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Fr. Gabriele Amorth: The Levels, Kinds, and Stages of Demonic Activity

I thought I would put together this list of the levels of demonic activity. The right vocabulary can be really important here, even for laymen such as myself, but sometimes it's hard to find. As Fr. Amorth writes, "There are few books on the subject and a lack of common language." 

First off, who is Fr. Gabriele Amorth? He was the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome. He died on September 16, 2016, but, while he lived, was perhaps Public Enemy No. 1 to Satan. Fr. Amorth was also responsible for training many other exorcist priests and exorcist associates, like Adam Blai. 

More than anyone else, Fr. Amorth may be responsible for re-establishing the order of exorcist-priests, whose numbers were decimated post-Vatican II.

Several movies have been inspired by Fr. Amorth. There was The Rite starring Anthony Hopkins, which was pretty decent. There was also the recent Russell Crowe film The Pope's Exorcist which was pretty indecent. Viewer beware. 

Fr. Amorth's books are much better!

The levels of demonic attack according to Fr. Gabriele Amorth

As always, before we begin, let us pray that God's angels protect us by invoking St. Michael the Archangel. Let us pray the Prayer to St. Michael together:

Prayer for the protection of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!
Mother Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us!
Christ, hear us,
Christ, graciously hear us

    Speaking of books, I have also written a history of modern exorcisms, which you can find by clicking below. Now, also an audiobook!  

    The following classification of demonic activity, the various levels of demonic activity, is from the 1999 translation of Fr. Amorth's autobiography, An Exorcist Tells His Story.

    Ordinary Demonic Activity vs. Extra-Ordinary Demonic Activity

    "What harm can the devil cause to the living?" Fr. Amorth begins with a bit of understatement.[1] 

    I hope this will be a helpful, handy resource for you. It's one I have needed, but could not find well-situated online. As stated above, it is sometimes difficult to get a simple list of the levels of demonic activity, for whatever reason. Fr. Amorth explains this:

    There are few books on the subject and a lack of common language. I will now attempt to define the words that I will use in this book. 

    Satan and his minions tempt us, all of us, every day. This is the common, ordinary activity of the fallen angels. 

    Before undertaking a description of the levels of extraordinary demonic activity, Fr. Amorth describes the "ordinary activity" of the demonic:  

    Ordinary activity. This is “temptation”, which is the most common activity of the demons, and it is directed against all men. When Jesus allowed Satan to tempt him, he accepted our human condition. I will not talk about this common diabolical endeavor, because the purpose of this book is to highlight Satan’s “extraordinary activity“, which can take place only if God so allows. 

    Now, for those six extra-ordinary forms ...  

    The Six Kinds or Levels of Extraordinary Demonic Activity

    In An Exorcist Tells His Story, the late Father Gabriele Amorth, renowned chief exorcist of Rome, identified the following kinds of extraordinary demonic activity, as opposed to ordinary, daily demonic temptation. 

    #1. "External Physical Pain Caused by Satan": Demonic Attacks on Holy Men and Women

    First, Fr. Amorth describes “external physical pain caused by Satan.” An example of this is Padre Pio being tormented by the hounds of hell. 

    St. Thérèse of Lisieux also suffered this kind of torment as a child, as I have written about here, until freed by Our Lady of the Smile.

    1. External physical pain caused by Satan. We know of this from many lives of the saints. We know that Saint Paul of the Cross, the Cure of Ars, Padre Pio, and many others were beaten, flogged, and pummeled by demons. This external form of persecution does not affect the soul; there- lore with this type there has never been the need for an exorcism, only for prayers. 

    This kind of demonic activity is a direct attack on Satan's enemies. This is the kind of attack suffered by holy men and women. This is outright warfare. The victim did not give any kind of consent or assent to these attacks.   

    The Five Kinds of Diabolical Activity that Involve Exorcists [In order of Decreasing Gravity]

    "Here I will dwell only on the other types of actions that directly affect exorcists," Fr. Amorth continues. 

    Fr. Amorth goes on to describe the kinds of demonic activity that involve exorcists, like himself. These are demonic possession, oppression, obsession, infestation, and subjugation or dependence. 

    NOTE: Except for the last one, subjugation, these levels appear to be in order of decreasing gravity:

    The Big Three: Possession, Oppression, Obsession

    These are the three kinds of demonic attack on persons. These are three that are most often described, mentioned, and confused. They are presented below in decreasing gravity. From lowest to highest level of attack, they are Obsession, Oppression, and Possession.  

    #2. Diabolical Possession

    Here we go. Full-blown demonic possession, the highest level of demonic attack:

    2. Demonic possession. This occurs when Satan takes full possession of the body (not the soul); he speaks and acts without the knowledge or consent of the victim, who therefore is morally blameless. It is the gravest and most spectacular form of demonic afflictions, and it attracts the attention of producers of movies such as The Exorcist. According to the Ritual for exorcisms, some of the signs of possession include: speaking in tongues, extraordinary strength, and revealing the unknown. The man of Gerasa [the Gerasene demoniac] is a clear Gospel example of possession. To fix a set “model” for demonic possession would be a serious mistake; the affliction runs the gamut of symptoms and severity. For instance, I have exorcised two totally possessed persons who remained perfectly still and silent during the exorcism. I could cite many other examples and as many different symptoms. 

    #3. Diabolical Oppression

    Job's boils and the "thorn" in St. Paul's side are examples of Demonic Oppression, as Fr. Amorth describes below:  

    3. Diabolical oppression. Symptoms vary from a very serious to a mild illness. There is no possession, loss of consciousness, or involuntary action and word. The Bible gives us many examples of oppression; one of them is Job. He was not possessed, but he lost his children, his goods, and his health. The bent woman and the deaf and dumb man who were cured by Jesus were not subject to total possession, but there was a demonic presence that caused physical discomfort. Saint Paul was most certainly not possessed by a demon, but he had a demonic oppression that caused an evil affliction: “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me” (2 Cor 12:7).

    Fr. Amorth also addresses the relatively common occurrence of Demonic Oppression, relative at least to Demonic Possession:

    There is no doubting the evil origin of the affliction. While possessions are still relatively rare today, we exorcists run into a great number of people who have been struck by the devil in their health, jobs, or relationships. We must make it clear that to diagnose and heal an oppression-related illness is not any easier than to diagnose and cure a person afflicted by full possession. The degree of gravity may be different, but the difficulty of the diagnosis and the amount of time involved in healing are the same. 

    #4. Diabolical Obsession 

    Fr. Amorth describes the difficulty in differentiating Demonic Obsession with mental illness. It is also important to note the seemingly subtle difference between temptations at the obsession-level and ordinary pervasive temptations. 

    4. Diabolic obsession. Symptoms include sudden attacks, at times ongoing, of obsessive thoughts, sometimes even rationally absurd, but of such nature that the victim is unable to free himself. Therefore the obsessed person lives in a perpetual state of prostration, desperation, and attempts at suicide. Almost always obsession influences dreams. Some people will say that this is evidence of mental illness, requiring the services of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. The same could be said of all other forms of demonic phenomena. Some symptoms, however, are so inconsistent with known illnesses that they point with certainty to their evil origins. Only an expert and well-trained eye can identify the crucial differences. 

    #5. Diabolical Infestation

     This kind of demonic attack does not really involve people. It involves things:

    5. Diabolic infestation. Infestations affect houses, things, or animals. This book will only mention the topic. I merely want to state that I will never use this term when I refer to persons. I will always talk about possession, oppression, and obsession. 

    #6. Diabolical Subjugation or Dependence 

    Though last, this could be the worst of them all. This is the kind of demonic attack inflicted on those who practice witchcraft, black magic, and the like. The devil ultimately consumes those who serve him. 

    As stated above, this one is the exception to the decreasing order of magnitude.  

    6. Diabolical subjugation, or dependence. People fall into this form of evil when they voluntarily submit to Satan. The two most common forms of dependence are the blood pact with the devil and the consecration to Satan. 

    Please take a moment to again invoke the protection of St. Michael the Archangel, not just for ourselves, but for our loved ones and especially for those for whom nobody is praying:   

    Prayer for St. Michael's protection


    Footnotes: Levels of Demonic Activity from Fr. Gabriele Amorth

     [1] Fr. Gabriele Amorth, translator Nicoletta V. MacKenzie, An Exorcist Tells His Story, Ignatius Press (1999), San Francisco: p. 32-35.

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