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.
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.”