Sunday, March 14, 2010

Of Priesthood(s) and Casting out Devils

A recent article gave an interesting look into exorcism as practiced within the Roman Catholic Church. According to Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist, the unfortunate sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is proof that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican." Astonishingly, Father Amorth indicated that he participated in around 70,000 exorcisms during his 25 years as a Catholic exorcist. For any of you who are counting, that's a claim of approximately 7.5 exorcisms per day, for the last 25 years!

While Father Amorth's description of satanic possession seems quite graphic, from at least one personal experience I can affirm that a good portion of it is fairly accurate. I previously wrote about Satan's power and influence in a related post.

Without delving into the controversial sex abuse scandals or trying to figure out how Father Amorth has time to sleep or eat with his busy exorcist schedule, I'd like to discuss priesthood authority and its connection to rejecting satanic presence. Particularly, is Christ's true priesthood required to command Satan and his subjects? Can the faith of an individual (or the combined faith of those present) be used in an exorcism instead of invoking or wielding the true priesthood authority?

The apostle John once remarked to the Savior that "[the apostles] saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us" (Luke 9:49-50)(emphasis added).

Does this mean that those without Christ's true priesthood authority are able to command and cast out devils as much as one with authority? Commenting on the phrase "he followeth not us," Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
"He was not one of the Twelve to whom the express power had been given to cast out devils (Matthew 10:8); he was not one of the inner circle of disciples who traveled, ate, slept, and communed with the Master. Luke has it: 'He followeth not with us'; that is, he is not one of our traveling companions. But from our Lord's reply it is evident that he was a member of the kingdom, a legal administrator who was acting in the authority of the priesthood and the power of faith. Either he was unknown to John who therefore erroneously supposed him to be without authority or else John falsely supposed that the power to cast out devils was limited to the Twelve and did not extend to all faithful priesthood holders. It is quite possible that the one casting out devils was a seventy.
"Only righteous men who are members of the Church, who hold the priesthood, and who are keeping the commandments, have power to perform miracles.... Our Lord had many faithful followers who had power by faith to cast out devils" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:417)(emphasis added).

To be clear, I do not believe the Catholic Church wields the true priesthood of God. Consistent with LDS theology, I believe Christ's true priesthood was lost to the world at large during the great apostasy. However, I also do not believe that Catholic exorcists, such as Father Amorth are followers of Satan. (See Matt. 12:25-26) Notwithstanding, is it possible that exorcisms can still be effectuated by individuals lacking the priesthood through an exercise and display of faith?

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth" (Lectures on Faith, 1:13)(emphasis added). Indeed, it was faith that was invoked to frame the worlds (Heb 11:3), and it is through faith that all created things exist. "[Faith] is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things.... And if the principle of power, it must be so in man as well as in Diety" (Id. at 1:16, 18)(emphasis added).

When the Twelve were unable to cast a devil out of a "lunatick," they queried the Savior on how He was able to finish what they could not. Christ then proceeded to teach them doctrines of faith, not of priesthoods. "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:20-21)(emphasis added). Thus, since prayer and fasting doesn't have any effect on whether one possesses the priesthood but instead affects one's level of faith, it appears that exorcism relies more on the principle of faith than on one's authority.

Admittedly, I have not taken part in or seen a Catholic exorcism (apart from what Hollywood concocts). I have, however, taken part in a handful of LDS exorcisms and can attest that one's faith plays an enormous role. Still, I am not certain of the extent that God's priesthood plays in such instances. Is the pristhood required simply to keep order? Yet, if an individual lacks the priesthood but has sufficient faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, can that individual command evil in His name? And, if that is the case, does Father Amorth truly exorcise evil spirits during his claimed frequent encounters?


Thomas Parkin said...

Good stuff. :) I'd note that the power to 'crush the serpent's head' isn't given as a power exclusive to the Priesthood but to mankind in general. ~

Jeremy said...

Good addition, Thomas. Thanks for commenting.

Ryan said...

Interesting post, Jeremy. I also feel that the power of great faith and sincere prayer is sometimes sufficient to expel unclean spirits who have taken possession of persons. It is evident however, from my understanding, that for those who do not have the priesthood, undertaking to cast out unclean spirits is a dangerous and gruelling experience, often lasting days, weeks, or even months before it is complete (see for instance, "Hostage to the Devil" by Malachi Martin). It also apparently takes a severe psychological and spiritual toll on the exorcist who acts without priesthood authority.
By the way, I am a fan of the seer stone blog. I visit often. Keep up the good work, you guys.

Jeremy said...

Thank-you for following us, Ryan.

I'm curious as to why you think it's "dangerous" for one to attempt exorcism without the priesthood.

Nate said...


I'm glad you wrote this...I was planning on doing something on this thinking that you weren't. But I hadn't started.

I wonder if McConkie was going too far in presuming that the man discussed by the apostles had the PH. There is nothing to suggest that per se. I would have assumed he didn't.

There are a few examples in scripture of PH power where there isn't a specific laying on of hands that we know of (e.g. Alma --spirit rested on him, then he baptized people).

I saw a subsequent interview and F. Amorth was pressed on the 70K number...he said that most had multiple possessions ("dozens and even hundreds").

I wouldn't doubt that this man has dealt at least in part with what he claims. I think the answer is along the lines of what you are saying. Faith is a principal of power, whereas priesthood is a principal of divine order/organization (with which, power will be present and wielded). I imagine that in the battle against evil, he would be a guy you wouldn't mind to have on your team.

I am also disturbed with the amount of credit he gives man's evil to the devil though. I would imagine that if we knew his intent behind his words, he wouldn't blame the evil abuse behavior on the devil alone. At least I hope he doesn't think that. I don't think we can hold the priests blameless for their abuse...although the pattern of shifting them around and keeping everything quiet may suggest some kind of rationalization of the behavior. (sorry, I know you weren't going there)

Ryan said...

In response to Jeremy:
Well it's been a while since I read Malachi Martin's book, but in it he indicated that as part of Catholic exorcism, the priests typically engage in dialogue with the evil spirit in hopes of extracting its name from it. (Knowing the name of the unclean spirit, for some reason, gives the priest an advantage over the entity). In doing so, however, the priests are strongly cautioned to avoid deviating from a prescribed pattern of dialogue. In one of the documented cases of the book, one such dialogue with a possessing evil spirit with a sexual fetish that went by the name of "Girl Fixer" got out of hand when the priest issued a personal challenge to the unclean spirit, saying something to the effect of, "I will drive you out" (as opposed to invoking the power of God). This gave the unclean spirit power over the priest, and as a result the priest was physically and sexually battered by an unseen power, leaving him in very critical condition.
This seems somewhat reminiscent to me of the sons of Sceva in the New Testament (Acts 19:13-16). And when one considers that Satan almost killed Joseph Smith just prior to the First Vision, it seems apparent to me that there is danger, physical and otherwise, inherent in approaching these beings without proper preparation. Not something to be trifled with, as I'm sure you know from your personal experience. Of course, through the power of the priesthood, such extravagant rituals are not required, and the evil spirits are expelled in a much more direct fashion, in my opinion.
Thanks for allowing me the forum to speak.

Jeremy said...

Nate, I tend to agree with your take on McConkie. I often get the feeling that McConkie would spin the scriptures to fit his desired interpretation. But honestly, wouldn't the apostles know who was and wasn't a member of the Church at that time? The Church wasn't very large at this time in the Lord's ministry, and the apostles probably did most of the ordinations to the PH themselves (seeing as how the 70 wasn't formed yet).

I agree on your assessment of the use of the PH. If the worlds were framed by faith, it was likely the PH that organized the forces to be able to exercise the power of faith. Without the PH, there would be no order - kind of like how it works in a general Ward setting.

However, I'm still not 100% sure on how this all happens, but I doubt that it's something we need to know while in mortality.

Jeremy said...

Ryan, Martin's book sounds intriguing.

I learned firsthand that LDS exorcisms need to be done in wisdome and order. While I was a Zone Leader in Ecuador a missionary companionship undertook this task without first contacting the local Stake President who has the keys of the PH to engage or delegate such tasks. The result wasn't pretty and the two missionaries learned a valuable lesson.

Hence, I think the PH plays more of an order role than a power role. I cannot speak for those w/o authority (e.g., Father Amorth), but I can imagine there would have to be strict guidelines to follow.

Thanks for following up.

Evgenii said...

I also agree that McConkie might be taking some liberty with his comments here. It wouldn't be the first time where he says that something is "evident" when it clearly isn't that evident either way.

Not only do I think McConkie would often use the scriptures to fit his own opinions, I think he always did it. But when you have an Elder next to your name, it is then rarely questionned.

Otherwise, it is interesting to see that this appears to be successful, but then it makes you wonder about the exorcisms that you see with born again churches.

Ryan said...

Hey Guys,
Like I said, I’m a fan of your site. And as fan I just wanted to humbly say that I’m not enjoying the anti-McConkie sentiment. Might I humbly suggest that if you disagree with a doctrinal position of his, state your position and give your scriptural reasoning, and then leave it at that. But a negative critique of a General Authority’s methods or intentions, etc. is not appropriate in my opinion. There is room for some amount of disagreement, but not for disparagement.
I don’t feel that the view that the priesthood is required for casting out devils is without basis (though I don’t agree with that position). After all, Joseph Smith taught that “it is very evident that they [evil spirits] possess a power that none but those who have the Priesthood can control, as we have before adverted to, in the case of the sons of Sceva” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 208). This could easily be interpreted to mean that the priesthood is necessary to cast out devils. However, I interpret this teaching of the Prophet to mean that since the priesthood is necessary to “control” the power of evil spirits, it makes attempting to cast out devils without the priesthood a perilous, though not impossible, venture. In my view there is a fairly strong case for the necessity of priesthood to cast out devils, and the only reason I don’t accept that view wholeheartedly is not because scriptural evidences to the contrary are convincing to me, but because it seems apparent that sectarian clergy seem to have a certain measure of success in casting out devils, thus leading me to my opinion on the matter.
Thanks and please don’t take offense, I meant none at all.

Nate said...

Hey Ryan,

No offense taken and I agree with your sentiment. My thought is that there is no basis when reading the scriptures, alone, to assume that the guy casting out devils had the priesthood. If McConkie said that he obtained that knowledge somehow, or by the spirit, etc...I'd believe him.

Knowing Hans and Jeremy, they dont mean any anti-GA sentiment. Sometimes written word doesn't express complete thoughts.

I appreciate you insight. I'll have to admit that for me I never really like going into subject evil spirits too deeply. --so I like the cliff notes story from the book (b/c I'd never read it).

I think we are in the same place as to whether the PH is necessary in these circumstances (in that we could see it either way). Luckily, we are able to avoid the problem. This topic has brought home to me what a blessing the PH really is.

kathleen keane said...

I would suggest the books "People of the Lie" by M. Scott Peck and a thorough reading of Malachi Martin's works which includes in the back the original wording of the Romach Catholic exorcisms. From personal knowledge it would be best to follow Martin's recipes. I would never think to let a common person in the same building with an exorcism. Father O'Conner did not fare well ultimately and he was the expert in such things.