Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Repentance as a Form of Exorcism

The early Church used to enact a form of exorcism when they baptized a catachumen. This is preserved in some corners, but is a longly forgotten rite. It's sort of present in rites that "renounce the Devil", but this is generally done speedily, perhaps tongue-in-cheek. Modern people know the demonic and spiritual darkness is not real, so we don't think about it too much.

However, there's another element to renouncing the Devil besides dealing with spiritual warfare, though it might include it too. This is the idea of seeing exorcism and repentance as not so unfamiliar acts. This makes sense if one looks at Jesus' ministry, how his kerygma ("Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near!") coincides specifically with an act of the Divine finger, driving demons out. The blurred cases of illnesses as afflicted by demons connects the miraculous healings to the Christ's exorcistic works. All in all, exorcism is woven into the ministry, work, and proclamation of Christ in His days in the flesh.

However, I consider how much modern American Christians are foreign to askesis, or "exercise", or literally "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". This is not merely an intellectual activity, but connected with the necessary Christian acts of prayer, fasting, reading the Scripture, partaking of the Eucharist, etc etc. Repentance is an element of working out our salvation, of our askesis or exercise. And repentance is tied directly into exorcism.

This connection is important because of our general attitudes, and the unwillingness of most Evangelical Protestants (whatever that exactly means) to put demands upon the Christian life. This is not moralism, which is present enough, which takes on an external, extrinsic, and added on nature. This is not in addition to what we are as Christians, it is what we are. Moralism is the opposite to act as ontology. This has repercussions for how it is manifested, and while Evangelicals do moralism well, there is little understanding of seeing otherwise. Perhaps, this is why there is always pendulum swings between legalism and libertinism.

Anyway, I thought about this as I overhear people complaining, whining, obsessing on food and drink, being crushed with the mudane as supreme. This is not alien to how many Christians speak. But perhaps the message of repentance that comes, for it to be truly gospel, is to tell us not only how perverse we are, but also to hear how we need to begin to reign in these mental evils. Repentance must be understood as a form of detox, a process similar to how the alcoholic or addict realizes he doesn't need the drug to live and is not a slave to it. 

Protestants seem to wedded to the world to properly understand this. For many, a proper understanding of this sort of repentance would be called world-denying and world-hating. Well, in a certain sense, Christians are supposed to hate the world, understood not as creation, but as a certain ordering of it. Life is construed as being for the purposes of indulging pleasures, dodging pains, and sail off into oblivion. The way I hear some people talk about "retirement" is horrifying. Is there no more to life than the things of the Earth? If not (and this is the mind of the flesh) then we must strive to accumulate, to horde, to stuff our bellies with the treasures of the Earth. Nowadays, we're in a more gnostic social mood talking about "experiences", memories of sensations of our own greatness or touch of greatness (it's like we're living in the sci-fi horror Total Recall). But it's the same phenomenon, it's just phantom fantasies we seek to collect.

What message do Christians need to hear for the gospel to be really good? We need to hear that we need a process of detox. We need to exorcised of our worries, fantasies, obsessions, those cravings of the flesh that turn our life for the purposes of that which is fleeting. Instead of seeing the incorruptable glory of our Lord, made manifest and powerful in His life, as opened to us, many banish Christ away and define salvation away from Him. To live according to the Word of God is to live without slavery to the flesh. It is only in this that we might actually live our lives in the flesh full of God's beauty and glory. The point is not to void the body, but to make it the site of salvation. This only happens in repentance.

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