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Satan, etc. Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 23 October 2011

In Freedom: To do What?, Georges Bernanos, the great French Catholic writer, observes:

There is in man a secret, incomprehensible hatred, not only of his fellowmen, but of himself. We can give this mysterious feeling whatever origin or explanation we want, but we must give it one. As far as we Christians are concerned, we believe that this hatred reflects another hatred, a thousand times more profound and lucid: the hatred of the ineffable spirit who was the most resplendent of all the luminaries of the abyss and who will never forgive us his cataclysmic fall.

He is referring of course to Satan.

One manifestation of the hatred, according to the Catechism, is that “often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.” This points us to two dimensions of the problem.

On the one hand, we have lost the truth. Jesus was quite blunt in describing those who opposed him:  “You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

These words are all the more incisive because the person speaking is the Incarnation of Truth. Here is also the key to our existence:  standing in the truth. On the other hand, we fall into serving the creature rather than the Creator. If we serve the Creator, then and only then, do we really grasp what being human is all about. In America, we talk superficially – and glibly – about doing things “for the children,” as well we might since the United States has the worst child abuse and largest number of child deaths in the industrialized world.

That’s the problem in the abstract, but it’s not difficult to make the picture more concrete.  John Henry Newman described the complexion of contemporary religion:

What is the world's religion now? It has taken the brighter side of the Gospel – its tidings of comfort, its precepts of love; all darker, deeper views of man's condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilized age, and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an idol of the Truth. As the reason is cultivated, the taste formed, the affections and sentiments refined, a general decency and grace will of course spread over the face of society, quite independently of the influence of Revelation. That beauty and delicacy of thought, which is so attractive in books, then extends to the conduct of life, to all we have, all we do, all we are. 

There it is, the Idol of Truth. The genteel kind of religion that will just naturally – and deceptively – spread sweetness and light, as if that were all that we need concern ourselves with in our families or society at large.


        The Fall of Satan by William Blake (c. 1805)

God’s Revelation presents Catholicism rather as a struggle with something far less mundane and far more familiar to us than this idyllic illusion:  the hatred of which Bernanos, perceptive novelist that he was, spoke above. We follow someone who was crucified and as I often remind students, crucifixion can ruin your whole day.

The one who was crucified said:  “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.” (Matthew 10:16-18)

Catholicism is edgy, risky, robust. Not surprising when real life involves truth and relating to the Creator. It means confronting either hatred of the antihuman variety or untruth of a kind that often wrecks people’s lives just as effectively as violence.

So what does the struggle look like? First of all there is the need for humility to counter Satan’s “favorite sin,” i.e., pride – to quote a forgettable movie. The humility simply to take what God teaches through his Church and to follow it no matter where it leads.

Pardon a comment from an immigrant who likes America – U.S. Catholics generally could do with a large dollop of humility. And we could all do with more of the courage needed to apply the truth to life – not movie truth, or Oprah’s truth, or Senator X’s truth, but the truth of Scripture and Tradition. Be prepared:  in a world like ours it will not look, like the popular and idolatrous counterfeits, too attractive and will sometimes be risky.

But this is just to say that it will mean accepting struggle as a feature of mature Christian life. It’s a wonderful thing to study and reflect on Christian truths. But we are called to live a life in which we not only recognize temptation, but – because we know the truth – are willing to act in its service.

The choice is stark. Ultimately, do we become partners in Satan’s hatred or commit our whole lives to genuine Gospel love?


Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
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written by Other Joe, October 23, 2011
Excellent analysis. We downplay the darker side of the gospel and then send our children forth into a world in which murder is mundane. Secular society not only worships the creature, it denies that there is a Creator. Oh, hell, there might be something out there like energy or the mother of all good intentions, but any relations with it must kept private, hidden from public view so as not to spoil the party. Secular life is an evaporating tide pool, confined and shallow, hot and temporarily cut off from the source of its life. The tide will come back, but will it be soon enough to save the poor trapped creatures?
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written by Achilles, October 23, 2011
Father Bramwell, excellent meditation for Sunday morning! Some might want to substitute this essay for Vatican II as the cause of all the evil in the world.
Thank you so much, all your essays are edifying.
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written by Hortensia, October 23, 2011
So true, and so clearly exposed in the annulment/divorce mindset and the obstinate refusal to preach indisolubilty and uphold marriage.
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written by Graham Combs, October 23, 2011
Recently I was excused from the jury box during voir dire. Was it because I admitted to be a "practicing Catholic" (with, as the joke goes, the emphasis on practicing)? I don't know. The case involved what the law calls "criminal sexual conduct" or CSC to use courhouse shorthand. I was peremptorially dismissed by the defense. It is getting more difficult to particupate fully in American civic culture because of the Faith. I have come to believe in the personification of Evil. Not to mention "human nature." My criminal law and first amendment professor felt it necessary to regularly remind us that there was no such thing. I suspect that many if not most defense counsel struggle to reconcile the nature they confront in their clients with their sophisticated disposition to disbelieve in what they see sitting next to them in court.

American's lack of humility (as with my English ancestors) comes more from being in a country freer than so many others. Freedom and affluence being, in a sense, our cross to bear. I'm not being flippant. And I remain a great admirer of the Founders. In this season of liturgical renewal perhaps we might consider bringing back the custom of kneeling for the Body and Blood of Christ. It was the practice when I was an Anglican altar boy in the sixties when Catholics were already abandoning it (as I observed when a student at a Catholic high school).

At mass Monsignor has us occasionally renew our Baptismal oath of "renouncing Satan and all his works." Thank you again Fr. Bramwell for a subject too often relegated to bad movies about Catholic exorcists or exceptional episodes from the The Twilight Zone.
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written by Arthur Treacher, October 24, 2011
Graham, are you saying that the attorney perhaps thought YOU had a "disposition to disbelieve in what [you] saw sitting next to [him] in court" and so he dismissed you?
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written by Larry Coty, October 24, 2011
Is there a source for the Newman quotation?
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written by Brad Miner, October 24, 2011
@Larry Coty: I'll answer for Fr. Bramwell. The quote is from Newman's PAROCHIAL AND PLAIN SERMONS, #24, "The Religion of the Day." -ABM
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written by BradW, October 24, 2011
Mankind must recall that we are players in a grander game, latecomers to a war that began before Adam. The greater powers on the battlefield are unnumbered angels, one-third of which are demons. St. Padre Pio revealed to us that if we could see the demons, they "would blot out the sun". Their invisibility is both a kindness from God, lest we be stupefied by fear, unable to live our lives, and a trick of their sickening master, to let us forget their existence, which, do not fool yourself, is as close as your hand right now. Blessed Newman would remind us that we coquettishly and sunnily refer to our guardian angels, but how about the similar proximity of their counterpoints, oppressing and plaguing us in real ways?

I hope that anyone who can will read Father Amorth's recent memoirs. Wake up, slumbering Christians. Ave, Maria.
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written by Ben Horvath, October 24, 2011
Exactly - too many do not realize that the goal of the Faith is a changed life and not just changed opinions.
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written by PajamaMan, October 24, 2011
I have had the great misfortune to directly encounter Satan. Fortunately, it was a meeting arranged and controlled by the Holy Spirit (blessed be His name). There was an area of sin in my life which had caused me a great struggle. During one of these periods, when the sin was ascendant and my will felt paralyzed, I had an experience of great pith and moment.

It was a Wednesday morning, very early; at 4:05 am (I looked at the clock when the experience ended as I wished to remember when it occurred). It was my practice to attend a Charismatic Catholic prayer meeting on Wednesday evening. I shared the experience with them that evening. That is how I recall the day of the week on which this momentous event occurred.

I woke from a sound slumber confused and uncertain as to what had awakened me. It is my normal practice to sleep quite soundly in a state more resembling coma. I was lying flat on my back as is my normal habit. I came fully awake when an impulse, which I now believe was not random, caused me to look towards the foot of the bed.

There was a man standing at the foot of my bed. This was startling enough. I became positively frightened when I realized that, in this coal black form, I could make out no features save his eyes, which were glowing with a soft and dim white light. I could see, against the white walls of my bedroom, the outlines of his form. He seemed to have the normal accoutrements of two arms, two legs and a head. His legs were very straight. Reflecting on the experience later I could recall no evidence of knees.

I was suddenly given the capacity to understand this being's feelings toward me. It is difficult to describe this capability but I shall attempt to do so. It was as though my mind was directly connected to his. I could feel, as though they were my own feelings, his reactions to my thoughts. By changing the focus of my thoughts I could, in a sense, probe his attitudes toward me.

He had no feelings toward me other than hatred. He desired, in the most intense manner imaginable, my complete and utter destruction. Even in the areas of my life which were not important to me he desired that I fail miserably. This knowledge has caused me to value all that I do now. The master of hell truly hates all of creation.

Then the Holy Spirit came to me. I felt his presence on my left side, out of my line of sight. I could not see Him. He gave me the knowledge, without words and directly into my mind as a fully formed concept, that the being I was examining was Satan.

A very strange thing then occurred. Well, things were strange enough already but this was odd as well. The Holy Spirit "yelled" at me. It was very loud, much louder than I thought I could ever hear. I wondered for a moment if my hearing would be damaged. He said, "YOU HAVE LEFT OPEN A DOOR THROUGH WHICH HE WILL DESTROY YOU." Clearly the Holy Spirit was referring to the destruction desired by Satan. I understood immediately, though the passing of another concept that this referred to my area of sin and struggle. The message was clear. Fix the problem or my life would be destroyed. I have done my best to do just that.

When I shared this encounter with my prayer group that evening it had a visible effect on of the participants, a man who shared my first name. I could sense a change come over him which seems to have lasted to this day. So I believe the message was not just for me. Therefore I share it with you.

Repent, pray, and do penance. May God have mercy on your soul.

“In a dream, in a vision of the night, (when deep sleep falls upon men) as they slumber in their beds, it is then He opens the ears of men and as a warning to them, terrifies them; by turning man from evil and keeping pride away from him, He withholds his soul from the pit and his life from passing to the grave.” Job 33:15-18

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written by Chris in Maryland, October 25, 2011
Bravo to Father Bramwell!

To build on what Graham suggested, please ask your pastors to restore the use of The Roman Canon as the primary Eucharistics Prayer of The Holy Mass...a Church that claims to love tradition and revere its witnesses must give voice to those claims by teaching its children to remember the Church persecuted for Christ...those martyrs of the early Church who loved Christ to the end, in the face of violent death. As JP2 wrote in his last book, Memory and Identity, when we forget...we have lost our identity.

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