EXORCISM: The expulsion of evil spirits by conjuration or magical or religious exercises; see DEMONIAC, §§ 4-6; also BENEDICTION; DIVINATION; SACRAMENTALS. This article is confined to exorcism in connection with the rite of baptism.
It is easy to understand how the primitive Church came to use the rite of exorcism on its catechumens; it is also obvious that in so doing it departed from the Scriptural standpoint. Resting its practise on the healing of demoniacs by Christ, it undertook to heal by exorcism a large number of morbid conditions, which it considered of diabolical origin. It had a class of officials set apart for this function, though not originally by any form of ordination; according to the Apostolic Constitutions (viii. 26) they possessed a "gift of healing," and their work was thus the exercise of a gift rather than of an office. Their method of treatment included prayer and laying on of hands. In the third century this sort of exorcism was applied to catechumens coming from paganism, on the theory that the pagan world was the realm of evil spirits, and that those who came into the Church from it must thus be delivered from the power of evil. In thus deserting the original ground of exorcism, as an influence brought to bear in order to cure a morbid condition of the psychico-physical organism, for an attack upon the ethical power of the kingdom of darkness over souls, the practise entered upon a career which led toward fantastic magic. Satan was commanded to come forth from the catechumens; and the thought that the winning of each new convert from paganism to Christianity was a manifestation of the victory of Christ over the prince of this world finds dramatic expression in these exorcisms.
The first certain evidence of the employment of exorcism in the case of catechumens is offered by Cyprian in 256; it is found here in use both in the Catholic Church and among heretics, so that it is evidently no new thing. Another mention of it, possibly somewhat older, is found in the Canones Hippolyti. It is doubtful whether Tertullian knew of the practise, or whether the Clementine Homilies (iii. 73) intend to refer to it in the description of the daily laying on of hands during the preparation for baptism. At the Carthaginian council of 256 in which it is first clearly mentioned, certain bishops requested that it, together with baptism, should be employed at the reception of heretics into the Church; the reason given, that "heretics are worse than pagans," shows how definitely exorcism was still connected with the thought of paganism. In the same context it is interesting that an early Greek form for the reception of a convert from Judaism contains a renunciation, but no exorcism (Assemani, Codex liturgicus, I. 105 sqq.). When exorcism was thus once brought into connection with baptism, it was applied to the baptism of infants in the same unreflecting way as were the other ceremonies originally belonging to adult baptism. As in the service for infant baptism the various liturgical acts of the catechumen's preparation were combined into a continuous function, the various exorcisms which found a place in that were here also included. At the outset came the exsufflatio, a thrice-repeated breathing in the face of the child, with the words "Depart from him, thou unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete"; after the giving of salt, there was a long exorcism, three times repeated, each time with a different command to the devil to depart from the child. This remained substantially the same until the end of the Middle Ages. The Rituale Romanum of 1614 condensed it considerably, retaining only the exsufflatio at the beginning with the last of the three exorcisms and its introduction.
Luther saw no objection to the exorcism in the baptismal office, which he retained in his own of 1523, abbreviating it, indeed, but not on any theological ground. In that of 1526 it was further abbreviated, and the exsufflatio omitted; but relics of the Roman function passed from this into the majority of the Lutheran service-books, to excite bitter controversy later within the Lutheran ranks, and to be the subject of reproach on the part of the Calvinists. When not forced by such attacks to defend the practise, the Lutheran theologians freely admitted that it was a nonessential, and at the Cassel Conference of 1661 expressed their willingness to change it to a prayer for deliverance from the power of Satan. In the rationalistic period at the end of the eighteenth century, it finally disappeared from one service-book after another, and now, since its general abandonment by the Lutherans, the ceremony has no place in the rites of any Protestant Church.