The Prince of this World

A student at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, New York, asked if I had a copy of Jacques Maritain’s Heroic Democracy, which I had cited in the Life of the Mind. But I no longer could find the text in my Maritain files.

While looking, however, I came across a booklet by Raïssa Maritain – Jacques’ wife – entitled The Prince of This World. It was “Printed & Published by St Dominic’s Press, Ditchling, Hassocks, Sussex,” in June, 1936. This essay was “Done into English by Gerald B. Phelan,” at the Pontifical Medieval Institute in Toronto. Though I have had this essay for years, I do not recall ever having read it.

Raïssa Maritain’s essay is scholarly. She was careful about what she said and explained her sources. Lucifer, she remarked, was not the most exalted of the angels, but rather Princeps of those lower three ranks of angels who were responsible for the cosmos. He was properly the “Prince of This World,” commissioned to work out its good in original creation, particularly of man in “the gaiety of love.” When he sinned, he rejected the position to which he was assigned. “Lucifer…never preformed the beneficent ministry for which he was destined.”

Raïssa Maritain says of Lucifer, in words on which we can well meditate: “Himself seduced by the fullness of his native gifts, he is the first of those who, until the end of time, will choose the finite present rather than the infinite to come. He preferred, and still prefers, hell to the alms of grace. Author of despair! Prince forever of illusory independence!”

That is a remarkable insight into the mind of Lucifer. It is not unlike Lucifer’s dealing with Michael the Archangel in Raymond Dennehy’s novel Soldier Boy. Lucifer, the bearer of light, prefers the “finite present” to the “infinite to come.” This preference is the modern mind, which, as Leo Strauss said, is based on a rejection of eternity.

Final happiness is not in this world. It can never be found there either by science or politics. Yet that is the only alternative of anyone who rejects a transcendent order that includes each human being within the end for which he is created, namely, to live the inner life of the Triune God in the grace granted to him.

Lucifer is a Principality, not an Archangel or Angel. He retains his intelligence even in his fall: “Principality beseems the nature of Satan. Having lost it, perpetual Pretender to all Empires that he is, he seeks without respite to regain it. It becomes him, also, to haunt this world: God allows it him, because it is good that every spirit should be tried.” God’s beneficence and justice do not cease because of Satan’s or man’s sin.

The key question of God to all creatures is: “Lovest thou Me?” With the sin of Adam, “the treacherous angel recovers in part. . .what he lost by his own sin. He re-conquers by a new title his dominion not indeed over the whole order of nature, but over sinful man and over material creation in so far as it is man’s domain and may serve sin.” Lucifer is now in charge of that world for which Christ, on His coming, will not pray.

Man has no debt to Lucifer, but he does have a debt to God. Lucifer was intended to be a friend of man, but became his seducer. Lucifer “makes one love the passing moment above eternity, uncertainty above truth. He persuades us that we can only love creatures by making Gods of them. He lulls us to sleep; he makes us dream (he interprets our dreams); he makes us work.” We all have some familiarity with these effects.

We are saved, however, by the Cross which, in effect, takes up and transforms all the effects of evil in the world onto the divine Son. “Christ did not take up the Cross for Himself alone, leaving us the peace of the world and the profits of His sacrifice. We are in Him and of Him – His very self – for we are His members.” Thus, we too atone.

Raïssa Maritain, citing Irenaeus, said that “when the Father, in His sovereign equity, decreed the work of our redemption, He still willed to act in justice to the Angel whom His justice punished. To the end that all justice might be accomplished, that it might abound, nay, super-abound.” Christ accepted the humiliations that Satan rejected.

“Did Lucifer know that the Word would become Flesh? Was this mystery laid before the faith of the Angels as it was before ours? We may surmise it. But he did not foresee that God would so completely violate His glory.” This “violation,” this Cross, is our redemption which we, too, need to see and accept.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

  • On Hell - Monday, February 25, 2019