Sunday, August 1, 2010

Representation from The Passion of the Christ
Catholic Encyclopedia on Satan

(Greek diabolos; Latin diabolus).

The name commonly given to the fallen angels, who are also known as demons (see DEMONOLOGY). With the article (ho) it denotes Lucifer, their chief, as in Matthew 25:41, "the Devil and his angels".

It may be said of this name, as St. Gregory says of the word angel, "nomen est officii, non naturæ"--the designation of an office, not of a nature. For the Greek word (from diaballein, "to traduce") means a slanderer, or accuser, and in this sense it is applied to him of whom it is written "the accuser [ho kategoros] of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night" (Apocalypse 12:10). It thus answers to the Hebrew name Satan which signifies an adversary, or an accuser.

Mention is made of the Devil in many passages of the Old and New Testaments, but there is no full account given in any one place, and the Scripture teaching on this topic can only be ascertained by combining a number of scattered notices from Genesis to Apocalypse, and reading them in the light of patristic and theological tradition.

The authoritative teaching of the Church on this topic is set forth in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council (cap. i, "Firmiter credimus"), wherein, after saying that God in the beginning had created together two creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is to say the angelic and the earthly, and lastly man, who was made of both spirit and body, the council continues:

"Diabolus enim et alii dæmones a Deo quidem naturâ creati sunt boni, sed ipsi per se facti sunt mali." ("the Devil and the other demons were created by God good in their nature but they by themselves have made themselves evil.")

Here it is clearly taught that the Devil and the other demons are spiritual or angelic creatures created by God in a state of innocence, and that they became evil by their own act. It is added that man sinned by the suggestion of the Devil, and that in the next world the wicked shall suffer perpetual punishment with the Devil. The doctrine which may thus be set forth in a few words has furnished a fruitful theme for theological speculation for the Fathers and Schoolmen, as well as later theologians, some of whom, Suarez for example, have treated it very fully.

On the other hand it has also been the subject of many heretical or erroneous opinions, some of which owe their origin to pre-Christian systems of demonology. In later years Rationalist writers have rejected the doctrine altogether, and seek to show that it has been borrowed by Judaism and Christianity from external systems of religion wherein it was a natural development of primitive Animism---Read it all

Jesus, Illness, and Demon Possession

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and those who were demon-possessed.---Mark 1:32

When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many other people, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.---Mark 4:40-42

...and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were seized with fear. So he got into the boat and left.---Luke 8:35-37

...As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life'. ---Jn 9:1-3

What is interesting in the above-quoted excerpts from scripture (and seen elsewhere in the NT), it seems to me, are especially two things. The distinction between those who were simply ill and those who were possessed in some degree by Satan, also the reaction of the people of Gadara to seeing a true miracle, as we see everywhere else in the NT: absolute panic, not applause as one would expect with a silly magician's trick.

It is often carelessly stated by unbelieving cynical commentators that in Jesus' time there was no distinction between illness and possession, but the witness of scripture everywhere contradicts that, first and foremost in the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic writers generally based on His teaching. While surely there is a general sense in which, owing to Original Sin, man's rebellion against his-our Creator, there is a connection between sin, illness and death (Rom 6:23), it is plain from the above and throughout scripture that Our Lord by no means taught that every particular instance of illness was the result of individual sin.

Our Lord, Israel's Messiah and the Son of God, came to "preach the gospel to the poor...to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Lk 4:18, 19)

It was the common but mistaken assumption in Jesus' time that illness was the result of either individual sin, or the sins of one's family. But Jesus demythologized such misconceptions in everything He did and said, just as Genesis demythologized the ancient world by showing that the sun, moon and stars were not gods to be feared or worshiped, but the creation of Yahweh whose name etymologically means the One Who Is, the 'I Am' (Exo 3:14, Jn 8:58).

Demon Possession today

But the above-quoted scriptures, like the New Testament everywhere, takes the reality of devil-possession very seriously and Our Lord sought to deliver, heal-release those who were in Satan's grip. Mary Magdalene, we are a told, was a prostitute, a woman who lived and worked in sin. She is described in the NT as a woman who in consequence of sin was possessed by "seven devils" (Mark 16:9). But even the possessed cannot totally efface the image of God (Gen 1:26) in themselves; and some residual good will in her cried out to Jesus who delivered her.

In the desert temptation at the start of the Messiah's ministry, it may be fairly said that Satan insanely tried to possess even Jesus, who subjected Himself to suffer the temptations we all must face.

I think Mary Magdalene might be a most important lens and hermeneutic when it comes to understanding this phenomenon of devil-possession. When a person (especially those of the covenant, NT) so abuses the grace of God and ultimately rejects God himself, preferring all those "glories of the world" Satan tempted Jesus Himself with in the desert, so that the cup of sin is full, God has no choice but to respect the freedom of the ones who reject Him (God did not create us robots without freewill); and so it comes to pass that that God gives them up, over to their own freedom ---and to Satan; and there we see what is meant by devil possession; where one is completely dominated, possessed, by the breaking of God's commandments even at times to hatred and blasphemy of Jesus, those given to "the lusts of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 Jn 2:15-17).

But if our gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost, In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus.---2 Cor. 4:3-4

Never Despair

But let not even the possessed despair. Mary Magdalene, though she lived dissolutely and was possessed by many devils, cried out to Jesus Who heard her cry----and it was this beautiful Magdalene, restored to her own soul, who stayed with Jesus to the bitter end of the Cross, our Redemption, even after all but one apostle fled. And it was to this beautiful soul, Mary Magdalene, to whom Christ first appeared after discovering the Empty Tomb which forever changed human history. He came to call us sinners to repentance. Imagine.

Sometimes the will is so weakened by the possession of sin, that the only thing left is the enfeebled ability to cry out to Jesus for deliverance. But Jesus never fails those who so cry to Him, the Church teaches us.