More World Wide Web Confirmation Fun – Thomas Aquinas and Linda Blair on the Baptismal Exorcism, by Pr. Rossow

Having smart boards alongside the blackboards in our Lutheran Day School is really interesting. Where else could the click of a button instantaneously get you Thomas Aquinas’ summary of baptismal exorcism and Linda Blair’s portrayal of an exorcism?

For the fourth chief part (baptism) I wrote a simple curriculum based on the baptismal rite from the Lutheran Service Book (LSB), the Bible and the Catechism. This morning we were doing part five of the baptismal service – the exorcism and creed. The students’ interest is always piqued when I mention the word “exorcism.” It also gave me a few ideas about how to make use of the “www” to further peak their interest.

I started out with a teaching that I learned at the seminary from Professor Louis Brighton. While studying the book of Mark he taught us that there were more demon possessions at the time of Christ because Satan knew that the Messiah had come and he was doing all he could to undo Messianic mission. That teaching explains a lot and is always a helpful introduction to the matter of demon possession.

After that I decided to search for a clip of the movie The Exorcist to illustrate to the students how Hollywood exaggerates the rite of exorcism. (We watched the 11 second clip of Linda Blair’s head spinning around.) I am convinced that Satan could do the things illustrated in the movie but it is more to the point that such things are rare, if they occur at all, do not square with the demon possessions that Christ encountered, and mostly to the point, we are all in need of the exorcism performed at each Christian baptism.

Hoping to find some more relevant “www” material I googled “baptismal exorcism” and discovered an interesting teaching from Thomas Aquinas from his Summa Theologica. I own a half dozen Aquinas texts, but they were used in philosophical studies. I am not much interested in the heterodox theology of the “Dumb Ox” but I was pleasantly surprised with this little section on baptismal exorcism. (Keep in mind that Aquinas first gives objections that oppose his answer, then gives the answer, then responds to the answer.  To view this section of the Summa click here.)

Article 2. Whether exorcism should precede Baptism?

Objection 1. It seems that exorcism should not precede Baptism. For exorcism is ordained against energumens or those who are possessed. But not all are such like. Therefore exorcism should not precede Baptism.

Objection 2. Further, so long as man is a subject of sin, the devil has power over him, according to John 8:34: “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” But sin is taken away by Baptism. Therefore men should not be exorcized before Baptism.

Objection 3. Further, Holy water was introduced in order to ward off the power of the demons. Therefore exorcism was not needed as a further remedy.

On the contrary,PopeCelestine says (Epist. ad Episcop. Galliae): “Whether children or young people approach the sacrament of regeneration, they should not come to the fount of life before the uncleanspirit has been expelled from them by the exorcisms and breathings of the clerics.”

I answer that, Whoever purposes to do a work wisely, first removes the obstacles to his work; hence it is written (Jeremiah 4:3): “Break up anew your fallow ground and sow not upon thorns.” Now the devil is the enemy of man’ssalvation, which man acquires by Baptism; and he has a certain power over man from the very fact that the latter is subject to original, or even actual, sin. Consequently it is fitting that before Baptism the demons should be cast out by exorcisms, lest they impede man’ssalvation. Which expulsion is signified by the (priest) breathing (upon the person to be baptized); while the blessing, with the imposition of hands, bars the way against the return of him who was cast out. Then the salt which is put in the mouth, and the anointing of the nose and ears with spittle, signify the receiving of doctrine, as to the ears; consent thereto as to the nose; and confession thereof, as to the mouth. And the anointing with oil signifies man’s ability to fight against the demons.

Reply to Objection 1. The energumens are so-called from “laboring inwardly” under the outward operation of the devil. And though not all that approach Baptism are troubled by him in their bodies, yet all who are not baptized are subject to the power of the demons, at least on account of the guilt of original sin.

Reply to Objection 2. The power of the devil in so far as he hinders man from obtaining glory, is expelled from man by the baptismalablution; but in so far as he hinders man from receiving the sacrament, his power is cast out by the exorcisms.

Reply to Objection 3.Holy water is used against the assaults of demons from without. But exorcisms are directed against those assaults of the demons which are from within. hence those who are exorcized are called energumens, as it were “laboring inwardly.”

Or we may say that just as Penance is given as a further remedy against sin, because Baptism is not repeated; so Holy Water is given as a further remedy against the assaults of demons, because the baptismalexorcisms are not given a second time.

There are plenty of subtle things that are amiss here (e.g. the use of holy water) but overall it was a good example to show the students how the baptismal exorcism was taken much more seriously in previous generations. I know Luther has written on the matter as well.

Let’s hear your thoughts on Aquinas, the role of the exorcism in baptism, and of course, your movie reviews of The Exorcist.

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