- A History of Anglican Exorcism: Deliverance and Demonology in Church Ritual by Francis Young
The resurgence of demonic possession in modern Anglican spirituality has received a considerable amount of scholarly attention. Given that for over three centuries the Church of England was largely skeptical of postapostolic possessions and placed strict limitations on the conditions under which an exorcism could take place, this shift in ecclesiastical policy during the mid-twentieth century is indeed a development that merits further analysis. Following his study on Catholic exorcism (A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity, 2016), Francis Young turns his focus to this ritual in the Anglican tradition. In A History of Anglican Exorcism: Deliverance and Demonology in Church Ritual, Young presents an engrossing intellectual history of the theological, canonical, and liturgical development of exorcism in Anglicanism. He examines whether an Anglican "tradition" of exorcism is historically tenable. As such, A History of Anglican Exorcism provides the first complete historical study of Anglican exorcism and, more importantly, a significant entry in the field of church history.
A History of Anglican Exorcism commences in the latter half of the sixteenth century, a period covered extensively in the relevant literature by scholars such as Marion Gibson and Thomas Freeman. In his first chapter, Young explores the paradoxical relationship that the Church of England has historically shared with demonic possession and exorcism, demonstrating that this ritual was largely accepted in the Church of England until the late sixteenth century. After a few controversial cases in this period, exorcism (or "dispossession") was labeled as a threat to spiritual unity, perceived to be linked with both Catholicism and Puritanism. The High Commission of the renowned Puritan exorcist John Darrell in the late 1590s effectively condemned exorcism as heterodoxy, leading to the introduction of significant ecclesiastical reform in 1604. Canon 72 of the Church of England, while not denying the reality of demonic possession, stipulated that exorcisms required episcopal permission. This canon, as Young highlights in successive chapters, "ensured that an anti-exorcistic tradition would dominate the Church of England until the twentieth century" (17).
One of the biggest contributions to the scholarship that A History of Anglican Exorcism offers is the subject covered in chapters 2 and 3. Few scholars have examined the status of Anglican exorcism in the post-1604 context, and Young [End Page 159] does much to address this substantial gap in the scholarship. He intricately illustrates how exorcism in the Anglican tradition was pushed to the periphery but never completely suppressed. With belief in demonic possession continuing, particularly at the rural level, demands for exorcism persisted, and the laity developed more nuanced understandings of this spiritual affliction. For example, the exorcism of ghosts developed as a viable alternative to that of demoniacs, successfully circumnavigating Canon 72 and fostering demands for exorcisms over the next few centuries.
In the Victorian era, demonic possession reemerged as a viable spiritual experience. With the confluence of competing spiritual movements, exorcism began to shift to the forefront of Anglican spirituality. Early Pentecostalism placed emphasis on spiritual healing, shaping the construction of exorcism in the Anglican faith. In what Young terms the "supernatural turn," the Anglican Church moved to denounce popular occultism while simultaneously embracing the demonological language that it advocated, while throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, "spiritualism changed the terms of internal debate about the preternatural within the Church of England," thereby preparing "the way for a more accepting attitude towards possession and exorcism" (95). Interconfessional rivalry also influenced this shift as the Catholic Church was perceived as retreating from exorcism at this time. Exorcism has long been recognized as an effective form of spiritual propaganda, and the Anglican Church's attempts to move into this vacant space illustrated that they were prepared to mount a substantial offensive against Roman Catholicism.
In the twentieth century, exorcism came to prominence through the efforts of a number of Anglican exorcists and demonologists. As Young demonstrates through careful analysis of demonological publications and personal writings, figures such...