Nicolas Corte, abridged by Marko Malyj
How in this nuclear age should we think of Satan? Has the tremendous progress made in recent years by scientific discoveries affected the views of people? Yes! Without a doubt belief in devils has for some time been undergoing a more or less complete eclipse in the minds of people. Marrou writes,
"In our day there are very few who BELIEVE really and effectively in the Devil; for whom this article of faith is an active element of their religious life. Many acknowledge that they do not accept the existence of 'Satan'. Others only agree to it on condition that they shall be allowed to interpret this belief symbolically, to identify the Devil with evil (with the evil powers, with sin, with the perverse twist in our fallen nature), to which they give a sort of independent existence, detached from any real personality. Most people just find the theme embarrassing."
Belief in the Devil has, therefore, suffered a "regression". For many people Satan is simply a personification of Evil, a figure of speech, a prosopopoeia. When we think of combating "evil", we imagine fighting certain abstractions like ignorance, fear, greed, corruption, and the human institutions in which they breed. But these abstractions, though they seem very real to us, are only static adversaries. We no longer focus on those other adversaries - the intelligent, cunning, spiteful enemies eager who are out to destroy us. To overcome them we must call on God for help.
Under the pretext of "realism" that enables us to refuse acceptance of what we think of as old-fashioned prejudices, we are forsaking authentic realism. We are oblivious to the divinely planned gigantic struggle between the righteous and the wicked, and take no active part in it. And so we deny ourselves a clear understanding of how sin came into the world and why it is that sin is all around us and is so pervasive within us - the concept of "original" sin. We no longer connect sin with Satan's temptation of Eve. The whole spiritual combat loses its clear outline in the gray shadows of a theoretical argument between our abstract moral principles and our unthinking instincts.
What a distance lies between modern thought and that of the Apostle Paul in the Bible! "It is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists; we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours" (Ephesians 6:12).
What way does true realism lie? Marrou writes, "When the Fathers of the Church affirmed the existence of angels and devils and put forth opinions on their nature, they were not merely setting down an act of faith but contributing to a science based on reason and experience."
Within the last century, Satanism has assumed a new shape. Documented accounts of demonic possession, even public awareness of overt worship of Satan are giving way to a new Satanism, which is man's emulation of Satan's revolt. Modern Satanism lies in the neglect of God's rights, the denial of his name, the theoretical or practical negation of his existence and authority, in man's determination to arrange his life apart from God and without God.
Satan is quite prepared for men and women to deny him, provided that they also deny God! He who, as the expression goes, "believes in neither God nor the Devil", is just the person for him. This rebellion on the part of mankind is a second version of the angels' revolt. Satan has found imitators. They are numerous at the present time. And, like him, these "limbs of Satan" take up strategic positions, as we shall see.
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The Fall of the Angels
If you ask a theologian the question which forms the subject of this book: who is Satan? he will doubtless answer: Satan is the Commander-in-chief of the fallen angels.
Why should we believe in the existence of Satan and his army of demons? There are those with doubts on the whole matter, and others who never raise the question of Satan's existence lest they be obliged to come to a decision about it. Yet we must face problems boldly and come to a reasonable and sound conclusion about them.
"God is the Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal, and by his almighty power from nothing, at the beginning of time, he made both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angels and the world. Then he made the human creature, composed of a spirit and a body combined."
This definition is a dogmatic one which should be acceptable to all true Christian and Messianic churches. Definitions given by the Church are always necessarily based upon divine revelation. Thus we expect to find definitive information concerning angels and devils in the Bible, which is inspired by God. And this is what we find. The Holy Scriptures are full of trustworthy evidence on this matter.
God first created the spiritual (the angels) and the corporeal (the world), then he made man of spirit and body combined. We deduce from the Biblical record that the angels, whom God created before man, were capable of love or hatred. They may well have been witnesses to the creation of the physical. They would have seen that in the Son of God all things took their being (Colossians 1:15-16).
The angels then played the significant roles in the cosmic struggle between Good & Evil. Since we are also participants in this struggle, we ought to reflect on how it began.
The triumph of God's creation was the creation of free things. Initially there existed a moral order which was a source of dignity, beauty, and eternal beatitude to those embracing it, before the fall of any of the creatures. Angels were also created with free will. They were not forced to love God under compulsion. However, they were capable of falling. God set them a trial of love, similar to his later testing of Adam and Eve, before he granted celestial beatitude to the good angels. Having passed the test, the good angels were raised to a supernatural state of beatific vision of God, and entered into eternal happiness grounded in freedom and choice.
But then a fearsome battle ensued between the good angels, led by the archangel Michael, and those angels who opposed God. This is alluded to in Revelation 12:7-12. Satan and his followers rebelled, incited by pride in their own self-perfection. Their ultimate ambition was to become gods themselves.
This sin of the angels was unforgivable. God could not arrange for its atonement. Their sin was judged to be all the more culpable because their nature was sublime compared to ours. Angelic intelligence is evidently intuitive, operating immediately by inspirations, with no need to reconsider things. That means an angel is incapable of repentance. To put it another way, the angelic spirit can see in a flash both for and against before making a choice. Consequently the angelic will is not capable metaphysically to retract that choice.
Among mankind, the unbeliever after death is also in such a state of final impenitence. He is a human soul fixed in its state, incapable of retracting hatred, and so he becomes subject to the laws applying to pure spirits.
The Tempter and the Accuser
God created interdependence between the different parts of creation. As vegetables, animals and minerals are involved with our physical bodies, so angels and demons are involved with our souls. But the difference is categorical. The involvement of angels and devils at the very beginning of human affairs directly impacted the physical unity of the cosmos and the moral unity of the spirit universe.
Though God banished Satan from heaven, he did not banish him from creation. An old Christian proverb says "the devil carries stone". This means that the Devil himself can serve God's purposes! According to Augustine, God uses him to take good from evil.
After the fall of Satan, God allowed him to play his chosen role of Tempter, permitting him to seduce the greatest number of angels into rebellion. The new humanity, Adam and Eve, also required a trial befitting its strength, and so God used Satan once again. The garden of Eden was necessarily to become a battlefield in the continuing struggle between Good and Evil. However, Satan was unaware of the magnificence of God's divine plan, which involved his ultimate defeat at the hands of the Messiah, and the redemption of believing humanity by the blood of this Messiah.
How did the Devil participate in the test that God set before Adam and Eve? Satan's approach is summarized in his words to Eve: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil!" To possess all the light, you must also possess all the darkness! To "know life", you must have abused it! To attain truth, you must have experienced error!
How shall Eve reply? The most alluring temptation could not in and of itself deprive her of her freedom. Jesus was to show later how we must answer Satan. But "the woman saw that the fruit was good to eat and pleasant to look at, and took from the tree and ate it, and gave some to her husband, and he ate with her" (Genesis 3:1-6).
The temptation of Eve by Satan in the earthly paradise is one of the most significant factors in the whole of our spiritual history. The whole Biblical religion proclaims that Satan was anything but a fable, a myth or a tissue of allegories. Jesus was to say to his enemies, those Jews who did not believe in him: "You belong to your father, the devil. He from the first, was a murderer. When he utters falsehood, he is only uttering what is natural to him; he is all false, and it was he who gave falsehood its birth!" (John 8:44).
A murderer from the first and the Father of lies! Such is the answer given by the facts to the question asked in this book: Who is Satan? It is he, literally, who put us to death, who introduced death into the history of mankind. Satan is the great protagonist in the human adventure. If Adam and Eve had their responsibility in this drama, Satan's was far heavier. He is the accomplice if not the direct inspirer of all human crimes, and the instigator of all that is evil in our cultures and civilization.
Yet he was also an opportunity for moral victories on the part of believers. This is evident in the Book of Job. There we see clearly portrayed the problem of trial, the problem of suffering, the origin of evil, the greatness of God, and the sovereign justice that is in him. We see a foreshadowing of the Gospel - the drama of the Suffering of the Righteous one and the agony of the Cross.
In the book of Job, Satan appears as one of the authors of suffering. But notice that God allows it. Satan inflicts it with God's permission. He inflicts it to drive man to despair and to blasphemy, while God permits it to test the degree of our faith, our confidence, our fidelity and our love.
Remember that the Devil is no more than a creature of God, and by no means an independent and rival principle to God. As Gregory the Great reminds us, even though Satan lost the beatitude of heaven, he nevertheless kept his nature which was like that of the angels.
Satan means "adversary", or "accuser". He invited himself to bring afflictions on Job by first accusing him before God. Satan cynically describes Job's dealings with God by saying that Job doesn't really love God, he merely fears him, so that he can be protected by him. Thus Job has nothing to lose! So Satan challenges not only Job, but the entire human relationship of faith with God.
The book of Job raises the problem of the suffering of the just. We can solve this problem in our New Testament age by the contemplation of the Messiah's suffering on the cross, and by our association with his redemption, which is the pledge of future glory.
But Job belongs to the Old Testament. He cannot know this answer which is the only complete one. He has, it seems, the greater merit for not abandoning his pure monotheism, his deep filial piety towards the Creator and the power of his hope in him.
The Book of Job is but a stage in the revelation of the ways of God. The magnificence of the world in which God has established us should suffice to reveal to us his sovereign wisdom. It leads us to a perfect submission and to a total surrender into his hands. Job's victory is an example of the triumphs man can win over Satan's malice.
Satan is far from always emerging victorious. He was beaten back the first time by Michael and his angels. He was defeated irreversibly by Jesus Christ. And he will be finally conquered, according to the book of Revelation, at the end of time.
Whether his role is Tempter or Accuser, in Satan we have a being who does not love us, who is jealous of us, who would like to drag us to destruction with him, who does not hesitate to lie or to inflict the most dreadful calamities upon us in order to achieve his purposes. In short, Satan is someone who revels in doing harm to us. He is a murderer from the first. He is the Father of lies whom Jesus Christ denounced.
That such a figure is constantly at work among men is what helps to explain why the history of mankind should be so full of troubles, disturbance, unrest and bloodshed, and so inhuman most of the time. No wild animal has shown itself to be more ferocious than man! This is all largely due to Satan's activity among us.
Satan and the Messiah
So far we have recounted several events in the gigantic struggle between Good and Evil: the battle between Lucifer (one of Satan's names) and Michael, the battle between the good angels and the devils, the casting off of the rebels, and the temptation of Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden.
Satan played a decisive role both in the fall of Adam and Eve and in the life and death of Jesus Christ. He who had been a murderer from the first reached the very peak of his triumphs with deicide. But that became the signal for his defeat and the decline of his dominion.
John, of all the evangelists, clearly identifies sin with the work of the Devil. "If the Son of God was revealed to us, it was so that he might undo what the devil has done" (1 John 3:8). The whole Christian problem consists in escaping the grasp of the Evil One, and to belong only to God. God's solution to this problem was to send his Son Jesus Christ to our world to directly confront Satan.
At the outset of his ministry, Jesus encountered Satan in a great struggle we call the Temptation of Jesus. This temptation was followed by persecutions at the hands of Christ's enemies, who did not hesitate to term him "a votary of Beelzebub" (another of Satan's names). In itself that accusation is indicative of the diabolical psychology, for it is worthy of the "Father of lies". By recounting these events to his apostles afterwards, Jesus surely wished to stress the fact that the whole of his life was to be a struggle with, and victory over, Satan.
Three times in the gospel of John, Jesus calls Satan "the prince of this world". But it is a "principality" that Jesus does not accept. He rejects it and he has come to fight and destroy it.
It is not from the lips of Jesus that we shall find words expressing doubt concerning Satan's power, as we hear so often nowadays, or concerning his very existence. How can people possibly doubt that Satan exists and still exists, or that his power in the world is enormous, or that everything that the genius of man has invented for the purpose of killing, from Cain's cudgel to the hydrogen bomb, is a product of hell? He is also behind all the vice of this world, which kills even more people that war!
The devil has, up to a certain point, rights over men. Willful sin has made them slaves of Satan. But over Jesus he has no rights! Having no rights over Christ, Satan could put him to death only by iniquitous judges and by relentless executioners, who served as his instruments.
It is ironic to notice that, by so relentlessly targeting Christ and bringing him to his death, Satan involuntarily contributes the most magnificent homage to God that any creature can possibly pay to the Creator! Whether the Devil likes it or not, his crime is a source of ineffable glory for God.
Christ's confrontation with the Evil one resulted in the redemption of believing humanity. Let us look more closely into the concept of redemption. Literally speaking, this word means "buying back". Adam and Eve had sold themselves and all their posterity to the Devil. Satan had so become "the Prince of this world". God had allowed Satan to take possession of his prey, but within certain narrow limits.
"How can we deny the influence of evil spirits, especially in leading man to idolatry? What could make the Carthaginians burn their own children to death? How could the Greeks of the great period of Pericles worship such depraved gods?"
Jesus was the only one who could say, "He has no hold over me!" God the Father charged him to dispossess humanity from Satan. Christ gave his blood as the price for our souls, as a ransom to compensate Satan for his rights. He paid for our redemption.
Remember also Satan's influence in the cases of possession which are so frequent in the Gospels. Almost all the peoples of the world have believed in possession. The pagans believed that there were men and women amongst them in whose bodies the "gods" lived in, or at least, spoke through them and prophesied. We are right to consider all these soothsayers and pythonesses as possessed of the devil. That is just how the Fathers of the Church considered them.
Jesus also dealt with many cases of possession. Not for an instant did he doubt the reality of possession! Jesus made a clear distinction between possession and disease. Catherinet states, "The attitude of Jesus in the presence of the possessed does not allow us to think that in acting and speaking as he did he was merely accommodating himself to the ignorance and prejudices of his contemporaries."
It is very possible that these cases of possession happened with unusual frequency around the person of Jesus. The personal combination of divine and human nature in Jesus had as its counterpart, with divine permission, increased manifestations of diabolical power. The incarnation of the Word was thus answered by Satan with diabolical incarnations that were grotesque caricatures.
The Church, after Jesus, also did not doubt in the reality of possession. In the early Church there existed a special order of clergy known as exorcists. Their ministry over the centuries is well documented. Today we can say that if its true that there are no longer any cases of possession, it is thanks to the goodness of God and the blood of Jesus Christ.
Up until the coming of Jesus, Satan had dominated the world almost as supreme master. But an overthrow has taken place, which Jesus described when he told his disciples: "I have given you power over all the power of the enemy!" There can now be no doubt over these three points:
1) It is Jesus himself who claims unlimited power over the devils and their chief, Satan.
2) His Messianic work consists in the fall of Satan, who falls as lightning from heaven at the voice of his disciples, just as he had fallen from heaven at the voice of Michael and his angels.
3) He bequeaths to his disciples, that is, his Church, a power over devils which forms part of her mission on earth.
The Kingdom of Satan
The Apostle Paul's powerful genius, inspired by God, strongly contrasts the realm of sin with the realm of grace. When Augustine sees the whole history of the world concentrated in the struggle between two Cities, what he is doing is following Paul's interpretation. But for Paul, sin is not - as it is for many of us - an abstraction. The realm of sin is the very real realm of Satan. In our daily struggle against sin we are struggling against Satan. Throughout the centuries the essential war has always been between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. It is the only war whose stake is eternal.
How can we conceive of the kingdom of Satan? In space the realm of Satan is our world; in time, it is the time in which we live. When Jesus called Satan "the Prince of this world", that is just what he meant. The maxims of the world, the customs of the world, the way of living of the world - all present to the eyes of Christ something Satanic. Paul captures this understanding by calling Satan not only the "Prince of this world", but also "the god of this world"!
Many may be astonished that we have not begun by saying "the kingdom of Satan is hell". Yes, the kingdom of Satan is indeed hell, but Satan received God's permission to recruit his subjects from our world, which he claims as an extension of his kingdom.
The Apostle John writes to "the angel of Smyrna", that is, the bishop of that city, that he has to fight "the synagogue of Satan". He sees in Philadelphia another "synagogue of Satan". These synagogues, in both cases, were formed of those non-Messianic Jews who did not follow Christ, but instead were opposed to the gospel.
How could such beauty, such purity, such gentleness in Christ's Gospel have failed to stir men deeply and win their hearts? An important factor is that Satan is always there. He has powerful strings to pull in the depths of the human soul, to prevent people from following the only doctrine of salvation which would ever shine for them. He wants to win the struggle between life and death.
Make no mistake, in the realm of death it is Satan who is master! He drives people to their death. Sin and death are his domain. One leads to the other. Nor is it only the death of the body that interests him. It is much more. He aspires to the death of our souls, which is the second death. He triumphs when he leads men's spirits to the denial of the spirit. So he gathers all the doubters, the unbelievers, the mistrustful, those engulfed in matter, and he draws them away from the influences and from the light of the Gospel. He rules over his captives absolutely. He becomes their "god" in their lives, and he is a god of darkness and lies.
Our textbooks of moral theology give abstract rules, logical definitions, reasoned-out theories, and aphorisms of commonplace wisdom. Their premise is that of Socrates, that it is enough to know to be able to do. All evil comes from ignorance. "He who opens a school, closes a prison."
But these text-books are very far removed from the reality of our actual conflict. Much more profound is Paul's perception! He knows that we are "sold into the slavery of sin". He explains:
"My own actions bewilder me; what I do is not what I wish to do, but something which I hate.... My action does not come from me, but from the sinful principle that dwells in me.... So I am handed over as a captive to that disposition towards sin which my lower self contains. Pitiable creature that I am, who is to set me free from a nature that is doomed to death? Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:14-25).
Anyone familiar with Paul's ideas knows that behind the sin, there is someone who drives us to it, who rejoices in our fall, and who participates in our degradation. "It is not against flesh and blood, we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours (Ephesians 6:11-12).
When we speak of Satan, it really does mean a person. But Satan is not alone. He has a whole hierarchy behind him. Lucifer carried with him in his revolt angels belonging, doubtless, to all the rungs of the angelic ladder. All these fallen angels are "spirits of malice". There are some among them who were princedoms and powers among the angels. But by their fall, the princedoms and powers in question have not lost all their natural power.
Our moral conflicts, therefore, are not fought in the abstract, but against tough and very personal adversaries. The struggle is a desperate one, against one who "goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey", and his followers.
"But you, grounded in the faith, must face him boldly!" We should not fear them if we rely on Christ instead of on our own strength. We can and must challenge them boldly in the name of our faith.
In the New Testament, we see Satan and his angels spread out across the earth and sky, but never in hell. And yet we find it almost impossible not to visualize them amidst the flames of hell. We have in our minds words of Christ like these regarding the last judgment: "Go far from me, you who are accursed, into that eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!"
Have the demons, therefore, the gift of ubiquity? Can they be in hell and on earth at the same time?
The answer is complex. It begins with the answer that the demon named Legion gave to Christ: "Hast thou come here to torment us before the appointed time?" It is only at the end of time, after the universal judgment, that Satan will lose the title of Prince of this world, and become merely the Prince of hell. But until "the end of time" the demons prowl over the earth. The Gospel shows them wandering through desert places, but all the time they are among us and all around us.
Paul places them in the world, in the darkness, or even in the lower parts of the celestial regions. This entire army of beings are hostile to mankind and are led by Satan as their chief. The apostle speaks of this "prince whose domain is in the lower air, that spirit whose influence is still at work among the unbelievers" (Ephesians 2:2).
Why is Satan called here "the prince whose domain is in the lower air"? Paul, doubtless, wishes to give us to understand that the demons are lying in wait all around us, ready to devour us, and against whom we can defend ourselves only by faith, and by watching and praying.
The present time is for Satan and the bad angels a period of provisional remission as far as punishment in hell is concerned. This time of remission does not prevent them from suffering now the pain of losing their sight of God. But this auxiliary penalty, called "the pain of sense", is a sort of partial spiritual captivity until the end of the world.
In Revelation, John speaks of a certain reduction in Satan's power, after the coming of Christ, followed by a temporary renewal of his power of seduction, and finally the utter overthrowing of his dominion:
"Then, when the thousand years are over, Satan will let loose from his prison, and will go out to seduce the nations.... But God sent fire from heaven to consume them, and the devil, their seducer, was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20).
What madness indeed to consider oneself on a level with God, to prefer oneself to God! Yet that was Satan's sin. When men glorify the delights of total liberty and the absolute right of human instinct to develop without restraint, it is nothing less than Satanism. It is the present-day attitude which revels in knowledge and technical skill, claiming to be sufficient to itself and to humanity and despising all the lofty aspirations which Christ brought into the world.
Satanism today consists in expecting everything of science and technical skill and nothing of God, in selling one's share of Paradise for the mess of pottage of material comfort. The militant atheism of many modern day writers, the hatred of God in present-day communism, the laicization which banishes God from schools and law courts, are a revolt against God, in imitation of Satan.
People sometimes quote this saying of the somber Jacob Boehme, theosophist of the seventeenth century (1575-1624): "The devil is nature's cook, without him life would be a bowl of tasteless gruel." It seems that most modern artists and writers share this opinion. Their marked taste for filth, their determination to strip man of any lofty ideal, their contempt in dismissing all morality, prove that they are in their element when painting abject vice, and that they can count on their viewers and readers to accept the foulest and most pornographic descriptions. So-called experts are careful to sing the praises of only the vilest productions. There can be no doubt that this is all done "under the sign of Satan".
And Satan has no need to make a personal appearance in our days. He is only too well served by those who profess to believe no longer in his existence or his activity. As Baudelaire said, "The devil's first trick is his incognito." He is the Father of lies, and there is no more deadly lie than the refusal to recognize his presence here in the very heart of human affairs.
In contrast, John, the peerless prophet of Revelation, described a true vision of the last days of the world:
"Then I saw a new heaven, and a new earth. The old heaven, the old earth had vanished, and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw in my vision that holy city which is the new Jerusalem, being sent down by God from heaven.... God will dwell with men, and they will be his own people, and he will be among them, their own God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, no mourning, or cries of distress, no more sorrow; those old things have passed away."
John saw the essential features of our age that precedes this total renewal of all things, when he wrote:
"Meanwhile, the wrong-doer must persist in his deeds of wrong, the corruption in his corruption... but the just man must persist in winning his justification, the holy in his life of holiness."
For now there will be the two Cities that Augustine saw. But God is not dead or dying! He has nothing to fear from the paltry "Satans" that hover above our heads, here in the midst of mankind. He will have the last word. John gives us these words of Christ:
"Patience, I am coming soon.... I am Alpha, I am Omega, I am before all, I am at the end of all, the beginning of all things and their end. Blessed are those who wash their garments in the blood of the Lamb; so they will have access to the tree which gives life.... No room there for prowling dogs, for sorcerers and wantons and murderers and idolaters, for anyone who loves falsehood and lives in it."
"The Spirit and my bride (the Church) bid me come; let everyone who hears this read out and say, Come. Be it so, then; come, Lord Jesus."
(Abridged from Who is the Devil? by Nicolas Corte, Hawthorne Books, New York, 1958)