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#76 Women should not approach the office of the altar

Below is a passage from Scivias, the visions of Saint Hildegard of Bingen who was a twelfth-century German nun and prophet who wrote prolifically on doctrinal matters, as well as secular matters like medicine. She publicly preached monastic reform and founded two nunneries.

The female saint recorded the distinction between priesthood for men and being a nun/sister for women. Easier-to-read text ::available here::


Book Two, Vision 6, #76

[God in her visions:] “So too those of female sex should not approach the office of My Altar; for they are infirm and weak habitation, appointed to bear children and diligently nurture them. A woman conceives a child not by herself but through a man, as the ground is plowed not by itself but by a farmer. Therefore, just as the earth cannot plow itself, a woman must not be a priest and do the work of consecrating the body and blood of My Son; though she can sing the praise of her Creator, as the earth can receive rain to water its fruits. And as the earth brings forth all fruits, so in Woman the fruit of all good works is perfected. How? Because she can receive the High Priest as Bridegroom. How? A virgin betrothed to My Son will receive Him as Bridegroom, for she has shut her body away from a physical husband; and in her Bridegroom she has the priesthood and all the ministry of My altar, and with Him possesses all its riches. And a widow too can be called a bride of My Son when she rejects a physical husband and flees beneath the wings of My Son’s protection. And as a bridegroom loves his bride with exceeding love, so does My Son sweetly embrace His brides, who for love of chastity eagerly run to Him.”

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Interview with an Exorcist

The following is an excerpt from Interview with an Exorcist by Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea. Get the book and read it entirely.

Easier-to-read text ::available here::


What is a demon?

A demon is a spiritual being of an angelic nature that has been condemned for eternity due to his rebellion against God. As pure spirits, demons are not made up of matter. Because they do not have bodies, demons are not inclined to any “sins of the flesh” (i.e. it is impossible for them to commit the sins of lust or gluttony). The sins of demons are exclusively spiritual. But they can tempt human beings to sin in matters of the flesh.

Demons were not created evil. (In fact, it is impossible for God, who is Goodness itself, to create anything evil.) Remember: demons are just “bad angels”. After God created the angels, He tested their fidelity to Him before admitting them to the Beatific Vision, the sight of His very essence. For purely spiritual beings, this “seeing” of God’s essence would be a purely intellectual vision. Some angels obeyed the divine test; others did not. Those who disobeyed were irreversibly transformed into demons and cast out heaven.

It may seem surprising that some angels would choose to hate God. But we need to understand that those who rebelled saw God no longer as good – as the Good – but as the oppressor of their freedom. Hate was born as their wills resisted the call of God and held fast to the decision to leave the Father’s house.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Rv 12:7-9).

How can purely spiritual beings fight among themselves? What weapons do they use? Angels are spirits, so their battles must be purely intellectual. The only weapons that they can use are intellectual arguments. The angels gave reasons to the rebels for why they should return to obedience to God. The rebel angels countered with their reasons to support their position and spread their rebellion among the faithful angels. In this epic angelic battle, some who were inclined to rebel returned to obedience, while some of the faithful angels were seduced by the evil arguments of the rebels.

In art, demons are depicted as deformed and grotesque beings. This would seem appropriate given that demons have definitively decided on a destiny far from God. The interior loneliness in which they find themselves forever and their envy of the faithful who enjoy the Beatific Vision continually bring them face-to-face with their sins. They hate God, themselves, and all those who seek to serve God.

But not all suffer the same pains. Some angels were deformed more than others in the battle. Those who were more deformed suffer more; the least deformed suffer less. The intellects of the rebellious angels were deformed and darkened by the very reasons they used to justify the rebellion of their wills against God.

Their plight is similar to the moral debasement that humans can suffer through sin. We need to remember that we are composite creatures made up of soul and body. Aside from the sins that are proper to the body, the internal psychological process that leads a good person to end up in the Mafia or as a guard in the concentration camp or a terrorist is essentially the same as the sequence of acts of intellect and will that led to the fall of the bad angels.

Though we are body-soul composites, we as humans have only to look into our own interior life to understand how we can fall into sin. In this light, the sin of the angels becomes more easily understood.

Is the devil merely a symbol of evil, or does he really exist?

Demons are personal spiritual beings, as is the chief demon, the devil. Those Christians who deny the existence of demons and say that they are merely symbols of evil are heretics. Against this false belief stand the teachings of Christ, the teachings of the Bible, and the teachings of the Church (see CCC 391 – 395).

Why did God put the demons to the test?

The real question is, Why did God not grant all the angels the Beatific Vision from the first moment of their creation? Why did He take the chance that some of them would rebel against Him and become demons? God could have created angelic spirits and immediately given them the grace of the Beatific Vision. This was perfectly possible for His omnipotence, and it would have been perfectly just to do so. But there were some powerful reasons for testing the angels before granting them the Beatific Vision.

First, God had to give to each rational being a degree of happiness. Everyone in heaven sees God, but no one can enjoy Him to an infinite degree; this is impossible for a finite being. Each finite creature enjoys to the fullest degree possible without wanting more. A common analogy used to understand this metaphysical concept is that of a glass: God fills each glass (i.e., soul) to the rim but each glass is a specific size based on its degree of glory.

God, in His wisdom, decided that each angel would determine its degree of glory for eternity by its response to a divine test. Each angel determined its degree of happiness by the degree of generosity, love, constancy, and other virtues it displayed in the test. A spirit can grow in its faith and in its generosity toward God before it sees Him. But once admitted to the Beatific Vision, no further growth is possible- there can no longer be growth in faith where there is vision. Above all, the period of testing offered the angels the opportunity to grow in the theological virtues, and some angels would grow more in the virtue of perseverance, others in humility, others in petition, etc.

Offering a being the possibility of faith also supposes the risk that in this same being evil may flourish instead of faith. God, by giving free will to the angels and human beings, knew that freedom, once bestowed, could be used for good and evil. Of course, God could have created the cosmos in any way he liked, without any restrictions or limits. But a saint is not created; one becomes a saint through the action of grace. The gift of freedom allows for Hitler as well as a Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Once the gift of freedom has been given, consequences – good or evil – flow from every act of the will. In the material cosmos there is no spiritual good; the good of the cosmos is purely physical. Spiritual (or moral) good is qualitatively superior but necessarily requires a free choice. Thus, the appearance of moral evil in no way upset God’s plan. The possibility of evil was already part of the divine plan before the creation of thinking beings.

Finally, the most important and powerful reason for God’s granting angels the gift of freedom was for them to love. God loves His creation, and He desires to be loved in return. But love requires receptivity – it must be received freely (CCC 1828). The same God who can create the cosmos with only an act of His will cannot create that love that is born and proven in the suffering of the faith. The love of God is not created; it must be freely given by a created being.

Does God hate the demons?

No. God, being perfect, is Love itself. The created world is God’s act of love, and as part of His creation, demons remain essentially good and loved by God. It is true, though, that God “hates” sin because it harms the perfection of His creation. Sin ultimately leads to the condemnation of those who remain unrepentant, but this does not mean God hates sinners.

This is the terrible thing: The condemned cannot ask mercy from God because they have made a definitive choice. Infinite Love acknowledges this choice made in freedom. In The Divine Comedy, Dante places the following inscription on the entrance of hell:

Through me is the way into the woeful city; through me is the way into eternal woe; through me is the way among the lost people.

Justice moved my lofty maker: the divine Power, the supreme Wisdom and the primal Love made me. Before me were no things created, unless eternal, and I eternal last. Leave every hope, ye who enter!

This inscription, though a work of literature, captures the truth that it is Love, not hate, which allows the existence of hell. Thus, one cannot plead with Love to destroy hell. God loves the demons but condemns them nevertheless. Why? Because they have chosen hell by their rebellion against Him- God is simply ratifying their choice.

As an aside, if God does not hate the demons, an exorcist cannot hate them, either. During an exorcism, a demon may say things to try and incite hatred in the exorcist or others who are present. I recall an exorcism in which a mother lost control, becoming furious and enraged with the demon that possessed her daughter. The demon, with all the calmness in the world, smiled evilly and said, “You can’t get rid of me with hate.” In the end, only the power of love defeats evil.

What is evil?

Evil is the lack (or privation) of a good that should be present in a thing. For example, blindness is a physical evil because it is the absence of the ability to see, which is proper to a human being. In moral terms, sin is the absence of a particular virtue in a person. As such, evil is not something that exists in itself; it is merely the absence of the good (see CCC 309, 314).

This classical definition, formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, was the result of centuries of thought and the refinement of complex formulas into this simple, objective explanation.

Can demons read our thoughts?

No. Though demons can tempt us, they cannot read our thoughts. With their great intelligence, they can guess what we are thinking- but they can never be absolutely certain. As spiritual beings, they are much more intelligent than we are, and as such, they can deduce things with greater accuracy and with fewer external signs than we can. But we always have to remember that demons are outside our souls; only God can truly read the soul. This being said, if one directs his mind and will to a saint, an angel, or a demon, they can hear us. So it does not matter whether our prayer is verbal or merely mental. In certain cases of possession I have observed that the demon obeys orders that have been given mentally.

What is the difference between magic and religion?

When we speak here of magic we are not referring to the popular art of the “magician” who pulls a rabbit out of a hat or makes things (apparently) disappear. Such “magicians” are just entertainers- illusionists – who use various techniques to trick our eyes.

In this discussion, the word magic refers to occult practices performed by witches or sorcerers. Throughout history, in many cultures, magic and religion came to be mixed to one degree or another. Nonetheless, we can see there is a clear and precise difference between these two realities.

* Religion is obedience (to God); magic seeks power (over forces or beings).

* Religion requires faith and worship; magic seeks control (over forces or beings).

* Religion requires us to change our lives; magic wants to change others through manipulation.

While religion is defined by adoration, magic is defined by dominion or control over supernatural forces or entities. It does not matter whether these forces are good or evil; a witch or sorcerer seeks to harness their power. In magic, one is not dealing with the transcendent, since God by His very nature is omnipotent and therefore unable to be dominated. As such, one is dealing with powers that, no matter how powerful they may be, can be dominated by a technique.

On the contrary, in religion, the believer deals directly with God, the Holy One, and a relationship exists between God and us- much like a parent with his children – in which we submit to His will and obey His commands. This relationship sanctifies us and keeps our minds and hearts focused on heaven. Magic, on the other hand, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “gravely contrary to the virtue of religion” because it “attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others” (CCC 2117). Witches and sorcerers seek power rather than holiness. In addition, magic requires no conversion or change in the one who practices it.

What can be done against temptation?

We must immediately resist it with the help of God’s grace. A temptation is harmless if we resist and do not entertain it. From the moment we begin to dialogue with a particular temptation, though, considering the pros and cons of what it offers, our opposition to it begins to weaken, and it is far more difficult to resist succumbing to it.

Confessors often see some very devout penitents who are at times overwhelmed with temptations to commit grave sins. Such religious people cannot understand why these horrible thoughts come to them; they feel guilty and powerless to stop them. Given the nature of demonic temptation, the best remedy is to pray and to ignore the temptation as much as possible and do exactly the opposite of what is proposed. Falling into despair is of no help, but successfully resisting the temptation causes the demons to despair.

We need to remember that while a demon can introduce thoughts, images, or memories into our minds, he cannot control our wills. We can be tempted, but in the end we do what we choose to do. Not even all the powers of hell can force someone to commit even the smallest sin.

Why does God allow temptation?

If God does not want us to sin, why does He allow temptation at all? We have the answer in the verse that says, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas 1:2).

Without temptation, there would be no opportunity for us to grow in virtue every time we successfully resist the allure of sin and remain faithful to God’s will. It is true that God could restrain the demons so that they would be unable to interfere in the history of humanity, but He allows their diabolical work so that it can be an occasion of virtue for us. In other words, we could say that God permits a certain amount of darkness in this world (temptation and sin) so that a purer and brighter light (virtue and salvation) can be gained. So God allows temptation because He knows that much good can come from it if we resist.

Why does God not just annihilate the demons?

God, in His great love, has pledged not to destroy any intelligent being He has created. Demons, by their very existence, are a manifestation of God’s justice, a proclamation that the law of God is not violated without consequence. He who violates the law deforms himself and, if he chooses not to repent of this transgression, his deformation becomes eternal. Such is the case with the demons. They are a terrifying proof of the divine order.

In a certain sense, even the demons enrich the perfect order of God’s creation. Beauty cannot be destroyed by ugliness; rather, ugliness (i.e., evil) makes us see beauty all the more by contrast. A cathedral would not be more beautiful if we took away the monstrous gargoyles adorning it. As has been said, the demons show us the justice of God, His holiness and wisdom in creating such an order. While it would have been better had sin and evil never entered creation, their presence can point the way to what is good, true, beautiful, and holy. Even a majestic cathedral, with its high towers and sculptured beauty, has its gloomy crypts.

For the demons, the centuries pass with no hope. Undoubtedly, being desperate and full of sadness, if they could commit suicide, they would do so in order to end their suffering. But, as a pure spirit, the life of a demon is indestructible. A spirit has no organs, it cannot be poisoned, and it cannot be starved. It cannot even die of sadness. No matter what is done, it will continue to exist forever. (Of course, the same holds true for human beings as well. We will exist forever- either in heaven or hell, by our free choice to obey God or reject Him.)

Anyway, as has been said, even though the demons suffer for all eternity, they do not suffer at each and every moment. Even though they do not recognize it, their existence is a gift from God. And even though they fall over and over again into acts of hate, reproach, and remorse, the rest of the time they know and experience a natural existence, which is proper to their nature.

Why does holy water disturb demons?

The real question is: How can something material have an influence on something spiritual? It would seem that these two realms are so distinct, so independent, that something material should not have any effect on a demon, much less expel him. Actually, though, a material object- holy water, holy chrism, etc. – can torment or expel demons because the Church has given a spiritual power to this object by blessing it. In other words, the Church, with the power she has received from Christ, can join a spiritual effect to an object. Of course, the object itself has no power; rather, the power lies in that of Christ Himself which has been placed upon the particular object.

In any event, in my experience there are materials that have a concrete effect because of what they symbolize. Here is an anecdote that touches on this fact: One winter day, extremely cold weather had frozen the pipes in my parish, and we had no water. A possessed girl I was exorcising could not be given water from the holy water fonts because it was several days old and many people had dipped their fingers in it. As I was preparing to go out in search of water, I remembered that there was a bottle of lemonade that had been left over from a meeting of catechists. It occurred to me to bless the contents of the bottle, thinking that the type of liquid was of little importance since its power was rooted in the prayer attached to it. I discovered, though, that its effect on the demon was much less than normal. After a few minutes, I ordered the demon in the name of Jesus to tell me why this was so. He resisted, but in the end he told me that, while any blessed liquid might have some effect on the demons, holy water is more effective because it symbolized purity and cleanliness. (In fact, every material the Church blesses or consecrates – water, wine, bread, salt, incense, oil, etc. – has a deep and powerful symbolism.)

What other objects disturb demons?

A crucifix, even if it has not been blessed, is particularly powerful. It torments the demons because it reminds them of their defeat by Jesus’ death on the Cross, of the final triumph of Christ over evil and death, and of their ultimate condemnation at the Last Judgement. Similarly, relics of the saints torment demons because they are filled with the spiritual anointing of these saints and call to mind the life of heroic sanctity the particular saint lived. The same is true for all religious images, whether they are blessed or not.

How can we protect ourselves from the attack of a demon?

As has been said, the best shield and armor against the attacks of the Evil One is prayer, the sacraments, good works, and living a spiritual life. Some people think specific- and repeated – prayers are needed for protection against the devil, but this is to think of prayers in “magical” terms. Strictly speaking, it is not a particular prayer that protects us but the action of God Himself. When we give alms or do works of mercy, it is the grace of God that fills us with the spiritual light; it is sanctifying grace which moves God to shower His blessings upon us, thus making us an unpleasant dwelling for a demon.

Of course, before performing any work or facing a specific danger relating to the demonic field, the invocation of St. Michael the Archangel is highly effective. He always comes to our aid and protects us if we call on him with faith. Even though St. Michael has received a special charge from God with respect to demons, one can also call upon his or her own guardian angel, another saint, or God directly for protection. Fortunately, there are mothers and grandmothers who pray to God every day for the spiritual protection of their children and grandchildren. As the mission of the Mother of God is to pray for the whole Church, so the mission of these faithful women is to pray for their families.

Those who would like to protect themselves against demonic attacks should remember the words we proclaim during every Mass before receiving Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus enters into our bodily dwelling with His body, blood, soul, and divinity. Our body is like a home or tent in which He comes to dwell. Nothing destroys demonic influence more powerfully than worthy reception of the Body of Christ.

Remember: the devil is only a creature; his power is limited. In the end, he cannot prevent God’s ultimate plan and purpose from being accomplished (see CCC 395). Under the wings of our guardian angel, under the cloak of our Blessed Mother, and with Jesus entering every day in our hearts, we should not fear the demon’s attack.

How can I tell if a particular thought or desire is from the devil?

As St. John in his first letter tells us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God: for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1)

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his profound Spiritual Exercises, offers several rules for the discernment of spirits. These rules serve to illuminate the manner in which a demon acts when tempting a soul, and an understanding of such rules can help us discern whether a particular desire is from the Evil One.

In his first rule, St. Ignatius notes that in people who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the devil commonly proposes to them apparent pleasures, seeking to keep them bound in sensual delights and pleasures so that they might grow in their sins and vices.

The second rule pertains to people who are going about an intense purification of their sins and vices so that they might serve God more faithfully. Here, the devil- contrary to the first rule- seeks to sadden and frustrate their progress by putting up obstacles and disquieting them with false fears, so that they might give up the practice of virtue.

In his twelfth rule, St. Ignatius likens the devil to a commander of an army bent on conquering, examining an enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, and attacking at the weakest point. As the enemy of human nature, the devil looks at our virtues and attacks us in the area where we are weakest and which is most critical to our eternal salvation.

Thus, if we understand and apply these rules to a particular thought or desire, we can more easily discern whether a particular inspiration is from the Evil One.

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