A news article from 2001 caught my eye that is deserving of some comment.
The late Roman Catholic nun, commonly known as “Mother Teresa,” reputedly had an “exorcism” performed on her while she was hospitalized in 1997. This was reported recently by Henry D’Souza, “Archbishop” of Calcutta. The disclosure was made during the celebration of the fourth anniversary of the famous lady’s death.
But “Archbishop” D’Souza has assured his flock that the exorcism will not affect the nun’s candidacy for “sainthood.” He insisted the need for the exorcism (expulsion of demons) was merely a sign of her human side. He claims the exorcism took place in a hospital where Teresa was admitted just before her death on September 5, 1997 — at age eighty-seven.
Several thoughts come to mind when reflecting upon this episode.
First, we must make this observation regarding the gentleman who made the announcement. The only office equivalent to an “archbishop,” mentioned in the New Testament, is that occupied by Jesus Christ. Peter refers to the Lord as tou archipoimenos, “the chief shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4; cf. Heb. 13:20). The use of the definite article excludes others from assuming such a grandiose position. The pyramidal ecclesiastical structure of the Roman church is without the authority of New Testament law. For many this would seem to be a trivial point. For those who honor the authority of the New Testament, however, it is not.
Second, it is acknowledged that this respected lady was dedicated to her profession at an admirable level of self-sacrifice — perhaps more so than that of many others who profess to follow Christ. Nonetheless, the careful Bible student knows that a superabundance of good works and self-deprivation are not substitutes for humble submission to the conditions of the Lord’s plan of redemption (Eph. 2:8-9). Jesus is not the Savior of those who merely pile up charitable deeds; rather he is the author of salvation to those who obey him (Heb. 5:9). This will include compassionate acts, but such kindnesses are not sufficient within themselves. Upon this truth each of us must keep our attention riveted.
Third, the “mother” status bestowed upon the venerable lady is contrary to the spirit of the Lord’s instruction. Jesus forbade the adoption of clerical titles, e.g., “Rabbi,” “father,” and “master” (Mt. 23:7-10). Such nomenclature stratifies people into levels of varying importance, and is antagonistic to the disposition of truly “serving” others. Of this passage, professor Robert Mounce has said: “What Jesus is speaking against is the tendency to develop ecclesiastical hierarchies that elevate certain person above others. The only hierarchy that the church is to know is Jesus as Teacher and God as Father” (“Matthew,” New International Biblical Commentary, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991, p. 215).
Fourth, the matter of “exorcising” demons is but another reminder that the Roman Church remains steeped in superstition. While demon-possession was a reality of the first century (cf. Mt. 12:22ff; Mk. 16:17; Acts 19:11ff), such was a temporary phenomenon. This circumstance provided Christ and his apostles with the opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of divine power over that of the satanic (cf. 1 Jn. 4:4). Both demon-possession, and the corresponding gift of expulsion, were designed to confirm the revelatory process, and they were to “cease” when the New Testament documents were completed (1 Cor. 13:8ff). For further study see: Archives — “Miracles” and “Demons: Ancient Superstition or Historical Reality?”.
Finally, the road to “sainthood” is not by means of a fabricated process called “beatification” and “canonization,” as alleged by the Roman Church. The word “saint” is derived from a Greek word meaning “separated.” The term refers to an ordinary member of Christ’s church who has submitted to the conditions of gospel obedience (Phil. 1:1; 4:21; 2 Thes. 1:10).
A saint (hagios) is one who has gone through the process of sanctification (hagiasmos). It thus denotes one who has been “separated” from the world, and who enjoys a special relationship with the Lord. The process of being “sanctified,” or becoming a “saint,” includes: believing in Christ (Mk. 16:16), repenting of sin (Acts 2:38), and consummating those acts of obedience by the “washing of water” (Eph. 5:26; 1 Cor. 6:11) — which is an allusion to baptism. Note the use of “sanctified” in the two passages just cited.
While one may admire the dedication of a person who unselfishly serves others, it remains a grim, spiritual reality that — zeal without knowledge and obedience is valueless (Rom. 10:1-3).