Monday, January 6, 2020

Two Early Christian Testimonies of the Use of Holy Water in an Exorcism

The first recorded testimony of the use of Holy Water in an exorcism can be found in the Panarion of Saint Epiphanios of Salamis, in his chapter on the Ebionites, where he writes about a Jewish man named Josephus in Tiberias, whom the Lord was calling through visions to be a Christian, but who at the same time was reluctant to convert due to doubts. At one point he encounters a possessed madman, and this is what Epiphanios writes:

"There was a madman in the city who used to roam the town, I mean Tiberias, naked. If he was dressed he would often tear his clothing apart, as such people will. Now Josephus was overcome with awe and wished to put the vision to the test, although he was still doubtful. So he brought the man inside, shut the door, took water, made the sign of the cross over it, and sprinkled it on the madman with the words, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth the crucified begone from him, demon, and let him be made whole!'

Falling down with a loud cry, the man lay motionless for a long time foaming profusely and retching, and Josephus supposed that he had died. But after a while he rubbed his forehead and got up and, once on his feet and seeing his own nakedness, he hid himself and covered his private parts with his hands, for he could no longer bear to see his own nakedness. Dressed by Josephus himself in one of his own garments, in proof of his comprehension and sanity, he came and thanked him and God profusely, for he realized that he had been cured through Josephus. He spread word of him in town, and this miracle became known to the Jews there. Much talk ensued in the city from people saying that Josephus had opened the treasuries, found the Name of God in writing and read it, and was working great miracles. And what they were saying was true, though not in the way they thought. Josephus, however, still remained hardened in heart."

Later on in the story, after Josephus was finally baptized a Christian and granted permission by Emperor Constantine to build churches where Jewish people lived, he returned to Tiberias and began to build a church out of a building already half-built that the Jews were erecting to be a synagogue. The Jews turned to magic and sorcery to prevent the church from being built. Outside the city Josephus set up furnaces for the lime to be used for the building. Epiphanios goes on to write:

"Those grand Jews wasted their time on magic and jugglery to bind the fire, but they did not entirely succeed. Well, the fire was smouldering and not doing anything but had practically ceased to be fire. When those whose task it was to feed the fire with fuel — I mean brushwood or scrub — told Josephus what had been done he rushed from the city, stung to the quick and moved with zeal for the Lord. He ordered water fetched in a vessel, (I mean a flask, but the local inhabitants call this a 'cacubium') and took this vessel of water in the sight of all — a crowd of Jews had gathered to watch, eager to see how it would turn out and what Josephus would try to do. Tracing the sign of the cross on the vessel with his own finger, and invoking the name of Jesus, he cried out, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom my fathers and those of all here present crucified, may there be power in this water to set at naught all sorcery and enchantment these men have wrought, and to work a miracle on the fire that the Lord’s house may be finished.' With that he wet his hand and sprinkled the water on each furnace. And the spells were broken, and in the presence of all, the fire blazed up. And the crowds of spectators cried, 'There is one God, who comes to the aid of the Christians,' and went away."

A second account is given to us by the Church historian Theodoret, who in his Ecclesiastical History (Bk. 5, Ch. 21) relates that Saint Markellos, Bishop of Apamea, sanctified water by the sign of the cross in order to expel a demon from a pagan temple. Theodoret writes:

"Now there had arrived at Apamea the prefect of the East with two tribunes and their troops. Fear of the troops kept the people quiet. An attempt was made to destroy the vast and magnificent shrine of Jupiter, but the building was so firm and solid that to break up its closely compacted stones seemed beyond the power of man; for they were huge and well and truly laid, and moreover clamped fast with iron and lead. When the divine Markellos saw that the prefect was afraid to begin the attack, he sent him on to the rest of the towns; while he himself prayed to God to aid him in the work of destruction.

Next morning there came uninvited to the bishop a man who was no builder, or mason, or artificer of any kind, but only a laborer who carried stones and timber on his back. 'Give me,' said he, 'two workmen's pay; and I promise you I will easily destroy the temple.' The holy bishop did as he was asked, and the following was the fellow's contrivance. Round the four sides of the temple went a portico united to it, and on which its upper story rested. The columns were of great bulk, commensurate with the temple, each being sixteen cubits in circumference. The quality of the stone was exceptionally hard, and offering great resistance to the masons' tools. In each of these the man made an opening all round, propping up the superstructure with olive timber before he went on to another. After he had hollowed out three of the columns, he set fire to the timbers. But a black demon appeared and would not suffer the wood to be consumed, as it naturally would be, by the fire, and stayed the force of the flame. After the attempt had been made several times, and the plan was proved ineffectual, news of the failure was brought to the bishop, who was taking his noontide sleep. Markellos immediately hurried to the church, ordered water to be poured into a pail, and placed the water upon the divine altar. Then, bending his head to the ground, he besought the loving Lord in no way to give in to the usurped power of the demon, but to lay bare its weakness and exhibit His own strength, lest unbelievers should henceforth find excuse for greater wrong. With these and other like words he made the sign of the cross over the water, and ordered Equitius, one of his deacons, who was armed with faith and enthusiasm, to take the water and sprinkle it in faith, and then apply the flame. His orders were obeyed, and the demon, unable to endure the approach of the water, fled. Then the fire, affected by its foe the water as though it had been oil, caught the wood, and consumed it in an instant. When their support had vanished the columns themselves fell down, and dragged other twelve with them. The side of the temple which was connected with the columns was dragged down by the violence of their fall, and carried away with them. The crash, which was tremendous, was heard throughout the town, and all ran to see the sight. No sooner did the multitude hear of the flight of the hostile demon than they broke out into a hymn of praise to God."