The World and I

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.   (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

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The Gospels as well as the entire Bible gives recognition at times to a spiritual warfare of cosmic dimensions which is ongoing within the created universe.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became incarnate and entered into the world exactly to engage in this warfare on our behalf.  Oftentimes in our daily lives we are not aware of the ongoing spiritual warfare, though some people, monks for example are consciously engaged in the warfare on a daily basis.

That Christ came into the world to enter into the fray on our behalf is obvious in today’s Gospel lesson:

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

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Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.  (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

The Gospel lesson shows Christ active in the world, not enthroned in the comfort and safety of heaven, and not just piously praying in the temple.  It is a lesson about Christ engaging evil face to face in a desolate place where most humans have decided not to go.  Christ is God’s presence and power in the world casting out the forces of Satan from the lives of two rather unsavory men.

Whether we think in these terms or not, we ourselves come to church in order to personally experience that presence of the Kingdom in our lives, to commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God and to show our own rejection of all that is evil.  Our presence at the Liturgy is not withdrawal from the world, nor fleeing the real presence of evil in the world, but rather adding ourselves to the spiritual war against Satan.  Throughout the Liturgy we are praying for and about the world and all that is in the world.    We unite ourselves to Christ in order to defeat Satan in our own lives so that we can be what Christ expects of us:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

In the Gospel, it is obvious that Christ does not just talk to those who are holy, sinless, without problems.  He engages everyone in the world, even those possessed by Satan.

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Compared to life in Biblical times, we have many modern advantages that help relieve suffering, pain and sickness.  The medical progress and social welfare  we experience are a direct result of Christian efforts to help the needy and to relieve suffering.  The impetus was the mercy and care that Christianity advocated for the poor and needy.  It was the Christians who established hospices and hospitals and famine relief and care for orphans and widows throughout the Roman Empire.  That was the seed for the development of medical science and social concern for those in need.   This was a real response to the evil they could see everywhere and which most people simply tried to avoid.

War of the Worlds 2It is interesting that science fiction often portrays the earth being invaded by an alien army which attempts to destroy life on earth or tries to turn everyone into inhuman possessions of the aliens.  Science fiction really is just borrowing the narrative of the Gospel.  Science fiction turns Satan into an alien invader, but the story is the same.  The world is at risk and we need to repel the invasion.  The Scriptures tell us the alien invader is Satan  and Christ came into the world to drive back this alien invasion and to overcome the spreading corruption of the Evil One.  That is what Christ does in the Gospels, and whether we see it or not, it is what we are doing in the Church through the exorcism at Baptism and in our becoming the Body of Christ.

Throughout the Gospel Christ is present in the world seeking lost sheep, injured lambs, the sick and the possessed.  Christ freely went even to places and people who had forsaken God.    We attend the Liturgy to make Christ present in our lives, because we agree and believe that there is real evil in the world and we want it defeated.  We unite ourselves to Christ to expel evil from our lives.  We receive the Body and Blood of Christ to strengthen ourselves in the spiritual warfare so that we can go back into the world to defeat evil and witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We accept the risk of what spiritual warfare means – including martyrdom.   Our task is not simply to come to the church to receive Christ and be united to Him.  Our task is to go back into the world to get Christ out of the Church and into the entire world, to claim our lives for God and be God’s servants daily so that evil is crushed because we are oriented to God.  We don’t need to orient ourselves toward evil to defeat it, we defeat evil by completing orienting our lives, our hearts and minds to God.  If we keep our eyes and hearts on Christ, Satan and evil are automatically defeated.

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The Liturgy in the Church orients our lives toward the Kingdom of God, it helps us always keep our face toward God.  In the Liturgy we are always facing in one direction toward God, with our backs toward Satan because we have left evil behind us.  That is the symbolism of the Liturgy and why we stand and orient ourselves this way in the Liturgy rather than sitting around in circle with the altar at our center.

Our spiritual struggle is not just against our personal sins and passions, it is part of the cosmic warfare against Satan and all evil powers.    This is why it is so difficult to overcome our personal sins and failings.  Our struggle within ourselves immediately puts us into the conflict with Satan and his forces.  When you desire to stop any sin or passion within yourself, lust, greed, anger, lying, etc, you are at once engaged in the spiritual warfare which is raging through the entire world. One difficulty in overcoming our sins, temptations and passions is we are not prepared to engage in the full spiritual warfare against Satan, and we fail to think of ourselves as part of the world or part of a greater whole.  We tend to see our self as isolated and in a lonely struggle and that we just have personal problems, but the reality is we really are part of a bigger war.  Christ came into the world to take on Himself the sin of the world, to directly confront and defeat Satan.  But we have to keep ourselves united to Christ to benefit from His power.  We keep ourselves united to Christ in the Communion of the Saints, in the Church, through confession, communion , prayer, the Liturgy, bible study, in practicing charity and forgiveness.  We learn to love in and through community and that keeps us in the Body of Christ.

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How do we keep Satan from influencing our lives?    A willingness to listen to God’s Word, listening to God’s word, heartfelt prayer, a devout fear of God, true Christian love for God and for one another, a desire to serve God, humility, self-denial, seeking truth, doing God’s will as revealed in the Gospel commandments.

Laughter – The Great Weapon Against Anger

St. Gregory of Nazianzus personifed Anger as a wicked friend – someone who is always nearby so quickly summoned into our hearts and minds, and yet someone we shouldn’t want in our lives and should readily expel from our hearts and minds.  He also felt becoming enraged was itself allowing oneself to become possessed by a demon.  The person in a fit of rage behaves as if he or she has lost their mind.  Gregory felt laughter was the best weapon to dispel rage when it wells up within us.   We might imagine all the monkish saints as being austere and humorless, yet Gregory sees laughter as a a medicine, an antidote to anger.  He wrote in one of his poems:

For laughter is the greatest weapon against an assault of rage.

. . .

What then is the mildest of all things? God.

. . .

Otherwise I vow that you, O wicked friend [Anger],

the wretched supporter and protector,

who make men swell up and give them to the gates of Hades,

to submit this day to God and to the Word,

O Anger, you boiling, fullness of homicide,

eminent ugliness of the face, storm of the heart,

drunken gadfly who drive men off cliffs and send them to Tartarus.

O legion of spirits, evil composite,

who tear up bonds and fetters with their shackles, Christ . . .

himself wants you to flee as quickly as possible from here.

Go out and fill the depths of your swine.

They will readily receive you as you cast yourself into the sea.

Depart from all of us who are dear to God.

(Poems on Scripture, p. 119)

We Are What We Eat: The Word of God vs The Word of the World

10539655475_2a93f2f5ba_nWhen we read a Gospel lesson like Luke 8:26-39 , the Gadarene Demoniac, we can easily get the impression that demons commonly haunt the earth and that demon possession is the most frequent problem confronting humanity.   And that would be our impression if the only Scriptures we ever heard was the Sunday Gospel lessons of the Orthodox Church year.  Yet if we study the Scriptures we note:

The word “demons” appears only 4 times in the entire Septuagint (Old Testament).  However it appears 35 times just in the 4 Gospels – but then only 6 times in the rest of the New Testament.

The word “demon” appears only in the book of Tobit in the Old Testament.   It appears 21 times in the 4 Gospels but nowhere else in the New Testament.

The notion of being “possessed by demons” – occurs only in the New Testament – 4 times in the Gospels and once in Acts.

Demon possession is not mentioned in the entire Old Testament and in fact demons are almost never mentioned in the Old Testament.  So, when we come to the Gospels and suddenly demons seem commonplace, we can ask: What happened?  Why do demons suddenly abound?

One thing that does happen in Israel is the invasion of pagan deities.   Following Alexander the Great’s conquering of Israel came the arrival of pagan Hellenism – Greek paganism which was the bane of Israel in the time of the Maccabees.  Then the pagan Roman Empire conquered Israel.  Pagan temples and pagan signs emerged everywhere in Israel.   The Jewish people readily  accommodated to this reality,  even some accepting  these gods/deities in their midst, but these gods were considered to be nothing more than demons by faithful Jews and early Christians.  Demonic influence spread throughout Israel with the influence of pagan Greek and Roman culture.   What we see in the Gospels reflects this concern – that people were being made sick by becoming accustomed to pagan religion, and making demonic ideas part of their daily existence.  Demonic influence and demonic possession took over the region as the Jewish people adapted to their political and religious reality and then even adopted some of these pagan Greek ideas.

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In the Gospels, however, the demons themselves acknowledging the Lordship of Christ.  These demons and the people they possess are telling Israel to return to and be faithful to the God of their ancestors.  The people’s inability to recognize that The Lord is not just like one of the many gods was making them all mentally and spiritually ill.   God was no longer the Lord of their lives, but rather they  saw all gods as equal and thus all gods as demons.  So they became possessed by demonic thinking.  Jesus may have been very critical of Pharisaic Judaism and the religion of the temple priests, but He was not telling them paganism is a better alternative or a more acceptable alternative.  Jesus came to rid the people of all false beliefs including wrong Jewish ideas as well as the pagan gods and demons.

In Deuteronomy 32, there is a song which Moses taught the people of Israel, rebuking them for their faithlessness, which says in part that

Jacob ate his fill;

Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked.

You grew fat, bloated, and gorged!

He abandoned God who made him,

and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.

They made him jealous with strange gods,

with abhorrent things they provoked him.

They sacrificed to demons, not God,

to deities they had never known,

to new ones recently arrived,

whom your ancestors had not feared.

You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;

you forgot the God who gave you birth.   (32:15-18)

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It was because the people forgot the Lord that they began to worship the pagan deities or demons.  In our Gospel lesson, note that the man from whom the demons had been exorcised exactly did not forget God:

Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

Note well that usually Jesus tells those whom He heals not to say anything to anyone, but here He commands this man living outside of Israel to proclaim what God has done for him.  Perhaps when Christ is in Israel, Jesus feared that people would only misinterpret his powers as being demonic (Matthew 10:25, 12:24), whereas in the land outside of Israel, which was full of idols/demons, He wanted them to proclaim the one God above all the idols/demons.

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We might also think about  Adam and Eve trying to hide from God after sinning.  Instead of coming to God for healing, they fear God will judge them and so they try to avoid God.  This is exactly like the demons in the Gospel behave.  They have no love for God, only fear.    “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!”  The demons too want to hide from Christ precisely because they don’t love Him and they don’t want to have to bow before Him or to be embraced by His love.

“. . . the demons are violent and destructive, seeking  injury and death of the human person; Jesus’ actions are liberating, restoring humans to tranquility and communion with self and others.”  (Willard Swartley, COVENANT OF PEACE, p 98)

The demonic is visible wherever people are seeking destruction and injury for their fellow humans – the endless list of terrorists and murderers who attack children in school or worshipers in a synagogue.  Or who send pipe bombs to politicians.   It is Christ who brings sanity to us and tranquility and communion with God.  We need to see the violence in our society for what it is.  Like in Israel of 2000 years ago, all kinds of demonic ideas abound in our midst and our making us and our country insane.

But what to do, respond with more violence?  As Christians we are called above all to be a people of prayer.  To recognize that these people possessed by violence and demonic thoughts are still part of us – both human and American.  We have to work to exorcise the demonic influence in our country through prayer and fasting.  That’s exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us (Mark 9:29).

“The possessed and insane individual remains a brother who has even a greater need not to be held in contempt or rejected, but on the contrary to be loved and helped since he finds himself in a condition of great suffering.  As St John Cassian teaches:

‘We shall not only never despise them but we shall even pray ceaselessly for them as for our own members and suffer along with them from the depths of our being and with all our hearts (for when ‘one suffers, all members suffer’ [1 Cor 12:26]).’

The Christian should feel bound up with their destiny, believing that his own spiritual destiny is linked to theirs, as each member of the body is linked to every other member.

‘We cannot possibly attain to perfection without these members or ours, just as we read that our forebears were unable to arrive at the fullness of the promise without us.  As the Apostle says concerning them: ‘All these who were approved by the testimony of faith did not receive the promises, since God had provided something better for us so that they would not be perfected without us.[Hebrews 11:39-40]’

… It is quite evident that in the eyes of the Fathers the possessed remains a complete human being, for even though the demon occupies his body and soul, he continues to carry intact within him the indelible and unalterable image of God which constitutes his true being, his profound nature, and indeed his very humanity.  In the face of this, possession is only an accident, a superficial deformity.”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, MENTAL DISORDERS AND SPIRITUAL HEALING, pp 60-61)

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Rather than seeing these American terrorists as “them”, we need to realize they are us and we as a culture have allowed these demonic ideas to become part of our lives.  We all need to repent and turn to the Lord.   There is a writing attributed to St. Macarius of Egypt which says:

“The Word of God is God.  And the word of the world is world.  There is a great difference and distance between the Word of God and the word of the world and between the children of God and the children of the world.  For every begotten offspring resembles its proper parents.  If, therefore, the offspring of the Spirit gives itself over to the word of the world and to earthly matters and to the glory of this age, it is stricken with death and perishes, whence it came into existence.  For, as the Lord says, he is ‘choked and becomes unfruitful’ (Mk 4:19) from the Word of God who is surrounded by the cares of life and who is bound by earthly bonds.  Likewise, one who is possessed by the fleshly desire, that is, a man of the world, if he desires to hear the Word of God, is choked and becomes like someone irrational.  For being accustomed to the enticements of evil when such men hear about God, they are burdened by boring conversation and their minds are bored.”     (Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 230)

Many are bored with hearing the Word of God and only want to hear the word of the world.  They read and listen to their political extremist talk show hosts and web pages.  They have filled their heads and hearts with demonic thoughts – “the word of the world” – and that is why they behave like the violent and destructive demons of the Gospel.

We also see in this why it isn’t enough for any individual just to change their mind, for they are not just acting alone but as part of a greater world experience/power.  “The word of the world” is greater than any one individual, it is all around us just like the ocean is to all the creatures that live in it.  We can’t just shake it off or get out of it.  This is why we need to read the scriptures and to pray and attend church and worship God.  It is why we need Holy Communion, the sacrament of confession, prayer and fasting.

Demonic Influence vs. Free Will

“…angelic and demonic thoughts as gifts or temptations from the outside involve some degree of free choice. While it is not in a person’s power to decide whether a demonic or angelic thought will pass through one’s mind, people can choose to act on it or to ignore it. Upon determining the origin of a given thought, a person is quite free to reject the thought or admit it by lingering on it. No matter how enticing a demonic thought maybe, it can only urge not coerce. This can be seen both in the account of the fall and of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness.

Being made in the image of God, each human being receives as a royal birthright the sovereign power of the intelligence and the free will. In fact, Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, well-aware of the radiant examples of the martyrs and great ascetics, writes,

‘God bestowed on our will so much freedom and power, that even if every kind of sensual provocation, ever kind of demon, and the entire world united to take arms against our will and vehemently to make war against it, despite all that, our will remains entirely free to despise that attack and will what it chooses to will or not will what it does not choose to will.’”

(Fr. Alexis Trader, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, p. 60)

Demonic Possession as a Physical Ailment

The Gospel lesson in our current lectionary for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost is Matthew 8:28-9:1 in which Christ encounters two men possessed by demons.   At the time when the Orthodox Gospel lectionary was being formed, a story of Christ exorcising demons must have been very popular.  For in the current lectionary, the parallel version of this story from Luke’s Gospel (8:26-39) is read also on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost.   Since we have a lectionary that repeats every year, it is interesting that they thought this miracle important enough to proclaim twice during the church year in which there are only 52 Sundays, and we actually hear only 1/7 of the Gospels if we attend only on Sundays.  The Luke version is slightly different than the Matthew version (one instead of two demoniacs), but both have a heard of pigs running over a cliff and all drowning.    Here is the version from Matthew’s Gospel:

At that time, when Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their   neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Reflecting on demonic possession, Jean-Claude Larchet writes:

“St. John Cassian provides precise indications as to how the devil acts in certain cases of possession and shows how this is analogous to certain processes due to physical causes.  When an unclean spirit makes its way into those organs in which the soul’s vigor is contained, [it] imposes an unbearable and immeasurable weight on them, and overwhelms the intellectual faculties and deeply darkens their understanding.   We see that this sometimes also happens through the fault of wine or fever or excessive cold or other unfavorable conditions that are externally caused. The devil, who had received power over the blessed Job’s flesh, did not succeed in bringing this upon him,  having been forbidden by the command of the Lord, who said: ‘Behold, I hand him over to you; only spare his soul’ (Job 2:6). That is to say, only do not drive him mad by weakening his soul’s abode, and do not obscure the understanding and the wisdom of the one who withstands you by suffocating the governance of his heart with your weight.”   (Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, p 48)

A fascination with demons, even with exorcisms of demons, can itself be spiritually unhealthy.  In the baptism exorcism, in one of the prayers the priest says, we show our utter contempt and disdain for Satan by referring to the Gospel lesson of the demoniac and the herd of swine:

Acknowledge the vanity of your might, which does not even have power over swine. Remember Him Who, at your request, commanded you to enter into the herd of swine.

We remind Satan in almost taunting fashion to remember the events at Gadara – we tell him to remember how powerless he was then and always continues to be in the face of Christ.  Satan is not God’s opposite and equal, and has no power in himself.  We who have been baptized can show our contempt for Satan by ignoring him – for sometimes in giving attention to satan we give power to him as well.  But Satan has been rendered powerless by Christ.

Larchet is pointing out that even the Patristic writers acknowledge that demon possession often has no other manifestation than symptoms related to physical diseases.  Some of these symptoms of demon possession according to St. John Cassian really are the end result of drunkenness or a fever or even of unfavorable weather conditions.     We do need to keep in mind that the Fathers of the Church did not attribute every human problem and ailment to demons.

Below is the entire prayer excerpted above – one of two prayers in the baptism service in which the priest directs his words/prayer to Satan: banning him from the catechumen who is about to be baptized and declaring Satan powerless because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

God, holy, awesome and glorious, Who is unsearchable and inscrutable in all His works and might, has foreordained for you the penalty of eternal punishment, O Devil. The same God, through us, His unworthy servant, commands you, with all your hosts, to depart from him (her) who has been newly sealed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God. Therefore I charge you, most crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien spirit, by the power of Jesus Christ, Who has all power, both in heaven and on earth, Who said to the deaf and dumb demon, “Come out of the man, and do not enter a second time into him:” Depart! Acknowledge the vanity of your might, which does not even have power over swine. Remember Him Who, at your request, commanded you to enter into the herd of swine. Fear God, by Whose decree the earth is established upon the waters; Who has made the heavens, and has set the mountains with a line and the valleys with a measure; and has fixed bounds to the sands of the sea, and a firm path upon the stormy waters; Who touches the mountains and they smoke; Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment; Who spreads out the heavens like a curtain; Who covers His exceedingly high places with the waters; Who has made the earth so sure upon its foundations, that it shall never be moved; Who gathers the water of the sea and pours it out upon the face of the whole earth: Leave, and depart from him (her) who has made himself (herself) ready for Holy Illumination. I charge you by the redeeming Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His precious Body and Blood, and by His awesome Second Coming; for He shall come quickly to judge the whole earth; and He shall chastise you and all your host with burning Gehenna, committing you to outer darkness, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

Next:  Why We Don’t Fear Satan

Discerning the Spirits and Scientific Materialism

This is the concluding blog of a trilogy that began with Demons, Free Will and OCD.  In the blog series I have explored the work of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, a psychiatrist who is responsible for developing a groundbreaking therapy to treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  Steve Volk writing in the November issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE , “Rewiring the Brain to Treat OCD”,  writes about the efforts of Dr. Schwartz in helping to bring sanity to people with this brain disorder. 

I commented in the earlier blogs on how though mental illness was well known and documented in the ancient world, ancient writers and modern ones have very different assumptions about how to understand mental illness and how to cure it.  The church fathers allowed for the fact that some mental illness was caused by demons, though Jean-Claude Larchet in his book, MENTAL DISORDERS AND SPIRITUAL HEALING: TEACHING FROM THE EARLY CHRISTIAN EAST, notes that the fathers did not assume all mental illness was caused by demons.

They recognize for example that alcohol has an effect on mental health, and allow that some manifestations of mental illness are physical disorders, not spiritual ones.   He also notes that it is a false idea that only modern psychiatry based in scientific atheism rejects spiritual or demonic etiologies for mental illness.   He reports that “The celebrated Hippocratic treatise entitled On the Sacred Disease …  takes to task all those who would attribute to epilepsy and to mental disease in general a divine or demonic cause…” (Footnote 4, p 46).  So not attributing mental disease to spiritual, divine or demonic causes, was an opinion held in the ancient world as well.  The Fathers would not have been unaware of this as many of them came from the educated, cultivated and trained ranks of the Byzantine empire’s citizenry.

Larchet however does note that there are some differences in understanding and approach of modern secular psychiatry and the ancients.   The Fathers while not attributing all mental illness to spiritual causes, did have that as part of their diagnostic methodology and used discernment based in experience to determine the causes of various illnesses.   Modern medical science based in scientific materialism cannot allow for there to be divine, spiritual or demonic causes for illnesses and so has to ignore that possibility.    Larchet comments:

“If ‘profane’ or ‘rational’ medicine chooses to ignore such a demonic etiology, this is because it accepts phenomena as the only reality that can be considered.  With everything subordinate to this methodology, it finds itself completely unable to understand, and is indeed obligated, by its denial of the supersensible, to explain such effects only in terms of their appearance.  Such an explanation is without doubt possible since demonic action, even though it is spiritual in nature, is widely expressed in the domain of the senses and can therefore be clinically apprehended by its effects.  Demonic etiologies are all the more apt to be confused with and taken for organic diseases, since they frequently manifest in bodily disorders which, externally, look like standard illnesses.  In effect, demons frequently act upon the soul by means of the body, for it is the latter which is more easily and directly accessible to them.  Thus they use they ordinary laws of the physical world, the same laws that can play a role in other purely physiological etiologies.”  (pp 47-48)

Basically modern psychiatry ignores or denies spiritual causes and so can only treat behaviors – it can only treat symptoms of a problem, but in denying spiritual or demonic causes, will never be able to address the cause of the mental illness if the cause is spiritual, demonic or divine (and remember not all mental illness has a spiritual etiology).  The Fathers allow the possibility of a spiritual cause for mental illness and if that is part of the diagnosis can treat the spiritual problem.

Hinshaw SufferingAnother issue perhaps separating the modern understanding of mental illness from the ancient is that the Fathers also allowed that there might not be a cure for an illness and that all the Church could do was to care for the sick.   Modern medical ideals seem more likely to assume there is (or will eventually be) a scientific cure for everything.  The emphasis is at times far more focused on the cure of the illness than the care of the patient.   For the modern medical practitioner the inability to cure is failure, while for the ancient Christians the lack of a cure meant only that greater attention had to be devoted to the care of the sick.

By recognizing the potential for divine, demonic or spiritual causes of illness, the Fathers  had a broader view of what  it is to be human which includes spiritual dimensions.  They thus could also summon to the healing spiritual aid when appropriate.  The Fathers are simply allowing an additional level or layer of care for human sickness that modern medical practitioners cannot deal with.  As Larchet comments:

“First, with the clinical focus on psychic disorders most of the time, it can be tempting to define an etiology as purely psychological.  But this is an illusion, for it will only grasp the intermediary and organic role of the condition that is the proximal cause, and will miss the primary cause which is demonic.  Secondly, in view of the organic factors which unquestionably exist and seem to be the observable cause, it is easy for the physician/psychiatrist to be unaware that they are only secondary causes and delude himself that the etiology is purely somatic.  This allows him to apply treatments that are of a purely physiologic nature in all cases.  Such therapy can even prove to be an asset since it unquestionably affects the involved organs.  But these organs are only mediators; treatment only modifies the symptoms of the disease.  Invisible to the clinician, the primary underlying cause remains present and active (how else explain the strange resistance to extremely powerful mediciens), though often in changing ways (which might explain certain symptom shifts).”  (pp 48-49)

Larchet acknowledges that it is incredibly difficult to diagnose the presence of demonic influence in ailments.  He also readily admits that such discernment of demonic influence can only be done by those spiritually gifted and experienced.  So while modern medical practice would not consider the possibility of spiritual etiologies, even if it did, it would require men and women trained and experienced in the spiritual life to diagnose it properly.  This fact alone probably goes a long way in explaining why spiritual causes of mental illness will remain outside of modern medical practice.  Only within a spiritual tradition could a religious body recognize spiritual practitioners for diagnosing spiritual causes of illness and who would then be able to recommend curative or palliative care.