If you find a book that covers the topic of exorcism you can imagine many ways the book might go wrong. When you find one written by a freelance writer who worked for the AP bureau in Rome you can think of other ways it would go wrong. Exorcism is a topic that can easily lead to sensationalism or mocking skepticism.
Despite the chances to go awry the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist
” by Matt Baglio actually turned out to be quite solid book on the subject. According the the author’s note at the end he had heard about the university course in Rome on exorcism and wondered if it was a PR stunt or actually serious. He had plenty of preconceptions and later met with priest from California who had been appointed by his bishop to be the diocesan exorcist and to take this course.
The book follows Fr. Gary Thomas as he goes through the classes and apprentices with an exorcist in Rome. Fr. Thomas had previously known very little about exorcism and was rather hesitant about becoming an exorcist. Along with following his progress as he learns about exorcism and then later his experience as an atheist once returning to his home diocese, the book also goes over his calling to the priesthood and an episode where he had to recover from a very serious fall off a cliff.
I was quite impressed with how the author covered the subject and it was quite obvious he had done a lot of research on the subject both theologically and the pastoral aspects by talking to multiple exorcists. I had very few quibbles as I read through the book and while I can’t speak to just how accurate everything was in the book theologically, it mostly seem to ring true. The author did not write from a skeptical point of view and while at times he did discuss scientists who were trying to explain exorcism, it was done in a way as trying to be thorough and not just to explain away exorcism. The author mentions in his note at the end that when he started the book that he had been an infrequent Mass goer. Though it certainly appears that he allowed himself to follow what he had discovered and what he had learned via Fr. Thomas and ended up writing a different book than he might have originally intended.
I learned a good deal about exorcism in the book and the fact that most exorcists try to be the ultimate skeptic when it comes to the subject. The terminology used and the distinctions made for precision. There was also discussion about some of the clergy and others who are embarrassed about the whole topic or could hardly believe that the Church was still trying to teach this.
Fr. Thomas’ apprenticeship under the Italian exorcist was very interesting and covered the more mundane aspects of exorcism to some of the more difficult cases. This made for quite interesting reading along with some of the stories told by other exorcists.
Overall I found this to be both an informative and enjoyable read and so much better than I had anticipated it to be.
Disclaimer: I received this book via the Amazon Vine program.
It is nice when a secular writer has a bit of a conversion experience while writing about the Church. I have heard that the Vatican is placing more of an emphasis on exorcism. It seems it has been out of style for a few decades now. I think this is due to a decrease in belief in the supernatural in general among Catholics. This can probably be blamed on bad theology that tries to explain miracles in the Bible by natural means and also de-emphasises the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. I also think there has been a concerted effort to take away the divinity of Jesus to varying degrees by many so called theologians. This started in Protestantism but has made its way into Catholicism… dissident Catholicism. Since the subject is exorcism, let’s give the devil his due. He has layed out a great game plan where so many don’t believe he exists while at the same time has put it in people’s minds that Christ is just a man. A prophet, philosopher and all around great guy, but still just a man. No wonder he has free reign and exorcism is in greater need.
I will have to read this book, which may hold local interest for me, since San Jose is my diocese. I don’t know the years involved, but am a little comforted to learn that my bishop (or his immediate predecessor, if this was more years back) had the good judgment to seek to have an exorcist trained.
But is he the very model of a modern major excorcist?