- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

No more time should be allowed to lapse without acknowledging M. Scott Peck’s Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism and Redemption (Free Press, $26, 259 pages), the last book penned by this author before he died Sept. 25. It’s no surprise Mr. Peck returned to the topic that fascinated him so in “People of the Lie,” his earlier book on demon possession.

Here, he reveals his muse behind it all: the fiery, controversial Malachi Martin, a Catholic priest who wrote pot boilers about the devil and the Catholic church before he died in 1999 and who referred Mr. Peck to the two cases of demonic possession that take up most of this book.

The bulk of the narrative follows two possessed women who were delivered of their demons after exorcisms lasting several days. One “took” with the woman reportedly healthy and happy at the writing of the book. The other slipped back into depression and suicide.

The author offers insights into the nature of Satan, the spiritual geography of hell and thoughts on what led to the ejection of Satan from heaven eons ago. Mr. Peck says he told the devil during one of the exorcisms that “You hate human beings so much because God decided to create them higher than even you, who were once the bearer of light and the chief of all angels.”

Mr. Peck reveals little about his own spiritual preparation for these marathon exorcisms, such as whether he fasted, prayed or concentrated on specific scriptures. The devil can always be made to flee, he says, but at a price. Mr. Peck’s engaging writing style, which molds dialogue, theological insights and other helpful information, moves the narrative along. What a shame he cannot write a sequel from where he is now.

Few authors have written about the cosmic tragedy that split the forces of heaven before the founding of the world. Wendy Alec, The Fall of Lucifer (Realms, $12.99, 292 pages), is an exception. The Bible only sketchily refers to the pride of Lucifer, heaven’s chief archangel whose attempt to usurp God’s throne led to his damnation.

A Christian publisher commissioned a Virginia author to write a trilogy, “Chronicles of Brothers,” about the relationship between Lucifer and archangels Michael and Gabriel while all three were in heaven. It’s a worthy topic and few writers in English literature have tackled it. Mrs. Alec is no John Milton and her book no “Paradise Lost.” The prose is purple, the editing is sloppy; she describes angels that bleed, which a pure spirit would not do. She reports that God has DNA and Lucifer keeps a journal.

But the questions she raises are haunting. Why did God create Lucifer, knowing he’d rebel and take one-third of the angels with him? Why did God create man in His own image if angels were present to serve Him? This is a question posed by Lucifer: “Why man?” he asks a pre-incarnate Christ in heaven. “Were we not enough? Was not I enough for Him?” Lucifer’s chief sin here is not pride, but jealousy and self-pity.

At one point in the narrative, Christ and the angels tell the fallen Lucifer he can still repent. Lucifer decides he has been offended too deeply and presses on, determined to destroy man, who seemingly has supplanted him. This book points out that it was God’s love for man that got Him in hot water with His angels.

In The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns, (Doubleday/Image, $14.95, 256 pages), Elizabeth Kuhns gives a respectful and entrancing look at why nuns dress as they do. This book takes their habits seriously.

One learns that consecrated virgins began living together by the third century, clothing themselves in dark tunics and cloaks. By the time Roman persecution of Christians ceased in the fourth century, sisterhoods were living openly and thus was born the nun, wearing a black tunic, white veil and black cloak and often going shoeless.

Around the 11th century, nuns took on elaborate headdresses, such as Sally Field did in “Flying Nun.” Women of that era were covered up; European women wore veils and wimples when leaving the house.

The 12th century saw a boom in religious orders with many thousands of people entering convents and monasteries, which is why, in 1215, the Lateran Council mandated more uniform habits for nuns, priests and monks.

By the 1300s, nuns were dressing in the fabrics of widows or in the plain garb of the poor. A few took on peasant dress. Their dress did not change much until the Second Vatican Council, which modernized many habits quickly in the 20th century. The photos help a lot in this book that shows a not-so-familiar side of the lives of Catholic women.

Anyone wishing graceful entry into the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — or at least an explanation of what this fast-growing denomination’s theology is all about — will get it in Jana Reiss’ useful introduction to The Book of Mormon: Selections Annotated and Explained (Skylight Paths, $16.99, 234 pages).

The author, who converted to the religion as an adult by reading “The Book of Mormon,” plainly loves the scriptures of the Latter-day Saints. Her aim is to assemble a medley of Mormon teachings that offer some insight into what Mormons believe and practice.

The author believes that on Sept. 21, 1823, 17-year-old Joseph Smith had a vision of the angel Moroni in Manchester, N.Y. The revelations he subsequently wrote down supposedly date back to 600 years before Christ, though critics have said they are laced with 19th-century references. The author promises the reader that there are explanations for the inconsistencies.

Moroni is said to have shown Joseph ancient plates buried nearby in “reformed Egyptian,” a language the young man did not know. But he translated the plates with the help of a “seer stone” and dictated their contents to various human scribes; a process that took about two and one-half years. Since then, more than 120 million copies of “The Book of Mormon” have been sold.

The story is similar to that of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, who also claimed an angel appeared to him with revelations. Both religions are now among the world’s fastest growing. The author clearly feels “The Book of Mormon” is divinely inspired and includes supporting Bible texts next to the Mormon scriptures in her book.

She helpfully explains tenets of Mormon theology: for instance, that Mormons believe Eve made a courageous choice in eating the apple in the Garden of Eden and thus do not believe in original sin. For anyone wishing to tackle “The Book of Mormon,” this book is a helpful introduction.

Julia Duin is The Washington Times’ religion writer.

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