On the Devil

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

In his discourse at the general audience of August 13, 1986, the Holy Father commented at great length on the fall of the angels. This was an eminently pastoral allocution:

"Satan wishes to destroy life lived in accordance with the truth, life in the fullness of good, the supernatural life of grace and love. . . .

"As the result of the sin of our first parents, this fallen angel has acquired dominion over man to a certain extent. This is the doctrine that has been constantly professed and proclaimed by the Church, and which the Council of Trent confirmed in its treatise on original sin (cf. DS, 1511).

"In Sacred Scripture we find various indications of this influence on man and on the dispositions of his spirit (and of his body). In the Bible, Satan is called the `prince of this world' (cf. Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and even the `god of this world' (2 Cor. 4:4). . . .

"According to Sacred Scripture, and especially the New Testament, the dominion and the influence of Satan and of the other evil spirits embraces all the world. . . . The action of Satan consists primarily in tempting men to evil, by influencing their imaginations and higher faculties, to turn them away from the law of God. . . . It is possible that in certain cases the evil spirit goes so far as to exercise his influence not only on material things, but even on man's body, so that one can speak of ‘diabolical possession’ (cf. Mk. 5:2-9). It is not always easy to discern the preternatural factor operative in these cases, and the Church does not lightly support the tendency to attribute many things to the direct action of the devil; but in principle it cannot be denied that Satan can go to this extreme manifestation of his superiority in his will to harm and to lead to evil.

"To conclude, we must add that the impressive words of the Apostle John—‘The whole world lies under the power of the evil one’ (1 Jn. 5:19)— allude also to the presence of Satan in the history of humanity, a presence which becomes all the more acute when man and society depart from God.

"This ‘fall,’ which has the character of the rejection of God, with the consequent state of ‘damnation,’ consists in the free choice of those created spirits who have radically and irrevocably rejected God and his kingdom, usurping his sovereign rights and attempting to subvert the economy of salvation and the very order of the entire universe. We find a reflection of this attitude in the words addressed by the tempter to our first parents: ‘You will become like God’ or ‘like gods’ (cf. Gn. 3:5).

Thus, the evil spirit tries to transplant into man the attitude of rivalry, insubordination and opposition to God, which has, as it were, become the motivation of all his existence. . . .

"When, by an act of his own free will, he rejected the truth that he knew about God, Satan became the cosmic `liar and the father of lies' (Jn. 8:44). For this reason, he lives in radical and irreversible denial of God, and seeks to impose on creation—on the other beings created in the image of God, and in particular on people—his own tragic `lie about the good' that is God. In the Book of Genesis we find a precise description of this lie and falsification of the truth about God, which Satan (under the form of a serpent) tries to transmit to the first representatives of the human race: God is jealous of his own prerogatives and therefore wants to impose limitations on man (cf. Gn. 3:5). Satan invites the man to free himself from the imposition of this yoke by making himself `like God.'

"On this condition of existential falsehood, Satan—according to St. John —also becomes a ‘murderer,’ that is, one who destroys the supernatural life which God has made to dwell from the beginning in him and in the creatures made ‘in the likeness of God’: the other pure spirits and men; the influence of the evil spirit can conceal itself in a more profound and effective way: it is in his interests to make himself `unknown.' Satan has the skill in the world to induce people to deny his existence in the name of rationalism and of every other system of thought which seeks all possible means to avoid recognizing his activity. This does not, however, signify the elimination of man's free will and responsibility, and even less the frustration of the saving action of Christ. . . .

"The Christian, appealing to the Father and the Spirit of Jesus and invoking the kingdom, cries with the power of faith: Let us not succumb to temptation, free us from evil, from the evil one, O Lord; let us not fall into the infidelity to which we are seduced by the one who has been unfaithful from the beginning" (Pope John Paul II, L'Osservatore Romano, August 20, 1986).

The encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem was issued on May 18, 1986, and it contains a lengthy section that treats of thedevil:

"For in spite of all the witness of creation and of the salvific economy inherent in it, the spirit of darkness (Eph. 6:12; Lk. 22:53) is capable of showing God as an enemy of his own creature, and in the first place as an enemy of man, as a source of danger and threat to man. In this way Satan manages to sow in man's soul the seed of opposition to the one who 'from the beginning' would be considered as man's enemy - and not as Father. Man is challenged to become the adversary of God!

"The analysis of sin in its original dimension indicates that, through the influence of the 'father of lies,' throughout the history of humanity there will be a constant pressure on man to reject God, even to the point of hating him: `Love of self to the point of contempt for God,' as St. Augustine puts it (cf. De civitate Dei, XIV, 28). Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and the fullness of good. We see this confirmed in the modern age, when atheistic ideologies seek to root out religion on the grounds that religion causes the radical `alienation' of man, as if man were dispossessed of his own humanity when, accepting the idea of God, he attributes to God what belongs to man, and exclusively to man! Hence a process of thought and historico-sociological practice in which the rejection of God has reached the point of declaring his 'death.' An absurdity, both in concept and expression! But the ideology of the 'death of God' is more a threat to man, as the Second Vatican Council indicates when it analyzes the question of the 'independence of earthly affairs' and writes: 'For without the Creator the creature would disappear. . . . When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible' (GS, 36). The ideology of the `death of God' easily demonstrates in its effects that on the `theoretical and practical' levels it is the ideology of the 'death of man' " (L'Osservatore Romano, June 9, 1986).

This document was taken from Today’s Destructive Cults and Movements, by Rev. Lawrence J. Gesy.

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