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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


More World Wide Web Confirmation Fun – Thomas Aquinas and Linda Blair on the Baptismal Exorcism, by Pr. Rossow — 13 Comments

  1. I start out with a teaching I learned at the Seminary from Dr. Nagel. In considering what to include in a baptismal rite the question is, “Does it extol baptism or take away from it?”

    I submit that Rev. Rossow’s solicitation regarding the role of the exorcism in baptism is wrongly put, for I deny the premise. IOW, baptism is an exorcism in and of itself. No additional human work is necessary, especially something that suggests that baptism is insufficient in and of itself.

  2. “The officiant shall blow three times under
    the child’s eyes and shall say:
    Depart thou unclean spirit and give room to the Holy Spirit”
    –from Luther’s first reformed Order of Baptism, 1523 (LW vol. 53, page 96)

    Then in 1526, Luther revised the Order of Baptism which became quite popular:
    “The officiant shall shall:
    Depart thou unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit”
    Then later in both Orders:
    “I adjure thee, thou unclean spirit, by the name of the Father+ and of the Son+ and of the Holy Ghost+ that thou come out and depart from this servant Jesus Christ, N. Amen.” (ibid. pages 107, 108)

    Many Lutherans would be surprised by Luther’s retention of the exorcisms, albeit truncated. Luther is clear: “(God) himself calls (baptism) a new birth by which we are being freed from all the devil’s tyranny, loosed from sin, death, and hell and become children of life, heirs of all the gifts of God, God’s own children, and brethren of Christ.” (ibid, page 103)

    I am also reminded the Orthodox practice and teaching on Baptism from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (1974). The renunciation and then the confession of faith is done rather dramatically. The Baptismal candidate is turned by the priest to face the west. The west is considered the haunt of the demonic. “Then the priest turns the person who is come to Baptism to face the West, unclad, unshod and having hands uplifted.” (Schmemann, page 27) Schmemann writes this signifies enslavement and captivity to satan and that in Baptism we are set free. After the renunciation (very similar to the Western Church’s rite), “And when he has done this, the priest turns him to the East with his hands lowered.” To me this seems obvious: our salvation has arisen in the East and in Faith and Baptism we are literally re-oriented. This signifies metanoia. As a Lutheran I find it interesting the priest turns the candidate: he can not do it himself. Then comes the profession of faith.

    I have two reasons for relating the above:
    1. It seems to me that the true catholic consensus, Eastern and Western churches, from the beginning was for an exorcism tied into the renunciation.
    2. The exorcisms by themselves do smack of almost a ‘magical rite’ that they were never intended to be. Maybe they can come across that way is that we have forgotten the power of the demonic and darkness in our day and time. Fr. Schmemann’s observations as to why this exorcism/renunciation is cogent in our day and time of a neo-pagan society and culture:

    “When this rite of renunciation came into existence, its meaning was self-evident to the catechumen as well, as to the entire Christian community. They lived within a pagan world whose life was permeated with the pompa diaboli, i.e. the worship of idols, participation in the cult of the Emperor, adoration of matter, etc. He not only knew what he was renouncing, he was also fully aware to what a “narrow way of life” to what a difficult life—truly “non-conformist” and radically opposed to the “way of life” of the people around him— this renunciation obliged him.
    It is when the world became “Christian” and identified itself with Christian faith and Christian cult that the meaning of this renunciation began to be progressively lost so as to be viewed today as an archaic and anachronistic rite, as a curiosity not to be taken seriously. Christians became so accustomed to Christianity as an integral part of the world, and to the Church as simply the religious expression of their
    worldly “values,”‘ that the very idea of tension between their Christian faith and the world faded their life. And even today, ‘ after the miserable collapse of all these so-called “Christian” worlds, empires, nations, states, so many Christians are still convinced that there is nothing basically wrong with the world and that one can very happily accept its “way of life,” all its values and “priorities,” while fulfilling at the same time one’s “religious duties.” Moreover, the Church herself and Christianity itself are viewed mainly as aids for achieving a successful and peaceful worldly life, as spiritual therapy resolving all tensions, all conflicts, giving that “peace of mind” which assures success, stability, happiness. The very idea that a Christian has to renounce something and that this “something” is not a few obviously sinful and immoral acts, but above all a certain vision of life, a “set of priorities,” a fundamental attitude towards the world; the idea that Christian life is always a “narrow path” and a fight: all this has been virtually given up and is no longer at the heart of our Christian worldview.
    The terrible truth is that the overwhelming majority of Christians simply do not see the presence and action of Satan in the world and, therefore, feel no need to renounce “his works and his service.” They do not discern the obvious idolatry that permeates the ideas and the values by which men live today and that shapes, determines and enslaves their lives much more than the overt idolatry of ancient paganism. They are blind to the fact that the “demonic” consists primarily in falsification and counterfeit, in deviating even positive values from their true meaning, in presenting black as white and vice versa, in a subtle and vicious lie and confusion. They do not understand that such seemingly Positive and even Christian notions as “freedom” and “liberation,” “love,” “happiness,” “success,” “achievement,” growth”, “self-fulfillment”—notions which truly shape modern man and modern society, their motivations and their ideologies—can in fact be deviated from their real significance and become vehicles of the “demonic”.

    At the time of release of The Exorcist (which I saw first run during my time at Concordia Junior College/Milwaukee), I think it was Martin Marty and fellow liberal, Baptist Harvey Cox were announcing the death of the religious baggage of past times, etc. ad nauseam. Note that the release date of The Exorcist was ’73. ’73 just happened to be the time of the legalization of abortion. And Schmemann published the above in ’74 which is so opposite and rightly so to Marty, Cox et. Al. Their renunciation of the idea of satan and the supernatural was so blatantly wrong. Satan is still prowling. At the time, I remember a commentator stating that we have to remember that satan’s most dire work is not possession but temptation. This movie came out and after which, literally a flood of demonic possession movies. They are still around but now it has devolved into movies about vampires and zombies: the living dead. Couple with this the cracking of bedrock Protestant churches, Presbyterian, UCC, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran into liberal Protestant sects and the buying into the pompa diaboli of either revising the Decalogue or moral/spiritual uplift and this spiritual uplift, “positive Christianity”, Schmemann concludes “become vehicles of the demonic” and is like putting a bandaid on a corpse. The fascination of the dark and demonic has continued unabated. The word, “fascinate”, it’s etymology: Latin fascin?tus, past participle of fascin?re to bewitch, cast a spell on, verbal derivative of fascinum evil spell, bewitchment.

    Maybe it is time for reconsidering and speaking together about many things of the considerable riches that Christ Jesus has given to His Church when she knew she was poor without Him.

  3. In the 17th century the pre-baptismal exorcism was seen as a mark of genuine Lutheranism contra Calvinism. The people would often insist their pastors performed the exorcism so they would know he was really Lutheran, since Calvinists did not perform the exorcism.

    Bethany Kilcrease

  4. The Lutheran Cyclopedia, page 175:

    “Our theologians explain that it is an indifferent matter (an adiaphoron) and merely significative. It’s only use is to magnify the natural sinful and needy condition of the child. It has fallen into disuse in the Luth. Church since the seventeenth century. Nor is it to be desired that a merely significative ceremony, useless without explanation, and likely to confuse the simple as to the essentials of baptism should be restored.”

    From the Christian Cyclopedia: “C. F. W. Walther advised congs. that practiced exorcism not to abolish it in haste and those that did not have it not to reintroduce it.”

  5. Dr Brighton was right on and his teaching is always welcome even in video form. The reality is that posession is laughed at today so Satan uses more sophisticated methods like PC language that belittles sin or relativism, one of his favorites.

    BTW A great song written and performed by Don Henley called “in the Garden of Alla” has some great descriptions and comments from a post modern Satan, such as regarding relativism;

    “there are no lies, there is no truth
    I can get ya anything ya want
    What’s it worth to ya”

    Far more effective than all the dramatics don’t you think?

  6. As a parishioner, the words of exorcism in the baptism rite are a stumbling block for me, for the following reasons:

    1. The language reflects a belief that the baptismal candidate brought forward is harassed or possessed by a demon. The basis for that belief is not clear to me. How the pastor has established that a demon is present is not explained. (While the language indicates a demon is present, a pastor I asked about this tells me he did not actually know; he seemed unconcerned about the possibility that he was speaking to the air and giving everyone the impression that an evil spirit was in their midst.)

    2. The language reflects a belief that the Holy Spirit has not already entered the life of the baptismal candidate before baptism. I find it difficult to dismiss the possibility that the Spirit has, before baptism, operated where the Word has been spoken, in Christian households especially.

    3. Given the seriousness of demon possession and the suffering that may accompany it, the typical scheduling of baptism at a time convenient to family, sponsors and congregation reflects a surprising lack of urgency.

    4. Exorcisms are performed only in the baptismal rite, not at other times. If demon possession is a real threat, one would think exorcisms would be an integral part of the ministry to all members of the congregation.

    5. The words “make room for the Holy Spirit” do sound like conjuring, and give the impression that the Holy Spirit is momentarily standing by, waiting for conditions of indwelling to be established through the words of a human agent. But surely the Holy Spirit needs no assistance to blow away evil and dwell in the hearts of those on whom God has chosen to have mercy. “The wind blows where it wishes.”

    6. Exorcism is so very extraordinary; it stands to reason that if Christians have misgivings, surely some visitors do, even more so. While we obviously should not aim to accommodate the sensibilities of every visitor, I think it behooves us for the sake of the Gospel to prevent unnecessary alienation. Yet I have never heard exorcism explained carefully and deliberately as a preface to the rite. The difficulty one might expect among visitors hearing an exorcism for the first time seems to be of little concern.

  7. Pr. Rossow,

    Thomas Aquinas was wrong sometimes, but I don’t think he was worth than other fathers. He had bad doctrines like transubstantiation, but if I remember correctly his baptism stuff is spot on. His legal theory is very good (he does mix Law and Gospel slightly, but otherwise it’s all solid stuff). I’m studying under one of the Vatican’s top Thomists, and most of what I’ve studied is solid stuff that we agree with. I think most Lutherans terribly undervalue his work. Sure he had his problems, but so did Luther and Walther. I think we’d do well to study him more. He does overuse philosophy, which on occasion leads to really stupid arguments, i.e. the earth has always existed and is constantly being created ex nihilo by God. That’s definitely a stupid argument and should be rejected or ignored, but so was Athanasius’ theosis. Thomas made many very important and useful orthodox arguments. I think as a church we’d do well to study them.

  8. Phillip F,

    You are correct. There are several aspects of his work that are fine. Aquinas’ metaphysics and epistemology are excellent. I am a Thomistic realist myself. His ethics are what Luther had the most trouble with since they posit Aristotle’s act/potency dynamic which naturally leads to works righteousness.


  9. Pr. Rossow,

    I mostly agree with you. Pr. Wilken likes to pose the question, “Is natural law an errant teaching of Roman Catholics or is it a Biblical doctrine?” as a lead up to his interviews with people on natural law. My answer is that NL is a good doctrine and that it’s the moral theology of Rome that is errant. I do however think that some of Aristotle’s stuff is useful because it provides terminology for things expressed in Scripture, e.g. an externally good act is sinful if done with wicked intent. I certainly agree that Aristotle should never be put on par with Scripture, but I’m inclined to expand Aristotle’s useful works beyond the Logic, Rhetoric, and Poetics Luther supports in Open Letter. I’m probably beyond most Lutherans, but I’m inclined to draw a somewhat fuzzy line between Aristotle’s ethics and legal theory and call the legal theory useful. It’s difficult sometimes, but I think that if that line can be drawn it proves quite useful.


  10. @Pastor Tim Rossow #8
    With respect, it’s only an intramural league of the wrong sport.

    The Augustinians synthesized Neoplatonism with Christianity. Thomism synthesizes Aristotleanism with Christianity. Why do either? Let the world bow to the Cross, not the reverse.

    Some of the outcomes:

    o The Cross as epistemology is replaced.

    o Semi-Pelagianism is solidified.

    The Theology of the Cross and Divine Monergism both are lost, and therefore no Thomistic system can be sustained as Lutheran. The article on Justification is lost, and therefore the Church cannot stand.

    Investigate the line from Thomism to the Church Growth Movement.

  11. I agree with Pr Kirchner. Baptism is by definition an exorcism. To add a human rite to a divine rite is to minimize God and His actions.

    It is also true that demonic activity is much more evident where the gospel is not known, thus missionaries are much more familiar with demon possession than American pastors in general. Plus we don’t talk about it the same way, what is drug addiction but the devil using a physical attraction to hold onto someone. The same could well be said of serial murderers or/and rapists, etc.

  12. Indeed. Then Pastor Walter Obare once told me an amazing and terrifying story about when he and a fellow pastor had to confront a demon in a house in Kenya, armed only with the Word of God. In typical Obare fashion, he told his colleague, “We may die today, but we have no choice. This is what we are given to do.” And they prayed and went in.

    Last I heard, now Bishop Obare is still around. 🙂

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