On demonology

Briefly then, the Church position in regard to demonology is clear and firm. It is true that in the course of the centuries the existence of Satan and of the devils has never in fact been the object of an explicit declaration of her Magisterium. The reason for this is that the question was never posed in these terms. Both heretics and the faithful, basing their respective positions on sacred Scripture, were in agreement in recognizing the existence of Satan and the devils and their main misdeeds. This is why, when the reality of the devil is called into question today, it is to the constant and universal belief of the Church and to its main source, the teaching of Christ, that one must appeal, as has been stated. It is in fact in the teaching of the Gospel and as something at the heart of the faith that the existence of the demonic world is shown to be a dogmatic datum. The present-day unease which we described at the beginning does not therefore call into question a secondary element of Christian thinking; it is a question rather of the constant belief of the Church, of her manner of conceiving redemption and, at the root source, it goes against the very consciousness of Jesus. This is why, when His Holiness Pope Paul VI spoke recently of this “terrible, mysterious and frightening reality” of Evil, he could assert with authority: “he who refuses to recognize its existence, or whoever makes of it a principle in itself which does not have, like every creature, its origin in God, or who explains it as a pseudo-reality, a conceptual and imaginary personification of the unknown causes of our ills, departs from the integrity of biblical and ecclesiastical teaching”. Neither exegetes nor theologians can neglect this caution.

Let us therefore repeat that by underlining today the existence of demonic reality the Church intends neither to take us back to the dualistic and Manichaean speculations of former times, nor to propose some rationally acceptable substitute for them. She wishes only to remain faithful to the Gospel and its demands. It is clear that she has never allowed man to rid himself of his responsibility by attributing his faults to the devil. The Church did not hesitate to oppose such escapism when the latter manifested itself, saying with Saint John Chrysostom: “It is not the devil but men’s own carelessness which causes all their falls and all the ills of which they complain”. (1975)

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