Does the devil really exist?

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Demons are celestial creatures, angels originally created by God but who, out of pride, rebelled against Him, and incite man to do the same.

The Christian faith affirms the existence of the devil, but proclaims that its power is not unlimited. There is no such thing as a “god of evil”: the demon is a creature subject to the power of God.

Christians have always admitted the existence of an evil being, or a plurality of evil beings, of an angelic nature, whose action aims to detach man from God, by submitting him to the forces of evil, to through temptation. Indeed, Christ became man and died on the cross to free man from this state of submission in which he found himself following original sin. The existence of the demon is therefore part of the revealed truth.

However, Christian belief is very different from that of other religions: there is not a “god of evil” opposed to the god of good. On the contrary, according to the Catholic theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas, evil does not exist in itself, it is the absence of good, a refusal of God’s love. According to Christian doctrine, if the demon can push man to evil, he cannot take away his freedom. He has no power over his soul if man does not grant it to him.

The demon is an angel created by God, called Satan or Lucifer in the Christian tradition, who used his freedom to oppose his love. God allows his existence and his rebellion, but the demon is subject to his Creator, as are the other angelic powers. This is one of the reasons why Christian theology has dwelled little on the devil himself, but rather on Christ’s victory over him and how to fight victoriously against his power in the Christian life.

The Bible, and more particularly the Gospels, as well as the Magisterium and the lives of the saints, attest to the existence of the demon. 

The Old Testament considers angels and demons to be creatures of God, Creator of the entire universe, visible and invisible. However, texts that speak of Satan in the Old Testament are extremely rare. It is after the exile from Babylon that we note an evolution: evil among men comes from Satan (‘satan’ in Hebrew, adversary) following the sin of Adam (Gen 3), when “by the envy of the devil, death has entered the world” (Wis 2, 24). Satan is the tempter, the accuser, the adversary of God (Za 3, 1-7, Job 1, 11, etc.). Almost two centuries before Christ, the monastic community of Qumram, on the shores of the Dead Sea, developed a structured demonology.

But it is in the four Gospels that the presence of Satan acquires a particular density: he is a real adversary, an enemy of Christ and his Kingdom. Jesus addresses Satan himself to admonish him and speaks of him as “someone”. We know the passages of the Temptations in the desert (Mt 4, 1-11) and the numerous exorcisms that Jesus performed (Capernaum Mk 1, 23-28, Gerasa Mt 8, 28-34, the daughter of the Canaanite woman Mk 7, 25 -29, to name just a few). The apostolic writings and the Apocalypse collect this victory of Christ which will be consummated at the end of time.

The Magisterium and the Tradition of the Church, in teaching as in the liturgy, have always noted this truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the devil in nearly 40 paragraphs. The lives of many saints who have had direct experience of this fight against the devil also testify to the reality of its existence.

This permission that God has granted to demons to disrupt the lives of his children is a great mystery: the very mystery of evil.  

Why does God, if he is good and omnipotent and abhors evil, allow demons to act and have power over man? It is a great mystery, the “mysterium iniquitatis”, the mystery of iniquity. God created man – and the angels – out of love, and desires man to love Him in return. But there is no love without freedom, which is why God leaves man free to choose to love him. Only God has perfect freedom, incapable of choosing evil. Man – and angels – can reject this love.

Why didn’t God destroy the fallen angels? There are two reasons: the first is that God respects this freedom that He Himself grants; the second is that in one way or another, God also uses them to achieve his purposes. Saint Augustine affirms that God would not permit evil if it were not for the sake of greater good. Indeed, this is what happens with the story of Redemption in which evil, ultimately, is overcome by good. God has redeemed the world from sin, but without ceasing to respect the freedom of man, who is free to welcome or refuse this redemption.

Christians believe that the final victory of good and the final destruction of evil will occur at the end of time. However, the times we live in are characterized by this struggle between good and evil. The lives of the saints bear witness to this fight, sometimes face to face, with demons.

The power of Satan manifests itself in many ways, devilish possession is only one extraordinary manifestation of it  

The demon acts in an ordinary way in the life of each person, through temptation and seduction, to incline them to commit evil. This action is combated through prayer and the practice of the virtues, with the help of the sacraments. The Church affirms that man is in no way conditioned by the inclination to evil, which he can combat with the help of grace.

The demon can also manifest itself in extraordinary ways through possession, infestation, harassment, obsession, etc. These are very rare phenomena, in which Satan manages to take possession of the body – but not the soul – of a person. The Church fights against this phenomenon with the ritual of exorcism, practiced by priests who have received specific authorization from their bishop.

However, cases of actual possession are rare. Before carrying out an exorcism, it is good to ensure through medical tests that it is not a question of psychological disorders. Many people who suffer from diabolical possession have already performed necromantic or satanic rites. Very exceptionally, some saints have had this difficult experience.

In recent years we have seen an increase in satanic sects among young people, but also in connection with other social phenomena such as drug trafficking or magical practices. 

Day by day, the number of adolescents struck by the phenomenon of Satanism is growing. It has become a delinquent “fashion”. Father Benoît Domergue, a specialist in these phenomena, affirms that in France there currently exist around fifty associations bringing together around 5,000 individuals. The phenomenon is so worrying that the authorities of the French Republic got involved. In 2006, Miviludes (the interministerial mission for vigilance and the fight against sectarian aberrations) published a short report on Satanism in which it warned against this type of group.
In Spain, according to a report prepared in 2010 by the Ibero-American Network for the Study of Sects (RIES), the number of satanic sects in this country has increased over the last decade, from 41 in 2001 to 61 in 2010. These groups would be linked to recent episodes of desecration and sacrilegious theft in churches. Certain types of “metal” music (black metal, death metal, neometal) also constitute a privileged gateway to Satanism. A universe that is all the more vague as it is made up of multiple small groups that do not exist on a legal or associative level.
In countries like Colombia, experts denounce, Satanism is linked to drug trafficking, as a practice to “ensure” the success of this criminal activity, and also as a form of social submission. Another path to the practice of Satanism: witchcraft and necromancy. Besides Satanism, there is another type of so-called “Luciferian” sects which, without reaching the extremes of Satanism, promote a new interpretation of the Fall of man, by reversing the terms: God is evil, and Satan is evil. be good who rebels against him.

We thank Father Tiziano Repetto, professor of sociology at the Philosophical and Theological Institute “S. Pietro” in Viterbo (Italy) for proofreading this article.

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