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The Strategy of the Devil in Demonic Temptations

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

As St. John tells us, we are tempted from three sources: by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is the attractive sinful conduct of other people. The flesh is our concupiscence, the natural inclination that we now have after the fall of the human race, to follow what appeals to us even though it is displeasing to God. The devil is, in some ways, the most powerful enemy we have in the spiritual life. It was divinely providential that Christ allowed Himself to be tempted by the devil at the beginning of His public ministry. He is teaching us one of the most important lessons we need to learn in life. If He the living God in human form was tempted by the evil spirit then so are we. In order to imitate Christ, we must resist the devil as Christ, Himself, resisted the devil.

If there is one thing we learn from the masters of the spiritual life it is to expect to be tempted by the evil spirit. It was the evil spirit who tempted Eve and brought on the fall of the human race. As we reflect on temptations by the devil in our own lives, we must keep in mind who the devil is. He is the evil spirit. Spirit because he is not sensibly perceptible. We cannot hear him with our bodily ears or see him with our bodily eyes. He is an evil spirit whose number is legion and who has been phenomenally successful in seducing untold numbers from their allegiance to God.

St. Ignatius has a key meditation in the Spiritual Exercises on what he calls the Two Standards. The Two Standards correspond to the two leaders in the world who are drawing people to follow them. One leader is Jesus Christ, who inspires believing Christians to dedicate themselves to the extension of His kingdom throughout the world. The other leader is Satan, who is trying to seduce people to follow him, for the extension of his demonic kingdom, which, in the words of St. Augustine, is the City of Man, which is in constant conflict with the kingdom of Christ. The devil knows that you get nowhere alone; you inspire others to follow you. Then you train your followers and disciples and they will carry on your work. The devil trains his followers to seduce not just people or cities, but whole nations.


The Character of the Devil

If we wish to resist the temptations of the evil spirit, we must know something about their demonic character. He is a liar by nature. He lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden, telling her that God forbade her and Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit because God was afraid that they, Adam and Eve, would come to know what God knows, the meaning of good and evil.

The devil lied to Judas who betrayed his Master because the devil made Judas think that he could remain a follower of Christ while remaining a friend of Christ’s enemies. The Church teaches that what Judas wanted was money. The saints said that this is why Judas committed suicide. He was deceived. He had gotten his money, but his betrayal and his gain of money brought on the passion of his master, Jesus Christ.

The devil deceived Pilate into condemning Christ to death, even though Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. Over the centuries this had been the basic tactic of the evil spirit, deceit. Pilate feared losing the friendship of Caesar. Yet, after condemning Jesus, Pilate soon lost his position and died a humiliating cowardly death.

We are talking about who the devil is. The devil became who he is because he envied the majesty of God. Ever since his own fall because of envy, this has been the fundamental means that the devil uses to seduce people from their loyalty to God. It was the devil who inspired Cain to murder his brother Abel out of envy. It was the devil who inspired Saul to want to murder David out of envy. It was the devil who inspired the Scribes and Pharisees to condemn Christ to an ignominious death. Why? Because they envied Christ’s popularity among the people. Thousands followed Jesus, spending whole days without eating in order to listen to Jesus. And so the Scribes and Pharisees tried the most atrocious way of getting people to listen to them. It was the devil, that the apostle tells us, who seduced Judas to betray his Master out of envy.

Christ tells us, “The devil is a murderer from the beginning.” Unless our first parents had been seduced by the devil, bodily death would never have entered the human race. But the devil is a murderer in the deepest sense. His ambition is to murder human souls. Remember there is a first death, the death of the human body. There is a second death, the death of the soul. The devil’s ambition is to murder human souls by destroying God’s grace in their spiritual lives. Being in hell himself, the devil wants nothing more than to bring human beings to join him in his own eternal damnation.

The devil is not one person. The devil is an organized battalion of malice. Some of the Fathers of the Church speak of two mystical bodies in the world. There is a mystical body of Christ, which is the Church He founded that we call the Church Militant. There is also a mystical body of Satan, founded by Lucifer, which is literally hell-bent on conquering the mystical body of Christ. This is the main reason why the Church on earth is called the Church Militant. It is most important to recognize the organized character of the legions of the evil spirit. Let us be sure that we recognize the Church Militant as more than an adjective. As the saints tell us, the followers of Christ have one powerful weapon in battling the devil. And that weapon is the Cross. We shall conquer the evil spirit on one condition. That we love the Cross, venerate the Cross, use the Cross to defeat the devil and his followers.

One more description of the devil. The devil uses civil authority, call it the State, to war against the followers of Christ. It is surely not coincidental that Pontius Pilate, the civil governor of Palestine, condemned Jesus to a shameful death on the Cross. Over the centuries, the enemies of Christ have used the power of the State to undermine the moral teachings of the Savior. The legalized murder, under State authority, in most of the countries of the world, is surely the work of the devil. He uses State power. As I heard from a man just recently, “I have spent the last four years of my life in prison for praying the rosary before abortuaries.” As I said before, the State is the organized battalion which is being used by the devil to destroy the mystical body of Christ.


Tactics of the Devil

To live the spiritual life according to the teachings of our Lord, we must brace ourselves to expect opposition from the evil spirit. This opposition ranges across the whole spectrum of human nature. The devil is a professional accommodator. He adjusts himself to different people in different ways. I cannot recommend a more informative source of knowledge about the devil’s tactics than the two sets of rules for discernment of spirits of St. Ignatius of Loyola. They are the fruit of Ignatius’ own lifetime struggle with evil spirits, in his own personal life and the lives of his followers in the Society of Jesus.

The single most important thing to know about demonic strategy is how differently the devil tempts what I may call, good and bad people.

Good people would be those who are sincerely trying to do God’s will. They are weak and they fail. They make mistakes and they do, at times, offend God. But their underlying philosophy of life is to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Bad people, on the other hand, are those who are living in sin. They may profess to be Christian believers. They may be in positions of great importance and influence in the Church and society. But their philosophy is basically to follow their inclinations, no matter how sinful these may be, in a word, they are living in sin.

What is the technology, as we may call it, of the devil who is tempting these two classes of people? For those who are seriously trying to remain faithful to God, the devil is unbelievably clever in trying to induce them to worry, and be anxious, and discouraged and despondent, and if possible, even to drive them to despair. The devil’s intentions are obvious. He knows such people too well not to know that he would not succeed by tempting them to obvious sins. What he wants to do, however, is to deceive such persons into thinking that a faithful Christian life is burdensome or boring or oppressively difficult. The devil wants to deceive such person into thinking that such a Christian life is oppressive, it is too much.

How does the devil act in tempting people who are already steeped in sin? His policy is to do the very opposite of how he acts with those who are trying to remain faithful to God. If these sinners have a little faith to begin with, he will deceive them into thinking there really is no such thing as sin. As so many modern psychologists and psychiatrists tell their clients and these are the exact words of a professional psychiatrist published in a book, “Don’t be a slave of your conscience. Satisfy your desires. You are in charge of your own life. You determine what is good and you choose what you want.” If these sinners still have some faith in God, the devil will tell them not to worry. God is merciful. In all these cases, the demonic strategy is clear. Keep sinners in their sinful state of mind, and keep them from ever repenting of their sinful state of soul.

There is one more device of the father of lies that is so important, it is an underlying theme of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical The Splendor of the Truth. This is more than a device or even just a tactic. It is a fundamental premise of demonic strategy. As the Holy Father explains, millions of people in the modern world have been deceived into disclaiming that there is such a thing as an inherently or intrinsically evil action. Nothing that a man does is ever evil by itself. It is only the circumstances, or the motives, or the situation in which people do things which determine the morality of their conduct.

Once people accept this principle, there is nothing which two thousand years of Christianity have taught, are still sins. Why not? Because there are now so many, how well I know, professedly Christian moralists in professedly Catholic universities and seminaries, who teach that abortion, or contraception, or euthanasia, or adultery are not sinful.

Clearly only the devil could have invented such malevolent theories. Yet they have penetrated academic circles that are shaking some parts of the Christian world to its foundation.


The Devil as Seducer

We should say something more about the tactics of the devil, here as seducer of human minds and wills.

The evil spirit seduces the mind by making error appealing. What we now call advertising goes back to the earliest days of recorded history. The ancient Romans publicized what they wanted the people to get with resources they did not have. Today’s world in the most absolute sense of the word is the age of advertising. The average cost of advertising in America today is over one hundred and fifty billion dollars every year. Not incidentally this amount of money is enough to support more than one nation, especially in Africa and Asia.

The evil spirit capitalizes on this phenomenon and literally seduces millions. He makes them think they need what they want, just because they want it.

Take the tragic instability of family life in America. The annual average is now over one divorce for every two marriages. In the future, it will be even worse as the children of broken homes reach marriageable, and -we have to coin a word- divorceable, age. Yet always divorce and remarriage seem to be the easy way out. It looks like a quick solution to a deep problem. And the press, radio and television sustain the falsehood by telling married people of the benefits of divorce. The laws of our country abet the conspiracy by making it next to impossible to save a marriage if one of the partners wants to be released, as they say, from the tyranny of a husband or wife.

The evil spirit tries to seduce not only the human mind but also the human will. He entices our wills by releasing our passions. He wants to arouse the passions of the flesh and, what is less obvious, the passions of the soul. Why should he want to do this? What connection is there between passion and sin? The connection is that of cause and effect. Sin always leaves its mark on the sinner. It is like throwing a bottle of nitric acid into a person’s face and burning out his eyes. Every sin we commit weakens our powers of reason and intelligent perception. The more serious the sin and the more often committed, the greater is this induced darkening of man’s most precious possession, which makes him most like God, his ability to think. Sinners do not think, they emote, and then write learned volumes defending their irrationality.

How otherwise explain the crimes of a Stalin or a Hitler, who sent millions to their death in the cold deserts of Siberia and the gas chambers and hot ovens of Germany? How otherwise explain the mania of abortion?

No human beings, unless inspired by the devil, could be so cruel as to murder millions of innocent children. Only demonic hatred or lust for power and pleasure could explain what we are now witnessing in one once civilized country after another.


How to Deal with Demonic Temptations

The apostle St. Peter tells us how to cope with the evil spirit. Peter knew because already in his lifetime the devil had seduced not a few who had once been followers of Christ. The quotation is a bit lengthy but is worth giving in full.

All of you practice humility towards one another. For God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in the time of visitation. Cast all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you. Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world (I Peter 5:5-8).

What, then, is the first and indispensable condition for resisting the evil spirit? It is a deep, sincere humility of heart.

As St. Peter tells us we are not to be afraid of the evil spirit. Why Not? Because we have the grace of God, one of whose main purposes is to resist the machinations of the devil. At the same time we must be watchful. This means we must expect to be tempted by the father of lies. We must have a clear mind in order to distinguish inspirations from the good spirit and instigations of the evil spirit.

We must be sober, which is a strange word in our drink-preoccupied society. Sobriety, in the language of scripture means temperance in the use of the creatures in our lives. God wants us to enjoy some of the things that He gives us. But, He also wants us to endure, and endure many creatures; He wants us to remove some creatures; and He wants us to sacrifice many things that are naturally pleasing. All of this is locked up in that strange word, be sober.

The devil knows us very well. He cannot read our secret thoughts but he can conclude to our inner spirit by our external behavior, and even, as exorcists tell me, the emotional expressions on our face. When St. Peter tells us not to be afraid of the evil spirit he means more than meets the eye. He means that we should not even show by our emotions that we are afraid of the devil. Our emotional expressions, in what we say, how we react, how we allow our feelings to manifest themselves in our bodies - all of these are dangerous in dealing with the devil. We must not only be at peace inside, but manifest a peaceful attitude in our external behavior. The devil is especially influential in mastering those who are afraid of him.

The courageous behavior of Christ in His temptation by the devil is a pattern of how we should deal with the evil spirit.

One strong recommendation, never engage the devil in conversation. I mean never. If you must tell the devil to depart; if you want the devil to go, you know where, tell him, but never engage him in what could even be interpreted as a friendly conversation. I have had enough experience of people foolish enough to engage in conversation with the devil who have suffered disastrous consequences as a result.

One more recommendation based on St. Peter’s injunction. Be strong in faith. This is not a pious cliché. It means that we exercise our faith, courageously undertaking what we believe God wants us to do and not be afraid of the consequences. The faith we need is the faith of living martyrs in our day. We are to be witnesses of the power of Christ as a divine exorcist and never allow ourselves to doubt that God’s grace in our lives is more powerful than all the demons of hell.

Pray daily to St. Michael the Archangel. He was the first leader of those who led the fallen spirits into their eternal damnation. St. Michael is our chief commander in dealing with the strategy of the master of evil and the prince of this world. Christ assured us He has overcome the world, which means that we have received from Christ to do the same in our demonically plagued society at the close of the twentieth century.

Mary, Queen of martyrs, obtain for us from your Son the wisdom and the power of successfully resisting the machinations of the devil in our lives. Your divine Son told us He has overcome the world and the prince of this world by His life and death on the Cross. Obtain for us the light we need to recognize the instigation of the evil one and the strength to witness to our faith in Christ, the Conqueror of evil until we enter the company of the angels who won their battle against the spirits of evil at the beginning of time. Amen.

Dallas Carmelites, Conference #12, Wednesday 2/28/96, 9:30 AM

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica






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