faith in spirits and demons” is “finished” by modern scientific knowledge.

“Likewise, illnesses and their cures have natural causes and do not depend on the work of demons and on exorcising them. Thus, the wonders of the New Testament are also finished as wonders; anyone who seeks to salvage their historicity by recourse to nervous disorders, hypnotic influences, suggestion, and the like only confirms this. Even occultism pretends to be a science. We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”

Bultmann’s argument calls Jesus’ ministry into serious question, since it suggests that (1) Jesus falsely believed in demons because he was ignorant of things like disease or mental illness, (2) Jesus knew about disease and mental illness but encouraged the crowds in falsely associating these things with demons, or (3) the evangelists simply made up these healing stories. How could an all-knowing and good Jesus act as if demonic possession were a real thing if it isn’t?

In short, because demons, possession, and exorcism are all real things. As C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, modern readers balk at this kind of talk: “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’” Simply put, neither modern science nor Rudolph Bultmann has actually disproven the ideas of possession and exorcism.

What all three of the above objections get wrong is that they’re too narrow. It’s true that Zoroastrians believed in a powerful evil spirit that was sort of like the devil. But so do cultures on every inhabited continent. Are we to conclude that the Israelites took this idea from all of them, too, or that they all took it from Zoroastrianism? Likewise, it’s true that possession and exorcism stories are found throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. But the same goes for cultures across the world, in both the ancient and the modern world, including places that have never been Christian. As Craig Keener explains in “Spirit Possession as a Cross-cultural Experience”:

“Possession experience is not limited to either the [New Testament] or the ancient eastern Mediterranean world. One specialist, Erika Bourguignon, has observed that spirit-possession beliefs are geographically and culturally pervasive, “as any reader of ethnographies knows.” After sampling 488 societies, she found spirit-possession beliefs in 74% of them (that is, 360 societies), with particularly high ranges in the islands of the Pacific (88%) and 77% around the Mediterranean. . . .

Transcultural elements in fact include a biological element that cannot be reduced to (though may be patterned according to) cultural models. Studies reveal “an altered neurophysiology” during many possession states. While some anthropologists note that neurophysiological studies cannot resolve whether supernatural factors might supplement natural ones, it is clear that neurophysiological changes, including hyperarousal, do occur.”

It’s worth stressing that these are cultures in which possession cases are still happening. Rather than electric lights and radios and modern medicine disproving these events, modern science reveals that something is happening on a neurological level, and it’s happening across cultures and continents, including in plenty of places that don’t believe in the Bible.

This is exactly what you should expect to see if Christianity is right about the devil and his demons. Think about it this way. The Christian claim is that there are powerful spiritual beings who do harm to human beings. If we didn’t find evidence of such beings in any other culture, that would point to this being a Christian invention. The fact that we do find evidence of such beings, throughout history and today, in places that have little or nothing to do with Christianity, is evidence of the truth of the Christian teaching.

That doesn’t automatically mean that each of these possession cases is authentic. Some of the cases of alleged possession are surely misdiagnosed cases of mental illness, after all. But the fact that some cases are misdiagnosed mental illness doesn’t mean that all of them are. After all, the fact that some cases of mental illness are misdiagnosed as physical illness, and vice versa, doesn’t disprove the existence of two distinct (but related) categories of mental and physical illness. What Christianity, and countless other religions, is saying is that there are in fact three distinct (but related) categories: mental, physical, and spiritual.

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the fact that these three categories existed. As Matthew 4:24 puts it, when Jesus’ “fame spread throughout all Syria . . . they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” Some of those coming to Jesus had physical and viral problems, and others had neurological problems, but others had spiritual problems. And rather than debunking this idea, the fact that we find similar-sounding beliefs in Zoroastrianism, ancient Greek culture, and across the ancient and modern world suggests that it’s true.”


-Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636, please click on the image for greater detail

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Love & divine protection,
Matthew

The Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven & Hell


-sculptures in the Admont Abbey, Austria, by Josef Stammel (1694-1795), please click on the image for greater detail

Death is represented by a human being at the end of their life in the form of an old male pilgrim, with cross, staff and scallop shell.

Behind him hovers a winged skeleton as the personification of death. This gruesome figure holds in its right hand a winged hourglass to indicate that the sands of life have run out. In its left, it holds a dagger as a symbol of the suddenness of death. The small putti at the feet of the dying man are also holding relevant ‘vanitas’ attributes (soap bubble, empty shell, extinguished and broken candle) to indicate the transience of all things on Earth. And there is the ‘Apple of Sodom’ that falls to dust as soon as it is touched. This motif evokes the words spoken during the Ash Wednesday service: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return!”

Judgment. Still partly wrapped in his shroud, the figure of a young man rises from his grave accompanied by a putto as angel.

Placed over his head is a rainbow on which the resurrected Christ is enthroned as Judge of the World. No judgment has yet been made in the case of the young man, whose gaze is directed at the demon cowering at his feet. This figure represents the prosecutor ‒ the advocate of the Devil, the Devil’s advocate, “diabolos” = Greek διάβολος, Latin “diabolus”, the divider, advocatus; Satan = Latin, “satanas”, the accuser, Rev 12:10 ‒ he wears glasses and is being pushed to one side under the weight of a mighty tome that records the deeds of the individual undergoing judgment. To the right, opposite the ‘Admont library devil’ as he is called, can be seen a displaced gravestone. It shows a skull, a candle in the process of being extinguished, the date ‘1760’ (presumably the date on which all the figures were completed) and the initials ‘ST’ for ‘Stammel’.

The conceptual highpoint of ‘The Four Last Things’ is the allegory of Heaven. Heaven is represented by the epitome of attractiveness magnificently clothed and jewelled and accompanied by several supporter figures.

Dressed as a crowned bride in the vestments of heavenly magnificence, this androgynous figure is being lifted up to Heaven by a slender angel. The figure’s transfigured gaze is directed away from the earthly observer into the higher spheres. In the elevated left hand, there is a heart to represent the unshakeable nature of the figure’s faith. In the aureole over the head is the symbol of the Holy Trinity. The figure bears a flaming star and a richly decorated cross on its breast. Below the crown on the figure’s forehead is the Greek letter ‘T’ (Tau), showing that the figure is one of the just (Ezekiel 9, 3 -4).

As in the case of Bernini, the ‘Anima Beata’ represents the counterpart to the ‘Anima Damnata’ in Hell. At the foot of the figure are seated three putti on a cloud bank. These allegories of three virtues (fasting, prayer, and charity) explain the judgment of Heaven’s court and contrast with the vices represented in the Hell sculpture. Here again, there is a circular serpent but this time it has a positive meaning as a symbol of eternal bliss; it is being held by the putto seated in the center of the cloud bank.

Once judged, each soul then passes to Heaven or to Hell as appropriate. The allegory of Hell consists of two forceful main figures and several minor accompanying figures.

A mature and naked man ‒ one of the damned souls ‒ rides on the shoulders of a macabre hybrid creature. It is part animal, part human, part man and part woman. Both figures are surrounded by flames that seem to draw them down into the dragon-headed jaws of Hell. The face of the damned soul expresses both rage and fear. In his raised right hand he holds a serpent that has formed a circle and is biting its own tail ‒ a symbol of eternity. In his left, he grasps a dagger in an attempt to defend himself. A worm bites his breast in the region of the heart.

In the lower part of the sculpture and provided as a warning of the reasons for the descent to Hell are bust-like heads symbolic of the vices: pride wearing a peacock cap and feathers, sloth as a sleeping child wearing a nightcap and with a tiny hippo on his head, avarice with a cap made of coins and a devil peering over his shoulder and gluttony with brandy bottle and sausages.

‘Hell’ is one of the most powerful and eloquent but also most unconventional and complex of the works of Josef Stammel. Images such as that of the Devil in Albrecht Dürer’s engraving ‘Knight, Death and the Devil’ (1513) and Bernini’s marble bust ‘Anima Damnata’ (1616) seem here to have been assimilated and transformed by Stammel’s own imagination into a coherent artistic concept.


-by Br Nicholas Hartman, OP

“When the liturgical year winds down, the readings at mass focus on the Last Judgment and the end times. These subjects traditionally provoke mystique and fear. The biblical imagery depicting the end of the world is vivid and sometimes even bizarre.

On the one hand, the prospect of the Last Judgment and the end of the world should arouse a holy fear and awe. This world will not last forever. We will ultimately have to give an account of ourselves about either how grace has transformed us so that we love God above all things or how we have refused grace and preferred other things to God.

On the other hand, we should lend some thought to the Last Things—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell—because they should affect how we think of the world right now. One way to hone this discussion is to raise the question why God created the world in the first place. God is perfectly good and happy. Not only does He not need anything outside Himself to make Himself happy, but nothing can make Him happier than He is. [Ed. God is beatitude, Itself.] In other words, God cannot benefit at all from creating.

This raises a difficulty because, if everything is done for a reason, God does not seem to have a reason to create the world. This leads us to the idea that God’s goodness is diffusive. In other words, God wishes to see His goodness flower not just in His own life but also in something that is not God. Being perfect in everything, God does not benefit from creating. Rather, God creates the world—something that is not God—so that he can pour out his goodness into the world.

God pours His goodness into the world when He creates, but the world doesn’t manifest God’s goodness after the manner of vendors selling goods at a flea market or a yard filled with chimes sounding random notes in the wind. The world isn’t filled with good things without any inherent order or reason. The world in its totality is ordered as a whole to reflect the goodness of God. Instead of randomly sounding chimes, it is more akin to a symphony that coordinates the sounding of many instruments that together evoke some acute human emotion. As a musical piece expresses the emotions of a human being, so the world expresses the goodness of God. The world is ordered, and the goodness that it manifests is greater than any one part. Furthermore, each part of the world—especially the persons in it—participate in the good of the whole.

Finally, as an ordered whole, the world is building up to something. This is the point of the Last Things. The world has been building up to this point ever since it began. The Last Things should give us pause to reflect how much we rely on God’s mercy and how we should pray to persevere until the end, but they should also affect how we think of the world now. All the good in the world—culminating in the triumph of Christ—will come to fruition. The reason for every evil God permitted will come to light. In the end, the mysteries of the present world and its vexations will be revealed, and we will rejoice in God’s goodness that has been manifested in His creation.

Virgil’s Aeneid has a line that reads, “Perhaps at a future time, recalling even these things will cause delight” (I.203). The first reading for today’s mass fleshes out a similar idea but with more clarity and certainty:

‘Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name. They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear You, Lord,
or glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before You,
for Your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev 34:2-4).'”

Love & His righteousness,
Matthew

How demons deceive us

I love the shows “Lucifer” and “Supernatural”, but their theology is meshuggah.

“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” -1 Peter 5:8–9

“‘Spiritual combat’ is another element of life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which we engage every day against the temptations, the evil suggestions that the demon tries to plant in our hearts.” -Saint Pope John Paul II, May 25, 2002

“This generation, and many others, have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil… But the devil exists and we must fight against him.” -Pope Francis, Halloween 2014

How Demons Deceive Us

Although the powers of demons are infinitely weaker than the powers of God, they are still greater than those of humans, and their powers can fool us if we are not careful. For example, only God knows all things, including the future. God does not see time in a linear fashion as past, present, and future; rather, he sees all times at once. Everything that ever has been, is now, and ever will be, is present to him at once.

What Demons Can Do

Different Languages, Communication, Knowledge

Demons, however, exist in time as we do, so they do not know the future. However, they are very intelligent and can make it appear that they know the future. One might think of them as extremely accurate weathermen: they don’t know the future, but they can make very good predictions.

Demons also have knowledge of human beings throughout history, and thereby know all human languages, including ancient ones. As we will see later, signs of demon possession include knowledge of things that the possessed individuals could not have known on their own, as well as the ability to speak languages that they have never heard.

Demons have the power to communicate with other demons and with human beings. However, being pure spirits, they communicate in a spiritual rather than a physical way.

Can Demons Affect Our Imagination?

Aquinas says yes…

Aquinas maintained that demons could affect our imagination. This ability does not differ greatly from our powers of communication. We communicate ideas to one another all the time through speaking and writing. Every time we turn on the television, read a newspaper or magazine, or search the Internet, we see advertisements. These are nothing more than someone trying to plant ideas or images in our imagination.

A particularly frightening ability of demons involves how well they know our personal habits. We have only to think of people whom we know very well. When they talk to us, we often know more of what is on their minds than they say, due to hints in their affect: we notice their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

Demons Can Interact with Things in the Real World

They can listen and observe, even move physical objects

Because of demons’ greater intelligence, memory, and powers of observation, they are much better at interpreting human behavior and thought than we are. The demons can listen to us and observe us carefully, and may be able to see or hear subtle physical signs that show our emotions. Therefore, even though God alone knows all of our thoughts, demons can readily analyze what we are thinking and feeling, and make accurate predictions.

Demons can also deceive us through their ability to move physical objects. An example of telekinesis by a demon can be seen in the book of Job (1:13–19). In that biblical account, the devil caused lightning to kill the shepherds and sheep. In the same story, demons also caused a great wind that destroyed the house of Job’s children, thus killing them. The Gospels tell us that demons caused a herd of pigs to run off a cliff, fall into the lake, and drown (Mark 5:1–13).”

Holy Spirit!!! Make haste and come to our aid!!! Ye archangels of God, ye holy men and women of God, make haste, come to our aid!!!!

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”

Love, pray always, all ways, our hope is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps 124:8),
Matthew

How to lose your soul


-“The Romans in their Decadence” (French: Les Romains de la décadence) is a painting by the French artist Thomas Couture, first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1847, a year before the 1848 Revolution which toppled the July Monarchy. It was the most highly-praised work at the Salon. Reminiscent of the style of Raphael, it is typical of the French ‘academie’ style between 1850 and 1900. It now belongs to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Neo-Universalism – is Hell real?


-“The Harrowing of Hell”, by Jacob van Swanenburg, a teacher of the young Rembrandt, ca 1586-1638, oil on copper, H: 48.8 cm (19.2 in); W: 71.1 cm (27.9 in), last sold Christies, London 24 April 2009, $75,906, please click on the image for greater detail.


(imma binging on Netflix’s “Lucifer”, where they mos def believe in Hell)  Please click on the image for greater detail.

-from Catholic Answers

“In recent years there has arisen a movement that might be called “neo-universalism,” according to which it may be that all men, without exception, go to heaven. Advocates of this movement often say things like, “The Church does not teach that anyone is in hell,” and they cite statements from Church leaders and documents which sound—taken out of context—as if they teach this. If one reads the documents carefully, it is clear that the Church is not saying that no one at all is in hell,  but that it has not taught that any particular human mortal who has lived can be known to be in hell.  It is simply unknown, up to the present moment, as God has not chosen to reveal it to the Church Militant.  Known only to the Churches Penitent and Triumphant.

The doctrine of hell is so frightening that numerous heretical sects end up denying the reality of an eternal hell. The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, the Religious Scientists, the New Agers, and the Mormons—all have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell so radically that it is no longer a serious threat (Ed. or truth, as the Lord teaches). In recent decades, this decay has even invaded mainstream Evangelicalism, and a number of major Evangelical figures have advocated the view that there is no eternal hell—the wicked will simply be annihilated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).

In his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope St John Paul II wrote that too often “preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell” (p. 183).

Concerning the reality of hell, the pope says, “In point of fact, the ancient councils rejected the theory . . . according to which the world would be regenerated after destruction, and every creature would be saved; a theory which abolished hell. . . . [T]he words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matt. 25:46). [But] who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard” (pp. 185–6).

Thus the issue that some will go to hell is decided, but the issue of who in particular will go to hell is undecided (Ed. or unknown, in our case, to us).

The early Church Fathers were also absolutely firm on the reality of an eternal hell, as the following quotes show.

Ignatius of Antioch

“Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him” (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1–2 [A.D. 110]).

Second Clement

“If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect His commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment” (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).

“But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’” (ibid., 17:7).

Justin Martyr

“No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire” (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).

“We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire” (ibid., 21).

“[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with His angelic host, when He shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then He will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, He will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons” (ibid., 52).

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

“Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).

Mathetes

“When you know what is the true life, that of heaven; when you despise the merely apparent death, which is temporal; when you fear the death which is real, and which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the everlasting fire, the fire which will punish even to the end those who are delivered to it, then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world” (Letter to Diognetus 10:7 [A.D. 160]).

Athenagoras

“[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one. . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated” (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177]).

Theophilus of Antioch

“ [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . . For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).

Irenaeus

“[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire” (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

“The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever” (ibid., 4:28:2).

Tertullian

“After the present age is ended he will judge his worshipers for a reward of eternal life and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending” (Apology 18:3 [A.D. 197]).

“Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. . . . The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending” (ibid., 44:12–13).

Hippolytus

“To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).

Minucius Felix

“I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments” (Octavius 34:12–5:3 [A.D. 226]).

Cyprian of Carthage

“An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life” (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).

Lactantius

“[T]he sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire. . . . The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment” (Divine Institutes 7:21 [A.D. 307]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

“We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past” (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Love & truth,
Matthew

Netflix’s “Lucifer”, logismoi, nepsis & 1 Pet 5:8

This Spring and Summer, so far, I have discovered Netflix.  I recall looking at Netflix and Hulu at an earlier date and being completely unimpressed, their hosting all old, low royalty, programming.  I wasn’t interested.  That may have been just before 2016?

Boy, has Netflix, and hopefully Hulu, been at work.  I have been binge watching Marvel’s “The Iron Fist”, “The Defenders”, “The Punisher”, halfway through “Jessica Jones”, and now DC Comics’ “Lucifer”.

I was trying to understand where “Lucifer” fit, if at all, along the truth meter of Judeo-Christian theology, and I have determined “Lucifer” is really not at all about Judeo-Christian theology, but all a parody of Los Angeles, the advantaged side, culture.

The show uses, to good effect, a single amorphous, tiny-tiny, undefined grain of Judeo-Christian thought, lots of sexual innuendo for comical reasons, and lots of parody of Los Angeles advantaged culture.  It’s entertainment.  It’s hot outside.  And, “mindless” entertainment is my escape from work and my “quarantine bubble”.  I’m at the end of season 2 of 6.


-The Torment of Saint Anthony, Michelangelo, c. 1487–88, tempera and oil on panel, Height: 470 mm (18.50 in); Width: 337 mm (13.26 in), Kimbell Art Museum, Ft Worth, TX

In one of my online catechetical training classes I took, I was invited to read St Athanasius‘ (293-373 AD) “Life of (St) Antony (of the Desert) (251-356 AD)”. Excellent introduction to the earliest Christian eremitical tradition. Highly recommend.


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“Satan is an excellent marketer. He does his best to make sin attractive. He introduces maxims like “heaven for the climate, hell for the company” into common discourse, as if sin makes one interesting instead of simply destructive. He makes us love the antihero trope, which does not merely portray the hero’s flaws as tragic, but instead it embraces such flaws and makes that embrace central to the character. He gives us a subversive thrill in vice. Sin, however, is nothingness. Sin is always an emptiness and a void, it gives us nothing positive and has no redeeming qualities. The only attention it deserves is in combating it and healing its effects.

The moral tradition of the Church shines the proper light on sin by helping us understand it. It describes seven capital vices under which all sins and temptations fall: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sloth, envy, and pride. These vices arise from our desires for genuine goods, but, in consequence of the fall, we desire good things in wicked ways. We all have temptations, and categorizing our vices helps us see their inter-relations and unveils the ways in which we may combat them.

Evagrius of Pontus, a 4th century Greek-speaking monk, was the first Christian to categorize vices in this spirit. Echoing St. Peter’s command, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith,” (1 Pet 5:8) Evagrius gave us perceptive insights on how to understand and battle sin.

The fight against sin, Evagrius writes, is primarily an internal battle that takes place in how we respond to our logismoi, our tempting thoughts. We receive logismoi passively, and so having a perverse image or evil idea pop into our heads does not entail sin. However, if we allow such thoughts into our hearts and entertain them with passion and intent, then we sin, even without carrying out those actions. Only in combating these temptations do we heed Jesus’s admonition, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).

To combat logismoi, Evagrius proposes nepsis or watchfulness. After a period of temptation, we can stop and consider the roots of our thoughts. He advises, “Sit down and recall for yourself the things that happened to you-where you started from, where you went, and the place in which you were caught by the spirit of lust or anger or despair, and how in turn these things took place.” (On Thoughts) We often fall in the same ways, and by watchfulness we can begin to see the patterns and circumstances that antecede sin.

One may note that his gluttony begins with boredom, or that his temptations towards envy or greed begin when he scrolls on social media. Lust may begin with loneliness, slothful distractions may begin with checking one’s email. Anger may follow from recalling an inconsiderate person, pride may arise from noting the flaws of others. Different people are plagued with temptations in individual ways, so each person needs to observe his or her own thoughts to discover how to combat them.

If we know the patterns in our own lives, we can address the roots of our vices. If remembering a certain person leads us to worse thoughts of pride or anger or lust, then we can immediately turn our attention elsewhere when that person pops into our memories. Watchfulness requires diligence and practice, but it works. Watchfulness unmasks the devil’s marketing, helping us combat sin in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done, and in what we have failed to do.”

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,
et vobis fratres,
quia peccavi nimis
cogitatione, verbo,
opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

===================================================

The fact of Lucifer’s sin has puzzled theologians. For, before he fell, Satan was the highest—the most intelligent—of all creatures. He was more aware of God’s goodness than any of the other angels—he must have seen how, before the goodness of God, all the good things in the created universe pale in comparison. Yet, he willingly turned away from the Lord for a lesser good. How was this possible?

Aquinas takes up the question of why Lucifer rebelled against God in his Summa (ST I, q. 63, a. 1, corpus), and he approaches it from the perspective of conformity vs. nonconformity. “To sin,” he argues, “is to refuse God as the rule and measure of one’s actions.” This means that only God is completely incapable of sinning. For, God Himself is the rule by which all actions are judged.

The same principles can be applied to God: he is the measure by which all things are said to be good or bad, true or false, living or dead. Since God is the measure Itself, he can’t be in nonconformity with it. But creatures can. And this is how we can say that Lucifer’s sin was possible: because he is not a law unto himself. Aquinas later revisits this notion of “sin as nonconformity” when comparing Adam’s sin to that of the Devil’s. He writes,

“Each wished to rely on himself in contempt of the order of the Divine rule” (ST II-II, q. 163, a. 2, corpus).

Love & penance & the joy of knowing Him,
Matthew

How to make the devil fearful & vanquish him


-“The Temptation of Christ by the Devil”, Félix Joseph Barrias, 1860, please click on the image for greater detail.

“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” -Mt 4:1


-by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., a convert from Episcopalianism

“As creepy as it may seem to us to be led into the barren desert in order to be tempted by the Evil One, what we actually see before us is a magnificent triumph. Our Lord had all the human emotions that we have, and at one point in His life He even shows fear (more on that in Holy Week!). But here, led by the devil, carried by him over a distance and high up in the air, and tempted most explicitly, he shows absolutely no fear of him in spite of his malice and power. The Fathers teach us that the Lord underwent temptation by the devil to provide us with an example of how to resist the devil. He means for us to do just as he did and vanquish the tempter.

So what are we to do? First off, Jesus fasted and prayed, and kept vigil, as the “forty nights” imply. St. John Vianney taught that when the devil sees someone praying a little more, doing a little fasting, and sleeping a little less, he becomes fearful of that person. How much must the demons fear Christ, Who did all these things, and of the saints who persevered in them! They likewise must fear our taking up these spiritual weapons, and so they discourage us from them with a million excuses big and small.

Secondly, notice how Jesus uses sacred words to answer the devil’s attempts. We must contradict the evil insinuations of the devil with the words of the psalms and prayers of the Church, with the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the sweet name of Mary (the demons particularly fear that because though she is a mere human being she has humiliatingly more power than they do). We need this method very much. Our Lord had a very well-ordered emotional life, and His imagination and memory were all in perfect order; we on the other hand are driven by angry thoughts, lustful thoughts, grandiose thoughts, self-pitying thoughts. These are real temptations and we should contradict them with God’s name and His holy word spoken as an urgent prayer.

Nowadays there is a lot of talk among devout people about demonic possession, obsession, deliverance, and so on. A lot of this is good, but it will help us a great deal if we take the attitude of St. Teresa of Avila in her struggles and set aside fear of such things. It is sin we should fear, not the devil. She confidently asserts these words of encouragement in her autobiography (there is also an important message to priests here!):

“Not a fig shall I care then for all the devils in hell: it is they who will fear me. I do not understand these fears. “Oh, the devil!, the devil!” we say, when we might be saying, “God! God!” and making the devil tremble. Of course we might, for we know he cannot move a finger unless the Lord permits it. Whatever are we thinking of? I am quite sure I am more afraid of people who are themselves terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself. For he cannot harm me in the least, whereas they, especially if they are confessors, can upset people a great deal, and for several years they were such a trial to me that I marvel now that I was able to bear it. Blessed be the Lord, who has been of such real help to me!”

The great Teresa, Doctor of the Church, even goes on to say in the same context that one deliberate venial sin does us more damage than all hell put together! This means that when it is a question of temptation, we should fear ourselves more than anyone else. To be sure, God is the Judge and He looks mercifully on our weaknesses and forgives us lovingly and most willingly, but our sin is our own. We cannot blame it on the devil, saying with the old comedian of my youth, “The devil made me do it!” (Ed. That is actually also theologically factually impossible. It would violate our free will, a gift from God, a mighty, divine, and preeminent grace. Satan cannot compel. He can only tempt, make us weary, make us doubt, exploit our own weaknesses, if we, and God, allow him. In the case of God, it is to test our faith, as in the Book of Job.)

So let us set aside fear as Christ did, and use the means that He used to vanquish the devil.

Our Lady and Joseph, her holy spouse, whose feast we will celebrate this month, will watch over us as they did over their young Son as in youth and young manhood Who undertook the works of fasting and prayer and vigils for the salvation of the world. It is not for nothing that Mary’s spouse is thus invoked: “St Joseph, obedient to God, humble, silent, Terror of demons, Pray for us!””

Love, & make the devil tremble,
Matthew

Demons don’t sleep

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

-by Gerald Corson, Catholic Answers Magazine

“Consider that the devil doesn’t sleep but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways,” St. Angela Merici once said. The traditional Prayer to St. Michael asks God’s protection from “Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” The devil tempts people to sin, but demons sometimes attempt our ruin far more aggressively—even by possession.

* * *

Adam Christian Blai is a peritus—a theological consultant—in religious demonology and exorcism for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He provides training in exorcism to priests across the country and is an auxiliary member of the International Association of Exorcists in Rome. He holds a master’s degree in psychology and has done most of his professional psychological work in forensic settings.

Last fall Emmaus Road published Blai’s book Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms. He also has written A Roman Catholic Pastoral Manual for Exorcism, Deliverance, and Home Cases, now in its second edition, available to Catholic priests on request through his website, which is religiousdemonology.com.

Catholic Answers Magazine: How did you get into the profession of demonology? You describe it almost as a calling.

Blai: I think that my whole life has been preparing me for this work, but that’s a long story!

In a concrete way, it started in graduate school for adult clinical psychology. I was doing brain-wave research on hypnosis and the brain’s ability to create false experiences. At that time, the paranormal TV show craze was just starting. I was curious if the people on these shows were just having false experiences or were mentally ill. I got called to the Pittsburgh diocese to look at a case there for them. That case is now known to the public, as they have written a book about it.

Anyway, through that case and many others, I was slowly drawn into meeting specialist priests in this area, and then through assisting at exorcisms I met people who invited me to be an auxiliary member of the International Association of Exorcists. Now I work full-time at the Pittsburgh diocese and help train priests nationally.

We don’t often hear about priests performing exorcisms. Obviously, there are privacy issues involved. Do exorcisms take place more often than we realize? Are most U.S. dioceses prepared to handle such cases?

There are roughly one to four possession cases going in a major city at any time. Most exorcists are doing an exorcism monthly, weekly, or more often. It’s usually best to have sessions weekly for each person.

What you say is true, though. In order to protect the person and the family, the Church doesn’t talk about the particulars of exorcism. Imagine if it was your relative and a news story ran about them having exorcisms. Their life would likely be ruined with reporters at the front door the next day.

Historically, does demonic activity tend to ebb and flow? Is it on the increase in our generation?

Historically there is a wave of intense exorcism activity as Christianity first enters a culture, for about fifty years, then it settles down. I think we are seeing an increase in our generation for the opposite reason: because people are leaving Christianity, and the demons have freer rein to play their cons on people now.

Some people doubt the existence of the devil, believing that he is a human construct to explain the presence of evil. Others have perhaps an unhealthy interest in the demonic. The Church teaches that demons do indeed exist. What are demons, and who is Satan?

At the beginning, God created the angels with free will and the abilities to do their particular jobs. All of time was explained, and the angels were asked if they would serve in the roles they were created for—to encourage chastity, for instance. Led by Satan, about a third said no and were cast out of heaven down to Earth to roam here until the end of time. They made that choice with full knowledge of the consequences to the end of time, so they never want to repent, nor can they.

After they were cast out, the fallen angels retained their abilities. As demons they use their abilities, called faculties, to do the opposite of what they were created for. So, the angel who was created to encourage chastity now becomes a demon of lust. Satan was initially the most gifted angel and was the one that led the other fallen angels in their revolt. There are nine choirs of angels; some fell from each choir, so we have a hierarchy in heaven and also among the demons.

The demons do what they are told because they fear the punishment from higher-level fallen angels, particularly Satan. Ultimately God will punish them all individually in the lake of fire, but that comes at the final judgment.

Which is more dangerous: dismissing the devil’s involvement in the world or attributing too much to the work of the devil?

The important thing is to focus on human free will and our relationship with God. The demons are not central players here; we give them sway in the world only through our choices. Their job is to tempt us, but we make the decisions to follow those promptings. So, in a sense, they are behind all the evil, but it is we who allow evil to manifest.

Exorcism has been around since the time of Christ. How did the formal rituals of exorcism develop?

Well, that’s a long story, but here is the short version. Exorcism has been common in the Church from the beginning, as part of being baptized into the Church in the early days, and also for possessed people in general.

Over the centuries, the prayers developed differently in different parts of the world. In 1614, the Church decided to standardize exorcism, and they took the best of all the rites and made the solemn exorcism rite we have used since then. The rite was revised in 1999 as part of the Second Vatican Council reforms, but it’s not out in English yet.

Your book refers to demonic infestation, obsession, and possession. What’s the difference between them?

The Church generally defines three types of extraordinary demonic activity: demonic infestation, oppression/obsession, and possession. Infestation is when demons have the right to do extraordinary things in a place. Oppression and obsession are both translated from the Latin obsessio; it means a personal extraordinary attack on a person. Possession is when the demon has gained the rights to take over the body but not the soul.

The Church calls for prudence in discerning whether one is dealing with an evil presence or an illness. How does one determine that with certainty? What are the telltale signs of demonic activity?

First, you have medical and psychological evaluations to rule out a mundane explanation. Beyond that, there are some signs you need to document before you ask your bishop for permission to do an exorcism.

These signs can include the person in question knowing all languages, knowing secret things the person could not know (Hollywood focuses on knowing the secret sins of people present), detecting the holy (like saying which saint’s relic you have in your pocket), and preternatural strength.

We know from psychiatric settings that people can be extremely strong sometimes, so we would not diagnose possession from strength alone.

You distinguish between exorcism and deliverance. How do these two things differ?

A solemn exorcism of a person is a liturgical rite that can be done only by a priest with permission from his bishop. That permission lends the bishop’s apostolic authority to the priest. Exorcisms include a direct command from the priest to the demon—in Jesus’ name, of course.

Deliverance is not a direct command but a request to God to help a person. Because it’s a petition, or praying for a person, anyone can do that.

The Church wisely says that possessed people need exorcism, not deliverance prayer. Deliverance prayer generally doesn’t work on possession, as that situation requires the full apostolic authority that Jesus gave to the apostles.

There have been abuses in deliverance prayer teams in different parts of the world, prompting the letter from then-Cardinal [Joseph ] Ratzinger that clarified that lay people are not to speak to demons. That letter is on the Vatican website.

You speak of a demon having “rights” for infestation, obsession, or possession. How does a demon obtain such rights? Must he be invited in some way?

God allows demons to tempt us as their ordinary function, which has been going on since the Garden. When they want permission from God to do more than tempt us, they generally need our permission first. We give permission by inviting a deeper relationship with them, sometimes through black magic, spirit communication, or other violations of the First Commandment. There are exceptions where God allows an extraordinary trial without our permission, but it’s limited. We see this in the book of Job and the lives of some saints.

Demonic possession, I would imagine, does not usually happen all at once. What typically are the steps or stages that lead to possession?

Demons usually start with a con game. They may pretend to be a dead loved one, a holy angel, the spirit of a child in distress, or another spirit. After they lure the person into communication, they usually offer success, power, money, protection, or something the person thinks he needs.

Later, when the person is getting in too deep, the demons stop acting like a harmless servant and start dictating what the person can and cannot do. As the relationship deepens, it becomes torture, with the only out proposed either possession or suicide. Demons never give what they promise, not really, and it’s all taken away once the person is in too deep to back out on their own.

Is the person who experiences demonic obsession or possession incapable of helping himself, of warding off the demon alone?

The person usually has invited the relationship because they don’t know it’s a demon. Now, some people are born into Satanist families, and they know it’s a demon, and they want it. The person who has been conned can usually back out and repent if things have not gone far. Once it becomes oppression—think of that like an abusive spouse who controls someone through fear and suffering—it may be hard to get out on your own. With possession it almost always requires the rite of solemn exorcism.

How many exorcisms have you participated in or observed, and in what capacity?

I really don’t know, more than a hundred. At many I assisted as part of the team, maybe gently restraining the person. At many, I attended to coach the priest through the exorcism if he was new to the ministry. Exorcism is a fixed rite in a book, but it’s also an art. The demon isn’t passively sitting there letting you read from the book; it is an active opponent.

Is exorcism a frightening experience?

I’ve never felt fear. I think God just removes that as part of a calling to be involved in this. I’ve seen that with most priests and team members called into this ministry. As time goes on and it becomes clearer that Satan and the demons are limited, fallen creatures on a leash—and that Jesus holds the leash—the drama is even less scary. As the Bible says, don’t fear him who can destroy the body but him who can destroy the body and the soul. Our souls are God’s, and God alone judges us and determines where we go.

On a personal level, any job can carry over its stress or concerns to one’s home life. How does this line of work affect you and your loved ones?

I don’t really have any stress or concerns from this work because I follow the advice that was given to me: no wife, no kids, and no pets. This is because the demons will take revenge on people close to us if those people are vulnerable.

Your book mentions “rules” that must be observed when dealing with demons. What are some of these?

Follow the Church’s rules. Follow the exorcist’s directions. Don’t speak to the demons, and don’t respond to the demons. Pray.

Walk us through an exorcism. How does the demon normally manifest itself?

During the Litany of the Saints, which precedes every exorcism rite, the demons manifest by taking over the body, shuddering, moaning, then often laughing, and starting to mock or manipulate the people present. As the session goes on, the demons’ bravado decreases as the prayers, holy water, and other factors wear them down. Toward the end, they are often screaming they want to leave, sometimes offering the priest “anything” if he will just stop. I could write a book about the funny quotes I’ve heard demons say, but I won’t.

How effective are exorcisms? What is the “success rate”?

Most cases take six months to two years of weekly sessions before they are done. Some are over in one session. The success depends mainly on the possessed person’s willingness to change their life, trust God, and relate more closely with God. They have to cooperate with the grace Jesus is giving them in so many ways. He wants them to be free, but he frees them in stages, as much change as they can handle and adapt to at a time. Remember, most possessions have been going on for ten years or a lifetime. If the demons are all ripped out at once, the person feels like they don’t know who they are, it’s too much of a shock to their psyche, and they usually relapse.

Hollywood films have portrayed stories of possession and exorcism any number of times. What do they tend to get wrong?

They make it out to be one dramatic session, and, as we said, it’s many. They are brief, whereas real exorcisms are usually two to five hours at a time. Big dramatic manifestations like thunderclaps, levitation, or things flying around the room are rare even in exorcisms. Usually the really scary and disturbing things are the manipulations and things the demons say.

I was intrigued by your discussion in the manual of human spirit hauntings—how souls in purgatory can sometimes manifest themselves in requesting our prayers, and how demons can sometimes use these to gain access to us. Can you explain?

We know that the poor souls in purgatory can benefit from our Masses and prayers to speed their time in purgatory. In the lives of many saints, the poor souls have appeared and made such requests. In rare cases, particularly with suicides and murders, they seem to be allowed to signal their presence and a need for prayer. Interestingly, I’ve seen this many times in churches and rectories where priests have died.

The demons commonly pretend to be a dead person to lure the living into communication and relationship. Remember, necromancy—calling the dead to talk with them—is strongly forbidden in the Bible. It is a First Commandment issue, because you are seeking information or comfort from a spirit other than God. The poor souls will say yes only to prayer or nothing at all. The demons will want to have a conversation. If it wants to have a conversation, it’s a trick.

What is our best protection against demonic influences?

The sacramental life: baptism, confession, and the Mass. Avoid violating the First Commandment and entering into a relationship with a spirit other than God. Pray in a healthy, balanced way each morning and night.

Suppose a person becomes concerned about behavioral changes in a family member or loved one and begins to suspect something more than just a physical or psychological disorder is in play. When do they know it is time to seek the Church’s help? Where should they take their concerns?

Don’t jump to a demonic hypothesis first. I’ve seen a number of medical conditions that went untreated and got worse because of this error. Talk with your doctor, and rule out all the mundane things.

Demonic changes in behavior usually come from serious involvement in the occult or black magic, not just going through a Goth phase or having a moody teenager. The elderly often have personality and behavior changes that are from aging processes or disease; talk with your doctors first. If you still suspect a spiritual problem, start by talking with your local priest, then your diocesan central office if they refer you there.

Extraordinary spiritual problems are rare, but they are real. Don’t fear these things, but focus on your personal relationship with Jesus and his Church.

Sidebar
Demons Understand English, Too
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made available in fall 2017 the first official English translation of the ritual book Exorcisms and Related Supplications. Although distribution was limited to prelates, other qualified individuals—such as exorcists, other clergy, or academic scholars—may obtain a copy with their bishop’s approval.

Although the English translation is from the 1999 rite in Latin revised in the wake of Vatican II, it draws from centuries-old rituals.

Fewer priests know Latin than in the past, so it allows more priests to perform exorcisms, concentrating on the prayers and forms without having to deal with a foreign language. Since demonic activity seems to be on the rise in the U.S., this should make it easier for bishops to find priests to help them in the exorcism ministry.

The book includes an appendix of familiar and little-known prayers titled “Supplications Which May Be Used by the Faithful Privately in Their Struggle Against the Powers of Darkness.” A USCCB spokesman said that although the book is not available to laypersons, the appendix has been made into a booklet, Prayers Against the Powers of Darkness, which is available from the publishing arm of the bishops’ conference.”

Love, and prayers of protection for you, and yours for me, too, please.
Matthew