Principles of Discernment in Evaluating Books

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Index of Books on Spiritual Warfare

Books Recommended and Not Recommended to Catholics

 

 

Introduction: Principles of Discernment

compiled by the St. Padre Pio Center for Spiritual Warfare

Quill of Judgment

Go directly to Recommended Books List
Go directly to the Non-Recommended Books List
(But everyone needs to read the Principles of Discernment at least once)


SPECIAL NOTE: Since this is a Catholic Website and a Catholic apostolate, our recommendations are made from a loyal Catholic point-of-view with just and equitable consideration of the knowledge and wisdom of our “separated” brethren (non-Catholic).

Throughout this essay we may use the terms “non-Catholic” and “Protestant” interchangeably. In either usage we are referring to all Christian groups that are not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

The terms “Evangelical”, “Fundamentalist”, and “Pentecostal” refer to specific sects within the non-Catholic world.

The term “misguided Catholics” refers to Catholics who have adopted or who are contaminated by ideas or theology or practices from non-Catholic sources that are inconsistent with Catholic teaching, discipline, and worldview.

We focus on the Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal groups in this essay only because they are the most involved in Spiritual Warfare. Our comments about what to watch for, however, applies to ALL groups, regardless of religious or denominational tradition.


Principles of Discernment:

Within the Catholic world there are relatively few books dealing directly with Spiritual Warfare — that is specifically on demonology and deliverance. The Catholic heritage does give us a wealth of books and writings of the Saints and others of great spirituality and devotion in which Spiritual Warfare is ancillary. We can learn much from them.

Since Catholic publications do not include many books on demonology and deliverance, we have selected a few books written by non-Catholics that provide excellent analysis of the subjects they contain. By non-Catholics we mean mostly works of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Pentecostal communities. It is primarily those communities that have taken the most interest in the area of demonology in the modern era. As a result of their interest, the Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Pentecostal communities have researched and written on this subject probably more than any other groups.

A general caution, however, is needed in reading any non-Catholic volume. There are fundamental differences between Catholics and non-Catholics in theology, ecclesiology, philosophy, and worldview. Thus we must be “on watch” for these differences whenever reading a non-Catholic book or, for that matter, any book written by a misguided Catholic who has been influenced by non-Catholic ideas inconsistent with Catholicism.

Catholics should not venture into studying non-Catholic writings without guidance or without solid and proven personal knowledge and experience in Catholic teaching and worldview. That caution includes the non-Catholic books on our Recommended Books list.

Those volumes we cannot recommend, or can recommend only with a Caution Alert need to be approached by Catholics only with the greatest caution and circumspection.

Our Index of Books Not Recommended to Catholics on Spiritual Warfare includes those books which are either not recommended, or that are on a “caution alert.”

Our Index of Recommended Books on Spiritual Warfare include those Catholic and non-Catholic books that we recommend, or recommend with qualification.


Concerning some general cautions about non-Catholic books, we offer some guidelines for Catholics to consider when reading non-Catholic books in general, and Spiritual Warfare books in particular.

In constructing these guidelines we are reviewing and comparing the Catholic teaching and worldview with the typical and mainstream Evangelical, Fundamentalist, or Pentecostal teaching and worldview. Since there are many factions within these non-Catholic faith traditions it is not surprising that many groups may contradict each other in their beliefs on Spiritual Warfare. Some groups are fanatic in their presumptions. For example, we know of many groups who think that if one contracts a common cold then such a person needs to be exorcized of the “demon of the common cold”. This extremism is ridiculous. Some of the books that come from this or similar extremist or intellectually careless views will be found on our Index of Books Not Recommended to Catholics on Spiritual Warfare.

It is wise to remember the adage of C.S. Lewis found in his book, The Screwtape Letters:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about demons. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.

We take this advice ourselves in our own involvement in Spiritual Warfare and when analyzing books (Catholic or non-Catholic) we look to see if the author is taking that advice.

General Overview:

Spiritual Warfare, in general, involves mostly principles and understandings of the faith that find little disagreement between Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians. Since most of what we know about demonology comes from the Holy Scriptures and from clinical field observations, Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians generally share a common experience and understanding of the basics of Spiritual Warfare.

It is not so much that Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians differ on Spiritual Warfare, it is mostly that the non-Catholic Christians have a “Readers Digest” understanding of it — that is an abridged understanding. This is to be expected since non-Catholic Christians, and especially Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, do not have the fullness of the faith that has been entrusted by Christ Himself to the Catholic Church.

The areas in which Catholics and Evangelicals/Fundamentalists/Pentecostals differ in their thinking and practice of Spiritual Warfare are mostly in the areas of ecclesiology (specifically the authority of the Church versus the authority of the believer) and the royal priesthood (as opposed to the ministerial priesthood and the roles of each).

Other areas that have an effect on the thinking of Spiritual Warfare include sola scriptura (as opposed to a fuller understanding of Divine Revelation deposited in Sacred Tradition and Written Tradition), the Communion of the Saints (and its role in Spiritual Warfare), Soteriology (the nature of justification & sanctification), the nature and use of the Sacraments, and the nature of the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit.

What to Watch For: Ecclesiology & the Royal Priesthood

The primary element in ecclesiology to watch out for in the teachings of non-Catholic Christians is the presumption that all authority is given to all believers rather than certain authority reserved to the ministerial priesthood.

We must remember that Jesus established a ministerial priesthood and although we are all a part of the “royal priesthood” there are delineations of roles. For example, the passages in the Book of James about anointing the sick is reserved to the priest and the Sacrament of Anointing. These passages are not referring to any member of the laity performing this function. It is for the priest alone to perform this function. The Laity, however, can make similar, but non-sacramental, anointment with those to whom they have a paterfamilias relationship (a royal priestly relationship) such as with one’s family. The way in which the anointing with oil is employed, however, must not too closely resemble the Sacrament of Anointing that must be reserved to a priest.

Also reserved to priests alone are practices that constitute a “solemn” exorcism and even then a priest cannot perform this rite without the express permission of the bishop. Thus, since solemn exorcism is reserved to priests alone, technically all non-validly ordained priests, including Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, do not have the authority to perform the full-blown exorcism of fully possessed people. The laity (whether Catholic or not), however, may perform lessor forms of exorcism technically called “simple” exorcisms, but commonly referred to as deliverance.

Regardless of whether the simple exorcism (deliverance) is performed by a priest or layman, for Catholics at least, the issue of imprecatory commands and speaking directly to the demons and asking them for information is, as of 1985, restricted to Solemn Exorcisms only. That means that no priest or layman may use that method outside of a solemn exorcism authorized by a bishop. (See Inde Ab Aliquot Annis: On The Current Norms Governing Exorcisms, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith September 29, 1985; Translated by Father Gabriele Amorth, Exorcist of Diocese of Rome)

There may be other matters that laymen, Catholic or non-Catholic, may perform that should be reserved only to the valid priesthood. One needs to be on-watch for those issues.

What to Watch For: Sola Scriptura

This area is a fundamental difference between Catholics and Protestants. The primary thing to remember here is that the Bible does not have all knowledge about spiritual issues. The Bible itself affirms that there are many teachings not written in Scriptures — though the Bible is where most of our information comes from. Nevertheless, we must also listen to what Sacred Tradition has to teach us about the nature of the devil, demons, angels, spirituality, free will, etc. There are times when the Protestant presumptions about the nature of the devil and how he works is limited due to his avoidance of Sacred Tradition and sometime might even be wrong. For example, a minority of Protestants believe that Christians cannot be possessed, that the Holy Spirit cannot reside in a body that is possessed by a demon. This is false. Christians can be possessed just as they can also lose their salvation (which we will speak about below). Protestants may also have unusual ideas about the devil in relation to the “end times” due to the reliance upon “Dispensationalism” and other innovations of eschatology that circulate among Protestant groups.

What to Watch For: Communion of the Saints

Many Protestants, and particularly Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, all who utterly misunderstand the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of the Saints, will identify this Catholic doctrine as occultic (speaking to the dead and/or saint worship). In reading books on Spiritual Warfare be watchful of this bias as they may specifically treat the Communion of Saints as an act of the devil. Also be watchful for their own interpretation of Communion of the Saints which is taken by them to mean only a communion or fellowship among what Catholics call the “Church Militant” (those Christians still on the earth).

What to Watch For: Soteriology

The nature of Salvation is the other major contention between many Protestants and Catholics. These differences can have direct relevance in how we deal with a demonized person. The debate here is between the false notion of justification “by faith alone,” versus the Catholic teaching of justification by faith worked out in love; and the notion of “once-saved-always-saved” versus Catholic teaching of the possibility of falling from grace. Be watchful of these false notions. Such misunderstandings lead some to believe that Christians cannot be possessed. As mentioned above, the Church makes no such presumption and clinical evidence has convinced most Protestants as well as Catholics that Christians can certainly be possessed.

The lack of proper understanding of mortal sin and venial sin, the State of Grace of the soul, the ability to lose one’s salvation (a soul not in a state of grace) can all lead to errors in counseling and dealing with clients who are demonized, or with people reading books seeking to help themselves. We must realize that we can indeed lose our salvation through the commission of mortal sin. We must also realize the Church’s teaching on diminished responsibility concerning grave sin. We must realize how Satan can manipulate us and inspire us to sin.

Thus we need to be watchful of ideas and statements that are based upon such false presumptions as “once-saved-always-saved” and/or “justification by faith alone.”

What to Watch For: The Sacraments

For most Protestants the Sacraments just simply don’t exist. The primary notion to look out for is how the Protestant deals with the concept of forgiveness and accountability for sin. The Protestant really has no objective way to ask for absolution and thus has no real accountability. Interestingly, most Protestants these days do understand the need for “confession” and talk about seeking out an “accountability partner”. Well Catholics already have an “accountability partner”. He is called a priest.

Thus when Protestants talk about asking for forgiveness and/or accountability partners we need to understand that within the context of the Sacrament of Confession.

Protestants simply do not understand healing power of the Sacraments, or of the Sacramentals, such as Holy Water, Holy Salt, relics, etc. The Sacramentals will be seen by them as superstitions at best, and demonic contrivances at worst.

What to Watch For: The Charismatic Experience

The Charismatic Renewal has been a great blessing in the Church in that it has inspired thousands to “…fan into flame the gift” that is within them (2 Tim 1:6). Although the Church has ensured theological correctness in the Renewal, unfortunately many in the Charismatic Renewal have borrowed terminology and practices (praxiology) from the Pentecostals that is in error.

Deliverance work is a major facet of the practice of spiritual gifts in the Charismatic experience. Abuses stemming from incorrect ideas about gifts by Catholic Charismatic Deliverance Teams became serious enough that by 1985 the Holy See placed restrictions upon what can or cannot be done outside of a solemn exorcism. (See Inde Ab Aliquot Annis: On The Current Norms Governing Exorcisms, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith September 29, 1985; Translated by Father Gabriele Amorth, Exorcist of Diocese of Rome).

It is particularly important in evaluating books and teaching about Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance written by Catholics or non-Catholics that “Pentecostalisms” be discerned and watched for. The contributions of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal can be beneficial as long as it remains close to the Church not only in theology, but also in praxiology; Pentecostalisms must be avoided. (Please refer to our article, Charism Gifts that Build Up the Church (PDF) for a detailed evaluation and review of the Charismatic Renewal).

Conclusion

Although most of the meat of the issue will be similar between Catholics and Protestants, there can be many potholes in the road that can pull your steering out of alignment. That is why Catholics need to be very cautious in reading non-Catholic material — particularly Pentecostal material or any material, even written by Catholics, that is influenced by Pentecostal notions.

This content last updated November 20, 2013 @ 10:14 pm