by Fr. Michael Muller, 1881 A.D.
There are many who absurdly enough deny the personal existence of Satan. They assert, with an air of profound wisdom, that the word “devil,” “Satan,” is simply the imaginary personification of all the evil influences to which we are subject in this life. But what can be more absurd than to deny what all nations, without exception, have always believed, and still believe–the personal existence of the devil. What can be more impious than to deny what we find asserted in plain words, on almost every page of Holy Writ–the personal existence of the devil.
Holy Scripture tells us that Satan, in the form of a serpent, seduced Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit; it declares that all the gods’ of the Gentiles are devils; it tells us that the devil is the prince of this world; that he goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; it bids us resist the devil, and he will flee from us. St. Paul speaks of the prince and the powers of the air that besiege us, and against whom we must put on the whole armor of God, and do valiant battle.
Moreover, Holy Scripture speaks of demoniacs, or persons possessed with devils; and among the marvellous works ascribed to Jesus Christ, is that of expelling demons, or casting out devils.
The Catholic Church plainly and unequivocally recognizes the existence of Satan, as may be gathered from the prayers and ceremonies of Baptism, as well as from the significance of the Sacrament itself; and not only his existence, but his power over the natural man, and even material objects. The Catholic Church has also her exorcists, and her precise forms and prayers for exorcising evil spirits.
Besides, every Christian knows that the Son of God became man and died upon the cross for no other purpose than to destroy the works of the devil, and to redeem mankind from his power.
Now, to assert that there is no devil is to assert that Jesus Christ suffered so much from no motive, that His mission had no object; it is to deny the work of Redemption. What can be more blasphemous than such an assertion?
Again, what can be more contrary to sound reason than to deny the existence of the devil? They who deny the personal existence of the devil must either deny the existence of evil altogether, which is absurd, or they must admit the existence of an unbeginning–eternal principle of evil–which is a palpable blasphemy.
God alone has existed from all eternity. By His word He has created heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. God, in His infinite wisdom, created beings gifted with intelligence and free will, and consequently, capable of acting wrong as well as right. All the works of God, when they came forth from His hands were good, very good. It was, then, by the abuse of their intelligence and free-will, it was by refusing to observe the just laws of God, that His creatures became wicked, and that evil was introduced into the world.
Satan and his hosts were created by God as bright and beautiful angels; but of their own free will, they rebelled against God. “Behold they that serve God are not steadfast, and in His angels he found wickedness.” (Job, iv., 18.) Considered in their nature the angels could sin just as well as man, for the gift of impeccability is not a gift of nature, but of grace alone.
It was natural for all the angels to love and glorify God, the only source of their eternal glory; but, in the rebel angels, soon after their creation, that divine love was extinguished by an abuse of free-will. They sinned in wishing through pride and envy, their own particular good, in opposition to the will of their Sovereign Creator. By these two sins, the chief of the rebel angels seduced vast multitudes of angels. “From pride all perdition took its beginning.” (Tob. iv., 14.) “Pride is the source of all sins.” (Ecclus. x., 15.) “Satan is the king of all the children of pride.” (Job. xli., 25.) “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer? Thou saidst in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High.” (Isai. xiv., 12, 13.)
What the bad angels wished to obtain by their rebellion was to be like unto God; they wished to be equal to Him in splendor and glory, but not in power, for they knew it was impossible for any created being to be equal to God in His infinite power. Their transgression consisted in wishing to be like unto God without merit or supernatural grace. Their pride and envy confounded them, and God abandoned them in that state of perversity.
They also aspired after pre-eminence and domination over all in the new creation, which was an additional crime to their blasphemous culpability, by which they forfeited eternal glory. “Thou (Lucifer) wast the seal of resemblance, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. * * * Thou wast in all the delight of God’s Paradise ; thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day of thy creation, until iniquity was found in thee. Thou hast defiled the sanctuaries of heaven by the multitude of thy iniquities; thou hast lost thy wisdom in thy beauty. Therefore I will bring forth a fire from the midst of thee to devour thee. * * *” (Ezech. xxviii.)
The prevarication of the highest angel in the celestial hierarchy was the cause of the defection of all the rest. The pride of Lucifer, prince of the cherubim, and chief of the rebel angels, was the first provocation to the disobedience of all the others. It cannot be supposed that he constrained them, but seduced them to rebel; for it is said in the Gospel: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt, xxv., 41.) “And the dragon’s tail drew away the third part of the stars of heaven.” (Apoc. xii.,4.)
Now, the order of divine justice requires that whoever commits a crime at the instigation of another, must undergo the same penalty as the author. St. Peter says: “Man becomes the slave of him by whom he is overcome.”
The rebel angels were not long in deliberating as to whether they should follow Lucifer, nor was a long discourse necessary to excite them to rebellion. Angels are as quick as lightning in all their operations. They instantaneously, though freely, consented to the sentiments which were manifested in their spiritual language by their powerful chief. The moment they rebelled, they were changed into hideous demons, and cast out of heaven. They are so obstinate in perversity that they can never be free from their diabolical propensities. Their crime has fixed them for ever in wickedness, as death fixes man irrevocably either in glory or in damnation.
An angel conceives all things instantaneously, by means of his spiritual faculties, as man does conceive the first principles of right and wrong by means of his intellectual faculties. Man is changeable and inconstant in his choice; but the angel fixes his choice irrevocably by the first act of his will. That act, in the choice of divine love and obedience, was the cause of eternal beatitude for the faithful angels, and that instantaneous free act of the rebel angels, was the cause of their everlasting punishment and damnation. As the glorification of the good angels increases more and more in heaven, so the torments of the wicked angels increase proportionately in hell. “And there was a great battle in heaven; Michael and his angels fought with the Dragon and his angels; and that great dragon, that old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world, was cast out of heaven with all his angels. And they were thrown down with the beast and false prophets, into a pool of fire and brimstone, where they shall be tormented day and night during ages and ages.” (Apoc. xii.)
The rebel angels have two places of torture: hell, where they shall remain eternally, to undergo the punishment of their crime; and the dark, gloomy air, where they shall be till the day of general judgment.
As God makes use of the good angels to inspire us with acts of virtue and keep us from vice, so he permits the devil to lay snares for us and entice us to sin. St. Paul tells us that numbers of those wicked spirits surround us on all sides. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of darkness, and the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Eph. vi., 12.) Hence it is that they are called the Princes of darkness, of the air, and of the world. They differ in order; for though they never enjoyed the order of heavenly glory, and forfeited, by their disobedience, the order of grace and the supernatural gifts with which they were endowed at their creation, yet they have preserved the order of their nature, so that those whose natural intellectual faculties were greater are higher in rank and greater in power. Hence they form a kind of hierarchy. Their prince and chief is sometimes called Lucifer, who was the prince of the cherubim; sometimes Belial (that is, the Rebel), also Satan (i. e., the Enemy), or Beelzebub, from the chief idol of the Accaronites.
The rage, malice, and envy of the devils against man, and their enmity to all good, are implacable. Satan, the chief of the fallen spirits, makes his attacks upon men by putting on all shapes: sometimes by craft, or by snares and stratagems, as the old serpent; sometimes by disguises, transforming himself into an angel of light, and assuming the air of piety; sometimes by open assaults and violence, as the roaring lion.
He studies and observes every one’s character, natural dispositions, inclinations, virtues and vices, to find out, and make his attacks on every one’s weak points.
The natural subtlety and strength of Satan are exceedingly great, as appears from the perfection of his being, which is purely spiritual, and from examples, when God has suffered him to exert his power in a more remarkable manner. Holy Scripture tells us that the devils hurried the swine into the lake; that they killed the first seven husbands of Sara; that they have slain armies in one night; have often disturbed nature, and stirred up tempests, which struck whole provinces with terror, and ravaged the whole world.
What did Satan not do against holy Job? He killed his cattle and his children. He covered Job himself with ulcers from head to foot. And, in our own day, what did he not do against the saintly Cure of Ars, in France, for the space of thirty years?
Moreover, by clear proofs, it is also manifest that Satan can, by divine permission, enter our bodies, compel, as it were, the human being to stand aside, and use our organs himself, and do whatever he pleases with them. But he cannot annihilate the human being, or take from the soul its free-will. It is always in the power of the possessed to resist, morally and effectually, the evil intentions of the devil. The possessed person retains his own consciousness, his own intellectual and moral faculties unimpaired, and he never confounds himself with the spirit that possesses him. He always retains the power of internal protest and struggle. Whenever this power is exercised, and there is clearly a struggle, there is no reason to believe that he is responsible for the crimes which the body, through the possession of the devil, is made to commit. But unfortunately it very often happens that this power to protest is not exercised, and the possessed person yields his moral assent to the crimes committed by the demon that possesses him.
Such diabolical possessions have been more or less frequent in different times and places. This is confirmed by the testimony and experience of all ages, and of all nations, even to the remotest Indies. Such facts both the Old and New Testaments evince.
However, with regard to the effects of magic and possession of devils, the Catholic Church says, in her Ritual, that such extraordinary effects are not to be easily supposed. That superstition, credulity, and imposture are to be guarded against, and that natural distempers, such as certain species of madness, extraordinary palsies, epilepsies, or the like, are not to be construed into effects of enchantments or possessions, which are not to be presumed upon ridiculous compacts and signs, nor upon vulgar prejudices and notions of the manner in which such things are done, but must be made apparent by circumstances.
The criteria of demoniac invasion or possession, as laid down by the Catholic Church for the guidance of exorcists, are the following:–
1. Understanding of unknown languages.
2. Power of speaking unknown or foreign languages.
3. Knowledge of things passing in distant places.
4. Exhibition of superior physical strength.
5. Suspension of the body in the air during a considerable time.
Although Satan, with implacable envy and malice, studies to disturb our temporal happiness and to compass our eternal ruin both by stratagems and open assaults, yet it is certain that he can tempt and assail us only to a certain degree; he can go only the length of his chain, that is, as far as God permits him. This is evident from the history of Job. Before Satan was bound, or his power curbed by the triumph of Christ over him, and the spreading of the happy light and influence of the Gospel throughout the world, the empire which Satan exercised on earth was much greater than since that time. However, there can be no doubt that, in our own days, the power and influence of Satan over an immense number of men is great, very great;, and it will increase in proportion as they approach heathenism and infidelity, and leave the true, the Catholic religion.