The Nun movie poster

‘The Nun’ hit movie theaters this fall, generating discussions about the role demons play in the story of Catholicism.


During the Halloween season, it’s a popular tradition to watch horror movies. A really scary movie can engage our “fight or flight” response, keeping us on edge as our bodies are pumped up with adrenaline and dopamine.

One such film that came out recently was James Wan’s “The Nun” – the latest in his “Conjuring” movie series. Any films involving demonology and exorcism are intriguing in that for many people, these are believed to be very real dangers. The fact that the story includes numerous Catholic elements created another layer of intrigue; some critics latched onto the demonic possession scenes in the movie as a metaphor for the plague of scandals infesting the Catholic Church. Interestingly, this is far less of a fringe theory than it might initially seem – just ask Pope Francis.

However, in this post we’re simply going to focus on how the movie portrays certain supernatural elements as compared to actual Catholic doctrine.

Demons 101

Before we discuss some of the specifics of the movie, it’s important to understand a bit about demons in general. The basic beliefs regarding the metaphysics of demons are shared across Christianity. It goes something like this: a beautiful and powerful angel became consumed with vanity and fancied himself an equal to God. This angel rebelled, rallying many others to his side. In response, God banished him and his acolytes from Heaven. These fallen angels would spend the hundreds of years mocking God and his faithful in the form of demons, passing between Hell and Earth through portals.

Demon possession and exorcism appear a few times in the Bible, giving credence to the basic plot element of The Nun. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus casts out a group of demons from some men. The spirits ask if they could instead possess some nearby pigs, to which Jesus agrees – establishing a Biblical basis for the notion that demons can possess or control animals as well as people.

In the Book of Acts, some Jews invoke the name of Jesus to cast out demons from possessed men. One demon claims that while he knows of Jesus, he knows nothing of this group of “non-believers” and attacks and overpowers the group. This shows that the invocation of Christ can ward off or disturb demons.

What’s interesting to note about these passages is that both Catholics and Protestants believe them to be describing real historical events. Present day protestants, however, reject the Catholic view of the permeability of the physical and supernatural worlds. By and large, protestants do not believe in demon possession and therefore do not have an official rite of exorcism.

Scene from the Nun movieIs ‘The Nun’ Authentically Catholic?

The best answer we can give: sort of. The story takes place in mid-twentieth century Romania and after a mysterious event takes place at a monastery, the Vatican dispatches Father Burke, a man with a traumatic past involving exorcism, and Sister Irene, a young woman afflicted with visions who hasn’t yet taken her vows to become a full-fledged nun.

The two arrive to investigate the incident and determine if the monastery is still holy. They are haunted by apparitions as physical objects around them are being supernaturally manipulated. Some characters become possessed by an evil spirit that often takes the form of a nun.

The evil spirit also takes the form of a young boy who can summon and control snakes. This closely resembles Valac, the grand president of Hell as described in the Lesser Key of Solomon, a book on demonology. The filmmakers even use Valac as the name for their evil character.

In the movie, Father Burke and Sister Irene also find a door beneath the monastery, which they refer to as a portal, marked “Finit hic, Deo”, which is Latin for God ends here. Portals in actual Catholicism would be any route by which one invites sin into his life. This would be something like pornography or tarot cards, for example.

The characters often hold crucifixes and rosaries, which would be common for actual Catholics. These are used during prayer in both the film and in real life. The characters are often seen praying to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. This is also a common practice for Catholics.

All in all, The Nun was a fairly entertaining movie, even if it did exaggerate or sometimes flat out get things wrong about Catholic doctrine. Of course, it is not exactly intended to be a vocational film for aspiring demonologists. However, if you do you want to learn more about demonic possession and exorcism, we recommend picking up a copy of An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, newly available in our online store.

 

15 comments

  1. Rev. Rene says:

    And why on this good earth would anybody waste precious time on this useless enterprise? Is it teaching anything we need to know? No! Is it helpful in any way? No! Surely there is a better way to become a more knowledgeable, likeable, and morally better person who is more useful in this our modern society? Let’s all use our time on earth better, please.

    1. Minister Bill says:

      What “useless enterprise” exactly? Just entering the conversation sir. Minister Bill.

      1. JASON BENDER says:

        The power of Christ compels you…
        The Power Of Christ Compels you!
        The POWER of CHRIST compels you…
        THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU
        To Give Me the TV remote and Make Me a Da*n Sandwich!!!

  2. Robert Bruce Kelsey says:

    I’m not sure if I’m more disturbed by the review article author’s sense that it was necessary to explain Catholic practice as if it were some foreign and perplexing culture, or by the fact that this article (like the movie it reviews) perpetuates myths about demonology (Catholic or otherwise).The daimones referred to in the Solomonic Keys were not originally all fallen angels, the Keys still show the influence of Porphyry (magick is a way to ascend to the divine), and Medieval High Magick isn’t what you read about in Faust.

    1. JASON BENDER says:

      what is ‘Medieval High Magick’? Thanks, Jason

      1. Robert Bruce Kelsey says:

        Jason,
        Sorry for delayed response, I’m only intermittently on these boards. High Magick is neither my calling nor my historical specialty but I’ll try a quick explanation. (Last I knew there were a few ULC members in that tradition, and I invite them to correct any mistakes I may make.) Magick (the “k” distinguishes it from our common conception of stage magicians) in the Middle Ages had its roots in pagan cultures, a strand of Judaism, and the Gnostic strand of Christianity. HIgh Magick was the use of one’s will, *and* one’s relationship to some divine force (typically the Christian God, NOT Satan) to control either the forces of the spirit world or to effect some beneficial act through them. The practitioner had to purify him/herself in order to be worthy of the power to control the spirits, so High Magick was, in some ways, another ritualistic form of enlightenment/purification. In the historical records, those spirits could be lesser gods of a pagan religion or angels from Christian lore. The spirits from Christianity were not all fallen angels – Uriel and Michael for example.

  3. Rev Thomas says:

    People miss the obvious! Their “father son holy spirit” thing they do, makes an inverted cross right over their heart and soul. So its no wonder why they have more “possession” problems than anyone else!!!! Its simple, STOP making inverted crosses over your spirit!

    If you don’t want them getting in, STOP inviting them!

    1. Ruben Lopez says:

      I agree to your statement…Rev Thomas…that and many forms of
      conjuring can invite the unclean
      entities…but have no idea when
      they do reveal themselves to this
      reality!

  4. oldbill says:

    Catholicism is the basis for most “Christian” religions, not the teachings in the Bible. Jesus is a “JEW”. Jesus is the King of the Jews.

  5. Minister R Sepeda says:

    I am a fanatic of scary movies. I just watch the movies, then analysis the movie then, listen to my daughter’s explanation of her version, and conclude it with mine of how I understood it.

  6. Mark Hannon says:

    Horror movies always use Catholicism because Baptists would be boring. There is a mysticism to the practice of Catholicism. Who else has blood from saints that turns from powder to liquid, bones in boxes under altars, and crypts or doorways with symbols and hidden things.
    I have been to a Baptist church that interacted with poisonous snakes.

    1. Iconoclast says:

      That’s hilarious. I have never heard of Baptists handling snakes as part of church. A few “Pentecostals” in Kentucky and Tennessee, but never Baptists. Not saying it didn’t happen. Just never heard of it.

      1. Mark Hannon says:

        I’ve been to three Pentecostal churches and only one was scary. The other two just had bands when it was a new thing and did a lot of “praying through”.
        The Baptist church with the snakes was one a friend of mine went to in Sterling Heights, MI. We visited each others church and mine was pretty milk toast compared to his.
        The Baptist church of my teen years was very fundamentalist but the one I went to from 20 to 39yrs old was an independent Baptist church and was very open minded, science allowing and moderate.

        1. John Owens says:

          When I was in my late teens, I dated a girl who was Pentecostal. The music was good, and the preaching and response to it was fascinating if one smoked redbud before going in.

  7. John Owens says:

    The Catholic faith is the nearest modern-time adherent to the ancient Babylonian Mystery Religion, down to the vestal virgins and the clothes worn by priests and bishops, the keys of Janus and Cybil, auricular confession, all the symbolism, the pantheon, the Trinity, just about everything but the language.

Leave a Comment