Four Common Tactics of the Devil

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in demonic possession. Movies and books, along with human fears and fascinations, are largely the cause. Although actual demonic possession is somewhat rare, it does occur. Each diocese ought to have an appointed exorcist to assess possession. This exorcist, with the permission of the bishop, should use the Rite of Major Exorcism when true and morally certain possession has been determined.

But because actual possession is quite rare, most of us should be looking out for the more common ways that the devil attacks us. His usual tactics are more subtle and pervasive, and we ought not let the exotic distract us from the more commonplace.

One of the key elements in any contest is to understand the tactics of your opponent and to recognize the subtleties of his strategy. In the spiritual battle of life we need to develop some sophistication in recognizing, naming, and understanding the subtleties of the Devil’s common tactics.

A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it a couple of years ago, I think it would be of value to reflect on four broad categories of the Devil’s tactics, which Fr. Cameli analyzes in his book.

While the four categories are Fr. Cameli’s, the reflections here are largely my own, though surely rooted in Fr. Cameli’s excellent work. I highly recommend reading the work, in which the categories are more fully described.

Here are four common tactics of the devil.

I. Deception – Jesus says, The devil was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).

The devil deceives us with many false and empty promises. Most of these relate to the lie that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we sin or deny aspects of the truth. Whatever passing pleasures come with sin, they are just that—passing. Great and accumulated suffering eventually comes from almost all sinful activity. Yet despite this experience, we humans remain very gullible; we seem to love empty promises and put all sorts of false hopes in them.

The devil also deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and conceal the fundamental truth about our actions. Our minds are very wily and love to indulge complexity as a way of avoiding the truth and making excuses. So we, conniving with the devil, entertain endless complications by asking, “But what if this? And what about that?” Along with the devil, we project all sorts of possible difficulties, exceptions, or potential sob stories in order to avoid insisting that we or others behave well and live according to the truth.

The devil also seeks to deceive us with “wordsmithing.” And thus the dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Sodomy is called “gay” (a word that used to mean “happy”). Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom are called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage as it is been known for millennia is labeled “marriage freedom” or “marriage equality.” And thus through exaggerations and outright false labeling, the devil deceives us. We too easily cooperate by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.

The devil also deceives us through sheer volume of information. Information is not the same as truth. Data can be assembled very craftily to make deceptive points. Further, certain facts and figures can be emphasized to the exclusion of other balancing truths. And thus even information that is true in itself can become a form of deception. The news media sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. And this, too, is a way that the devil brings deceptions upon us.

We do well to carefully assess the many ways Satan seeks to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. And while we ought not be cynical, we ought to be sober. We should seek to verify what we see and hear and square it with God’s revealed truth.

II. Division – One of Jesus’ final prayers for us was that we would be one (cf John 17:22). He prayed this at the Last Supper just before He went out to suffer and die for us. As such, He highlights that a chief aspect of his work on the cross is to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some point out that the Greek root of the word “diabolical” (diabolein) means to cut, tear, or divide. Jesus prays and works to reunify what the devil divides.

The devil’s work of division starts within each one of us as we experience many contrary drives: some noble, creative, and edifying; others base, sinful, and destructive. So often we struggle internally and feel torn apart, much as Paul describes in Romans chapter 7: The good that I want to do, I do not do … and when I try to do good, evil is at hand. This is the work of the devil: to divide us within. And as St. Paul lays out in Romans 8, the chief work of the Lord is to establish within us the unity of soul and body, in accordance with the unity of His truth.

And of course the devil’s attack against our inner unity spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help drive this division and the devil surely taps into them all: anger, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop regarding those we love, and the flawed notion that we should seek other more perfect and desirable people. And thus many abandon their marriages, families, churches, and communities, always in search of the elusive goal of finding better and more perfect people and situations.

Yes, the devil has a real field day tapping into a plethora of sinful drives within us. His goal is always to divide us, both internally, and from one another. We do well to recognize that regardless of our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy. As St Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Feuding brothers will reconcile when there is a maniac at the door. But the first step is noticing the maniac, and then setting aside lesser divisions.

III. Diversion – To be diverted is to be turned away from our primary goal or task. And for all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things waiting for us in Heaven. Our path is toward Heaven, along the path of faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor. And thus the devil does all that he can to turn us away from our one true goal.

Perhaps he will do this by making us too absorbed in the passing things of the world. Many claim that they are too busy to pray, or go to Church, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in passing, worldly things and ignore the lasting reality that looms.

Anxieties and fears also distract us. Through these, the devil causes us to fixate on fears about passing things and fail to have the proper fear of the judgment that awaits us. Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). In other words, we should have a holy reverence and fear directed towards the Lord. In this way, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective, or will even go away altogether. But in this matter of fear, the devil says just the opposite: we should be afraid of the thousands of things that might afflict us on this passing earth, and not think about the one most significant thing that awaits us—our judgment.

At the heart of all diversion is the fact that the devil wants us to focus on lesser things in order to avoid focusing on greater things such as a moral decisions and the overall direction of our life.

Once again, we must learn to focus on what matters most and refuse to allow our attention to be diverted to lesser things.

IV. Discouragement – As human beings, and certainly as Christians, it is good to have high aspirations. But Satan often seeks to poison that which is good. For along with high aspirations we sometimes lack the humility to recognize that we must make a journey to what is good and best. Too easily, then, Satan tempts us to be impatient with ourselves or others. We sometimes expect to reach our aspirations in an unreasonably short amount of time and show a lack charity toward ourselves or others. Some grow discouraged with themselves or others and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the church because of the imperfections found there.

The devil also discourages us with open-ended aspirations. The fact is, there is always room for improvement; we can always do more. But here the devil enters, for if we can always do more, then it is also possible to think that we’ve never done enough. And thus the devil discourages us, sowing unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do each day.

The devil also discourages us through simple things like fatigue, personal failings, setbacks, and other obstacles that are common to our human condition and to living in a fallen world with limited resources.

In all these ways the devil seeks to discourage us, to make us want to give up. Only a properly developed sense of humility can help to save us from these discouraging works of Satan. Humility, which is reverence for the truth about ourselves, teaches us that we grow and develop slowly, that we do have setbacks, and that we live in a world that is hard and far from perfect. Being humble and recognizing these things helps us to lean more on the Lord, and to trust in His providential help, which grows in us incrementally.

Here, then, are four common tactics of the devil. Learn to recognize and name them. In this way we can start to gain authority over them. Consider reading Fr. Louis Cameli’s book to learn more.

I have compiled here a list of demonic titles and descriptions from the Rite of Major Exorcism that refer to some of these tactics of the Father of Lies. You can view it here: Titles of Satan from the Rite.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Four Common Tactics of the Devil

The Progressive Stages of Sin

We are living in times when many are doubling down on their sin. As the darkness grows, many fiercely defend their sinful practices. This is especially evident in the matter of abortion. The science could not be clearer that there is a unique, beautifully formed, distinct human life in the womb of a pregnant mother, with a heartbeat, brain activity, alternating sleep and wake cycles, and the ability to feel pain. Despite this, many demand that all limits on abortion be removed. They “shout” and celebrate abortion, rejoicing in the dismemberment of babies in the womb and all the while considering themselves morally superior to those who support life.

How does it happen that so many obstinately persist in sin and promote wickedness until they are ultimately lost? As with all progressive diseases, sin is a sickness that moves through stages, further debilitating and hardening the sinner in his ways.

St. Alphonsus Liguori laid out five stages through which sin (if not resisted and repented of in its initial attacks) takes an increasing toll on the human person, making repentance less likely and more difficult.

While the names of the stages are mine, I am summarizing the insights of St. Alphonsus, who details these stages in his lengthy essay, “Considerations on the Eternal Maxims” (also called “Preparation for Death”) in Chapter 22, “On Evil Habits.” I have added some of my own additional insights as well.

Stage 1: Impairment – The first effect of habitual sin is that it blinds the understanding. Scripture says, Their own malice blinded them (Wisdom 2:21). Yes, every sin produces blindness, and the more that sins are multiplied, the greater the blindness they produce.

A further effect of this blindness is a foolish and dangerous wandering about. Scripture provides several references for this:

        • The wicked walk round about (Ps. 12:8).
        • They stagger as with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment (Is 28:7).
        • Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the pit that he has made (Ps 7:14-15).

Thus, habitual sin leads to impaired vision and an impaired walk. Not seeing, the wicked stumble about and fall into a pit of their own making.

Stage 2: Indifference – After an evil habit is contracted, the sins that previously excited sorrow are now viewed with increasing indifference. Scripture says the following:

        • Fools destroy themselves because of their indifference (Prov 1:32).
        • But he who is careless of conduct will die (Prov 19:16).

To the increasingly indifferent and careless, the Lord gives this solemn and salutary warning: In little more than a year you who feel secure will tremble; the grape harvest will fail, and the harvest of fruit will not come (Is 32:10).

Thus, as unrepented sin grows, not only does the sinner stagger about and fall into pits, he cares less and less about the foolishness of his ways. The sins that once caused shame, or the thought of which caused sorrow and aversion, either go unnoticed or seem normal—even attractive.

Stage 3: Incapacity – As sin deepens its hold, the willingness and even the capacity to repent decreases. Why is this? St. Augustine answers this well when he says, dum servitur libidini, facta est consuetudo, et dum consuetudini non resistitur, facta est necessitas (when lust was served it became habit, and when habit was not resisted it became necessity) (Confessions, 8.5.10). Sin deepens its hold on the sinner in this way.

Stage 4: Incorrigibility – As Scripture says, The wicked man, when he is come into the depths of sins, has contempt (Proverbs 18:3). St. John Chrysostom commented on this verse, saying that habitual sinners, being sunk in the abyss of darkness, despise corrections, sermons, censures, Hell, and God; they despise everything.

A bad habit hardens the heart and the habitual sinner remains increasingly unmoved and mired in contempt for any correction or remedy. Scripture says of them, At your rebuke O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered (Psalm 76:7). An evil habit gradually takes away all remorse and replaces it with angry indignation at any attempted correction.

Then, instead of regretting his sins, the sinner rejoices in them, even laughing and boasting of them. Scripture says,

        • They are glad when they have done evil and rejoice in the perverseness of evil (Proverbs 2:14).
        • A fool works mischief as if it were for sport (Proverbs 10:23).

Thus, they are incorrigible. They laugh at attempted correction and celebrate their sins with pride.

Stage 5: Indisposition – When the understanding is deprived of light and the heart is hardened, the sinner ordinarily dies obstinate in his sin. Scripture says, A hard heart shall fare ill at the end (Ecclesiastes 3:27).

Some may say that they will amend their ways before they die, but it’s very difficult for a habitual sinner, even in old age, to change his life. St. Bernard said, “The man on whom the weight of a bad habit presses, rises with difficulty.”

Indeed, how can a sinner, weakened and wounded by habitual sin, have the strength to rise? Even if he sees the way out, he often considers the remedies too severe, too difficult. Though conversion is not impossible, he is indisposed because it all seems like too much work. In addition, his love has likely grown cold for the good things that God offers.

Thus, even on their deathbeds, many sinners remain unmoved and unwilling to change; the darkness is deep, their hearts have hardened, and their sloth has solidified.

In these ways sin is like a progressive illness, a deepening disease; it moves through stages in much the same way that cancer does. Repentance at any stage is possible, but it becomes increasingly unlikely, especially by stage four, when the sinner becomes proud of his sin and joyful in his iniquity.

Beware the progressive illness of sin!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Progressive Stages of Sin

Why the Road to Hell Is Wide and Many Walk on It

In the gospels there is a warning from Jesus that too many people just brush aside:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matt 6:12-13).

I have commented at some length in the past on the serious problem of universalism (the notion that nearly everyone goes to Heaven). I will not create another post on that topic just now, but you can read one of those older posts here: Hell is for real and not rare.

To summarize, most people today have the teaching backwards. Whereas Jesus said that many are on the road to destruction and only a few travel the narrow road (of the cross) to salvation, most claim that many go to Heaven and only a few (if any) go to Hell. Don’t make that mistake. Jesus is not playing games with us. No one loves us more than Jesus does, and no one warned us more of judgment and Hell than He did. Even though He didn’t provide exact percentages for each category, do not try to make many mean few and few mean many.

An obvious question to ask is why so many walk the wide road to destruction and Hell. Is it because God is stingy or despotic? No. God wants to save us all (Ez 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4). The real answer is that we are hard to save, and we must become more sober about that. We have hard hearts, thick skulls, and innumerable other traits that make us a difficult case.

If a third of the angels fell, that ought to make us very aware of our own similar tendency to do so. This should make us humbler about our own situation. The fallen angels had intellects vastly superior to ours, and their angelic souls were not weighed down with the many bodily passions that beset us—but still, they fell!

Adam and Eve, possessing preternatural gifts and existing before all the weaknesses we inherited from sin, also fell. Are we, in our present unseemly state and vastly less gifted than the angels, really going to claim that we are not in any real danger or that we are easy to save?

We need to sober up and run to God with greater humility, admitting that we are a hard case and in desperate need of the medicines and graces that God offers. He offers us His Word, the sacraments, holy fellowship, and lots of prayer! We need not panic, but we do need to be far more urgent than most people are about themselves and those they love.

Consider some of the following things that make us difficult to save:

We have hard hearts and stubborn wills. While some of what this includes is specified in more detail below, this is a good place to begin. God, speaking to us through Isaiah the Prophet, said, I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is bronze(Is 48:4). He is talking about us!

We are obtuse in our desires. If something is forbidden, we seem to want it all the more. St. Paul laconically observed, When the commandment came, sin sprang to life (Rom 7:9). If something is harmful, we want it in abundance, but if it is helpful, we are often averse to it. We like our sweets and our salty snacks, but vegetables rot in the refrigerator. In the desert the people of Israel longed for melons, leeks, onions, and the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves. When it came to the Bread from Heaven, the Holy Manna, they said, We are disgusted with this wretched manna (Num 21:5). We are obtuse; that is, we are turned outward toward sin instead of inward toward God in a Holy embrace. Jesus sadly remarked that judgment would go poorly for many because The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19).

We don’t like to be told what to do. Even if we know we ought to do something or to stop doing something, the mere fact that someone is telling us often makes us either dig in our heels and refuse, or else comply resentfully rather than wholeheartedly.

We are not docile. When we were very young, we were fascinated with the world around us and kept asking, “Why, Mommy?” or “Why, Daddy?” As we got older, our skull thickened; we stopped asking why. We figured we knew better than anyone around us. The problem just worsens with age, unless grace intervenes. St Paul lamented, For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-5).

We love distraction and don’t listen. Even when saving knowledge is offered to us, we are too often tuned out, distracted, and resistant. ADHD is nothing new in the human family. God said through Jeremiah, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus invoked Isaiah to explain why He spoke to the crowds only in parables: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed (Is 6:10).

We are opinionated. We tend to think that something is true or right merely because we think it or agree with it. There is nothing wrong with having opinions, even strong ones, about what is right and true, but if God’s Word or the Church’s formal teaching challenges your opinion, you’d better consider changing it or at least making distinctions. The last time I checked, God is just a little smarter than we are. His official teaching in the Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church is inspired; we are not. Scripture says, All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Is 55:8). Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Is 29:16) Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” (Is 45:9) Despite this, many go on with their own opinions and will not abide even the clear correction of God.

We have darkened intellects due to unruly and dominating passions. Our strong and unruly passions cloud our mind and seek to compel our will. Too easily, without training and practice in virtue, our baser faculties come to dominate our higher faculties, making unreasonable demands for satisfaction. We love to tell ourselves lots of lies. We suppress the truth and our senseless minds become darkened (Romans 1:21). The Catechism says, The human mind … is hampered in the attaining of … truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful (CCC #37). The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium 16, says, But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

We are lemmings. We are too easily swayed by what is popular. We prefer modern notions to ancient and tested wisdom. Tattoos, tongue bolts, and piercings are in? Quick, run out and get one! Whatever the fad or fashion, no matter how foolish, harmful, or immodest, many clamor for it. Hollywood stars get divorces and soon enough everyone is casting aside biblical teaching against it. The same goes for many other moral issues. What was once thought disgraceful is now paraded on Main Street and celebrated. Like lemmings, we run along with the crowd to celebrate what was once called sin (and is still sinful). Instead of following God, we follow human beings. We follow them and the “culture” they create, often mindlessly.

We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Many seem to abide all of this quite well and make a nice little home here in this world.

If all this isn’t enough, consider a “few” others: We are so easily, in a moment, obnoxious, dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, impure, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, harsh, impatient, shallow, inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, untrusting, indifferent, hateful, lazy, cowardly, angry, greedy, jealous, vengeful, prideful, envious, contemptuous, stingy, petty, spiteful, indulgent, careless, neglectful, prejudiced, and just plain mean.

So, if the road to destruction is wide (and Jesus says it is), don’t blame God. The road is wide for reasons like these. We are a hard case; we are hard to save. It is not that God lacks power; it is that we refuse to address many of these shortcomings. God, who made us free, will not force us to change.

We ought not to kid ourselves into thinking that we can go on living resistant and opposed to the Kingdom of God and its values, yet magically at death we will suddenly want to enter His Kingdom, which we have resisted our whole life. Jesus said that many prefer the darkness. Is it really likely that their preference will suddenly shift? Will not the glorious light of Heaven seem harsh, blinding, and even repulsive to them? In such a case is not God’s “Depart from me” both a just and merciful response? Why force a person who hates the light to live in it? I suppose it grieves God to have to abide such a departure, but to force a person to endure Him must be even more difficult. I am sure it is with great sadness that God accepts a person’s final no.

Yes, the road is wide that leads to destruction. It is wide because of us. The narrow road is the way of the cross, which is a stumbling block and an absurdity to many (1 Cor 1:23), who simply will not abide its message.

So, we ought to be sober about the Lord’s lament. We ought also to be more urgent in our attempts to secure our own unruly soul and the souls of those we love for the Kingdom. The blasé attitude of most moderns is rooted in the extremely flawed notion that judgment and Hell are not real issues. That is a lie, for it contracts Jesus’ clear word.

Why is the road to destruction wide? Because we are hard cases; we are difficult to save. We ought not to be unduly fearful, but we ought to run to Jesus in humility and beg Him to save us from our worst enemy—our very self. If you don’t think you’re a hard case, read the list above and think again.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why the Road to Hell Is Wide and Many Walk on It

What Is the Deepest Root of Sin? It’s Not in Your Wallet and It’s Much Closer Than You Might Think

In polling friends as to what they think is the deepest root of all sin, I got three main answers. One was a shrug indicating no answer at all (i.e., “I dunno”). Another was to refer to Scripture: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim 6:10). I’ll discuss below why this is an inadequate answer. The third main response was that original sin (and the concupiscence that followed) is the source of all of our other sins. The only problem with that answer is that it doesn’t explain Adam and Eve’s (original) sin, nor does it explain the fall of the angels, who seem to have fallen in great numbers without original sin or concupiscence and are now demons. Therefore an even deeper root must be sought.

Referencing St. Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, permit me to answer that the deepest root of all sin is inordinate self-love. From this root springs all sin, including the original sin of Adam and that of the angels. It is true that our fallen condition has intensified the problem of inordinate self-love, but the possible temptation to it was there before.

For to what else did Satan appeal when he said to Eve, and you will be like God (Gen 3:5)? And indeed, by what were Lucifer and all the other fallen angels tempted when they mysteriously rebelled and, in effect, declared their non serviam (I will not serve)? Adam and Eve as well as all the angels (though sinless and not fallen) chose to love themselves more than God. They would not love or trust God more than they loved themselves. For the angels it was a “one and you’re done” decision. For us, the drama continues, but will end with our definitive and lasting decision either to love God or to love our own self more.

The inordinate love of self is the most fundamental root of all sin. We all know its power and its pernicious quality. Even the most wonderful things we do are tainted when we do them more for personal praise and glory than for love of God and neighbor.

Let me summarize a few insights from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. He begins from Scripture.

From inordinate self-love, the root of every sin, spring the three concupiscences which St. John speaks of when he says: “For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world” (1 John 2:16).

The concupiscence of the flesh is the inordinate desire of what is, or seems to be, useful to the preservation of the individual and of the species, [Gluttony and Lust] … Voluptuousness can thus become an idol …

The concupiscence of the eyes is the inordinate desire of all that can please the sight: of luxury, wealth, money … From this is born avarice [greed]. The avaricious man ends by making his treasure his god, adoring it and sacrificing everything to it: his time, his strength, his family, and sometimes, his eternity …

The pride of life is the inordinate love of our own excellence … [from this is born pride, anger, envy, and sloth]. [He who has pride of life] ends by becoming his own god, as Lucifer did.

Inordinate self-love leads us to death, according to the Savior’s words: “He that loveth his life (in an egotistical manner) shall lose it; and he that hateth (or sacrifices) his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal” (Jn 12:25). … Only a greater love, the love of God, can conquer self-love. (Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (Tan Publications) Vol 1: 300-301, 368-370)

St. Thomas says, “All sinful acts spring from inordinate self-love, which hinders us from loving God above all else and tempts us to turn away from him” (Summa Theologica I, IIae, q. 77 a. 4; et 84, a. 4).

[E]very sinful act proceeds from inordinate desire for some temporal good. Now the fact that anyone desires a temporal good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish anyone some good is to love him. Therefore it is evident that inordinate love of self is the cause of every sin (Summa Theologica 77.4 respondeo).

To the objection that Scripture says, “For the love of money [literally covetousness] is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10), St. Thomas responds,

The desire of money is said to be the root of sins, not as though riches were sought for their own sake, as being the last end; but because they are much sought after as useful for any temporal end. And since a universal good is more desirable than a particular good, they move the appetite more than any individual goods, which along with many others can be procured by means of money (Summa Theologica I, IIae, 84, 1 ad 2).

In other words, “money” is desired as a means not an end, not for its own sake but as a means to indulge inordinate self-love. So, inordinate self-love is a deeper root than the love of money. Money is desired to facilitate and actualize the deeper problem.

St. Thomas goes on to show how the Capital Vices (sins) flow from inordinate self-love. What follows are my own reflections, based loosely on his.

  • Pride (sometimes called vainglory) – We love our own apparent excellence more than the certain and greater excellence of God, or the excellence that may exist in others.
  • Greed – We have an excessive and insatiable love of things due to our excessive love of ourselves and the perceived need to have these things for our sake.
  • Lust – Out of excessive love of self and desire to please ourselves, we desire others for the pleasure they can give us, rather than loving them for their own sake.
  • Anger – Our excessive self-love causes us to regard many things and people (including God) fearfully and then angrily, perceiving them as threatening. So we angrily and unrighteously resist them.
  • Gluttony – Our excessive love of self causes us to satisfy our passion for food and drink beyond what is healthy in the long run, what is respectful of God, or what is generous to others.
  • Envy – Our excessive self-love and egotism give us a sadness about the goodness or excellence of others because we perceive it as lessening our own share of praise or glory.
  • Sloth – Our excessive love of self makes God seem to be a usurper of our life, our time, our opinions, or our pleasure. So we are sad about or avoid His plan for our happiness.

This, then, is the deepest root of all of our sin. We cannot simply blame the world or the devil, though they are not to be excluded either. But inordinate self-love is what gives the world and the devil easy access to us. This is the “button” they push for easy results.

This source of sin is a lot closer and far more subtle than we imagine. Only a greater love—the love of God—can conquer self-love. And thus the greatest commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt 22:37-40).

Indeed, and so does our healing hang on these two commandments. Ask for a greater love of God, a proper love of self, and the gift to love your neighbor with that same proper love.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Is the Deepest Root of Sin? It’s Not in Your Wallet and It’s Much Closer Than You Might Think

Do Not Be Deceived: Hell Is Real

Last Judgment – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1541)

There is a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews that deserves attention because it is a more common problem than many imagine:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

When most of us read a text like this, we think only of obvious and dark cases. For example, someone’s tendency to lash out at others leads him to increasing violence and cruelty, or someone’s desire for possessions leads him to increasing stinginess and unkindness, or someone’s lust leads him to sexually promiscuity that is more and more debased and perverse. However, there are less egregious versions of what this text describes that can lead even religiously observant Catholics to become hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

An example of this is the outright, almost categorical denial of the doctrine of Hell by a large number of Catholics, even ones who attend Mass faithfully each week. Although Jesus taught it consistently, many today firmly resist the biblical teaching that many people are in significant danger of going to Hell.

It can be argued that 21 of the 38 parables have as their theme the warning of impending judgment in which some are judged unable or unwilling to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For example, there are sheep and goats; wheat and tares; those on the right and those on the left; wise virgins and foolish ones; those who accept the invitation to the wedding and those who refuse; those properly dressed and those who are not; those who are told, “Come, blessed of my Father” and those who are told, “Depart from me.” This is not the place for me to give a full teaching on these doctrines. (I have posted in more depth on these topics previously: here and here and here.)

Many today, even among the religiously observant, do not take these consistent teachings seriously. “God wouldn’t do that because He is love and compassion,” they say. “There aren’t many people in Hell, except maybe Hitler.” Most people are quite “hardened” in this “deceitful” view, to use the language from Hebrews. Even when presented with verse after verse from Scripture—most directly from Jesus’ mouth—many still stubbornly persist in rejecting what is clearly taught, saying: “Yeah, I know, but He didn’t really mean it. He won’t really do that.”

To illustrate, some years ago a woman confronted me after Mass objecting to my sermon, which included a warning about Hell for those who refuse to repent. (The Gospel for that Sunday included Jesus’ sad warning that the road to Hell was wide with many on it, while the road to salvation was narrow and only a few were walking its way and would find salvation). She said to me, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your sermon about Hell today.” I replied, “But ma’am, I was quoting Jesus!” She did not miss a beat, saying, “Oh, please! We know He never really said that.” This reply indicates a hardening by the deceit of sin on several levels: she rejects the revealed Word of God in favor of her own views, she rejects the doctrine and warnings of Hell itself, and she remakes the Lord so that He conforms to her notions and can be worthy of her credence and worship. (We used to call this last thing “idolatry.”)

Listen again to the words from Hebrews: See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. This refers to more than just wicked behaviors. Sometimes the hardness is a refusal to believe revealed doctrines or to accept the Lord’s serious warnings. A world hardened by the deceit of sin will not accept that there are lasting consequences for the refusal to repent. Many have allowed themselves to be influenced by it, setting aside God’s Word in favor of human ideas and preferences.

Beware of this tendency, which is so common today. Study the doctrines. Read the warnings of the Lord in Scripture. Ask questions about things that puzzle or trouble you; pray for insight—but do not be misled into sinfully and stubbornly rejecting what is revealed.

The reading for Wednesday’s Mass contains a salutary warning:

Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart. Say not, “Who can prevail against me?” for the LORD will exact the punishment. Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” for the LORD bides his time. Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day; For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed. Rely not upon deceitful wealth, for it will be no help on the day of wrath (Sirach 5:1-10).

The Lord says these things because He loves us. He does not want us to be lost. In the end, though, God respects our freedom to say no to what He is offering. He knows how we are made and how stubborn we can be. He knows that the values of Heaven (particularly love of our enemies, forgiveness of those who have wronged us, and chastity) are not pleasing to many people. The Lord will not force us to live values like these, but they are what Heaven is about. Thus, He warns us to let Him instill a desire in us for what He offers so that we will desire the Heaven He describes. Listen to Him; He warns us in love so that He can take our heart of stone and give us a true heart to desire the Heaven He is offering.

Do not be hardened by deceitful teachings rooted in this world of sin!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Do Not Be Deceived or Hardened in the Error of Those Who Say Hell is Unlikely or Unreal

Prayer and Fasting or Just Prayer? A Consideration of a Biblical “Disagreement”

Bread and wheat on wooden table, shallow DOFGiven the Gospel reading for Monday of the Seventh Week, and with the ongoing interest in demonology, Jesus’ instruction that demons must be driven out with prayer and fasting (cf Mk 9:29, Matt 17:21) is frequently quoted. And many people are acquainted with this text in this form.

But a problem emerges for some people when they go to their Bible to look up those texts. Some Bibles include the reference to fasting while others do not. For example, the two most common Catholic Bibles, the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) and the Revised New American Bible (RNAB), render Mark 9:29 differently.

  • This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting (RSVCE).
  • This kind can only come out through prayer (RNAB).

And in Matthew 17:21, which recounts the same incident that Mark 9:29 does, prayer and fasting aren’t mentioned at all in either the RSVCE or the RNAB version. Older Bibles such as the Douay Rheims (DR) and the King James (KJV), however, do:

  • But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting (DR).
  • Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting (KJV).

So what is going on here?

The ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are remarkably consistent, especially considering that they were handwritten by scribes, who might accidentally skip or misspell a word. But there are some discrepancies. Most textual variations are easily resolved by comparing several ancient manuscripts to identify misspellings and/or dropped words. There are some variations, however, that are not as easily resolved, especially when it is a case of one erroneous manuscript being copied numerous times and distributed. But even in that situation, a little detective work can usually find the root problem and distinguish between an erroneous text and a correct one.

But there are times when certain textual variations cannot be resolved and biblical scholars either do not agree or cannot be certain as to which is the most authentic version. Mark 9:29 is one of those texts. Some ancient manuscripts include the words “and fasting” (και νηστεια) while others do not.

For the benefit of the technocrats who are reading this, the following manuscripts support the translation that includes both fasting and prayer: P45vid2 A C D K L N W Γ Δ Θ Ψ ƒ1,13 28. 33. 565. 579. 700. 892. 1241. 1424. 2542. ℓ 2211 ???? lat syh co (sys.p boms). These ancient manuscripts, however, support the translation that does not include fasting: ℵ B 0274 k.

While the manuscripts that favor including fasting are far more numerous, it is not necessarily a question of mere numbers. This is because not all ancient manuscripts are considered to be of equal value. Most modern scholars favor the translation that excludes the reference to fasting because the manuscripts that do not mention it are ones that they weight more heavily. So even though many manuscripts do include the words “and fasting,” the earliest and “best” manuscripts do not include it. Critics of this current consensus view object to the presumption that fasting reflects a later concern of the Church. They also think that the most common “go-to” source (Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament) has been too influential. Welcome to the wonderful world of biblical textual criticism (analysis)!

The issue with Matthew 7:21 being wholly lacking in most modern Bibles has a similar explanation, though in this case the consensus is even stronger because the oldest and best Greek manuscripts lack the verse. And even those manuscripts that do, seem to show it in the margins as more of a side comment or a reference back to Mark 9:29.

So, all of this goes toward explaining why some of our modern Bibles report Jesus as saying that certain types of demons must be driven out by “prayer and fasting,” while others simply say “prayer.”

But is this just an academic exercise? What are there pastoral considerations?

The main pastoral (and liturgical) question would seem to be this: “Is fasting required to drive out demons or not?” The ambiguity of the textual evidence (as described above) allows that reasonable people may differ as to whether strict fasting is required and to what extent it is helpful. There are certain considerations to be made.

Even if certain demons are best driven out by prayer and fasting, we must never forget that it is God who drives out demons, and He doesn’t need our fasting to do so. Any prideful notions about the effects of our fasting should be strictly avoided.

Indeed, we ought to have a kind of humility regarding fasting. Fasting is certainly recommended, and the Lord Himself says that there is a time for fasting (cf Mk 2:20, Luke 5:35). But fasting can also be a source of pride (Lk 18:12, Lk 5:33). Fasting done out of pride or superiority isn’t going to drive out any demons; in fact it will likely attract them.

In longer exorcisms (which can go on for months), fasting may need to be mitigated or else assigned to members who are not part of the team directly involved in the exorcism. Physical strength is often needed to withstand the grueling work of major exorcism.

With such precautions in mind, and in spite of the textual variations in the “prayer and fasting” text of Scripture, the instinct of the Church is that casting out demons is best assisted by both prayer and fasting. The current Rite of Exorcism (2004) says,

The Exorcist, mindful that the tribe of demons cannot be cast out except through prayer and fasting, should take care that these two most effective remedies for obtaining divine help be used, after the example of the Holy Fathers, both by himself and by others, insofar as is possible (De Exorcismis # 31).

The Older Rite (1614) also advises,

Therefore, he will be mindful of the words of our Lord (Mt. 17:20), to the effect that there is a certain type of evil spirit who cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting. Therefore, let him avail himself of these two means above all for imploring the divine assistance in expelling demons, after the example of the holy fathers; and not only himself, but let him induce others, as far as possible, to do the same (De Exorcizandis # 10).

Why or how does fasting add power to prayer? One reasonable (and biblical) answer is that prayer and worship should generally involve sacrifice. Scripture says,

  • Understand these things, you that forget God; lest he snatch you away, and there be none to deliver you. The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will show him my salvation, says the Lord (Psalm 50:22-23).
  • Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb 13:15-16).
  • You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors (ex 23:15-16).

There has developed in Western world the strange notion of worship and praise without sacrifice. In many sectors, worship has devolved to little more than a form of entertainment, wherein the whims and preferences of the faithful are expected to be catered to. Worship, by this notion, should be brief and should take place in comfortable, air-conditioned churches with padded pews and convenient parking. The “message” and liturgy should not be intellectually or morally challenging; rather they should be encouraging and pleasing. The music and “style” of liturgy should meet the preferences of those assembled.

Missing in all of this is the concept that liturgy and prayer should involve sacrifice, that they should “cost” us something. Yet Scripture clearly links prayer and sacrifice and indicates that they should, to some degree, be found together. Sacrifice is a way of establishing greater sincerity in, and integrity to, our worship. Indeed, worship without sacrifice too easily becomes lip service or turns God into a kind of divine butler, whom we expect to wait on us. God surely does supply our needs but He is no butler; He is God, who is worthy of our worship and the sacrifice of praise.

It is in this sense that prayer and fasting belong together, especially in the difficult work of driving out demons. Prayer and fasting become the sacrifice of praise that confounds and disturbs the evil one to no end. Scripture says, And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, for I will offer in his tent sacrifices of praise with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD (Psalm 27:6).

It is the instinct of the Church that prayer is good, but that prayer with sacrifice (fasting is sacrificial) wins through, especially in that most difficult work of expelling demons and repelling the enemy.

The question of how best to translate Mark 9 and Matthew 17 is a legitimate one. But the long experience of the Church ought not to be neglected. And experience teaches plainly enough that as a general norm,

This kind cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29).

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Prayer and Fasting or Just Prayer? A Consideration of a Biblical “Disagreement”

The Mystery of Iniquity – A Meditation on the Mystery of Rebelliousness

There is a phrase in the Scriptures that, while speaking of mystery, is itself a bit mysterious and is debated among scholars: the “mystery of iniquity.” St. Paul mentions it in Second Thessalonians and ties it to an equally mysterious “man of iniquity” who will appear before Jesus’ second coming.

The Latin root of the English word “iniquity” is iniquitas (in (not) + aequus (equal)), meaning unjust or harmful, but the Greek μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας (mysterion tes anomias) is probably best rendered as “mystery of lawlessness.” Many modern translations use the “mystery of lawlessness,” though it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Translation issues aside, Paul seems to be writing in a kind of secret code:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming (2 Thess 2:1-8).

Although St. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they know what is holding back the lawless one, we moderns struggle to know. Some scholars say that Paul is referring to the Roman government (which I doubt). Others say that it is the power of grace and God’s decision to “restrain” the evil one and thereby limit his power for the time being. Of course, if Satan is limited now, what horrifying things will be set loose when he is no longer restrained! Can it get any worse? Apparently, it can!

But there it is in the seventh verse; even before the lawless one is set loose there already exists the mystery of lawlessness, the mystery of iniquity. That phrase comes down through the centuries to us, provoking us to ponder its rich meaning.

The danger is that we can focus too much on the “man of iniquity,” who is not yet fully here, and fail to ponder the present reality. As St. Paul says, For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Yes, the danger is that we focus on the future, which is murky, and ignore the present.

Hence, I propose that we ponder the “mystery of iniquity,” which is already here. I’d like to explore how it affects us, both personally and collectively. In doing so, we cannot ignore the operative word “mystery.” We must ponder with humility, realizing that some of what we are confronting is revealed, but much of it is hidden. Therefore, I do not propose to “explain” this phrase to you, but rather to ponder its mystery and confront its questions so as to draw us to reverence and a deeper understanding of our need for salvation.

Let’s look at the mystery of iniquity in four parts, wherein we ponder the mysterious reality of lawlessness that seems so operative among us, individually and collectively.

1. “Rational” Man’s Irrationality – Why do we, who are otherwise rational creatures, choose to do that which we know is wrong? Why do we choose to do that which we know causes harm to ourselves and others? Why do we do that which endangers us, threatens us, compromises our future, and further weakens us? Why do we choose evil, knowing that it is evil?

Some argue that our will has been weakened on account of original sin and thus we give way easily to temptation. While this offers some insight, it does not ultimately solve the mystery, for we consistently seem to choose to do that which we know is wrong or harmful.

Some contend that we are choosing what we perceive to be good, but despite our darkened intellects and our tendency to lie to ourselves, deep down we really know better. We know that choosing evil leads to harm in the long run. Our conscience tells us, “This is wrong. Don’t do it.” Yet, knowing this, we still do it.

Are we weak? Yes, but that is not the complete answer. We are staring once again into the face of the “mystery of iniquity.”

2. The Angelic Rebellion – The mystery only deepens when we consider that this is not just a human problem; it is also an angelic one. The presence of demons, revealed to us by Scripture and by our own experience, speaks to the reality of fallen angels.

There was a great rebellion among the angels. Scripture more than hints at the fact that a third of the angels fell from Heaven in this rebellion, before the creation of man (cf Rev 12:4).

Thus, ascribing iniquity and lawlessness to human weakness cannot be a complete answer.

How could angels, with a nature and intellect far more glorious than ours, knowingly reject what is good, true, and beautiful? Here is the deep “mystery of iniquity” having nothing to do with the flesh, or with sensuality, or with human limits. It is raw, intellectual, willful rebellion against the good by creatures far superior to us. The mystery only deepens.

3. The Corruption of the Best and Brightest – The intellect and free will are arguably God’s greatest gifts. Why, then, do they come at such a high price for both God and us? Surely God foresaw that many angels and human beings would reject Him.

Some answer that God also saw the magnificent love and beauty that would be ushered in by those who accepted Him and the glorious vision of His truth. Perhaps God, who is love, saw love as so magnificent that even its rejection by some could not overrule its glory in those who accepted it. Seeking beloved children rather than robots or animals was so precious to God that he risked losing some—even many—in order to gain some.

Others speculate that, at least in this fallen world, contrast is necessary to highlight the glory of truth. What is light if there is no darkness with which to compare it? What is justice if there is no injustice against which to contrast it? What is the glory of our yes if it is not possible to utter a no?

Even these reasonable speculations cannot fully address the mystery of why so many men and angels reject what is good, true, and beautiful; why so many prefer to reign in Hell rather than to serve in Heaven; why so many obstinately refuse to trust in God and obey even simple commands that they know are ultimately good for them. The glory of our freedom and our intellect are abused. Our greatest strengths are also our greatest struggles. Liberty becomes license; lasciviousness and intellect become insubordination and intransigence. Corruptio optime pessima! (The corruption of the best is the worst!)

4. The Final Refusal to Repent – Many today like to blame God for Hell, and they particularly scoff at the notion that Hell is eternal. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the eternity of Hell is not due to a defect in divine mercy (CCC # 393). Rather, Hell is eternal because the decision of the damned is irrevocable.

The stubbornness and hardness of heart of the damned reach a point of no return. How does a soul end up in this state? Surely it happens gradually. Sin is added upon sin and the hardness of heart grows. Over time, the demands of God’s justice seem increasingly obnoxious. The hardened soul starts to sneer at God’s law, calling it intolerant, backwards, and simplistic. Of course, God’s law is none of these things, but as the darkness grows within a heart, the light seems more and more obnoxious and hateful. Soon enough, concepts such as forgiveness, love of enemies, generosity, and chastity seem “unrealistic,” even ludicrous.

When does a soul reach the point of no return? Is it at death or sometime before? It is hard to say, but here we reach the deepest mystery: the permanently unrepentant heart.

Our tour has yielded only crumbs. We are back to confronting our mysterious rebelliousness, stubbornness, and hardness of heart; our almost knee-jerk tendency to bristle when we are told what to do, even if we know it to be good for us and others. Even the most minor prohibition makes the thing seem all the more desirable to us. There lurks that rebellious voice that says, “I will not be told what to do! I will do what I want to do, and I will decide whether it is right or wrong.”

Yes, at the end of the day, we are left looking squarely at a mystery. It is the deep, almost unfathomable mystery of our very own iniquity, our lawlessness, our irrational refusal to be under any law or restraint.

Perhaps it is not a mystery that is meant to be solved but to be accepted and to cause us to turn to God, who alone understands. The mystery of iniquity is so profound and so terrifying that it should send us running to God as fast as we can exclaiming, “Lord save me from myself, from my obtuseness, my hardened heart, my rebelliousness, and my iniquity. Save me from the lawlessness in me! I cannot understand it, let alone save myself from it! Only you, Lord, can save me from my greatest threat, my greatest enemy: my very self.”

Yes, the great mystery of iniquity! St. Paul says, the mystery of iniquity is already at work, but he does not say why or even how. He only says that God can restrain it.

Yes, only God can restrain and explain.

More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, alone, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart (Jer 17:9-10).

Here is a song from my youth that celebrates rebellion, iniquity, and lawlessness. The refrain admits that we are “fooling no one but ourselves,” but we do it anyway. It’s foolish and mysterious!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Mystery of Iniquity – A Meditation on the Mystery of Rebelliousness

Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?

Adam and Eve – Johann Wenzel Peter

Original sin is that first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, committed when they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1-7). While it clearly involved them both, Scripture and Tradition refer to it formally as the “Sin of Adam” or “Adam’s Sin,” not the “Sin of Adam and Eve.” It is also described as coming to us “through one man,” not “through one man and one woman.” Consider the following quotes from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  • Like Adam, they [Israel] have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there (Hosea 6:7).
  • Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, … death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam (Rom 5:12, 14).
  • For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
  • All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners” “sin came into the world through one man …” (CCC # 402).
  • Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin … (CCC # 403).
  • How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice (CCC # 404).

Again, why just Adam?

I want to propose several answers, some of them somewhat politically incorrect. Not everything I am about to write represents formal Church teaching; some of it is speculation on my part.

Parallelism – St. Paul makes it clear that we are saved by Christ alone. This is because sin came through “one man” and hence we are saved by “one Man,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ are all made alive (cf Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:22). Parallelism makes it fitting that because we were saved by one Man, we were steeped in sin through one man. This argument is ultimately unsatisfying because it amounts to a kind of post hoc ergo propter hoc argument by starting with the conclusion (we were saved by one Man) and then developing the premise (that it is because one man sinned). The New Testament guides and influences our understanding of the Old Testament, and it should. Hence, there are two Adams, a “man-for-Man” parallelism. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

The Headship of Adam – Scripture teaches of the headship of the husband in marriage (cf Eph 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1; Titus 5:2; Col 3:18). When God ordained marriage, He stated, A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one (Gen 2:24). The man leads the marriage and is its head, but this makes him ultimately responsible for what takes place in that marriage.

Today, we tend to think of headship as a privilege, but Scripture speaks of it more in terms of responsibility and service (cf Mark 10:41-45; Lk 12:48). Thus, the headship of the husband brings upon him the ultimate responsibility for what happens in his household. This does not mean that his wife is necessarily without guilt, only that that he must answer for it.

I am the head of my parish. As such, if one of my parishioners or staff does something wrong, the bishop calls me and expects me to handle the matter. I am ultimately responsible for what happens in my parish and must account for it, accept shared responsibility for it, and correct it. It may be because I failed to teach properly. Perhaps I did not exercise enough oversight. It may not be entirely my fault, but as head, I must answer for it.

Hence, original sin is called the “Sin of Adam” because as head of the household he bore ultimate responsibility for what took place. When God was looking for them after they had sinned, He did not say, “Adam and Eve, where are you?” He said, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) Eve was not without blame, but God called on Adam to render an account. Adam had headship and, in this sense, the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

The “Complexity” of Original Sin – When we think of the first sin, we tend to think of it simplistically, as simply the eating of forbidden fruit. I suggest that it was more complicated than that and involved Adam a little more than is commonly thought.

Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden prior to Eve’s creation and had been told to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15). (Some translations say that he is to work in it and guard it.)

After Eve’s creation, she has a somewhat lengthy conversation with the devil, during which he spars with her, tempting her and ultimately causing her to fall. During this time, where was Adam? One would think he wasn’t there because the text does not record him saying anything, but in fact Adam was right there the whole time! One would expect Adam to say to Satan, “Why are you talking to my wife? What are you saying to her? Why are you trying to mislead her?” One would further expect Adam to dispute what Satan was saying and to defend his wife from this temptation and error. Surely, Eve should not have had to answer Satan all on her own. She does well at the outset but then weakens under his onslaught. Why does Adam not step in to protect her and to bolster her strength? Why does he not assist her in this struggle and defend her against this threat? Is his silence not part of the first sin? Is his omission not integral to the fall of them both?

Adam had an obligation to rebuff Satan and to guard his wife and the garden, but he remained passive. As head of the house, Adam had the primary responsibility of defending his household from all error, sin, and threat. Eve should not have had to face Satan alone. Adam was worse than useless; his silence gave strength to Satan’s arguments. Eve was not without sin, but Adam failed to assist her and to provide her the support she needed and deserved.

Thus, the first sin involved more than merely eating the fruit; that was its culmination. Adam’s complicit silence was integral to the fall; it set the stage. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?