Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing (3 of 5)

Jean-Claude Larchet dedicates the third chapter of his book, Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, to a consideration of insanity of demonic origin. He begins: “According to the Fathers, another cause for insanity was the direct intervention of demons.” The Fathers “distinguished quite clearly between physical and demonic etiologies, not only with regard to illness or infirmities of different kinds, but even for identical diseases or infirmities arising from different causes.” This goes to show “that having recourse to a demonic etiology is no way indicates a naivete of belief, an ignorance of other causes, or an inability to explain things otherwise.” Indeed, to “ascribe a belief in demonic etiology to a lack of education in monastic communities is to forget that some of these monks were among the most cultivated men of their times, and that several of them possessed extensive medical knowledge.” Distinguishing etiologies in cases of insanity, however, requires the gift of discernment: “Only those who have obtained the charism of the discerning of spirits from God are capable of exercising this spiritual discrimination.” The process is rendered complex by the way the devil can act both on the body and, to a limited extent, the soul. Larchet writes:
In general, when the devil cannot act directly on the soul, he will act through the intermediary of the body. He has no immediate access to the spirit of the Christian, because by baptism he has lost the power that he formerly could exercise and he has been expelled from the depth of the soul where he wishes to work. He has been expelled from the depth of the soul where he formerly made his residence and has been replaced by the grace of the Holy Trinity that now surrounds the heart of the baptized. As long as the baptized individual guards the grace which is in him by keeping his will turned toward God, the devil remains unable to approach his soul. However, the “bath of holiness in now way presents the demons form attacking us.” The devil attempts to seduce the soul by multiple suggestions that the individual however has the power to repel, by means of the divine grace which is in him.
The individual is tested and fortified by demonic possession. St Diodochos of Photiki writes:
It is for a good purpose that the demons are allowed to dwell within the body, even of those who are struggling vigorously against sin; for in this way man’s free will is constantly put to the test. [Thus] God allows [Satan] to do this, so that a man, after passing through a trial of storm and fire, may come in the end to full enjoyment of divine blessings.
If the Baptized Christian “even for a moment turns away from grace, which acts like a rampart defending his heart, he becomes once again susceptible to the power of Satan, and the latter, profiting from this relaxation, is able to introduce the seeds of disturbance into the citadel of the soul.” In such cases, demons “can penetrate the soul directly because grace no longer dwells within it, and thus can go so far as to result in possession.” Passions, taken to an extreme, can lead to an opening for the demons; in fact “the passions, insofar as they subsist in man, constitute in themselves to a certain degree a form of demonic possession.”

Most striking about the Fathers’ attitude with regard to the possessed/insane is their positive attitude. First, “the possessed person is frequently not considered to be someone subject to divine chastisement, or simply suffering the natural consequences of a sinful state signifying the definite loss os sin’s victim, but someone undergoing a trial authorized by God in order to purify him and bring him to a superior spiritual state.” St John Cassian writes:
We ought to hold unwaveringly to two things. The first is that not one of these persons in ever tried without the permission of God. The second is that everything which is brought upon us by God, whether it appears sad or joyful at the time, is ordained as a most tender father and a most merciful physician for our benefit. Therefore they are handed over as it were to pedagogues in order to be humiliated. Thus, when they leave this world... [they] may either be brought to the other life in a more purified condition or be struck with a light punishment.
Possession can have a positive effect upon the soul. Larchet writes:
[T]hose afflicted are given the chance from now on, in the troubles that assail them, for a thorough questioning of their previous way of life, for a true purification, and for a conversion of their being which perhaps in any other way. Having one’s soul and body shaken by demonic forces can lead to the discovery of realities which had been ignored. By experiencing the terrible malice of the evil spirits in the depth of one’s soul, the misery of those deprived of divine protection suddenly comes into sharp focus. These people can then, in their distress, be led to call upon God with great intensity for deliverance from the hell in which they find themselves. Withstanding, through God, every evil that must be borne, they can be purified by suffering and strengthened by patience. This hard battle that must be fought plays the role, then, of a difficult asceticism, an asceticism capable of producing spiritual transformations which, by the end, can be revealed to be extraordinary and proportionate to the unusual trials they have had to undergo.
The Fathers manifest an attitude of profound respect for the possessed/insane. This if, first of all, “because of the previously given reason that such a destiny can hide some mysterious judgment of God and is likely to lead the individual on a path of spiritual progress, or can at least serve in some manner for his benefit.” Second, the insane or possessed person “remains a brother who has an even greater need not to be held in contempt or rejected, but on the contrary to be loved and helped since he finds himself in a condition of great suffering.” Thus, “far from being excluded from the fraternal community, the possessed person, while submitting to his trials, finds himself integrated with the community through the helping attention of his particular situation of suffering and distress deserve.”

The insane or possessed person maintains his humanity; it is simply subject to a parasite. Therefore, we do not regard him as we would the devil. Larchet adds in a footnote that “Historians agree in recognizing that, in the West, it is only after the Renaissance that, by an unbelievable confusion, the possessed/insane are considered the devil’s accomplices, and so implicated, pursued, and penalized in ‘witch hunts.’” The Fathers “do not identify him with his madness.”

A saint is not only capable, thanks to his faculty of discernment, of not only properly diagnosing insanity of demonic origin, but he is also capable of healing the possessed person. The saints, above all, invoke “the Name of Jesus, which is especially effective in combating demons and so can deliver men from insanity.” They also use the Sign of the Cross, “the seal of the presence of Christ which places the individual under the grace of Christ crucified, the conquerer of every evil, of all suffering, all corruption, and the destroyer of the power of Satan.” The saints also make recourse to other means: “holy oil used either by rubbing or unction, holy water, and sometimes the laying on of hands. The traditional form of exorcism is which a saint orders the demons to leave is reported in a few cases.” The saints also used prayer and fasting (cf., Mk 9:29). The possessed person himself must also pray for his deliverance, for God “does not grant healing unless it is asked of him.”

I’ll continue tomorrow with chapter four, “Insanity of Spiritual Origin.”

1 comment:

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