By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
On Nov. 15, 1972 Pope Paul Vl began his general audience with these words:
“What are the church’s greatest needs at the present time? Don’t be surprised at our answer, and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the devil.”
We recall from the book of Genesis that when God created the various things that He brought into being (e.g. the light, the waters and dry land, the vegetation, etc.), after each one the Scripture says “He saw that it was good.” And after creating man to his own image, and giving him dominion over all that He had made, the text concludes: “God looked on everything He had made, and He found it very good.” (Gen. 1:31 )
This being so, how do we explain the existence of so much evil in the world, so much suffering … so much moral evil especially. Did something go wrong that God did not count on?
God made man to his own image, i.e. with intelligence and free will, so that he was free to accept or reject the will of the Creator. And we know that our first parents rejected it, and in doing so (since in them the whole human race was on trial), caused our will to be weakened, and our judgment to be obscured, so that we can reject God’s will even more easily than they. Our first parents rejected God’s will – not because their will was weak, or their judgment obscured, or because they were inclined to evil as we are – but solely because of the deception of Satan, who himself had rejected God and was condemned eternally. And what is more, in bringing Adam and Eve to fall in this special trial, the devil gained a certain dominion over them and their descendants. With that fall the kingdom of Satan was established on earth.
The reason why Christ became man was precisely to deliver us from this domination of Satan, to conquer him and his kingdom, and to establish on earth the Kingdom of God. Even though Christ, by His passion and death has conquered Satan, and the ultimate destruction of his kingdom is certain, the Evil One is still allowed to roam about the world with a certain freedom to tempt souls. And if he lost the battle in his encounter with Christ, he has not lost any of his superhuman powers – his intelligence far superior to that of man . . . his cleverness . . . his hatred and envy of man, and his desire for our eternal damnation. As St. Peter warns in his epistle:
“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same suffering throughout the world.” (5:8)
The Scriptures tell us quite a bit about the fall of man, but very little about the fall of Satan and the other angels who rebelled with him. St. Peter tells us that they sinned and were cast into hell (2 Pet. 2:4), but the Scriptures reveal nothing about the nature of their fall. However, some of the Fathers of the Church believe that some angels rebelled when they were given to know that they would have to pay homage to a divine Person (Jesus Christ), who would assume a nature (human) inferior to theirs; or perhaps that they would have to pay homage to a human person (Mary), who by grace, would be raised above them as their Queen.
It must be especially humiliating to Satan, that one who is inferior to the angels as to their natural powers, has been raised so far above them, and has become more powerful than they – through her sharing in the power of God.
Satan is the arch-enemy of Christ, confirmed in hatred of Him, his whole being dedicated to preventing His work of redemption. And just as there are countless numbers of fallen angels, Satan’s collaborators in this war against Christ; so too, unfortunately, he has been able to deceive great numbers of human beings so that they are actually working for his cause.
We read in the Scriptures how Satan tempted Christ Himself in the desert; and we know how completely he was defeated in that encounter. However, if he sought to deceive Christ in His physical body and was humiliated by his defeat, you can be sure he will seek to tempt and deceive members of His Mystical Body – the Church. And if he did not hesitate to tempt the very Head of that Mystical Body, a Divine Person, he will certainly seek to tempt and deceive those in high positions in the Church, those in positions of influence over others, whether Bishops, Priests, Sisters, theologians, educators, artists, etc…. that through them he might deceive and win over others.
Sister Lucia, the sole survivor of the three children who received the message of Our Lady at Fatima, wrote in a letter to Fr. Fuentes in 1957, then the Postulator of the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco:
“The Most Holy Virgin has told me that the devil is about to engage in a decisive battle against the Virgin . . . and as the devil knows what most offends God, and what will make him gain the most souls in the shortest possible time, he does everything to win consecrated souls from God, for in this manner he will succeed in leaving the souls of the faithful defenseless, and so he will lay hold of them more easily.”
- (THIRD SECRET OF FATIMA, Bro. Michael of the H. Trinity, p. 25)
We know, however, that in spite of the divisions within the Church, Christ has promised that “the gates of hell will never prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18) Yet, from the beginning the Evil One has sought to deceive and win over those in positions of influence. Of the original 12 apostles, St. Luke tells us that he entered into the heart of Judas. (22:3)
On June 29, 1972 Pope Paul warned that especially since the second Vatican Council the devil has increased his attacks on the Church:
“We thought that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church, and instead we found storms. How did this happen? We will confide this thought to you . . . There was an adverse power, the devil, whom the Gospel calls the mysterious enemy of man, something preternatural – which comes to suffocate the fruits of the ecumenical Council.”
“One could say that from some fissure – the smoke of Satan entered into the temple of God. There is doubt, there is uncertainty, there is the problematical, disquiet, dissatisfaction….there is confrontation.”
The Holy Father refers to “fissures” (like cracks in the wall) – through which the devil gains entrance, gains control over certain members of the Church, members who were freed from the dominion of Satan through baptism, but later fell back under his dominion due to the weaknesses of human natures and his clever deception.
You recall Our Lord’s parable of the wheat and the cockle (Mt. 13:24). A man went out to his field and sowed good grain; but while he slept an enemy came and sowed in the same field cockle (a harmful weed). When the stalks of wheat grew up and produced grain, the cockle came too. The owner of the field commented: “An enemy has done this.”
That same enemy is today sowing weeds and cockle of error among the good grain of solid doctrine in the Church. And how does he do this? Again Pope Paul gives the answer:
“The devil undermines man’s moral equilibrium with his sophistry. He is the malign, clever seducer who knows how to make his way into us through the senses, the imagination, the libido (lust), through utopian logic . . . so that he can bring about in us deviations that are all the more harmful because they seem to conform to our physical and mental makeup, or to our profound instinctive aspirations.”
Not that every sin is due to the devil’s influence; but “it is true,” the Pope continued, “that those who do not keep watch over themselves with a certain moral vigor are exposed to the influence of the ‘mystery of iniquity’ cited by St. Paul” (2 Thes. 2:7). And without divine help they are no match for his intelligence and cleverness.
Although the devil cannot directly influence man’s mind or will, he can and does indirectly affect those faculties by means of the external senses and lower faculties – the imagination, the sensibility, the memory, as the Holy Father points out. He can awaken sense-images and cause us to have feelings that affect our thinking, and incline our will to accept what satisfies us.
Speaking of how the devil works through the imagination and the sensibility to achieve this deception, St. Thomas Aquinas states:
“It happens, through the rousing of a passion, that what is put before the imagination is judged as being something to be pursued, because, to him who is held by the passion, whatever the passion inclines him to, seems good. In this way the devil induces man inwardly to sin.” (I II, 80, 2)
The devil is too clever to show his hand, disguising himself as an “angel of light”. (2 Cor. 11:14). He will suggest some veiled evil, under the guise of something good . . . something part good and part evil . . . something part true and part false. He might, for example, encourage a little easing up on our efforts . . . a little less prayer . . . a little more indulgence in this or that . . . until the weakness and inclinations of our fallen nature do the rest.
It is sometimes said that one of the devil’s cleverest victories is to convince man that he does not exist And how often do we hear today, even among Christians, of some who seek to reduce the existence of the angels to mere folklore. Such ones play right into his hands.
There is a strange anomaly in this regard that is difficult to understand, except for the deception and cleverness of the devil. While on the one hand we find many intellectuals who will question or deny the existence of spiritual beings (and therefore of devils), we find on the other hand, a decided increase in recent times in the cult of Satanism. We can be sure Satan is active in fostering both evils.
The tactics of Satan over the centuries have not changed, because human nature has not changed. As mentioned above, St. Paul refers to the work of Satan as the “mystery of iniquity,” or as it is sometimes translated –“the mystery of lawlessness,” the devil being the “Lawless One.” When you look around the world today and see the great amount of lawlessness, the great increase of every form of lustful immorality, of violence, of terrorism, of abortion, etc., we can see the signs of Satan’s influence on all sides. Truly, this is his hour.
Let us consider briefly the subtle tactics of Satan, and see ways in which he manipulates many who do not realize they are being manipulated.
- Because of his great intelligence, he can suggest subtle different interpretations of the Scriptures, and of theology, that distort revealed truth.
- He will seek to persuade one to be broad-minded in moral matters, his object being a gradual weakening of one’s moral fibre, and a further deepening of his tendency to wishful thinking.
- Knowing from experience how powerless he is against the humble and the obedient, he seeks to encourage a spirit of independence, and of rebellion against lawful authority.
- Knowing how the Holy Spirit guides the Church in the way of truth, this “father of lies” seeks to bring us to doubt the teaching of the Church, and to call into question its dogmas and moral teaching.
- Knowing the power of prayer to obtain grace, he seeks to instill in us the idea of self-sufficiency, that we don’t need prayer . . . we can manage our own life.
In countless ways the devil can deceive us with half truths, as Pope Paul says, “undermining man’s moral equilibrium with his sophistry.” In some mysterious way he can bring suggestions before us that are so appealing to our pleasure-seeking, glory-seeking and freedom- seeking nature. These are a few examples:
- I need to be free of those telling me what to do, in order to attain my real fulfillment.
- If I suppress my sensual impulses and urges, I may do harm to my natural development.
- I am a mature person. I can read whatever I wish, or watch whatever kind of TV program or movies I wish. It doesn’t affect me at all.
- If I always say no to others in regard to sex, or drugs, or alcohol,—I will never be accepted by others. I will never have any friends.
- I don’t need confession. I haven’t any grave sins. And besides, if I stay away more there will be less danger of routine confessions.
- My prayers don’t seem to be answered . . . so what is the use of praying.
- My conscience is the only guide I need. As long as I am at peace with my conscience, I need not worry – even if some of my acts and decisions are not always in line with the teachings of the Church . . . etc. etc.
(And so on without end . . . is the cleverness of the Evil One in exploiting our weaknesses, our likes and dislikes.)
All this may seem to present a rather pessimistic view of life, especially when we recall man’s weakness and the devil’s strength, our ignorance and his astuteness. In answer to this St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that if there are countless fallen angels seeking to snare us, there is an even greater number of angels working for our salvation.
“So that the contest should not be unequal, men get some compensation, first, through the help of God’s grace, and second, through the guardianship of the Angels. Thus Elisha said to his servant: ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more on our side than on theirs’.” (1 11, 114,1, ad 2)
In God’s creation everything has a purpose. Even the fallen angels with their malicious deceitfulness can be used by God as instruments of testing man. Where there is no test, there is no growth. And in every temptation, sufficient grace is offered to withstand it. (I Cor. 10:13)
As we have seen in a preceding issue (Vol. 40, n. 6), in the divine plan, Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, is destined – through the power of her Divine Son – to crush the head of the serpent. Queen of heaven and earth, she can call upon the heavenly host to protect us from the wiles and snares of the enemy. This presupposes, of course, that we do what we can to avoid occasions of sin, and bring discipline to bear on our weaknesses, and rely faithfully on prayer and the sacraments, the chief sources of grace.
As Our Savior warned the apostles in the Garden of Gesthemani: “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” Prayer and vigilance are essential if we are not to be deceived and led astray by the tempter of souls, the “father of lies.” Pray too for those in positions of influence in the Church, for, as we saw, they are particular objects of the devil’s attacks . . . as are all who keep God’s commandments. (Apoc. 12:17)
Whether it be moments of temptation, of doubt, or of conflict . . . whether the problems be ours . . . or those of another . . . heed with confidence the advice of St. Bernard: “Look to the Star, Call upon Mary!”