Part 3: Section 3
THE ANGELS: AN OVERVIEW
3. The evil Angels are our enemies; they envy us, seek to lead us to sin, and can, with God's permission, injure us in our bodies, or in our worldly goods.
The evil spirits are our enemies. With all their spite they can do nothing against God; so they vent their fury against men, who bear the image of God. Many theologians have asserted that the places of the Angels who fell will be filled in Heaven by men. "The knowledge that a creature of earth will occupy his place in Heaven." says St. Thomas, "causes the devil more pain than the flames of Hell." It was the devil who led our first parents to sin, and also Judas [John 13:27]. The devil can also, so far as God permits, injure the bodies and the goods of men, as in the case of Job and the possessed in Our Lord's time. The devil's great object is to effect the ruin of the Church, which he knows is to be the means of destroying his power on earth [Matt. 16:18; Luke 22:31]. He also knows that he and his Angels will one day be judged by the Saints [1 Cor. 6:3]. Many believe that as God assigns to each child at its birth a Guardian Angel. so the devil assigns to each a special devil to tempt it. Hence we must work with one hand and with the other defend ourselves against the foe.
Yet the devil cannot do real harm to anyone who keeps the Commandments of God and avoids all sin.
The dog that is tied up cannot do any harm to those who keep out of range of his chain. The devil is like this dog. He can work on our memory and our imagination, but he has no power over our will or our understanding. He can persuade us but he cannot compel us to evil. We must therefore energetically and promptly repel all bad thoughts that the devil puts into our heads. "Resist the devil." says St. James [4:7], "and he will fly from you." Our Lord dispatched the devil very promptly when He said, "Begone Satan!" It is a great thing to treat the devil and his temptations with great contempt, and also to turn our thoughts to other things, and not allow ourselves to be disturbed or troubled by his suggestions. He who allows himself to dwell on evil thoughts draws near to the dog who is chained, and is almost sure to be bitten by him. If the devil were allowed to use his full power against us we could not resist him, for when he fell he did not lose any of his natural powers, though he lost eternal happiness.
God gives the devil special power over some men:
1. God often allows men who are striving after high perfection, whom he especially favors, to be tried by the devil for long years in some extraordinary way, in order to cleanse them from their imperfections, and thoroughly humble them.
God allows His elect to be constantly besieged by the devil for years, and to endure temptations of extraordinary violence. Sometimes the devil appears to them in visible form; sometimes he assails their ears with hideous sounds; sometimes he is permitted to strike them and to throw them on the ground. God protects their life, but allows the devil to torment them with bodily pain and with sickness. They suffer the most terrible temptations against faith and against purity. The evil one has no power over their souls, but sometimes God allows him power over their bodies, so that they do and say the most extraordinary things in spite of themselves, in order that they be humbled in the eyes of men. Sometimes they even pour forth blasphemous words, and have no power to prevent themselves from doing so. These assaults of the devil are called obsession. Holy Job was assailed by the devil; and so was Our Lord in the desert; so were St. Anthony, St. Teresa, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, the Curé d'Ars, and many other Saints. These holy persons knew that god would never allow them to be tempted beyond their powers of resistance, and that God permitted these temptations for their greater sanctification. They were perfectly resigned to the will of God, and at length drove away the devil by their fearless resistance to his assaults. Thus, when the devil threatened the life of St. Catherine of Siena, she answered, "Do what you can; what is pleasing to God is pleasing to me." St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi said to him, "You do not seem to know that you are preparing for me a glorious victory." St. Anthony in the desert defied him, saying, "How feeble you are! I suppose that is why you are bringing such a crowd of devils to tempt me." When those who are tempted meet the devil with the courage of a lion, he has no more power against than a startled hare, but when they fear him, then he comes on with all the force and boldness of a lion. He can always be driven away by the means of grace provided by the Church; by the Sign of the Cross, by invoking the name of Jesus and Mary, by holy water, by earnest prayer, by the use of relics, etc. The more violent the assaults of the devil, the greater will be the protection afforded by almighty God to His servants; often during times of trial they have revelations from God, or Saints and Angels appear to them to console and strengthen them. Those who deny the reality of these occurrences of which we so often read in the lives of the Saints, show very little acquaintance with the spiritual life. Yet it is the spirit of the Church to receive all accounts of these preternatural and supernatural events with great caution, as there is always a danger of illusion or deceit. Nor need ordinary mortals fear such special attacks of the evil one; they are reserved for the special friends and favorites of God.
2. It also sometimes happens that God allows men of vicious lives, or those who sin against faith, to be punished or led astray by evil spirits.
God sometimes permits that the bodies of men who have given themselves over to the indulgences of their passions be possessed by evil spirits, as a town is occupied by a general who has conquered it. This state is called possession. In the time of Our Lord there were many thus possessed, and who, in consequence were dumb [Matt. 9:32], blind [Matt. 12:22], and exceeding fierce [Matt. 8:28]. God permitted that then there should be many such, that He might show the power of the Son of God and the feebleness of the devils in His presence, and that He might drive them forth from those whom they tormented. Yet it does not follow that all who were possessed were necessarily so through their own fault. Some children were possessed from their birth [Mark 9: 20]. Sometimes God allowed even holy men to be possessed for a time; but more often it was punishment for grievous sin, and especially for a deliberate friendship with the devil, as was the case with the witch of Endor [1 Kings 28:7 seq.; Cf. Acts 16:16]. Such cases are not infrequent now in pagan countries. God also permits the evil spirits to mislead those who practice spiritualism, which consists in invoking the spirits of the dead in order to discover things secret, or that are taking place at a distance. The devils personate the spirits invoked, and by their superior knowledge are able to reveal many things, by which they delude those who deal with them into thinking that they are really conversing with some departed relative or friend. On these occasions the spirits will sometimes take a material form. Spiritualism leads to the loss of faith and morals, or at least to the ruin of the peace of mind of the person practicing it. Very often it is mixed up with a great deal of imposture.