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As Long as We Remember...

November 16, 2010

Real Devil

Roy Meachum

About 100 Roman Catholic prelates and priests gathered over the weekend for sessions on exorcism, by way of prelude to the annual fall conference of American cardinals, archbishops and bishops in Baltimore that started Monday.


There was desperation to the weekend gathering, an absolute necessity to prove there is a real devil.


Eight hundred years ago Sicilian St. Thomas Aquinas composed his “Summa Theologica” (Highest Theology); he advanced Aristotelian methods to prove God was real. But, in Aquinas’ late 12th century, everybody accepted a sinister evil was behind everything bad that happened to human beings.


The evil had many forms; both the ancient Greeks and Hebrews conceived thousands of malevolent beasts that destroyed people, especially those worthy.


In Athens they were known as Eumenides or Furies; the name they had in pre-Roman Jerusalem has not survived. But there is a Yiddish dictum that when you say anything good about any person, you must instantly protest “let no one (evil spirit) hear it – keine eine hoeren.” Before the dawning of electric light, the Biblical Satan went by many names; in English alone he was known as Beelzebub, Old Jake and many etceteras.


When Thomas Alva Edison began vanishing shadows in corners, belief in a real devil waned. For much of the Western World, he was finished off by 20th century’s technological wonders – including machines flying in the heaven, Paradise’s eternally designated abode.


Attendance at synagogue and church dwindled. Clerical vocations – priests, brothers and nuns – dropped out of sight. Parochial schools closed. Churches were torn down or rendered into strictly secular use; some becoming restaurants and bars.


With the great help of Jesuit Augustin Cardinal Bea, Pope John XXIII summoned Catholics from around the world for Vatican II, primarily to institute “collegiality;” the Roman Curia yielding power to national conferences in order to keep the church in step with modern scientific and cultural advances. The word became “aggiornomiento,” which roughly translates as today-ness.


Directly Roncalli – as Italians called John XXIII – died, the Curia (Vatican bureaucracy) staged another counter reformation, to hold on to power.


In Pope John Paul, they found a nearly perfect instrument. He was from the Polish church militant that fought against Soviet communism’s attempt to displace Rome, in primarily a political sense. His chief executive officer was ex-Nazi Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. As head for the former office of inquisitions, the present Pope Benedict XVI purged Catholics, ordained and lay, any who showed signs of resisting autocratic dominion. It was laughably easy to put St. Peter’s ring on his own hand.


In a statement for the exorcism weekend, the organizing bishop spoke of African, Asian and Latin American Catholics who firmly believe by whatever name the devil can inhabit a human body. They are countries where black magic, juju, spirits worship and voodoo still thrive. In opposition, the Roman Catholic Church stands as a local bulwark against the devils, by whatever names.


In 1973, Hollywood director Billy Friedkin made a film in darkest Georgetown, where I lived and briefly went to the college. He based the movie on Peter Blatty’s book: The Exorcist. And between the movie and Mr. Blatty’s fictionalized account of a real incident, belief in the real devil revived. Momentarily.


Burkittsville’s “Blair Witch” and a series of recent sensationalist attempts succeeded only in the sense that made boodles of money; they operate on the principle that lies behind Halloween pranks and scary houses.


In, I have written consistently about the necessity for the Vatican to reform itself; unless that happens, Protestant churches lose the reason for their identities. But what I advance is, at best, a temporizing tactic, as the Baltimore Catholic conference illustrated. A real devil must be confirmed to win back the departed faithful.


From my single class in theology, I recall the definition of religion: “The social act of justice rendered to God.” That was taken directly from St. Thomas Aquinas, in the age where dark shadows convinced men of a real devil.


The first decade of the 21st century faces the existential task of proving to modern man and woman the existence of supreme beings that linger above or below scientific measurements. For much of the world, faith is temporary, at best.


Don’t expect American prelates assembled in Baltimore this week to come up with pragmatic solutions. They are much too concerned with their temporal authority in their self-proclaimed “divine” institution.


The weekend input on exorcism was actually an attempt to extend their grasp over the remaining Catholics.


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