Of the Method by which Devils through the Operations of Witches sometimes actually possess men.
It has been shown in the previous chapter how devils can enter the heads and other parts of the body of men, and can move the inner mental images from place to place. But someone may doubt whether they are able at the instance of witches to obsess men entirely; or fell some uncertainty about their various methods of causing such obsession without the instance of witches. And to clear up these doubts we must undertake three explanations. First, as to the various methods of possession. Secondly, how at the instance of witches and with God’s permission devils at time possess men in all those ways. Thirdly, we must substantiate our arguments with facts and examples.
With references to the first, we must make an exception of that general method by which the devil inhabits a man in any mortal sin. S. Thomas, in Book 3, quest. 3, speaks of this method where he considers the doubt whether the devil always substantially possesses a man when he commits mortal sin; and the reason for the doubt is that the indwelling Holy Ghost always forms a man with grace, according to I. Corinthians, iii: Ye are the temple of God, and the spirit of God dwelleth in you. And, since guilt is opposed to grace, it would seem that there were opposing forces in the same place.
And there he proves that to possess a man can be understood in two ways: either with regard to the soul, or with regard to the body. And in the first way it is not possible for the devil to possess the soul, since God alone can enter that; therefore the devil is not in this way the cause of sin, which the Holy Spirit permits the soul itself to commit; so there is no similitude between the two.
But as to the body, we may say that the devil can possess a man in two ways, just as there are two classes of men: those who are in sin, and those who are in grace. In the first way, we may say that, since a man is by any mortal sin brought into the devil’s service, in so far as the devil provides the outer suggestion of sin either to the senses or to the imagination, to that extent he is said to inhabit the character of a man when he is moved by every stirring temptation, like a ship in the sea without a rudder.
The devil can also essentially possess a man as is clear in the case of frantic men. But this rather belongs to the question of punishment than that of sin, as will be shown; and bodily punishments are not always the consequence of sin, but are inflicted now upon sinners and now upon the innocent. Therefore both those who are and those who are not in a state of grace can, in the depth of the incomprehensible judgement of God, be essentially possessed by devils. And though this method of possession is not quite pertinent to our inquire, we have set it down lest it should seem impossible to anyone that, with God’s permission, men should at times be substantially inhabited by devils at the instance of witches.
We may say, therefore, that just as there are five ways in which devils by themselves, without witches, can injure and possess men, so they can also do so in those ways at the instance of witches; since then God is the more offended, and greater power of molesting men is allowed to the devil through witches. And the methods are briefly the following, excepting the fact that they sometimes plague a man through his external possessions: sometimes they injure men only in their own bodies; sometimes in their and in their faculties; sometimes they only tempt them inwardly and outwardly; others they at times deprive of the use of their reason; others they change into the appearance of irrational beasts. We shall speak of these methods singly.
But first we shall rehearse five reasons why God allows men to be possessed, for the sake of preserving a due order in our matter. For sometimes a man is possessed for his own advantage; sometimes for a slight sin of another; and sometimes for his own venial sin; sometimes for another’s heavy sin. For all these reasons let no one doubt that God allows such things to be done by devils at the instance of witches; and it is better to prove each of them by the Scriptures, rather than by recent examples, since new things are always strengthened by old examples.
For an example of the first is clearly shown in the Dialogue of Severus, a very dear disciple of S. Martin, where he tells that a certain Father of very holy life was so gifted by grace with the power of expelling devils, that they were put to flight not only by his words, but even by his letters or his hair-shirt. And since the Father became very famous in the world, and felt himself tempted with vainglory, although he manfully resisted that vice, yet, that he might be the more humiliated, he prayed with his whole heart to God that he might be for five months possessed by a devil; and this was done. For he was at once possessed and had to be put in chains, and everything had to applied to him which is customary in the case of demoniacs. But at the end of the fifth month he was immediately delivered both from all vainglory and from the devil. But we do not read, nor is it for the present maintained, that for this reason a man can be possessed by a devil through the witchcraft of another man; although, as we have said, the judgements of God are incomprehensible.
For the second reason, when someone is possessed because of the light sin of another, S. Gregory gives an example. The Blessed Abbot Eleutherius, a most devout man, was spending the night near a convent of virgins, who unknown to him ordered to be put by his cell a young boy who used to be tormented all night by the devil. But on that same night the boy was delivered from the devil by the presence of the Father. When the Abbot learned of this, and the boy now being placed in the holy man’s monastery, after many days he began to exult rather immoderately over the boy’s liberation, and said to his brother monks: The devil was playing his pranks with those Sisters, but he had not presumed to approach this boy since he came to the servants of God. And behold! the devil at once began to torment the boy. And by the tears and fasting of the holy man and his brethren he was with difficulty delivered, but on the same day. And indeed that an innocent person should be possessed for the slight fault of another is not surprising when men are possessed by devils for their own light fault, or for another’s heavy sin, or for their own heavy sin, and some also at the instance of witches.
Cassia, in his First Collation of the Abbot Serenus, gives an example of how one Moses was possessed for his own venial sin. This Moses, he says, was a hermit of upright and pious life; but because on one occasion he engaged in a dispute with the Abbot Macharius, and went a little too far in the expression of a certain opinion, he was immediately delivered up to a terrible devil, who caused him to void his natural excrements through his mouth. And that this scourge was inflicted by God for the sake of purgation, lest any stain of his momentary fault should remain in him, is clear from his miraculous cure. For by continual prayers and submission to the Abbot Macharius, the vile spirit was quickly driven away and departed from him.
A similar case is that related by S. Gregory in his First Dialogue of the nun who ate a lettuce without having first made the sign of the Cross, and was set free by the Blessed Father Equitius.
In the same Dialogue St. Gregory tells an example of the fourth case, where someone in possessed because of the heavy sin of another. The Blessed Bishop Fortunatus had driven the devil from a possessed man, and the devil began to walk about the streets of the city in the guise of a pilgrim, crying out: Oh, the holy man Bishop Fortunatus! See, he has cast me, a pilgrim, out of my lodging, and I can find no rest anywhere. Then a certain man sitting with his wife and son invited the pilgrim to lodge with him, and asking why he had been turned out, was delighted with the derogatory story of the holy man which the pilgrim had invented. And thereupon the devil entered his son, and cast him upon the fire, and killed him. And then for the first time did the unhappy father understand whom he had received as a guest.
And fifthly, we read many examples of men being possessed for their own heavy sin, both in the Holy Scripture and in the passions of the Saints. For in I. Kings xv, Saul was possessed for disobedience to God. And, as we have said, we have mentioned all these so that it need not seem to anyone impossible that men should also be possessed because of the crimes of, and at the instance of, witches. And we shall be able to understand the various methods of such possession by quoting actual examples.
In the time of Pope Pius II the following was the experience of one of us two Inquisitors before he entered upon his office in the Inquisition. A certain Bohemian from the town of Dachov brought his only son, a secular priest, to Rome to be delivered, because he was possessed. It happened that I, one of us Inquisitors, went into a refectory, and that priest and his father came and sat down at the same table with me. We saluted each other, and talked together, as is customary; and the father kept sighing and praying Almighty God that his journey might prove to have been successful. I felt great pity for him, and began to ask what was the reason of his journey and of his sorrow. Then he, in the hearing of his son who was sitting next to me at the table, answered: “Alas! I have a son possessed by a devil, and with great trouble and expense I have brought him here to be delivered.” And when I asked where the son was, he showed me him sitting by my side. I was a little frightened, and looked at him closely; and because he took his food with such modesty, and answered piously to all questions, I began to doubt that he was not possessed, but that some infirmity had happened to him. Then the son himself told what had happened, showing how and for how long he had been possessed, and saying: “A certain witch brought this evil upon me. For I was rebuking her on some matter concerned with the discipline of the Church, upbraiding her rather strongly since she was of an obstinate disposition, when she said that after a few days that would happen to me which has happened. And the devil which possesses me has told me that a charm was placed by the witch under a certain tree, and that until it was removed I could not be delivered; but he would not tell me which was the tree.” But I would not in the least have believed his words if he had not at once informed me of the facts of the case. For when I asked him about the length of the intervals during which he had the use of his reason more than is usual in the case of persons possessed, he answered: “I am only deprived of the use of my reason when I wish to contemplate holy things or to visit sacred places. For the devil specifically told me in his own words uttered through my mouth that, because he had up to that time been much offended by my sermons to the people, we would in no way allow me to preach.” For according to his father, he was a preacher full of grace, and loved by all. But I, the Inquisitor, wishing for proofs, had him taken for a fortnight and more to various holy places, and especially to the Church of S. Praxedes the Virgin, where there is part of the marble pillar to which Our Saviour was bound when He was scourged, and to the place where S. Peter the Apostle was crucified; and in all these places he uttered horrible cries while he was being exorcised, now saying that he wished to come forth, and after a little maintaining the contrary. And as we have said before, in all his behaviour he remained a sober priest without any eccentricity, except during the process of any exorcisms; and when these were finished, and the stole was taken from his neck, he showed no sign of madness or any immoderate action. But when he passed any church, and genuflected in honour of the Glorious Virgin, the devil made him thrust his tongue far out of his mouth; and when he was asked whether he could not restrain himself from doing this, he answered: “I cannot help myself at all, for so he uses all my limbs and organs, my neck, my tongue, and my lungs, whenever he pleases, causing me to speak or to cry out; and I hear the words as if they were spoken by myself, but I am altogether unable to restrain them; and when I try to engage in prayer he attacks me more violently, thrusting out my tongue.” And there was in the Church of S. Peter a column brought from Solomon’s Temple, by virtue of which many who are obsessed with devils are liberated, because Christ had stood near it when He preached in the Temple; but even here he could not be delivered, owing to the hidden purpose of God which reserved another method for his liberation. For though he remained shut in by the column for a whole day and night, yet on the following day, after various exorcisms had been performed upon him, with a great concourse of people standing round, he was asked by which part of the column Christ had stood; and he bit the column with his teeth, and, crying out, showed the place, saying: “Here He stood! Here He stood!” And at last he said, “I will not go forth.” And when he was asked why, he answered in the Italian tongue (although the poor priest did not understand that language), They all practise such and such things, naming the worst vice of lustfulness. And afterwards the priest asked me, saying, “Father, what did those Italian words mean which came from my mouth?” And when I told him, he answered, “I heard the words, but I could not understand them.” Eventually it proved that this demoniac was of that sort of which the Saviour spoke in the Gospel, saying: This sort goeth not out save by prayer and fasting. For a venerable Bishop, who had been driven from his see by the Turks, piously took compassion on him, and by fasting on bread and water for forty days, and by prayers and exorcisms, at last through the grace of God delivered him and sent him back to his home rejoicing.
Now it would be a miracle if anyone in this life could thoroughly explain in what and in how many ways the devil possesses or injures men: yet we can say that, leaving out of account his method of injuring men in their temporal fortunes, there are five ways. For some are affected only in their own bodies; some both in their bodies and in their inner perceptions; some only in their inner perceptions; some are so punished at to be at times only deprived of their reason; and others are turned into the semblance of irrational beasts. Now the priest we have just mentioned was possessed in the fourth manner. For he was not touched in his worldly fortunes or in his own body, as it happened to the Blessed Job, over whom the Scripture clearly tells us that God gave the devil power, saying to Satan: Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. And this refers to exterior things. But afterwards He gave him power over his body, saying: Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
And it can also be said that Job was tormented in the third manner, that is, in the inner perceptions of his soul as well as his body; for it is said in Job xii: If it is said to the Lord, My bed will console me, and I will take comfort to myself on my couch, then Thou wilt terrify me with dreams, and shake me with the horror of visions: though these dreams were caused by the devil, according to Nicolas of Lyra and S. Thomas: Thou wilt terrify me with dreams, which appear to me in sleep, and with visions which come to me waking by a distortion of my inner perceptions. For the phantasms which occur to the thoughts in the day-time can become the terror of sleepers, and such were visited upon Job through the infirmity of his body. Therefore he was so shut off from all comfort that he saw no remedy or way of escaping from his misery except in death, and said that he was shaken with horror. And no one doubts that witches can injure men in these ways through devils, as will be shown in what follows, how they bring injuries upon the fortunes of men and upon the bodies of men and animals by means of hailstorms.
And there is a third way of injuring the body and the inner perceptions, without taking away the reason, which is shown when witches, as has been said, so inflame the minds of men with unlawful lust that they are compelled to travel long distances in the night to go to their mistresses, being too fast bound in the net of carnal desire.
We may mention an example which is said to have happened in Hesse, in the diocese of Marburg. A certain priest was possessed, and during an exorcism the devil was asked for how long he had inhabited that priest. He answered, For seven years. And when the exorcist objected, But you have tormented him for hardly three years; where were you for the rest of the time? He answered, I was hiding in his body. And when he asked in what part of the body, he answered, Generally in his head. And when he was again asked where he was when the priest was celebrating the Sacrament, he said, I hid myself under his tongue. And the other said: Wretch! How were you so bold as not to flee from the presence of your Creator? Then the devil said: Anyone may hide under a bridge while a holy man is crossing, as long as he does not pause in his walk. But with the help of Divine grace the priest was delivered, whether he told the truth or not; for both he and his father are liars.
The fourth method applies to the case of the priest who was liberated in Rome, under the proposition that the devil can enter the body, but not the soul, which only God can enter. But when I say that the devil can enter the body, I do not mean that he can occupy the essential limits of the body.
I will explain this further; and in doing so it will be shown how devils sometimes substantially occupy a man, and at times deprive him of his reason. For we may say that the limits of the body can be considered in two ways: they may be physical or essential limits. Whenever any Angel, good or bad, works within the physical limits of the body, he enters the body in such a way as to influence its physical capacities. And in this way the good Angels cause imaginary visions in the good. But they are never said to enter into the essence of the body, since they cannot do so, either as part of it or as a quality of it. Not as a part, for the angelic and the human essence are entirely different from each other; and not as a quality, as if giving it its character, for it has its character by creation from God. Wherefore He alone is able to influence its inner essence, and to preserve it when He is pleased in His mercy to preserve it.
So we conclude that, speaking of all other perfections in the good or defects in the wicked, when these are caused by a spirit operating in the head and its attributes, such a spirit enters into the head within the physical limits of the physical capacities of the body.
But if the spirit is working upon the soul, then again it works from the outside, but in various ways. And they are said to work on the soul when they represent phantasms or shapes to the intellect, and not only to the common understanding and the outer perceptions. And when bad Angels so operate, there follow temptations and evil thoughts and affections, caused by an indirect influence upon the intellect. But good Angels cause phantasms of revelation which enlighten the understanding. And there is this difference between them; that good Angels can even directly impress enlightening fancies upon the intellect; but bad Angels are said not to enlighten but rather to darken by means of their phantasms, and they cannot influence the intellect directly, but only indirectly, in so far as the intellect is bound to take such phantasms into consideration.
But even a good Angel is not said to enter into the soul, although he enlightens it: similarly a superior Angel is not said to enter into an inferior, although he enlightens it; but he works only from the outside, and co-operates in the way we have said. Therefore far less can a bad Angel enter the soul.
And so the devil occupied the body of the priest in three ways. First, as he could enter his body within its physical limits, so he occupied his head by substantially inhabiting it. Secondly, he could extrinsically work upon his reason. And he could have so tormented him without any intermission or respite; but we may say that the priest had this gift from God, that he should not be tormented by the devil without intermission. Thirdly, that although he was deprived of the power of the sane use of words, yet he was always conscious of his words, though not of their meaning. And this differs from the other methods of obsession, for we generally read that those who are possessed are afflicted by devils without intermission; as is clear in the case of the lunatic in the Gospel, whose father said to Jesus: Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic, and sore vexed (S. Matthew xvii); and of the woman whom Satan had crippled for eighteen years, who was bowed together and could in no wise lift herself up (S. Luke xiii). And in these ways devils can without doubt at the instance of witches and with God’s permission inflict torments.