Sunday, May 10, 2015

On the Man Born Blind

Healing of the man born blind
from Codex Egberti, Fol 50, between  980 and 993 A.D.
Jesus spit upon the ground, made mud, and spread the mud on the eyes of a man born blind (John 9). How peculiar! – even, by today’s customs, vaguely disgusting. And also in Jesus’ time and place, spitting was not considered a complementary act. In the Torah, spitting on someone is a mark of shame (Num 12:14; Deut 25:9) and in Job spitting signifies derision and disdain (17:6, 30:10). But Jesus is not bound by our etiquette. He who will heal on the Sabbath will surely go against the grain in a lesser matter.

Still, why would Jesus do this? It’s not the expected reaction to seeing a blind man. Jesus doesn’t even speak to the man first, He just sees the blind man, speaks with his disciples about him then immediately spits on the ground and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes. If one of us were to try this, we would likely be accosted or arrested for abusing the disabled – (unless and until, I suppose, we had thus restored sight to blind). Seemingly, this is not the only way that Jesus could heal this man. Often, he heals by his word alone. For example, according to Luke, a blind man near Jericho calls out to Jesus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And they speak. And Jesus says to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well." And immediately he receives his sight and follows him, glorifying God” (Luke 18:38, 42-43a). In this account, Jesus does not touch the man at all. Rather, He heals by the creative power of his word. Jesus says “be healed” and we are healed.

This calls to my mind the creation of the world, because God creates by the power of his word. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1). God says, “Let there be light” and there is light. And everything of which he says “let it be” has being – by the power of his word. He says, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” And, by the power of his word, God thus creates humanity, male and female, in his image, which the blind cannot see.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God… and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ is the word present at creation. And through him the Father creates. As we say in the creed, “I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ… through whom all things are made.”

So, God creates by his word, and he recreates by his word.

Giving sight to a man born blind is not simply an act of healing, it is an act of creation! – because it is the giving of a new gift – not the restoration of a lost gift. We might say that Jesus creates sight for the man born blind rather than that he “heals” him. Jesus is our creator and our re-creator. He makes all things and he makes all things new – as he does today for the man born blind, so he does for us.  

But for the man born blind, he doesn’t create simply by the power of the word, does he? No, first he spits upon the ground, makes mud, spreads it on the man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool named Siloam, which means “sent,” or, “one who is sent”.

This also recalls the creation of man, which is at least one reason why Jesus uses mud. Remember that our father Adam is made of the earth. His name means “dust man.” In Genesis 2, “The Lord God formed a man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” We are earth with God breathed in. Which quickly becomes clear when we die – because when that breath leaves us, a bit of earth is all that remains. As the Lord says, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). Our bodies are earth mixed with water. So the mud that Jesus makes reflects his process of creation. It is earth mixed with the living water from the mouth of God, used to create sight for the man born blind.

Ambrose writes of this miracle, “The only reason for his mixing clay with the spittle and smearing it on the eyes of the blind man was to remind you that he who restored the man to health by anointing his eyes with clay is the very one who fashioned the first man out of clay” (Letter 80. 1-5: PL 16, 1326-1327). So, by this action, he shows himself to be our creator as well as our healer.

We owe our lives to Jesus. He creates us! And he sustains us in being. When we are broken, he restores us. When we sin and by his grace we repent, he forgives us. When we fall, he lifts us up. When we are sick, he heals us. When we die, he raises us from the dead.

His means of creation and recreation and healing are manifold. He is the source of our lives and he is in our lives at every step – notably punctuated by the holy mysteries.

There is something strongly sacramental about Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. In the sacraments, God works through his creatures – through men and women, through oil and water, through bread and wine – through these his simple creations, God unites us to himself. We are healed. We partake of the divine nature. Though the sacraments do not limit God and he can reach out to us at any time, through anyone, by any means. As, for example, he reached out to the man born blind through spit, through mud, and through the water of Siloam. Ambrose says that this action symbolizes baptism.

The water of the pool, the cleansing and the healing that it brings, especially evokes baptism. Have you noticed all the water in the gospels of the Paschal Sundays? This is no accident. The Paralytic Man was healed by the water of the sheep pool. The Samaritan woman receives the living water by the well of Jacob. And today, Jesus gives sight to the Man born blind through water of Siloam. All of these images evoke Baptism.

Ambrose writes of today’s Gospel, “this clay that is our flesh can receive the light of eternal life through the sacrament of baptism. You, too, should come to Siloam, that is, to him who was sent by the Father (as he says in the gospel, My teaching is not my own, it comes from him who sent me). Let Christ wash you and you will then see” (ibid.). 

We are recreated and united to Christ – through whom we are created – by baptism. We must not forget that even the unbaptized are his creatures. He is the creator of the cosmos. He creates every person. He creates our families and our friends, he also creates our enemies. I think we sometimes forget this - and that his creation is very good. But then, by baptism, he recreates us. That which sin damaged in us is restored – that is we no more shall die – though we die, we shall live, for Christ is risen!  


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mount and Plain


Luke and Matthew each present a different setting for Jesus’ preaching of the beatitudes. In Luke, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Plain, while in Matthew, he preaches the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 16:17; Matt 5:1). Both evangelists are careful to describe the terrain upon which Jesus delivers this sermon:

Luke 6:17, 20a

And he came down with them
and stood on a level place,
with a great crowd of his disciples
and a great multitude of people….
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples,
and said….
Matt 5:1-2

Seeing the crowds, he went up
on the mountain,
and when he sat down his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them,
saying….

Each evangelist presents the sermon beginning with a listing of beatitudes in a different setting and according to his distinct perspective. These two scenes present contrasts that are worth examining. In Matthew, Jesus goes away from the crowds; in Luke, he remains among them. In Matthew, Jesus teaches from a high place; in Luke, he teaches from below. Matthew’s setting atop a mountain echoes the giving of the Mosaic law – does Luke see Jesus as a lawgiver? Luke’s setting places Jesus among the people, which effectively emphasizes Jesus' humanity – does Matthew make Jesus seem more remote or emphasize his divinity?
These two pericopes may retell the same sermon or there is the possibility that these are two separate but similar sermons.  This post considers differences of theme and emphasis between them. The differences between these accounts invite the question: What distinct understanding of the gospel does each evangelist convey with his distinct setting? Each setting effectively symbolizes the perspective more explicitly expressed in the subsequent beatitudes. The “level place” of Luke fittingly represents his more egalitarian and immanent, earthly vision, while “the mountain” of Matthew fittingly represents his more spiritual and transcendent, heavenly emphasis. Each evangelist’s presentation of the beatitudes reinforces what his setting symbolically implies. Are Matthew and Luke contradictory or complementary in their understanding of Jesus’ message as they present it in these passages? Does the tension between these two visions of Jesus’ message offer a problem or an opportunity for those who would follow Jesus? 
The Markan Spine
The setting for the sermon has its foundation in Mark (3:13).

Mark 3:13-14

And he went up
on the mountain,


and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach
Luke 6:12-13

In these days he went out
to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day,
he called his disciples,

and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles;
Matt 5:1-2

Seeing the crowds, he went up
on the mountain, and when he sat down

his disciples came to him.




Mark contains neither beatitudes nor sermon of any kind at this point, but he does provide the stage upon which both Luke and Matthew have Jesus preach this sermon. Luke remains closer to the Markan spine, keeping the appointing of the twelve on the mountain and having Jesus come down from the mountain in order to preach his sermon “on a level place.” Matthew moves the appointing of the twelve to later in his gospel (10:1-5), which enables him to use the mountain as the setting for Jesus’ sermon. Their mutual dependence on the Markan spine further associates the two versions of this sermon and justifies a close comparison between them. “The [Sermons] are located at about the same place in both Gospels, and in both they are surrounded by a similar narrative framework” – part of which is the setting provided by Mark (Betz 43).[1]
The Mount
Scripturally, there is a symbolic meaning of the mountain as a high place from which to preach with authority, which comes from God. “For Matthew, mountains (especially in 5:1) represent places of revelation, akin to Sinai or Zion” (Baxter 29). The Old Testament frequently refers to God himself as “Most High” or “God on High” (Ēl ʿElyōn, e.g. Gen 14:20; Ps 9:2) and depicts high places and mountains as places of encountering God (e.g. Ps. 121:1). Preeminent among such images is Mount Sinai, upon which God revealed the Torah to Moses (Ex 19-24). The parallels of Jesus with Moses are evident in Matthew, which contains five great discourses, which “may be intended to recall the five books of the Torah” (Duling 1858). Just as Moses received the law on the mountain, so does Jesus fulfill the law on the mountain with his Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt 5:17). In Matthew, Jesus sits atop a mountain preaching and directing those who listen beneath him.
 To whom does Jesus preach in Matthew? “Great crowds followed [Jesus]…. Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain” (Matt 4:25 – 5:1). The simple meaning of these words alone would seem to indicate that Jesus went up the mountain to get away from the people.[2] At first, he did get away from the great crowds because, apparently, only “his disciples,” and not the whole crowd, came to him (Matt 5:1). For this reason, Raymond Brown suggests, “Matt’s Sermon on the Mount… was directed to the Twelve” (239) and Edmund K. Neufeld observes that these “opening lines of the Sermon on the Mount have much clearer connection to the disciples than to the crowds” (272). However, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew reveals that, in fact, the “crowds” – and not just the Twelve – heard Jesus’ sayings and “were astonished at his teaching” (7:28). This is an apparent incongruity. Perhaps the idea is that, as Jesus preached his sermon to the Twelve, the crowds he had withdrawn from formed again to overhear what they could.
Neufeld suggests an interesting interpretation: “It is probably best to understand the setting to imply concentric circles, disciples on the inside and crowds behind them but also listening” (272-273). Clearly, Jesus removes himself from among the crowds to deliver this sermon in Matthew (5:1). This may indicate a more hierarchical sensibility in Matthew. Not all the message is for all the people. The inner circle of disciples has greater access to his teachings than do the outer throngs. For Matthew, the mountain may signify a hierarchy of revelation: Jesus “went up the mountain,” so he is the very source of revelation; “his disciples came to him,” so they are closest to him, and Jesus “went up” from “the crowds,” yet they too are listening to the things that Jesus says (5:1; 7:28).


The Plain
In Luke, Jesus goes up the mountain not to preach, but to pray and to appoint the twelve (6:12-13).[3] “Mountains in Luke seem to function (though not exclusively) as places of prayer (cf. 6:12; 9:28; 22:39-45)” (Baxter 29). After Jesus prays atop the mountain and appoints the twelve, he then comes down to “a level place” to be among the crowds to preach this sermon (Luke 6:17).
The symbolic significance of plains in scripture is less well established than that of mountains, but Luke is aware of an interesting idea about level places in scripture:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth (Luke 3:4-5; cf. Is 40:3-4; Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; John 1:23).

The actual passage in Isaiah even more explicitly describes a level place: “the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain” (Is 40:4b). This passage in Isaiah describes the coming revelation of “the glory of the Lord” (Is 40:5), which brings “comfort” (40:1), pardon, and peace to Jerusalem (40:2). All four canonical gospels quote Isaiah 40:3, but only Luke continues the quote to include the filling of valleys and the lowering of mountains (Is 40:4), so he is certainly familiar with this significant meaning of a level place (Luke 4:5). It is uncertain whether Luke directly intends for the level place where Jesus preaches his beatitudes to refer directly to this idea in Isaiah, but it is an exciting possibility, and it is thematically plausible because Jesus, who reveals the kingdom of God, goes on to offer comfort to those who are afflicted by his preaching of the beatitudes. 
Even though Jesus preaches on a plain and not a mountain in Luke, and the parallels between Jesus and Moses are less evident in Luke than in Matthew, in at least one thing Luke presents Jesus as more similar to Moses than does Matthew. Moses went up the mountain alone to meet with God,[4] not with the people of Israel,[5] and he brought the Lord’s messages down with him and gave them to the people.[6] In Luke, Jesus goes up the mountain and prays – communicating with God, his Father. Then, he comes down and gives the people his teaching. It is possible, then, that Luke also sees Jesus here as a lawgiver in the tradition of Moses.
To whom does Jesus preach in Luke? He preaches to “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17). Here there is no clear distinction between the crowd and the disciples, as there is in Matthew. Jesus addresses the beatitudes to “his disciples” (Luke 6:20), just as he does in Matthew (5:1), but in Luke the great crowd is “of his disciples.” This presents a more egalitarian vision than Matthew’s more strongly implied hierarchy. 
The Sermon
Both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain begin with beatitudes. Matthew and Luke present these beatitudes differently, and these differences more explicitly bear out the differences already symbolically implied by the difference in setting. The beatitudes themselves further illuminate the two evangelists’ reasons for the settings they chose.
Luke’s version of the beatitudes has fewer additions than Matthew’s does. Luke’s beatitudes are fewer – four instead of eight – and generally shorter. Because it is more likely that one would add to a text than take away, especially if altering the text to give it a certain emphasis, Luke’s beatitudes are likely closer to the original source (Q).[7]

Matthew 5:3 – 5:12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when men

revile you
and persecute you and utter all kinds of
evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for
your reward is great in heaven,
for so men persecuted the prophets
who were before you.
Luke 6:20b-23

"Blessed are you poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.




"Blessed are you that hunger now,

for you shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are you that weep now,
for you shall laugh.







"Blessed are you when men
hate you, and when they exclude you and
revile you,
and cast out your name as
evil, on account of the Son of man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold,
your reward is great in heaven;
for so their fathers did to the prophets.




There is, however, in the case of the Sermon on the Plain, a significant Lucan addition: the woes. These four woes are the converse of the four beatitudes that he lists.

Luke 6:20b-23

"Blessed are you poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you that hunger now,
for you shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are you that weep now,
for you shall laugh.
"Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven;
for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Luke 6:24-26

"But woe to you that are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you that are full now,
for you shall hunger.
"Woe to you that laugh now,
for you shall mourn and weep.
"Woe to you, when all men speak well of you,




for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

For instance, he says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), and then later, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). This formula repeats for the remaining three beatitudes. It serves to reiterate Luke’s particular emphasis on certain concrete virtues. According to the Sermon on the Plain, the poor, hungry, mournful, and persecuted are blessed. Yet, those who are rich, full, jubilant, and praised are woeful. These are not so much attitudes Luke is pointing out, they are tangible circumstances, and he strengthens their physicality by providing the tension between the blessings and the woes.
Matthew takes emphasis away from poverty as a blessed state throughout his gospel.[8] In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew lists more beatitudes, all intangibles, and shifts the emphasis on tangibles in the others. Matthew’s Christ points out not that people are to be poor, but poor in spirit, not hungry, but hungry and thirsty for righteousness. “It is likely that Matt has added [these] spiritualizing phrases” (Brown 178). For Matthew, one should be poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, and persecuted. He gives no woes of any kind, just a list of intangible virtues that merit blessing. For Matthew, it is irrelevant how much money one has, or how much food one has, and these things are gifts from God. What matters is the kind of spirit with which we regard our gifts.  
Matthew’s spiritualized beatitudes stand in contrast with Luke’s more radical, more difficult to accept, and more likely to be unaltered beatitudes. Each evangelist complemented his understanding of the beatitudes with the setting in which he placed them. In Luke, Jesus preaches more down to earth and concrete beatitudes and woes on the ground among the people. In Matthew, Jesus preaches more spiritualized beatitudes from the mountain, closer to the Spirit, closer to God.
Exegetical and Theological Insights
Despite their differences in emphasis, Matthew and Luke offer two visions of Jesus and his message that are both essential. The tension between these two visions allows a fuller contemplation of the mystery of Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man, who is divinely present among all humanity, in both hierarchical and egalitarian human structures. Both kinds of human organization have the tendency to make those who favor the other uncomfortable. Jesus discomforts all and comforts all. Whichever image of Jesus a given institution or person finds more challenging, that is the image they likely would do well to meditate upon primarily.
In Luke, Jesus descends the mountain and stands on a level place among the people. Commenting on this passage, St. Ambrose asks, “How would a crowd see Christ, except at a low level? It does not follow him to the heights; it does not climb to majestic places. So when he descends, he finds the weak, for the weak cannot be high up” (Ambrose 102). Jesus goes to the people where they are and preaches consolation to them who are poor and hungry, who are weeping and hated. Yet he reminds this great crowd of his disciples that God their Father is “the Most High” (Luke 6:35) – the very name that associates God with high places.
In Matthew, Jesus ascends the mountain and preaches there to his disciples who come to him.  He offers beatitudes that are more spiritual and eschatological that those in Luke. Yet, when he has finished his sermon, he comes down from the mountain among great crowds (Matt 8:1). “Thus also Matthew teaches that the weak were healed down below” (Ambrose 103; cf. Matt 8:1-3). There is not any diametrically opposed difference between the images of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus both “descends to heal our wounds”[9] and makes it possible for us to “ascend the mountain”[10] and become “partakers in his heavenly nature”[11] (Ambrose 103).



Works Cited

Ambrose. “Exposition of the Gospel of Luke.” Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 102-103.
Baxter, Wayne S. "The Narrative Setting of the Sermon on the Mount." Trinity Journal 25.1 (2004): 27-37.
Betz, Hans Dieter. The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, including the Sermon on the Plain. Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 1995
Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1997
Carter, Warren. What are they saying about Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount? New York: Paulist Press, 1994.
Duling, Dennis C. “Matthew: Introduction.” The HarperCollins Study Bible. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. 
Neufeld, Edmund K. “The Gospel in the Gospels: Answering the Question ‘What Must I Do to be Saved?’ from the Synoptics.” JETS 51/2 (2008). 267-296.



[1] Wayne Baxter however, claims that Matthew put more “careful thought in his placement of the Sermon within his narrative” when “compared to Luke’s presentation of the Sermon material” (30). Hans Betz attributes the similarity of placement within the narrative to Q rather than to the Markan spine (43).
[2] Jesus does have a habit of this kind of retreat. For example, later in Matt, after feeding the five thousand, “he… dismissed the crowds [and] he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matt 14:23). Luke 5:16, which parallels Matt 14:23, also attests to Jesus’ habit of withdrawing from the crowds to pray. Yet, is that what is taking place before the Sermon on the Mount? It is not prayer, but preaching, that Jesus intends to do atop the mountain this time. Furthermore, Jesus does not dismiss the crowds, as he does later when he wishes to be alone (14:23). Rather, he allows them to follow him up the mountain so that they may hear what he is about to preach (5:1).
[3] In this, Luke follows Mark more closely than Matthew does. In Mark, also, Jesus appoints the twelve while “up the mountain” (Mark 3:13-16).
 [4] “The LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Ex 19:20).
[5] “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai” (Ex 19:23).
[6] “Moses went down to the people and told them” (Ex 19:25).
[7] “By comparing the order and content of Luke and Matthew, [most argue] that Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is closer to the ‘Q’ Sermon than Matthew’s” (Carter 13).
[8] For example, in Mark and Luke, Jesus said to the rich man, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor” (Luke 18:22). Matthew places a qualifier on this: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor” (Matt 19:21).
[9]“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matt 8:1-3)
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples… who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6:17).
[10]Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him” (Matt 5:1).
[11]But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Diabology in the Exorcisms at the Making of a Catechumen


            The most well known exorcisms in the Eastern Church are those prayed at the Making of a Catechumen, which the Church has usually offered over every soon-to-be-illumined person immediately prior to his or her Baptism. The Eastern Church also does have extra-baptismal prayers of exorcism (Great Book of Needs Vol. III 7-32), but it has no rite of exorcism exactly analogous to that found in the Rituale Romanum. In fact, the exorcisms offered just before baptisms are the only exorcisms most priests ever perform. Originally, catechists or exorcists read exorcisms of this kind daily over those who belonged to the order of catechumens as they underwent a long period of preparation for Baptism (Ferguson 329). Cyril of Jerusalem seems aware of this practice in his Procatechesis (c. 348). Demonstrating the connection between catechesis and exorcism, he writes, “Let your feet hasten to the catechisings; receive with earnestness the exorcisms” (9).
These exorcisms do not presuppose demonic possession, as in the case of those prayers once prayed over those who belonged to the order of energumens. The so-called Apostolic Constitutions (c.380) records a prayer of the deacon and another of the bishop for the energumens, who are “afflicted with unclean spirits,” at the time of their dismissal from the Divine Liturgy. For example, the deacon prays, “let us all earnestly pray for them, that God, the lover of mankind, will by Christ rebuke the unclean and wicked spirits, and deliver His supplicants from the dominion of the adversary” (483-484). The early Church recognized the demonic possession of some people and prayed earnestly and frequently for their deliverance. The Church’s continuing practice of exorcism for catechumens who are not possessed, on the other hand, in and of itself reveals another aspect of the Church’s belief about evil and demonic forces – namely that they exert negative influence even over those who are not possessed and especially over those who have not yet received baptism and so do not fully participate in the graced life of the Church.
Following the principle of lex orandi lex credendi – or “legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi,” as Prosper of Aquitaine (5th century) put it (PL 51:209-210) – it is possible to learn the Church’s diabology from her prayers of exorcism. This paper will examine certain themes in the Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen, which is part of the Order before Holy Baptism. These prayers say much about the nature of the demons and more about the nature of the Lord who expels demons. They make clear the Church’s motivation for performing exorcisms and the ultimate eschatological significance of the act.

Descriptions of Demons and the Devil
The first and second exorcisms at the Making of a Catechumen directly address the devil and, in so doing, teach something about him. The second vividly describes him as an “all evil, unclean, abominable, loathsome, and alien spirit.” The third exorcism, which is actually a prayer addressed to the “Lord of Sabaoth, the God of Israel,” also twice describes the demons as “unclean spirits.” These descriptions make two things clear: 1) demons are spirits and 2) they are altogether evil.
1)         The Church understood from the beginning that demons are spirits. Tatian (c. 160) wrote, “None of the demons possess flesh. Their structure is spiritual, like that of fire or air” (71). The first exorcism, referencing scripture many times, elaborates significantly on the nature of created spirits – both holy and fallen angels. It refers to the Cherubim three times: once to the Cherubim posted by the Living God to guard the Tree of Life with the flaming sword (cf. Gen 3:24), once to the Cherubim upon whom the Lord God sits beholding the depths (cf. Dan 3:55), and once together with the other choirs of angels: “Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Authorities, Powers, the many-eyed Cherubim, and the six-winged Seraphim” (cf. 1Pet 3:22; Col 1:16), all of whom tremble before God. A purpose of anamnestically calling to mind the Cherubim and all these other spiritual beings and their relationship to God their creator may be to remind the demons of their own true, good, created nature and, in so doing, abolish their vain attempt to destroy the good in the life of the catechumen and in the Church. The demons, being spirits, are not essentially evil forces. In essence, they are beings and are good. If even their own created nature is good, any attempt of the demons to corrupt good is ultimately vain. Each example of spirits given in the exorcism emphasizes to the devil that he, together with all the created spirits, is subject to his creator and thus should fear him.
The first and second exorcisms both tell the devil to “fear God.” The Lord created demons spirits (“He makes his angels spirits” as it says in the first exorcism, quoting Ps 103:4) and all creatures, spiritual and physical, must fear the Lord. According to the first exorcism, “the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them” all fear the Lord (cf. Ps 145:5). So too then must the demons fear God for they too are his creatures and they too are beneath God –however much they hate the reminder.
2)         The demons hate the reminder because they have chosen to war against good, which is being, even their own being. In a sense, they hate even themselves. They hate what they truly are and cannot stand reminders of it, which is why exorcisms of the possessed often demand to know the demon’s name (cf. Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30), which recalls the spiritual creature’s true being. Whatever is good they vainly strive to destroy and this vain striving is the very nature of evil. Demonic evil is manifest when demons use their considerable God-given power, intelligence, and influence tyrannically to afflict God’s good creatures with temptations, suffering, and death, which are privations of good physical, mental, and spiritual health and life.
The first exorcism states that, before the incarnation of the Lord, the devil exercised “tyranny” over mankind and it numbers the devil among “the hostile powers” over whom the Lord has triumphed. Origen also calls the demons “hostile powers” and elaborates on what this means:

When we have indulged… beyond what is proper, and have not resisted the first movements to intemperance, then the hostile power, seizing the occasion of this first transgression, incites and presses us hard in every way, seeking to extend our sins over a wider field, and furnishing us human beings with occasions and beginnings of sins, which these hostile powers spread far and wide, and, if possible, beyond all limits (De Principiis 330).   

The devil cannot force humans to sin, but takes advantage of human cooperation with his evil designs. The devil is indeed a hostile power, but his power is ultimately vain and already overcome by Jesus Christ, who has trampled down sin and death. The second exorcism commands the devil, “Depart, know the vainness of your might, which had not power even over the swine!” (cf. Mark 5:11-13; Matt 8:30-32). In the presence of Jesus Christ, even a legion of demons is impotent. The devil’s greatest power was the power of death, which, according to the first exorcism, was indeed a power of the devil. It states that, before the Lord’s death on the cross, upon which he destroyed death by death, it was the devil “that held the might of death.” Now, having gone through death and having conquered it by rising from the dead, the Lord has overcome the devil even in what was his greatest power.

Exorcistic Response to Demonic Influence, Oppression, Obsession, & Possession
Though it is true that the Lord has already overcome the devil and his demons and that ultimately all their attempts at working evil in the world are vain and futile, it also remains the truth, that for inexplicable reasons, the world continues to suffer evils and death. “The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Rom 8:22). This is mysterious. There is no adequate answer to the question: if God intends ultimately to destroy evil and permanently cast Satan into hell, why does he, in the meantime, permit him to continue his evil works? The fact remains that he does and that humans often cooperate with the devil by willful sin. Demons continue to influence, oppress, obsess, and sometimes possess human beings in this world.
The exorcisms in the Making of a Catechumen do not presuppose possession. The Church from early on made a distinction between the possessed – whom it called energumens – and others who were subject to demonic influence, including the catechumens. Origen (c. 225) makes a distinction between two kinds of demonic activity. He writes,

Now, of wicked spirits there is a twofold mode of operation:  i.e., when they either take complete and entire possession of the mind…, as, for instance, is the case with those commonly called possessed (energumenos)…, or when by their wicked suggestions [these spirits] deprave a sentient and intelligent soul with thoughts of various kinds, persuading it to evil (De Principiis 336).

The exorcisms also reveal the belief of the Church that both possession and other kinds of demonic influence are possible. The second exorcism says to the devil, “Come out of the man and never again enter into him,” which makes clear that the devil otherwise might remain and do harm to the person. By telling the devil to “come out and depart from this creature, and never return, nor hide in him, neither meet nor act upon him,” the first exorcism makes clear the belief that the devil, were it not for the grace bestowed by the forthcoming baptism, could “hide in” and “act upon” or badly influence a human. Given that the exorcism refers to a human as a “creature,” perhaps this could imply also that the devil could possibly even “hide in” or “act upon” another creature. Origen suggests that “wicked demons… secretly enter the bodies of the more predatory, savage, and wicked of animals and stir them up to do whatever they choose” (Against Celsus 538). The evil activity of demons adversely affects not only humans but also the entire natural order.
            The Church responds to this evil demonic activity with exorcism. Origen points out that the means of exorcism is simple: “Christians cast out [demons]… [with] only prayer and simple adjurations that the plainest person can use” (Against Celsus 612). Lactantius agrees: “Demons, when adjured by the name of the true God, immediately flee” (130). This is precisely what the exorcisms before baptism do. For example, in the second exorcism, the priest says to the evil spirit, “go forth from him that is newly sealed in the Name of our Lord God and Savior Christ,” and he continues, “I adjure you by the power of Jesus Christ.” The name connotes the being and it is being that demons attempt to deny. The simple name of Jesus Christ therefore overcomes the demons. Concerning this, Justin Martyr writes,

We who believe in Him pray to be kept by Him from… wicked and deceitful spirits…. For we do continually beseech God by Jesus Christ to preserve us from the demons which are hostile to the worship of God…. For we call Him Helper and Redeemer, the power of whose name even the demons do fear; and at this day, when they are exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ… they are overcome. And thus it is manifest to all, that His Father has given Him so great power, by virtue of which demons are subdued to His name (209).

The Church, in imitation of Christ her Lord, performs these exorcisms because she always seeks to do good for her children. Jesus sent out his twelve apostles and told them to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matt 10:8). He told them to do these things in conjunction with preaching, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 10:7). These things, then, including the casting out of demons, are a foretaste of the coming kingdom. Exorcism helps bring the natural world into closer conformity with its true nature, which creation will ultimately recover on the last day. 

The Eschatology of Exorcism
            Coming down rather strongly against the idea – known as ποκατάστασις – espoused by Origen and Gregory of Nyssa that God would ultimately bring all beings, including even the devil, into his kingdom, the first and second exorcisms at the Making of a Catechumen clearly and explicitly declare that the devil and his demons will burn in hell for all eternity. Gregory of Nyssa wrote of the devil in one place, "the originator of evil himself will be healed” (Catechetical Oration 101), and in another place he attributes to his sister Macrina the opinion that, “even from those evil spirits shall rise in harmony the confession of Christ’s Lordship” (On the Soul 444). The exorcisms, however, leave no room for the devil in the coming kingdom of heaven. The first exorcism commands the devil: “Get you hence to your own Tartarus, until the appointed day of Judgment” and the second declares, “God… himself has ordained for you O devil, the retribution of eternal torment.” The latter exorcism concludes with plentiful eschatological imagery:

Depart… I adjure (Ὁρκίζω) you… by His terrible Coming Again for He shall come and not tarry, to judge all the earth, and shall punish you and your cooperating host in the Gehenna of fire, consigning you to the outer darkness where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched (cf. Mark 9:48).

These several images associate the coming day of the Lord with the damnation of the devils. Exorcisms, then, serve the purpose of making this world more like the one to come. In the age to come, these exorcisms seem to assert, God will finally condemn the devil to eternal suffering in Tartarus or Gehenna, which are two scriptural names of hell.
The first exorcism seeks to bring about this coming separation of the devil from the world by condemning him now to Tartarus. In this way, this exorcism is almost like an inversion of the traditional Aramaic eschatological prayer: “Maranatha” (1 Cor 16:22; Didache 10:6). While praying, “Come, Lord,” the Church also here says, “Go, devil.” Along with the second coming of the Lord is the final expulsion of the devil. In the second exorcism, the priest casts out the devil by the eschatological coming of the Lord. “His terrible coming again” is a means by which the priest adjures the devil to depart.

Conclusion
            Examining the nature of demons as described by the exorcisms at the Making of a Catechumen reveals much about the nature of evil. Evil is pointless and vain and it has already been overcome by the supremely good and all-powerful Lord Jesus Christ. Evil is to strive against what is – or to strive to be what one is not. Goodness is to be what the Creator creates one to be. Each creature, even and especially a demon, is created good – without any evil at all. Freedom, which contains an inherent potential for evil, is itself good. Demons are not evil in their essence. Nothing is. Evil has no being. Nonetheless, some free beings do evil things. Demons are creatures – necessarily good in essence – who freely strive vainly against goodness. Beings that strive against being are evil. All evil - both moral evil and all suffering and death – results from this vain and sinful striving. Demons absolutely strive vainly to accomplish evil and so are destined to eternal torment. It is agonizing to struggle to destroy the indestructible and they have chosen that agony for eternity. They war against their very own being. To exist in such a way is to be already in hell. For all their intelligence, they are fools. For all their power, they are impotent. They have applied their extraordinary spiritual gifts to pointless and impossible ends. They have already lost.



Works Cited
 “Apostolic Constitutions.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1886. 391-508.
Cyril of Jerusalem. “Procatechesis.” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Series 2. Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1893. 1-5.
“Didache.” The Fathers of the Church. Ed. Ludwig Schopp. New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1947. 171-184.
Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.
Gregory of Nyssa. The Catechetical Oration of Gregory of Nyssa. Ed. James H. Srawley. Cambridge: At the University Press, 1903.
Gregory of Nyssa. “On the Soul and the Resurrection.”  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Series 2. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1892. 428-468.
The Great Book of Needs Vol. III. South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1999.
Justin Martyr. “Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 194-270.
Lactantius. “The Divine Institutes.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1886. 9-223.
Origen. “Against Celsus.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 395-669.
Origen. “De Principiis.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 239-382.
Prosper of Aquitaine. Patrologia Latina (PL). Ed. Migne. 51.
Tatian. “Address to the Greeks.”Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 65-83.


Most Popular Posts this Month

Most Popular Posts since 2007