Augustine and Aquinas on the powers of demons

Hi all,

As an amateur magician/mentalist with a keen interest in Victorian seancés, ghost stories and mediums, I have come upon some questions.

I know most of the basic methods behind e.g. psychic readings, table levitation, pendulums, dowsing, Ouija boards etc. employed by fake mediums and psychics, most notably in Victorian England.

Knowing a great deal of the tricks of the trade, one invariably will come to ask, whether these things are always trickery (either quite mundane methods as with table leviation, or more interesting psychological factors such as ideomotor movement)

I seem to have read somewhere, that St. Augustine believed, that demons have no power whatsoever in relation to material things, but only in relation to the human spirit (that is: demon possessions are real, but “manifestations” are either conjuring tricks or psychological tricks. That is also the view that I tend to, since, as mentioned, I know numerous ways to effect these phenomena through trickery.

On the other hand Thomas Aquinas allegedly believed that demons are able to influence the physical world. I am usually very fond of Aquinas, but on this topic, he seems to fall into what I would tend to call superstition. But I am not decided yet, and would appreciate a fuller explanation of his position.

In other words, if someone could expand a bit on the views of these two holy men, and perhaps update me as to what the Church teaches about these things today, I would be very thankful. If you could comment about exorcism as well, that would be very nice.

I realize, that a too keen interest in demonology is not a healthy thing, but this very general question, I do not feel falls into that category. Also, my interest in these things are very much from a magicians point of view… if genuine mediumship exists and was practiced in Victorian England, it would fall outside my field of interest. But it might have a bearing on how (or whether) I might perform a demonstration of “Victorian spookiness”

So in short: Do demons hold power to manipulate the physical world or not?

All thoughts are very much appreciated :slight_smile:

  • CB

They are both correct. Demons influence the material world, but is always a trick. They don’t have actual creative power like God dose. So they use tricks, illusions. For example, when Satan showed Jesus on the mountain all the kingdoms in the world, it was just an illusion. This type of vision, Pope Benedict XVI says in his book on Jesus of Nazareth, is meant to show the empty promise of Satan, which is like dust carried away by the wind.

I don’t know about demons but there is plenty of evidence for poltergeists - very well documented in Rosenheim in 1967.

But isn’t an illusion by definition just something that happens in our minds? In that case, the demons can not really be said to manipulate anything in the physical world…

I would tend to agree with what you state here.
But as much force of supernatural power whether by physical force and illusions demons and Satan can harness. They have their powers chained by limitations that God has enforced upon such supernatural evil creatures. They lost the Great War in Heaven.
By that very reason their powers are God Almighty and His Angels.

Douay Rheims Catholic Bible

Genesis ch. 3 verse 15

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: She shall crush thy head, and thou shall lie in wait for her heel.

I totally disagree with the position put forward that demons can not manifest physical phenomena. There are many recorded cases of bed and furniture levitation or shaking, flying objects, and super-human phenomena (super human strength, impossible structural positions of the limbs and body and impossible volumes of emit vomit, fluids etc. etc.) associated with humans so possessed.

On the good side of things we also have evidence of a visiting spirit from purgatory who left physical evidence of her burned hand imprint in a wooden convent door panel as “proof of God’s Mercy”. It’s supposed to be in the Vatican museum somewhere and is of a nun who requested more prayers and masses be said and gave accounts of what purgatory is like.


demons are angels and have not lost the abilities proper to the particular angelic office. Angels are subject to the physical laws but the boundaries of operation and effect creation has on them are different. Angels don’t suffer the limitations we do. They are not bound by space as we are. To get from here to there does not represent the same effort to them as us. They can do things with the powers appropriate to them that would seem miraculous to us but they are not. A demon will never be an instrument of a miracle unless God wants it to. Don’t think that wikll happen frankly.

Demons can move physical objects. The energy they use is drawn from the atmosphere and the loss of it is felt as coldness. They can’t make a head spin but they can make it look like it is.

I’m just saying, that these things can be done extremely convincingly by means of trickery. Heck I’ve seen stage magic levitations I could not explain (until initiated)

As an example: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turned is said to have turned to spiritualism partly because of one particular “impossible” table levitation - which I today know how to effect.

I know for a fact, that most such spiritualists were frauds, and see no reason why it should not be true of them all. Anecdotal evidence, I can not regard as solid proof, I prefer theological and philosophical arguments. And actual church teaching would not hurt either :slight_smile:

  • CB

Whatever happens in our mind has a corresponding physical effect with respect to our brains…

I read a study of data collected by exorcists. Priests document and even understand the metaphysics of their encounters with evil. Anyway, concerning poltergeists they happen most frequently around troubled teenagers. The explanation is the intensity of crisis these teens experience. Teenagers are already working out intense identity issues, individuating themselves. Troubled teens are experiencing intense emotional crisis unmatched by any other population. The key to this mental energy becoming kinetic is the degree it is energy of the unconscious. The unconscious mind attempts to work out unresolved issues . It uses the body to do this. It’s the reason we tend to ‘fall’ in love to people who are like those who caused unresolved issues. The unconscious is attempting to get that person to fix what they broke through a person that shares a likeness to them. Anyway, in a certain and real sense the unconscious self is very much like a ghost in that intense unresolved emotional pain is perpetually driven to resolution and is operative at the deepest recesses of our subconscious. From there, powers unknown to most are familiar mechanisms the unconscious self operates and if intense eneogh emotional pain is coupled with a high eneogh degree of unawareness the energy of the unconscious externalizes and produces poltergeists. When our body dies our unconscious self continues to attempt resolution without it. It’s not a soul but a pattern of mental energy that leaves a footprint so to speak.
Apparently we don’t have to be dead for our ghost to be causing a bit of mischief:eek:

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

Has anyone heard of the investigations into alleged demonic activity at the Santa Chiara Convent in Carpi Italy, in the 1630’s?

There were several nuns (some of whom I believe died) who were believed by investigators to have symptoms of demonic possession, such as speaking in languages they were assumed to have had no training in, contorting their bodies into positions seemed impossible, etc, a confessor/priest who was accused of sexual misconduct and witchcraft, and exorcisms were performed, but my understanding is that the charges against the priest were dropped, the exorcists were ordered not to illicit testimony from demons, and eventually to cease all exorcisms (concentrating, instead, on administering the sacraments.)

Wouldn’t this indicate that “the Holy Office” considered the whole thing to be some kind of fraud (or mass delusion)?

Is anyone familiar with the case and it’s outcome, and has anyone read “the demons of Carpi”?

There are several books written by Catholic priests who are exorcists.

There are some variations, but generally they seem to point toward the following - short of possession, demons cannot move things unless they are the more powerful variety. I have read they can do things like shut off lights or manipulate people (not physically) to cause “close call” car accidents. Generally speaking, it shouldn’t be a worry unless you are involved in the occult, participating in exorcism support team, or something like that.

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