As one of those horrible Protestant modernist, I’ve done my fair share of scoffing at the idea of a “real” fully fleshed devil, as so distastefully empirically portrayed in The Exorcist and in charismatic exorcisms.

However behind the superstitions, one might wonder if there is not some fundamental truth behind the idea of the devil. This truth ironically shares a border with contemporary leftist thinking of the idea that individual people are in the thrall or hold of “systems”, etc, which makes them all behave in certain ways of which they have no other option. Such “systems” of course cannot be empirically identified but is a “whole thing”.

This “Hegelian” reading of “Geist” or “spirit” I’ve already elaborated upon elsewhere, accepting it as more or less a good way of understanding “spirits”, “angels”, and the devil.

But the only thing missing from this “Hegelian” reading of “Geist” or spirit is it also has very individual and personal dimensions and meaning. It isn’t merely the thrall of vast economic or social or political systems, it has to do with individual obsessions and bondage as well.

The idea of “demonic” possession of course is more subtle than the crude empirical visibility portrayed on cinema. An idolatrous obsession with someone, (think stalker mentality), the idea that one must have or do X, Y, Z, or else one’s life is ruined, is exactly the right phenomenon to speak of being “possessed” by an idea, or by the devil. And such “possession” often leads to the ruin of the one possessed. This especially becomes acute when we think of mass murderers, terrorists, etc, in the full possession of an idea or thought.

Perhaps the very meaning of the demonic or the devil is *precisely* to speak of the *limits* of human agency, that sometimes human art (and science!) indeed comes to an end, and we are simply helpless before the one crazed and possessed by an obsession, by the devil. Although it is Catholic theology that the devil can only possess someone by consent, but Protestant theology is a little more cynical about human agency and in the full Calvinistic sense, teaches that mankind is in the thrall of the devil and sin, and there is not a damn thing all the science, learning, psychology, economics or politics in the world can do about it. (Which incidentally makes me question the “dramatic” exorcism rites as a form of “magical” thinking whereby the essential helplessness of the human situation of demonic possession is evaded by a belief in some “special human agency”, i.e. the exorcist, with some special human art, i.e. exorcism, which supposedly is able to cast out the devil. Whereas demonic possession is precisely about the inefficacy and uselessness of human agency and art before forces beyond ourselves.)

After all, what did Christ say to the disciples who could not cast out a demon from someone?

“And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)

In other words, we can’t do anything about it. We can only call upon God and pray that he would gracious cast out the devil.

As a side and somewhat unrelated note, I don’t think there is, in principle, anything wrong with asking for the help or praying to angels.

My “nit-picking” point with invoking the saints is simply that, they do no possess omniscience minds and neitherĀ are they omnipresent to be able to process millions of prayers at one go from every corner of the earth. Christ alone is hypostatically united with the godhead and therefore possess the divinity to accomplished that. But to suggest that human saints are also likewise united is a blasphemy.

But this “nit-picking” point curiously leaves out angels which can be present where we are, and therefore can be present to hear our prayers. After all, as Psalm 91:11 puts it, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

So, maybe we can invoke the good angels after all… but St Michael is another thing, for we cannot be sure if he is present and as Melanchthon once puts it, prayer that is not made in faith and certainty is not prayer.

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