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4. Of Exorcists

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IV. Inferior officers of the church

4. Of Exorcists

Our business is merely to speak of the origin and offices of this order in the church. And this we can do by adopting the language of Bingham, who gives the following as the result of his investigations on this subject:

  1. That exorcists did not at first constitute any distinct order of the clergy;
  2. That bishops and presbyters were in the three first centuries the usual exorcists of the church;
  3. That in a certain sense, by prayer and by resisting the devil, every Christian might be his own exorcist; and
  4. That exorcists began to be known as a distinct order in the church in the latter part of the third century.

The appointment and office of the exorcists is by the fourth council of Carthage, c. 7, described as follows: When an exorcist is ordained, he shall receive at the hands of the bishop a book wherein the forms of exorcising are written, the bishop saying, "receive thou these and commit them to memory, and have thou power to lay hands on the energumens, whether they he baptized or only catechumens. This was the uniform mode of ordination, although, after the introduction of infant baptism, the assistance of exorcists in administering this ordinance was either omitted entirely, or greatly changed. Subsequently, the exorcising of demoniacs was either wholly discontinued, or subjected, by explicit decrees of council, to the oversight of presbyters or bishops. "The routine of their duties was prescribed by the bishop according to circumstances of time and place. In some churches in Germany, they had the oversight of the consecrated water, and the vessels in which it was kept. In other churches they reciprocated their duties with the door-keepers, readers, and acolyths of the church, or it was their business to conduct communicants in crowded assemblies to the sacramental table. 

[According to the authority of Bingham, "Nothing is more certain than that, in the apostolic age, and that next following, the power of exorcising or casting out devils was a miraculous gift of the Holy Ghost, not confined to the clergy, much less to any single order among them, but given to other Christians also, as many other extraordinary gifts then were." For his authorities, see reference. Cave's account of this order is as follows: "After the miraculous power of casting out devils began to cease, or at least not to be so common as it was, these possessed persons used to come to the out parts of the church where a. person was appointed to exorcise them, i.e. to pray over them in such prayers as were peculiarly composed for such occasions, and this he did in the public name of the whole church, the people also at the same time praying within, by which means the possessed person was delivered from the tyranny of the evil spirit without any of those charms and conjurations and other unchristian forms and rites which by degrees crept into this office, and are at this day in use in the church of Rome." – TR.]

Binterim. I. B. I. th. S. 301. S. 308.

Bingham B. III. c. 4. Origen. Cont. Cels. lib. rii. p. 334; Socrat. lib. iv. c. 27; Tertul. Apol. c. 23; Minuc. Octav. p. 83; Justin. Apol. 1. p. 45; Iren. lib. ii. c. 56; Cypr. ad Donat. p. 4; Arnob. Contr. Gent. lib. i.

Primitive Christianity, chap. 8. p. 235.


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