Catholic Apologetics #33
“Brothers: Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Despite what some people, even high-ranking priests, might think,[i] the devil is real. Satan, the worst of the demons, is the most powerful and horrible of the demons. He is not a metaphor or a symbol of evil. He is a spiritual being that really exists. It is correct to refer to him as a “person” because he has a powerful memory, highly intelligent mind and most malevolent will, all of which are far greater than man’s. And he hates us because we, unlike him and his fellow demons, still have the possibility of making it to Heaven.
The devil was once an angel, even one of the greatest of the angels, whose name is Lucifer, which means “light bearer.” Yet, before the creation of man, roughly one-third of the angels fell from Heaven and became demons, sentenced to an eternity in hell away from God. The Baltimore Catechism #3 teaches clearly: “Before he fell, Satan, or the devil, was called Lucifer, or light-bearer, a name which indicates great beauty. He was cast out of Heaven because through pride he rebelled against God” (Question 229).
Unlike human beings who possess limited knowledge and cannot know all the consequences of their actions, such is not the case for angelic beings. They knew the consequences of their actions with perfect certainty and yet still chose to rebel against God. Their crime was pride. As taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, the demons refused to serve God, and the devil even sought to become God, because he refused to worship Our Lord in His human nature.
The demons fell from grace because they refused to accept that God would become a man so as to share with man the life of the Blessed Trinity in a unique way unavailable to them. They chose to be condemned to hell and spend all eternity away from God when He revealed to them His plan regarding the creation of humans. And for this reason, the devils seek day and night to bring about our own damnation. The Baltimore Catechism again clearly teaches: “The devil tempts us because he hates goodness and does not wish us to enjoy the happiness which he himself has lost” (Q. 231).
They are lost forever, and they want us to be lost as well. And one of the greatest tricks of the devil is to convince man into believing his diabolical suggestion that he does not exist!
[Editor’s Note: In our Catholic tradition, there is also the understanding that the demons chose to rebel when God revealed to them that the Blessed Virgin Mary would be the Mother of God and Queen over All. In their pride, they refused to accept that a human person, with a nature lower than theirs, would nevertheless reign over them as their queen, and that they would be obliged to render Her due homage. Since God’s “punishments” always justly fit the “crime,” it makes perfect sense that God then decreed that Our Lady would be the one to crush the head of the serpent (c.f. Genesis 3:15). This also accounts for why the devils hate – and fear – Our Lady and the holy charism of virginity so much. One should also note that it is not contradictory to say that the devils rebelled upon learning of the Mystery of the Incarnation or the Mystery of Mary’s Motherhood (and Queenship) since these are two facets of the same great Mystery which God ordained in the same Divine Decree before the creation of the world.]
The Devil in Sacred Scripture
Our Lord Himself affirmed the devil’s existence when He said, “I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven” (Luke 10:18). And Scripture further confirms the devil’s existence: “Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Our Blessed Lord was not tempted by a figment of His imagination or a mirage but by a real, spiritual being. The devil is real and tempted Adam and Eve as recounted in the Book of Genesis. Our Lord Himself drove out demons from the possessed (cf. Matthew 8:28-34) – He did not drive out metaphors and symbols of mere evil but rather evil beings themselves. Likewise, the Book of Isaiah is crystal clear in stating that the devil was once an angel who fell from Heaven: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? how art thou fallen to the earth, that didst wound the nations?” (Isaiah 14:12) Thus, to suggest the devil is not real is to contradict the clear meaning of the inerrant and inspired Word of God.
The Devil in Sacred Tradition
The First Canon of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD) infallibly declared:
“We firmly believe and openly confess that there is only one true God … Creator of all things invisible and visible, spiritual and corporeal, who from the beginning of time and by His omnipotent power made from nothing creatures both spiritual and corporeal, angelic, namely, and mundane, and then human, as it were, common, composed of spirit and body. The devil and the other demons were indeed created by God good by nature but they became bad through themselves; man, however, sinned at the suggestion of the devil. … all shall rise with their own bodies which they now have that they may receive according to their merits, whether good or bad, the latter eternal punishment with the devil, the former eternal glory with Christ.”
As LifeSiteNews illustrated in an article regarding the denial of the devil by the head of the Jesuit Order, the Church’s traditional rite of exorcism makes it abundantly clear that the devil is not a mere caricature but a real entity who is to be repelled at all costs.[ii] We can never compromise with a single thought or suggestion from the devil, who really and truly does tempt human beings to sin. While not all temptations are from the devil, some of the temptations put in our imaginations, usually quite randomly, are put there by the devil. We would do well to immediately banish such temptations. Upon receiving them one should immediately pray. A recommended prayer is “Precious Blood of Jesus, wash over me and shield me from the snares of the devil,” followed by “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you, save souls and protect me.” One can also invoke the aid of one’s Guardian Angel, Patron Saint, and St. Michael.
We must resist the devil. To claim he does not exist is to fall into his very snare. Again, we read in the Baltimore Catechism: “We cannot by our own power overcome the temptations of the devil, because the devil is wiser than we are; for, being an Angel, he is more intelligent, and he did not lose his intelligence by falling into sin any more than we do now. Therefore, to overcome his temptations we need the help of God” (Q. 232). Having recourse to sacramentals – such as a crucifix, scapular, sacred images, holy water, blessed salt, candles and oil – are also powerful defenses. In addition, speaking the name of Jesus or Mary repels the demons who hate and fear Our Lord and Our Lady with great intensity. Memorizing the Divine Praises and praying them often is another powerful shield against demonic temptation.
Teaching others that the devil is real is essential to fighting him. Let us never fall into the heretical error of thinking the devil is only symbolic and not a real person!
O Lord, save us from the snares of the devil!
Note: The picture above is The Fires of Hell (1620) by Hernando de la Cruz, SJ (X 1646), a painter of the Quito School of Art from Ecuador. This gigantic oil on canvas mural hangs in the nave of La Compañía, the Jesuit Church in Quito’s Historic Center. Historian Fr. Pedro Mercado (X 1701) praised it, stating it is “an eloquent and efficacious sermon which has brought about much good and many conversions.”
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