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By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 01 August 2010

There was a war in heaven, we’re told, and Michael sent Satan packing. Ever since, Lucifer has been fouling up God’s creation and spoiling for a last battle. Does Old Scratch really believe he has a shot at victory; that in the end evil will triumph over good? Is he nuts?

Or is it that having rebelled, having sinned against the Holy Spirit and being, therefore, beyond forgiveness, there’s nothing else for the Devil to do but try to take with him as many of us as demonically possible. I suppose if back in the day my old high-school football team had to play the final game of the season against the Ohio State Buckeyes, our coaches would have given us quite the pep talk full of “Believe!” and “Anything is possible!” and “Victory belongs to the bold and the brave!” That sort of thing. But it’s hard to picture the Prince of Darkness giving an inspirational homily to his demon minions. More like what an offensive lineman said to me one night when we were losing: “We can’t win the game, but we can win the fight.”

Mind you, Belial wasn’t the only angel to fall, and in the coming battle he’ll field a – pardon the expression – helluva team, and by now they may even feel as though they have home-field advantage, but no sensible bookie will give you odds on this headline in the morning-after’s Las Vegas Sun (displayed, no doubt, in what the news biz calls “second-coming” type):


No. The whole demonic project is nothing more or less than cramming human souls onto the cosmic and everlasting Titanic, chartered for the iceberg, and one way and another that’s all any of us need fear, although we have God’s assurance from the lips of one of his Christmas angels: “Do not be afraid.” It’s been Good News ever since, at least if you believe that angel and the One whom the messenger was proclaiming.

          Where the wild things are: The Devil depicted in the 13th-century Godex Gigas

But back to the Father of Lies: What does he call himself? Does being known by so very many names thrill him? Among those not already mentioned are: Abaddon, Antichrist (I’m guessing he doesn’t like that one, with its reference to the true Lord of this world), Apollyon, Beast, Beelzebub (my favorite – a good name for a cat), Dragon, Leviathan, and the Evil One. And there are lots of action names: Accuser, Adversary, Deceiver, Liar, Murderer, Tempter . . . the list goes on.

Thanks to him, each of us is a victim of Original Sin – the Book of Wisdom (2:24) says it was “by the envy of the devil” that death came into the world. (Let no one underestimate the power of a being who can accomplish that; who could make God’s fresh world rotten.) I fell, you fell, we all fell, but how far further fallen is Lucifer! (See Isaiah 14:12-15.)

He was in heaven! In the choir of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He and his other demons, as the Fourth Lateran Council put it, “were created by God good in their nature, but they by themselves have made themselves evil.” Aquinas says Satan’s sin was pride; Scotus that it was lust. (Dr. Royal informs me Dante wrote that Satan fell when, knowing the Divine Plan, he “raised his eyebrows.”) To me, the sin seems like wrath. In any case, having made these angels and having empowered them, God did not strip them of their natures in banishment, although – Hollywood portraits notwithstanding – there’s a limit to the physical harm the Devil can do us. No limit to the spiritual harm though, as long as we’re buying what Satan’s selling.

Think of what he offered to Christ in the desert. How the Devil provides similar, less lofty things to us is unclear, although it’s probably via what today we call networking. He has friends, all of whom are ready, willing, and – to a degree – able to live solely for the opiates of present pleasure, wealth, and power. In a culture addicted to instant gratification, recruitment’s a breeze.

Good folks say no – we Catholics through Mass and the other sacraments, which are what Paul called “the armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11).

Still I wonder: What was Lucifer thinking? Fr. Dwight P. Campbell (echoing Suarez) has written that “Satan along with a number of other angels rebelled, refusing to submit to the notion of having to worship him who would be both God and man,” which suggests Satan et alia really hate us and why I say their sin was and is wrath. Rage. Fury.

In that meeting with Jesus in the desert, was the Devil actually hoping to seduce our Lord? I doubt it, although perhaps he’s just mad enough to try. But I suspect he was hijacking a little promotion and publicity – letting us know (in the midst of the Good News of his eternal defeat) that he has plenty of temporal power of his own to share, here and now, with anyone willing to bow low.

One sign that the Dragon’s not entirely nuts is how hard and tirelessly he works to corrupt us. After all, as John wrote in his Revelation: “the Devil has come down . . . in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.”

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and author of The Compleat Gentleman.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
Sir? Dr.? Esq.? Logic 101?
written by cranium, August 01, 2010
this is really easily fixed. If you acknowledge that god doesn't exist, then neither does satan - therefore evil no longer exists. You see, it's all the fault of the faithful.
To Cranium
written by Bradford Miner, August 01, 2010
Dear Mr. Cranium:
How would acknowledging a lie make things right?
Mr. Miner
written by cranium, August 02, 2010
Bradford Miner (what a cool name!) - Because if you acknowledge the lie, the whole false edifice of religion will tumble and be replaced by logic, reason and rationality. Equality for all, no hypocrisy, the abatement of all the bad things in the world.
written by jason taylor, August 02, 2010
On that theory cranium it can't be the fault of the faithful as if there is no such thing as evil there is no such thing as "fault".
Thank you for the illustration
written by CatholicTide, August 02, 2010
Thank you for the illustration (among so much else of great value in your post.)

It is remarkable how much it resembles the orcs and goblins from Lord of the Rings and the fiends from 300. I really do believe there is some kind of innate memory that alerts us to the presence of evil.

We often instinctively recognize evil when we see it, do we not? The archetypes are there. If only we could re-learn to trust our gut feelings.
written by Emina Melonic, August 02, 2010
At first I thought that cranium's first comment was meant to be ironic but I guess I was wrong. The worst thing in the world we can do is to deny the existence of evil. It may be an "absence of being," but to deny evil is naive, gullible. To deny the existence and power of evil is an evil act in itself.
The Deadlies
written by Joe, August 02, 2010
The essence of rebellion against God is the raising of self to the top rung. From that viewpoint, everything looks manageable - see cranium. He has all the answers that matter or so he believes. He looks with gluttonous lust at the tree of knowledge. It's the oldest scam in the garden. The whisper is that he can be like God if he tastes of the knowledge of God. Some people never learn. The headlines and news crawls remind us hourly of the existence of evil. If evil exists, and the proof is all around us (and in us), then logically and reasonably, the antidote must exist because evil hasn't won yet. Satan's obvious motive is self regard. It blinds a being to truth and proportion. That attitude is all around us as well. The father of lies spins a great tale and the greatest of these is that (like the mafia) he doesn't exist.
written by L A Stich, August 02, 2010
Accuser, Adversary, Deceiver, Liar, Murderer, Tempter

....Beelzebub's litter!
written by cranium, August 02, 2010
Jason, it is the believer who has introduced the framework, the content and the 'poison'.
Joe, you embark on the usual journey of theists using theism to attack atheists. It is a sham argument.
The oldest scam is the raft of claims you have made in the core of your statement. Atheists do not supplant god. There is no god for us to supplant.
If we acknowledge the non-reality of god, we remove 'original sin' and the first acts of evil.
written by Joe, August 03, 2010
Cranium - your tautology is complete and seamless - really a thing of wonder. Sooner or later you may find that breathing your own exhalations may leave you wanting.
written by Graham Combs, August 03, 2010
Although we often associate Hollywood, especiallly these days, with the work of the Devil, that wasn't always so. Rod Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE often presented stories about the Father of Lies, including one episode in which he goes by the name of Mr. PIP! Then there's Walter Huston as "Mr. Scratch" in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. But you needn't go back that far -- see THE DARK KNIGHT. The Joker (another good name for Satan if you think about it) seductively and coherently persuades, a la Screwtape, the formerly good Gotham attorney general to take another path. Then of course, there is the temptation of the ferry passenger. Viewers and critics talk much about the terrorist subtext, but there is real evil portrayed in this film and evil the Church would recognize. Sometimes Hollywood can't help itself, or is there something else at work?

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