Do We Believe In Devils?

Author: Fr. Patrick McHugh


Father P. J. Mc Hugh

Angels are not in style now and devils even less so. A homily on principalities and powers . . . the rulers of this world of darkness will cause reactions that range from a wan smile to (I quote one man at the sacristy door after Mass) You mean to tell me you guys believe in devils in this day and age? What I should have said, but did not was, Let me tell you something: in this day and age more than ever before. It is a pity we think of our brilliant ripostes at 2:00 in the morning. The devil is still very much part of our Faith, even if we are silent about him; indeed, especially then. It is not difficult to quote documents that confirm what the Church has always taught and now repeats in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him. par 395

One hears all kinds of strange things in—what shall I call them?—great gatherings (yes, that will do). This kind of thing: the devils of the Gospels were sick states of mind but, because of their ignorance of psychopathology, they attributed what they could not understand to devils.

Wait a moment! When Jesus said to the devils in the possessed man, What is your name? and the answer came back, Our name is legion. There are many of us here, He was most certainly not addressing a sickness. And besides, sicknesses do not come out . . . shrieking horribly.

It is astounding how easily even the good and pious are swayed by articulate people and they are greatly impressed (or words to that effect). Devils are dismissed out of hand and the Scripture references along with the Documents of the Church, as well. And all of this within the Church—within it, mark well. The crisis of Faith, and the consequent plague of relativism, is a contagion that is making the Body of Christ deeply, terribly ill. Devils can only be seen on the screen of the radarscope of Faith. If we are to think our way into what the demonic means in our world and in our lives, we have to start there, in what the Word of God proclaims.

The angelic universe was shattered in the conflict led on one side by Michael and on the other by Lucifer. This same war against God and His Creation spilled over into space and time; we are involved in this battle that fills the ages for the war is now waged through humans on both sides. Which means that although we cannot—we must not—see devils everywhere, there is something worse: to see them nowhere. The Second Vatican Council reminds us:

. . . a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested. Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good. Nor can he achieve his own integrity without valiant efforts and the help of God s grace.

The Church in the Modern World, par 37—Here is where the mystery become opaque: the conflict is against God and against Creation, that is to say, against the natural structures of human life, against all that is good and beautiful and decent and wholesome and true. In one word, against the Humane. The war is against Creation because Creation is God s handiwork and bears His stamp and impress. This is why Marriage, Family and Home are under attack now. The onslaught does not come from human perversity—that and nothing else besides. Powers of darkness are working through humans to corrupt, to degrade, to tear down.

Our pastoral problem is how to lead our people, heavily infected as most of them are on the secular smog they inhale and exhale, to an awareness of the Demonic. One way might be to tell them of the five D s of the demonic: deceive, degrade, divide, defile, destroy. Whenever these five signs appear something unspeakably malign is present and active.

To deceive. The truth is ripped apart with such cunning that words mean their opposite—choice becomes freedom to kill, slavery becomes peace, democracy means the invading power of the State, language is turned inside out. Barabbas is lionized and cheered; Jesus is branded as disturbing the people and led away to crucifixion. Jesus said of Satan:

"Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot hear my word. The father you spring from is the devil, and willingly you carry out his wishes. He brought death to man from the beginning, and has never based himself on truth; the truth is not in him. Lying speech is his native tongue; he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I deal in the truth, you give me no credence" John 8: 43-45

The thrust of the devil is against reality within human minds, against Truth. It is not that people believe nothing—they believe anything. When men lose Faith, Reason disintegrates as well and the lamps of order, of lucidity, of splendor of thought are extinguished one by one. Political correctness prevails; ideology dominates where theology had been queen; the screech against holiness and goodness and truth fills the world and is heard everywhere, even within the Church. Even there. The mind is at the apex of creation because through this god-like power we come into contact with all that is Real. Since Reality is our destiny in glory, the mind becomes a target for demons to ravage and destroy. We need to remind ourselves that the conflict that fills the world is against God and against Creation; that is to say, against the whole world of the Humane. Devils are far from being imps with horns, pitchforks and tails and they are never so successful as when they project that image of themselves into human minds.

To degrade: In one of his newsletters, Pastor Wurmbrand described how degradation was the chief weapon the Communists used to dehumanize their victims. The ways they would go about doing that were diabolical—there was a cunning and a hatred out of this world working through all they did. Degradation is a fearsome psychological weapon; the victim loses all sense of personal worth and, as that fades, the will to live shrivels up. To degrade is to murder, to kill. Jesus said Satan . . . was a murderer from the beginning and the truth was not in him.

This does not mean that we are only puppets manipulated by demons or that we should think in mere dualistic terms as if Good and Evil were somehow equal and that the outcome of this war is in doubt. God allows evil, the malice of the devils fits into His eternal Plan. Even so, the reality of angelic ill-will remains. We cannot hope to begin to come to any understanding of Evil if we leave aside the mysterious personal dimension therein. To quote Shakespeare, Hell breathes forth contagion on the world. The abominations in our world are only partly man- made; human malice is not the full explanation. Spirits living in a realm of Disorder and Evil and Hate are involved in the evil we think and choose and do. An imaginary observer from outer space looking down on us would see the titanic War of the Spirits, the primal conflict between Michael and Lucifer, carried on in a world of space and time.

The degradation of man, the onslaught against all that is worthy of respect, admiration and praise, the grinding down of humans to the sub-human and below, is an example of the ways Satan manifests his hatred for man and attempts to destroy us. For in every man Satan sees, if we do not, the Man, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, Who rose again on the third day; the onslaught is against Him and degradation is the weapon.

They came to Gerasene territory on the other side of the lake. As he got out of the boat, he was immediately met by a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit. The man had taken refuge among the tombs; he could no longer be restrained even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been secured with handcuffs and chains, but had pulled the chains apart and smashed the fetters. No one had proved strong enough to tame him. Uninterruptedly night and day, amid the tombs and on the hillsides, he screamed and gashed himself with stones. Mark 5: 1-5

The war against Creation is waged on so many fronts, it would take a large book to describe them all. What is terrifying now is the disintegration of natural bonds that even pagans of all ages held sacred and, not least, the holocaust—a strong word, but accurate—of false accusations of adult children against their own parents; of false accusations, mark well. One published figure lists 13,000: thirteen thousand. And these are only the people who gave their names to the False Memory Center in Philadelphia. Never before in history has there been such an onslaught against the natural bonds of the family from within. Are we to dismiss all this as mere human frailty, and nothing else besides? Or must we fall back on what God has revealed: there are demons loose upon the earth and, because our culture is so deeply secularized, untouched by grace, devils roam at will? For they can be driven out only by the force of the grace of God coming against them and through people who center their lives on the Eucharist, on this Presence the Church calls Real. Our good works and prayers are weapons that hurl back devils, but from their point of view, Perpetual Adoration is the spiritual A- bomb they fear most of all. Make your Holy Hour before the Lord every day and get as many of your parishioners to do the same. As you do—if you do—you will come to a strange, indefinable and indescribable awareness of Someone Who looks, Who calls, Who loves. But wait, I am not finished. You will also become aware, through strange things that happen, of another presence that glares and stirs up hatred against all you stand for . . . that, too. Perpetual Adoration is glorious. But know that you and your people are hurling spiritual A-bombs against demons and demons do not take this lying down. No, they do not. We read that the Cure of Ars was hurled out of bed. We smile. He got away lightly. What Satan and his devils can do is . . . diabolical, literally. It must pain them to have to resort to such tricks as tossing us around when what they actually do is more fitted to what they are: angels with a cunning out of this world.

To divide. We can speak of heaven as a community of persons in glory. The word that is at the heart of all we believe is community, for this is our destiny; this is what we are on our way to. Death is the point where our friends in heaven suddenly burst into view and they will all say (I hope), Welcome Home! For all of these reasons—community . . . union . . . harmony . . . peace . . . home—are targets demons use to divide and thereby to destroy. Is it wild to think that dissent against the solemn teaching of the Church does not come altogether from human frailty, ignorance or partisan passion but from another realm alien to God and at war with Him? Is this paranoia or can we at least suspect that the fierce, unremitting thrust to divide the Church is part of Satan s endless war? Hence the urgency of asking the Lord day after day for the grace we all need to be faith-ful (take note of that hyphen) and to be forever loyal to Peter in all we think and do and say.

To defile. Persons and places become poisoned with rancor, suspicion, anger and hate; they become horrible in a strange unearthly way; there is some indefinable soul-corruption there.

Demons defile the world. In a moment of rare honesty among many artists, Picasso once admitted how depressed he had allowed himself to become.

In art the mass of the people no longer seek consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which have passed through my head, and the less they understood me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly.

And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere.

To destroy. When Jesus met the two men possessed by demons, the Gospel tells us that they were so savage no one could pass that way. Violence is the mark of Satan. Violence is not of the body only—beating, robbing, killing—but also, indeed most of all, the violence of reviling, of false accusation, of tearing down, of tale-bearing, of mockery, of sneering, of hate.

Our Blessed Lord summed up the demonic in one line. He said of Satan that he was a murderer from the beginning. The Word of God projects a struggle, a war, between opposing forces. St. John constantly speaks of light and darkness, life and death. Against Christ appears the Great Adversary who is, in Our Lord s own words, ruler of this world. With Satan are arrayed the earthly powers, those who hate the light and become instruments of Satan against God. All around us are propagandists for bestial, existential, amoral life-styles. They are followers of de Sade, who told them:

Whatever you feel like doing is good for you. If you enjoy torture, well and good . . . violations of so-called moral laws are both permissible and actually laudable, because they demonstrate the artificiality of such restraints and because the restraints impede the only demonstrable good: personal pleasure.

Constant emphasis on evil has a corroding effect, even among ourselves. Lust becomes normal, violence fills the media, great masses of people are moved almost totally by image, by what they feel, by what they want. This is our world. Are we to say that all of this is only the effect of Original Sin—or is there something else, an influence and a power from hell working on the minds and outlook of those we know and meet every day?

Do we believe in the devil? We do. Not fully and completely by the Light of Faith, but by experience. Pray every day for the wisdom and the understanding and the insight we need as priests. As we do we will begin to suspect that if and when people put a nice label on the evil they do, when they refuse to repent, something—I do not know what else to call it, so let something do—enters into them. They become blind to goodness and beauty and holiness and truth. The whole world of Faith becomes alien and unreal. When they encounter dedication and loyalty, some of them scream their detestation of the whole world of Faith. Historians of some future age will think it a tragic irony that Catholics stopped praying to St. Michael the Archangel at the very time when they needed to most of all.

This article appeared in the August/September 1995 issue of "The Homiletic & Pastoral Review," 86 Riverside Dr., New York, N.Y. 10024, 212-799-2600, $24.00 per year.