The Rhetoric of Exorcism

Hilaire Kallendorf. Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric. Volume 23, Issue 3. University of California Press, 2005.

No one has ever tried to write a rhetoric of exorcism. In fact, scholars of previous generations have posted caveat emptor signs along the pathway we are about to take. One encounters warnings such as, “The actual scripts or texts of exorcisms are difficult to characterize … [M]any exorcisms are hybrid compositions.” While it is certainly true that these texts are a synthesis compiled from Biblical, liturgical, and other sources, they also bear distinctive features that can and should be analyzed by rhetoricians. It is also true that exorcism manuals are not redacted carefully (for example, they are rife with errors of Latin grammar). After all, exorcism manuals are pragmatic collections of utilitarian documents (scholars speak of the “applied” nature of demonology). Their pages are meant to be aspersed with holy water, singed by the fire of the baptismal candle, clouded with the smoke of incense, and spat upon by seething demoniacs. But it is the case that most exorcism rituals are performed by reading aloud these texts of highly codified, formulaic discourse—many of which resemble each other or quote from each other extensively. So in theory it should be possible to analyze the language of these texts in a way that is general or all-encompassing enough to formulate some tentative conclusions about how exorcism “works” as a rhetorical phenomenon in the early modern period. Scholars in the field of demonology who are the most familiar with these texts make these generalizations routinely; rhetoricians may be permitted the same latitude. Establishing the classical foundation of Catholic exorcistic rhetoric will then be seen to supply an important brush stroke for our emerging scholarly portrait of Christian humanism in the early modern period.

With this goal in mind, I shall draw examples from six contemporaneous exorcistic treatises published together as a compendium called the Thesaurus exorcismorum (Cologne: Lazarus Zetzner, 1608). The full title is as follows:

Thesaurus exorcismorum atque conjurationum terribilium, potentissimorum, efficacissimorum, cum practica probatissima: Quibus spiritus maligni, daemones maleficiaq[ue] omnia de corporibus humanis obsessis, tanquam flagellis fustibusque fugantur, expelluntur, doctrinis refertißimus atq[ue] uberrimus: Ad maximam exorcistarum commoditatem in lucem editus & recusus: Cujus Authores, ut & singuli tractatus, sequente pagellaˆ consignati, inveniuntur.

Studied by scholars of demonology such as Stuart Clark and Armando Maggi, this book has been described as “the greatest compendium of exorcism manuals” and “the most important record of early modern exorcisms.” It was reprinted in 1626 by the same publisher, with the addition of one other exorcistic treatise by Maximilian von Eynatten. But it was the original Thesaurus exorcismorum that was distilled four years later into the much shorter exorcism ritual prescribed in the Rituale Romanum (1612), the church’s official guide for exorcisms in use down to the present day. In the Thesaurus we find six treatises by four authors, all of whom were priests who had received at least the basics in classical rhetorical education.

The first of these was the Reverend Valerius Polidorus (fl. 1585-1590) of the Franciscan Convent in Padua, a doctor of arts and sacred theology. He was probably the most well-educated member of this quartet, and his exorcisms are the most rhetorical of the volume. His theology teacher was the infamous Franciscan friar Cesare Lanza, who was condemned as a necromancer by the Venetian Inquisition in 1580. Another author was Brother Zaccaria Visconti (fl. 1600), an exorcist of Milan, of the Order of Saints Barnabus and Ambrose. He is referred to on the title page as a professor of the art of exorcism; one can only speculate that he might have taught at the University of Pavia. Still another exorcist in this volume is Pier Antonio Stampa (fl. 1597), an Italian curate of Delebio who was also a priest at Cleves.

Of the four authors represented in this compendium, Hieronymus Menghus (1529-1609) is the one about whom we have the most information. Born in Viadana, a small town near Bologna, he joined the Observant branch of the Franciscan order, the Frati Minori dell’Osservanza, at the age of twenty. He underwent nine years of instruction, presumably including lessons in rhetoric, at the Bolognese Monastery of the Annunciation. In 1587 and 1589, successively, he was elected Assessor of his province, a post which involved overseeing (along with three other monks) the provincial ministry and censoring manuscripts before publication. In 1587 he also served as a diffinitore in the election of Ioannes Franciscus Macolinus to head the Capitulum Generale at Bologna; in 1589 he held a similar post in the provincial elections at Piacenza. In October 1598 Pope Clement VIII appointed him the Franciscan Minister General of the Province of Bologna, a post he held for four years.

These are the named exorcist-authors of these six exorcism manuals, but there is reason to believe that even exorcists whose names we do not know could have been reasonably well-grounded in rhetoric. During this period, exorcism was intimately bound up with university education. In Catholic countries the role of “exorcist” was one of the minor orders which could serve as a stepping-stone to the priesthood but could also be taken by a layman. It marked one off as clergy. Students in medieval universities were ordained to the minor orders as a matter of course. Thus many students were authorized to perform an exorcism, which is a commonplace in the literature of the period. In perhaps the most famous passage illustrating this connection, Marcellus says in the first Ghost scene in Hamlet, “Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio” (1.1.42). Likewise, Francisco de Quevedo’s contemporaneous picaresque novel El buscon includes a scene in which a student conducts a farcical exorcism of an old man who chokes on his food while eating at an inn. Every student who became a priest could, at least potentially, receive a book of exorcisms at the ordination ceremony, and it is just such a book which is utilized in the latter scene.

The most promising recent book related to exorcistic rhetoric, supplementing the valuable work of Stuart Clark and Nancy Caciola, is Armando Maggi’s Satan’s Rhetoric, which has a chapter on the compendium under discussion here. Maggi makes use of classical rhetoric, but to explore Satan’s rhetoric as opposed to the exorcist’s, which he leaves unexplored. The only substantive critical study of demonological rhetoric is Richard Kieckhefer’s analysis of the rhetoric of necromancy. He claims that both exorcisms and conjurations partake of a quadripartite structure of declaration, address, invocation, and instruction. While technically this may be true, some of his conclusions as to the similarity of the rituals (he calls them “essentially interchangeable”) confound common sense, since the purposes of necromancy and exorcism are antithetical: to conjure or call up spirits vs. driving them out. In rhetorical terms, this means a major divergence in the instruction, which is the last part of his quadripartite scheme. Ultimately Kieckhefer’s study is good for necromantic rhetoric but should not be extended to the rhetoric of exorcism.

Early modern exorcism is a highly codified discourse with predictible components. In my book I have traced eleven “theologemes” of the exorcism ritual which appear in most literary representations in a fairly predictable order. I have demonstrated this pattern with reference to thirty works of literature by fifteen different authors. Now I wish to analyze the exorcism manuals themselves (as opposed to literary accounts of exorcism) to demonstrate that early modern exorcism is grounded in classical rhetorical humanistic education. Exorcism incorporates all three branches of classical rhetoric: judicial (accusing the demon for his actions); deliberative (exhorting the demon to depart); and ceremonial or epideictic (praising the power of God and blaming Satan for taking possession of a human soul).

In his judicial function, the exorcist acts as prosecuting attorney, accusing the demon of having entered a human being without God’s permission. God, it seems, must permit any such incursion, or else it would not happen; but the devil as the “father of lies” will try to argue otherwise. The exorcist customarily calls upon the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, to act as a lawyer who would defend the demoniac against the demon’s charges of committing enough sins to justify his entrance into the human body. He also calls upon the saints as witnesses for the defense who can intercede on the patient’s behalf before God, the ultimate judge. The exorcism thus becomes a trial, a tribunal domini nostri, at the end of which the demons are ritually excommunicated and sentenced to thousands of years of fiery torments as specified by the exorcist.

In his deliberative function, the exorcist exhorts the demon to depart. There is a noticeable tension here between commanding and convincing. As Richard Kieckhefer explains, the exorcist (like the conjuror) simultaneously does both: “[t]he stance of the conjuror, like that of the exorcist, is at the same time both coercive and petitionary.” While theologically it makes more sense for the exorcist to command the demon to depart, in practice he often uses his powers of persuasion to convince the devil to leave.

In his ceremonial or epideictic function, the exorcist makes use of the grand style to praise the power of God and blame Satan for having taken possession of a human soul. These two aspects of exorcistic rhetoric are inseparable. Each one often becomes an occasion for the other: praise of God becomes an occasion to blame Satan for not succumbing to God’s greatness, and vituperation of Satan becomes an occasion to praise God by way of contrast. For example:

Exorcizo vos, Patres mendacii, per Patrem ingenitum; mando vobis, Filii perditionis, per Filium bis inenerrabiliter genitum, & constringo vos, spiritus maledicti, per Spiritum Sanctum non genitum, sed procedentem … in quibuscunque partibus hujus corporis habitantes sitis, & subterfugientes latiteris [sic], in essentialibus scilicet sive substantialibus, sive accidentalibus; majoribus, sive minoribus; exterioribus, sive interioribus; superioribus, sive inferioribus; anterioribus, sive posterioribus (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 44-45)

This epideictic discourse starts out using zeugma (“Patres mendacii, per Patrem ingenitum”) and fades into antithesis (“majoribus, sive minoribus”) as it shifts strategies for contrasting the blame of Satan to the praise of God. A similar example using antithesis only is the same exorcist’s description of Satan’s fall from grace and the resultant contrast between God’s state and the demon’s: “de luce in tenebras, de scientia in ignorantiam, de innocentia in culpam, de foelicitate in poenam & de dilectione in odium Dei & hominum cecidistis” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 90).

The structure of an exorcistic ceremony as laid out in the exorcism manuals can vary but is usually routine, similar, and straightforward. The structure of the manuals follows the structure of the ceremony, as the sole purpose of the manuals is to provide a text from which the priest can read aloud during the exorcism ritual. In the exorcisms of Polidorus, for example, readings from Psalms, Revelation, and the Gospels are followed by a litany, a prayer, and then the actual exorcism—always in that order. The structure of a standard exorcism may be seen most clearly in the section titles of Pier Antonio Stampa’s Fuga Satanae exorcismus (1597), since unlike some of the other manuals which incorporate multiple exorcisms, this treatise is intended to serve as one extended exorcism, perhaps to be performed over the course of several days’ time. This is the stated, obvious, “outer” structure of an exorcism. But if we look more closely at Stampa’s section titles, we shall see that the unstated, “inner” structure of this exorcism follows the classical arrangement of exordium, narratio, divisio, refutatio, probatio, and peroratio (which I have added in brackets).

1. Petitio veniae peccatorum
2. Expositio necessitatis
3. Exponuntur insidiae diaboli
4. Mala quae daemones operantur [anticipates divisio]
5. Postulat exorcista auxilium a Deo pro se, & pro patiente
6. Quid faciet Deus in auxilium oppressorum
7. Deprecatio ad Deum in auxilium contra daemones, & cooperantes
8. Exorcizatio super infirmum
9. Enumerantur mala quae daemonibus, & eorum ministris ventura sunt
10. Praeparatio exorcistae. Cum auxilio Dei, ad invehendum contra`
11. Imprecatio, in daemones, & cooperantes
12. Praeceptum diabolis faciendum
13. Solutio maleficiorum
14. Bona a Deo obtenta enumerantur, & est praeludium actionis gratiarum [serves as probatio but also echoes divisio]
15. Gratiarum actio. Pro obtenta liberatione
16. Deprecatio, pro acquisitae sanitatis conservatione [echoes refutatio]
17. Admonitio ad personam liberatam et ad propria, dimissio

Sections 1, 2, and 3 in the above list correspond to the classical exordium: the exorcist first deals with the absolution of sins and then expounds upon the entrance of the devil and the consequent need for exorcism. (Section 10, the preparation of the exorcist himself—which often encompasses ritual purification—may seem to be exordial, but it more properly belongs to the divisio.) Sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 may be identified with classical narratio: the exorcist postulates that he will receive help from God, predicts what specifically God will do to help the possessed person, asks God directly for that help, and then proceeds to perform the exorcism. The recurrence of the word auxilium in the first three of these steps signals a continuous narrative of healing or otherwise helping the patient. Sections 4, 9, and 14, appearing evenly-spaced throughout the procedure, constitute a recurring divisio: distinctions are made between evil deeds performed now and in the future by the demons and their ministers versus the contrasting good deeds or blessings performed by God and received by the patient. The repetition of the word enumerantur in two of these sections signals the scholastic inclination to organize things by dividing them into patterns. Sections 11, 12, and 16 may be seen as the refutatio of the classical oration: the words imprecatio and deprecatio, stemming from the same root precor, meaning to pray or beseech, are connected through their shared teleology of routing the devil and preserving the patient’s newly-acquired health. The exorcist thereby refutes the devil’s claims to the patient’s body and declares him to be an unlawful usurper who should justly be expelled. The most obvious probatio appears as section 13, Solutio Maleficiorum, where the patient often vomits up charms or other signs of possession as “proof” that the devil has been expelled. Finally, the peroratio consists of sections 15, 16, and 17, in which the exorcist gives thanks to God for the accomplished liberation and admonishes the patient to live a godly life so as not to invite further demonic incursions in the future.

According to this rhetorical analysis, sometimes the exorcism doubles back on itself for emphasis. Often it seems that all of the classical elements are there, although perhaps not in their proper order. The scheme of the oration is certainly not as tidy as a model speech. But it is clear that the underlying structure of an exorcism finds many (though certainly not all) of its roots in classical oratory. We shall now analyze each of these five parts of a classical oration as it relates to exorcism.

Exordium catches the interest of the audience and introduces the subject. In Polidorus’ Practica exorcistarum this part of the ritual is called the Praeexorcizatio (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 38). It can incorporate actions such as aspersing with holy water, binding the patient with a stole, or suffumigating with sulfur. The exordia of exorcisms typically make use of apocalyptic elements and frequent hyperbaton.

Narratio gives the history of the problem, usually the case history of the individual patient afflicted by diabolical torment, but can also serve as a short history of universal evil. It often explains demonic incursions in the world, as well as witches’ cooperations with them. For example, Polidorus’ “Praefatio in Dispersione Daemonum” begins: “Qui Sacrae Scripturae cursum attenta mentis perscrutatione peregerunt, divina permissione, Maleficos in mundo vere esse, qui invocatione Daemonum, pacto cu[m] ipsis initio tacite, vel expresse, signo sensibili interjecto, multa mala faciant.” He then gives a history of various invokers of the devil, including the son of Noah, the Pharoah of Egypt, King Nebuchadnezzar, and the Pythoness of Endor. Menghus begins even farther back in time with his history of evil, locating the origins of demonic possession in Satan’s original fall from grace.

Divisio sets forth the points stipulated, or agreed upon, by both sides, and those which are contested. Polidorus summarizes the points stipulated and then builds consensus by citing demonologists who agree with him:

Quemadmodum Maleficos esse, multis supra autoritatibus ostentum est, ita in praesenti ab eisdem Maleficis, vere & realiter Maleficia fieri diversis autoritatibus est observatum … De Maleficis loquitur dicens; Hi elementa concutiunt, mentes hominum turbant, & absque ullo veneni haustu, violentia tantum carminis animas interimunt, id est homines necant. Sunt & casus experientiae, a diversis doctoribus observati, idem apertissime manifesta[n]tes. (Polidorus, Dispersio daemonum, p. 199)

He proceeds to cite the venerable Bede, William of Paris, Silvester Prierius, Joannes Nider, Henricus Institutor and Jacobus Sprenger, and Paulus Ghirlandus. This section of an exorcism also often describes the patient’s physical symptoms of demonic possession. For example, Polidorus begins, “Multifariam multisq[ue] modis etsi Diabolus homini nocere studeat” (Dispersio daemonum, p. 199). A common point being contested is whether it is just or fair for Satan to inhabit the body of a human being. The person is human and therefore sinful; but does that give Satan the right to take over the person’s body? Theology would answer, “not without God’s permission.” Questions such as these suggest the influence of the classical divisio.

Refutatio or sermocinatio is a preemptive strike to anticipate and answer the opponent’s arguments. Polidorus, in his Dispersio daemonum, discusses the usefulness of herbs and other natural remedies as well as traditional medicine in treating patients (pp. 202-3). The exorcist thus preemptively refutes potential arguments that he is not aware of natural remedies or has not tried to use them first before taking the more drastic step of performing an exorcism. At the same time, he rejects illicit and superstitious cures for bewitchment in favor of orthodox ones. Refutatio could occur toward the end of the exorcism, as when Vicecomite gives a list of one hundred precepts meant to refute potential arguments of the demon: “Praecepta centum efficacissima, ad arctandum Daemonem, ut obedientiam praestet, secundum urgentes necessitates.” The pattern of these refutationes is a prayer, followed by an exprobatio, or a reproach, followed by praecepta. The exprobatio is the element that follows most closely the model of the classical refutatio (the exorcist is speaking to the demon):

O serve nequam, erubesce: nam pro bono incommutabili, pro praemio inaestimabili, pro summo honore, & gloria interminabili, nec aliquantulum fatigasti: sed pro acquirenda damnatione, per longam viam fatigatus, sudasti. Nam e coelo cecidisti Lucifer in terram: non te confirmasti cum remuneratore omnium bonorum, & ad Infernum detraheris (Vicecomite, Complementum artis exorcisticae, p. 1123).

Often the exorcist uses an even stronger term, peremptorium, for a preemptive argument against the devil that is seen to be so strong, final, and decisive as to preclude further debate (Vicecomite, pp. 1087, 1090, 1092).

Probatio is the demonstration of proof. The exorcist typically calls for a probatio as evidence that the demon has left the body of the afflicted. Some frequent probationes called for during exorcism are the vomiting of pins, hair balls, stones, or other objects thought to constitute a maleficium or charm swallowed by the victim or representing the noxious presence of the demon: “Vade retro, & si quae sunt maleficia destruenda, & ex hoc corpore mittenda dimitte” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 107). For example, several women in the Valley of Tena (northern Spain) between the years 1637 and 1642 vomited hechizos (maleficia) or charms until their mouths and lips were bloody.

Once these charms are vomited up, they have to be destroyed, often through burning or burying: “quod si cognosceretur ubi lateret signum materiale, ut est conglutinatio plumarum, aut imago aliqua abscondita, vel hujusmodi, destrui deberet, q[uonia]m Diabolus non amplius maleficiatum defatigaret, quia ex pacto non adest, nisi dum durat aliquod tale signum” (Polidorus, Dispersio daemonum, p. 203). Other probationes might include the stillness of a body at rest in contrast to the convulsions experienced during the throes of a demonic attack.

Sometimes the probationes can take a negative or inverse form, as when Jesus cast the demons into the herd of swine (the pigs swiftly ran off the edge of a cliff, to the probable distress of their unfortunate owner). In this instance, the demon is proven not to be present in the patient any longer by virtue of its demonstrable presence somewhere else (proof that the exorcism worked). As a preliminary step to the actual casting out of the demon, the exorcist sometimes orders it to move to one of the body’s farthest extremities, such as a finger, a toe, or the tip of a single hair: “vobis omnibus mando … nunc, sine laesione ejusdem, in digito minori pedis dextri descendentes, ibi ita placide` quiescatis, quod nullum sensibile offensionis signum ipsi praebeatis” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 171). Sometimes the exorcist performs various tests on the days following a successful exorcism to see if the former demoniac reacts adversely to touching sacred things (a sign that the demon is still present), as for example “Ratificatio, quae debet fieri in die sui exitus, coram Sanctissimo Sacramento, ut supra, post longam Exorcizationem” or “Ratificatio, quae debet fieri secunda die ante Sanctissimum Sacramentum a Daemone, positis manibus super Tabernaculum” (Vicecomite, Complementum artis exorcisticae, pp. 1166-67).

The peroratio is an impassioned summary or review of previous arguments. In Polidorus’ Practica exorcistarum, the peroratio is called simply the “Postexorcizatio” (p. 168). According to the Rhetorica ad Herennium, the peroratio is usually divided into three components: enumeratio, amplificatio, and commiseratio.

Enumeratio or accumulatio is the summing up of the exorcistic proceedings, as when Polidorus at the end of his first manual gives a neat numerical list of the spiritual beings, entities, and virtues invoked in the series of short exorcisms:

Per unum solum verum deum,
per duo sanctae legis gratiae praecepta;
per tres virtutes Theologicas,
per quatuor virtutes Cardinales,
per mysterium quinque virginum prudentium;
per sex dierum conditionis opus;
per septem dona Spiritus Sancti;
per octo beatitudines;
per novem choros Angelorum;
& per decem Sanctae legis scriptae praecepta,
ego praecipio vobis, maledictis spiritibus …
(Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 169).

This enumeration would seem to be at once contemplative and encyclopedic. Numbers are often seen to have mystical significance in the early modern period. Especially when they appear in neoPlatonic, kabbalistic, or astrological contexts, numbers are believed to possess ancient affinities and conceal sacred resonances which often remain obscure to the uninitiated. There may even be something akin to residual magical thinking with invocation by specific numbers. Alternatively, it may be possible to view these numbers in a moreorthodox neo-Pythagorean context.

Amplificatio is the enlarging or laying out of specific details, and it is in this rhetorical vein that the exorcists produce some of their most classically oriented specimens. Amplificatio can take the form of parallel syntax or isocolon, as in this string of ablative absolutes: “concede quaesumus propitius nobis ut quemadmodum Fide, mentem; Spe, sensum; & charitate affectus sanasti; Fide illuminando; Spe accende[n]do, & Charitate delectando; Fide ostendendo, Spe docendo, & Charitate sociando: Fide incipiendo, Spe proficiendo, & Charitate perficiendo; Ut Fide videreris; Spe optareris; & Charitate diligereris” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 160, emphasis mine). The same effect of amplificatio can be achieved through strategic use of the present participle conjoined to the prepositional phrase:

Deus … creans mentem ad te participandum;
vivificans ad sentiendum: efficiens ad appetendum:
dilatans ad capiendum; justificans ad promerendum;
foecundans ad fructum; promovens ad bonitatem;
dirigens ad aequitatem; roborans ad virtutem;
formans ad benevolentiam; modificans ad scientiam;
moderans ad sapientiam; vistans ad consolationem;
illuminans ad cognitionem; perpetuans ad immortalitatem;
implens ad felicitatem; & circundans ad securitatem.
(Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 83)

Or the exorcist may make use of a series of parallel phrases introduced by ut, meaning “as”:

Sempiterne Deus, qui ut charitas amas, ut veritas noscis, ut aequitas sedes, ut, majestas dominaris, ut princeps regnas, ut salus mederis, & lux revelas … Misericordiam tuam domine petimus a te, quia nolumus ignem rigare, aquam urere, aerem germinare, vel terram spirare, nec quicquam contrariam operationem suae naturae facere, nec causam remotam a suo naturali effectu emittere, neque tandem a te quod sit tuae naturae contrarium petere. (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 94, emphasis mine)

Alternatively, amplificatio makes use of homoioptoton, the repetition of similar endings for nouns or adjectives of the same grammatical declensions: “incantatione, innodatione, detentione, ligatione, interdictione” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 45) or “per omnium Sanctorum spirituum loquutionem, hominum custodiam, & multitudinem copiosam” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 89), or “sed sicut oportet Episcopum hospitalem esse benignum, sobrium, justum, sanctum[,] continentem, amplectentem eum” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 76). In a similar example, hell is described with topothesia as “Loca arida, invia, sterilia, & inhabitabilia” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 102). The purpose behind these amplifications (as is usually the case with exorcisms) goes beyond mere rhetorical effectiveness to accomplish a greater spiritual aim: if the exorcist can amass more information, he can thereby gain more control over the demon. As Joseph Kaster has explained in the context of several world religions, the more specific the knowledge the exorcist has about these spiritual forces, the greater the power he can exercise over them.

Commiseratio is an appeal to pity, and the exorcist makes abundant use of this trope when asking God to take pity upon the poor demoniac victim: “Miserere itaque, miserere; & hanc facturam tuam a manibus inimicorum tuorum digneris eripere” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 94). Here the exorcist, in a modification of the appeal to pity from the throne of grace, asks God to commiserate with the demoniac in this assault by their mutual enemies. When he says “Miserere itaque imagini, & similitudini tuae” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 106), the exorcist spins out an even more creative variation on the figure of commiseratio as he asks God to commiserate on the grounds that the demoniac is a human being made in His image and likeness—and therefore deserves His pity.

Now that we have examined the five parts of the classical oration, we should ask: who is the speaker in this rhetorical situation, and who is the audience? As seen above, the speaker is the early modern exorcist, a Catholic priest who was sometimes trained in the classical tradition of rhetoric. While the priests who used these exorcism manuals were frequently not as well educated as their authors, they nevertheless assumed the voices of the authors when they read aloud the words that had been penned by their more erudite precursors.

Who is the audience? There are five audiences in any given exorcism, three supernatural and two human, and each of these requires specific rhetorical strategies. The effect of this switching among multiple audiences can be disorienting for the exorcistically uninitiated; the reader may be confused and ask, “To whom is the exorcist speaking now?” Sometimes an exorcism manual, such as Polidorus’ Practica exorcistarum, alternates among these audiences, using a different predominant rhetorical device for each separate exorcism; for example, ara in one, chreia in another, etc. In these cases the manual should be taken as a whole, since the short exorcisms contained therein are probably destined to be used together as a group.

The first of the three supernatural audiences is God, with whom are used the thanksgiving, praise, and help-seeking rhetorical strategies of querimonia (mempsis), obsecratio / obtestatio (deesis), certitudo / securitas (asphalia), argumentum ad misericordiam, gratiarum actio (eucharistia), and admiratio (thaumasmus).

Using querimonia (mempsis) the exorcist can complain of injuries and plead for help, in the style of the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord, wilt thy hide thy face from me?” (Psalms 13:1). Polidorus makes use of this strategy in Practica exorcistarum with “Vbi sunt misericordiae tuae antiquae, domine: sicut jurasti David in veritate tua?” (p. 69). Often the mempsis is initiated by a question, then elaborated by further questions that remind God of His obligations toward His creations: “Usque quo igitur Domine avertis in finem? Quo usque cibabis nos pane lacrymarum? Usque quo exaltabitur inimicus tuus super hoc plasma tuum?” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 161).

Obsecratio (obtestatio, deesis) is vehement supplication to God, and the exorcist makes these urgent requests both in his own voice and as a representative of all the people present. On his own, the exorcist asks for God’s help in his difficult task, echoing the message of Psalms 27: “In adjutorium meum intende, ad adjuvandum me festina, apprehende arma & scutum & exurge in adjutorium mihi” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 44). As representative of God’s people, the exorcist begins: “Et supplices te rogamus” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 183).

Certitudo (securitas, asphalia) is the offering of oneself as surety for a bond, and the exorcist can utilize this trope in a highly personal way. Various saints, from fourth-century desert monks to late medieval nuns, are said to have taken upon themselves voluntarily the sufferings of someone else including, if necessary, the possessing demon who caused those sufferings. These saints imitated Jesus in the role of the Suffering Servant (as Isaiah 50, 53). These are rather extreme examples of the rhetorical technique of asphalia in action.

Next we find the argumentum ad misericordiam, or appeal to mercy. Thus the exorcist intercedes for the patient: “Pater misericordiarum, & Deus totius consolationis … miserere mei secundum magnam misericordiam tuam … Magnam misericordiam tuam requiro” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 38-9). This rhetorical tactic is simple and straightforward enough as not to require further explanation.

Then comes the gratiarum actio (eucharistia), or prayer of thanksgiving. Entire sections of exorcism manuals are devoted to this exercise, as is indicated by section titles of Vicecomite’s Complementum artis exorcisticae: “Gratiarum actiones pro Daemoniaco liberato” (p. 1180) or Stampa’s Fuga Satanae: “Bona a Deo Obtenta Enumerantur, & est praeludium actionis gratiarum” and “Gratiarum Actio. Pro obtenta liberatione.”

The last rhetorical technique directed toward God as audience is admiratio (thaumasmus). Admiratio is an exclamation of wonder at God’s sovereignty, power, or beneficence. It pertains to the epideictic branch of rhetoric. Examples range from the short, Biblical “Laudabimus te domine in virtutibus tuis” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 95) to the longer “Confiteor tibi Pater domine cæli, & terrae; Confiteor laudando nomen tuum; a solis ortu usq[ue] ad occasum laudabile … Domine dominantium; cæli creator; Et terrae firmator; Rex regum, Sancte Sanctorum, Deus Deorum; Pater aeterne, Fili coaeterne, & Spiritus Sancte sempiterne” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 38). Longer still would be the biblically-derived passage:

Deus qui glorificatur in consilio sanctorum; magnus & terribilis super omnes, qui in circuitu ejus sunt … potens es domine … Quonia[m] gloria virtutis eorum tu potens es domine … Quoniam gloria virtutis eorum tu es; & beneplacito tuo exaltabitur cornu nostru[m]. Quia domini est assumptio nostra, & Sancti Israel regis nostri. (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 68)

The next audience being addressed by the exorcist would be the demons, against whom are used the curses and imprecations of execratio (imprecatio, ara), precatio (votum, euche), insultatio, ominatio, admonitio (paraenesis), antirrhesis, abominatio (bdelygma), and cataplexis.

Execratio (imprecatio, ara) is a curse or imprecation, and the exorcists are particularly dexterous at hurling these maledictions at the offending demons:

Tribulent vos inimici vestri … Percussi sitis … Mittat in vobis omnipotens iram indignationis suae, indignationem, & iram, & tribulationem … Facti sitis tanquam pulvis ante faciem venti … Effundat Deus super vos ira[m] sua[m], & furor irae suae co[m]prehendat vos … Ad nihilum deveniatis tanquam aqua decurrens … Descendatis tandem in infernum viventes … (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 140-45)

Precatio (votum, euche) is a prayer that evil will befall an enemy, a cursing prayer that harm come to the enemy. The exorcist asks God to bring doom upon the demons for daring to invade a helpless human being:

Converte opprobrium super caput eorum, & da eos in despectionem omnium inimicorum eorum, humilia eos usque ad terram, cadant super eos carbones, in ignem dejice eos, mala capiant in interitu, & multiplicetur in eis ruina … Intona quaesumus de cælo altissime, da contra spiritalem nequitiam vocem tuam, gra[n]dinem, & carbones ignis: mitte sagittas tuas, & eam dissipa, fulgura multiplica & conturba eam. (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 119, 194)

There are many biblical precursors for this prayer, such as Psalms 79:6. These prayers for retribution are meant to be heard by the devils, who are supposed to be frightened away by threats of dire consequences. A related rhetorical figure is compensatio or the assurance of punishment to those who hold virtue in contempt.

Insultatio is scoffing, reviling, or disdain involving derisive or ironical abuse. Thus the exorcist insults the demon through direct address with abusive adjectives in the vocative case:

Audi immunde spiritus diabole; ammoneo te, & exorcizo † te atq[ue] tibi praecipio tentator, vane, insensate, false, haeretice, vacue, inimice, ebriose, sussuro, insipiens, dejecte de gratia Dei, & Christi … Spiritus immunde, miserrime, tentator, fallax, pater mendacii, haeretice, fatue, bestialis, furiose, tui Creatoris inimice, luxuriose, insipiens, crudelis, inique, praedo, bestia, serpens, & sus macra, famelica, & immundissima, bestia eruginosa, bestia scabiosa omnium bestiarum bestialissima … creatura damnata, reprobata, & maledicta a Deo in aeternum ob superbiam, & nequitiam tuam, scelerate, & nefande, maledicte, & excommunicate, blaspheme, damnate, atque damnande … (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, pp. 336, 376)

Ominatio is a prophecy of evil used by the exorcist to foretell doom for the offending demons, who are eternally damned. The prophetic words dictum est are often used explicitly, as in “dictum est; Panis illius vertetur in fel Aspidum” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 150). Even when this phrase is not used to introduce the prophecy, the echoes from Old Testament prophets are evident: “inimicos Daemones … confusi fugient impii, & dissolventur tanquam pulvis, quem projicit ventus a facie terrae … Deus conteret dentes vestros in ore vestro; ad nihilum devenietis sicut aqua decurrens; & sicut deficit cerra a facie ignis, sic deficietis a facie omnipotentis” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 44, 171). Likewise Menghus prophesies: “Hic finis tibi erit, Dominus nec ultra voceris, Sed deceptus eris, & deridendus ubique videris” (Flagellum daemonum, p. 346).

Admonitio (paraenesis) is a similar tactic of exhortation, advice, or warning of impending doom. It details the fiery torments the demons will suffer in hell at the end of the world after Jesus returns and banishes them forever, depriving them of access to earth and its inhabitants. In this exercise, the minister speaks directly to the demon, warning him of his fate and advising him to flee:

Adjuro te, o` Satana, & omnes malignos spiritus … in maledictionem, confusionem, & augmentum poenarum tuarum in centuplum de die in diem, usque ad ultimum tremendum diem finalis Judicii augmentandum, si nunc non recedas maledicte Satana ab hoc famulo Dei N. [here the exorcist was supposed to insert the name of the victim]. (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, p. 457)

Antirrhesis is a refutation or counterstatement that rejects an argument because it is weak, inaccurate, or insignificant. This device catches the opponent in self-contradiction. It is a potent weapon against talkative demons who seek to engage the exorcist in illicit dialectic. Thus the exorcist reminds Satan that he is the father of lies, and so by default his arguments are specious: “Non contradicas verbo veritatis ullo modo: & de mendacio ineruditionis tuae confundere” (Stampa, Fuga Satanae Exorcismus, cited in n. 35 above, p. 1228). Other preemptive strikes against the demon involve warning against reentry and anticipating the demon’s disobedience. The exorcist preemptively seeks to preserve the patient’s newfound health once it is restored; thus he warns the demon not to come back in a “Deprecatio, pro Acquisitae sanitatis conservatione” (Stampa, p. 1236). Anticipating the disobedience of these disorderly demons, the exorcist also commands, “Pariter, casu inobedientiae, ne invocas contra te, & sequaces tuos” (Vicecomite, Complementum artis exorcisticae, cited in n. 24 above, p. 1166).

Abominatio (bdelygma) is a short expression of hatred or namecalling. This technique often makes use of traditional names and epithets for the devil as well as scatalogical adjectives to evoke repugnance or disgust. The exorcist addresses the demons in such hateful terms as “maledicte princeps tenebrarum, & tortuose Coluber” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 48). These short expressions are often repeated in rapid succession to produce an overwhelming effect of vociferous denunciation:

Audite Aspides tartarei … Audite reptilia … Audite Baculi impiorum … Audite Bestiae … Audite montes superbiae … Audite Januae … Audite serpe[n]tes … Audite Dracones (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 150-55)

Hieronymus Menghus too is an expert insulter of demons: “Tu Ergo homicida, reprobe: fili perditionis” (Flagellum daemonum, p. 337). This curse echoes Jesus’ words concerning the devil in John 8:44.

Cataplexis is another preemptive strike against the demon. Often beginning with si (if), this device threatens disaster with specific punishments for the offending demon if he does not come out of the patient in the time, place, and manner specified by the exorcist:

Si quis autem hoc attemptare praesumpserit in immersionem horribilis incendii ignis, & sulphuris infernalis gehennae se noverit incursurum … Si contumax fuerit tuae rebellionis obstinatio, in interminatae maledictionis excommunicationem incurras, & deinceps corpus hoc sit tibi in novum infernum, omniaque verba mea carbones ignis ardentis, & ictus oculorum nostrorum sagittae volantes, Missusq[ue]. (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 47-48)

This language bears a striking similarity to the language of the Church Councils, for example in the use of the phrase “Si quis … praesumpserit” (similar to “Si quis dixerit”) and in the conclusion that the offender should be excommunicated or anathematized.

The third audience for an exorcism would be the saints and angels, to whom apostrophes are addressed using the figure of obsecratio, or prayer for help. This idea of the cosmic audience is an example of how many preachers of sermons at this time see themselves at the center of a cosmic theater where the heavenly hierarchy watches the agonist in the contest. These apostrophes usually occur in the vocative case:

Omnes Sancti Angeli, & Archangeli, Throni, Dominationes, Principatus, & Potestates, Virtutes cælorum, Cherubin, & Seraphin, qui non cessatis clamare ante Deum … fundite preces pias pro me fragili peccatore … O Summe Michael Archangele, o` princeps coelestis militiae, oˆ praeclare, atque summe decor, & minister qui coram Deo vigilanter astistis; peto, ut tuis precibus mihi misero mortali faveas. (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, p. 358)

The exorcist also urges specific angels to contradict the demon, even calling them by their individual names: “Contradicat vobis † sanctus Michael. Contradicat vobis † sanctus Gabriel. Contradicat vobis † sanctus Raphael” (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, p. 364). Kieckhefer explains these apostrophes: “various sacred figures are represented as participating in the exorcist’s struggle with the malign spirit: the angels, archangels, prophets, apostles, martyrs and confessors all place pressure upon the possessing devil … or denounce him … The exorcist … calls upon the angels and saints not simply as possessors of power that can be tapped through invocation but as active participants in … a cosmic combat.”38 The angels, saints, prophets, etc. are invoked to assist the exorcist to expel the devil. Armando Maggi explains the angels’ participation as “mind language” which “engages the devils in a silent debate taking place in the possessed person’s intellect.”

The two human audiences are the demoniac and the audience attending the public exorcism. The demoniac or patient requires the absolving and consolatory functions syngnome, consolatio (paramythia), benedictio (eulogia), and euphemismus, or prognostication of a good end. Syngnome, the forgiving of injuries, is more than a figure of speech; in the context of exorcism it could be a reference to the sacrament of penance. In the sacrament of penance or reconciliation, through the process of confession, the priest offers absolution on behalf of the church and, by extension, Christ Himself:

Omnipotens sempiternus Deus, qui per filiu[m] suum dominum nostrum Iesum Christum dixit sanctis Apostolis suis; Quorum remiseritis peccata, remittuntur eis, ipse dignetur vobis dimittere, omnia peccata vestra, quae fecistis in ipsum, in vobis ipsis, & in proximum; sive spiritualia, aut venialia, aut mortalia, vel consummata corde, ore, opere, & omissione. (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 42)

Consolatio (paramythia) is the consoling or comforting of one who grieves, in this case the afflicted individual as well as any family members who might be present to witness the exorcism. Family members often attended the exorcism ceremony. For example, Edward Fairfax in 1621 wrote an account of the demonic possession and exorcism of his daughters Helen and Elizabeth. The exorcist here speaks sympathetically to the patient and others present: “Defendat vos Dominus ab omnibus malis; ac liberet ab omni infestatione Sathanicae malignitatis, det vobis spiritum consilii & fortitudinis” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 42).

Benedictio (eulogia) is defined by the rhetoricians as praise, blessing, or commending, and is employed in the exorcism manuals almost exclusively in the subjunctive mood:

Anima Christi sanctissima † sanctificet te[.] Corpus Christi gloriosissimum † salvet te. Sanguis Christi sanctissimus † inebriet te. Sudor Christi virtuosissimus † sanet te. Passio amarissima Christi † confortet te. Jesus Christus bonus † custodiat, & liberet te, & infra sua vulnera abscondat te, & ne permittat te separari a se: ab hoste maligno defendat † & liberet te, & in hora mortis vocet te ire ad se, & ponat te juxta se. (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, pp. 358-59)

This common prayer, known as the Anima Christi, may date from as early as the fourteenth century. Eulogia might also incorporate a renewal of the patient’s baptismal vows. At each printed symbol for the cross the exorcist is supposed to make the sign of the cross over the head of the demoniac. This gesture is undoubtedly aimed at aiding the comprehension of the attendant public: “a less grandiose listener might have had no trouble at all understanding an exorcism, particularly in combination with the various gestures and formulaic repetitions so characteristic of these texts.”

Sometimes entire sections of exorcism manuals are devoted to blessings, such as one in Vicecomite’s Complementum artis exorcisticae which begins with “Benedicat Creaturam Liberatam, cum manuum impositione, dicens … Benedicat † te sanctissima Trinitas … Beata † sit anima tua … Beatae † aures tuae … Beati † oculi …” (pp. 1184-86). Like a litany, this blessing—called an effictio by classical rhetoricians—names each part of the body of the afflicted person and blesses it in turn. It charts the progressive weakening of the illness at the same time as it heralds the invasion of the Holy Spirit as God’s cure. The purpose of these litanies is to reassure the patient by emphasizing the unchangeable, immutable nature of God. Indeed, the body of the possessed is thereby linked to the truths of the cosmos by a painstakingly minuscule ritual identification: “the whole of Christian history and its cosmological hierarchy is patiently invoked and placed in the service of reclaiming the physical territory of the demoniac body, bit by contested bit.”

The opposite of ominatio, euphemismus signals the prognostication of a good end. But it is a similar prophecy concerning the outcome of the exorcism ritual:

Angeli clamabunt dicentes. Surgite mortui, venite ad judicium. Ad quorum vocem omnes mortui, boni, & mali in momento oculi resurgent. Et per illum, per quem justi resurgent: & mox ab Angelis in ae¨re rapientur, semper cum Domino regnaturi. Et per eum, per quem omnes, qui vitales spiritus receperunt, resuscitabuntur aetate plenitudinis Christi. Et per illum, qui de eadem materia reformabit ide[m] corpus; cui omnis integritas aderit, & decor, quamvis unu[m]-quodque corpus, vel membrum Deus in suum locum decentem restaurabit. (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, p. 381)

This passage, inspired by 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, makes use of auxesis, or the ascension of words or clauses in climactic order. This rhetorical device is apocalyptic in nature, as it likens the defeat of the demon to the ultimate defeat of Satan by Christ Triumphant as He returns to rule the world at the end of time.

The final audience for the exorcism is the attendant public, whom the exorcist also addresses by means of such exhortative and didactic strategies as adhortatio (protrope), cohortatio, commiseratio, indignatio, and oraculum. There are many historical examples of public exorcisms with large crowds in attendance, such as those at Loudun, Denham, Rome, and Madrilejos. These rhetorical maneuvers could almost appear to function as stage directions, as the exorcist gives the spectators their cues to participate in the elaborate ritual.

First, the exorcist uses adhortatio (protrope), exhorting hearers to act by means of threats or promises. He asks the onlookers to participate by responding to choral prayers: “Respondeant Astantes. Fiat Amen. Amen” (Vicecomite, Complementum artis exorcisticae, cited in n. 24 above, p. 1164). The audience is also urged to participate with bodily gestures, such as genuflection and extension of the arms to the Eucharist. Here they are calling out for help to the Blessed Sacrament:

Hic Exorcista ponat Tabernaculum cum Sanctissima Eucharistia, super caput Daemoniaci, & astantes omnes brachiis extensis, & genibus flexis ad Sanctissimum Sacramentum clament ter, pluriesque & toties, quoties ipsis videbitur. Misericordia, & non giustitia Signore. (Vicecomite, Complementum artis exorcisticae, p. 1109)

The audience is asked to participate by shouting fixed phrases or petitions in the vernacular, presumably on the assumption that the Latin would be too difficult for them to speak, even though they could understand it with reasonable facility. The audience is not supposed to become too rowdy, however: a fifteenth-century exorcism manual from Plaga orders that the onlookers should neither laugh nor go in and out of the church where the exorcism is being conducted. The village dogs are specifically prohibited in the place where the exorcism is being held.

The exorcist also admonishes the audience to beware of sin or repent of sins previously committed. Since the devil is thought to gain entrance through specific sins committed by individuals, the avoidance of certain sins is believed to safeguard believers against being taken over by the devil. For example, the precaution of saying a blessing over one’s food is recommended in remembrance of the nun who became demon-possessed by eating an unblessed head of lettuce. Likewise, the precaution of baptizing carefully without omitting any of the words is taken even more seriously in view of the fact that some people are thought to have become demon-possessed by way of a faulty baptism. Caciola explains the disciplinary effect of these concerns upon the public observing the exorcism ritual: “the solemn sacramental tone of the occasion enacts a disciplining of the social body that precedes the disciplining of the body of the demoniac.” The exorcists use these concerns to foster an atmosphere of religious education at the public exorcisms, a type of “hands-on” drama in which the crowd can participate.

Cohortatio is amplification that moves the hearer’s indignation, as when the speaker dwells upon the horrors of an enemy’s barbarities. It is closely related to indignatio (aganactesis, deinosis) or displeasure, arousing the audience’s scorn for the demon and its audacity to invade a human being. These tactics are more complicated because sometimes the exorcist will formally address God or the demon, but with the covert intention of instructing the “eavesdropping” audience. For example, the exorcist might tell God in Biblical terms about the invading demons: “inimicos Daemones, qui vineam istam tuam dissipare contendunt, & facturam tuam vexare praesumunt” (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, p. 44). The audience is expected to feel indignation at this “presumption” on the part of the devils. Similarly, the exorcist might address the demon, but again with the purpose of instructing the audience: “Exorcizo, & anathematizo te † … ut dicas mihi, quomodocunque in hunc famulam Dei N. [here he inserts the patient’s name] consignatum, & initiatum divinis misteriis temere` ingredi praesumpsisti” (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, p. 353). Likewise, in this instance, the audience is supposed to feel outrage at the devil’s arrogance. Cohortatio and indignatio are often used in the form of rhetorical questions designed primarily to expel the demon but also to stir up the audience’s emotions against it:

Quo etiam subterfugis? Quo? Superba bestia? … Quid igitur? N [the exorcist here inserts the name of the specific demon] maledicte princeps? Quid cogitas contra dominum? … Quis videt nos? Et quis novit nos? … Maledicte, qui contemptibilem primitatem in hanc creaturam Dei obtines? Maledictique caeteri omnes? Simul impoenitentes? Exclusi a Dei contemplatione? Infirmati in virtute? Excaecati a vero, Deo ordinati in bono? Obstantes in malo? Quid temerarie` contra Dei autoritatem, nostrumque recogitatis ministerium? … Quousque ira[m]que tandem exhibitis? Quid moramini? Quid temerarie` cogitatis? … Nonne enim dominator domine Deus misericors es? Clemens? Patiens? … Quid igitur?
Miseri iniquissimi fugam tardatis? Quid? Quid iniqui miserrimi recogitatis? (Polidorus, Practica exorcistarum, pp. 50, 67, 89–90, 101, 106, 129)

Frequently the exorcisms are used by priests as a didactic tool for converting the bystanders. For instance, some sources estimate that the lowest number of conversions achieved by the Denham exorcists was 500.

Oraculum is a prophecy or the quoting of God’s words or commandments. This is another speech addressed primarily to the demon, but with the attendant public also in mind as the (perhaps more important) audience:

Iterum conjuro te † per beatum Esaiam, qui prophetavit, dicens. Veniet rex tuus Syon humilis, & restaurabit te … Conjuro te † per sanctum Malachiam Prophetam; qui prophetavit de adventu Christi ad judicium hoc modo. Ego accedam ad vos in judicio, & ero testis velox maleficis, & adulteris, & perjuris, & qui calumniant mercedem mercenarii; & humiliant viduam, & pupillos; & opprimunt peregrinum; nec timuerunt me (Menghus, Flagellum daemonum, pp. 341-42)

Here Menghus refers to Isaiah and Malachi foretelling the advent of the messiah (Isaiah 71, Malachi 3). These speeches, directed to the demon but also addressed to the audience, pertain to the “canonical” (vs. “indexical”) aspects of ritual as defined by Roy Rappaport: “the canonical … is concerned with enduring aspects of nature, society, or cosmos, and is encoded in apparently invariant aspects of liturgical orders.” According to this definition, the indexical aspects of the exorcism ritual are the context-specific injunctions directed to the energumen (the possessed individual). The constant, canonical components of exorcistic rhetoric, in contrast, are directed to the audience instead of the patient because the spectators are in a position to benefit from catechetical instruction at this particular moment. The ever-didactic exorcist cannot afford to lose any opportunity to impart doctrine to the vigilant faithful.

Commiseratio (conquestio, oictos) excites compassion or evokes pity, especially during the peroratio or last phase of a classical oration. Here the exorcist might even engage in theatrical weeping as he speaks to the patient and asks the audience to commiserate with him. The title of a section of Vicecomite’s Complementum artis exorcisticae reads:

Praeparatio ad armandum Daemoniacum: cum pietate, & lachrymarum compunctione dicenda. “Laetare in Domino creatura Dei, quonia[m] per multas tribulationes, & angustias veri amici, & filii Dei efficimur: Sic, & tibi per hos cruciatus Daemonu[m] adveniet. Nam tristitia tua, Deo miserante, convertetur in gaudium, & Regnum Coeli adipisceris” (Vicecomite, Complementum artis exorcisticae, cited in n. 24 above, p. 926, emphasis mine).

In the rhetoric of exorcism, there are also some rhetorical structures that one almost never encounters. Certain elements of classical rhetoric are prohibited in ecclesiastical exorcism, namely koinonia, or consulting with one’s opponents (in this case, the demons). Although the Church expressly condemns it, some exorcists rationalize the practice casuistically by emphasizing the knowledge that can be gained from it. Hieronymus Menghus, for example, is less than orthodox on this point. He interrogates the demon at length, according to the following formula: “Conjuro ergo te daemon … ut dicas mihi qui es tu, & quomodo vocaris … & respondeas mihi de quacunq[ue] re te interrogavero” (Flagellum daemonum, p. 346). In the opinion of other demonologists, this practice could make the exorcist vulnerable to bodily or spiritual harm by the answering demon. One of the foremost demonological manuals to address this question is Martın del Rio’s Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex. Del Rio specifies which questions to be posed to a devil are licit versus illicit:

petunt nomen daemonis … [N]on liceat petere vt socios indicent, vt sciamus cum quibus confligendum: petunt causam ingressus: vt a similibus peccatis alii caueant, & eo vitato vel expiato facilius sanetur energumenus, signum egressionis petunt, vt constet iam vere liberatum aegrum. Mendax quidem est diabolus: sed exorcismi verum inuito extorquent … Monendi ergo vt abstineant exorcizatos superfluis colloquiis & terminis illis actuum iudiciariorum, quibus iubent daemonem nunc erire … [H]oc etiam prohibuit ne energumenoru[m] huiusmodi in corporibus loquentes daemones auscultemus … Moneatur ipse exorcista non minus quam caeteri, nihil curiositatis aut discendi causa daemonem interrogare, aut ab eo exquirere, licet id honestissimum sit & vtile videatur.

We have now seen which elements of classical rhetoric the exorcists are supposed to use, as well as which ones are prohibited. Classical rhetoric is clearly one important foundation upon which early modern exorcisms are constructed. This should not surprise, considering that the connection between rhetoric and exorcism goes all the way back to the classical period. The rhetorician Gorgias believes that the persuasive word acts upon the soul in the same way that medicine or poison acts upon the body:

Just as different drugs expel different humours from the body, and some stop it from being ill but others stop it from living, so too some speeches cause sorrow, some cause pleasure, some cause fear, some give the hearers confidence, some drug and bewitch the mind with an evil persuasion.

Just as words have the power to infect and kill, so they have the power to heal. Early modern exorcists realize this, and they turn to classical rhetoric to find the most effective strategies for healing their patients.

Understanding the classical rhetorical structures that underly what have previously been considered to be purely sacred or ecclesiastical documents has wide-ranging implications for our conception of Christian humanism during this time. Struggling with St. Jerome’s vision of Jesus telling him to reject Cicero, Christian humanists of the early modern period responded with a synthesis that instead attempts to assimilate Cicero and other pagan authors to their Christian worldview. The product of this symbiosis is a mixture of secular and sacred, pagan and Christian, that uses classical rhetorical means to serve dogmatic ends. The classical rhetoric of Catholic exorcism is no paradox, no anomaly; in fact, it may be one of the clearest examples we have of the cultural synthesis that is Christian humanism.