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28/12/2005

Hell is a state

A talk with Catholic exorcist Pedro Barrajon about demons, the nature of evil and exorcism today. By Paul Badde



Die Welt: Shortly after being named Pope, Benedict XVI met with a group of exorcists. Was that a signal?

Pedro Barrajon: No, it was just a routine meeting of Italian exorcists. The teachings of the Catholic church on evil have not changed in centuries.

What are those teachings?

They're based primarily on the Bible, according to which God created all beings: mankind as well as the pure spirits, in other words the angels and demons.

God made demons?

He made everything. According to the Christian tradition, demons and the devil are fallen angels. They are angels that have revolted against God since the beginning of creation.

How could God permit evil in the first place?

For our freedom! Evil is linked implicitly to the gift of freedom. God made man free. In choosing whether to ban evil or give the gift of freedom, God opted for freedom. Without the possibility to choose between good or evil, there would be no freedom. That means that God values freedom more than all our sins. Animals are not evil – but they are also never free. With freedom, God elevated us above animals.

How are we to understand the pure spirits?

They have wills. They have intelligence. But they have no senses. They have no bodies. Only people and animals have bodies.

According to Christian belief, God is a person. Are evil and the devil also people?


The Swiss theologian Karl Barth said that the demon is an impersonal person. What is a person? It's a being with a spiritual nature, with intelligence and a will, whose intelligence searches for the truth and whose will aspires to goodness. The demon has intelligence and a will but its will aspires to evil and its intelligence searches for the non-truth. In this sense, says Karl Barth, the devil is a personal non-person, he calls it "the null".

Does it have a face?


No. But God can allow angels and demons to take on physical forms of appearance. That's how it's possible for angels to appear to people and convey messages to them. And God can also permit demons to take on physical qualities and appear in this form to people or animals – but that doesn't affect their being. They can take on these forms but they don't possess them.

Do they smell?

Some saints are said to be able to smell the devil – like the great Teresa of Avila. She said the devil stank.

Like sulphur?

Some saints say that. It's basically just a disgusting stink.

Where are demons at home? Hell?

Yes. Hell was made for them, not for people.

So Hell was made too?

Yes. Angels were created, thus fallen angels and thus hell. It is no self-creation. Hell is not a place, it's a state. It's the state in which demons can be themselves, united in their hatred of God. It's the state of the negation of love. God is love. Hell is anti-love, it's hatred. Hell is a notion of the state of these spirits. Hell is the state of an eternal anti-love. It's also the eternal refusal to accept the love of God.

Are there objective criteria that can be used to determine if a person has been possessed by a demon?

The new ordinance on exorcism summarises the criteria for the event of possession very well. The clearest for me as a priest is the deep aversion to holy objects such as the cross, the rosary or the sign of the cross. Also an aversion to the word God – when it is spoken, such people get very nervous. Less significant indications are the supernatural capabilities that these people can suddenly develop. They can speak foreign languages that they've never learned. They can levitate; they can float, they can overcome gravity. Sometimes they become inexplicably strong and violent. But it's not that easy to diagnose cases of possession. I usually suggest that people see a neurologist or a psychiatrist before I get involved in their case. If I am advised by these experts that they can't help, then I can begin a spiritual treatment. As a rule, I would say that of ten people who request an exorcism, one is truly possessed.

Are there reasons for possession?


We don't know them. Nor can we say why one person gets cancer and another doesn't. We have no explanation for that either. We only know that God's power and love is greater when it comes to our physical and spiritual illnesses. That's how possession has to be seen.

How does an exorcism work?

The church demands from a priest who is undertaking such an "expulsion" the moral certainty that it is indeed a case of possession. But there is no absolute certainty. So it is very important that an exorcist be a man of prayer and fasting.

And then?

The exorcism is a major official prayer in which the power of the church is very present. That's the main thing. Sometimes holy water is used or incense, and there is always a crucifix in the priest's hands. Several people should be present, in addition to the priest, in the event that the possessed person gets violent. People can be transformed by the expulsion of the devil. They don't remain the same. During this rite, the demon exposes himself, given the presence of God and the many people praying together. It often becomes violent, because it knows that it has been defeated in a way. The voice of the possessed person usually changes and becomes very unpleasant.

Also frightening?

Not at all. In such moments, I only feel sorry for the possessed person because he's suffering and you see that he's suffering. But at the same time you're happy because you know that the exorcism will free him from this anguish. Every exorcism begins with the invocation of the trinity: the father, the son and the holy ghost. Then there's a reading of excerpts from the Bible, before a kind of dialogue between the exorcist and the possessed person begins, in which the exorcist asks for the name of the demon. That's always a difficult moment. Evil never wants to reveal itself. It often lies.

Why doesn't he want to reveal his name?

The name discloses his being. Franz Rosenzweig once said the name is not "sound and smoke", as Goethe says, but "word and fire". The name Jesus means "God saves". Isaac, Jacob, all these names have a particular meaning. And it always discloses the person's being. When I say my name, I'm also saying: I am here. No Demon ever wants to say its name.

And once it's said it?

At the end, the priest says to the demon, "Go away! Disappear!" The demon usually answers, "No, I don't want to." It rebels and revolts. Sometimes it says "You have no power over me. You are nothing to me." But after a while, its resistance weakens. This usually happens after the invocation of the Holy Mother, she's very important for that. No demon ever dares to insult her during an exorcism. Never.

Does he have more respect for Mary than for God himself?

Apparently. Otherwise no holds are barred, and everyone is insulted: the priests, everyone present, the bishops, the Pope, even Jesus Christ. But never the Virgin Mary. It's an enigma.

And then?

An exorcism can last up to one hour – and it ends with prayers. It's advisable not to let it last too long because this battle is very difficult and stressful for all those present – also for the person being exorcised. After the exorcism, everyone feels enormously relieved, as though they can breathe again. But in many cases a new exorcism is necessary. I know of cases in which people were only truly free to begin a new life after several exorcisms. They often say it's like being born again.

There is so much evil in the world. Look at all the wars, all the massacres, the tyrants and murderers. Is it not strange that the devil still plays his games with lonely and poor people, taking them over? Couldn't he do better, or rather worse? Isn't he busy enough already?


That is truly a mystery. Cases of possession seem to me to be the evil flip-side of miracles, which are equally inexplicable, but which we can also observe. The devil is present everywhere that evil things happen within the normal laws of nature. In anyone who says: I don't accept love, the love of my brothers and sisters, the love of God. And in many places, in all massacres, in every murder, in physical catastrophes, in every concentration camp, in all evil. Sometimes he shows himself, strangely, but also in cases of possession. But he's much more dangerous where he doesn't let himself be seen, where he can't be done away with through exorcism. No question.

*

The interview originally appeared in German in Die Welt on December 2, 2005.

Father Pedro Barrajon is a professor of theological anthropology at the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome, and member of the Catholic formation Legionaries of Christ, dedicated to studying and spreading the teachings of the Pope.


Translation: nb.

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