Girolamo Menghi (1529–1609) was a Franciscan friar and leading EXORCIST of the Italian Renaissance. Girolamo Menghi wrote extensively on Demonology and Exorcism prior to the codification of exorcism rites in Pope Paul V’s Rituale Romanum in 1614.
Menghi was born in 1529 in Viadana, Mantua, Italy. At age 20, he entered the Franciscan order of the Frati dell’Osservanza in Bologna, where he studied theology. He became famous as a preacher and was named superior of a Franciscan province in 1598.
An excellent scholar and writer, he authored numerous theological books, the most famous of which were on Demons and exorcism: Flagellum daemonum (The Devil’s Scourge), 1576; Compendio dell’arte essorcistica, 1576; Remedia probatissima in lamignos spiritus expellendos (1579); and Fustis daemonum (Club against Demons), 1584. His books were immediately successful, especially Compendio and Flagellum. Menghi considered the battle against Demons to be extremely important.
Characteristics of Demons
Menghi supported the view that the Devil was originally created good and chose evil. However, the Devil was not the principle of evil itself. The Devil and Demons were created as beings superior to humans, with perfect intellect, memory, and will. They are able to see into humans, know their weaknesses, and know their future actions. Demons are clever and crafty and know the truth of all things by experience, revelation, and nature. However, they cannot force humans into sin but only tempt and persuade them to make sinful choices. Demons can dominate matter through possession and can appear in human form, even in the guise of beautiful men and women and saints. They engage in sexual intercourse with humans and are capable of producing children from such unions. They will eat and drink as humans, but they do not digest any of it; whatever they consume dissolves into its preexisting matter.
Orders of Demons
Menghi was influenced by the works of MICHAEL PSELLUS and envisioned a hierarchy of Demons according to functions, spheres of activity, and habits, in much the same way that angels were arranged in hierarchies. The lowest types of Demons are elflike Demons (l’infimo choro) who appear at night to play tricks to harm people and the incubi and succubi who tempt people into sexual activities. All of these Demons are harmful but not malevolent.
According to Menghi, the first order of Demons are the “fiery ones” (Leliureon), who inhabit the air near the Sun. The second order is that of Demons of the air (Aerea), who live in the air nearest to humans. The Aerea are vain and constantly compare themselves to God. They push people to be conceited and vain. The third order is that of earth Demons (Terreo), who tempt people to immorality and put filthy thoughts into their heads.
The worst and most dangerous Demons are in the fourth through sixth orders. The fourth order is that of water Demons (Acquatile or Marino), who live in lakes, seas, and rivers, where they like to cause storms and sink ships. The fifth order includes subterranean Demons (Sotterranei), who torment miners, cause earthquakes, destabilize the world, and throw stones. They are cruel and enjoy tormenting people. The Sotteranei disguise themselves as servants of magicians and sorcerers (see Familiar). Last and most deadly are the Lucifogo, who are dark and mysterious and avoid light. They will kill people in cold blood and should be avoided at all costs.
Menghi wrote extensively on Demonic pacts made by witches, or Lamiae. The witches had sex with Demonic incubi and succubi and swore fidelity to the Devil. Candidates for initiation worshipped the Devil as if he were God. They were assigned a familiar Demon, called Martinetto, disguised as a ram, who trained them and always accompanied them. The witches killed and ate babies, especially those who were unbaptized. They used their Devil-given magical powers to predict the future and persuade others to follow the Devil. They caused abortions and killed with the Evil Eye.
Demonic Possession and Exorcism
Menghi called possession victims fetoni, or “stinkers.” Even the most holy persons could become possessed. When Demons possess a person, they put on great shows of magical tricks. Menghi lamented the lack of skilled exorcists in his time. Exorcisms were essential to the mission of the church, he said, and had to be carried out with great pity.
Exorcists must be aware of their own unworthiness and have great humility. They must have great purity of heart and be morally sound. The playing of sacred music is especially effective against Demons. Exorcists must use harsh words and Curses in their attacks against the Demons. Great care should be taken in the use of saints’ relics and crucifixes, for if they are not genuine, the Demons will mock them and render them useless. Anything touched by a Demoniac must be blessed. Sometimes it may be necessary for a Demoniac to abandon his or her house, if the Demons have thoroughly contaminated everything in it. Menghi said it is best to perform exorcisms in a sacred place, such as a church, and before an audience, after the acts of Jesus, who performed exorcisms before crowds.
- Menghi, Giolamo. The Devil’s Scourge: Exorcism during the Italian Renaissance. York Beach, Me.: Samuel Weiser, 2002.