Medicinal exorcisms: The "ritual virtues" of the "Remedia Efficacissima", and the work of Girolamo Menghi

Date of Completion

January 1998


History, European|Health Sciences, Pharmacy|History, Modern|History of Science




My dissertation is an in-depth examination of a late sixteenth-century Italian exorcism manual entitled the Remedia Efficacissima in Malignos Spiritus Expellendos. What is significant about this particular book is that it used medical simples in its exorcisms. It demonstrates that medicine and theology were very interactive and interdependent areas of thought from 1550 to 1700, when it and other such exorcism “manuals” achieved widespread popularity evidenced by their large number and multiple editions. ^ Part of my study is based on a recently developed theoretical model called the emblematic world view. That model explains how many sixteenth-century naturalists, doctors, and theologians could integrate theology, medicine, and natural history into a single theoretical system of interactive agents. The system was held together by a cosmological structure that combined basic Christian theology with important aspects of sixteenth-century Neoplatonism. These ideas were common in other areas of thought, but exorcism rituals acted as the ideal place to blend them all together. ^ The Remedia is the focus of my work because it most clearly reveals how the components of the above mentioned system worked together. It contains most explicit instructions on how to use medicines in an exorcism. Although no author was named, the Remedia was published with the books of Girolamo Menghi, the most authoritative exorcist of the period. The complication is that most historians have assumed that Menghi condemned the actions of exorcists who used medicines. Thus, what historians have assumed about Menghi's theology fails explain how his apparently orthodox views could be associated with medicinal exorcism manuals like the Remedia. ^ My main thesis is that the meaning and theological validity of many of these manuals, including the Remedia and all of Menghi's signed books, actually made use of both medicine and natural history and that the idea was common and well received. Menghi himself actually condoned the use of medicines in exorcisms so long as a few simple precautions were taken. Indeed, the enormous popularity of these books is easy to understand once it is realized how multidimensional and common the supporting ideas actually were. ^