7. According to the Church, Satan, the Chief or King of the Demons (or Devils) is not an allegorical personification of the principle of evil, but is, on the contrary, a real being doing nothing but evil, while God, on the other hand, does nothing but good. Let us, therefore, examine the being thus presented to us, with the characteristics attributed to him by those who represent him as a real, living, active personality. Has Satan existed from all eternity, like God, or is he posterior to God? If he has existed from all eternity, he is increate, i.e. not created, and is consequently equal with God. In that case, God is no longer one, unique; there is the God of Good and the God of Evil.
Is he posterior to God? If so, he is a creature of God, in which case, as he does nothing but evil and is incapable of doing good or of repenting, God has voluntarily created a being doomed to do evil for all eternity. Even admitting that evil is not the work of God, yet, if it be the work of one of God’s creatures who has been predetermined by God to do evil, God is nonetheless the author of evil, and, if so, God is not infinitely good. The same reasoning holds true in relation to all the evil beings designated as “devils” or “demons.”
8. The view of the nature of Satan and his servants just examined was, for a long time, the belief inculcated by the Church in regard to them. At the present day, the belief in regard to demons is as follows: *
“God, being essential goodness and essential holiness, did not create them evil and maleficent. God’s beneficent hand, whose pleasure it is to bestow on its entire works a reflex of God’s infinite perfections, had originally laden them with the most magnificent gifts. To the super eminent qualities of their nature, God added munificence of God’s favor. God made them in all respects similar to the sublime spirits who inhabit the region of glory and felicity; disseminated among all the orders of those glorious spirits and mingled with all their ranks, they were called to the same aim and the same destiny; their Chief was the most beautiful of the archangels. They might all have merited remaining forever in the path of righteousness, and might thus have obtained admission to the enjoyment of the eternal happiness of Heaven. This last favor would have been the crown of all the other favors of which they had been the objects; but it was to be the reward of their docility, and they rendered themselves unworthy of it, and lost it by a revolt equally audacious and insensate.
“What was the rock on which their perseverance was wrecked? Of what truth did they lose sight? What act of faith or of adoration did they refuse to God? The Church and the annals of Sacred History do not enlighten us explicitly in regard to these points; but it appears certain that they failed to acquiesce in the meditation of the Son of God for themselves, and in the exaltation of the human nature of Jesus Christ.
“The Divine Word, by whom all things were made, is also the sole Mediator and Savior in Heaven and upon the Earth. The supernatural destiny of an eternal existence has only been granted to angels and to human beings in view of the incarnation and merits of the Divine Word; for there is no proportion between the merits of the most eminent spirits and the recompense of eternal life, which is a sharing of the attributes of God Himself; no creature could have attained to such an exaltation but for the intervention of this marvelous and sublime charity of the Son of God. But, in order that the latter should bridge over the infinite distance which separates the Divine Essence from the creatures which are the works of its hands, it was necessary that the Word should unite in His own person the two extremes, that He should associate His Divinity with the nature of the angels or with the nature of men; and He chose the latter.
“This intention, conceived from all eternity, was revealed to the angels long before its accomplishment; the God-Man was shown to them in the future as He who was to confirm them in grace and to introduce them into glory, on condition that they should adore Him on the Earth during His mission, and in Heaven throughout the ages of eternity. An unhoped-for Revelation, a wonderful Vision, ravishingly delightful for all generous and grateful hearts; but a profound mystery, overwhelming for the pride of arrogant and haughty spirits! The supernatural endowment, the immense weight of glory, thus offered to their acceptance, was not, then, to be simply and solely the recompense of their personal merits! They could never, throughout eternity, attribute to themselves the title and the possession of this immense and magnificent endowment! A Mediator between them and God! What an insult to their dignity! ,What an injustice to themselves! What an infringement of their rights that this preference was gratuitously accorded to the human race! Were they, one day, to behold the human nature, so inferior to their own, deified by its union with the Word, and seated at the right hand of God, on a throne of resplendent glory? Should they consent to offer eternally, to that lower nature their homage and their adoration?
“Lucifer and the third part of the angels succumbed to these proud and jealous thoughts. Saint Michael, and with him the greater number of angels, exclaimed, ‘who is like unto God? God is the Master of God’s gifts, and the Sovereign Lord of all things! Glory to God and to the Lamb that is to be slain for the salvation of the world!’ But the Chief of the rebels, forgetting that it was to his Creator he owed his nobility and his prerogatives, listened only to his own rash anger, and cried, ‘It is I, myself, who will ascend into Heaven; I will establish my dwelling above the stars; I will seat myself on the Mount of Alliance, on the flanks of the North wind; I will rise above the highest clouds, and I will be as the Almighty!’ Those who shared his sentiments received his words with a murmur of applause; he found sympathizers in every rank of the hierarchy; but their numbers did not screen them from the chastisement they had incurred by their rebellion.”
* The following quotations are taken from the Lenten-Pastoral of Cardinal Gousset, Archbishop of Rheims, for 1865. From the personal worth and exalted position of the author here quoted, these extracts may be regarded as expressing the latest opinion of the Catholic Church upon the subject of demons; an opinion shared by all the orthodox churches of Christendom.
9. The doctrine thus set forth is open to several objections.
1st. If Satan and the other demons were angels, they must have been perfect; but how, being perfect, could they fail in their allegiance to God and set at naught God’s authority, standing as they did, in virtue of their perfection, in God’s very presence? If they had only reached the supreme degree gradually, and after having passed up through the successive stages of imperfection and of improvement, we might imagine the possibility of a backsliding on their part; but what renders the statement absolutely incomprehensible is that it represents them as having been created perfect.
The consequence of this theory is the following: – God must have supposed, when God created them, that God had created perfect beings, since God lavished upon them all the most splendid of God’s gifts, but God was mistaken; so that, according to the Church, God is not infallible. *
2nd. As neither “the Church” nor “the annals of Sacred History” give us any explanation of the cause which led to the revolt of the angels against God, and as it only “appears to be certain” that this cause was their refusal to acquiesce in the future mission of Christ, what value can we attach to the description, so precise and so detailed, of the scene which is represented as having taken place on that occasion? From what source have been obtained the words so distinctly reported as having been then pronounced, and the knowledge of even the “murmurs” of the host of rebellious angels? Either the scene so minutely described is true, or, it is not true. If it were true there can be no uncertainty as to the cause of the angelic rebellion, and, in that case, why does the Church not settle the question once and for all? If, on the other hand, the Church and the Sacred History are silent on the subject, if it only “appears to be certain” that the cause of that revolt was what it is stated to be, the explanation thus given is only a supposition, and the description of the scene is merely a work of imagination. **
3rd. The words attributed to Lucifer betray a degree of ignorance altogether surprising on the part of an archangel who, in virtue of his nature and the rank assigned to him, ought not to share the errors and prejudices that were common to humankind before science had enlightened them in regard to the nature of the universe. How could so exalted a being give utterance to the declaration “I will establish my dwelling above the stars, I will ascend above the highest clouds?” Such a declaration implies the old belief that the Earth is the center of the universe, that the region of the clouds extends to the stars, that the stars occupy a limited region forming a vault above our heads, whereas astronomy shows us that there is an infinity of stars, sown broadcast over the infinity of space. It is well known, at the present day, that the region of the clouds does not extend farther than a couple of leagues from the surface of the Earth; consequently, to talk of “ascending above the highest clouds” and “the mountains” implies that the speaker is upon the surface of the Earth, and, still further, that the surface of the Earth is the dwelling-place of the angels; for, if they inhabited the higher regions, it would have been superfluous for him to declare that he was going to “ascend above the clouds.” To attribute statements bearing the stamp of ignorance to the angels is equivalent to asserting that human beings, at the present day, know more than angels. The Church has always made the mistake of ignoring the progress of natural science.
* This monstrous doctrine is affirmed by Moses when he says (Genesis, Chap. VI. 6 and 7), “And the Lord repented that He had made man upon the earth. And, being grieved to the bottom of His heart, He said, ‘I will exterminate man whom I have created from off the face of the earth; I will exterminate every thing, from man to the beasts, every creeping thing, and the birds of the air, for I repent of having made them.’”
And God who “repents” of what he has done is neither perfect nor infallible, and, consequently, is not God. Yet this statement is declared by the Church to be a sacred verity. Moreover, it is not easy to see what the animals had to do with the perversity of mankind, or in what way they could have deserved extermination.
** We find in Isaiah, chap. xiv, 11 and the following verses, this passage: – “All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you. How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?””
These words of the prophet do not refer to any revolt of the angels, but are an allusion to the pride and the fall of the king of Babylon who had kept the Jews in captivity, as is shown by the concluding verses. The king of Babylon is designated, figuratively, as Lucifer; but no mention is made of the scene described above. The utterances put into his mouth are those of the king who, in the pride of his heart, placed himself above God, whose “peculiar people” he held in captivity. The prediction of the deliverance of the latter, of the ruin of Babylon and the defeat of the Assyrians, is the only subject treated of in the whole of this chapter.
10. To the first of these objections, the supporters of the legendary assumption we are examining oppose the explanation contained in the following passage of the Pastoral from which we have already quoted: – “Scripture and tradition give the name of ‘Heaven’ to the region in which the angels were placed at the moment of their creation. But this region was not the Heaven of Heavens, the Heaven of the Beatific Vision, in which God shows God’s true nature, face to face, to the elect, and in which the elect behold God without effort and without clouds; for, in that supreme abode, there is neither the danger nor the possibility of sinning; temptation and weakness are therein unknown; righteousness, joy, and peace reign there in absolute security; holiness and glory are native to that clime. Evidently, then, the angels were placed in another celestial region, a luminous and happy sphere, in which these noble creatures, so largely favored with divine communications, were to receive and to hold fast to the intimations of the Divine Will in the humility of faith, before being admitted to behold their full reality in the very essence of God.”
From this quotation it appears that the fallen angels belonged to a category of beings of a less elevated nature than the inhabitants of the supreme abode; that they were less perfect than these, and that they had not yet attained to the supreme degree of perfection in which faultiness is impossible. Granted; but, in that case the assumption we are examining is seen to involve a contradiction, for we are explicitly told, in the preceding quotations, that “God, had created them, in all respects, similar to the sublime spirits;” that, disseminated among all the orders of those glorious spirits and mingled with all their ranks, they were called to the same aim and the same destiny; that their Chief was the most beautiful of the archangels. But if the angels who fell were in all respects similar to the others, they could not have been of a nature inferior to those others; if they were mingled with all the ranks of the other spirits, they could not have been placed in any special region. Our objection, therefore, subsists in all its force.
11. There is, however, another point asserted in the statement we are considering, which is of still greater seriousness and importance.
We are told: “This design (the meditation of Christ), conceived from all eternity, was manifested to the angels long before its accomplishment.” God knew, then, from all eternity, that the angels, as well as human beings, would stand in need of this mediation. God did, or did not, know that some of the angels would fall; that this fall would cause them to be damned to all eternity without any hope of rehabilitation; that they would be destined to tempt human beings to evil, and that those among the latter who allowed themselves to be seduced by their tempting would share the same fate. If God knew this, it follows that God created these angels on purpose that they might bring irreparable ruin upon themselves and upon the greater part of the human race. Let the advocates of this doctrine twist the matter as they will; it is impossible to reconcile the creation of these angels for a fate of misery thus foreseen, with the sovereign goodness. On the other hand, if God did not foreknow the consequences of God’s creative action, God is neither all wise nor all-powerful. In either case, such action on the part of the Deity would be a negation of two of the attributes without which, in their plentitude, God would not be God.
12. If we admit the fallibility of the angels, as well as that of humankind, we can understand their fall as being the consequence of their imperfection, and their punishment as being the just and natural consequence of their wrong-doing; and if we admit, at the same time, the possibility of their redeeming this wrong-doing by a return to rectitude, and their regaining the favor of God through repentance and expiation, there is nothing in such a supposition in any way opposed to the goodness of the Creator. In that case, God knew that they would fail, and that they would thereby incur punishment; but God also knew that the temporary chastisement they would bring upon themselves would be the means of making them understand their fault, and that it would thus turn their advantage, in accordance with the declaration of the prophet Ezekiel: – “God wills not the death of the sinner, but his salvation.” * But the inutility of repentance and the impossibility of a return to the right path would be the negation of this goodness; and, if such a hypothesis were admitted, it would be strictly true to say: – “Since God could not be ignorant of the fate awaiting them, these angels were doomed from their very creation, to do evil forever, and were predestined to become devils and to draw men into evil.”
* See above, Chap. VII, No. 20.
13. Let us now inquire what the fate of these beings is and what they are doing.
“Scarcely had their revolt broken out in the language of spirits, that is to say, in the outgoings of their thoughts, than they were banished irrevocably from the Celestial City and hurled down into the abyss.
“By these words, we mean that they were driven into a place of torment, in which they undergo the punishment of fire, according to these words which are given in the Gospel as having been spoken by Christ Himself: – ‘Go away, ye accursed, into the everlasting fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’ Saint Peter says expressly that ‘God has given them up to the chains and tortures of hell,’ but all of them will not remain in it forever; it is only at the end of the world that they will be shut up in it forever, with the reprobate. At the present time, they are still permitted by God to occupy a place in the creation to which they belong, in the order of things to which their existence is attached, and in the relations with men, of which they make a most pernicious misuse. While some of them are in their dark abode, where they serve as instruments of the Divine justice against the unhappy souls that have been seduced by them, there is a multitude of others forming invisible legions under the command of their chiefs, which reside in the lower strata of our atmosphere and move about in every direction throughout the globe. They busy themselves with everything that goes on down here, and take a very active part in almost all the concerns of men.”
Of the words of Christ concerning “everlasting fire,” we have already treated in the Fourth Chapter of the present work, in connection with the question of “Hell.”
14. According to the doctrine we are examining, only a part of the devils are in Hell; the rest of them are roving about in freedom, intermeddling with all that is going on upon the Earth, and gratifying themselves by doing evil; and they will continue to do so until the end of the world, which period, as yet indeterminate, is probably not destined to arrive very speedily. Why this difference in the fate of these two divisions of the race of demons? Is it the least wicked of them that are thus left at liberty to roam through the world of men? Judging from the quality of the actions of those who are left at liberty, this would hardly be the case. Perhaps, however, the two divisions are let out into the world alternately, each in its turn; an arrangement that would seem to be implied in the words “While some of them are in their dark abode, where they serve as instruments of the Divine justice against the unhappy souls that have been seduced by them.”
It appears, therefore, that the appointed function of these fallen angels is to torment the souls they have seduced. They are not charged to punish those who are guilty of faults freely and voluntarily committed, but only those who have done wrong in consequence of the incitements to wrongdoing that they themselves (the devils) have brought to bear on them! They are thus, at once, the cause and the chastisers of the sins of their victims, and moreover – what human jurisprudence, imperfect though it be, would never sanction – the victim who succumbs, through weakness, to the temptation which these devils contrive to throw in his way for the express purpose of leading him astray, is punished as severely as the tempter who employs his or her superior cunning and clearness in inducing the unfortunate individual to do wrong; in fact, the victim of superior cunning and malignity is punished more severely than the tempter who misled that victim, for on quitting the Earth that individual is sent straight to Hell, from which he or she will never be let out for a single minute, and where the victim is made to suffer in its fires without a moment’s relaxation of that individual’s tortures, through all time as well as through all eternity, while the devils, who were the original cause of this person’s wrong- doing, enjoy a respite from punishment, and full liberty to go on in the enjoyment of their evil doings until the end of the world! Is the justice of God, then, still more defective than that of human beings?
15. Nor is this all. We are told that the devils “are still permitted by God to occupy a place in creation to which they belong, and in the relations which they were intended to have with humankind, relations of which they make a most pernicious misuse.” But could God be unaware of the misuse that they would make of the liberty God grants to them? If God foresaw this misuse of their liberty, why did God grant them such liberty? Are we to believe that being fully aware of what God was doing, God abandoned God’s creatures beforehand to the mercy of devils, knowing, in virtue of God’s infinite prescience, that those creatures in their weakness and inexperience would succumb to the temptings of the devils and incur their doom? Must God not have foreknown that their own weakness would be quite enough for God’s creatures to have to struggle against, without God allowing them to be incited to the commission of evil by a foreign enemy, and one that would be all the more dangerous because he or she is invisible? Such an abandonment would be cruel enough, even if the chastisement to which it led were only temporary, and if the wrong-doers could obtain their release by repenting and making reparation for their misdeeds. But, no; they are condemned to all eternity; their repentance, their return to right sentiments, their remorse, and their regrets, all are absolutely unavailing!
According to this doctrine, demons, or devils, are agents specially predestined to recruit souls for Hell, and this, with the permission of God, who foreknew in creating these souls the doom which awaited them. What would be thought, upon the Earth, of a judge who should resort to such an expedient for filling the prisons? And does not such a doctrine give a strange idea of the Divinity of a God whose essential attributes are infinite justice and infinite goodness? And it is in the name of Jesus Christ, of him whose teachings breathed only love, charity, and forgiveness that such a doctrine is proclaimed! There was a time when such an anomaly might pass unnoticed; the contradiction of such a doctrine with the attributes of the Divinity was not understood, and, consequently, not felt as such; men and women, bowed beneath the yoke of despotism, submitted blindly, abdicating their reason; but, at the present day, the era of emancipation has come; the human race has acquired the notion of justice, demanding justice during life and after death; and therefore replies, when this doctrine is set before them, “It is not true, it cannot be true, or God would not be God!”
16. “Chastisement everywhere pursues these fallen and accursed beings; wherever they go, they carry their Hell with them; they know neither peace nor rest; the sweetness of hope is changed for them into bitterness; it is odious to them. The hand of God has smitten them in the very instant of their fault, and their will has hardened itself in evil. Having become perverted, they refuse to cease to be such, and such they will persist in being forever.
“They are, since their fall, such as humanity is after death; their rehabilitation is therefore impossible; their state of perdition is irrevocable, and they persevere in their haughtiness towards God, in their hatred against His Christ, and in their jealousy of the human race.
“Not having been able to take possession of the glory of Heaven through their vaulting ambition, they do their utmost to establish their empire upon the Earth and to banish thence the reign of God. The word made flesh has accomplished, in spite of them, God’s designs for the salvation and the glory of the human race; all their means of action are therefore consecrated to the work of robbing him of the souls he has brought back; cunning and importunity, lies and seduction, they bring them all into play to draw men and women into evil and to consummate their ruin.
“With such enemies, the life of humans, from cradle to grave, can be, alas, nothing but a perpetual struggle, for they are powerful and unwearying in their attacks.
“These enemies, in fact, are the same who, after having introduced evil into the world, have succeeded in covering the Earth with the thick darkness of error and of vice; the same who, during their long ages in the past, caused themselves to be worshipped as gods, and who reigned as masters over the peoples of antiquity; the same who, finally, still hold tyrannous sway over the regions of the Earth that are a prey to idolatry, and who foment discord and scandal even in the bosom of Christian communities.
“To comprehend the vastness of the resources possessed by them for the carrying out of their wickedness, it is sufficient to bear in mind that they have lost nothing of the prodigious faculties which are part and parcel of the angelic nature. Undoubtedly, the future and especially the things of the supernatural order, have mysteries which God keeps to Himself, and that they are unable to discover; but their intelligence is very superior to ours, because they perceive, at a glance, effects of their causes, and causes in their effects. This penetration permits them to announce, beforehand, events which are beyond the reach of our conjectures. Distance and the diversity of places are annihilated by their agility. More prompt than lightning, more rapid than thought, they may almost be said to be present at various points of the surface of the globe at the same time, and they are able to describe things that are taking place at a great distance, but which are seen by them, at the very time of their occurrence.
“The general laws by which God rules and governs this universe are not of their domain; they cannot contravene those laws, and consequently can neither make true predictions nor work real miracles; but they possess the art of imitating, and counterfeiting, within certain limits, the works of God. They know what phenomena result from the combinations of the elements, and they predict with certainty those that occur naturally, as well as those that they have the power of producing by their own action. Hence, the numerous oracles, the extraordinary occurrences, of which history, both sacred and profane, has preserved the remembrance and which have furnished the basis and the sustenance of all superstitions.
“Their simple and immaterial substance renders them invisible to us; they are at our side without being perceived by us; they strike on our soul without striking on our ears; we imagine ourselves to be obeying our own idea, while we are undergoing their temptations and yielding to their fatal influence. Our dispositions, on the contrary, are known to them through the impressions that are made upon us by their wiles; and they usually attack us on our weak side. In order to seduce us more surely, they are accustomed to present to us temptations and suggestions adapted to our individual tendencies. They modify their action according to circumstances and to the special characteristics of each temperament. But their favorite arms are lying and hypocrisy.”
17. “Chastisement,” we are told, “follows them everywhere; they have neither peace nor rest.” But this assertion does not invalidate our observation in regard to the respite enjoyed by those who are not in Hell, respite all the less justifiable because, being out of Hell, they do all the more harm. Undoubtedly, they are not represented as being happy, as are the good angels; but can we count for nothing the liberty they enjoy? Although they have not the moral happiness that results from virtue, they are incontestably less miserable than their accomplices who are given over to the flames of Hell. And besides, for the wicked, there is a sort of enjoyment in doing ill in full liberty. Ask any criminal whether it is all the same to him to be shut up in prison or to be scouring the country and perpetrating every sort of criminal mayhem at his ease? The position of the demons is exactly the same.
“Remorse,” we are told, “pursues them without truce and without mercy.” But the advocates of the doctrine in question forget that remorse is the immediate precursor of repentance, and is, in fact, the beginning of repentance itself; yet the Pastoral on which we are commenting declares, “Having become perverted, they refuse to cease to be such, and such they will persist in being, forever.” But if they refuse to cease to be perverted, it is impossible that they should feel remorse; if they felt the slightest regret for having done evil, they would cease to do it, and would beg for pardon. Consequently, remorse is not any part of their chastisement.
18. “They are, since their fall, such as the human race is after death; their rehabilitation is therefore impossible.” Whence comes this impossibility? It is difficult to understand how it should be a consequence of their similarity to the human race after death, a proposition that, moreover, is not very clear. Is this impossibility a result of their having willed it so, or is it due to the will of God? If it be a result of their own will, such a determination on their part would imply their being utterly and absolutely depraved and hardened in evil; but, if so, it is impossible to understand how beings so entirely and thoroughly bad could ever have been angels of virtue, or how, throughout the eternity during which they were “mingled with all the ranks” of the good angels, they should never have betrayed the least symptom of their horrible nature. If, on the contrary, this impossibility is a result of the will of God, it is still less comprehensible that the Sovereign Goodness should inflict upon them, as a punishment, this impossibility of a return to virtue, after a single fault. The Gospel says nothing of the kind.
19. “Their state of perdition,” it is added, “is henceforth irrevocable, and they persevere in their haughtiness towards God.” But where would be the use of their not persevering in that haughty attitude, since repentance is altogether useless to them? If they had any hope of rehabilitation, no matter at what cost, they would have a motive for returning into the path of virtue; but, that being impossible, they have no motive for reforming. If, then, they persevere in evil, it is because the door of hope is closed against them. But why has God closed that door against them? we are told that this door was closed in order to avenge the offence against God, of which they have been guilty due to their want of submission. Thus, in order to glut God’s resentment against some of God’s creatures who have done wrong, God prefers to see them, not only plunged into horrible sufferings, but doing evil rather than doing good, leading astray and driving into everlasting perdition the majority of God’s creatures of the human race, when a simple act of clemency would have sufficed to prevent this great disaster, a disaster, that was foreseen by God from all eternity!
Does an act of clemency, imply a grant of forgiveness, pure and simple, which might be considered as offering an encouragement to wrongdoing? No, such an act only implies the granting of a conditional pardon, subordinated to a sincere return to virtue. But, instead of a word of hope and mercy, God is represented as saying: – “Perish the entire race of humankind rather than my vengeance!” And those who uphold such a doctrine are astonished that there should be skeptics and atheists! Is it thus that Jesus represents to us his Father? He who expressly lays it down as a law that we must forgive all those who offend us, who tells us to return good for evil, who places the love of our enemies in the first rank of the virtues by which alone we can merit the happiness of Heaven, would he require of humanity to be better, more just, more compassionate, than God Himself?