How Can a Demon, Driven Out, Return with Seven More?

The Gospel for Tuesday of the 22nd Week of the Year features Jesus casting out a demon, easily dispatching it. There is another parable, however, in which a cast-out demon returns with seven others. It is puzzling that the house (soul) being “swept and clean” brings further trouble. One would think that a house in such a state would be a good thing!

For reference, here is the parable:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he roams through waterless places in search of rest; and finding none, he says, “I will return to my house which I left.” And when he has come to it, he finds the place swept and clean. Then he goes and takes seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse that the first (Lk 11:24-25).

As is often the case, recourse to both the subtleties of the Greek text and the context can help us.

In examining different Greek manuscripts, one finds that some of the texts describe the house using three adjectives while others use only two; some of the Greek manuscripts do not include the third word, which is translated as “empty.” Almost every English translation uses only two, lacking the adjective “empty.”

While I can read the Greek text of the New Testament with relative ease, I am not an expert in ancient Greek nor can I speak to the relative value of the differing Greek manuscripts. The translation as either “swept and clean” or “swept and ordered” is almost universal among English renderings of this text. (See an example here.)

I believe that the inclusion of the word “empty” is essential; without it something very important is lost. Let’s look at the description of the “house” (soul) to which the demon returns:

καὶ ἐλθὸν εὑρίσκει σχολάζοντα, σεσαρωμένον καὶ κεκοσμημένον.
Kai elthon heuriskei scholazonta, sesarōmenon kai kekosmēmenon.
And having come, it finds (it) empty, swept, and put in order (ornate).

The fact that the house (soul) is empty (scholazonta) is the chief problem. Empty things need filling. Sadly, if good things do not fill empty spaces, then evil things will. This seems to be at the heart of the Lord’s warning.

A second issue is the translation of the word “kekosmēmenon.” Does “ordered,” or “put in order” really capture what the word is trying to convey? Most of us hear the word “order” and think of either physical or moral order.

However, the Greek lexicon defines the root of kekosmēmenon, kosméō, as “to beautify, having the right arrangement (sequence) by ordering; to adorn, make compellingly attractive, very appealing (inviting, awesomely gorgeous).” Kosméō is also the root of the English word “cosmetics,” which are things that adorn or “order” the face.

Thus, the “order” described in this passage is one related to beauty. Hence, the translation “ornate” may better capture what is meant by this word than either “clean” or “orderly.” So, as we read this parable we should consider that the description of the house as “swept and clean” may lack the subtlety of the Greek words. While we should be wary of etymological fallacy, the original root meaning (kosméō = cosmetic = ornate, rather than merely “ordered”) ought not to be wholly forgotten.

With these in mind, let’s consider the richer possibility that the Lord describes the “house” (an image for the soul) in three ways:

Empty

This is the key description that some ancient manuscripts omit, yet it is the main problem. An empty house is a vulnerable house. An empty house, devoid of human presence, can no longer repel threats or repair damage. More significantly, from the standpoint of grace, an empty house, devoid of the presence of God, is a vacuum ready to be filled with demons and with every form of human sin, pride, and confusion.

Empty buildings are vulnerable, open to attack by termites, extreme weather, mold, and rodents. Just as an uncultivated field goes to weed, so an unattended house slides into decline and decay. So, too, goes the empty human soul, a soul devoid of the presence of God, of gratitude to Him, and of openness to His satisfying presence.

Yes, here is the spiritual lesson: let the Lord and the good things of the Kingdom of God fill every void, every empty space! Emptiness is too easily filled with evil things.

Consider a man who gives up alcohol for Lent. He does well by ending a lawful pleasure and making greater room for God, but what if God, or something of God, does not fill the space? Often something of the devil, or something of the flesh, will fill it. Perhaps the man will think, “I am approved because I, by my own power, have given this up.” Sadly, though, this thought shows that pride has filled the empty space rather than God. The man’s new state is worse than it was before he gave up the lawful pleasure!

Swept

It is good if a person has, by God’s grace, been able to sweep sin from his life, but praise be to the Lord, not to the man or woman! Otherwise, this is an open door for pride. Perhaps the sinner who succeeds in a Lenten observance will say, “Look what I have done! I am approved and am better than others who are less committed!” In this way, grace is snatched by Satan. The house (soul), swept and in good order, must also be filled with humble gratitude to God. Thus, the Lord warns of a house that is “swept” but empty of humility and gratitude.

Ornate

While some translate this as “ordered,” given the context, “ornate” would be a better rendering. We are warned to beware of vanity and also of esteeming beauty more than charity. The warning is for those who, though they appreciate beauty, become smug and disdainful of all others who do not share their aesthetic preferences.

A connoisseur of fine wine may scoff at people who enjoy wine sold in a box (“cow”), or White Zinfandel, or heaven forbid beer! In this way, an appreciation for the finer things (like wine) becomes pride and leads to the last state of the man being worse than the first.

The appreciation of beauty has its place, but if it cancels charity, the last state of the man is worse than the first.

One may appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, but if love for the aesthetic causes one to scorn a priest who forgets to bow at the Gloria Patri or who wears gothic vestments instead of the preferred Roman fiddlebacks, then the love of beauty (a good thing) destroys charity (a better thing).

Thus, there is here a warning to religiously observant (a good thing) people that we can allow our lives to be all swept and clean but empty; or worse, to be filled with scorn and pride.

Watch out! The devil can use even our piety to ensnare us in his seven-fold bondage. Do you engage in some active purifications? If so, you do well, but be sure that the space opened, all swept and ordered, is filled with God, with humility, and with gratitude. Otherwise, it will too easily be filled with seven ugly demons and sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These are the seven demon friends that accompany a once-cast-out demon.

Important Reminder: God is more Powerful than Satan

In the work of deliverance ministry, one of the first obstacles to overcome in the afflicted soul is an exaggerated notion of the power of Satan and his demons. Often the troubled person is experiencing a time of crisis. Overwhelmed, he is often scared and sees only darkness. The power of the evil one seems very real, while the power of the angels, of grace, and of God Himself is discounted or all but forgotten.

There are some important truths that need to be reestablished in the faith life of those so afflicted:

  • God is more powerful than Satan.
  • Angels are more powerful than Satan.
  • The Word of God, the sacraments, and Christian blessings are more powerful than curses, hexes, or the lies of the evil one.
  • Satan is not all powerful; his power is limited.
  • Satan is not Not only is his knowledge limited, it is sometimes inaccurate.
  • Satan is a creature. Demons are creatures; they are beneath God and subject to His authority.

One must be restored to a trusting faith in the love of God and in His power and authority over all things. Deliverance ministry (to include the Rite of Major Exorcism) is not a magic pill; it is a journey in faith and faith is necessary for its fruitfulness.

Part of faith includes the rather difficult concept that God allows certain afflictions “for a season and for a reason.” God mysteriously allows some of His creatures, human and demonic, to afflict one another, but it is only to draw some greater good and ultimate glory from the sufferings (see 2 Cor 4:17). Faith embraces not only the power of God over demons but also His mysterious providence in allowing some degree of affliction in our lives. From the perspective of faith, Joseph was able to say to his brothers (who had acted wickedly toward him): You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good, so that many would be saved (Gen 5:20).

In this essay, I want to focus on correcting exaggerated notions of Satan’s knowledge, power, and influence. This is not to say that we should have no concern whatsoever about the devil. Indeed, we should be sober. Daily, with confidence and with recourse to the assistance of God, we must stand against Satan’s evil temptations and torments:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:8-11).

To be sober does not mean to unreasonably fearful of the devil or to forget God’s power and grace. Through strong faith we are to resist, to stand up again and again against Satan. To this end, it is helpful to understand that we can, by grace, stand against him, for God has set limits on Satan’s power, knowledge, and influence.

Let’s consider a few areas that illustrate some of the limitations of demons:

Demons are not omniscient.

To be omniscient means to know all things at all times, past, present, and future. This sort of knowledge pertains to God, but not to His creatures; and Satan and his demon minions are creatures. They are fallen angels. While intelligent, their intellects are darkened by sin as are ours (e.g., Romans 1:21-22).

We see this illustrated in Scripture. Satan has only gradual awareness of who Jesus is and that He has come. Jesus is born quietly in the small town of Bethlehem, in a kind of daring raid behind enemy lines. Satan seems aware of some sort of incursion, but is not certain as to where, or who it is. In the Epiphany account (Matthew 2:1-12), we see him seek information through his agent Herod. Even upon learning of the birthplace, he still does not know who. Herod takes a wild stab and orders the murder of all male children under the age of two (the Holy Innocents). Jesus and the Holy Family evade his grasp and slip away. This demonstrates the limits of Satan’s knowledge. He is aware of the incursion but ignorant of the details. Jesus, the Son of God, continues to live in Satan’s lair for thirty years and Satan does not know who or where He is.

In the narrative of the temptations in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11), Satan seems to narrow in on Jesus and His identity. He still seems unsure, however, for he says, “If you are the Son of God …” (e.g., Matt 4:6). From this time forward it would seem that Satan has reached a conclusion as to the identity of Jesus and through his demons manifests that conclusion. Scripture reports, Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God” (Mk 3:11). Another time a demon cried out, I know who you are—the Holy One of God (Mk 1:24). There are other similar passages in Scripture (e.g., Mk 1:34, Luke 4:41).

We should not conclude that Satan had a comprehensive or flawless knowledge of Jesus and of the full plan of salvation. If Satan had had such complete knowledge, especially of the plan of God, he would not have inspired the crucifixion of Jesus, the very means by which he was defeated. Why play into the hands of your enemy if you know you are going to lose?

Hence, there is evidence that Satan eventually acquired a basic understanding of Jesus’ divinity and of His plan, but his knowledge was limited and likely somewhat flawed.

From this we can conclude that demons are not omniscient. They cannot know the future. They cannot read our minds. They cannot even interpret the present with perfect accuracy. However, demons have long observed human behavior; they can see more widely and know hidden things about the past and the present.

This breadth of knowledge is often evident in exorcisms, where demons show some ability to disclose hidden things of the present or past. They also lie and guess a lot; and anything they claim to know about the future is a lie because they cannot know anything about future events or outcomes.

Demons are smart but lack wisdom.

One of the most surprising things encountered by exorcists and those who work on their teams is that many demons behave in downright juvenile ways. They sneer, call people names, whine, and in many ways seem to be dumb as rocks; they often act like pre-teens.

There are certain higher ranks of demons who are fierce and loud. Others are capable of great subtlety and psychological manipulation. A great many of lower ranking demons, however, are boorish, narcissistic, and incapable of anything close to sophistication.

One explanation for this is that while intelligent, they lack wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is operative when one is in a state of grace. Without wisdom, demons have no way to organize their intelligence to its proper end.

Wisdom, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is a gift through which we know the deepest cause of all things: God. Out of this gift comes clear judgment of all things because we know their author, know something of His purposes, and can orient our behaviors toward our truest and highest goal, God Himself (see Summa Theologica II, IIae, q. 45).

Without wisdom, human beings tend to “major in the minors.” They maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. Their lives are often disorderly and foolhardy because they have lost the moorings of either their origin or their destination. They may be very smart or capable in certain specific (e.g., finance, football), but to what end? There is little to organize their life or prioritize matters.

Similar things must set up in demons as well. It seems hard for demons to develop a coherent strategy other than to sow chaos and elicit fear. There are lots of histrionics, diversions, and silly games, but little that displays anything other than a short-term strategy to disrupt, cause pain, and manifest irrational hatred.

Another explanation for the juvenile behavior of many demons is that sin darkens the intellect. The old saying, “sin makes you stupid” is likely operative here as well.

All this said, we should not presume that demons they are as dumb as they seem. Some of it may be an act to inspire pride during the deliverance session. Pride is the mortal enemy of any exorcist or deliverance team member. The surprisingly “dumb” behavior of demons, whether real or an act, makes most exorcisms more tedious than frightening.

Satan and demons are not all-powerful.

While at the current time the Lord permits a certain freedom of at least some demons to “roam the earth and patrol it” (Job 1:7), he also limits their power.

A remarkable passage of Scripture says,

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the Abyss, holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. And he threw him into the Abyss, shut it, and sealed it over him, so that he could not deceive the nations until the thousand years were complete. After that, he must be released for a brief period of time. (Rev. 20:1-3).

Most Catholic scholars and the Fathers of the Church interpret the “thousand years” in the passage above as a figurative long period of time rather than specifically 1000 years. They hold that this “thousand years” has already begun and is the time in which we now live, the current “Church age.” During this time, the gospel goes out to the nations, as it has been, and Satan’s power is limited to some degree.

Although Satan and demons are described as “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness,” this is more likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or move about is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, only that it is not unlimited. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!

It is said that St. John Vianney spoke of the devil as a chained dog. While it can bark and make a lot of noise, it can only bite if we get too close. Thus, Christians must remember that God mysteriously permits some influence of demons; He allows them to cause some harm, but their power is limited. They cannot directly kill, and it would seem that they cannot even fully control the very evil they set loose. This is evident in the way that the wicked often turn on one another. It can also be seen in the way that strong evils often usher in reforms. Consider, further, that the Church is still here preaching and teaching the same gospel after two millennia, while numerous evil regimes, empires, heresies, and corruptions have all come and gone. Although the gates (i.e., powers) of Hell have tried to prevail, they have failed due to Jesus’ promise of indefectibility for the Church as His Body and Bride (see Mat 16:18).

Demons are outnumbered.

While the exact number of demons and angels is unknown, Scripture hints at the fact that demons are outnumbered two to one:

And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth … (Rev 12:3-4).

It is likely that the “stars” referred to here are the angels. Satan is able to rally a third of them to his side and they became demons, some of whom roam the earth and others who are consigned already to Hell (see 2 Peter 2:4).

The good news is that for every angel that fell to become a demon, two did not and are thus able to serve God, assist us, and do good works.

These are important reminders for all of us, afflicted or not. There is a kind of theatric fear that too often exaggerates the powers of demons. Movies and other verbal and visual sources emphasize things to scare us and to deepen the drama of the movie or book. Satan and the work of demons should not be summarily dismissed. They are intelligent, crafty, and persistent. Our faith in the Lord must outweigh our fear of demons. We must grow in our faith that God has the power and capacity to both overcome evil on our behalf and to draw greater good from it when He chooses to permit it.

There is an old saying meant to shift our focus: Stop telling God how big your storm is and start telling your storm how big your God is. For deliverance and exorcism to have their fullest effect, confident and trusting faith must grow and exaggerated notions of the power of demons must give way. To all of us experiencing any trouble Jesus has this to say:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but have confidence; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33).

Here is a classic commercial that emphasizes the “cheap parlor tricks” of demons, though in this case the cause is more natural than first appreciated by those here. Remember, the first goal of demons is to strike fear in us.

A Portrait of Jesus the Preacher – A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus models four aspects of powerful and effective preaching.

In using the word “preaching” we ought to be careful not to limit it to what takes place in a church. All Catholic parents should learn from Jesus’ example here for they have the church of their home in which to preach; they have the pulpit of the dining room table, the living room couch, and even the family car. We all must learn from Jesus’ model of powerful preaching and teaching. Note, then, four basic qualities of Jesus as preacher and teacher:

I. PERSONAL – The text says, Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

(The picture at the upper right is one of me and fellow parishioners standing in the ruins of the synagogue mentioned in this passage. It is quite moving to stand atop the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached both this sermon and the Bread of Life discourse. Some of the ruins are from later than Jesus’ era, but the foundations are clearly from that time. It’s amazing.)

Note that the text says that Jesus spoke “with authority.” The Greek word translated here as “authority” is ἐξουσίαν (exousia), whose root meaning is “to (speak) out of one’s being or substance.” In other words, one speaks of what one knows by experience. Jesus is not simply quoting what others have said nor is He merely quoting slogans or common sayings.

In this, Jesus is distinguished from the scribes, who were famous for quoting only one another and other reputable, safe sources. Quoting other sources is fine, but if it merely stops there, how is listening to a preacher any better than staying home and reading a book?

Too many Christians, including Catholic preachers, are content to live and preach by inference rather than experience. Too many are content to repeat what others have said rather than to speak out of what they know, have seen, and have experienced.

To preach with authority means to be able to proclaim the Word of God with personal knowledge and experience. It means to be able to say this: “What the Lord and the Church have always proclaimed, I know personally, for I have tested and experienced the Word of God in the laboratory of my own life and found it to be true. And now I speak to you not merely of what others have said but what I know and experience to be true. Out of the substance of my own being I announce this truth to you.”

This is what it means to preach personally and with authority. Jesus did not simply quote what others said; He said what He personally knew.

What of you and me? Are you able to speak with authority? Well, do you know what the Lord is doing in your life? Have you personally experienced the truth of what the Scriptures and the Church have always announced? Or are you just quoting slogans, passages, and what others have said? Of course the Scriptures and the authoritative teachings of the Church are the essential foundation of what we know, but do you personally know it to be true? How? Do you speak to your children of what you know or do you merely say, “The Church says … “? Certainly you should say what the Church says, but teaching with authority means knowing and having experienced the truth of what the Church says. It means being able to attest to it personally. This is the basis of preaching and teaching with authority.

II. PROVOCATIVE – To say that something is “provocative” is to say that it elicits a response. When Jesus preached His words did not leave His listeners unmoved. His preaching called forth a response, whether it made people mad, sad, or glad.

The text pointed out that many were glad, but there was one man who was mad. The text describes his reaction: In the synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Every experienced, authentic preacher knows that if he preaches effectively, a response will be forthcoming from his listeners. While it is natural to want a positive response, every preacher must be willing to accept that his word may incite anger or ridicule. The Church announces good news but she is also a sign of contradiction to a sinful world. Thus every preacher faithful to the Gospel must expect some degree of negativity and even persecution, ridicule, and anger.

Jesus’ Word angers a demon-possessed man in the congregation and he confronts Jesus, blaming Him with being hateful and causing hurt, saying that Jesus wants to destroy him. (Similarly, many today react with anger and call the Church hateful, bigoted, intolerant, and hurtful—even claiming that she destroys lives.) As we shall see, Jesus does not back down.

The problem in the synagogue is not the Word that Jesus proclaims; it is the man’s inner condition. When the authentic Gospel is proclaimed, the wrath that sometimes follows does not bespeak a problem with God’s Word but with the listener’s inner condition. Note that the man is demon-possessed. That is, his heart and mind are under the influence of Satan and the sin he inspires. The greatest obstacle to our being able to appreciate and understand the Word of God is our sin; the greatest help is a docile and humble spirit, granted by the grace of God.

A powerful preacher, priest or parent, preaches in order to provoke a response, whether one of joy and consolation or of repentance and godly sorrow. While no authentic preacher intends to incite a hostile response, he must be willing to accept such a reaction. When someone is accustomed to the darkness, he finds the light harsh, and calls it such. Anyone who preaches the Gospel authentically will both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; he will both console and confront (where necessary); he will reassure but also awaken the need for healing. He will speak the truth in love.

Good preaching provokes a response and one who hears the Gospel preached with authority cannot come away unchanged.

III. PRODUCING – Powerful and effective preaching brings results. As Jesus preaches, a man is set free. The text says, Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

The aim or point of the Word of God is not merely to inform but to transform. It’s not enough for the Word of God to be attractive, informative, or entertaining. Its full purpose is to, in power, drive out demons and bring God’s grace. Good preaching works to drive out the demons of ignorance, sorrow, rebellion, and sin. It works to give godly sorrow, joy, hope, confidence, knowledge, courage, and conviction. Good preaching changes people’s lives.

IV. PERSEVERING – Note that Jesus did not immediately back down in the face of opposition. He persevered with the opposing man and, by His Word, drove out the demons that were afflicting him. We see the man go through three stages:

  1. He is mad, for he confronts Jesus.
  2. He is sad, for he struggles and convulses as Jesus works to free him by His Word.
  3. He is glad, for he is set free and is able to rejoice with the others.

Every preacher, every parent, and every prophet must persevere, not giving up easily; it is often the case that people must go through these stages.

In my own life there was a time when, afflicted by the demons of ignorance and youthful rebellion, I would cross my arms and listen angrily to the priest. I was mad. I would often scoff at the “silly priest” who was trying to tell me what to do. After some years of hearing the preaching of the Church, however, I gradually understood that I had to change. Change does not come easily, though, and thus came the stage of sad; it was a time of struggle, learning new virtues, and forsaking old vices. Now I can truthfully say that I am glad, for the Lord has brought me a mighty long way. His preached Word is powerful. When effectively preached, it has the power to transform. I have experienced transformation personally.

I am glad that the Church persevered, that my parents persevered, that good priests and religious persevered in preaching to me and teaching me. I am glad that my parishioners continue to persevere in witnessing to me and preaching by their lives.

Here is reenactment of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (on a different occasion).

If Demons Believe and Tremble, What about Us?

As we begin the ordinary time of the Church year, we follow the Lord’s public ministry. The curtain lifts and we are in the synagogue at Capernaum:

Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him
. (Mark 1:21-26)

Here are two brief thoughts:

First, note the astonishment of the people. The preaching of the Word of God is not meant to be a perfunctory part of the Mass. Even when the preacher is not gifted with eloquence or charisma, God’s Word has the power to astonish us.

The Greek word used in this passage is very strong: ἐξεπλήσσοντο (exeplessonto). It comes from combining exe or ek (wholly out) and plesso (to strike) Thus the most literal translation is that Jesus “knocked them out” with his proclamation. The word indicates the state of being utterly amazed, dumbfounded, or left at a complete loss after witnessing something incredible. One can picture someone gaping in sheer astonishment.

If we carefully attend to the Word of God rather than just listening half-heartedly, we should expect to be astonished. It may make us mad, sad, or glad; it may console or afflict us; but we cannot be unchanged if we open our heart and mind to its power.

Do you go to Church expecting to hear a Word that will change you? When you read Scripture, do you expect to be surprised, astonished, or even intrigued? If not, why not?

Second, notice that the demon recognizes Christ for who He is: The Holy One of God. James rather sadly observed that demons believe and even tremble (see James 2:19). If even demons recognize and are thunderstruck by the glory of God, how is it that so many of us are half asleep during the sacred liturgy?

Those who have attended exorcisms are quite surprised at the power that simple holy water, the touch of the priest’s hand, and the priest’s stole have over demons. This is also true of relics and sacramentals. The demons experience their power, yet so many of us are casual and unexpectant around such realities.

These observations are meant not so much to shame as to remind us that in the sacred liturgy we encounter the Lord of Glory. He is present in both word and sacrament. If a demon can know that and have servile fear, how about us? Can we know this and have a reverential fear and love?

Tomorrow I will post more on the power of Jesus’ preaching.

Why and How Does Satan Roam the Earth?

One of the more puzzling aspects of demonology is the freedom that Satan and demons appear to have in roaming the earth, causing trouble. If the condemned are consigned to Hell for all eternity, why is Satan allowed to wander about outside of Hell? Isn’t he supposed to be suffering in Hell along with his minions and the other condemned? Further, it doesn’t seem that he is suffering one bit, but rather having a grand time wreaking havoc on the earth. How do we answer such questions?

Some texts in Scripture do speak of Satan and the fallen angels as being cast into Hell:

  • God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).
  • And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).
  • Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [likely a reference to the age of the Church and the going forth of the Gospel to all the nations] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. (Rev 20:1-3).

Yet other texts speak of the fallen angels (demons) as being cast down to the earth:

  • But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:8-9).
  • The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).

Thus, though consigned to Hell, it would seem that some or all of the demons have the ability to roam the earth as well. Demons, however, do not have bodies and thus do not “roam the earth” the way we do. Their “roaming” is more an indication of their capacity to influence than their ability to move from one place to another. Further, Satan and demons are described as being “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness.” This is likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or “roam” is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, just that it is not unbounded. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!

Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while; after this brief period, he and the other fallen angels will be definitively cast into the lake of fire and their influence forever ended.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, … their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).

So for now, demons do have influence, but it is limited. At the end, their full fury will be unleashed, but this is only to bring about their final, complete defeat, after which they will be forever sequestered in the lake of fire.

Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.

For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.

On account of temptations and trials, our “yes” to God has greater dignity and merit than it would if we lived in a sin-free paradise.

As to Satan having “a good time” wreaking havoc, it would be too strong say that demons and Satan do not suffer at all. Demons, like human beings, suffer both victories and defeats; there are outcomes that delight them and those that disappoint and anger them.

Anyone who has ever attended an exorcism can attest that demons do suffer great deal, especially when the faithful pray and make pious use of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., holy water, relics, blessed medals, rosaries). Faith and love are deeply disturbing to demons.

We all do well in the current dispensation to remember St. John Vianney’s teaching that Satan is like a chained dog: He may bark loudly and froth menacingly, but he can only bite us if we get too close. Keep your distance!

While these videos are light-hearted, their message is serious: