The Devils of Loudun Page 77

Possession is more often secular than supernatural. Men are possessed by their thoughts of a hated person, a hated class, race or nation. At the present time the destinies of the world are in the hands of self-made demoniacs—of men who are possessed by, and who manifest, the evil they have chosen to see in others. They do not believe in devils; but they have tried their hardest to be possessed—have tried and been triumphantly successful. And since they believe even less in God than in the devil, it seems very unlikely that they will ever be able to cure themselves of their possession. Concentrating his attention upon the idea of a supernatural and metaphysical evil, Surin drove himself to a pitch of madness uncommon among secular demoniacs. But his idea of good was also supernatural and metaphysical, and in the end it saved him.

Early in May, Surin wrote to his friend and fellow Jesuit, Father d’Attichy, giving him a full account of what had happened to him. “Since last writing, I have fallen into a state far removed from anything I could have foreseen, but thoroughly consonant with the leadings of God’s Providence in regard to my soul. . . . I am engaged upon a struggle with four of hell’s most malignant devils. . . . The least important battlefield is that of exorcism; for my enemies have made themselves known in secret, night and day, in a thousand different ways. . . . For the last three and a half months I have never been without a devil on duty. Things have come to such a pass that (for my sins, as I think) God has permitted . . . the devils to pass out of the possessed person’s body and, entering into mine, to assault me, to throw me down, to torment me so that all can see, possessing me for several hours at a stretch like a demoniac.1

“I find it almost impossible to explain what happens to me during this time, how this alien spirit is united to mine, without depriving me of consciousness or of inner freedom, and yet constituting a second ‘me,’ as though I had two souls, of which one is dispossessed of my body and the use of its organs, and keeps its quarters, watching the other, the intruder, doing whatever it likes. These two spirits do battle within the limits of a field, which is the body. The very soul is as though divided, and in one of its parts is the subject of diabolical impressions and, in the other, of such feelings as are proper to it or are inspired by God. At one and the same time I feel a great peace, as being under God’s good pleasure, and on the other hand (without knowing how) an overpowering rage and loathing of God, expressing itself in frantic struggles (astonishing to those who watch them) to separate myself from Him. At one and the same time I experience a great joy and delight and, on the other hand, a misery that finds vent in wailings and lamentations, like those of the damned. I feel the state of damnation and apprehend it. I feel as if I had been pierced by the pricks of despair in that alien soul which seems to be mine; and meanwhile the other soul lives in complete confidence, makes light of all such feelings, and curses the being who is their cause. I even feel that the cries uttered by my mouth come from both souls at once; and I find it hard to determine whether they are the product of joy or frenzy. The shudderings which come upon me, when the Blessed Sacrament is applied to any part of my body, are caused simultaneously (so it seems to me) by the horror of its proximity, which I find unbearable, and by a heartfelt reverence. . . .

“When, under the impulsion of one of these two souls, I try to make the sign of the cross on my mouth, the other soul turns my hand aside, or takes the finger between the teeth and savagely bites it. I find that mental prayer is never easier or more tranquil than in the midst of these agitations, while the body is rolling on the ground and the ministers of the Church are speaking to me as though to a devil, loading me with maledictions. I cannot describe to you the joy I feel in thus finding myself turned into a devil, not by rebellion against God, but by a calamity which plainly symbolizes the state to which sin has reduced me. . . .

“When the other demoniacs see me in this state, it is a joy to see how they exult, to hear how the devils make sport of me! ‘Physician, heal thyself! Now’s the time to get up in the pulpit! A pretty sight to see that thing preaching!’ . . . What a favour this is—to know by experience the state from which Jesus Christ has drawn me, to realize the greatness of His redemption, not by hearsay, but by the actual feeling of the state from which we have been redeemed! . . .

“This is where I now stand, this is how I am almost every day. I have become a subject of dispute. Is there true possession? Is it possible for ministers of the Church to fall into such troubles? Some say that all this is God’s chastisement upon me, a punishment for some illusion; others say something else. As for me, I hold my peace and have no wish to change my fate, being firmly convinced that nothing is better than to be reduced to the utmost extremity. . . .”

(In his later writings Surin developed this theme more fully. There are, he insisted, many cases in which God makes use of possession as a part of the purgative process which must precede illumination. “It is one of God’s more ordinary leadings in the ways of grace to permit the devil to possess or obsess souls which He wishes to raise to a high degree of holiness.” Devils cannot possess the will, and cannot force their victims into sin. Diabolic inspirations of blasphemy, impurity and hatred of God leave the soul unstained. Indeed, they actually do good, inasmuch as they cause the soul to feel as much humiliation as it would do if such horrors were committed voluntarily. These humiliations and the agonies and apprehensions with which the demons fill the mind are “the crucible which burns away, down to the quick of the heart, down to the very marrow of the bones, all self-love.” And meanwhile, God Himself is at work on the suffering soul, and His operations are “so strong, so insinuating and ravishing, that one can say of this soul that it is one of the loveliest works of His mercy.”)

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