Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look book Summary

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Title: Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance
Author: Fr. José Antonio Fortea

TLDR: This book offers a deep dive into the world of angels, demons, and spiritual warfare. Through an interview format, it explores demonic activity, the nature of evil, temptation, and the importance of faith, prayer, and exorcism in overcoming the forces of darkness.

I. Angels and Demons

This chapter delves into the origin and nature of demons, their hierarchy, their experiences of time and pleasure, and their relationship with God.

What are demons?

Demons are depicted as fallen angels who, after being tested by God, rebelled against Him and were consequently cast out of heaven. They are pure spirits, devoid of physical bodies, and thus incapable of experiencing physical sins like lust or gluttony. However, they can tempt humans to indulge in such sins. Their rebellion stemmed from a distorted view of God, perceiving Him as an oppressor of their freedom rather than the ultimate good. This led to hate and a definitive separation from God, deforming their intellects and darkening their understanding. The intensity of their suffering in this eternal separation varies depending on the degree of their moral deformation.

Are all demons the same?

The book emphasizes that demons are not all equal. Their individuality stems from the specific way and intensity with which they sinned, leading to diverse personalities and degrees of evil. The angelic hierarchy, consisting of nine choirs (seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels), also translates into a demonic hierarchy. Fallen angels from each choir retain their original angelic power and intelligence, with superior demons having power over inferior ones, though the exact nature of this power remains unknown.

Demonic experiences and activities:

The chapter clarifies that demons, while existing outside of earthly time, do experience a “spiritual time,” a succession of acts of understanding and will. They engage in activities like deepening their knowledge, forming relationships amongst themselves, and tempting humans.

Despite their fallen state, demons retain their angelic intelligence and capacity for intellectual pleasure. However, their capacity for supernatural love has been annihilated, replaced by hate that revels in the suffering of others.

God and Demons:

A crucial point addressed is whether God hates demons. The book firmly asserts that God, being perfect Love, continues to love all His creations, including demons. However, He “hates” sin as it disrupts the perfection of His creation, ultimately leading to the condemnation of unrepentant sinners. God’s love allows for the existence of hell, not His hate, as it is the definitive consequence of choosing to reject Him. This highlights the gravity of the choice made by the condemned, who, having made their final decision, cannot plead for mercy.

II. The Reality of Evil

This chapter explores the concept of evil, its different types, its greatest manifestation, and its permanence.

What is evil?

The book defines evil as the lack or privation of a good that should be present. This definition is presented as an objective reality, challenging the modern notion of moral subjectivity. Evil is not a thing in itself but rather the absence of good.

Types of Evil:

Two main types of evil are discussed: physical and moral. Physical evil refers to the absence of a good proper to the physical world, such as blindness or drought. Moral evil refers to sin, a deliberate act against God’s law, making it a more heinous evil as it stems from free will.

The Greatest Evil:

The chapter declares sin as the greatest evil, ultimately leading to hate – of God, humanity, ourselves, and others. This consuming hatred signifies the complete degradation of the moral self.

The Permanence of Evil:

The book confirms that evil will exist indefinitely in the form of condemned souls and demons residing in hell for eternity. This eternal separation from God represents the ultimate consequence of rejecting His love.

III. Demonic Activity

This chapter delves into the activities of demons in the world, their limitations, their interaction with humans, and ways to protect oneself from their influence.

Should we fear the devil?

The chapter emphasizes that Christians should not fear the devil, as faith in God casts out all fear. God provides protection through sanctifying grace, the armor of God, and the power of prayer. Numerous examples from the lives of saints, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Avila, are presented to illustrate how faith empowers individuals to overcome fear and face demonic forces with courage.

Pacts with the devil:

The reality of pacts with the devil is affirmed, despite often being relegated to the realm of fiction. The book explains that individuals may consciously choose to make a pact with the devil in exchange for perceived worldly benefits. However, it clarifies that such pacts do not guarantee desired outcomes, as the devil’s power is limited and he cannot always deliver on his promises. Moreover, the pact can be revoked at any time through repentance, highlighting the enduring power of free will and God’s mercy.

Mental and Physical Illness:

While acknowledging that demons can influence human thoughts and emotions, the chapter stresses that most mental illnesses have natural causes. However, in exceptional cases, God may permit demons to cause mental or physical illness, citing biblical examples like the “spirit of infirmity” in Luke 13:11 and the suffering of Job.

Discerning demonic activity:

The chapter provides guidelines for discerning whether extraordinary experiences, such as visions or locutions, stem from demonic influence or psychiatric problems. It emphasizes observing the progression of the phenomenon over time. Mental illnesses tend to worsen, leading to psychosis and illogical manifestations, while demonic influence is often temporary and does not leave a lasting impact on the psyche.

Demons and the physical world:

While demons can influence the physical world to a limited extent, they cannot cause natural disasters at will, as God restrains their power. The book recounts a personal experience of the author where a violent storm erupted during a prayer session, suggesting a possible connection between the prayer and the storm. However, it emphasizes that such occurrences are exceptions, and natural disasters should not be readily attributed to demonic activity.

Magic vs. Religion:

The chapter differentiates between magic, understood as occult practices, and religion. It defines religion as obedience to God, involving faith, worship, and a life transformation. In contrast, magic seeks power and control over supernatural forces, aiming to manipulate others rather than fostering personal holiness. The book condemns magic as gravely contrary to the virtue of religion, as it seeks dominion over occult powers for selfish ends.

Social influence and the “mystery of lawlessness”:

The chapter acknowledges the ability of demons to influence society by tempting individuals with power and influence. They target those in positions of authority, seeking to promote their agenda through manipulation and deceit. The book references the vision of Pope Leo XIII, where infernal spirits were concentrated on Rome, leading to the creation of the St. Michael Prayer. This underscores the importance of prayer and the Church’s role in combating the forces of darkness.

Limitations of demonic power:

The chapter reiterates that the devil’s power is limited and ultimately subject to God’s will. While he can tempt and influence, he cannot force anyone to sin. It reassures readers that God provides protection and deliverance through faith, prayer, and a life lived in accordance with His will.

The nature of demonic possession:

The chapter introduces the concept of demonic possession, defining it as a demon residing within a human body, enabling it to speak and move the body without the person’s control. It emphasizes that possession affects only the body, not the soul, and the possessed person retains their free will and capacity for grace.

Identifying demonic possession:

Detailed characteristics of possession are outlined, including aversion to sacred objects, personality changes during episodes of “fury,” loss of consciousness, and amnesia. Extraordinary phenomena like speaking in tongues, abnormal strength, and knowledge of hidden things are also discussed as potential indicators.

The purpose of demonic possession:

Despite the risk of fostering greater faith in the possessed, demons engage in possession primarily to inflict suffering. They are driven by hatred and a desire to cause harm in the present, even if it ultimately undermines their long-term goals.

God’s permission and the benefits of possession:

The chapter explores why God allows demonic possessions. It suggests that possession demonstrates the truth of the Catholic faith, punishes sinners involved in occult practices, and can ultimately bring spiritual benefits to the possessed. It also acknowledges the mystery surrounding God’s permission, concluding that He often uses suffering, including possession, as a means of drawing individuals closer to Him.

IV. Temptation and Sin

This chapter explores the nature of temptation, the reasons behind human sinfulness, the process leading to eternal death, and ways to combat temptation.

Why do we sin?

The chapter identifies human weakness as a primary reason for sin, acknowledging the weakened will resulting from original sin. It clarifies that sin requires both knowledge of the evil act and a conscious choice to commit it, thus precluding ignorance or weakness as justifications. It acknowledges the complex interplay of factors leading to sin, suggesting that even though we intellectually recognize the negative consequences, we often succumb to the allure of immediate gratification despite our conscience.

The role of demons in temptation:

While acknowledging that demons can tempt humans, the chapter emphasizes that most temptations arise from within ourselves. Our free will, coupled with our inherent weaknesses, provides ample opportunity for sin. It suggests that persistent and unusually intense temptations may potentially have demonic origins, but discerning this with certainty is difficult.

Resisting temptation:

The chapter offers practical advice for resisting temptation, highlighting the importance of immediate resistance and avoiding dialogue with the temptation. Prayer is presented as a powerful weapon, creating a barrier against demonic influence and focusing our minds and wills on God. It reiterates the inability of demons to control our will, emphasizing that we ultimately choose our actions and are responsible for them.

The devil’s strategy in temptation:

The chapter explores the strategic nature of demonic temptation, highlighting the devil’s intelligence and understanding of human weaknesses. Demons target our vulnerabilities, seeking to exploit our specific inclinations towards particular sins. They adapt their approach based on the individual’s level of virtue, aiming to achieve even minor victories, such as imperfections, if greater sins are unlikely.

God’s purpose in allowing temptation:

The chapter addresses the seemingly paradoxical question of why God permits temptation. It explains that temptation provides opportunities for spiritual growth and strengthens our virtue when we successfully resist it. God uses temptation as a means of refining our faith and drawing us closer to Him, offering grace to overcome it and choose good.

Eternal death and its process:

The chapter defines eternal death as the loss of sanctifying grace, separating us from God and leading to condemnation in hell. It describes the process leading to this spiritual death, starting with temptation arising from our desires, which then conceive and give birth to sin. As sin matures, it ultimately leads to the death of grace within the soul.

The danger of “little” sins:

While emphasizing that eternal condemnation is reserved for mortal sins, the chapter cautions against minimizing the danger of venial sins. It explains that every sin, regardless of its gravity, weakens our will and darkens our understanding, paving the way for greater sins. It calls for a commitment to holiness and the rejection of deliberate venial sins, reminding readers that Jesus calls all Christians to strive for perfection.

Choosing condemnation:

The chapter clarifies that no one truly desires condemnation, but some choose it through their actions. Deliberately persisting in mortal sin until death ultimately leads to eternal separation from God, even if the individual initially believed they would not cross certain boundaries.

God’s presence in hell:

The chapter affirms that God is omnipresent, even in hell. However, the condemned do not perceive His presence directly but rather experience a total separation from Him. God permits this sensation out of respect for their free will, acknowledging their choice to reject Him.

The eternity of hell:

The chapter explains that the eternal duration of hell is a necessary consequence of rebellion against God. Without grace, true repentance is impossible, and the condemned, having definitively chosen separation from God, will not receive this grace. This highlights the gravity of the choice made by those who reject God, as their decision is irrevocable.

V. Demonic Oppression and Possession

This chapter further explores the dynamics of demonic activity, particularly focusing on possession, demonic infestation, and ways to protect oneself from such influences.

Satan’s hidden power:

The chapter addresses why Satan doesn’t openly display his power to humanity. It cites St. Paul’s explanation that Satan is restrained by God until the end of time, preventing him from fully revealing his capabilities. However, his influence is already at work through temptations, extraordinary demonic activities, and the concentration of demonic forces in specific moments and places, constituting the “mystery of lawlessness.”

The power of holy water:

The chapter delves into the efficacy of holy water against demons, explaining that it derives its power from the Church’s blessing, which attaches a spiritual effect to the object. The author recounts a personal anecdote where using blessed lemonade proved less effective than holy water, suggesting that the symbolism associated with holy water contributes to its potency.

Other objects that disturb demons:

The chapter lists other objects that torment demons, including crucifixes, relics of saints, and religious images. It explains that these objects remind demons of their defeat by Christ and the power of holiness, eliciting aversion and discomfort.

Protection against demonic attacks:

The chapter emphasizes that prayer, sacraments, good works, and a spiritual life are the most effective protections against demonic attacks. It clarifies that specific prayers are not inherently protective but rather facilitate God’s action and grace. It also highlights the importance of invoking St. Michael the Archangel, guardian angels, and other saints for protection. The chapter particularly emphasizes the power of the Eucharist, describing Jesus’ presence within us as a formidable shield against demonic influence.

Demons and bodily senses:

The chapter explores the intriguing phenomenon of demons using the possessed person’s bodily senses to experience and express emotions. It describes how demons react to sacred objects through the possessed person’s senses, suggesting a connection between the physical and spiritual realms in possession.

Confession vs. Exorcism:

While acknowledging the dramatic nature of exorcism, the chapter emphasizes the greater importance of confession. It explains that confession cleanses the soul from sin, granting forgiveness and healing, while exorcism merely expels a demon from the body. It encourages frequent confession as a powerful means of receiving grace and resisting temptation.

Insulting demons:

The chapter discusses the biblical prohibition against insulting demons, citing passages from St. Jude and St. Peter that condemn such behavior. It emphasizes that even angels refrain from insulting demons, recognizing their inherent nature as glorious beings despite their rebellion. The chapter clarifies that using descriptive terms for demons during exorcisms is not considered insulting but rather a proclamation of truth that torments them.

Characteristics and causes of possession:

The chapter revisits the concept of demonic possession, detailing its essential characteristics and potential causes. It outlines common causes, including pacts with the devil, involvement in occult practices, and witchcraft. It reassures readers that possession is not contagious and can only occur if God permits it.

The purpose and permission of possession:

The chapter reiterates the demons’ primary motivation for possession—to inflict suffering—while acknowledging the potential for spiritual growth in the possessed. It explores why God allows possession, suggesting that it serves as proof of the faith, punishes those who seek evil, and can ultimately bring about spiritual benefits. It also acknowledges the mystery surrounding God’s permission, highlighting the complexity of divine providence.

Distinguishing schizophrenia from possession:

The chapter differentiates between schizophrenia and possession, outlining key distinctions in their causes, treatment, and manifestations. It emphasizes that schizophrenia has a natural, organic cause, while possession has a demonic cause, often resulting from participation in occult practices.

Extraordinary phenomena in possession:

The chapter lists various extraordinary phenomena that may occur in possession, including understanding foreign languages, abnormal strength, knowledge of hidden things, and levitation. However, it clarifies that such phenomena are not always present in all cases of possession.

Prevalence of possession:

The chapter addresses the common belief that possession is less prevalent now than in Jesus’ time. It suggests that this assumption is difficult to prove and may be due to the decline of pagan practices that involved invoking spirits. It clarifies that Christ’s redemption did not eliminate the possibility of possession; it can still occur when demons are invoked.

Types of demons in possession:

The chapter introduces two main types of demons commonly encountered in possession: clausi and aperti. Clausi demons cause the possessed to close their eyes during trance states, while aperti demons cause them to keep their eyes open, exhibiting anger and loquacity. It also mentions abditi demons, who initially hide their presence but eventually manifest themselves.

The fate of a possessed person upon death:

The chapter clarifies that the eternal destiny of a possessed person depends on the state of their soul, not whether they die while possessed. If they are in a state of grace, they will go to heaven, regardless of their bodily possession.

The possibility of possession by condemned souls:

The chapter presents the author’s personal belief that condemned souls, like demons, can possess individuals. It cites cases where the possessed insist on being condemned souls rather than demons, suggesting their testimony may be credible.

The potential for violence in possession:

While acknowledging that demons can move the possessed person’s body, the chapter clarifies that they rarely cause physical harm because God ordinarily restricts their power. However, it cautions that possessed individuals with suicidal tendencies may be at risk, and their safety should be carefully monitored.

Possession and serial killers:

The chapter addresses the question of whether serial killers are possessed. It suggests that some may be possessed, while others may suffer from mental illness or simply choose evil. It emphasizes that even if a criminal is possessed, they remain legally responsible for their actions, as demonic possession is not recognized as a legal defense.

VI. Exorcism and the Path to Deliverance

This final chapter focuses on the nature and purpose of exorcism, its organization within the Church, the role of the exorcist, and the path to deliverance from demonic influence.

What is an exorcism?

The chapter defines exorcism as the official Church ritual where a demon is ordered to leave a possessed person’s body in the name of Christ. It highlights the essence of exorcism as the expulsion of the demon, clarifying that prayers are directed to God for assistance, while commands are issued to the demon.

Exorcism in the Gospels:

The chapter refutes the notion that exorcism in the Gospels is merely symbolic, asserting that it refers to the actual expulsion of demons from possessed individuals. It cites biblical passages that distinguish between illness and possession, using specific verbs to describe Jesus’ actions against demons.

Exorcism vs. Deliverance:

The chapter differentiates between exorcism, a liturgical rite performed on possessed individuals, and deliverance, a private prayer for those suffering from demonic oppression. Exorcism requires authorization from the bishop and certainty of possession, while deliverance can be performed by anyone, including laypeople, and does not require such certainty.

Organizing the ministry of exorcism:

The chapter discusses the ideal organization of the exorcist ministry, emphasizing the need for trained priests specializing in discernment. It suggests concentrating this ministry in archdioceses, where experienced exorcists can discern cases before authorizing exorcisms in smaller dioceses. The importance of collaboration between exorcists, laypeople, and mental health professionals is also highlighted.

The role of psychiatric evaluation:

The chapter clarifies that psychiatric evaluation is not mandatory before performing an exorcism. It explains that possession and mental illness are distinct realities and that psychiatric evaluations cannot definitively determine the presence or absence of possession.

The need for episcopal authorization:

The chapter explains the historical development of the requirement for episcopal authorization before performing exorcisms, citing a letter from Pope Innocent I in 416. It explains that this requirement ensures prudence and prevents potential harm to the individual and the Church’s reputation.

Demonic infestation:

The chapter defines demonic infestation as a demon possessing a place or object, causing paranormal phenomena like moving objects, noises, and smells. It clarifies that infestation does not lead to possession of individuals residing in the place. The chapter suggests that multiple eyewitness accounts are crucial for confirming infestation and recommends prayer, blessings, and the use of holy water to combat it.

Infestation of animals and objects:

The chapter acknowledges the rare possibility of animals and objects being infested by demons, recommending sacrificing the animal or burning the object after sprinkling it with holy water.

Qualifications of an exorcist:

The chapter discusses the qualities of an effective exorcist, emphasizing that any validly ordained priest can perform the rite. While holiness is ideal, it is not essential, as the rite works ex opere operato, through the power of Christ and the Church. Common sense, dedication, and attentiveness to the possessed person’s needs are considered crucial attributes.

The danger of pride for exorcists:

The chapter warns against the danger of pride for exorcists, who often receive admiration and gratitude from those they help. It suggests that God allows misunderstanding and persecution from other priests as a means of fostering humility.

Exorcisms outside the Catholic Church:

The chapter acknowledges the existence of effective exorcisms in other Christian denominations, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostal traditions. It emphasizes that God has not established overly strict conditions for the validity of exorcisms, recognizing the urgent need for deliverance from demonic influence.

The duration of exorcisms:

The chapter explains that the length of an exorcism varies depending on the strength of the demon, with stronger demons requiring more time and effort to expel. It cites biblical examples of lengthy exorcisms, highlighting the importance of prayer, fasting, and spiritual strength for overcoming powerful demons.

Determining the departure of the last demon:

The chapter outlines indicators that the last demon has left the possessed person, such as peace, regained consciousness, and spiritual well-being. It emphasizes the need for continued prayer and observation to ensure no demons remain hidden.

The possibility of re-possession:

The chapter reassures readers that re-possession is unlikely if the freed person lives a Christian life, including prayer, sacraments, and obedience to God’s will. However, it warns that returning to a life of sin can increase vulnerability to re-possession.

Unfruitful exorcisms:

The chapter discusses possible reasons for unsuccessful exorcisms, including the possessed person’s disobedience to the exorcist’s instructions or the exorcist’s lack of experience in dealing with a particular demon. It recommends suspending exorcisms until the possessed person demonstrates a sincere commitment to a Christian life and suggests seeking help from a more experienced exorcist if needed.

The departure of demons during exorcism:

The chapter describes three ways in which demons leave during an exorcism: voluntarily due to the torment of prayer and sacred objects, forcibly by the priestly power of the exorcism, or through the intervention of an angel sent by God.

The nature and effects of curses:

The chapter defines a curse as an attempt to harm someone with the help of demons, clarifying that curses are only effective if God permits them. It recommends burning any cursed objects vomited up by the possessed and emphasizes the importance of prayer and a spiritual life for protection against curses.

The efficacy of curses:

The chapter addresses the question of whether curses are truly effective, explaining that while those who perform or request curses are often afflicted by demonic influences, the effects on the intended victim depend on God’s will. It suggests that extraordinary evil events may point to a curse, but discerning demonic causality with certainty is often impossible.

Countering curses:

The chapter recommends combating suspected curses by engaging in prayer, attending Mass, reading the Bible, and using sacramentals like holy water and blessed objects. It emphasizes that good always triumphs over evil, and God provides protection for those who seek Him.

The ineffectiveness of charms:

The chapter dismisses charms, which are attempts to obtain positive outcomes through demonic intervention, as ineffective and potentially dangerous. It explains that demons cannot truly grant desires like love, success, or promotion, and charms often lead to negative spiritual consequences for both the practitioner and the target.

White magic vs. Black magic:

The chapter debunks the distinction between white and black magic, asserting that both are ultimately rooted in demonic intervention. It warns against all forms of magic, emphasizing that they open individuals to demonic influence and contradict the virtue of religion.

Psychics, mediums, and demonic intervention:

The chapter clarifies that demons do not provide genuine knowledge of the future to psychics or mediums, as they themselves do not possess such knowledge. It strongly discourages consulting psychics, condemning it as a grave sin that contradicts the reverence owed to God alone.

Horoscopes, tarot cards, and demonic activity:

The chapter categorizes horoscopes, tarot cards, and similar practices as superstitious rather than inherently demonic, as they do not directly invoke demons. However, it warns that such practices can lead to an openness to demonic influence.

The appearance of demons:

The chapter explains that demons, as purely spiritual beings, do not have a fixed visible form and can adopt any appearance they choose if God permits them to manifest themselves visibly. It describes common demonic appearances, such as shadows, monstrous figures, and small black men.

False visions in mystics:

The chapter acknowledges the possibility of demons causing false visions or locutions in mystics, explaining that God rarely permits this to avoid confusion. It advises following inspirations that lead to good, while always prioritizing obedience to one’s spiritual director over any private revelation.

The Antichrist and the devil:

The chapter clarifies that the Antichrist is not the devil but rather a human being who opposes Christ and spreads evil. It cites Revelation 13:18, which identifies the Antichrist’s number as “the number of a man.” It describes the Antichrist as a proud, tyrannical figure who promotes hate and war, contrasting him with the humble, loving figure of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s triumph over demons:

The chapter analyzes Colossians 2:15, where St. Paul describes Christ’s triumph over demons. It explains that Christ disarmed demons of their power over humanity through His death and resurrection, liberating us from the slavery of sin. It depicts Christ leading demons in a triumphal procession, symbolizing His ultimate victory over the forces of evil.

Discerning demonic thoughts and desires:

The chapter concludes by offering St. Ignatius of Loyola’s rules for discerning spirits as a guide for identifying demonic influences. It explains that demons typically tempt people in sin with apparent pleasures, while those striving for holiness are often assailed with sadness, discouragement, and false fears. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing our individual vulnerabilities and resisting temptations that target our weaknesses.

Overall, “Interview with an Exorcist” offers a comprehensive and insightful exploration of angels, demons, evil, temptation, and deliverance. It provides practical advice for navigating the spiritual realm, emphasizing the power of faith, prayer, and a life lived in accordance with God’s will as the ultimate protection against the forces of darkness.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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