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The secular media is beginning to think that Pope Francis is obsessed by the devil: but the Holy Father simply teaches what Our Lord did

Vigilance against the wiles of Satan, who roams the earth, seeking whom he may devour, is fundamental to the faith of the New Testament

By on Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Pope Francis greets bishops inside St Peter's Basilica (Photo: PA)

Pope Francis greets bishops inside St Peter's Basilica (Photo: PA)

“The mainstream media is at it again”, writes Bethany Blankley in the Christian Post Opinion website: “‘The Pope And The Devil: Is Francis an Exorcist?’ an Associated Press (AP) headline reads. The AP reporter writes that ‘Francis’ obsession with Satan’ is because he has mentioned the devil ‘on a handful of occasions’ within a two month period”. Ms Blankley’s own headline expresses well the obvious rebuttal: “No, Pope Francis is not ‘Obsessed with Satan,’ He’s Just a Christian who Believes in the Devil”.

And indeed, belief in Satan, for Catholics certainly, is not an optional extra. Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 391 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.”

392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies.”

David Mills, in First Things, quotes C.S.Lewis, not from Screwtape but from a sermon he preached during the war: “nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord Himself. People will tell you it is St Paul, but that is untrue. These overwhelming doctrines are dominical. They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church. If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery. If we do, we must sometime overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them.”

So why don’t we? In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has a senior devil called Screwtape impress on the mind of an apprentice tempter the vital importance of maintaining disbelief in the existence of Satan, his devils, and their activity in the world, by convincing the object of his attentions of the absurdity of any such idea.

If we disbelieve in the devil’s existence, says Lewis, then that is because Satan himself has successfully convinced us of his non- existence. It’s quite a thought. Here’s Screwtape: “I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arrive in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that he therefore cannot believe in you.”

People who write at all regularly about the Church keep one eye on the website of Sandro Magister, who is not only well-informed about events in Vatican City, but is also a regular source of perceptive comment on what’s going on.

Quite a few writers have spotted and quoted from his recent piece “Francis and the Devil”, in which he begins with the stand first “He refers to him continually. He combats him without respite. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person, the most insidious enemy of the Church”, and he goes on to point out how rarely we hear of the subject, despite its centrality to the biblical witness: “In the preaching of Pope Francis”, begins Magister, “there is one subject that returns with surprising frequency: the devil. It is a frequency on a par with that with which the same subject recurs in the New Testament (My emphasis). But in spite of this, the surprise remains. If for no other reason than that with his continual references to the devil, pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio parts ways with the current preaching in the Church, which is silent about the devil or reduces him to a metaphor.”

But why, why, why? The existence of Satan and all his angels, ever since I became a Christian, has seemed to me self-evident; that prayer we all say after Mass in the Usus Antiquior (in other words that practising Catholics without exception once said regularly) for me has a particular and vivid credibility: “Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits, who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”

This is no Catholic invention: it is fundamental to the New Testament vision of the world and therefore to the Christian faith: In the words of that unforgettable injunction of St Peter himself (I Peter 5): 8 Be sober, be vigilant: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring Lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

It is excellent practical advice; and if you want to know more about its biblical origins, Sandro Magister reproduces an article by Inos Biffi, originally published in Osservatore Romano, called “How the Scriptures speak of the devil”, which Biffi ends by expressing his astonishment at “the absence in preaching and catechesis of the truth concerning the devil. Not to speak of those theologians who, on the one hand, applaud the fact that Vatican II declared Scripture to be the “soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum, 24), and, on the other, do not hesitate, if not to decide on [the devil’s] nonexistence, to overlook as marginal a fact that is so clear and widely attested to in Scripture itself as is that concerning the devil, maintaining him to be the personification of an obscure and primordial idea of evil, now demystified and unacceptable.

“Such a conception is a masterpiece of ideology, and above all is equivalent to trivialising the very work of Christ and his redemption.

“This is why”, concludes Biffi, “those references to the devil which we find in the discourses of Pope Francis seem to us anything but secondary”. Precisely so.

  • Peter

    Evidence is evidence whether you like it or not.

    The fact that the universe exists instead of not existing, the fact that its laws are exquisitely fine tuned for intelligent life, and the fact that we can comprehend its workings and our comprehension grows with time, combined with the fact that such universes are artificially creatable, all point to the significant likelihood that the universe is a put up job.

    Faced with this hard evidence, you are a denier, preferring for ideological reasons to believe in an alternative explanation for which there is zero evidence.

    Any dispassionate observer would accept the greater likelihood of something for which there is evidence against something for which there is no evidence.

    But you are not a dispassionate observer. You have an ideological opposition to the idea of any superior intelligence creating the universe. This is because that would bring you closer to the notion of a Creator which is what you wish to avoid like the plague.

  • $20596475

    Evidence is only evidence if it can be peer reviewed and verified. It isn’t if it exists only in someones mind.

    The laws are “not fined tuned for intelligent life”. That is just a convenient construct to support your preconceptions. Nothing fined tuned the laws. They just are, and intelligent life was able to develop. Who knows if intelligent life could develop if these laws varied, or if they can be varied. There is no certainty that the laws and intelligent life are mutually dependent.

    Far from me being a non dispassionate observer, you seem to be. You have a conclusion and are seeking some kind of theory which might give credence to it. It just doesn’t.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Grammatical note for the slow of comprehension :

    The more relevant section of the words “barge in here and shove your atheistic doctrines down people’s throats” is “shove your atheistic doctrines down people’s throats”, as this is what has become extremely unpleasant in the sheer degree of trite repetitiousness, supercilious self-pride, and intellectual insult of others that appears on a nearly hourly basis in your already quite copious posting history. “barge in” is simply a more or less adverbial qualifier.

    I take note of your continuing failure to address the Question of the Cosmic Origins with anything even remotely resembling a coherent, evidenced, and balanced argument.

    You simply state “this is so”, and expect everyone to magically accept it as if it were some sort of “logical” “conclusion”, despite its blatant nature as an evidence-free statement of a doctrine of your belief system.

    Your endless double standards are extremely annoying, as annoying as your goalpost-shifts whenever anyone starts challenging your statements.

    If, for example, after having demanded like a spoilt child that you be provided with the basis of the Catholic understanding of this or that question, you then see what is presented to you, and instead of — say — examining it and trying to engage in discussion of it, you just throw everything off the table onto the kitchen floor, make a sour face, and proclaim that it’s all rubbish.

    All the while proving yourself completely unable to provide any justification of any sort for any of the central positions of your belief system.

    And then you have the gall to suggest that people are your intellectual inferiors for simply having their religious beliefs, on the basis of being (depending on the day of the week, or the phase of the moon, or whatever) either “indoctrinated”, “gullible”, “fantasists”, “stupid”, or whichever insult to the intelligence might happen to tickle your fancy at the time.

  • AdEleison

    As Catholics we do believe in the communion of Saints and we do believe certain beings are in the presence of God. Asking for the intercession of these Saints and beings is not praying to them. I find it contradictory to presume that pleading for them to intercede can be counter productive. At the wedding feast of Cana it was Mary who was approached to tell Jesus they had no wine – she interceded and Jesus did what she inferred (superlatively so). If on the other hand appealing for intercession is efficacious and we choose not to make use thereof who wins? ( sounds like Satan’s Wiley ways if you ask me)

  • janelte

    Please tell me, by whom was Mary approached? Wasn’t she just one of the guests who just took her own initiative to tell Jesus about it. Why? The Bible does not give us any indication. Most translations ‘cover with the coat of love’ Jesus’ less friendly reply to her. In the LXX you can find similar unfriendly answers to people who interfere where it is not appreciated. Just ‘quoting’ from my memory: Ehud against the king of Moab(?) in Judges and king David against the mighty but for him troublesome sons of his sister Zeruah. Those contexts show how ‘friendly’ this reply was. Somewhere in the N.T. Jesus tells his disciples he might not intercede if they pray straight to the Father? “Because the father himself loves you!!!” Does that not indicate that we Christians can approach the Father without Jesus’ intercession? Now tell me, what makes Roman Catholics think that Jesus (who is not only the 2nd ‘person’ of the Holy Trinity but also the former carpenter of

    Nazareth; truly God and truly human) cannot be approached without Mary’s intercession. Does the Bible give us any indication that there could be cases that Jesus won’t listen to his praying child unless Mary or whatever saint asks him to do so? He went to Golgotha for us ‘when we were still sinners’ (Paul, I think in Romans) and he would refuse to listen now we are his children?!?!

    Some Roman fantasies are not so God-friendly in my protestant opinion.

  • AdEleison

    Hi Janelte,

    This is the way I have always understood the situation – most probably from reading a Protestant Bible commentary on the matter. I don’t dispute your possible interpretation that Mary just noticed of her own accord, but it seems more likely that as we know there was at least a “Chief Steward” and several servants, this was a rather “organised” event. More likely that one of the servants, junior stewards or family member approached Mary (they must have known the family to have been invited in the first place) – hoping that Mary may have been able to influence her son in some way (the disciples were with him so his reputation as a miracle maker would already have been known). The fact that the servants were presents suggests they were most likely the ones trying to get a solution to save face for the bridegroom. Surely Mary would otherwise have had a private word with her son.

    As for Jesus “less than friendly reply” I have also understood this to be one of startle. To me it makes more sense when he says my time is not yet come in response to Mary’s entreaty “they have no wine” to be a reference to the institution of the Eucharistic and the pouring out of his precious blood in the form of wine. Christ is obliged to “honour his father and mother”, what loving son would do otherwise.
    If you have children of your own, you will know that a child may sometimes approach one parent or the other to ask for some favour on their behalf. This also stretches to siblings encouraging another sibling to seek something for them – especially if recently chastised. So it is with the holy family. The glory though – no matter how it is wrought belongs only to the one who is on high.

  • janelte

    As for
    Mary interfering with the wine problem, you go from one ‘more likely’ to another ‘more likely’. That’s how you put your thoughts into the Bible.

    But how can this story present Jesus as a ‘miracle maker’ if John tells us in chap 2:11: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him”.
    It looks like your opinion about Jesus as a ‘miracle maker’ twists the story in your direction. In a similar way is to me referring
    to the eucharist, a typical example of reading the Bible through Roman Catholic glasses.
    Did you check those unfriendly remarks in the same Greek words in the LXX? We know the O.T. only in translation, just like the Jews some 2000 years ago in general read the O.T. in a Greek translation: LXX. The context should convince you that those words really were not friendly. And yet referring to the the eucharist?

  • AdEleison

    Hi Janelte,

    I do not profess to be a Greek scholar – presuming you are (easily more learned than I), then I would defer to your better informed knowledge. You are right that I go from one “more likely” to another “more likely”, which is a bit sloppy so apologies for that.

    I don’t think Mary was being a busy body Aunt/guest at the wedding feast. If just a guest then it would have been really rude to interfere about the wine. As a close family member perhaps she was keen to keep an eye out for the catering, but as for the wine – surely the servants would be first to identify that the wine was running out. Their first though and protocol ought to have been to alert the Chief Stewart (Mary could not really know wine had run out until it had run out). The Chief Stewart remarked at the Bridegroom saving the best wine until last (suggesting he did not know wine was running out either). Now how about if one of the servants were a younger brother or cousin of the bridegroom (sounds just like the kind of wedding affair our family would run) – now naturally the youngster may have looked a bit imploringly to Mary and then told her about the problem emerging. Feels quite consistent with the train of events.

    Regarding the first miracle there seems to be an inconsistency with say Luke 5. At John 2:2 we read that Jesus and his disciples had been invited to the wedding. At Luke 5 we read of Jesus calling his band of disciples and the miracles he performed – including with Peter the catch of fish. Jesus miraculous capabilities are being revealed as he calls his disciples. I would think it more consistent to interpret the wine miracle to be the first at Cana, or the first of his “public” ministry, not necessarily the first of all.

    The Eucharistic allusion is indeed a personal one, but as I am Roman Catholic I would not disagree it may be tinted by my Roman Catholic glasses – perhaps just as your interpretation is tented by your not Roman Catholic glasses :-). Surely though on the not friendly Greek words – this could be consistent with the startle position (like don’t you dare reveal the purpose of my destiny just yet). But as you say this is me reading things in a way that has personal appeal. As for the real presence in the Eucharist Jn 6:53 ibid. “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

    But these are not points of aggressive disagreement between us. My primary purpose for initial response to you was to appeal to the Catholic position of a Communion of Saints and other beings – the power comes from the one true God, asking the Saints or Angels to intercede from us should not detract from God’s almighty power. Praying only to Christ surely cannot be inefficacious either (which is the position you hold). My reading of the Bible is that Christ (read triune God) has indeed granted authority to others to wield power on His behalf. The evidence of many Catholics is that the intercession has been very efficacious – “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matt 22 ibid, Lk 11:14 ibid, Mark 3:22 ibid)