Review: Wolsey by Glenn Richardson

My review of Glenn Richardson’s new biography of Thomas Wolsey has just been published in the journal British Catholic History and can be read here. This is an excellent introductory biography to the great cardinal that examines his life and achievements from a variety of different angles; Richardson’s treatment of Wolsey’s importance as a European potentate and diplomat is especially valuable. Highly recommended!


Review: Exorcism by Fr Vincent Lampert

Vincent Lampert, Exorcism: The Battle Against Satan and his Demons (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2020), 176pp.

Since the majority of the literature on exorcism by practising exorcists is still written in Italian, it is helpful to have a perspective on exorcism from a practising North American exorcist in the form of Fr Vincent Lampert’s Exorcism: The Battle Against Satan and his Demons, which is published in Emmaus Road’s ‘Living Faith’ series which encourages Catholics to reflect on and equip themselves in the Catholic faith. Lampert’s book serves as an introduction to the ministry of the exorcist, written for those who may have no knowledge of the subject at all (as well as tackling some of the many misconceptions surrounding the role of an exorcist, and the routine sensationalisation of this ministry).

Lampert, the exorcist of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is an experienced exorcist who recounts his path to becoming a diocesan exorcist (including his initial reluctance). Lampert deals with basic issues in demonology such as the reality and identity of the devil and demons and delineates his view on the scope of the devil’s activity. The book then moves on to examine the rite of exorcism itself, including a detailed commentary on Jesus’ exorcism of the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark’s Gospel.

The book is not solely theoretical, and its practical dimension includes an explanation of the US Bishops’ Conference’s approach to exorcism, and that of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Lampert reproduces the questionnaire he asks people to fill in when they approach him requesting the help of an exorcist, which is designed not only to distinguish between mental illness and demonic affliction but also to determine the possible reason why someone has become the subject of demonic attack. As Lampert observes, exorcists in many countries where exorcism is accepted as part of everyday life would not screen those approaching them in this way, but the US bishops place a strong emphasis on discerning between the psychiatric and spiritual dimensions. Lampert includes advice for ordinary parish priests who are not exorcists and a guide to ‘Best Practices to Fend Off the Devil’ as well as suitable prayers for the use of the faithful.

Lampert shows a strong degree of confidence in the power of exorcism and urges a focus on the power of Christ rather than the feats by which, he says, demons attempt to impress and overawe human beings. To this extent, Lampert is pragmatic and sees exorcism as a fairly straightforward process, although the list of activities Lampert believes may lead a person to become open to demonic influence is very long indeed, including everything from horoscopes to yoga.

From the researcher’s point of view, the book’s chief interest (in addition to the views of an authorised exorcist) is the detail Lampert goes into regarding his procedure as an exorcist. As an introductory and explanatory text, the book does not dwell on anecdotes of exorcism like Gabriele Amorth’s An Exorcist Tells His Story, but rather seeks to set the ministry of exorcism within the broader context of Catholic life. Lampert’s intent is, as far as possible, to ‘normalise’ exorcism (or, at least, to disabuse readers of the notion that it is something strange and unusual, even if there is a sliding scale of demonic vexation that might feature alarming demonic possessions at the more extreme end. The book is a straightforward explanation of how an exorcist operates in a North American context and, as such, a valuable insight into an often misunderstood ministry.


Mendicant missionary journeys in medieval and early modern Lithuania

An 1803 depiction of the 14th-century martyrdom of friars in Vilnius

This morning I delivered a paper entitled ‘Mendicant missionary journeys in medieval and early modern Lithuania’ at an online symposium hosted by University College Dublin, ‘Temporal journeys in late medieval and early modern Europe’. The paper was part of a panel focussing on the activities of the friars in East-Central Europe.

Franciscan friars were among the first Catholic missionaries to reach the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the last European nation to accept the Christian faith. However, the position of Christianity in Lithuania remained insecure into the early modern period, and mendicant friars played a key role in the gradual Christianisation of Lithuania that lasted into the eighteenth century. Travel through the dense forests of Lithuania and Samogitia in order to access remote communities was a key challenge faced by the mendicants, and this paper addresses the friars’ conversion and Christianisation of Lithuania from the perspective of the journeys they were compelled to undertake in order to reach an intractable, resolutely pagan and sometimes threatening land. Although the Jesuits would overtake the friars as Lithuania’s principal evangelists in the seventeenth century, the friars remained a force to be reckoned with in the early modern Grand Duchy thanks to the pioneering journeys undertaken by early mendicants.

I am grateful to Dr Ben Hazard for organising the symposium and inviting me to contribute, and to Dr Malgorzata D’Aughton for hosting the panel.


Review: Deliverance by Jason Bray

Jason Bray, Deliverance (London: Coronet, 2021), 304pp.

Deliverance is an account by a priest of the Church in Wales, the Revd Dr Jason Bray, of his role as a deliverance minister, and represents an unusually frank and detailed exploration of the present-day practice of Anglican exorcism. In fact, it is hard to point to any book that is a better introduction to the realities of deliverance ministry in contemporary Anglicanism, since most books in this field are either instructional texts focussed on the theory and practice of deliverance or a series of anecdotes from deliverance ministry interspersed by a deliverance minister’s reflections or personal demonological theories. Certainly, when I was writing my book A History of Anglican Exorcism I would have found a book like this very helpful in giving an honest account of the realities of deliverance ministry in the modern world.

Dr Bray is a deliverance minister refreshingly uninterested in theory, and while no book on deliverance can be entirely free from demonological speculation, Bray mercifully keeps it to a minimum and appears to understand that his book will be far more readable and accessible to the general public without excessive theologising. What is rather special about Deliverance is that it assumes no knowledge on the part of the reader of what Anglican clergy do, and Bray deftly weaves his account of deliverance ministry into a much broader depiction of clerical life that makes clear the pastoral context within which deliverance ministry is, well, delivered. Deliverance ministers are priests like any others, with the usual responsibilities, who are obliged to fit in deliverance ministry alongside their other commitments.

Dr Bray is clearly a deliverance minister who belongs to the fairly cautious, sacramental school of thought on exorcism that can be traced back to Max Petitpierre and, before him, Gilbert Shaw. Bray also names Dominic Walker as an influence, and Bray shares Walker’s reticence in accepting the reality of many claims of demonic possession; indeed, Bray makes clear he has never yet had cause to perform a ‘Major Exorcism’ (an exorcism of a person believed to be possessed) and, while he acknowledges the theoretical reality of such cases, he believes them to be exceedingly rare. In this respect Bray differs from some charismatic and evangelical exorcists who are sometimes more willing to discern demonic possession. The emphasis of Bray’s ministry, therefore, is on paranormal phenomena affecting people in their homes, and it consists primarily of a ministry of house blessing and the occasional Requiem Mass where a ‘genuine haunting’ is concerned.

In addition to conveying the way in which deliverance ministry is integrated into the wider life of an Anglican priest, Deliverance also conveys the sheer mundanity of most deliverance ministry – which indeed reflects the reality of exorcism at most times and in most places in history, as a form of ‘spiritual pest control’ rather than the sort of set-piece dramatic confrontations with the devil imagined in popular culture. I can only presume that it is in order to present a balanced and truthful image of the much-sensationalised deliverance ministry that Bray has written this book, and he had presumably done so with the agreement of the bishop to whom he acts as deliverance advisor. This is a bold move on the part of the Church in Wales – and one that I would be surprised to see in the Church of England, whose strategy has historically been to avoid any publicity for the ministry of deliverance. Dr Bray’s decision to take advantage of the ever ready public interest in exorcism to present an impressively desensationalised account of the realities of deliverance ministry may well turn out to be the better strategy, since secretiveness about one of the church’s ministries has the tendency to breed misconceptions. While I have many personal reservations about the ministry of deliverance as practised in the Anglican Communion, it is difficult not to commend the honesty of Dr Bray’s book, which will no doubt become a first port of call for those interested in the ministry of deliverance.


230th anniversary of the Polish-Lithuanian constitution of 1791

An allegory of the Constitution of 1791 (1793)

Today I was honoured to attend a reception at the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in London to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the ratification of the first written constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on 3 May 1791, hosted by the ambassadors of Lithuania and Poland to the United Kingdom. Earlier in the day the Lithuanian Embassy hosted a webinar on the history of the constitution featuring leading historians of Poland-Lithuania, including Prof. Robert Frost, Dr Jolanta Karpavičienė and Prof. Karin Friedrich, which was moderated by the celebrated Lithuanian historical novelist Dr Kristina Sabaliauskaitė.

Preceded by a cello recital from Lithuanian cellist Anton Lukoszevieze, the reception was attended by the ambassadors of Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Ukraine and Hungary and honoured the contribution of Prof. Robert Frost to public understanding of the history of Poland-Lithuania. Prof. Frost was formally invested with the insignia of a Knight of the Orders of Merit of both nations, by presidential decree. Kristina Sabaliauskaitė was then presented with the Two Nations Award in recognition of her work as a historical novelist in bringing the history of Poland-Lithuania to public attention. I was especially honoured to have the opportunity to speak to Dr Sabaliauskaitė about her work.

The reception was a wonderful occasion for historians of Poland and Lithuania based in the UK that fittingly celebrated the historic events of 3 May 1791 as well as the achievements of Prof. Frost and Dr Sabaliauskaitė.