Many Christians today believe that the subject of Christians having demons is a seemingly new phenomena within the church; however, when we take a look at the writings of Early Church Fathers, we see these ideas were commonly held very early on.
The belief that Christians cannot have demons that would require to be cast out is a relatively new and unorthodox belief that now exists within the Church of the Western world. The ‘controversial’ idea that Christians, despite being saved, can have demons dwelling inside them necessitating exorcism is actually nothing new to Christendom or orthodox Christianity.
Here are some of the Early Church Fathers that mention this topic in their writings:
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)
St. Augustine, one of the most influential Church Fathers, spoke of the possibility of believers being subject to demonic influences. In his treatise, “City of God”, he acknowledged that demons could torment the righteous, although he did not explicitly say that a Christian could be possessed.1 Augustine’s interpretation of the story of Job, a righteous man tested by Satan, further underscores his belief in the susceptibility of believers to demonic afflictions.2
Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD)
Origen, a prominent theologian of the early church, suggested that Christians could be susceptible to demonic influences in his work “Contra Celsum.” He writes, “The demons, however, because of their weakness, flee from those who have made genuine progress in purification and prayer and who draw near to God with their whole heart.”3 This seems to imply that demons may be able to influence or dwell in those believers who have not made sufficient spiritual progress.
St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD)
St. Gregory of Nyssa, a Cappadocian Father, provides an account of demonic possession and subsequent exorcism in the life of his sister, St. Macrina.4 Although Macrina was a committed Christian, Gregory describes her being afflicted by a demon. The mentioned need for exorcism certainly implies a profound level of demonic influence taking place.
St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest Early Church Fathers and preachers, in his Homilies on First Corinthians, acknowledged the presence of demonically induced illnesses among the Christian community.5 He argued that these illnesses were permitted by God as a form of discipline or correction for the believers, implying that believers could indeed be afflicted by demons.
Tertullian (155-240 AD)
Tertullian, an early Christian author from Carthage, wrote about the susceptibility of believers to demonic influences in his work “Apology.” He stated: “It is not, then, that we do not believe in demons, but we have learned that they are servants and subject to another, and before that other we are warned to bow down, to whom they are made subject after an inferior fashion.”6 While Tertullian does not directly address the concept of possession, his acknowledgment of demonic influence on believers can be interpreted as recognizing a potential for more significant affliction.
St. Anthony the Great (251-356 AD)
St. Anthony the Great, known as the father of monasticism, also had much to say about the demonic attacks that Christians might experience. His life, recorded by St. Athanasius, recounts numerous encounters with demonic forces. For instance, Athanasius writes, “The demons made such a racket that the whole place was shaken, knocking over the four walls of the tomb; they came in droves, taking the shapes of all kinds of beasts and reptiles.”7 Anthony’s experiences, as recounted by Athanasius, demonstrate the belief that even the most devout believers can encounter intense spiritual warfare.
The teachings of these Early Church Fathers add to the complex and multifaceted Christian understanding of demonic influence and possession. Their writings, still influential today, continue to inform contemporary discussions on spiritual warfare, possession, and the need for exorcism.
In conclusion, while the specific term “possession” is not always used, several Early Church Fathers acknowledge in their writings the potential for Christians to be profoundly influenced or afflicted by demons to the extent that exorcism might be necessary. This perspective, however, varies greatly among different theologians and Christian traditions, and it is essential to note that these viewpoints are not universally accepted within Christianity.
- Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 13.
- Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on Psalm 60, 2.
- Origen, Contra Celsum, Book VIII, Chapter 33.
- Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrina.
- John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily 29.
- Tertullian, Apology, Chapter XXII.
- Athanasius of Alexandria, Life of Anthony, Chapter 9.