It is recognized both in the pre-exorcism examinations and during the actual exorcism that there is usually no one physical or psychical aberration or abnormality in the possessed person that we cannot explain by a known or possible physical cause. And, apart from normal medical and psychological tests, there are other possible sources for diagnosis. However rickety and tentative the findings of parapsychology, for example, one can possibly seek in its theories of telepathy and telekinesis an explanation of some of the signs of possession. Suggestion and suggestibility, as modern psychotherapists speak of them, can account for many more.
Still, with the diagnoses and opinions of doctors and psychologists in hand, it is often discovered there are wide margins of fluctuation. Competent psychiatrists will differ violently among themselves; and in psychology and medicine, ignorance of causes is often obscured by technical names and jargon that are nothing more than descriptive terms.
Nevertheless, the combined medical and psychological reports are carefully evaluated and usually weigh heavily in the final judgment to proceed or not with an exorcism. If according to those reports there is a definite disease or illness which adequately accounts for the behavior and symptoms of the subject, Exorcism is usually ruled out, or at least delayed to allow a course of medical or psychiatric treatment.
But finally, reports in hand, all evidence in, Church authorities judge the situation from another, special point of view, formed by their own professional outlook.
They believe that there is an invisible power, a spirit of evil; that this spirit can for obscure reasons take possession of a human being; that the evil spirit can and must be expelled-exorcised-from the person possessed; and that this exorcism can be done only in the name and by the authority and power of Jesus of Nazareth. The testing from the Church’s viewpoint is as rigorous in its search as any medical or psychological examination.
In the records of Christian Exorcism from as far back as the lifetime of Jesus himself, a peculiar revulsion to symbols and truths of religion is always and without exception a mark of the possessed person. In the verification of a case of possession by Church authorities, this “symptom” of revulsion is triangulated with other physical phenomena frequently associated with possession-the inexplicable stench; freezing temperature; telepathic powers about purely religious and moral matters; a peculiarly unlined or completely smooth or stretched skin, or unusual distortion of the face, or other physical and behavioral transformations; “possessed gravity” (the possessed person becomes physically immovable, or those around the possessed are weighted down with a suffocating pressure); levitation (the possessed rises and floats off the ground, chair, or bed; there is no physically traceable support); violent smashing of furniture, constant opening and slamming of doors, tearing of fabric in the vicinity of the possessed, without a hand laid on them; and so on.
When this triangulation is made of the varied symptoms that may occur in any given case, and medical and psychiatric diagnoses are inadequate to cover the full situation, the decision will usually be to proceed and try Exorcism.
There has never been, to my knowledge, an official listing of exorcists together with their biographies and characteristics, so we cannot satisfy our modern craving for a profile of, say, “the typical exorcist.” We can, however, give a fairly clear definition of the type of man who is entrusted with the exorcism of a possessed person. Usually he is engaged in the active ministry of parishes. Rarely is he a scholarly type engaged in teaching or research. Rarely is he a recently ordained priest. If there is any median age for exorcists, it is probably between the ages of fifty and sixty-five. Sound and robust physical health is not a characteristic of exorcists, nor is proven intellectual brilliance, postgraduate degrees, even in psychology or philosophy, or a very sophisticated personal culture. In this writer’s experience, the 15 exorcists he has known have been singularly lacking in anything like a vivid imagination or a rich humanistic training. All have been sensitive men of solid rather than dazzling minds.
Though, of course, there are many exceptions, the usual reasons for a priest’s being chosen are his qualities of moral judgment, personal behavior, and religious beliefs- qualities that are not sophisticated or laboriously acquired, but that somehow seem always to have been an easy and natural part of such a man. Speaking religiously, these are qualities associated with special grace.