Monday, February 04, 2008

Audience Questions from the Holy Water Debate

Here are my answers to the questions from the audience after the formal debate on holy water was finished.

1. Dan asks:
Please correct me if I am wrong but it seems that none of the quotations you have provided would be considered, by Catholic standards, an infallible affirmation of the resolution. Nor do they seem to quote an infallible authority as a “principle that informs the practice” in support of the resolution. If that’s correct, please explain the relative weight the quotations have on this debate?
When you say, "the quotations," I'm assuming you mean the quotations from the early Church, or from more recent authors about the early Church. Now, I realize that none of the works from which these quotations were taken are "infallible", per se, but I also don't think that's anything I need to worry about. You don't need the charism of infallibility in order to make a true statement, and, infallible or not, these works show that the use of holy water against demonic activity was neither "innovative," nor was it an invention of the Middle Ages. That was my purpose for using them, and I think they serve that purpose.

I could have used infallible sources of Catholic doctrine, such as papal encyclicals or conciliar statements, but I'm afraid these hold little weight with Protestants. As such, there's no point in even bringing them in.

2. Ken asks:
How do Christians know when demonic activity is the cause of a problem?
Well, I'm no expert on this matter, but Fr. Gabriele Amorth, senior exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, mentions some indicators in his book An Exorcist Tells His Story. I constructed the following list based on the chapter entitled, "The Point of Departure":
  • head and stomach are most commonly effected; symptoms include:
    • headaches that are severe and unresponsive to medication
    • a sudden inability to learn and to concentrate
  • ability to speak or understand unknown languages perfectly
  • ability to know the hidden and the remote
  • ability to demonstrate a superhuman physical strength
  • exhibits strange and violent behavior
  • has an aversion to the sacred
    • prayerful people stop praying
    • stop going to church and become full of rage
    • suddenly blaspheme often and act violently against sacred images
  • asocial behavior, such as anger against relatives or acquaintances
  • many types of bizarre behavior
  • as for the stomach, usually there are acute and piercing pains for which no cure can be found
  • many times the patient and his relatives hear strange noises, footsteps in the hallway, doors opening and closing, objects that disappear and reappear in the most unlikely places, and banging against furniture and walls
  • possession is also evidenced by some profound answers, especially when given by children
Apparently, the official Roman Ritual for Exorcism lists several others. My understanding is that any combination of the above symptoms can be present, and not necessarily all at the same time.

For more on this, I highly suggest the book previously mentioned, as well as the follow-up, An Exorcist: More Stories.

3. Gene asks:
Much of your evidence about holy water’s efficacy relates to the use of holy water in exorcisms, but Roman Catholic exorcists seem insistent that many other aspects of the ritual are vitally important: particularly prayers and precise wordings must be used, Latin is strongly preferred, and one has to have a validly ordained priest. In fact, typically they only permit others to perform “deprecatory” exorcisms, in which one prays to God or his saints/angels for help. In view of this, is it fair to say that it takes a lot more than holy water to stop demons?
Yes, and sometimes it doesn't take holy water at all. After all, Jesus said that some demons are only cast out by prayer and fasting (cf. Mt 17:19-21, KJV). Sometimes it only takes an adjuration in the name of Jesus Christ, which is how it was most often done in the early Church. I never presented holy water as the panacea, or cure-all for demonic activity. My purpose was only to show that it can be effective.

Pax Christi,

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