A Catholic Dilemma
THE Catholic Church is currently facing two problems in connection with the Devil. On the one hand, it is having to fight a tendency among modern-day Catholics to doubt the Devil’s existence. On the other hand, it is having to deal with a spate of unofficial exorcisms, or expellings of evil spirits.
Pope John Paul II reminded Catholic youths that they should take the Devil seriously. In a letter, he wrote: “You should not be afraid to call the first worker of badness by his name: the Evil One. He has used and continues to use the tactics of not revealing himself.”
Likewise, cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome, stated: “Whatever the less discerning theologians may say, the devil, as far as Christian belief is concerned, is a puzzling but real, personal and not merely symbolical presence. He is a powerful reality.”
Cardinal Ratzinger also expressed great concern about unauthorized Satan-related meetings being held by Catholics in many countries. In a letter dated September 29, 1985, addressed to all Catholic bishops throughout the world, he wrote: “For several years, in certain church circles, more and more prayer meetings are being held with a view to delivering people from demon influence.” He reminded the prelates that according to canon law, no such meetings can be held without express permission from the local bishop and that such permission should be granted only to priests. No lay person has the right to pronounce “the exorcist formula against Satan and fallen angels.”
The French daily Le Figaro reported: “The ‘boom’ in exorcisms and anti-Satan activities has burst into the open during the past few months in Italy, particularly in Turin, where cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero has just appointed six new exorcists.” Giving the matter worldwide scope, the Paris daily International Herald Tribune wrote: “The interest in Satan’s possible presence in Turin is only part of a broader discussion within the Roman Catholic Church about the personification of evil referred to variously in Scripture and church teaching as ‘the prince of this world,’ ‘the power of darkness,’ the ‘ancient serpent,’ the ‘slanderer.’”
French Academy member Jean Dutourd made some interesting comments on modern-day doubts about Satan’s existence—even by Catholic prelates. He wrote in the French daily L’Est-Républicain: “Belief in God is rather frowned upon these days, but it is more or less tolerated. Belief in the Devil, however, is looked upon as completely ridiculous. The mere mention of the name Satan . . . highly amuses intellectuals, the bourgeois, politicians, and also, no doubt, a goodly number of bishops. Their mirth surprises me all the more because it would seem that the Devil has been giving us particular attention since 1914.”
If Catholics, including some of the clergy, need to be reminded by the pope and others that Satan really exists, is it not because the church for centuries has placed greater emphasis on tradition, philosophy, and unproved scientific theories than on the Bible?
The mention above of 1914 is indeed appropriate. That year is marked in Bible prophecy as beginning “the last days” when the Devil, as “the ruler of the world,” makes his last-ditch effort to ruin all mankind. (2 Timothy 3:1; John 14:30) As a Catholic Bible translation states: “Disaster is coming—because the devil has gone down to you in a rage, knowing that he has little time left.” Sincere Catholics do well to accept the Bible’s testimony. Why? Because world conditions today prove that “the kingdom of God is near.”—Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 21:25-31, The New Jerusalem Bible.
Since that Kingdom promises to end all unrighteousness and its causes, the removal of the Devil and his supporters is imminent. However, only people who know that the Devil exists can take a stand against his rulership and hope for survival. How? Not through exorcisms but, rather, as the apostle Paul wrote, by putting on “the complete suit of armor from God.” Yes, God’s Word is clear: “Oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.”—Ephesians 6:11-18; James 4:7.
[Picture on page 26]
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft/Ernst and Johanna Lehner/Dover