The phase “Non serviam” has been associated with Satan and his response to God when being cast from heaven in a war. Is this in the Bible? If not, where did this come from? -Deacon Paul VanHoudt, Erie, CO
The declaration “non serviam” (I will not serve) is associated with Satan by legend; it is not in the Bible. But it is the fundamental stance of all demons who, on account of pride, will not obey, will not be ‘told what to do.’ It is also the chief temptation that Satan made to Adam and Eve, namely, that they should not let God tell them what to do and that they should be like gods (cf Gen 3:1-4).
As for the war in heaven that you mention, there is a tradition that a war occurred in heaven when Lucifer (Satan) rebelled at God’s plans for the Incarnation. This war was fought long before the biblical era, but its exact timeframe is not clear. It is said that a third of the Angels joined Lucifer in this rebellion. St. Michael and the good angels fought back, and Lucifer and his allies were cast out of heaven and fell to earth. They became “demons.” This is the traditional backstory most often repeated.
In the Book of Revelation, a war in heaven is mentioned which includes some, but not all these details. Further it seems the war in Revelation 12 has transhistorical qualities, encompassing not the past only, but also the First Century and the future. The passage describes “A Woman clothed with the Sun” who gives birth to a Son, destinated to rule the nations with an iron rod (Rev 12:1-2,5). Clearly this Son is Jesus and, historically, the Woman is Mary, though some argue she is also an allegory for Israel, from whom the Messiah came forth. Whatever the case, a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns (Satan) seeks to devour the child when it is born. But the Son escapes and is caught up to heaven (Rev 12:3-4). Is this a reference to the Ascension of Christ? Is all this a prophecy seen by the angels well beforehand or, is it describing the historical event of the Incarnation that had just recently taken place in the First Century? In either case, at this point in the text from Revelation it says,
Then a war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon… But the dragon was not strong enough, …and the great dragon was hurled down—that 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 12:7-9)
So, is the war described in Revelation, the war that took place in heaven long before the Book of Genesis and that explains the presence of Satan in the garden? It would seem so, but since Revelation 12 places everything in a murky timeframe there are debates about this. In a way it doesn’t matter since the great battle is epochal, constantly at work until the last judgment. Christ has won the war, his victory is “already but not yet.” That is to say, the outcome of the war has already been determined, but not everyone across all history has taken sides yet.
Clearly the upshot of all this is that we should choose the winning team! At times, in this warzone of the fallen world, it may seem that evil triumphs and the Kingdom of God is on the ropes. Yet appearances can be very deceiving. Remember, Good Friday is just as much a part of the victory as the Resurrection. But the final outcome is that Satan and all those who prefer the prideful non serviam of Hell and Satan will be cast down into the fiery pool, never again to deceive the nations or ensnare God’s people. The echo of the final victory hymn is heard in Revelation 12:10ff: For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down—he who accuses them day and night before our God. They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell therein.
So, whatever you think is going on, this is what is really going on. We are at war, a terrible war indeed. But the victory is already ours through faith, courage and the Blood of the Lamb. Stay faithful unto death!
Once again it is necessary to reiterate the true, Catholic, and biblical teaching on Satan and demons. Contrary to what Superior General of the Society of Jesus Fr. Arturo Sosa stated in a recent interview, the Church does not teach that Satan is merely a symbol or an idea. He is not the “personification of evil”; he is a person, an individual creature, a fallen angelic being (as are all demons). Scripture uses personal pronouns in referring to Satan and demons (e.g., he, him, they). The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that Satan is an existing creature, a fallen angel who is envious of us and is a murderer from the beginning:
Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil.” The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing (CCC # 391).
Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls “a murderer from the beginning,” who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from his Father. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God (CCC # 394).
This is Church teaching. Let no one be misled by the Fr. Sosa’s erroneous statements or by the implications that follow from his unfortunate, repeated remarks. Let no one be so unwise as to dismiss the truth that we have an enemy who is very much alive who commands legions of fallen angels. We must accept this as a definitive teaching of the faith and be sober about it.
Any exorcist or anyone who has ever assisted in an exorcism can well affirm Satan’s reality and his deep hatred for humanity and all that pertains to God.
As a more extended lesson, I’d like to point out some things I have written before about certain teachings and cautions that come from the Rite of Exorcism.
The Rite of Exorcism presupposes the Catholic teaching that Satan and all demons are persons. They are addressed as persons and commanded to reveal their names, ranks, and other pertinent information. These angelic persons respond, often reluctantly and with fury at first, but later, as their power is broken, with cries and whimpers. The exorcist is clearly addressing an angelic person, a fallen angel who then reacts and responds.
As he is dealing with a being who is both a creature of God and a fallen angelic person, the exorcist must find a balance. Sadly, he must usually inflict pain upon demons in order to drive them out. This is done through the prayers of the Rite of Exorcism and through other things recommended by the rite such as the use of holy water, the use of relics, the touch of a stole, and the use of the Holy Cross.
The exorcist must be careful not to hate demons or harbor unjust anger toward them. If he were to do so, they would have him; he would be drawn into their territory. If they can get him to hate and have vengeful anger, he will be theirs, little better than they save for the possibility that he can still repent.
Hence, the exorcist and any who would pray for deliverance from demons for themselves or others, do well to stay inside the norms of the Church and Scripture. These norms warn and set limits for those who would confront demons, lest they stray by pride or anger.
What are some of these norms? Here are just a few, but they are properly cautionary to be sure:
A lay person should never undertake to drive out demons except by the following simple formula: “I command you, all evil spirits, to leave me at once in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.” At no time should a lay person ever engage a demon in conversation, ask questions, or in any way seek information.
Priests who only engage in minor exorcisms are similarly limited. While they are permitted to use more elaborate imprecatory prayers (found in the Manuals of Minor Exorcisms), priests are not to go beyond the commands therein. They are not to ask questions or to demand names or signs from demons.
Only appointed exorcists, delegated by the bishop, may or should ask things such as these: names and numbers of demons, their time of entry, why they possessed the individual, their rank, and so forth. The rite makes clear that only necessary questions should be asked. Other extraneous information is both unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Within the formal Rite of Exorcism, an exorcist does well to stick to the formulas, expressions, and norms of the rite. Banter, insulting language, and toe-to-toe debate are to be avoided. Good exorcists indicate that returning to the prayers of the rite is essential when demons seek to engage in debate, ridicule, and/or diversionary talk. Obmutesce pater mendacii (Be silent, father of lies) is a quick command from the rite to order the demons to be silent, and it is a good way to refuse to enter into pointless conversation.
Scripture also attests to the need to refrain from reviling demons:
For even Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a reviling judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)
Further, hate and ridicule of any person (angelic or human) whom God has created is an ungodly attitude. Scripture says,
For you O Lord love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate (Wisdom 11:24).
Therefore, anyone who confronts demons or suffers their oppression is warned that hatred, unjust anger, reviling, and ridiculing, is no way to fight them, for if we do so we become like them.
That said, exorcists and priests must often use strong language approved by the minor and major prayers of exorcism, most of which are drawn from Scripture or Sacred Tradition.
Consider, for example, the following rebuke of Satan from Scripture:
How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the lake of fire (Is 14:12-15).
These verses speak truth. They do not revile; they state what happened and point to Lucifer’s prideful fall.
The Rite of Exorcism has collected many descriptions from Scripture and Tradition. They are not intended to ridicule or revile but rather to remind Satan of who and what he has chosen to become. They remind him of his pride, his destruction by God’s justice, his ultimate fate, and the many ways he seeks to harm us. Consider, then, some of the “titles” and descriptions of Satan drawn from both the old and new rites of exorcism:
Thus, whether driving out Satan in a major exorcism or seeking to expel his oppression in a minor exorcism, all are cautioned not to stray from the understandings and descriptions of Satan that the Church provides in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Again, the reason for this is that Satan seeks to draw us into his world of hatred and revilement. Do not go there in your thoughts and surely not in your heart.
It may be hard to accept, but God does not hate Satan. God does not hate even the worst of sinners. Justice requires God to recognize the final disposition of a person (angelic or human). Some are justly permitted to live apart from God’s kingdom in a hellacious parallel universe; that is their permanent choice. But God does not hate fallen angels or fallen humans. God is love, and love does not hate—and neither should we.
We ought to be sober about what sin has done to demons, fallen angels who were once glorious. Now, through the disfigurement of sin, they are in darkness and are horribly contrary to the glory for which they were made. They are to be pitied and kept at a distance. They will not change because angels choose once and for all. Their lies are to be resisted. Though they can still appear as lightsome, it is only for a time, and then their terrifying state of horror and darkness roars forth.
Remember, too, what the Catechism says about Satan’s power and why he permits some limited influence by demons:
The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (CCC #395).
Do not be deceived. Satan is real and we must resist him, strong in our faith. However, do not be so terrified that you forget that God, His angels, and the grace He bestows on us are more powerful and that God limits what demons can do. Trust God; call to Him; frequently recite the 91st Psalm. Be sober and watchful and stay distant from the once-glorious fallen angels we rightly call demons.
The commercial below is humorous, albeit preposterous. Here is the scenario: the earth has stopped rotating on its axis and “scientists” say that if everyone runs in the same direction we can restart the rotation, much like hamsters running in an exercise wheel.
Of course, as the standard disaster movie format requires, the news anchor both explains everything to us and gives us our orders from the scientists. In the end, mankind triumphs; crisis averted; roll credits. (Oh, and don’t forget to buy Nike shoes).
It’s rather amusing and pokes fun at the predictable disaster movie recipe.
There is a point to ponder in this standard disaster movie plot. Peter Kreeft once said, “When a maniac is at the door, feuding brothers reconcile.” Many disaster movies use this insight and present us with some sort of universal threat, some outside enemy that threatens all of mankind. Suddenly, partisan politics disappear; nations stop fighting one another and unite to solve the shared problem or repulse the common enemy.
But of course this is the reality. Every human person does have a common enemy: Satan. 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 high realms (Eph 6:12).
In other words, our real battle is not against one another, but against Satan and his demonic army. Sadly, this truest of battles is hidden from most, who instead focus their attention on other, lesser ones.
What will God need to do to refocus our attention? Let’s hope it’s something less than a worldwide disaster! Something tells me that we are so distracted and divided these days that nothing short of the catastrophic will get our attention. Oremus.
Over the years we have steadily been losing the vocabulary of sin. Saying “I have sinned” is often replaced by “I made a mistake,” or “I made a poor decision,” or “I’m sorry if my behavior was hurtful in some way.”
Not only are we slow to say we have sinned, we are also ignorant of the subtleties of sin, in part because our vocabulary about sin is so limited. In this state we lose a certain advantage over sin because to name something is the beginning of isolating it and having increasing authority over it. When I can name something, I can focus on it and work on it. It moves from the realm of the abstract and theoretical to the real world.
Over the years I have been compiling lists of the names for various sins. I do this as an outgrowth of deliverance ministry, in which the importance of naming demons cannot be overestimated. Most demons resist disclosing their names mightily because once the exorcist knows the name of a demon, his authority over it is magnified in Jesus.
This is also true in the ordinary situations of life, where demons tempt us, and where the world and our own flesh compound the problem. The more we can name the subtleties of sin the less difficult it is to gain mastery over them.
A good place to begin is with lying. Satan is the consummate liar and seeks to draw us into is web in hundreds of ways. Jesus says this of Satan:
He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
The list below on lying is a work in progress. I am working on similar ones related to pride, sensuality, and the like; perhaps I will post these in the future. However, consider this a starting point of moving from an abstract notion of sin to something more real, more concrete.
There are not many people who will call themselves liars. Most will say, “I don’t tell lies—at least not big ones.” Lying and deceit come in many subtle forms, so don’t be so certain that you are free of the tendency. It’s hard to get far into this list without realizing that lying is alarmingly common to us, even if by other means and words. Don’t be discouraged; pick a few and work on overcoming them. Naming them gives us focus and power; by God’s grace, progress can be made by naming the demons that serve these evils.
Here are some words and phrases associated with lying:
All lying spirits, we name you and reject you in the name of Jesus. We ask every grace from God to be more honest, truthful, upright, and trustworthy. Jesus, you said, “I am the Truth.” Live in us and drive from us all that is not true.
Many exorcists use such lists against demons that refuse to state their name. In effect, the exorcist says, “If you won’t tell me your name then I will name you.” This typically causes the demon great pain in addition to that caused by the reading of the Rite of Exorcism itself.
For all of us, naming the drives of sin has a similar effect. It brings them out of obscurity and into the light of reason where their darkness can be scattered. It takes time, but these drives will surely diminish if we name them and consistently rebuke them when they arise.
When thinking of deliverance and exorcism there is a tendency to imagine that they involve wresting demons from their place through the menacing use of sacramentals (e.g., crosses, holy water, relics) and a battle of personalities between priest and demon. All of these are commonly and rightly used in both formal exorcism and many types of deliverance prayers.
However, the truest power of exorcism is as a ministry of the Word and a battle for the mind. At the heart of the formal Rite of Exorcism are the officially sanctioned prayers of the Church along with selected Scriptures. These remind the demons of the authority of God, shine the light of truth on what they have become in their fallen state, and underscore to them that they have already lost.
Consider one of the most common images of exorcism and the battle against Satan: St. Michael the Archangel. He holds a sword, ready to deliver the death blow as he stands over the fallen demon. Of course, St. Michael doesn’t wield a real sword. A sword cannot harm a spiritual being. Angels and demons are real persons, but as spiritual beings are not affected by physical attacks. The sword that St. Michael wields is the sword of the truth of God’s Word, of which Scripture says,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account … (Hebrews 4:12-13).
And from [the Lord’s] mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God, the Almighty (Rev 19:15).
But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed signs on his behalf, by which he deceived those who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. Both of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. And the rest were killed with the sword that proceeded from the mouth of the One seated on the horse (Rev 19:20-21).
To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of the One who holds the sharp, double-edged sword …. Some of you also hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent! Otherwise I will come to you shortly and wage war against them with the sword of My mouth Rev 2:2, 15-16).
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:17).
The sword of St. Michael, the sword of truth, scatters lies and falsehood as light scatters darkness. The clash between angels and demons is a battle of thought, of truth versus falsehood. The ancient battle in which Lucifer fell like lightning from the sky (Lk 10:18) is often imagined as a war between angels and demons wielding swords and clubs, but it was a war of ideas: the Word of God’s truth against the lies of Lucifer. By the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, St. Michael and the angels won.
It is ultimately the same in exorcism, deliverance, and every other battle we wage against evil in our life (e.g., temptation).
Consider Satan’s efforts to tempt Jesus in the desert. Jesus battled Satan thought for thought; He rejected every lie and temptation with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
In the Rite of Exorcism, the words are to have prominence. Ideally, every exorcism has two priests, one of whom continuously reads the rite while the other uses sacramentals and briefly engages the demons to gain necessary information (e.g., names, how they entered, when they will leave) and tries to find weak points. While the use of sacramentals such as holy water, the touch of a stole, or relics torment the demons, most every exorcist agrees that the truest power of the rite are the approved words of the prayers. In fact, sometimes demons show exaggerated pain in response to lesser things so as to distract from the reading of the rite.
The words of the rite have the effect of shining the light of truth on demons and reminding them of their ultimate destiny. All of this is painful to the demons. Some of the following things, rooted in Scripture, are said to the demons:
The Lord has defeated the demons in numerous ways and given them the ultimate defeat that seals their fate at the cross. Jesus withstood Satan in the desert, overcame him in the garden, defeated him on the cross, and bore off his trophies in Sheol to the Kingdom of Heaven. They are also reminded of other embarrassing incidents such as when they begged to be driven into swine and ran in a panic over the bluff into the water. In effect, they are told that they have lost and are losers here, too.
The demons are told that the possessed person has turned to the Church for help, rejecting them and any legal claims they ever had; the possessed person is a redeemed son or daughter of God, made in His image, and is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The demons are told of their future: a fiery Gehenna where the worm dies not, and the fire is never extinguished. Indeed, the longer they delay their departure the worse their punishment will be. They are commanded to tremble in fear before the Lord. They are reminded that their place is in solitude and their abode is in the nest of serpents; they are told to get down and crawl with them.
The demons are reminded of the power of the Lord Jesus and that they must ultimately confess that He is Lord and ruler over them. They are commanded to fear Him and admit their ultimate powerlessness before Him. They are asked, “Why, then, do you stand and resist, knowing as you must that Christ the Lord brings your plans to nothing?”
The demons are reminded that they were once glorious and beautiful angels but are now fallen and ugly. They are named in the rite as abominable creatures, profligate dragons, horrible monsters, scourges, seducers, full of lies and cunning, foes of virtue, persecutors of the innocent, begetters of death, robbers of life, corrupters of justice, the root of all evil and vice, seducers of men, betrayers of nations, instigators of envy, fonts of avarice, fomenters of discord, authors of pain and sorrow, accursed murderers, sources of lechery, instigators of sacrilege, models of vileness, promoters of heresies, and inventors of every obscenity.
Ultimately, the demons are commanded to depart, to flee and give way to God in the power of Jesus’ Name.
All these words and many more shine the light of truth on the demons and cause them pain. It is the Word, the prayer of the Church, that ultimately defeats the father of lies. Of him, Jesus said,
He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8:44).
This teaching on exorcism is an important lesson for all of us. The truest battleground for all of us is our mind; the battle is one of thoughts. We will either dwell in God’s truth and study His Word or be lost in Satan’s lies. We must learn to fight every temptation with the sword of God’s Word. We must test every thought we have to see if it conforms to God’s Word. We must decide either to believe in God or in Satan. The sword of God’s Word can drive out every temptation, fear, sorrow, and depression. The more we grow in God’s Word the less authority and influence Satan can have in our lives.
This is why exorcism sometimes takes time: it is ultimately a journey in faith and trust. It requires that the possessed take more and more seriously the truth that God is more powerful than Satan and then live out of that truth. If we let it in, light scatters darkness. If we accept it, truth defeats lies. Jesus is the Light and the Truth, and by these the Way to deliverance.
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.
One of the common themes in demonology is the way Satan engages in the mockery of holy things. Most widely known are the Satanic “black masses.” Satanic mockery is also widely on display on Halloween, when the eve of all hallows (all saints) becomes a parade of the ghoulish, ugly, violent, unchaste, or just plain evil. Recently costume makers have mocked women religious by promoting costumes depicting pregnant nuns or religious habits altered to promote unchaste thoughts and depict religious life as lewd. No other religious group is subjected to this sort of mockery. Anti-Catholicism is almost the last forms of “acceptable” bigotry.
More subtly, Satan mocks holy things by distorting Christian virtues. For example, false compassion is used to promote physician-assisted suicide and the abortion of babies with abnormal prenatal diagnoses. False or excessive versions of tolerance are use used to insist that the morality of certain behaviors never be questioned. Satan mocks our freedom by presenting a fraudulent version of it. For the Christian, freedom is our capacity to be conformed to God’s will. Satan mockingly substitutes licentiousness leading to freedom being described as the right to do what one pleases.
As Christmas approaches, we should also ponder that satanic possession is a mockery of the incarnation. It is said by tradition and held by many of the Fathers of the Church that the reason for Satan’s fall and the falls of the other demons was their utter rejection of the incarnation. Why would God seek union with us mere humans when He could seek union with higher creatures such as the angels? In their pride and envy (seeWisdom 2:24) as many as a third of the angels waged war against such an idea and were cast down to become the demons they now are (seeRev 12:4).
Yes, in seeking to possess the bodies of the possessed there is a kind of mockery of the incarnation by Satan. As the Eternal Son takes to himself a human nature, Satan in a kind of ridiculing imitation takes up a human body and manifests his presence through the bodily faculties. Of course, Satan cannot take up a full human nature. Satan cannot possess the soul of a human person, only the body. Neither, then, can he effect a hypostatic union, uniting in his one person a demonic and human nature. Satan’s mockery of the incarnation steals from the concept but cannot come close to its true glory.
Understand this: Satan sneers at and mocks everything we hold sacred; he seeks to distort what is good. Sadly, right in my own neighborhood, Satan’s mockery of the incarnation could not be more obvious. Recently a Planned Parenthood “mega center” opened, enabling the killing of thousands of unborn children each year. Its address is 1225 Fourth Street. That’s right, 1225, another way of writing December 25th. The numbers are prominently displayed on the building (see photo above). It is as if Satan is saying, “Here’s to your Christmas Day!”
All the more reason for us to honor true Christmas and the true incarnation. Because evil is the privation or lack of good, all Satan can do is to steal ideas from what is good and either distort them or mock them. He is a thief and a murderer, a deceiver and a distorter; he sneers and mocks. Look past this antichrist and seek always the true Christ. Our true Savior’s birth is soon to unfold liturgically. May the true Christ be ours this Christmas, 12-25-2017 A.D.
One of the key elements in any contest is understanding the strategy of your opponent. In the spiritual battle of life, we must be able to recognize, name, and understand the subtleties of the Devil’s tactics. While we often emphasize his more obvious and frightening maneuvers (especially on Halloween), his usual tactics are subtler and more pervasive.
A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it a few 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 this book.
While the four categories are Fr. Cameli’s, the reflections here are largely my own, though surely rooted in his excellent work. I highly recommend reading the book, in which Fr. Cameli describes the categories more fully.
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 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 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 deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and to conceal the fundamental truth about our actions. Our minds are very wily; we try to avoid the truth by making excuses. Conniving with the Devil, we entertain endless potential complications by asking, “But what if this? And what about that?” Along with the Devil, we propose all sorts of difficulties, exceptions, and sob stories in order to avoid insisting that we behave well and live according to the truth.
The Devil deceives us with euphemisms, exaggerations, and false labeling. The dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom are called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage (as it has been known for millennia) is labeled “marriage freedom” or “marriage equality.” We too easily cooperate with the Devil by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.
The Devil deceives us through the misuse 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. In this way, information that is true in itself can be used to deceive. The news media sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. This, too, is a way that the Devil deceives us.
We do well to carefully assess the many ways in which Satan tries to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. While we ought not to be cynical, we should be sober. We should attempt to verify what we see and hear and then 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. In so doing, 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. St. Paul lays out in Romans chapter 8 that 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.
The Devil’s attack against our inner unity spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help to 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 with those we love and the flawed notion that we should seek other more perfect and desirable people. Many abandon their marriages, families, churches, and communities 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, internally as well as 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. For all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things awaiting us in Heaven. Our path is toward Heaven, along the path of faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor. The Devil does all that he can to turn us away from our one true goal.
The Devil tries to make us too absorbed in the passing things of the world. Many claim that they are too busy to pray, go to Mass, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in passing, worldly things and ignore the lasting reality that looms.
The Devil seeks to distracts us with anxieties and fears. He causes us to fixate on fears about passing things rather than having the proper fear of the judgment awaiting 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. If we do this, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective or will even go away altogether. The Devil says just the opposite: we should be afraid of the thousands of things that might afflict us in this passing world, and not think about the one most significant thing that awaits us—our judgment.
The reason for this diversion is that the Devil wants us to focus on lesser things so that we do not focus on greater things such as a moral decisions and the overall direction of our life. 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, we should have high aspirations, but Satan often seeks to poison that. Along with high aspirations can come pride. 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 and 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 and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the Church because of the human imperfections found there.
The Devil discourages us with open-ended aspirations. 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. The devil discourages us, encouraging these unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do each day.
The Devil 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 of the Devil’s common tactics. 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 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 (Titles of Satan from the Rite).