The Life of Christ

Mgr. E. Le Camus




SATAN, as his name signifies,1 is the enemy of God and of the servants of God. He is called demon to indicate that his nature is intelligent and spiritual, and devil,2 the sower of false reports, to have us know that in his relations with men he is the perpetual fashioner of evil.3

Here, for the first time in the Gospel story, this mysterious evildoer comes upon the scene, and henceforth we must expect to find him at almost every step. Summoned to earth in haste by Him Who comes to destroy his empire, he is obliged to come forth and do battle. We may conclude from the religious history of mankind as we read it in the Sacred Books, that, after his disguised appearance in Eden and his cruel victory, he had concealed himself in the background of our world, which had become his conquest.4 His influence, however, was no less immediate and no less general. Thus paganism was his work, and his completest triumph. Through paganism he held successions of generations in bondage; and, free from danger, he silently enjoyed his homicidal royalty. A few of God's servants, ill at ease on this earth of abomination, alone perceived his existence and knew him by his work.5 The rest of mankind, drinking iniquity as if it were water, endured his rule without suspicion, so dense had become the darkness that enveloped human life.

While absolute master, Satan remained in concealment; when threatened on his throne, he comes forth into view. What excitement breaks out in his kingdom, what a parade of strength, what confusion, when the Son of God advances to destroy it! Just as when a daring hand bears light into the depths of a lonely cave, where, for ages, the birds of night reigned alone in exclusive sovereignty, the tumult, the cries of war and of fright, proclaim a decisive battle.

Rationalistic philosophy asks whether the demon really exists and whether his empire is elsewhere than in the credulous imaginations of men. But it is hard to see a ground for these scruples. Does not reason tell us that there can be immaterial beings superior to man and created free like him? Liberty supposes probation; and the logical consequence of probation is success or failure. Therefore, there can be fallen spirits, who are become the slaves and even the agents of the evil they have committed. Among them, as in every society, we must admit that there are some who exercise over the others a preponderating influence, and even that, organized under a hierarchical form, they have a central point about which they are grouped, a king upon whom they depend. Revelation assures us that this is so; and Jesus has recognized the kingdom of Satan6 and the existence of his satellites,7 not for the sake of accommodating Himself to popular prejudice, but because such is the truth. He publicly promises His aid against the pernicious activity of the evil spirit. Satan will pass the Apostles through the sieve, like the grain upon the threshingfloor; in other words, he will try them, and Jesus has prayed that Peter's faith may not fail. Satan is in possession of the world, and the Son of Man, more mighty than the Wicked One, is come to dispossess him.8 Satan is the enemy of mankind whom he has succeeded in doing to death from the very beginning; Jesus is man's friend and the shepherd who insures man's salvation.

Good by nature, insomuch as he came from God's hand, the Demon was perverted through his own fault, by his abuse of liberty. The probation that was to decide his merit brought on his fall.9 He sinned most probably through pride,10 at the head of his angels. God's justice has bound them all for all eternity to the evil that they did. Their punishment has rid them neither of their pretentious ambition that caused their ruin, nor of the hatred of God, against Whom they revolted. Thus God leaves them their activity as he does the wicked, the impious, the criminals even among us on earth. They are the chief workers of the evil which is part of the providential plan of this world, and in forcing the exercise of virtue by the just, they often contribute an increase to the merit of these latter. Their influence, according to Scripture, is confined within limits marked out by Divine wisdom and justice. They cannot, therefore, establish a power independent of the one only God, and thus lead us to the idea of a perilous dualism. They are simply secondary causes; and whether they tempt the virtue of Job or the faith of Peter, they do so only by God's permission.

Their spiritual nature, in spite of the darkness by which their fallen intellects are obscured, renders them in many respects superior to creatures without reason and even to man himself. Hence the immediate influence they are able to gain over matter and over minds. If peoples have acknowledged the existence of these evil genii it is for the reason that they saw them or felt their influence, and this universal belief depended on the experience of centuries. In the course of this book, we shall have occasion to define the influence that the demons exercise over those who are possessed; but we feel each day the power they have over the heart.

Masters of a corrupt world, and rulers of the darkness that envelops it, according to the Scriptural expression,11 they at times so dispose light or darkness about the objects that occupy our attention and so arrange coincidences as to change the impressions in our souls and to excite sharply our evil concupiscence. They have, moreover, their subjects, their soldiers, who are the wicked. For as the demons, at the instigation of Satan, their prince, labor in sowing cockle in the world, so men, slaves of the demons, seek to pervert the servants of God.

Hence the gradual extension of the Satanic kingdom which, after the fall of the first man, fatally, as it were, embraced the entire world. Happily there was one point scarcely perceptible that escaped this awful influence, and from that point, from that tiniest drop of blood, transmitted from one generation to another, salvation was derived and the Kingdom of God came forth.

The Kingdom of God is the negation of the Kingdom of Satan, and its establishment means the emancipation of mankind, man's delivery from the devil's yoke; this is why, as we may casually remark, the idea of the Redemption rests almost entirely on faith in the existence of an oppressor of our feeble humanity.

The essential character of Christ, as Redeemer, is to come forth as the adversary of the terrible enemy of God and man. His work consists principally in dispelling the darkness that Satan had gathered about the head of humankind; with this object in view He will furnish precepts and examples of the most perfect virtue; He will introduce His people into the true religion worthy of the Creator and of His creatures; for this, in fine, He will surrender His life; by His blood He will obtain grace, the counter balance of the devil's power, and, at the close of His career, He shall have redeemed for us, in part, by His triumph over Satan, that which had been lost to us by the fall of the first man.

It was a terrible struggle. Christ had to commence by the conquest of Himself, before gaining for others the elements of victory. Satan sought to destroy the new Adam, as he had destroyed the first. He laid siege to his opponent, at times, by means of desires that he endeavored to excite in His heart; at others, by essaying to inspire Him with fear. Neither craftiness nor audacity was wanting in his awful plan. There were, in particular, two critical occasions on which he multiplied his efforts, first at the beginning and then at the end of the Messiah's career; but he never ceased, at any time, to wage a stubborn, treacherous war against the Redeemer.

It is a question how deep a hold temptation took upon the soul of Jesus, and in what sense the Spirit of evil was able to reach and annoy the Adversary whom he attacked. This question is one of extreme difficulty, inasmuch as it touches directly upon the mystery of the hypostatic union. It is certain that, if we suppose that the soul of Jesus was at all times equally and inevitably enlightened by the direct communications of the Word, temptation for Him was neither a source of danger nor of merit; it was not a struggle, but merely a semblance of a struggle, a deceptive and useless phantasmagoria. If the Divine ray is ever the same in the depth of the Savior's conscience, what is the meaning of those periods of religious joy and of sadness so clearly indicated in the Gospel? Above all, what means that cry of supreme anguish, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Theologians in all ages have contended that in the moments of trial the Divinity withdrew into the superior regions of the soul of Jesus, and seemed to retire as beneath a veil. This is as much as to say that the Word suspended its communications of light and left the soul, as it were, to itself. So does a mother seem to leave her little child to make its trial of strength alone; but though she hides or withdraws her guiding hand for a moment, she continues none the less in her care to give her allpowerful help. The child, if about to encounter or struggle with some obstacle, will never fall, for, if he should seem to falter, the mother's hand goes out at once to strengthen him; and yet, if he walks without a fall, if he succeeds without a failure, he gains no less glory than if no vigilant eye or powerful aid had been there to succor him. In all the temptations of Jesus, the presence of the Word ever assured His triumph, but the momentary isolation of the soul established its merit. Jesus seemed to have lost the form of God, Divinity, and to have preserved only the form of the slave, humanity; but this humanity was so pure, so well protected by Divinity, that it was absolutely impeccable.

And yet, standing thus isolated in temptation, His humanity is for us a model to be imitated. Doubtless there are other essential differences between Jesus' natural attitude and ours in the presence of temptation. For instance, temptation for Him was exterior, having not the slightest hold upon His heart, while for us it becomes immediately interior and finds a valued aid in our evil concupiscence; for His heart was not, like ours, merely purified; it was essentially pure. In us, even when in a state of justice, temptation, searching our souls, discovers deep down the memory of sin, the fugitive traces of ancient stain, and, by the merest agitation, it disturbs what a moment ago was seemingly clear and limpid. In Jesus's heart, where nothing evil had ever been, temptation stirs up nothing.

Nevertheless we can say with St. Paul12 that Jesus was tempted in every way like ourselves, and, in His energetic resistance, He has a right to stand forth for us to imitate Him.

At the beginning of the struggle, Satan did not know clearly with Whom he was dealing. No doubt, indeed, he heard from the voices of heaven and of earth the title Son of God bestowed on Jesus, and took note of it, as we shall see in the story of the temptation; but what, in reality, was the Son of God? Was he a man especially holy and beloved of Heaven? Was He a Reformer of mankind, the Founder of a new religion? Was He the Word of God become man and God like His Father? Some one has said that Satan was of old cast down from his glory and hurled into the abyss for refusing to believe in the future realization of the mystery of the Incarnation. At all events eager to know who this man, the object of his anxiety, was in reality, he hastens without delay to make trial of Him or to tempt Him.


1 It is derived from the Hebrew verb satan, which means to oppose, to be against. We find it used in this sense of adversary, III Kings xi, 14, "And the Lord raised up an adversary to Solomon, Adad, the Edomite" (compare in the same chapter v. 23; see also I Kings xxix, 4; Numbers xxii, 22, etc.). In Job i, 6, 7, 8, etc., and Zach. iii, 1, 2, this name is given to the Demon, as in I Paralip. xxi, 1. It is in common use in the New Testament.

2 The word daimwn or daimonion signifies generally a being, good or bad, inferior to God and superior to man. Plato, Cratylus, xvi, edit. Didot, gives the etymology dahmwn, knowing, and supposes that thus was indicated the superior knowledge of these spirits who serve as intermediaries between God and man. The pagans acknowledged good and evil spirits. (See Plato, Cratyl., Timaeus, passim, and Plutarch de Defect. Orac., etc.) In the New Testament the word Demon always indicates evil spirits, of whom James ii, 19; Acts xix, 12-13, etc.; Apoc. Xvi, 14, and several of the Gospels and Epistles record the role and pernicious influences.

3 The expression diabolos, derived from the verb diaballw, to put something crosswise, to accuse, to calumniate, is used even by profane authors, Xenophon, Agesilaus, xi, 5, in the sense of calumniator (tous diabolous mallon h tous kleptas emisei); Aristophanes, Knights, 45; Aristotle, Topic., iv, 5. in Gospel language it designates the calumniator par excellence, the one who speaks evil of man to God, and evil of God to man (Matt. xiii, 39; Luke viii, 12; John xiii, 2, etc.). Three times only (I Tim. iii, 11; II Tim. iii, 3; Tit. ii, 3) it is employed as a qualifier, and means those who calumniate.

4 Cf. St. Augustine on demons, Genesi ad litt., lib. xi, ch. xiiixxvii.

5 Job, ch. i and ii; Zach. iii, 1, 2; 1 Paral. xxi, 1; Wisdom ii. 24; Eccli. xxi 27.

6 St. Matt. xii, 25.

7 St. Matt. xxv, 41.

8 St. Luke xi, 2122.

9 St. John viii, 44.

10 I Tim iii, 6.

11 Ephes. Vi, 12.

12 Heb. iv, 15.

Return to Contents

Return to Homepage.