Title: The Case Against Satan.
Author: Ray Russell.
Genre: Fiction, religion, Christianity.
Publication Date: 1962.
Summary: Teenager Susan Garth was "a clean-talking sweet little girl" before she started acting strangely—a sudden aversion to churches and a newfound fondness for vulgarity. Then one night, she strips in front of the parish priest and sinks her nails into his throat. If not madness, the answer must be demonic possession. To vanquish the Devil, Bishop Crimmings recruits a younger priest with a taste for modern ideas and brandy. As the two men fight the darkness tormenting Susan, their struggle turns them against each other, and all the while a soul-chilling revelation lurks in the shadows—one which knows that the darkest evil goes by many names.
My rating: 7/10
♥ "..You know, it's odd, but Father Halloran—he just left—was speaking about you and your daughter only a moment ago." The oddness of the coincidence was more of a conversational opened for Gregory than a true expression of personal bemusement. He had lived too long, and been on the receiving end of too many coincidences, to feel other than mere intellectual surprise. Emotionally, it was old stuff and he was used to it. He had but to ask himself "What ever became of Father John Doe?" in order to receive a letter or phone call from Father John Doe the following day; or to suddenly remember a long-forgotten Bible verse and then, beginning to search for it, have the Bible fall open to the exact page and the verse leap to his eyes. And yet Gregory was not so vain as to think himself unique in this: coincidence, he knew, occurred in the lives of everyone with such frequency that it seemed almost the norm, and was met by most people not with the blink of astonishment but with the half-smile and casual nod usually accorded a regular and welcome visitor.
♥ "And I'm surprised at you, Father. Isn't the Church against all that stuff?"
"No," Gregory said simply. "The Church doesn't endorse it all, I must admit, but—"
"There, you see?"
"—but it does not dismiss or condemn it." Gregory wanted to tell him about Father Devlin of Chicago, a Catholic priest who was also a practising analyst; he wanted to say that the Church does not make snap judgments, that it sifts and examines evidence for years, sometimes for centuries, before it accepts or rejects a thing; he wanted to tell Garth it took the Church four hundred years to recognize Joan of Arc as a saint and it was as recent as 1954 that it made the Assumption of the Virgin Mary a definite dogma. So it couldn't be expected to come out for or against something as comparatively brand-new as psychiatry—but he knew these argument would fall upon heedless ears, for Garth was shaking his head stubbornly again, his mouth and eyes closed. So, instead, he said: "What's the difference, Mr. Garth, between the psychiatrist's office and the confessional box?"
♥ "..It's been years, and yet you look just the same, only..." he had trouble finding the right word. "...more so."
"More so!" The Bishop chuckled. "You mean I'm fat?"
"I know just what you mean," he smiled. "We grow older and our noses grow longer and our ears grow longer and our oddities become more marked. I've noticed it in others. Age is a ruthless caricaturist, Gregory; with the years, we all become parodies of ourselves."
♥ "But words are simply your personal bit of pride, Gregory. Not even a priest can escape it."
Gregory dutifully quoted: "'Pride goeth before destruction.'"
"But also—'In the beginning was the Word.'"
♥ For the first time in his life, Gregory was forced to think of God's Adversary—truly think of him, focus all of his mind upon him, all of his belief, all of his faith. The existence of God he had never doubted; the existence of Satan he had never doubted, either—but, on the other hand, Gregory now asked himself with creeping terror, had he ever really believed it? He felt cold. To disbelieve the existence of the Evil One was heresy—something infinitely more serous than an occasional drop too much of brandy. If God existed, logically his Adversary existed. Gregory believed in God—not only intellectually, but emotionally, possibly instinctively; he accepted Satan only with the surface of his mind, because it was logical to do so, because his acceptance had never been put to the test, because not to accept Satan was the act of a heretic.
He knew he had never been the best kind of priest. A priest needs head on his shoulders, and Gregory undeniably had that, but more important he needs a heart. Gregory, like other cold men, had always equated "heart"—which a popular song insisted you gotta have—with sentimentality, trumped-up feelings, the thing that in actors is called ham. Ham; schmaltz; corn. Derogatory words all meaning similar thing—but how odd, Gregory suddenly thought, that they soud be words that also mean food, nourishment, sustenance.
Sustenance: that which sustains.
Gregory had entered the priesthood with much to offer: a strong desire to serve, a talent for efficiency and order, a love of the Church and its history and literature and romance, a lively interest in theology and scholarship, a quick mind and rich intellectual gifts—everything except a simple, all-consuming zeal. He had known this when he began, but had told himself: There is no perfect priest, no priest can have everything, some may have the zeal and nothing else; I will make a good servant of the Lord; what more can be expected of me?
It was never as if he lacked faith or doubted the existence of God. The idea of God sustained him. It is not difficult to believe in God. God is goodness, for which all men yearn; He is the fountainhead of life; He is Our Father Who Art in Heaven, a great concept, and there is noting loftier, nothing nobler, nothing more dignified, nothing more awesome. "God is not mocked," for such a figure is beyond mockery; but the Devil is and has been mocked down through the centuries—he has been a sideshow puppet, a mustache-twirling city slicker, a costume for stage magicians, a trademark for a laxative water. No, it is not difficult to believe in God—the very flesh reaches out for such belief—but for an intelligent man of the twentieth century to wipe from his mind the centuries of ridicule that have been heaped upon the Devil, for him to take the Devil seriously, as seriously as he takes God; that is difficult. And yet to fail in heresy.
Am I a heretic? Gregory thought with a stunning horror. Am I no longer a priest of God?
And—he asked himself—if this is true, how long have I known it? How long have I perhaps tried to wash away that knowledge with liquor?
Heretic. For a priest, it is the most terrifying word in all of language, the most horrifying thought the mind can conceive.
♥ "All the Catholic intellects," said the Bishop; and, spying other names such as Kafka and Baudelaire, he added, "and a few non-Catholics, too."
"Do you think they've corrupted me?" Gregory asked, good-humoredly.
"We corrupt ourselves," said the Bishop. "If a man can be corrupted by a few books, I doubt if there was anything there to begin with."
♥ "I've never had anything against your psychiatric dabbling, Gregory. You may think me an old fogy, but I try to keep up with the times. I'm aware of the work Father Devlin, the analyst, has been doing in Chicago. All of this is fine, but I wonder if you haven't allowed yourself to be seduced by some of the more materialistic views of possession and exorcism? I know, for instance, that demonic possession is considered by many psychiatrists to be no more than an ancient way of saying mental illness. I know that the case in Luke of the woman bowed down by Satan for eighteen years is called hysterical paralysis, and that Christ, in an exorcism mentioned in Mark, is said to have cured a case of what would be called acute mania today. The concept of God and Diabolus struggling for the human soul is accepted only if it is translated into the Freudian jargon—the superego and the id struggling for human reason. This is all very tempting, very clever. But clever people can explain anything their way—you know that. In fact, I can use this same sort of reasoning to explain psychoanalysis my way."
"Certainly. If it is advanced that ancient exorcists who thought they were casting out demons were unwittingly practicing a kind pf primitive psychotherapy—for that's the way the argument goes—then why can't the argument be turned inside out, with no strain on logic?"
"Inside out?" asked Gregory. "How?"
"Why couldn't we say that today's psychoanalysts, while believing they are curing their patients scientifically, are unwittingly practicing a kind of modern demon-exorcism and are in fact casting out the literal Devil from the bodies of their patients? They give their cure a different name, use a different ritual and a different vocabulary, and refuse to recognize Diabolus when they see him, yes, but this may be quite simply explained by going back to Baudelaire. Diabolus wants it that way. His cleverest wile is to convince us he does not exist."
Gregory had to smile: it was an ingenious idea.
The Bishop went on. "Sir Thomas More, a Catholic martyr, and the Protestant, Martin Luther—whom I have as much business citing as I do Baudelaire and Kafka!—both held that ridicule was a potent weapon against Diabolus. Luther said he 'cannot bear scorn.' More said, 'The Devil cannot endure to be mocked.' Well, I'm afraid I quarrel with those gentlemen and go along with Baudelaire. I tell you Diabolus wishes us to mock him, wishes us to diminish his prestige and destroy his legend, wishes us—in order that he may go about his work unhampered—to think him dead. But reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated, Gregory. The mockers are the mocked. Diabolus is very much alive."
♥ When she had been tied down, her arms and legs spread out in a large X and the rope biting into the flesh of her ankles and wrists, Gregory looked down upon her and thought, with sadness: the rack. Stretched and bound to the stark iron bedframe, twisting with the unknown inner torture, she looked like a victim in some medieval dungeon, out to the rack for the low breaking of her body.
Her body will not be broken here, thought Gregory; her limbs will not be stretched, her tendons will not be torn, her bones will not be disjointed; but here on this rack, what vital thing of her might be broken instead? Her mind? And is it possible for even a soul to be broken? To be snapped and sundered into fragments and sent whirling into eternal blackness? There are things worse than death, he had reminded the Bishop. And there is a breaking worse than the breaking of bones.
♥ "I reserve judgment, that's all. I reserve judgment. There was another, you know, another who demanded solid, seeable, touchable proof. Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side—I will not believe. And proof was given to him. Then he said to Thomas, Bring here thy finger, and see my hands; and bring here thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing. Thomas answered and said to him, My Lord and my God!"
"Yes," said the Bishop, pouring himself another cup of coffee. "Very much to the point and very well quoted, but why don't you quote the rest? Jesus said to him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."
"All right," snapped Gregory, rising and walking to the window. "Blessed are they. But proof was not denied Thomas. Nor was sainthood denied him. And yet he doubted. When others were ready to accept everything at face value, he withheld. I admire Thomas. He is my favorite among all the apostles, all the saints. I feel a kinship with him."
♥ "Your Excellency, how can I go on?"
"As we all go on, Gregory," said the Bishop, kindly, "hour to hour and day to day, taking problems as they come and solving them. As they come: that's important. First things first."
♥ Through his tears, his voice twisted out of shape, Gregory made words. "Oh dear Jesus. Why? Why to me? Why did this happen to me? What did I do? What did I do that was so terrible, so unforgivable? What? What?"
"Gregory... my son..."
"Because I had doubts? Is that it? Is that why? Is it? Other men have had doubts... disciples, apostles, saints! Is it such a sin? Such a sin to have a mind?"
♥ FATHER JAMES HALLORAN: No. I am to blame. Truly to blame. Ask Father Sargent. He knows what I mean.
BISHOP CONRAD CRIMMINGS: Do you, Gregory?
FATHER JAMES HALLORAN: I may.
FATHER JAMES HALLORAN: It was just a mistake, yes, but why do people make mistakes? Father Sargent—you know about such things. The unconscious mind, slips of the tongue and the hand; seemingly meaningless, seemingly accidental slips that are really an expression of anxieties and hostilities deep within the mind. Isn't that so?
FATHER GREGORY SARGENT: Yes, but—
FATHER JAMES HALLORAN: Hennessy put in the palm of my hand the little bottle that contained Garth's heart medicine. His life. And when I withheld it from Garth, I murdered him. Not only did I murder him—I also violated the confessional, for I used my knowledge. Unconsciously, yes, but I used it all the same, just as if I had removed a time bomb from under my bed. That's what it was like—a time bomb in my brain, ticking and ticking for days and nights, for weeks, until—dear God forgive me!
BISHOP CONRAD CRIMMINGS: My boy, there is no question of God forgiving you. You cannot be blamed for the workings of your unconscious mind. The Church would never consider what you did a violation of the confessional.
FATHER JAMES HALLORAN: Perhaps the Church simply has never had anything quite like this to contend with.
BISHOP CONRAD CRIMMINGS: Nonsense, nonsense.
FATHER JAMES HALLORAN: Are you sure, Your Excellency? Can you be sure? Think of it. If a priest can violate the confessional at the whim of his unconscious mind, if he does not have control over his total self, then the confessional is meaningless! It becomes a farce! Oh God. Think about it, Your Excellency. Think hard about it, I beg you.