I Saw Satan Fall
by Benedict Heron OSB
There are three areas of evil which we are all called with God's grace to fight against: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The world in this sense is the unjust and immoral pressures and structures which largely surround us: the rat race competition, the worship of money, the cult of sexual experience and pleasure, the couldn't-care-less attitude towards those in great need, such as the starving millions, and the rape of the environment.
The flesh is our fallen nature prone to sin, the tendency in each one of us to rebel against God and the laws of God. We need only think of the traditional seven capital or deadly sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth to realise directions in which we are tempted to go against the will of God.
Finally, there is the devil and his demons. The New Testament is definite in its teaching about the existence of the devil and his demons. Christian tradition is equally definite; and the official teaching of the Catholic Church today as seen in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in the statements of the Popes, and in the new universal Catechism is no less definite. One should add that all the Eastern Orthodox churches and all the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are quite sure that the devil and demons exist.
However, there are now Cbristians, including some Catholics, who deny that the devil and demons exist. There are other Christians who are uncertain, and there are still other Christians who simply forget this whole area of Christian doctrine and for whom, to all intents and purposes, the devil and demons do not exist, whatever they may claim to believe in theory.
There are doubtless areas of Christian doctrine which are fairly peripheral and which do not make much difference to our Christian understanding and ifie. However, the existence of the devil and demons is not peripheral. For if, as the Bible and the Catholic Church teach, we are all involved in spiritual warfare with demonic forces, then it is very important to know about it. If we are all at times being attacked by demonic forces, then it is vital to be aware of the fact, otherwise we cannot truly understand what is happening to us and counter it.
The devil and demons do not only attack individuals. They attack marriages, families, parishes, institutions, churches, nations, and the world. Again, I do not think that we can understand what is happening in families and groups, whether small or large, if we leave out of account the attacks of the devil. So, for example, I would think that the devil has clearly been active in the troubles in the royal marriages in our country recently - by attacking royal marriages, he strikes a strategic blow against the institution of marriage as a whole.
I would also think that we cannot fully understand the murdering of six million Jews by the Nazis if we leave out of account the demonic factor. If anyone had said in 1925 that within twenty five years six million Jews would be killed in Europe, he or she would have been told by everyone that such a thing was utterly and entirely impossible. But it happened. It is easier to understand the holocaust if we see it not just as the work of Hitler and some other evil men, but if we realise that the main instruments behind it were demonic forces working through sinful and weak men.
My conviction that we are all involved in spiritual warfare with demonic forces is not only based on the Bible and on the official teaching of the Catholic Church. It is also confirmed by personal experience - my own awareness of being attacked by the devil, but also my experience as a priest trying to help others, especially in the charismatic healing ministry. I have never been the official exorcist for a diocese, but in more than one diocese I have been called in to help priests who were officially involved in dealing with cases requiring the ministry of exorcism.
I have seen and heard things which pointed very much towards direct demonic activity, for instance, a loud aggressive masculine voice speaking obscenities, coming from the mouth of an apparently meek and pious woman. And I know two priests who in a particular case, with the bishop's permission, were together involved in exorcising a woman. As both priests told me, the woman levitated. And much more importantly, I have known people who were wonderfully and gloriously liberated and healed through the ministry of deliverance. I cannot help feeling that if some of the theologians who are demythologising the devil - that is to say, no longer believing in a personal devil - had seen and heard the things I have experienced and met some of the people I have met who were liberated by deliverance ministry, then they would perhaps think again.
In this book I am in the first place seeking to help. people in the spiritual warfare in which we are all involved. This is not a specialist book on how to exorcise people, for I am not the right person to write such a book. It is primarily a book which seeks to help the ordinary Christian in his or her spiritual warfare. It is written especially with Catholics in mind, though I hope that other Christians will find it helpful. On the evangelical side there seems to be a spate of books appearing on the subject of spiritual warfare, but very little on the Catholic side. Spiritual warfare is basically the same whether viewed from a Catholic or an evangelical point of view. But there are differences of approach in certain areas and there is a need for Catholic literature on the subject.
Obviously many Protestants will not agree with. everything written in this book, for example, the suggestion that it can be good to ask Our Lady to pray for us - which is not worshipping Mary! We do not have to agree, however, with everything in a book to benefit from reading it. I myself have considerably benefited from reading certain evangelical books with which I sometimes definitely disagreed in places. In true ecumenism we do not have to pretend that we agree about everything; we are not afraid openly to recognise and examine our differences. We do this, however, against, the background of being fully and gratefully aware of our basic unity in Christ, which is far more important than our differences. So I hope that this book will contribute in its way to greater understanding and unity between Christians, especially between Catholics and Evangelicals.
Readers inevitably will find references to demons on many pages in this book, because of the nature of the subject. However, an important rule for spiritual warfare is that we should not be thinking and talking too much about the devil and demons. We should be aware that they exist; we should learn to recognise their activity and counter it; but our concentration' should be very much on Jesus, who has overcome the evil one. The best way of dealing with the devil is to fall in love with Jesus; fill our minds with thoughts of him; let his holy name be frequently on our lips; give our lives entirely to him; and praise him with all our being, then we will have nothing to fear from the attacks of the devil. Let us with confidence remember the words of St. James: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
One last point: demons are fallen angels. Let us try to think about the good angels at least as much as we think about demons. Yes, we are attacked at times by demons, but we are also protected by good angels. Let us thank God for the protecting angels. Let us ask the angels to watch over us.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and spoke to him about the coming birth and mission of
John the Baptist (Luke 1:11). It was also Gabriel
who appeared to Mary and informed her about the coming birth of Jesus: "The
Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born
will be holy; he will be called Son of God" (Luke
1:26). An angel of the Lord announces the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, and he is
then joined by a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory
to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours" (Luke
In his teaching Jesus warns: "Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). Jesus also said when arrested: "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53). The angels are also ministers of God's judgement at the Second Coming of Jesus (Matthew 13:41).
We again see the angels active in the Acts of the Apostles. Two angels speak to the disciples at the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:11). An angel rescues Peter and John from prison (Acts 5:19), and there is a lengthy account of an angel liberating Peter from prison in chapter 12 of Acts. An angel appears to Cornelius and tells him to send for Peter (Acts 10:3), and an angel tells Philip to take the road to Gaza, where he will meet the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia (Acts 8:26). An angel appears to Paul in ao dream during his voyage to Rome and assures him that all on the ship will be saved (Acts 27:23). "An angel of the Lord struck him down (Herod Agrippa) and he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:32).
There are quite a number of references to angels in the New Testament epistles. For readers who wish to look them up, the references are: 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 1.1.: 10; Galations 1:8; Galations 3: 1 9; Colossians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Timothy 5:21; Hebrews 1:4; Hebrews 2:2; 2 Peter 24; Jude 6. Finally, there are numerous references to angels in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. The following is a beautiful example:
I have mentioned the above references in the New Testament to angels at some length because taken as a whole they surely give the idea of very real personal beings who speak and act. If one demythologises angels, then it is surely logical to also demythologise other things in the New Testament, such as the Virgin Birth of Jesus and his Resurrection, as also the dogma of the Incarnation, which of course is just what many very liberal Christians have done. Needless to say, Christians who demythologise angels - who do not believe in personal angels - also demythologise the devil and demons. So for - such Christians there is no such thing as spiritual warfare against demonic beings - there are no such beings to fight against!
Now it is time to see what the New Testament says about the devil, also called Satan, and demons. "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil' (Luke 4:1). This is followed by the three special temptations, after which we read: "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time."
When Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from going to his Passion, Jesus rebukes him: "Get behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:23). Satan takes the seed of the word away from those who have received it (Mark 4:15). "The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him' (John 13:2), and after Judas "received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him" (John 13:25). Satan tries to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22:3 1).
The devil is the enemy who sows weeds in the field of the Lord's wheat (Matthew 13:39). "Satan bound for eighteen years" (Luke 13:16) a crippled woman. Jesus said: "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you" (Luke 10:18) - this followed the words of th~ seventy two, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!"
There are of course quite a number of references in the New Testament to Jesus casting out demons. After he cured Peter's mother-in-law, we read: "That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with~ demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick" (Matthew 9:16). There is the lengthy description of the casting out of the demons from the man in the country of the Gerasenes. The unclean spirits entered the pigs who rushed into the sea and were drowned (Mark 5:1). There was the casting out of the demon from the dumb man, when the pharisees said, "By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons" (Matthew 9:32). Similarly, Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub when he frees and heals a demoniac who was blind and mute (Matthew 12:22).
The epileptic boy was healed instantly when "Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him" (Matthew 17:14). The disciples asked, "Why could we not cast it out?" and were told that it was "Because of your little faith." There was the man with an unclean spirit in a synagogue who was delivered: "And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him" (Mark 1:26). This last text will mean more to the many Christians in our times who have heard "crying with a loud voice" as demons left people.
There are also references to the devil and demons in the Acts of the Apostles and in the epistles.
Peter said to Ananias: "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to
the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?" (Acts 5:3). A girl at Philippi had a divining spirit, which
was cast out by Paul (Acts 16:16). "The Sadducees say that there
is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three"
(Acts 23:8). "Gentiles will turn from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). "Satan
Corinthians 7:5) "and seeks to outwit us" (2
Corinthians 2:11). "He tries to ensnare
us" (2 Timothy 2:7 and 2 Timothy 2:26). "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
"Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). "The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). "The children of God are distinguished from the children of the devil "(1 John 3:10). "Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 2:8). In the book of Revelation there are a number of references to the devil and demons. In Chapter 12 the dragon pursues the "woman clothed with the sun", who gives birth to a son. "And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him" (Revelation 12:7).
In Revelation chapter 20 an angel "seized the dragon,
that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit,
and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were
ended. After that he must be let out for a little while."
Other references to demons include Acts 19:13 (where the Jewish exorcists were routed by an evil spirit), 1
Corinthians 10:20, 1 Timothy 4:1,
James 2:19. ("Even the demons believe - and shudder"), 1 Corinthians 15:24, Ephesians
1:21, Ephesians 3:10,
Ephesians 6:12, l
Peter 3:22. In Jude there is a reference to demons as fallen angels: "And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he
has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgement of the great day"
If we do not accept the obvious sense of the New Testament texts on angels and demons as personal beings, what are we to make of the texts mentioned above? If the devil does not exist as a personal being, what sense can we make of a sentence such as "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith" (1 Peter 5:8). In Ephesians chapter 6 we are told to "stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places". What are the "wiles of the devil" if there is no devil? If "our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood", then what are we struggling against if not personal demonic forces? If personal angels do not exist, what sense can we make of the words of Jesus: "Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10)? If personal angels do not exist, then what happened in Gethsemene when "an angel from heaven appeared to him (Jesus) and gave him strength" (Luke 22:43)? Did Jesus suffer from an hallucination? Or if the angel is only a literary invention of the author, how do we know that other things in the New Testament are not literary inventions?
If the angel Gabriel did not appear to Mary and speak to her, because he does not exist, if his appearances in Luke's gospel are just a literary device, then why not also reject his messages as a literary invention? If it is right to dismiss his appearance, then surely one can also reject his message. And the same could apply to the messages to Joseph.
I think it is impossible or at least illogical to demythologise the New Testament in this way
without affecting basic truths of the Christian revelation. If we demythologise angels and demons it is logical
also to demythologise the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Jesus, and the dogma of the Incarnation. Jesus becomes
a good man and spiritual teacher, on the same level as Buddha. The Bible is more or less to be read like the Buddhist
scriptures. A Dutch seminarian once said to me that he thought Jesus was the way for the West and Buddha for the
East. So Christianity becomes one religion among many, more or less on the same footing as the others. That is,
alas, exactly what has happened to the faith of many Christians.
I am not of course saying that the belief in the existence of personal angels and demons is the central truth of the Christian revelation. I am saying, however, that once you start demythologising angels and demons you logically tend to go further, until you are at least doubting truths like the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the Incarnation.
I think we Catholics can learn from what is happening in the Protestant world. The Evangelicals. whatever their mistakes or limitations may sometimes be, tend to have a much firmer and more vital faith than the liberal Protestants, whose Christian belief often becomes uncertain and nebulous.
One final point: the Christian religion is not only for learned intellectuals, indeed Jesus seemed to have a special love and concern for the simple and the poor. To read the New Testament through demythologising spectacles would demand an intellectual training well beyond that of the great majority of the people in the world today. So the New Testament would become a book which was really only open to the learned, which is clearly not right for the sacred book of the religion founded by Jesus, who preached good news to the poor. There are not two Christian revelations, two Christian creeds, one for the learned, one for the rest. One does not have to be a fundamentalist to accept the teaching of the New Testament and the Church at their face value. After looking at the New Testament, some readers may now like to jump to Appendix 1, to see what the official teaching and documents of the Catholic Church say about angels and demons. It would of course be equally possible to quote also from the official documents of other churches, for example, the Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostals, but that would be going beyond the scope of this small book.
Copyright © 1997 Benedict M. Heron OSB
This version: 24th October 2001