Saturday, March 31, 2007

The reality of Satan

To be sure, there are some individuals who see Satan everywhere and in every evil they encounter in life. Such people approach life in a very superstitious manner and see the Evil One behind every evil action and circumstance. However, such people are the exception today. Our present epoch is imbued with the belief that there is no personal devil and that evil is merely a lack of human goodness in the world. Many theologians, such as Fr. Richard P. McBrien, have contributed to this belief. Father Richard McBrien once said on Nightline that the Catholic Church had never expressed dogmatically her belief in a personal devil.

However Fr. McBrien (and this is an old story) is simply wrong. In a dogmatic degree of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), we read:

"We firmly believe and openly confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immense, omnipotent, unchangeable, incomprehensible, and ineffable, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three Persons indeed but one essence, substance, or nature absolutely simple; the Father (proceeding) from no one, but the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Ghost equally from both, always without beginning and end. The Father begetting, the Son begotten, and the Holy Ghost proceeding; consubstantial and coequal, co-omnipotent and coeternal, the one principle of the universe, Creator of all things invisible and visible, spiritual and corporeal, who from the beginning of time and by His omnipotent power made from nothing creatures both spiritual and corporeal, angelic, namely, and mundane, and then human, as it were, common, composed of spirit and body. The devil and the other demons were indeed created by God good by nature but they became bad through themselves; man, however, sinned at the suggestion of the devil. This Holy Trinity in its common essence undivided and in personal properties divided, through Moses, the holy prophets, and other servants gave to the human race at the most opportune intervals of time the doctrine of salvation.

And finally, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God made flesh by the entire Trinity, conceived with the co-operation of the Holy Ghost of Mary ever Virgin, made true man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh, one Person in two natures, pointed out more clearly the way of life. Who according to His divinity is immortal and impassable, according to His humanity was made passable and mortal, suffered on the cross for the salvation of the human race, and being dead descended into hell, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. But He descended in soul, arose in flesh, and ascended equally in both; He will come at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead and will render to the reprobate and to the elect according to their works. Who all shall rise with their own bodies which they now have that they may receive according to their merits, whether good or bad, the latter eternal punishment with the devil, the former eternal glory with Christ."

The fact that so many Catholics today (and among them priests and theologians) no longer believe in a personal devil is evidence of the extent of the breakdown in belief. The truth of the matter is that the Catholic Church has consistently taught in every age that there is a personal evil being: Satan.

In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Vatican II taught that Satan is the one who deceives human beings and leads them away from God: "But rather often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become caught up in a futile reasoning and have echanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1: 21, 25)." (No. 16).

In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Les Formes de la superstition to help the faithful understand the Church's teaching regarding demonic spirits:

"It would be a fatal mistake to act as if history were already finished and redemption had achieved all its effects, so that it were no longer necessary to engage in the struggle [against the devil and demons] of which the New Testament and the masters of the spiritual life speak....To maintain today, therefore, that Jesus' words about Satan express only a teaching borrowed from his culture and are unimportant for the faith of other believers is evidently to show little understanding either of the Master's character or of his age. If Jesus used this kind of language and, above all, if he translated it into practice during his ministry, it wsa because it expressed a doctrine that was to some extent essential to the idea and reality of the salvation that he was bringing....Satan whom Jesus attacked with his exorcisms and confronted in the wilderness and in his passion, cannot simply be a product of the human ability to tell stories and personify ideas nor a stray survival of a primitive culture and its language....Satan's action on man is admittedly interior but it is impossible to regard him as therefore simply a personification of sin and temptation....It was for all these reasons that the Fathers of the Church were convinced from Scripture that Satan and the demons are the enemies of man's redemption, and they did not fail to remind the faithful of their existence and action." (Les formes de la superstition, in Vatican Council II: More Post Conciliar Documents, Northport: Costello Publishing Company, 1982), pp. 456-485.

While there are some who approach the question of evil from a superstitious perspective, seeing Satan behind every evil action and circumstance, still, the belief in a real personal devil may not be attributed to superstition:

"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 which we call the Devil....Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others....It is a departure from the picture provided by biblical and Church teaching to refuse to acknowledge the Devil's existence...or to explain the Devil as a pseudoreality, a conceptual, fanciful, personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes...St. Paul calls him the 'god of this world,' and warns us of the struggle we Christians must carry on in the dark, not only against one Devil, but against a frightening multiplicity of them..." (Pope Paul VI, General Audience given on November 15, 1972).

No comments:

Site Meter