Are devils real? Does Satan really exist?
A.S., Washington, D.C.
Perhaps the best answer can be given by the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia.
Under the heading ‘SATAN’ in the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia we find:
The great adversary of God and man.
The word ‘Satan’ is used thirty-four times in the New Testament, fourteen times in the Gospels (Matt.4,10; 12, 26; 16,23,etc.). He is represented as the leader, the prince, of demons (Matt. 9,34; Mark 3,22) or unclean spirits (cf. the exception in Matt. 16,23, and Mark 8,33, where Peter is referred to by Christ as a satan-like man). Another popular name is “the devil” (Gk., diabolos), which occurs thirty-six times in the New Testament, fourteen times in the Gospels, and applies almost exclusively to the prince of demons. The exceptions include the use of the plural in I Tim.3,11; II Tim. 3,3; Tit. 2,3 (meaning slanderers, calumniators), and of the singular in John 6,71 (referring to Judas as a devil-like man). Other names are “the dragon,” “the ancient serpent” (Apoc. 12,9; 20,2), “the evil one” (Eph. 6,16’ I John 2, 13f;3,12; 5,18), Beelzebul (or Beezebub: Matt. 12,24, 27, and par.), and Beliar (or Belial: 2 Cor.6,15), “the enemy” (Matt. 13,28.39), “the god of this world” (2 Cor.4,4), etc. The name Lucifer does not occur in the New Testament (cf. Isa.14,12).
From the various names applied to Satan it is evident that he is a spirit and obstinately bent upon evil. His iniquity is something of a mystery. Hence, John in his Apocalypse speaks of “the depths of Satan” (Apoc.2,24), and in his Gospel, Christ declares that the devil was a murderer from the beginning (i.e., by leading our first parents into sin, he brought death upon all men), that there is no truth in him, and he is by nature a deceiver and liar (John 8,44). He is called not only “the prince of the demons” (Matt. 9,34; Mark 3,22), but also “the prince of this world” (John 14,30), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph.2,2).
Satan has his own kingdom, which is a mighty agency for evil and is opposed to the Kingdom of God in the world and in the souls of men. His kingdom includes not only the demons or unclean spirits, but the persecutors of the Christians are also members of his congregation (apoc.2, 9; 3,9). Likewise the sinner is said to be a child of the devil ( I John 3,8,10); he who sins like Cain belongs to the Evil One (I John 3,12), and he who deliberately opposes the truths taught by Christ has the devil as his father (John 8,44). Similarly, he who tries to keep anyone from accepting the faith, like Elymas, is the son of the devil (Acts 13,10). Finally, those who are excluded from Christ’s Kingdom, the Church, are delivered to the power of Satan (1 Cor. 5,5; 1 Tim.2,20).
Satan is preeminently the tempter (1 Cor.7,5; 1 Thess.3,5), and he tempts us with various wiles and snares (2 Cor.2,11; Eph.6,11; 1 Tim. 2,26). He uses his power to seduce man to sin(e.g., Ananias in Acts 5,3), or to seduce the whole world (Apoc.12,9; 20,7.9). For the purpose of seducing men he can, with God’s permission, transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor.11,14).
At the outset of Christ’s public ministry, Satan or the devil tempted Him to lose confidence in God’s providence, and finally to accept the political dominion of the whole world at the price of devil-worship (Matt. 4,1-11; Mark 1, 12f; Luke 4,1-13). At the end of His public ministry Satan (Luke22,3; John 13,27) or the devil (John 13,2) used Judas as his instrument to carry out the betrayal of the Messias. In Christ’s utterances there are clear allusions to the activity and power of Satan as the great adversary of God and man: in the parable of the Sower it is the wicked one (Matt. 13,19), Satan (Mark 4,15), or the devil (Luke 8,12), who snatches the good seed of the gospel-message from the hearts of men; in the parable of the Weeds it is the enemy (Matt.13, 25) or the devil (Matt.13,39) who sows weeds or evil men in Christ’s Kingdom, and thus the irreconcilable conflict between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan is evident. With God’s permission, Satan can afflict man with diseases, as the woman with a curvature of the spine for eighteen years (Luke 13,16), either as a punishment for sin or as a trial of man’s faith or virtue; Satan begged God, as before in the case of Job, that he might be allowed to take the Apostles and sift them as wheat, that is, subject them to the severest temptations (Luke 22,31).
Satan also instigates opposition to the preaching of the Gospel, and promotes the persecution of Christians. “The god of this world” (i.e., Satan) has blinded the minds of his unbelieving followers, so that they may not see the effulgence of the glorious Gospel of Christ (2 Cor.4,4). Satan also put obstacles in Paul’s way to fulfill his desires (1 Thess. 2,18; 2 Cor. 12,7). The instigator of the Christian persecution at Smyrna was the devil (apoc.2,10), who encouraged various elements among the population as the congregation of Satan (Apoc.2,9; cf. 3,9) to accuse the Christians slanderously. The Christians of Pergamum remained faithful to their religion in spite of all dangers of apostasy in a city called “The throne of Satan” (Apoc. 2, 13).
The power of Satan is no omnipotent. Opposing his activity are the powers granted to man by God. The power of the gospel-message is revealed to Paul at the time of his conversion: he is to open the eyes of many people, so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26,18). Besides, there is a power which arises from the spiritual regeneration of man: sin is irreconcilable with the idea of divine filiation, and as long as sanctifying grace, the cause of this filiation, remains the principle of man’s supernatural life, he will not sin, but has the power to resist sin (cf. Jas. 1,27), and the Evil One will not touch him (1 John 5,18). Christians, however, must cooperate with God’s graces by good moral conduct, because their adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour; hence, they are to take their stand against him by remaining firm in their faith (1 Pet. 5,8f), and not be ignorant of the devices of Satan who tries to drive to despair even repentant sinners (2 Cor. 2,11). Christians are to subject themselves to God, but to resist the devil and he will flee from them (Jas.4,7). Unreasonable anger is to be avoided, for excessive and prolonged anger affords an opportunity for the devil to act (Eph.4,26f.). Paul also warns Timothy that some younger widows of Ephesus by turning to a life of dissipation have wandered after Satan (1 Tim.5,15).
In the spiritual warfare against the devil and his hosts of wicked spirits the Christian must put on the complete armor which God has provided: his waist must be belted with truth, his breast covered with the breastplate of righteousness, his feet shod with sandals so as to be ready to spread the Gospel of peace; in his left hand he must have the shield of faith to ward off the fiery darts of the wicked one, on his head the helmet of salvation, and in his right hand the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6, 11-17).
The fall of Satan and his cohorts is insinuated in the Old Testament, whereas their definite condemnation at the end of the world or of the Messianic Period is mentioned explicitly (Isa. 24,21f; Ez.28,11-17; cf. Isa. 14, 12ff, and the apocryphal books: Book of Jubilees 23,29 f; Book of Henoch 6,16; 54, 6; 55;4;90, 20-27; Testament of Levi 3,3;18,12; Testament of Judas 25,3; Testament of Dan, 5,10).
The New Testament speaks of various aspects of Satan’s fall . Probably referring to the original fall of Satan, John in his Apocalypse described the heavenly battle between Michael and the Dragon (who is identical with the ancient serpent of Gen. 3,1ff, and is called the devil and Satan), together with the wicked angels; as a result, Satan and his followers were cast from heaven (Apoc.12, 7-9). Because of their sin of pride and disobedience (1 Tim.3,6; Jude 5-8), they were thrust down into hell and committed to pits of darkness for the final judgment of the great day (2 Pet. 2,4; Jude 6). Yet, because of original sin Satan and his angels possess with God’s permissive will a certain power over the world and human beings (John 16,11; Eph. 2,2; 1 Pet. 5,8f; Apoc. 12, 9-17).
Salvation of mankind from the yoke of Satan was accomplished by Christ through the establishment of His Kingdom and His death on the cross: the power of Satan was broken and his kingdom restricted through the mission of Christ’s disciples (Luke 10,18); the condemnation of the world and its evil works, in its wicked representatives, and in particular in its malicious “prince,” the devil, was realized by Christ’s victory in the Passion (John 12,31); by Christ’s death on the Cross, death, the devil’s instrument of terror, has been turned into a means of defeat. (Heb.2,14).
After a long period of peace enjoyed by the Church, the Kingdom of Christ, and shortly before the end of the world Satan will be released from his imprisonment for a short period and allowed to form the kingdom of Antichrist. In this final struggle God will directly intervene, and all the hostile hosts will be consumed by fire (cf.1 Cor.3,13; 2 Pet.3,7). Satan’s power will then be definitely destroyed, and as the principal author of the revolt against God he will be cast into the lake of fire in hell where he will be tormented for all eternity (Apoc.20, 3-10). (Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, Steimmueller & Sullivan, 1949).
More detailed information is available in spiritual writers who have examined cases of diabolical possession as related by genuine and authorized exorcists. In view of the loss of supernatural faith in most Christians today, the devils have a free hand in appearing as angels of light showing themselves as apparitions of the Blessed Mother, such as in Medjugorie and other locations. The purpose of such false apparitions is to distract the attention of the faithful from the genuine apparitions which legitimate authority in the Church has recognized as true. La Salette and Fatima (just to mention two very important ones - not that any genuine apparition is unimportant) are ignored by the curiosity seekers as they throw themselves with blind abandon into the arms of Satan, deceived into believing that they are ‘close to God!’
As a solemn warning to all those who consider themselves ‘Roman Catholic’ this may be said: Know with certitude that anyone who presents himself to you as a Catholic and denies the existence and influence of evil spirits, i.e., Satan and his fellow-devils, is a deceiver. Have nothing to do with such a one because he will lead you into hell with him.
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