Primer on the Devil

03-20-2022Weekly Reflection

The Church teaches that the devil at first was a good angel created by God: the devil and the other demons were created naturally-good by God, but they became evil by their own doing. Catechism of the Catholic Church #392

The devil exists and acts in people and society. His activity is mysterious, but real and effective. Some people are inclined towards a superficial optimism and think evil is merely an incidental imperfection in a world which is continually evolving towards better days. Nevertheless the history of mankind has been adversely affected by the devil’s influence. We find in our day all the features of an intense evil which cannot be explained in terms of human behavior alone.

The devil, in all sorts of ways, wreaks havoc on mankind. There is no doubt that the whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so Our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history up to the last day. The devil does this in such a way that he provokes incalculable harm of a spiritual nature and, indirectly even of a physical nature, to individuals and to society. The devil’s activity is mysterious but at the same time real and effective.

From the first centuries, Christians were conscious of diabolical activity. St Peter admonished the first Christians: Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith.

With Jesus Christ, the devil’s dominion has been reduced, for He has freed us from the power of Satan. As a result of the redeeming work of Christ, the devil can only cause real harm to those who freely allow him to, by consenting to evil and separating themselves from God.

The devil will try to reduce the human spirit and lead it to violate God’s precepts, little by little darkening the hearts of those who try to serve him. This he will do to make them forsake the true God, turning to himself instead as though he were a god indeed. He does this, at all times, in a thousand different ways. But God has given us the means to overcome all temptations; nobody sins necessarily. God has given us an angel to help and protect us. If you call upon your Guardian Angel at the moment of trial, he will protect you from the devil and will bring you holy inspirations.

The devil is a personal, real and individual being, of a spiritual and indivisible nature, who separated himself from God forever by his sin, because the devil and the other demons were created naturally good by God; but they became bad of themselves. He is a liar and the father of lies, of sin, of discord, of affliction, of hatred, of all that is absurd and evil on earth. He is the astute and envious serpent who brings death to the world, the enemy who sows evil in man’s heart and the only being we have to fear if we are not close to God. His sole purpose in the world, which he has never renounced, is our perdition.

Every day he will try to achieve that purpose through all the means at his disposal. It all began with his rejection of God and God’s kingdom, when he usurped his sovereign rights and tried to overturn the economy of salvation and the very ordering of creation itself. This attitude can be found reflected in the words of the tempter to our first parents: ‘You will be like gods’. This is how the evil spirit endeavors to transplant into man the attitude of proud rivalry, of insubordination and opposition to God that has become the motivating force of his own whole existence. The devil is the first cause of evil and of the disorders and ruptures which are produced in families and in society.

In his temptations the devil has recourse to deceit, because he can present only a false good and a fictitious happiness, which inevitably turn into loneliness and bitterness. Outside of God true good or happiness do not exist; they cannot exist. Outside of God there is only darkness, emptiness and endless misery.

But the devil’s power is limited, and is also under the dominion and sovereignty of God, who is the only Lord of the Universe. The devil – and our angels – cannot penetrate our innermost thoughts if we do not want them to. The unclean spirits cannot know the nature of our thoughts, they can only conjecture at them from outwardly perceptible indications, or else by examining our dispositions, our words or the things they notice that we tend towards. On the other hand, what we have not chosen to exteriorize so that it remains hidden within our souls, is totally inaccessible to them. Even the very thoughts that they suggest to us, the reception we give them, the reaction they cause within us ... they cannot know any of this because of the very essence of our soul ... except, in every case, through our movements and external manifestations.

The devil is unable to violate our liberty so as to incline it towards evil. It is a certain fact that the devil cannot seduce anybody if he does not freely give to the devil the consent of his will. The holy Curé d’Ars says that the devil is a great chained dog which puts people to flight, which makes a great noise, but which only bites those who come too close.

No human power can be compared to the devil. Only God’s power can vanquish him and only God’s light can unmask the snares that he lays. The soul that would overcome the power of the devil will not be able to do so without prayer, nor will it recognize his deceitful traps without the aid of mortification and humility.

Jesus Christ vanquishes the devil. Jesus’ life was summarized in the Acts of the Apostles in these words: He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. Christ is the true victor over the devil.

Nevertheless, the devil continues to retain a certain power over the world, in so far as men reject the fruits of the Redemption. He has dominion over those who in one way or another voluntarily surrender themselves to him, preferring the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of grace. This is why we should not be surprised if we often see evil apparently triumph and justice cruelly wronged here and there.

Our Lord has left us many means by which to conquer and to live in this world with the peace and joy of a good Christian. Amongst these means are prayer, mortification, the frequent reception of Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Penance, and love for Our Lady. We are always safe in Our Lady’s company.

The best way we have of showing that we want to replace the “ I will not serve” of the devil with our personal “I will serve,” is to make a special effort this Lent to improve in our faithfulness to what we know God wants of us.

These bullet points are taken Conversation with God, Vol 2, by Francisco Fernandez-Carvajal