Unhinged or unholy? Fiend or fraud? That’s what authorities had to decide about the French nun Marie-Thérèse Noblet (1889–1930). She suffered sudden diseases that were as quickly cured, chokings, night beatings, unclean visions of blasphemous scenes, violent shakes witnessed by onlookers, foul assaults from filthy beasts, including one she recalled as “full of terrible beauty with eyes full of hate.”
Then there’s Sr. Jeanne of the Angels, the seventeenth-century prioress of her Ursuline convent, plagued by diabolical visits with an explicitly erotic element, which spread, epidemic-like, to the Ursuline sisters under her care, whose convulsive attacks and obscene contortions scandalized all who witnessed them. Were these sisters really demonic? Deranged? Or merely deceitful?
That’s the first question exorcists must answer — the question addressed in these pages by the world-famous French neuropsychiatrist Jean Lhermitte. Genuine demonic possessions, admits Lhermitte, evade the explanations and exceed the competence of even the wisest physicians: they must be handled not in the clinic, but by the Church. At the same time, exorcisms will not help the symptoms of those who are mentally ill. So skilled physicians and trained clergy must press past the visions, the gibbering, the howlings and grindings of teeth, and the other frightening symptoms to discern whether they’re dealing with real possession, or only pathology, mental or physical. That’s the work Dr. Lhermitte undertakes in these pages.
With sober clarity and reserve, he reviews the detailed clinical records of scores of cases that startled and alarmed our forefathers as well as the cases of many souls that he personally examined: unfortunate souls judged “possessed,” who manifested symptoms ranging from picturesque to loathsome and pitiful. By means of these cases, Lhermitte illuminates the criteria that the Church holds to be decisive signs of genuine possession ... and those that assure us that — despite filth and fits, shrieks and slobbering — in other cases the influence of the demon is sought in vain. Good priests and wise Catholic physicians know that, for the sake of their souls, those who are disturbed must never be hastily examined or casually judged. True or False Possession? will teach you, too, not to rush to judgment and show you when it’s time — right now! — to call the priest.
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