The Devil and the Nun: Story of Saving and Selling the Soul

Light of truth

Paul Thelakat

Mariam Thresia of Chiramel Mankidiyan family (26 April 1876 – 8 June 1926) of Puthenchira was canonised on October 13 in Vatican. It is a proud moment for the Indian church as a whole and the Syro-Malabar church in particular. She is a nun who entered the convent life at the beginning of the 20th century when convent life had not caught the imagination of girls in the church in Kerala. Here was a fervent rustic lady with passion for the Lord and a call to the apostolate of family life. She was tormented by the devil, which was a very familial term in the vocabulary of her religious and Christian life. Today boys and girls may not see demons in every nook and corner of life. From 1902 to 1905 she was subjected to several exorcisms from Venerable Joseph Vithayathil – under the orders of the local bishop – and from 1902 it was Vithayathil who became her spiritual director until her death. In 1913 she set up a house at Puthenchira and on 14 May 1914 founded the Congregation of the Holy Family to which she was professed in and vested in its habit; she was the first superior of the order. She was said to have had a range of spiritual experiences such as receiving the stigmata and hid this from public view; she first had this in 1905 though it became more visible on 27 January 1909. Since its foundation in 1914 her Congregation has grown to 9 provinces with over 1949 sisters. As the stories of her demoniac possession and her canonisation takes palace, in her own land another tragic story of serial murders is the hot news. A Catholic woman, is suspected to have killed six people in a span of 17 years using deadly potassium cyanide. There is shock and trepidation in the community as the details of the bizarre story keeps unfolding.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) tells the Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. In Doctor Faustus, Mephistopheles, the devil proposes, “I shall wait on Faustus whilst he lives, So he will buy my service with his soul” (2.1.31-2). Mephistopheles enters the play like a Franciscan friar. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11.14 ) In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan flippantly describes his conquest in Eden: “A World who would not purchase with a bruise” (10.500). For Faustus and Satan, it appears that souls and worlds are commodities that can be traded or purchased; they are things that have exchange-value. The tendency to commodify is a profoundly capitalistic one, and it is clearly demonized in Doctor Faustus and Paradise Lost, as are capitalist values and practices in general.Marlowe’s play and Milton’s epic are two particularly fraught examples, while Marlowe’s drama offers little hope for the capitalist—as Faustus is torn asunder by the devils—Milton reveals an economic path of righteousness for the faithful trying to navigate their way through Satan’s economy. In Capital, Marx writes, “In order… to find an analogy [to commodity fetishism], we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world.” Marx is here referring to an ‘analogy’ between idolatry and commodity fetishism. Mephistopheles asks the soul of Faustus and Faustus says “Ay, Mephistopheles, I give it thee.” What did he get back? “Lucifer and Mephistopheles. Ah, gentlemen, I gave them my soul for my cunning!” The rationale behind the market is the cunning rationality that looks only to its private interest.

Cunning is something other than trickery. The most open activity is the greatest cunning. The power of Reason will take care of the other and will destroy the other in deceit. If reason is as cunning, it will do its job without the divine. Cunning of Reason thus in no way involves faith in the other. There is a secret guiding hand of reason which guarantees that all the apparent reason is the trap to the certainty that, no matter how well-planned things are, something will go to its destination of the subjugation of the ego.If anyone was fooled by the cunning of reason it is oneself.

Faustus says. “Consummatumest; this bill is ended…Homo, fuge: whither should I fly? If unto God, he’ll throw me down to hell. My senses are deceiv’d; here’s nothing writ: I see it plain; here in this place is writ, Homo, fuge: yet shall not Faustus fly.” We can see an image of the devil toiling away in the heart of Judas: “he entered into the heart of Judas, and put in him this greedinesse, and covetousnesse of gaine, for which he was content to sell his master. Judas heart was the shop, the Divell was the foreman to worke in it…” Faustus is an “erring star.” That Faustus is, in many ways, an everyman, particularly in his bourgeois traits and values, his inability to recognize the value of things, and his psychological torment in the face of this confusing world of demonic capitalism, evokes a grave vision of the early modern subject grappling with the changing economic milieu. He is, in any case, is representative of some of the nastiest consequences of capitalism—and the most disturbing for Renaissance subjects. The text speaks to us as an utterance of dismay, an unwillingness to embrace this yet nameless thing, telling us to call it the devil and send it back to hell. Faustus is an “erring star.” So is the lady who killed six in her capitalistic craving for wealth with cyanide poison who put on the mask of an angel.

In our highly technological and scientific world of consumer market devil remains a myth of old generations. We live in secular world where as Mephistopheles says “marriage is but a ceremonial toy’’ “hell’s a fable” and men and women no longer believe in the metaphysics of magicians.

There are two theories of devil in the Catholic Church, there is conservative view that devils are real personal realities. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: ‘The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.’” Angels, the Catechism says, are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings.” “They are personal and immortal creatures,” it adds, who “have intelligence and will.” But there is another that says devil are real but poetic being who exist in life and literature. The superior general of the Society of Jesus who is known as the Black Pope said on Aug. 21, 2019 that the devil is a symbol, not a person. The devil, “exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because he is not a person, but a way of acting evil. He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life,” Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, said, in an interview with Italian magazine Tempi. Every man is in wrestle with the devil in him, the way up and the way down are not two ways but one and the same way – the way to heaven and the way to hell.

In the story of the wrestle of Jacob in the Bible we read: “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until day break. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” (Gene.32:24-25.). It was the story of a wrestle in the dark night of the soul. The winner was the divine and Jacob is the defeated and wounded. That changed the man: “And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’Then he said, ‘Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” (Gen.32:28).“What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”(Rom.7:15-20). This is not an autobiographical statement of St Paul a statement on every man. This again is the story of St Mariam Thressia in whose life one finds the wrestle with the devil, her dark night of the soul, where the divine is vanquished leaving her with wounds. The confession of Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov is true of every man: “Gentlemen, we’re all cruel, we’re all monsters, we all make men weep, and mothers, and babes at the breast, but of all, let it be settled here, now, of all that I am the lowest reptile! I’ve sworn to amend, and every day I’ve done the same filthy things. I understand now that such men as I need a blow, a blow of destiny to catch them as with a noose, and bind them by a force from without. Never, never should I have risen of myself! but the thunderbolt has fallen. I accept the torture of accusation, and my public shame; I want to suffer and by suffering I shall be purified. Perhaps I shall be purified, gentlemen?” Herman Hesse wrote: “There can be no noble, no higher life without the knowledge of devils and demons and without a constant struggle against them.” A Christian has only one play or one novel, his own story of the wrestling with the creator. “Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges,” wrote the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges. Mariam Thresisa got the grace of the wrestle – the blow from heaven. After the wrestle Jacob limbs and meets his arch-rival, his brother whom he feared. As they embraced Jacob said: “for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God”(Gen.33:10).The wrestle created the epiphany of the face of God in the brother. Mariam Thressia’s evangelical activities her congregation all are the result of the wrestle and the epiphany of the face of God. Kazantzakis wrote the wrestle of Francis in his dark night thus: “The two of them have been wrestling inside me for ages. This struggle has lasted my whole life – I want you to realize that. They may take on different names – God and Satan, spirit and flesh, good and bad, light and darkness – but they always remain my mother and father. My father cries within me: “Earn money, get rich, use your gold to buy a coat of arms, become a nobleman. Only the rich and the nobility deserve to live in the world. Don’t be good; once good, you’re finished! If someone chips one tooth in your mouth, break his whole jaw in return. Do not try to make people love you; try to make them fear you. Do not forgive: strike! …. And my mother, her voice trembling within me, says to me softly, fearfully, lest my father hear her: ‘Be good, dear Francis, and you shall have my blessing. You must love the poor, the humble, the oppressed. If someone injures you, forgive him.”

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