patristics


Insanity and Demonic Possession in Patristic Thought

by Mother Melania (Salem)

At times, people come to our monastery with concerns about close friends and relatives who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disease, or some other such disorder. Often they ask, “Is this really mental illness or is it demonic possession?” So, from the practical need to give a helpful response to such heart-breaking questions, we began studying the Tradition of the Church as it is found in the liturgical books, the writings of the Holy Fathers, and the Lives of the Saints.

Nearly everything we found astonished us:

  1. The Church does distinguish between mental illness and demonic possession.
  2. The Fathers generally view both the mentally ill and the possessed with compassion and, at times, even with admiration.
  3. In the view of the Church, if we aren’t saints, we’re insane.
  4. It’s better to be possessed by a demon than to be enslaved by our passions.
  5. The reason that it’s better to be possessed by a demon than to be enslaved by our passions is that enslavement to passions is in fact a worse type of demonic possession.

The Fathers distinguished between mental illness and demonic possession