Three Characteristics of the Diabolical, And How they Are Manifest in the Modern World

040813The video at the bottom of this post is of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is a fascinating excerpt from a longer video he did, where he analyzes the diabolical (anything of or relating to the Devil), from several different perspectives. In the excerpt I present, he identifies three characteristics of the diabolical by examining the story of the Gerasene demoniac, depicted in the synoptic gospels. Here is the story as Luke presents it:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.. (Luke 8: 26-30)

You will then recall how Jesus drove the demon(s) out and into the herd of swine.

From this story and also based on an insight from a psychiatrist of his time (the talk was given in the mid 1970s), Bishop Sheen sets forth characteristics of the diabolical:

  1. Love of Nudity – For the text says: For a long time this man had not worn clothes.
  2. Violence – For the text says: though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains. Mark 5:4 more vividly adds: For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
  3. Division (Split Personality and divided from others) – for the text says, many demons had gone into him. Mark’s version has the demoniac reply My name is Legion, for we are many. (Mk 5:9). Further all the texts say the demoniac lived apart from others, in solitary places.

So here are three characteristics of the diabolic.

It does not take much analysis to see how these three characteristics of the diabolic are alive and flourishing in the modern world, at least the Western branch of it. Let’s consider them

1. Love of Nudity – This is clearly manifest at several levels. First there is the widespread tendency of immodest dress. We have discussed modesty here before and ought to note that modesty comes from the word “mode” referring to the middle or to moderation. Hence, while we want to avoid oppressively puritanical notions about dress that impose heavy burdens (especially on women) and regard the body as somewhat evil, we must also critique many modern forms of dress at the other extreme. These “fashions” reveal more than is reasonable and generally have, as their intent to draw attention to aspects of the body that are private and reserved for sexual union in marriage. Too many in our culture see little problem parading about in various stages of undress, wearing clothing that are more intended to disclose and call attention to, than to conceal the private areas of the body. This love of disclosure and titillation is surely an aspect of the Evil One’s love of nudity, and he has surely spread his obsession to many in the modern West.

Pornography, though nothing new in this fallen world, has surely reached epidemic proportions via the Internet. Any psychotherapist, counselor or priest will tell you that addiction to pornography is a huge problem among people today. Pornographic sites on the Internet outpace all others tenfold. Multimillion Americans are viewing enormous amounts of pornography and the “industry” is growing exponentially. What was once hidden away in adult bookstores is now one click away on the Internet. And the thought that browsing habits are easily discoverable matters little to the addicts of this latest form of slavery. Many are on a steep slope downward into ever more deviant forms of porn. Many end up at illegal sites before they even know what has happened to them, and the FBI is knocking on their door. Satan’s love of nudity has possessed many!

The overall sexualization of culture also ties in to Satan’s love of nudity. We sexualize women to sell products. We even sexualize children. Our sitcoms chatter endlessly about sex in a very teenage and immature sort of way. We are, collectively, goofy and immature about sex, and our culture giggles like horny teenagers obsessed with something we don’t really understand. Yes, Satan loves nudity, and everything that goes with it.

And then of course there is the utter confusion, that celebrates homosexual activity. What Scripture calls gravely sinful, disordered, and contrary to nature (= παρὰ φύσιν – para physin – Rom 1:26) many in our culture now openly celebrate. And those afflicted as such, openly identify themselves with what tempts them. Rather than lament the difficulty and trial of such affliction and offer love, support and truth that they, may live celibately, (as all the unmarried are called to do), our sex saturated culture, blinded and darkened by its own wild lust, affirms and encourages them to indulge what can only bring further harm to them, and others, for it is of the darkness and contrary to nature. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie… (Romans 1:25)

And thus, the love of the nudity and the related obsession with and confusion about sex is well manifest in our culture. It is a sign of the diabolical.

2. Violence – We have discussed here before how we, collectively, have turned violence into a form of entertainment. Our adventure movies and video games turn violent retribution into gleeful entertainment and death into a “solution.” Recent Popes have warned us of the culture of death, where death is increasingly proposed as the “solution” to problems. In our culture violence begins in the womb, as the innocent are attacked and it is called “choice” and “rights.” The violence and embrace of death continues to ripple through culture through contraception, violent gang activity, easy recourse to war and capital punishment. The past Century was perhaps the bloodiest ever known on this planet and untold people in the hundreds of millions died in two world wars, hundreds of regional wars and conflicts, horrific starvation campaigns in the Ukraine, in China and elsewhere, genocides in Central Europe, in Africa and Southeast Asia. Paul Johnson, in his book Modern Times estimates that over 100,000,000 died in war and violent ways in the just the first 50 years of the 20th Century. And with every death, Satan did his “snoopy dance.” Satan love violence. He loves to set fires, and watch us blame each other as we burn.

3. Division Satan loves to divide. Archbishop Sheen says that the word “diabolical” comes from two Greek words dia+ballein, meaning “to tear apart.” My own study of Greek, poor that it is, does not yield this result. Rather dia means “through” or “between” and ballein means “to throw or to cast.” Nevertheless, the Good Archbishop was a learned man and I ask you Greek Scholars to set me straight and defend Bishop Sheen.

But, even still, it is clear that the devil wants to divide us, within our very own psyche and among each other. Surely he rejoices at every division he causes. He “casts things between us” (dia+ballein)! Diabolical indeed. And thus, we see our families divided, the Church divided, our culture and Country divided. We are now divided at almost every level: racial, religious, political, economic. We divide over age, race, region, blue and red states, liturgy, music, language, and endless minutia.

Our families are broken, our marriages are broken. Divorce is rampant and commitments of any sort are rejected and deemed impossible. The Church is broken and divided into factions, so too the State, all the way down to the level of school boards. Though once we agreed on essentials, now even appeals to shared truth are called intolerant.

And within too, we struggle with many divisive drives and forms of figurative and literal schizophrenia. We are drawn to what is good, true and beautiful and yet what is base, false and evil also summons us. We know what is good, but desire what is evil, we seek love, but indulge hate and revenge. We admire innocence but often revel in destroying it or at least replacing it with cynicism.

And Satan dances his “snoopy dance.”

Three characteristics of the diabolic: love of nudity, violence, and division. What do you think? Is the prince of this world working his agenda? Even more important: are we conniving? The first step in over-coming the enemy’s agenda is to know his moves, to name them and then rebuke them in the Name of Jesus.

Thank you Archbishop Sheen. Your wisdom, God’s Wisdom, has never aged.

I beg your patience for this reprint of this article I wrote two years ago. Though I updated it a bit, my schedule today did not permit me to write a post this evening.

Pay attention to What the Good Archbishop has to say:

24 Replies to “Three Characteristics of the Diabolical, And How they Are Manifest in the Modern World”

  1. Good profile, and an interesting take on the diabolical. Though it’s still perilous to delve too deeply into the arts of the enemy (thanks, Tolkien), but I’d be interested if you could talk later about what C.S. Lewis talks about as the two other major obstacles to human flourishing: the ‘flesh’ and the ‘world’. Our flesh itself decays due to the fall, and so fails us, so that’s an interesting thing to look at. And in Genesis 3, after the snake and the woman, the third thing to be cursed due to Adam’s sin is the very ground.

  2. I would like to watch the entire longer video at a later time – and have noted even this article to read later…. it may contain what I’m requesting but, if not, and if it’s not to be found online using keywords
    ‘diabolical’ and ‘Sheen’ would you please post the title? Thank you…

  3. That’s a lovely statue of St. Michael, Monsignor. What are we to assume about where St. Michael stands in the midst of all the evil in our world today? Is he asleep or is he fighting as hard as he can? Would things be a lot worse than they are now if he really was sleeping?

    1. We have to make it the business of St Michael to intervene in our lives. Whenever the holy angels and holy saints want to help us, satan and the demons yell ” what is your business in this matter?!”. By our prayers – especially Mass and the Lord’s prayer, etc – while invoking the holy angels and the holy saints we make it their business to get involve in our business. If we dont pray and we dont constantly invoke their names then it may appear as if they are sleeping. That is why St Paul wrote that we should pray constantly without ceasing. The heavenly servants of the Lord Jesus serve him with sleepless eyes.

  4. “But man’s welfare is disposed by Divine providence in two ways: first of all, directly, when a man is brought unto good and withheld from evil; and this is fittingly done through the good angels. In another way, indirectly, as when anyone assailed is exercised by fighting against opposition. It was fitting for this procuring of man’s welfare to be brought about through the wicked spirits, lest they should cease to be of service in the natural order.”–St. Thomas Aquinas (S. T.: p.1, q. 64. a.4) I was wondering if someone else had seen the Bishop Sheen video and had written an article on it, Monsignor, until you told us it was a repost.

  5. Then “with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” – Philippians 2:12
    The West is in such a deep, deep hole. Perhaps, I should say the whole world. I pray to God everyday for a Big, Big Miracle!

  6. Fascinating article. One thing I would ask to clarify about the first point “Love of Nudity,” though: Paintings and sculptures from the classical era up to and beyond the Renaissance frequently featured nude subjects. Think Michaelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel! How would you explain that kind of nudity in art being acceptable while still rightly condemning immodesty in dress and pornographic images? Because even though Renaissance art featuring nude subjects is not meant to be titillating or pornographic, it’s still hard to explain to children and teenagers that there is “good naked” and “bad naked”!

    1. “Think Michaelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel! How would you explain that kind of nudity in art being acceptable”.

      It hasn’t always been considered acceptable, Sandy. Pope Clement XIII actually had the genitalia on Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel covered. When the painting was first revealed to the public, some denounced it as being more appropriate for a brothel than for a papal chapel.

  7. Archbishop Sheen is one of my all time favorite Priests, right up there with Padre Pio and Ven. Louis of Granada.

    He offers the other side of the equation you present, Monsignor, holy believing men speak truth “clear and pithy”.

    Thank you Monsignor and, thank you Archbishop (may God give you a big hug).

  8. Monsignor Pope. I found your article very informative and it, I hope and pray, give many others, serious food for thought. Thank you. The video featuring Archbishop Sheen was also excellent. I too am going to seek the full video and watch it. Funny thing to observe: Posting on just about any other topic brings more commentary. But this one often reduces way too many to silence.

  9. Thank you and God Bless for posting this. I have been looking for this video of ArchBishop Sheen for about a year now. I saw it quite a while ago and think that it hits the nail on the head.

  10. Msgr.,

    The Gosnell case in Philadelphia is a perfect example of the demonic in our society. The description of that facility and what went on there is a description of Hell.

    And the President of the United States, in a previous job, voted against a bill that ensured such atrocities were illegal….St. Michael save us!

  11. There is a very interesting book by the former Franciscan friar Leonardo Boff (*), Sacraments of life. The he clearly explains how “dia-bolos” means “That who separates” while “sym-bolos” (symbol) means “That who joins, who puts together”. That’s why the eucharistic bread and other symbols, join us with the Lord.

    (*) Even though Boff has had severe issues with the Catholic Church and he eventually left the Franciscans and the Church years ago, this book is highly recomendable; it has nothing to do with other publications by Boff.
    Sacraments of Life, Life of the Sacraments,

  12. Msgr.,

    Question for you, since you take modesty so seriously (which is good!): How do you teach modesty in your own parish, and what standards do you set for those in leadership, serving at Mass, etc., in your parish? I’m asking because it’s a thorny issue in my region, and our parish priests are unhappy with the status quo (“anything goes”), but aren’t sure how to proceed.

    A difficulty is that what constitutes acceptably modest dress at Mass has changed radically for the more-revealing in the last decade or so, and everyone’s divided and befuddled — quite a lot of disagreement among parishioners and leaders about what is or is not acceptable. What would you advise?

    Topic for a whole post, or even a series, I’m sure, but thought I’d pose it while you raised the issue.



  13. Leonardo Boff, himself is a diabolic person and so his acts and consequences, in special, “division”. For sure he must be an expert on this subject.

  14. Yes, Satanic rituals are performed in the nude, aren’t they?

    Frankly, I knew my marriage was over once my husband started sunbathing in the nude. In full view of our neighbors. He is bipolar, but our children’s babysitter believes that he needs an exorcism. Perhaps she is right.

    Thank you for your blog, Monsignor Pope. It always gives me a point of reference for my daily problems, and a lot to think about.

  15. Thanks for this Monsignor.
    Is it too impertent of me to reduce the 3-fold premise to direct opposition to 3 theological virtues of faith hope and charity? Sin as non-serviam renouncing an announcing of man’s purgative, illuminative and unitive wandering way toward redemption? While our first parents sinned originally, grace preceeded each following step, only to be obstructed by one of your three characteristics:

    Adam and Eve’s first act of faith: hide their shame and clothe their fallen nature
    __Gen 3:1 serpent was “impudent” Hebrew עָרוּם (`aruwm from עָרם `aram = naked)

    Abel’s second act of hope: pastoral trust in God’s providence
    __Cain the farmer-manager prefering function over unction

    Cain’s third act of communio-love: conjugal union initiates the salvation story of mortal man
    __begeting a son Enoch Hebrew חֲנוֹךְ (Chanowk = initial, forefather to Enos אֱנוֹשׁ ‘Enowsh = multitude)

    Prudential caution advised wherever psychiatric instability is equated with the demonic: Olympic swimmers are not all possessed by the devil simply because they undress to compete in their preferred sport. You could counter that the Deceiver uses such images as an occasion of sin? Yes of course, as I said, apply prudence always.

  16. Glad that Bishop Sheen picked up on the “oppressively puritanical notions” bit, which would be satan trying to cast out satan.

    Here’s how the 1899 DRA version of John 21:7 compares with the NIV version:

    That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved, said to Peter: It is the Lord. Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, girt his coat about him, (for he was naked,) and cast himself into the sea.
    Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

    Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. New International Version (NIV)

    This is a good example of how bias creeps in and indeed, why Sola Scriptura tends towards, dare I say it, the heretical.

  17. Footnote: Of course, by no means am I suggesting that Evangelicals are more susceptible to falling into trap of one heresy or the other, than Catholic or Orthodox Christians, so long as they are attentive to the Spirit of God. Hence why “koinonia” (communion) is so central to the narrative of here and now.

Comments are closed.