December 18, 2014

Demons Under The Bed

exorcistYou may have read something in your local or national newspaper about “Pope Francis performs an exorcism”.  Even the more sober types over at “First Things” have got in on the act.

“On Pentecost Sunday all hell broke loose in Rome. Following Mass that day, the unpredictable Pope Francis laid hands on a demon-possessed man from Mexico and prayed for him. The YouTube video of this encounter was flashed around the world, and the story caught fire: Is Pope Francis an exorcist? The Holy Father’s Vatican handlers were quick to deny such.”

For various reasons, this article (and others like it) has me tearing out my hair.  Never mind the phrase “Vatican handlers” (believe me, if you’ve been following what Pope Francis is doing, the very last thing the Vatican bureaucracy has managed has been to “handle” him), never mind the repeated denials that this was an exorcism, the attitudes in this and the secular press are annoying the hell out of me (and not in a “Begone, demon of bad attitude!” fashion either).  Naturally, the media allowed no chance for sensationalism to go a-begging.

The trouble is that, while the papers may have splashed headlines about demons and exorcism around, they all basically cut-and-pasted the same Associated Press article in their coverage.  They also gleefully quoted Fr. Gabriele Amorth who has, to be charitable, an overriding interest in exorcisms that he sees as his particular ministry.  This does not mean that he is an infallible expert on the topic, or that he is to be believed over the official statement by the Vatican that this was not an exorcism.  It doesn’t help that some of the media took the opportunity to interpret the sentence in the statement that Pope Francis “didn’t intend to perform any exorcism” to mean “Pope accidentally performs exorcism.”

That’s not how it works.  “Whoops!  I meant to bless your rosary beads and instead I performed an exorcism on your cat.  Well, these things happen!”  Er, no, they don’t.  Never mind that the guidelines for exorcisms include the rule of discretion and confidentiality.

“8. At the same time, an exorcism should never turn into a “show” for the faithful.  For that reason, media representatives and journalists must not be allowed to attend.  The success or failure of an exorcism is not to be announced or published.”

So the media was both unable to tell, and uninterested in, the difference between an exorcism and a blessing by the laying on of hands.  This is no big surprise.  Exorcisms, demons, curses and spiritual warfare is the stuff of horror movies; it makes for great attention-grabbing light entertainment, but to take it seriously?

To do that means you would be obsessed, in a kind of ‘unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, living in the Middle Ages’ fashion, as they judged the pope to be suffering from obsession due to the fact that he has mentioned the devil in some of his homilies since becoming pope.  This is the kind of disinterest in finding out what the beliefs really are that leads to movies like the 1999 “Stigmata”, which at least produced a wonderful review by Roger Ebert where he has immense fun doing what we fandom types on the Internet call “sporking.”

“But alarming manifestations continue: Frankie bleeds, glass shatters, there are rumbles on the soundtrack, she has terrifying visions and at one point she speaks to the priest in a deeply masculine voice, reminding us of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”  Now there’s the problem.  Linda Blair was possessed by an evil spirit.  Frankie has been entered by the Holy Spirit.  Instead of freaking out in nightclubs and getting blood all over her bathroom, she should be in some sort of religious ecstasy, like Lili Taylor in “Household Saints.”  It is not a dark and fearsome thing to be bathed in the blood of the lamb.

It is also not possible, according to leading church authorities, to catch the stigmata from a rosary.  It is not a germ or a virus.  It comes from within.  If it didn’t, you could cut up Padre Pio’s bath towels and start your own blood drive.  “Stigmata” does not know, or care, about the theology involved, and thus becomes peculiarly heretical by confusing the effects of being possessed by Jesus and by Beelzebub.”

I have recently been edified by hearing radio advertisements for a new movie, called “The Last Exorcism Part II” – now, apart from the fact that if there is a “Part II” then the previous effort certainly wasn’t a last exorcism, this is just exactly the notion I mean – demons and exorcisms (and by extension, the kind of supernatural religious belief which takes them seriously) are fodder for B-movie horror franchises but certainly not something credible for the modern world.

That is the danger with this kind of sensation-seeking journalism: that the media reports make unthinking skeptics out of people.  If the Church (and there’s usually no finer distinction made amongst denominations, every Christian is lumped in together) is perceived not to be able to tell the difference between mental sickness and devils, why on earth would any sane, rational, normal person ever pay a minute’s attention to any of their pronouncements?  I don’t attribute any malice or ill-intent to the reporting in the style in which it is done; it is a sample of the modern mind-set.  We know so much more than our ancestors; where they had to attribute disasters and misfortunes from sickness to volcanic eruptions to the active interference of evil powers, we have the knowledge of science (from physics to neurology) to explain the true reasons these things happen.

And yes, in many cases, we do.  But this attitude naturally leads to one of the two opposite imbalances about the devil and the nature of evil:

(1) Don’t believe in such a thing as a personal devil, which may or may not include moving away from the very concept of evil: where outside of us is the natural world where things happen because of the physical laws of the universe and a plague or a tsunami is just as much legitimately part of it as a sunset or a hummingbird; the only meaningful distinction is that due to human responsibility and the more we learn about the inside of us, the more we either incline to ‘everything will be cured by progress’ or ‘there is no such thing as choice, we are at the mercy of our genes and blind random material forces’.

(2) Do believe in the devil, and either (i) See demons at work everywhere, to the point where having “been deep into Hip Hop” may well be a sign of demonic possession or at least leave you open to such (does the same apply to Trip Hop and does that mean I should get rid of my Portishead CDs?), or  (ii) See the devil as the true hero, the rebel, the outsider, the one who breaks the stifling rules and drives the engines of change and progress.  That’s an attitude that I’ve seen most recently online in an impassioned defence of Morgoth, where the writer condemned Tolkien’s view that evil is incapable of creativity and pretty much disburdened themselves of a paragraph contradicting everything put forward in “The Silmarillion” regarding his nature, motives and deeds.  (Hey, I have to get my Tolkien geek cred reference in somewhere in this essay!)

This is the temptation that is presented by the Unman to the Green Lady of Venus in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra:

“The heroines of the stories seemed all to have suffered a great deal – they had been oppressed by fathers, cast off by husbands, deserted by lovers.  Their children had risen up against them and society had driven them out.  But the stories all ended, in a sense, happily: sometimes with honours and praises to a heroine still living, more often with tardy acknowledgment and unavailing tears after her death.   At last it dawned upon him what all these stories were about.  Each one of these women had stood forth alone and braved a terrible risk for her child, her lover, or her people.  Each had been misunderstood, reviled, and persecuted: but each also magnificently vindicated by the event.  The precise details were often not very easy to follow. Ransom had more than a suspicion that many of these noble pioneers had been what in ordinary terrestrial speech we call witches or perverts.  But that was all in the background.  What emerged from the stories was rather an image than an idea – the picture of the tall, slender form, unbowed though the world’s weight rested upon its shoulders, stepping forth fearless and friendless into the dark to do for others what those others forbade it to do yet needed to have done.

…It was on those lines that the enemy now worked almost exclusively.  Though the Lady had no word for Duty he had made it appear to her in the light of a Duty that she should continue to fondle the idea of disobedience, and convinced her that it would be a cowardice if she repulsed him.  The idea of the Great Deed, of the Great Risk, of a kind of martyrdom, were presented to her every day, varied in a thousand forms.”

While the devil can certainly appear as an angel of light, this lack of discrimination means that you end up not knowing the difference between good and evil spiritualties, so that good is perceived as evil and evil is seen as good.  It may even be that everything is seen as good, that there is no evil, just a different way, a different but equally good and holy gift.  That is the troubling part of a sermon recently preached by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, which seems to have garnered no mass media attention unlike the pope’s “obsession” with the devil in his sermons, but which caused a stir in certain Episcopalian quarters.

 “There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.”

I won’t attempt to construct my idea of what Bishop Jefferts Schori’s theology of the devil may or may not be, but you have to agree that that is a unique interpretation of the possession of the slave girl and St. Paul’s interaction with her.  Whether or not we are to accept that this is indeed demonic possession and not mental illness or some form of psychic abilities, the conclusion drawn is that she was exhibiting an alternate and equally valid spiritual path, a beautiful, holy gift of spiritual awareness.

Most of us probably fall somewhere between these two stools: we acknowledge that the devil exists, but we don’t much think about his activities and we feel faintly embarrassed by the notion of praying for grace to resist temptation as coming from outside ourselves.

It’s a form of pride: sure, I may be a sinner in this, that or the other way, but I hold the key to my own improvement by my own effort (and maybe a push from God).  That I may be susceptible to the influence of a malign spirit – isn’t that the kind of unsophisticated, old-fashioned Bible-bashing that led to things like the witch-hunts and the hysteria about curses and black magic?  “The devil made me do it” – that’s a lazy excuse for the kind of person who refuses to accept his own responsibility; it’s the kind of half-ironic, half-joking thing you say when you mean “Okay, I know what I did wasn’t so great, but it’s not that bad and it wasn’t really my fault.”

I don’t like the idea of praying for help against the devil.  I am quite prepared to admit I’m a sinner, but in the same way that I admit to bad habits.  The idea that I’m not in control – that makes me uncomfortable.  That’s why it’s a good idea to have us all renew our baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.  That’s why it’s a good idea to keep the bit about:

Priest: Do you renounce Satan?

All: I do.

Priest: And all his works?

All: I do.

Priest: And all his empty show?

All: I do.

See, the thing is, the devil is not important.  He’s already defeated.  He may be winning individual battles but he’s already lost the war.  We can be tempted, we can fall, we can be lost, but the devil is not the equal and counterpart of God – not the yin to his yang, not the Angra Mainyu to his Ahura Mazda, not the Dark Side of the Force which is necessary to bring balance.  Call him Satan or Lucifer, his counterpart is Michael the Archangel, and he is the unjust servant defeated by the victory of Christ over sin and death.  If we’re twitching at the idea of the mediaeval devil with horns and a tail, the archetypal devil with red tights and a pitchfork, good!  Those images are meant to be mocked, are meant for us to laugh at – the devil is not a majestic, tragic, Byronically brooding figure.  He has lost the good of intellect and his former beauty, and all that remains is the malice of “misery loves company”.  One of the best depictions of the devil in popular culture I have seen is in an obscure television show called “Brimstone” which ran for one season in the late 90s.

That devil wasn’t above (or below) such petty acts as tearing out the last few pages of a book so the reader wouldn’t know the ending, or tying the shoelaces of a sleeping man together so that he’d fall when he got up.  He had pretensions of grandeur, but as no deed is too small for love, so no deed was too small for the petty bullying of wanting others to be pricked by unhappiness.

This is what Pope Francis is getting at in his sermons about the devil and temptation, but much more importantly sin and grace and God’s forgiveness and mercy.

“Today we ask the Lord for the grace to understand that we are sinners, but truly sinners, not sinners broadly, but sinners with regard to this, that, and the other thing, concrete sins, with the concreteness of sin.  The grace to not become corrupt: sinners, yes; corrupt, no!  And the grace to walk in the paths of holiness.  So be it.”

 

Comments

  1. Damien Thorn says:

    “Impossible!” Father Domenico cried, though choking with the dust of the exploded crucifix. “It is written that in that war you will at last be conquered and chained!”

    OF COURSE, BUT WHAT DOES THAT PROVE? EACH OF THE OPPOSING SIDES IN ANY WAR ALWAYS PREDICTS VICTORY. THEY CANNOT BOTH BE RIGHT. IT IS THE FINAL BATTLE THAT COUNTS, NOT THE PROPAGANDA. YOU MADE A MISTAKE — AND AH, HOW YOU WILL PAY!

    “One moment … please,” Father Domenico said. “If you would be so kind … I see that we have failed…. Would you tell us, where did we fail?”

    The Goat laughed, spoke three words, and vanished.

    The dawn grew, red, streaked, dull, endless. From Ware’s window the sleeping town slumped down in rivers of cold lava toward the sea — but there was no sea; as Father Domenico had seen hours ago, the sea had withdrawn, and would not be back again except as a tsunami after the Corinth earthquake. Circles of desolation spread away from the ritual circles. Inside them, the last magicians waited for the now Greatest Powers to come back for them.

    It would not be long now. In all their minds and hearts echoed those last three words. World without end. End without world.

    God is dead.

    1. Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!
    2. Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
    3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
    4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, not love wasted on ingrates!
    5. Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!
    6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires!
    7. Satan represents man as just another animal…!
    8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!
    9. Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as He has kept it in business all these years!

    • Robert F says:

      The Devil wears nada!!!!

    • Robert F says:

      You forgot one:

      10. Satan represents smug boorishness!

    • Robert F says:

      And always remember, you pretender……”the power of Christ compels you….”

    • as you say

      ” THEY CANNOT BOTH BE RIGHT. IT IS THE FINAL BATTLE THAT COUNTS, NOT THE PROPAGANDA. YOU MADE A MISTAKE — AND AH, HOW YOU WILL PAY!”

      Do you rejoice that Maleldil became a man? Tell her of your joys, and of what profit you had when you made Maleldil and death acquainted.

    • Thank you, Damien, for the “Black Easter” quotes (James Blish, part of the “After Such Knowledge” trilogy).

      Also, thank you for giving an example of my point about the second error, seeing the devil as the true hero and the Promethean figure of advancement. I forgot all about Mr. Blish’s work and using excerpts from same – you did excellent work there!

      And to James Blish – hello, I thought you were dead, delighted to have your company! :-)

    • James Blish, Anton Lavey, and Omen name reference. Now that’s a trifecta of Satanic geekdom.

      It worth noting that in the end of the James Blish trilogy, Satan bitterly repents of becoming God, and waits to hands those keys over to man. Lavey sadly died living on welfare and food stamps, which implies a true lack of attention to detail in his pact. Damien at least makes it through a few bad sequels before his final defeat.

      Still, fine effort. Ten points for House Luciferi.

  2. Martha, it didn’t take long for the fanboys to jump into the grown-ups conversation, did it?

    Ignoring the silliness, and back to your essay, you hit the nail on the head all around. The secular press, and even some of our separated brethren. can’t seem to fathom that a blessing by a Man of God like the current Holy Father is enough to send a demon running for the hills in horror, like a jellyfish left on dry land!

    And again, equally crazy to see Satan around every corner. The prince of darkness is much too busy to be everywhere that some folks think they see him and his followers.

    Lastly, the heresy that so many non-believers and even some unschooled “Christians” believe-that the fight between God and Satan is a match of equal forces-needs to be put to rest. Satan is a creation of God, not His peer or equilivant, Only Lucifer’s hubris leads him to try to convince himself and others of his importance. Lord knows Satan and his minions harm enough humans with their lies, but we know how this ends….it is just making sure we stay behind the Holy Spirit and His recognition of and protection from the enemy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And again, equally crazy to see Satan around every corner. The prince of darkness is much too busy to be everywhere that some folks think they see him and his followers.

      In every burned-out light bulb and every stopped-up toilet. A friend of mine put it this way: “Terrified that Satan is going to slip his Woopee Cushion under their butts every time they sit down.”

      Lastly, the heresy that so many non-believers and even some unschooled “Christians” believe-that the fight between God and Satan is a match of equal forces-needs to be put to rest.

      Ah, yes. “Attributing too much power to the Devil.” When the Spanish Inquisition rolled on a Witchcraft case (a rare occurrence; Inquisitors were on flat salary, not a percentage of the take), that was the actual charge they brought.

      But some Spiritual Warriors(TM) even go beyond “a match of equal forces”. They have made the Devil so mighty and powerful that he’d overpower God if it weren’t for Mighty Spiritual Warriors (guess who?) always binding and loosing, naming and claiming, warding and spellcasting. (“DEMONS! DEMONS! DEEEMONS! SHEEKA-BOOM-BAH! BAM!!!”) Maybe that’s why so many Spiritual Warfare types are so in-your-face and vein-popping shrill; they have made the Devil so powerful that deep down inside they’re afraid they picked the losing side.

    • Robert F says:

      Pattie,
      I think we’re just having a little fun at the Devil’s expense; some of us are good protestants, who believe with Luther that the Devil, “that proud spirit,” can not stand to be mocked and ridiculed, and that we do well to have fun at his expense and to exhibit the joy of Christian liberty, which includes liberty from the satanic. That doesn’t mean we can’t also take very seriously the existence of malevolent spirits; at least, I do.

      • No hard feelings pointed your way, my brother. Damien, however, needs to take a deep breathe, have a cup of tea, and chill~~~~

        • Robert F says:

          I’m afraid poor Damien (Damien? really? how bloody predictable can you get?) is sorely deluded. These Satanists are truly boorish. Everything they are trying to say can be compressed into the words of the English poet William Blake: “Energy is Eternal Delight…..He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence…” Blake was wrong, of course; but at least he had real style, courage and creativity. Like Nietzsche. Why can’t this crop of current Satanists have a little real imagination? What a pathetic bunch.

          • Cedric Klein says:

            If I was going to name myself after a fictional AntiChrist, it would either be Randall Flagg or Franco Maccalousso. (Tho the other two best literary AntiChrists are Christopher Goodman and Richard Grant Morrison.)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            You want a Pathetic Bunch, what about those Beavises & Buttheads who trashed all those churches on 6/6/06? “DAMIAAAAAN! I’M DOING THIS FOR YOUUUUUUUU!”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            If I was going to name myself after a fictional AntiChrist, it would either be Randall Flagg or Franco Maccalousso.

            I’d go with Nightmare Moon. (But then I’m weird…)

  3. The Episcopal Bishop Shori is nothing less than another progressive minister who tries to twist scripture to her own ends. Imagine saying that Paul was stealing the demoniac spirituality. And that is a bad thing. No wonder the Episcopal church is now down to cult status in membership and will soon fade away into nothing.

  4. Satan is real.

    The devil loves nothing more than for people to look inward. To look at their own sins and then to their own seriousness of repentance, and their own good works to try and make up for them…instead of to Christ’s finished work on the cross for real sinners.

    Inasmuch as we are trusting in what ‘we do’, or ‘do not do’, to try and make ourselves acceptable before the Living God, then we play right into the devil’s hands.

    • Forgive me for being slightly off topic. But I do believe that the devil makes much more hay out of getting us to focus inward, than he does in possessing us outright.

      Not that demon possession doesn’t happen.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation plays right into that.

      • Even more insidious is a “gospel” of spiritual/religious ascendency. Where one needs to show their seriousness and exhibit proof that they are saved.

        It shifts all the focus to the self. Right where the devil wants it. (not on Christ Jesus)

        • Radagast says:

          Steve,

          Not sure if you are including some of the elements found in Christian Mysticism – centering prayer, three fold way of purgation/illumination/union, which if taken to extreme can leave the whole resurrection thing out of the equation (refering to the heresy called Quietism).

          If done with spiritual guidance the looking inward strengthens outward actions by not holding on to appetites for self gratifcation hence putting others above oneself.

          Or… I could be totally off base here….

          • Radagast,

            I see your point.

            I’m not sure about the whole spiritual guidance thing. I guess there are things about it that may be helpful. But generally, when we look inward, we are asking for trouble. It seems to shift the focus away from the finished work to what we should, ought, or must be doing (oftentimes).

            I could probably be a lot further off base than you.

          • Robert F says:

            If we never look within, it’s very likely that we are being driven in certain behaviors by unconscious compulsions which we are blind to; one of the purposes of self-examination is to watch ourselves in the hopes of observing where this might be true, so that we may be fair and true in our dealings with others, and walk justly with them rather than have relationships driven by unknown compulsions that exist in our blind spots. The real motivation for self-examination should be love of neighbor as commanded by Jesus.

  5. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    Do you remember when a few years back the movie “The Rite” came out? It was loosely based on The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. which recounts the real life experiences of Father Gary Thomas when he was training to be an exorcist. I remember the talking heads on Catholic radio praising the movie for being a more accurate account (though with Hollywood obviously added in) of what goes on.

    I’d be interested in thoughts on how accurate that really was. I’ve been involved in some deliverance ministry over the years, but despite what some of my Charismatic friends say, I’m not sure that’s the same thing as actual exorcism. I know that the RCC sees a difference between the two, and that based on the “Book of Occasional Services” single-page on exorcism rites (that basically say “talk to your bishop” and not much else), we Anglicans tend to see them as different things as well.

  6. The gospel reading this Sunday is Luke 8:26-39 – Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac, so of course the sermon hymn is ‘A Mighty Fortress’ – verse 3 is undoubtedly the reason:

    Though hordes of devils fill the land
    all threatening to devour us.
    We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
    they cannot overpower us.
    Let this world’s tyrant rage;
    in battle we’ll engage!
    His might is doomed to fail;
    God’s judgment must prevail!
    One little word subdues him.

    Love this hymn.

  7. cermak_rd says:

    I think there are other worldviews than the 2 you describe for looking at evil and the devil. I, even as a Catholic, never believed in Satan as a being, but more as a force. Now, I tend to reject the concept all together and consider evil to be a function of humanity. Humans are capable of great evil all by themselves, they really don’t need supernatural forces to make them do it. And we’ll never rid ourselves of it. Sometimes it’s the result of broken minds and sometimes the result of greed or passion; almost always the result of a severe lack of empathy toward others.

    Our species–capable of great acts of altruism or abysmal acts of cruelty.

    • We humans do have a great capacity for evil. And that capacity lies within each and every one of us.

      But Jesus spoke of the devil which leads me to believe that there is such a malevolent being.

    • I agree our human capacity for evil is considerable and requires little assistance from outside forces. But I also believe there are beings out there of pure intellect that are simply malicious, which we call demons. I would never attribute all evil to them- we can do pretty well on our own without them- but when I come across something like, say, the Reign of Terror in France, I have to think there is something more than regular human evil at work here.

      • Steve, Glenn and Steve are correct, and your understanding seems to be a bit off, Christ spoke with Satan…..he is a real created being, not an idea or a force. True, humans cause a fair bit of evil, but Lucifer and his buddies were created by God, just like all the rest of the species of beings of spirit called Angels, who preceded us humans as beings of spirit and flesh.

        Catholic or not, your understanding of the Evil Ones who revolted again God not Christian teaching….maybe some reading and prayer would help you see the validity and realness of these beings.

        • Perhaps. But I suspect the issues that cermak_rd has are similar to those that I as a Christian have with regards to considering Satan as an actual being.

          I can understand — and observe in myself — human fallenness, a bentness that cries out for divine intervention in the form of the Incarnation of Christ. I can also easily accept that the Creator of the universe might, just might, have attributes that outstrip the few pounds of grey matter in my skull.

          But when it comes to these angels and demons, I find myself at sea. What motivates them? I have glands, social pressures, a finite life, habits, etc. that push me this way and that. But what makes a demon tick? Or an angel? Specifically, what makes an angel rebel?

          My brain has finite capacities due to its very architecture and metabolic constraints. How smart are demons? Are they good at math? Chess? (Yes, I watched “The Seventh Seal.” Doesn’t count.) Can they write poetry? Do they know whether dark matter is fermionic? Inquiring minds want to know.

          How omniscient is Satan? Oddly enough, one must say that the attribution of so much to this singular figure actually makes Satan functionally more of a force/idea than a personal being.

          Another well-known problem is that too often the demonic functions as a sort of default explanation for evil: the devil made me do it, as St. Flip always said. But, as I said already, who/what made the devil do it? One might begin to contemplate some sort of infinite Gnostic regression of Satans if it weren’t so silly.

          Of course, I could be dead wrong. There may be more to all this than I know. It’d just be nice to have an angelology/demonology that goes beyond positing essentially human-like motivations to such beings when it suits us and God-like omniscience when that seems like the way to go instead.

        • cermak_rd says:

          But that’s to imply that the Christian Scriptures were written by biographers or newsman, isn’t it? In the stories I’m familiar with, Jesus is alone with Satan when he speaks with him, so who captured this conversation?

  8. I’m reminded of the Tim Dorsey novel where the stoner-heroes end up onstage with an evangelist faith healer in Orlando plainly modeled after Benny Hinn:

    Preacher: Do you promise to forswear all the works of the devil?

    Stoner: Yeah, man ….. except for Led Zeppelin IV. It’s a classic!

  9. Christiane says:

    Hi MARTHA,

    I really appreciate this insight: ” . . . as no deed is too small for love, so no deed was too small for the petty bullying of wanting others to be pricked by unhappiness”

    maybe it’s in the little things that we find ourselves tested the most . . . and maybe the greatest sin of all is a lack of kindness towards others (I have long thought this to be true)

    my thought about evil is that I know it exists . . . anyone who has knowledge of the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. knows evil exists . . . in Europe, the ‘camps’ can be visited and there prayers said for the souls of those who suffered and died from a great and terrible evil

    but I don’t think we should dwell on evil, knowing that satan has truly been defeated at the Cross

    if ‘no deed is too small for love’, . . . (St. Therese of Lisieux comes to mind )
    then that is how even we can celebrate Christ’s great act of love at the Cross which defeated satan
    . . . we too can love others with a kindness like that of Our God
    . . . and no act of kindness is too small where suffering is

  10. james jordan says:

    Francis seems to be going on a witch hunt for “Pelagians” accusing every traditional Catholic who still uses a rosary of Pelagianism. I guess he wants to turn the Catholic Church into the Presbyterian church or something. Its like the twilight zone. We live in interesting times, to say the least.

    • Damaris says:

      What?? Please clarify.

      • Ditto…..don’t get what you are saying?????

        • Radagast says:

          I googled Pope Francis and Pelagians and found it … seems he had something to say about the traditionalist movement in the first paragraph and in the second paragraph new agers…. but I think it was taken out of context.

          According to the blog the Pope had an audience with the presiding board of the CLAR (the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women – Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosos y Religiosas) on June 6, 2013

          “I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…”

          Again, this did not come from an official site so no idea what came before or after

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I read that as exasperation with one Tridentine Trad too many.

            “I know some; it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires…”
            — great line; says it all without needing any detail

            “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.”
            — Keeping exact count like that is just ANAL. Or tunnel vision/savant syndrome.

    • Okay, the bit about Pelagianism and Gnosticism comes from remarks reported to have been made by him in a talk with representatives of South American religious orders. It was a private meeting, so there is no formal or official document issued, and the papers took up what the participants let slip.

      It’s easy enough to figure out Francis’ concerns re: a type of modern Christian Gnosticism; the recent visitation of the North American religious orders and the concerns that some orders are “moving beyond Jesus” is the exemplar here, where Buddhist meditation, labyrinth walking and (in the example Francis used) encouragement to “take a spiritual bath in the cosmos” instead of engaging in the customary morning prayers mean that a model of ‘religion as social work’ is valued and – again, as Francis said – the Incarnation is forgotten.

      The criticism of traditionalists is harder to parse, but I think he means not so much the love of the heritage of the Church as the tendency to fossilise and to look back and want to go back to ‘the Good Old Days’ when there was a model of perfect Catholicism. But as Benedict XVI himself pointed out, in his talk to the Roman clergy about attending Vatican II, even the ‘Good Old Days’ weren’t that good. His experience of German parish life in the 50s was one of outwardly comfortable corporate life, but inwardly becoming ossified, becoming a kind of civic religious label with little real personal spiritual growth. And even then, vocations were beginning to fall, people were leaving or moving away – so the notion of reviving the forms of the practices is not appealing to Francis.

      If your main worry is whether women are wearing mantillas or men are wearing suits and ties to go to Mass, that’s missing the point. I think that’s the mindset Francis is criticising. But besides, obviously the post-Vatican II changes are more to his turn of mind, so he does not see the appeal in returning to the pre-Vatican II way of doing things. This doesn’t mean he wants to stamp out Latin or the rest of it, just that he prefers (as we have all seen) a simpler liturgical style.

      • Damaris says:

        Thank you, Martha and Radagast. That helps.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The criticism of traditionalists is harder to parse, but I think he means not so much the love of the heritage of the Church as the tendency to fossilise and to look back and want to go back to ‘the Good Old Days’ when there was a model of perfect Catholicism.

        Just like a lot of Evangelicals look back and want to go back to The Godly Golden Age of a mythologized 1950s. (Or in more extreme cases, the Godly Golden Age of the pre-Civil War South.)

    • Pope Francis prays all three sets of mysteries daily–and has for years. I think he’s concerned about people racking up a quantity of prayers rather than the quality of the prayer. He doesn’t want us to rattle off the rosary–he wants us to pray it and to meditate on the mysteries.

      • cermak_rd says:

        what? No luminous mysteries?

        • I guess not. Francis is a progressive reactionary who isn’t a Pelagian or a Gnostic!

          http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=17311

        • I’m still getting used to the Luminous Mysteries myself (I have to admit, my favourites have always been the Glorious Mysteries).

          I think we’re going to get a whole new perspective, seeing as how Francis is a South American. He’s certainly not Benedict XVI :-) but we’ve been accustomed to a European and North American-focused emphasis; Francis is demonstrating that the Latin American church has a whole other set of concerns (so, for one thing, the whole Anglican Ordinariate matter is not something that is on his radar.)

          We’ll have to adjust our view, and it’ll do us in the Northern Hemisphere no harm at all. When the Holy Spirit picked a Jesuit as pope, we knew we’d be in for interesting times! ;-)