The Demonic

Brian Kelly is writing an article on the guardian angels for the next Mancipia. I shall here take up the subject of the fallen angels so that readers might eagerly await what Brian has to say about those blessed spirits who help us in combating them. Without engaging in a perverse curiosity about their workings, it is helpful to have a practical knowledge of what the enemies of our salvation do, so that we may better fight the spiritual combat of which Saint Paul wrote: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Eph. 6:12).

Angels are pure spirits who have intellect and free will. They were created in innocence and given the gift of grace. They were also put to a test. Those that passed the test were saved and brought into heavenly beatitude. To their powerful natures were added the gifts that come from heavenly glory, especially the direct vision of God, which is not natural to them. Those that failed the test were sent to hell, which was created as a place of punishment for them. These fallen angels are tormented in various ways suitable to their angelic nature. Though they do not have the gift of heavenly beatitude that the good angels enjoy, their natural capacities were not diminished in the fall. They ever will remain beings naturally superior to us.

Saint Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelic Doctor”) says that when the demons fell, they acquired a proper office, which is to tempt us.

Satan and his minions are limited in what they can do. Should God allow them to use the full force of their angelic natures against us, they would have an unfair advantage. Yet, as we see in so many passages of the Bible — e.g., the stories of Job and Tobias in the Old Testament, and the various demoniacs that Our Lord and the Apostles exorcised in the New — the demons do have God’s leave to attack us in violent ways. Here, I am not interested in extraordinary diabolical activity, such as possession, oppression, obsession, and the like. I am rather interested in the ordinary diabolic activity, to which all of us are subject.

Regarding the demons’ “proper office” of tempting us, let us recall that temptation is not an evil. It is actually an occasion for merit. In this way do the saints confound the devils, and bring glory and honor to God from the very deeds of the demons themselves. Between temptation and sin there is a chasm, and that chasm can only be bridged by our free will assenting to the evil proposed to it. A million temptations do not a sin make, just as a million venial sins do not a mortal sin make. These three things -— temptations, mortal sin, and venial sin -— differ not in degree but in kind.

The demons gather strategic intelligence as they tempt. They learn by experience, and are good students of fallen human nature. Therefore, they tempt us now in one way, now another, observing all the while until they get some result — or not. We see that Satan himself tempted Jesus three times with three distinct sins: gluttony, avarice, and pride. Like a veteran safe-cracker plying his trade, he keeps feeling us out until he makes us “crack.”

That said, demons cannot make us sin. They merely exercise persuasion. For this reason, they can be said to “cause” sin only indirectly.

Besides tempting us to sin, they also prompt us to make errors in judgment that are not sinful in themselves, but could lead others into occasions of sin. For instance, if someone in a position of authority makes an error in judgment, this can adversely affect those dependent on him and cause their downfall. This is one reason we should pray for those in authority, especially the Holy Father and the bishops.

How do demons persuade? They have no access to our intellect or our free will. They simply cannot know our actual thoughts or move our volition. But our bodies, our passions (or emotions), and our internal senses — especially the sense memory and imagination — are all subject to the diabolical power.

Just because the demons cannot access our intellects does not mean that they cannot influence them. By dredging up (and “jumbling up”) the various images stored in our sense memory, they can indirectly affect our intellect and will. According to Saint Thomas, they cannot put images in our memory that were not already there. They can only access previously stored sense data, presenting them to us in various combinations in a provocative way. What an incentive to keep our memory free of all sinful images! We must therefore be on our guard, and not give ammunition to the Enemy by our imprudent use of the Internet, TV, and other media that “the rulers of the world of this darkness” influence so heavily.

“Imagination” in the philosophical sense is not what it is in common parlance. It is the repository not only of visual images (“pictures”), but also of phantasms derived from the other four external senses. So, included in the potential diabolic arsenal are other phantasms, e.g., sound bites of uncharitable things we or others have said, which may easily arouse us to anger, hatred, depression, or discouragement. And yes, the demons want to stir all those things up in us.

As Satan is called not only “the tempter” (Matt. 4:3), but also “a liar and the father thereof” (John 8:44), we know that his malefice includes lying deception. This goes for his fellow demons, too. Given what has been said of their power over the sense memory and imagination, they are capable of presenting images in our brains that we later make into ideas in our minds. From these ideas, we can form judgments that are false and reasonings that are erroneous. Thus does he turn against each other those who should be allies. Thus does he stir up enmities of all sorts. Thus does he bring marriages to ruin.

Saint Thomas says that the natural knowledge the demons had before their fall is not diminished. There remain two more kinds of knowledge that the angels have, both from grace: (2) speculative knowledge from revelation and (3) “effective” knowledge which produces love of God, and which belongs to the gift of Wisdom. The first of these is diminished in the demons, since they do not know all that God has revealed to the good angels. The Angelic Doctor says, “But of the third knowledge, as likewise of charity, they are utterly deprived.”

These considerations lead us to a practical conclusion: When we are in the grips of anger, hatred, ill-will, and suchlike, we are on familiar territory to the demons, for these are their specialty. However, when, under the influence of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, we practice such things as “charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, fidelity, modesty, continency, and chastity” (Gal. 5:22-23), we are in territory completely alien to the Enemy. It confounds him.

Besides the sacraments of the Church and a well-balanced spiritual life, the following are particular helps in the spiritual combat against the demons:

  • Recourse to a spiritual father (director, confessor), who might help us. A good priest, versed in the Church’s doctrine, especially pertaining to the discernment of spirits, can help us to avoid the deceptions of the evil ones.
  • Humility and a healthy mistrust of self, which is part of trusting one’s spiritual father.
  • The virtue of meekness, which will make us resistant to their promptings to anger.
  • A sense memory and imagination kept as free as possible of bad images. This may require major life changes, including how we use the Internet or what diversions we engage in.
  • Devotion to Our Blessed Lady under the title Virgo Potens — Virgin (Most) Powerful.
  • Devotion to one’s guardian angel.
  • Prayers especially formulated to check the power of demons.
  • Sacramentals which do the same, such as the crucifix, the Saint Benedict Medal, holy water, blessed salt, the scapular, the Miraculous Medal, etc.
  • Use of holy images, to give our guardian angels good images to bring to our memory.

Dear readers, the demons are not “pious legends,” but a frightful part of reality. The motto of our Order, Fortes in Fide, comes from a passage of St. Peter’s first Epistle: “Be sober and watch, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith [fortes in fide]” (I Pet. 5:8-9). It is our Catholic Faith and its attendants (sacraments, morals, sacramentals, etc.) which will be our victory over the demons. Let us ever love this true religion!