Prof. Elmar Salmann
The Nature of the Soul.
In this lecture Professor Salmann enters closely into the complex reality which is the soul, a concept which is beyond our grasp and which yet, at the same time, defines an essential aspect of the person. He begins with four approaches of a phenomenological character: a person’s voice, with its timbre and its musicality, the person’s face, with all the different expressions of their subjectivity, the person’s name as something unique which requires recognition, and the person’s continuity with the passing of the years as memory and as self-portrait, even within the variety of their experiences. There follow eight perspectives or longitudinal insights, in which the soul is principle, index, rhythm and awareness of life, movement and teleology of life, of an enigmatic nature, of the expressiveness and receptiveness of life, of closeness and distance as a difference to be valued, of awareness of sameness which is to be recognised by me and by others, of taking a distance from oneself in order to accept oneself in terms of polarity, of being able to begin something with oneself and with the world, of the profound depth of the relationship with oneself and with the other which is beyond expression. By means of a scheme, like a wind rose, we add a cross-section with the parables of life: of the parable of the origins which refers back to a receptivity as in a chalice, to the parable of blessed solitude, to the parable of hope in the future and to the parable of archetypal sharing, as the realm of the abyss and of impulsiveness. At the centre of everything, the awareness which holds together all the various dimensions and parables. Finally, there is the need to explore not only the condition of the relationship with oneself, but above all the dialogical relationship between oneself and the world, creating an echo-chamber, a sphere of mediation, each one of us making himself or herself an interpreter of different worlds and discovering together a communal soul, the soul of the world. In the end, there is a reference to the neurotic dimension when the human being, to put himself safely away from everyone else, renders himself no longer vulnerable nor exposed to challenge, closing himself off in a self-referential world; at this point he is reduced to being an instance of a kind, and so loses his soul.
Fr. Claudio Berardi
The Presence and Action of the Holy Spirit in the Spiritual Experience of the Christian.
This contribution introduces us to the knowledge of the spiritual life, presenting in the form of a synthesis, but in a way which is sufficiently clear, the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian from the point of departure of significant citations from the Bible and from the Magisterium, showing how the ‘mystical experience’ described by the Mystical Doctors is the work of the Holy Spirit who intervenes in the faculties of the soul to give them direction or to suspend their activities. Afterwards, the question of spiritual discernment is addressed, being understood as the search for the will of God in the light of the Spirit of God, through an analysis of the meaning of the terms «discernment» and «discretion» used by St. John of the Cross in his works and applied in a special way to the mystical experiences which mark the path of the purification of those souls which are called to receive the gift of union with God. A further analysis concerns the doctrine and classification of mystical experiences furnished by St. John of the Cross (visions, revelations, conversations), as different forms of «apprehension» of the soul. Finally, the general and more specific criteria of spiritual discernment are discussed, among which those stand out as particularly relevant which are aimed at directors of souls, who must always give preference to the path of faith with respect to that which the soul can receive from visions.
Fr. Riccardo Petroni
Biblical Foundations and the History of Demonology in the Lives of the Saints.
In the first part of his contribution, Fr. Petroni considers some Biblical episodes, on the basis of which it is possible to recognise the nature and the action of Satan’s dealings with human beings. Already from the writings of the Old Testament, in fact, it is possible to establish the personal creaturely nature of Satan, whose destructive action is never absolute and definitive, but which is to be found within the broader plan of God’s salvation. The New Testament does no more than confirm and complete this revelation. In fact, the Lord Jesus, having come into the world to destroy the works of Satan (I Jn. 3: 8), undertook several exorcisms during his public ministry. These are not simply healings, because in them Jesus does not speak to sick persons, but he addresses a conscience other than that of the one who is possessed, basically imposing two demands: silence and flight. In the New Testament writings, it can be seen, further, that Satan operates in such a way as to join other people to himself, in order to lead them to implement his wicked designs. In the second part of Fr. Petroni’s talk, starting from the lived experience of the saints, various forms of vexation or of obsession are described which the devil uses to obstruct the growth of the spiritual life of those who determinedly undertake a more radical way of following Christ. This is a constant given in the life of the Church, which can be encountered in the Fathers (for example, in the Life of Anthony of St. Athanasius or in the Dialogues of St. Gregory); in the Middles Ages examples which can be given include St. Francis of Assisi (d.1226) and St. Frances of Rome (d. 1440), and in recent times St. John Vianney, St. John Bosco, St. Gemma Galgani, the ‘Little Arab’ (Blessed Mary of Christ Crucified), and St. Pio of Pietralcina.
Fr. Giancarlo Gramolazzo
Spiritual Discernment: Demonology and Mysticism.
The speaker has been an exorcist of the diocese of Rome for more than thirty three years and is President of the International Association of Exorcists.
One of the most important and most difficult problems is that of discernment. We find ourselves in a context in regard to the media in which the way of providing news itself creates psychoses. Persons who give information and those who receive it are not properly trained and, furthermore, not having faith, they create confusion and they attribute reference to the devil as having a serious consequence: taking away responsibility from the person. The task of the exorcist is also that of clearing the mind of fragile persons. The devil is not a phenomenon, but a reality. To be sought out as if they were magicians or solvers of problems caused by a moral disorder or by mental weakness creates a useless burden of work which detracts from the time exorcists can give to those who have real need of them. There is a great risk which is run by exorcists and by psychiatrists, the risk of thinking themselves omnipotent. To understand cases involving human beings, it is necessary to enter into the lived experience of those persons, with great humility, avoiding the temptation of being superficial in making a diagnosis and of jumping suddenly to a conclusion because this is what is expected of us: a clear diagnosis straight away and a cure which resolves the problem. Unless we keep clearly in mind that the devil is not a projection of the mind and is not some reality which has been invented and which is primitive, we will never succeed in understanding the supernatural. Sicknesses are to be treated as sicknesses; therefore, we exclude from our considerations those who are suffering from mental disturbances. If an exorcism is necessary, we must ask ourselves what God’s plan is for the person concerned. We make a mistake whenever we give a lot of importance to the devil and not the slightest attention to God; the Lord performs an act of salvific significance when he makes use of a soul, allowing the action of the devil to operate upon it. In the cases of mystics, if we cannot recognise the intervention of God, we will not be able to understand any mystical phenomenon and we will see only the human dimension. A community must support the person who finds himself or herself having to face such a trial. The devil does not take any initiative because he cannot enter into, or disturb, a person unless he has God’s permission to do so. An action of the Spirit is not the object of the study of psychiatry, psychology or medicine. There are sickness which can be catalogued, but the devil cannot be catalogued, as he presents himself differently in different persons, making diagnosis very difficult because he is a spirit and, therefore, his action cannot be schematised. Let us look at some cases: a young lady of thirty years of age, who is traumatised, but not possessed; a priest who is immature and unsuitable who wants at all costs to be appointed by his bishop as exorcist for the diocese; a girl of 21 years of age with the stigmata, but without being a true mystic; a sister at the ecclesiastical congress at Verona who challenged the need for charity towards the possessed because they do not exist; a professional person from Pavia who changes his method of diagnosis after coming to believe that he had a case in the family; the reading and the prayer of exorcism in front of 500 young people with sisters and the bishop where no-one knew what was going on, having a distorted idea about the films they saw; a child of five years of age who discusses theology correctly; a child of eight years of age with super-human strength; a young lady with a degree with presumed psychiatric disturbances who gets up from the ground in front of the psychiatrist, who advises that she be brought to an exorcist.
Fr. Frédéric Le Gal
Meta-praxis between Psychiatry and Exorcism
Fr. Le Gal’s paper presents his personal experience of being a religious exorcist, on the ground, in a psychiatric hospital and with prisoners affected by psychiatric disturbances and it is based upon significant case histories gathered by him within a period of time form 2004 to 2006 (223+243 cases). For Fr. Le Gal the mission of the priest exorcist, in the heart of the Catholic Church, consists in accepting people who are suffering, in listening to their troubles and their afflictions and in accompanying them in their trials. Furthermore, it requires discernment of the phenomena of the malign spiritual alienation of possession and the corresponding determination of its causes, for the purpose of ensuring that these persons are liberated and released from evil influence and can be fully regenerated in the consoling and healing presence of God. «I am sick», «I am unwell», «They are doing me harm», «They have put a curse upon me»: this recurrent litany of the super-abundance of evil makes it a frightening reality, a contingent reality and in no sense inevitable; we do not know where it comes from, but we do know that it poses a problem for the rational understanding of things, of the world, also on the part of believers. God is omnipotent and absolutely good and yet evil exists. It is, then, a question of taking note, of each one examining his or her own experiences of evil, that sometimes we are perpetrators and sometimes victims of evil. The human being is wounded and is capable of being wounded in the physical, psychic and spiritual domains. Our personal histories and sin provoke wounds which lead people to turn to the exorcist (if they identify with the action of the devil), at other times to the doctor and, unfortunately, in many cases to esoteric practices which make the situation worse. What is fundamental is the joint action of the priest, of the psychiatrist and those people who, on the basis of their different competencies, collaborate in reaching a correct diagnosis, so that the problem may be addressed properly. As has already been stated by the Fathers of the Church and in the history of the Church, evil is to be fought, suffering requires accompaniment and pain is to be cured.
Dr. Luca Moretti
An Inter-Disciplinary Approach to a Case of Possession.
Dr. Moretti, consultant to religious congregations and dioceses in various parts of the world and well as to the Holy See, took as his purpose that of setting in context mystical experience and, within it, those of possession, trances and ecstasies, making reference to a specific and very complex case which he himself had studied. Dr. Moretti treats Sister Angela. This case of the religious sister reveals a difficulty of diagnosis and of treatment of some note, in which are to be found phenomena of doubtful interpretation with indescribable manifestations of a mystical kind and/ or of diabolic possession. Quoting his own words: «Man is in an open system from which nothing is excluded from the start and science, when it is able to offer its own expert contribution, is aware of its own limitations and is only partially certain about its own specific methods». The mystical dimension, of its nature ambiguous and cryptic, must be approached without prejudices and must be studied from a multi-disciplinary perspective which takes account of the precious contributions which can be made from the different humanist and scientific disciplines, the latter term being understood to apply to those branches of science which are concerned with events which are demonstrable, capable of being measured and capable of being replicated. On the basis of such assumptions, Dr. Moretti, in his standing as a doctor and as a man of science, concentrates in particular on the analysis of the physical phenomena which accompany mystical experience, of their nature capable of being investigated, declaring before-hand his own point of view as that which is represented by the epistemology which is “the foundation of the scientific paradigm upon which I rest my case”.
Prof. Massimo Aliverti
History and Anthropology of Diabolic Possession/ Obsession.
Professor Aliverti makes a historical study of the presence of the figure of the devil in various cultures. When we speak of diabolic possession, we mean the occupation of the psyche, in a manner like sleep-walking or lucidly, by some extraneous reality (demon or spirit). In many people there is an intuition of a malign spiritual reality against which they defend themselves in different ways according to the cultures to which they belong; very often psychiatric illness is interpreted in this way. In different cultures different ways are found of protecting or of liberating people from this entity. Many popular practices, present throughout the world, have the truly therapeutic purposes of driving out the evil spirits. In the popular medicine of the Western world are to be found admixtures between the ancient world and Christianity. In the majority of the religions of the Near East and of Russia belief is to be found in the two opposing principles of good and evil, of spirit and matter. In Greek and Roman mythology, there is the presence of the god of the world of the dead and belief in beings which are a combination of human and animal aspects. The Assyrian-Babylonians recognised gods able to provoke diseases. For the Jews the devil is a being created by God who puts human beings to the test. In the Gospels Jesus frees many people possessed by devils and transmits this capacity to his disciples who undertake it in His name. At first, Christianity identifies the devil with pagan divinities and with heretics; an internal debate arises between them from the first centuries to determine the nature and origin of evil. The struggle with the devil becomes a central element from the time of the development of monasticism to the point where, in the Middles Ages, contact and inter-action with the world of the diabolical is considered normal. In the period of the Inquisition numerous manuals appear which were able to explain the practices of witches, trials against them and symptoms of diabolic possession. In 1500s there begins a process of assigning possession to mental illness and towards the middle of the 1700s trials of witches disappear and only exorcism remains. Under the influence of the Enlightenment, of positivism and of Marxism, there are some currents of thought, also inside the Church, which interpret the devil as an abstract force or as an evil which is not personified. On the other hand, the Popes, even in the twentieth century, have always repeated the personification of the devil and, consequently, of the validity of exorcism.
Prof. Massimo Aliverti
The Psycho-pathology of Diabolic Possession/ Obsession.
Professor Alverti examines psychiatric pathologies with greater attention to the themes of possession. The psychiatrist and the priest often ask themselves if the problems which they find and which they have to address in some patients are of a spiritual or of a psychiatric nature. Many authors of the period of the Enlightenment reduce all diabolical manifestations to psychiatric pathologies. There are some psycho-pathological conditions in which the patient can believe himself to be possessed by the devil: dissociative identity disturbances (in older classifications this was multi-personality disorder), thinking disorders (an acute psychotic episode and delirious chronic psychosis), the psychosis of melancholy, epilepsy of the temporal lobe. Delirium is important in all its aspects; often components of a mystic-religious variety are present. The personal case histories of psychiatrists contemplates many situations which can be interpreted also as instance of diabolical possession.