How Can a Demon, Driven Out, Return with Seven More?

The Gospel for Tuesday of the 22nd Week of the Year features Jesus casting out a demon, easily dispatching it. There is another parable, however, in which a cast-out demon returns with seven others. It is puzzling that the house (soul) being “swept and clean” brings further trouble. One would think that a house in such a state would be a good thing!

For reference, here is the parable:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he roams through waterless places in search of rest; and finding none, he says, “I will return to my house which I left.” And when he has come to it, he finds the place swept and clean. Then he goes and takes seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse that the first (Lk 11:24-25).

As is often the case, recourse to both the subtleties of the Greek text and the context can help us.

In examining different Greek manuscripts, one finds that some of the texts describe the house using three adjectives while others use only two; some of the Greek manuscripts do not include the third word, which is translated as “empty.” Almost every English translation uses only two, lacking the adjective “empty.”

While I can read the Greek text of the New Testament with relative ease, I am not an expert in ancient Greek nor can I speak to the relative value of the differing Greek manuscripts. The translation as either “swept and clean” or “swept and ordered” is almost universal among English renderings of this text. (See an example here.)

I believe that the inclusion of the word “empty” is essential; without it something very important is lost. Let’s look at the description of the “house” (soul) to which the demon returns:

καὶ ἐλθὸν εὑρίσκει σχολάζοντα, σεσαρωμένον καὶ κεκοσμημένον.
Kai elthon heuriskei scholazonta, sesarōmenon kai kekosmēmenon.
And having come, it finds (it) empty, swept, and put in order (ornate).

The fact that the house (soul) is empty (scholazonta) is the chief problem. Empty things need filling. Sadly, if good things do not fill empty spaces, then evil things will. This seems to be at the heart of the Lord’s warning.

A second issue is the translation of the word “kekosmēmenon.” Does “ordered,” or “put in order” really capture what the word is trying to convey? Most of us hear the word “order” and think of either physical or moral order.

However, the Greek lexicon defines the root of kekosmēmenon, kosméō, as “to beautify, having the right arrangement (sequence) by ordering; to adorn, make compellingly attractive, very appealing (inviting, awesomely gorgeous).” Kosméō is also the root of the English word “cosmetics,” which are things that adorn or “order” the face.

Thus, the “order” described in this passage is one related to beauty. Hence, the translation “ornate” may better capture what is meant by this word than either “clean” or “orderly.” So, as we read this parable we should consider that the description of the house as “swept and clean” may lack the subtlety of the Greek words. While we should be wary of etymological fallacy, the original root meaning (kosméō = cosmetic = ornate, rather than merely “ordered”) ought not to be wholly forgotten.

With these in mind, let’s consider the richer possibility that the Lord describes the “house” (an image for the soul) in three ways:


This is the key description that some ancient manuscripts omit, yet it is the main problem. An empty house is a vulnerable house. An empty house, devoid of human presence, can no longer repel threats or repair damage. More significantly, from the standpoint of grace, an empty house, devoid of the presence of God, is a vacuum ready to be filled with demons and with every form of human sin, pride, and confusion.

Empty buildings are vulnerable, open to attack by termites, extreme weather, mold, and rodents. Just as an uncultivated field goes to weed, so an unattended house slides into decline and decay. So, too, goes the empty human soul, a soul devoid of the presence of God, of gratitude to Him, and of openness to His satisfying presence.

Yes, here is the spiritual lesson: let the Lord and the good things of the Kingdom of God fill every void, every empty space! Emptiness is too easily filled with evil things.

Consider a man who gives up alcohol for Lent. He does well by ending a lawful pleasure and making greater room for God, but what if God, or something of God, does not fill the space? Often something of the devil, or something of the flesh, will fill it. Perhaps the man will think, “I am approved because I, by my own power, have given this up.” Sadly, though, this thought shows that pride has filled the empty space rather than God. The man’s new state is worse than it was before he gave up the lawful pleasure!


It is good if a person has, by God’s grace, been able to sweep sin from his life, but praise be to the Lord, not to the man or woman! Otherwise, this is an open door for pride. Perhaps the sinner who succeeds in a Lenten observance will say, “Look what I have done! I am approved and am better than others who are less committed!” In this way, grace is snatched by Satan. The house (soul), swept and in good order, must also be filled with humble gratitude to God. Thus, the Lord warns of a house that is “swept” but empty of humility and gratitude.


While some translate this as “ordered,” given the context, “ornate” would be a better rendering. We are warned to beware of vanity and also of esteeming beauty more than charity. The warning is for those who, though they appreciate beauty, become smug and disdainful of all others who do not share their aesthetic preferences.

A connoisseur of fine wine may scoff at people who enjoy wine sold in a box (“cow”), or White Zinfandel, or heaven forbid beer! In this way, an appreciation for the finer things (like wine) becomes pride and leads to the last state of the man being worse than the first.

The appreciation of beauty has its place, but if it cancels charity, the last state of the man is worse than the first.

One may appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, but if love for the aesthetic causes one to scorn a priest who forgets to bow at the Gloria Patri or who wears gothic vestments instead of the preferred Roman fiddlebacks, then the love of beauty (a good thing) destroys charity (a better thing).

Thus, there is here a warning to religiously observant (a good thing) people that we can allow our lives to be all swept and clean but empty; or worse, to be filled with scorn and pride.

Watch out! The devil can use even our piety to ensnare us in his seven-fold bondage. Do you engage in some active purifications? If so, you do well, but be sure that the space opened, all swept and ordered, is filled with God, with humility, and with gratitude. Otherwise, it will too easily be filled with seven ugly demons and sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These are the seven demon friends that accompany a once-cast-out demon.

19 Replies to “How Can a Demon, Driven Out, Return with Seven More?”

  1. Monsignor,

    I never understood this passage. Thank you for explaining it so well.

    May God bless you abundantly during these difficult times.

  2. The D-R translation uses the word garnished. I looked it up to see what it was defined as and found it interesting that it corresponded to your use of ornate. Although we typically think of the word in the context of food.

    “And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished.”

    Thank you as always for your posts …

  3. Your obvious love of the Word, and you accuracy in teaching makes me wonder. How do you remain a Roman Catholic with all of the ‘churches’ violations of and pagan additions to the scripture? This is a sincere question.

    1. I don´t know if Msgr. Pope will have the time, so I will be bold enough to try an answer. I´m just a layman, and grew in a protestant family. Very pious people, to note. I became a Roman Catholic at the age of 29, after many years of studying, testing and doubting. As for violations, or sins, we are all sinners and the body of Christ is composed of weak members, as a christian pastor like you surely knows. We always need to be humble and pray to not fall into temptation.
      As for “pagan additions”, a study of the early fathers will show that tradition is an intrinsic part of the Church, and the Scripture is something that the Church gave us to be understood in the context of the Christian tradition.
      So, even if one doesn´t agree with Church doctrine, one must beware of doubting the sincerity and soundness of it. I went to the Church after knowing my wife and her family, a devout Catholic family. I discovered wonderful and faithful priests, along with wonderful and faithful laymen. Not a perfect one, but all of them sincere in their faith.
      Your brother in Christ, sincere enough to give my name in this crazy internet.

    2. “Your obvious love of the Word, and you accuracy in teaching makes me wonder. How do you remain a Roman Catholic with all of the ‘churches’ violations of and pagan additions to the scripture? This is a sincere question.”

      COUNCIL! That’s what the Catholic Church does to maintain truth for the Christian World, scriptural for the Annointed Ones to come together and admonished and correct the brethen in Unity of faith and belief,… a billion Catholics, I really think you should have had a Council by now. But then again who would lead it, I vote for the Lutherans but the Anglicans might not go for that lets compromise the Evangelicals, very bible oriented , the Mother of all Councils, the error of Catholics, a thousand voices speak at once, oh my, babel, not a good start as groups start to form according to words, lets try this again, remember one belief, one faith, one bible, What’s the problem yells the Evangelical Peter, can’t you read! Andrew yells back there you go again, right! right! right! Paul jumps in, calm brothers, pray the Holy Ghost work a great miracle and lands on the Church of Truth, close your eyes and pray, they open their eyes and see a bird with the words CATHOLIC. They close their eyes again and see the word, HOLY, closing their eyes again, they see the words, this bird is out of here.

    3. You obviously need some training in Catholic theology. My recommendations are:
      (1) David Currie “Born Fundamentalist Born Again Catholic”
      (2) Peter Kreeft “Fundamentals Of Faith”
      (3) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger “Introduction To Christianity”
      (4) Thomas Schreck “Catholic And Christian – An Explanation Of Commonly Misunderstood Beliefs”

      If I was to choose one it would be Thomas Schreck’s.

  4. Thank you Rev.Msgr , for shedding more light on a rather mysterious passage ; one book on deliverance mentions how this might be one reason why God may not allow same in some in a speedy manner , since they might be at risk for exactly this scenario .

    Having also read how it is always good to go The Lord , in the company of His
    Mother , ( may be same as being with the Holy Spirit ) she might be the needed protection from such .
    With the upcoming Feasts of our Mother, one of her Nativity and that of the Seven Sorrows , latter esp. recommended when Rwanda faced genocide , from all the bitterness of unforgivness , our hearts too being with that Mother, seeing her , with the Son, on her lap ( Pieta scene ) and those in our lives who need forgiveness ,being held next to her,even as a boy even if the person is older now and with us too there, saying – ‘ for the sake of His sorrowful Passion , have mercy on us and the whole world ‘, a Mother , like all mothers gladly willing to take up chunk of our responsibility for sins into her Heart too , trusting in the infinite merits of The Son . an example of non Christian forms of ’emptying’ and its dangers .

  5. “… let the Lord and the good things of the Kingdom of God fill every void, every empty space! Emptiness is too easily filled with evil things.”

    Yes. This reminds me of something Chesterton said about ‘keeping an open mind.’ He said we should keep a closed mind. We should close our minds around truth. If we then open our minds the truth can fall out and falsehood can flow in.

  6. “Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”

    C.S.Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

  7. Thank you for the in-depth explanation. This passage has always puzzled me. I often wondered then what the use was in the initial expulsion.

  8. Thanks Monsignor; this was a very worthwhile exegesis of this passage. Your point about evil filling up the empty spaces in us reminded me of my favorite quote by St. Thomas More:

    “Occupy your mind with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied they cannot be.”

  9. Monsignor Pope,

    Thankyou for that great explanation – may God bless you and your ministry.
    Keep up the good work!

    from Tony (Melbourne, Australia)

  10. Msgr. Pope, it amazes me that you produce such unique and insightful commentary on a daily basis. I see weekly pundits struggle to maintain any such corresponding originality and depth.

    With regard to the passage you describe, I would add this postulation: It is a demonic inclination to destroy things of beauty. So a soul or spirit “swept clean” is conspicuously odious to the Enemy. Keeping that in mind, it becomes easier to visualize a single demon rallying a “mob” to desecrate the sanctity (albeit temporary) within such a person.

    It is somewhat counterintuitive, but Satan may pay less attention to an individual in slow, steady moral decline. Sudden infusions of Grace are often subjected to immediate and fierce counterattacks.

  11. What would we do without you, Msgr. Pope? Thanks so much. Like so many others, I could never understand this passage. Nor could I understand why, when it has been read at Mass, no priest ever thought it necessary to explain it. Maybe the priests didn’t understand it either, and were unwilling to make the effort to learn about it and teach the rest of us. A sad possibility…

  12. Thank you Monsignor. In my own experience, pride is the big sin that kicks in the door to allow all other sins in. I don’t how many times I’ve overcome a sin, patted myself on the back, rested on my laurels, and then, boom…I suddenly fall no only in the sin I thought I conquered but a few extras to boot. This passage of scripture now really speaks to me.

  13. Luke 17:34 I say to you in THAT NIGHT…..

    The above is a clear reference to the night Jesus’ died, by which death, the first ever judgement of the world occurred in full mercy of God, by which judgement

    GOD’S KINGDOM CAME, AND GOD’S WILL WAS DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN, and remained in full swing till Pentecost.

    Thus FROM THAT NIGHT Jesus died, Jesus by His own divine blood given as a ransom in EXCHANGE FOR OURS, WHILE HE WAS DEAD ON THE CROSS, IN THE SAME INSTANT the entire human race, though lived in their normal filthy way in every sense, they were throughout SPIRIT, SOUL and FLESH, JESUS’ PROPERTY. Yes “THE WORD” Jesus, the Son of Man, AS A SPIRIT IN THAT NIGHT, TOPPLED SATAN, and till Pentecost, the entire human race was more holy than Adam and Eve were on their creation with Jesus’ presence in their souls, justified as the truth and sole sovereign Spirit over both good and evil forever IN HUMAN HEARTS/SOULS.

    At least till Pentecost, by Jesus redemption full of unfathomable MERCY the entire humanities were children and temples of God, no matter who, while totally UNAWARE of what happened in their souls, and lived in their normal sinful way, revealed by Jesus on the cross in

    Luke 23:34 And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
    Not only that but the world was not only saved but FOR SURE

    THE NEW PARADISE, pinpointed out by Jesus to the good thief.

    Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to you, this day you shall be with me in PARADISE.

    Thus during this redemption period, fifty-three days in all, the entire souls were EMPTY from Satan and his demons, PURIFIED, CLEAN and IN ORDER to receive officially the Holy Ghost from Pentecost through baptism. But UNFORTUNATELY for all those unbelievers, and those who are still unaware of Jesus redemption throughout the world, though in that Holy ORNATE state, they remained EMPTY from the presence of the Holy Ghost through baptism, hence Satan and his demons with more power, and authority, returned to their original HOUSE, and the state of these souls became worse than before the redemption. Obvious it’s over and done with well declared in

    Mark16:16 He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.

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