It is astonishing, disturbing, and saddening to read certain remarks that seem to question the Faith of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
It is sometimes said that the devil does not really exist, as if belief in the devil was optional or even debatable in the Church. Satan would be just a way of speaking of the mystery of evil in our lives, a symbol belonging to an outdated culture of bygone days. But is he really?
The trend is towards disbelief, even in the Catholic Church. For example, on May 31, 2017, Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Jesuit Superior General – traditionally known as the “Black Pope” because of the importance of his position – ventured to broach the theme of evil in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
To the question of the journalist, who asks whether the question of evil finds its explanation in a process of purely human psychology or comes from a higher being, Fr. Sosa gave an answer so astounding that it is worth quoting in full:
From my point of view, evil is part of the mystery of freedom. If the human being is free, he can choose between good and evil. Christians believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and God is free, but He always chooses to do good because He is all goodness. We have created symbolic figures, such as the devil, to express [the reality of] evil. Social conditioning can also represent this figure, since there are people who act [in an evil way] because they are in an environment where it is difficult to act to the contrary.
In other words, evil is reduced to a purely psychological dimension and to an a priori category that is really just the fruit of the history of mentalities.
Fr. Sosa was answered from the opposite perspective by a son of St. Francis on the other side of the Atlantic. Archbishop Charles Chaput, a Capuchin, is in charge of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In his column on June 5, a few days after the resounding publication of the El Mundo interview, the prelate wrote on the question of evil, offering an analysis of the ideas of Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), a Polish Catholic philosopher known for his criticism of Marxism: “The devil and evil are constants at work in human history and in the struggles of every human soul,” he once declared.
The archbishop continued on a sharper tone: “And note that Kolakowski – unlike some of our own Catholic leaders who should know better – was not using the word ‘devil’ as a symbol of the darkness in our own hearts, or a metaphor for the bad things that happen in the world.” It’s hard not to see this as a dig at the General of the Jesuits.
Archbishop Chaput’s final remark is also very interesting: “The devil, more than anyone, appreciates this irony, i.e., that we can’t fully understand the mission of Jesus without him. And he exploits this to his full advantage. He knows that consigning him to myth inevitably sets in motion our same treatment of God.” He could hardly have made it more clear: denying the existence of the devil sooner or later leads to a profession of atheism.
Fr. Sosa is known for being close to the current pope. However, Francis does not share the Jesuit’s opinion on the mystery of evil – far from it. In a compilation of then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s letters, homilies, and talks called, “Only Love Can Save Us”, the existence of the devil is clearly asserted: “Careful: we are not fighting against human powers, but against the powers of darkness. Just like he did with Jesus, Satan will seek to seduce us, to lead us astray, to offer us ‘viable alternatives’.”
More recently, on October 30, 2014, in a homily during his morning Mass at Santa Marta, the Holy Father was very explicit: to think they have “made people think that the devil was a myth, a character, an idea, the concept of evil. The devil exists and we have to fight against him.”
On this point, the pope is faithful to the teaching of the Church.
The holy Gospels are full of references to the fact that the Devil really exists as a person. Jesus confronts the prince of Darkness several times when He practices exorcisms on possessed people. He meets him personally in the desert before vigorously driving him away: “Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve” (Mt. 4:10). He speaks of him in His teachings, describing Satan’s action in the world, or announcing that the “gates of hell” will never prevail against the Church He is going to found (Mt. 16:18).
Likewise, St. Paul, in his epistles, makes a clear distinction between the sins of men and the one who inspires them, Satan and the other evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. He exhorts us to put on “the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). The great Apostle himself is tried, lest the greatness of the revelations made to him exalt him: “There was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me” (II Cor. 12:7).
As for St. John, he gives us the words of Christ that are anything but ambiguous: “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (Jn. 12: 31). In the Apocalypse, he presents the victory of the immolated Lamb after a terrible battle against Satan, his angels and his followers: “And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Apoc. 12:9).
In keeping with Sacred Scripture, all of Tradition unanimously asserts the existence of Satan and the evil spirits.
The Fathers of the Church unmask them in their battles against the errors of the gnostics and the heresies spread by the prince of lies. Among them are Tertullian, St. Irenaeus, Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Eusebius of Vercelli, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Leo the Great, and others.
The devil is a creature of God; he was initially excellent and even brilliant, but he did not remain in the truth where it had been established: The devil “was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth; because truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof” (Jn. 8:44). Satan rose up against the Lord, and the evil was not in his nature, but in a free and contingent act of his own will, an act of pure malice and revolt, by which he sought to take the place of God.
When the Manichean dualism resurfaced with the Cathars and the Albigensians, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Lateran, in 1215, solemnly taught that “the devil and other demons were created by God naturally good, but they became evil by their own doing. Man, however, sinned at the prompting of the devil.”
The existence of Satan therefore has indeed been constantly maintained by the Faith of the Church. It is a truth that is not up for debate, for it is an integral part of her most solemn teaching. It has been asserted by multiple councils under the form of professions of faith.
By Christ and holy baptism, the Christian is set free from the devil’s dominion (Council of Florence, 1442). Through justification by grace, he escapes the “power of the devil and of death” (Council of Trent, 1547), but if he sins again, he is again delivered “into the power of the devil”, unless he resorts to the sacrament of penance (Council of Trent, 1551). Such is the Faith of the Church, and the reason the baptismal promises are renewed every year in the Easter liturgy. To into eternal life, one must renounce Satan, profess the Faith in the Most Blessed Trinity and adhere to Christ the Savior.
May these reminders of the Faith of the Church enlighten the General of the Jesuits and help him to submit to them. The devil and the dogmas, that is to say, the truths revealed by God, are not just symbols. Otherwise we fall into the “sewer of all heresies”, that St. Pius X condemned under the name of Modernism.