Quotes and Paraphrases from Lutheran Pastoral Handbooks of the 16th and 17th Centuries on the Topic of Demon Possession



"In general, satanic possession is nothing other than an action of the devil by which, from God's permission, men are urged to sin, and he occupies their bodies, in order that they might lose eternal salvation. Thus bodily possession is an action by which the devil, from divine permission, possesses both pious and impious men in such a way that he inhabits their bodies not only according to activity, but also according to essence, and torments them, either for the punishment or for the discipline and testing of men, and for the glory of divine justice, mercy, power, and wisdom." Hartmann, Pastorale, 1160-1161.


There are two kinds of demon possession one spiritual, one physical. All non-Christians are spiritually possessed by the devil. The devil has taken their souls captive, so that if they die not believing in Christ, they will be taken by the devil to hell. As Scripture says, "we were by nature the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). But the devil does not control their bodies, necessarily, though he tries. He doesn't control them. They can decide what they want to do in the morning, they have a normal breakfast, they lead normal lives. That's the first kind of demon possession spiritual possession. The Church's traditional exorcism at Baptism addresses spiritual possession.

Symptoms of physical possession One must be careful not to mistake demon possession for a natural disease. Some symptoms which are sometimes mistaken are ecstasy, epileptic seizures, lethargy, insanity, frantic state of mind, and similar conditions. Convulsions and stupendous bodily movements should not be assumed to be demon possession. These sorts of symptoms could stem from purely natural causes, or could be partially assisted by the devil.

Primary symptoms of true possession:
1. The knowledge of secret things, for example, being able to predict the future (Acts 16:16), find lost people or things, or know complex things that one has never learned (e.g., medicine). It is said that fortune-tellers often ask a spirit for help and that this spirit gives them certain powers. In that case, the evil spirit is assisting, not necessarily possessing the person bodily.
2. The knowledge of languages one has never learned. Just as the devil can bind one's tongue (Luke 11:14), it is reported from the early church as well as the time of the Reformation that certain demon-possessed people could speak languages they had never learned.
3. Supernatural strength (Mark 5:2-3), far beyond what they previously had or should have considering their sex and size.
Much caution in judging demon possession is required. All of the circumstances and symptoms must be taken into consideration. Insanity should not be confused with possession. On the other hand, possession may be taking place even where these symptoms are absent.

Secondary symptoms:
1. Horrible shouting. (Mk. 5:5).
2. Blasphemy of God and jeering at one's neighbor.
3. Deformation of movements. (E.g. ferocious movements, facial contortion, immodest laughing, gnashing of teeth, spitting, removing clothes, lacerating self, Mk. 9:20; Lk. 8:26f.)
4. Inhuman revelry, when they take food beyond the capability of nature.
5. Torment of bodies.
6. Unusual injuries of the body and of those nearby.
7. Extraordinary motion of bodies. E.g., an elderly man who, being demon-possessed, was able to run as fast as a horse.
8. Forgetfulness of things done.

Other Symptoms:
1. The corruption of reason in man, making him like an animal.
2. Melancholy.
3. Acceleration of death. Mk. 9:18 (suicide attempts)
4. Other supernatural occurrences.

Treatment: "What is to be done with the possessed? And can the devil be cast out by using a certain method?
1. Let experienced physicians be consulted as to whether [there is a medical explanation.]
2. When a true possession is recognized, let the poor one be committed to the care of a minister of the Church who teaches sound doctrine, is of a blameless life, who does nothing for the sake of filthy lucre, but does everything from the soul.
3. Let him diligently inquire what kind of life the possessed one led up to this point, lead him through the law to the recognition of his sins. If he was previously pious, let him console him, that even God sometimes leaves His people in the power of the devil for certain causes, which the histories of Job and Paul testify.
4. After this admonition or consolation has taken place, let also the works of a natural physician be used, who will cleanse him from malicious fluids with the appropriate medicines. For it has been ascertained that possessed people frequently suffer from a double disease, namely of body from a melancholy fluid and of soul, for example, insanity, grief, weariness of life, desperation.
5. It is not necessary to bring him into the temple [church] in the sight of the people, as the custom is for many. Let the confession of the Christian faith be once required of Him, let him be taught concerning the works of the devil destroyed by Christ, let him be sent back faithfully to this Destroyer of Satan, Jesus Christ, let an exhortation be set up to faith in Christ, to prayers, to penitence.
6. Let ardent prayers be poured forth to God, not only by the ministers of the Church, but also by the whole Church. Let these prayers be conditioned, if the liberation should happen for God's glory and the salvation of the possessed person, for this is an evil of the body.
7. With the prayers let fasting be joined, see Matt. 17:21.
8. Alms by friends of the possessed person, Tobit 12:8-9.

In summary, all things happen by prayers and the Word. If the [desired] effect does not immediately follow, remember that not even the adjurations of exorcists are always efficacious. And this benefit of going out [of the devil] is bodily, therefore in prayers of this kind, the will of God must always be included. Thus He hears them not according to our will but for our help [according to what's best for us]. But the fact that our prayers for the possessed are not heard immediately and as we ask is due, among other things, to the unbelief of the possessed ones, who do not approach with certain faith, asking liberation from God. Therefore Christ said to the parent of a certain demon-possessed one, If you can believe the liberation of your son, it will happen." Balduin, in Dunte, Conscientiae, pp. 100-101.


"Once, during the life of Dr. Martin Luther, a young woman was brought to Wittenberg who was born in the land of Meissen, who was often vexed and tormented by the devil. And a letter was written to blessed Dr. Martin that he should save and rescue this young woman, who was 18 years old, from the evil spirit. When this virgin was brought to Dr. Martin, he asked her at that time whether she could say her faith [the creed]. She answered, 'Yes.' Then the blessed Dr. Martin commanded her to say it. As she now began and came to the article [of the creed] and these words, 'And I believe in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord,' she could no longer speak, but the evil spirit began to convulse and torment her. Then Dr. Luther spoke, 'I know you well, you devil. You would really like it if someone would set up a big ceremony with you and celebrate you greatly. You will find none of that with me.' Then he commanded that she be brought to his sermon in the church on the next day, and afterwards be brought into the sacristy, and he told the other servants of the church to come into the sacristy in addition.

The virgin was obedient and came to the sermon of the doctor, but afterwards, when they wanted to bring her into the sacristy, she fell down and struck and convulsed around, so that several students had to carry her into the sacristy and lay her at the feet of blessed Dr. Martin, and they locked the door to the sacristy, and all the servants of the church with several students stayed therein.

Then Dr. Martin began, and made this short admonition to the servants of the Church, which should be well observed by all preachers of the divine Word who find themselves in the same situation, and they should do nothing different.
1. He began and spoke: 'Now and at our time, people should not drive out devils as it was done at the time of the Apostles and shortly thereafter, when it was necessary to do miracles and signs for the sake of the Gospel, to confirm it as a new doctrine, which now and at our time is not necessary, since the Gospel is not a new doctrine, but has been sufficiently confirmed. And if anyone wants to drive them out as was done at that time, he tempts God,' he said.
2. 'One should also not drive out the devils with conjurations, by commanding, like some in the papacy and even some of our own people do, but one should drive them out with prayers and contempt. For the devil is a proud spirit, who cannot stand prayer and despising, but desires a ceremony. Therefore no one should make a ceremony with him, but should despise him as much as possible.'
3. Dr. Luther spoke further, 'One should drive out the devil with and through prayer in such a way that one prescribes for the Lord Christ no rule, no means and manner, no time or place when and how he should drive out the devils, for that would be tempting God. But we persist in prayer so long, knock and rap [at the door] so long, until God hears our prayer, as He Himself says, Matth. 7, "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you." But Uzziah, he tempts God by setting and prescribing the time for Him, in which He should help him, Judith 7. Therefore he is rightly rebuked by Judith, Judith 8.'
4. Dr. Luther laid his right hand on the head of the virgin, just like one lays hands on those who are being ordained and consecrated to the preaching office. And he commanded the servants of the Gospel to do the same, and commanded further that they speak after him: First, the Apostles' Creed. Next, the Our Father. Third, Dr. Luther spoke these words, John 14. 'Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, that will He give to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.' After these words, the blessed doctor called upon God mightily and prayed that He would rescue and save the poor young woman from the evil spirit which was in her for the sake of Christ and of His holy name, that thereby He would be praised, honored, and glorified. After this prayer and admonition, he stepped away from the girl and shoved her with his foot, and mocked Satan, saying, 'You proud devil, you would gladly see me set up a ceremony with you, but you will not experience that. I won't do it. Do what you want, I will not give up.'

After this procedure, they took the young woman the next day back to Meissen from Wittenberg. And afterwards they wrote and reported several times to Dr. Luther and others that the evil spirit after this no longer tormented and convulsed the girl as previously." Höker, in Dunte, Conscientiae, pp. 100-103.

This example is quite similar to the exorcism before Baptism in Luther's Taufbüchlein: Imposition of hands, Our Father, Creed, prayers. Luther's Table Talk is full of examples, in the section on the devil and his works.

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