Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

True Or False Possession?
How to distinguish the Demonic from the Demented

Jean Lhermitte
Sophia Institute Press
ISBN 978-1-933184-89-0

Book CoverJean Lhermitte (1877-1959) was one of the most famous neurologists of his generation. He was also a psychiatrist and fully believing Catholic. In the context of this work, this means he believed in the existence of the devil and in the possibility of demonic possession. However, as psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty notes in his important introduction, this work was published in 1956, when most Catholics took the existence of the devil for granted. The author's intention is to remind readers that whenever unusual behaviours occur in people, a naturalistic explanation needs to be considered first.
Thus in the case of Marie Therese Noblet, it is easy to understand why people thought that she was a classic case of someone possessed.

However, the presentation could be explained in medical terms. Even more unusual was the case of Sister Jeanne of the Angels from the famous Ursuline convent at Loudon. However extraordinary the manifestations, they could be explained by a diagnosis of hysteria.

A truly disturbing case was that of Magdalene of the Cross. She appeared to have the stigmata and she could live for months without food. She was thought to very holy. But she turned out to be a fraud and worse: she had made a pact with the devil well before the extraordinary manifestations.

Doctor Lhermitte was too good a psychiatrist to attribute all unusual phenomena to the devil. He was also too orthodox a Catholic to deny all possibility of demonic activity. What he is asking for is a thorough discernment in such cases. The work needs to be read within this context.

This is an excellent resource on a very important subject.