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Satanism: A Catholic Appraisal
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
I would entitle this subject Satanism: A Catholic Appraisal. Until a few years ago we seldom spoke about satanism, in fact even about satan, and would hardly know what satanism is all about. But things have drastically changed. There are numerous books, professional and popular, published on the subject of satan and satanism. Among the several books that I have in my stock is a very popular book called the satanic bible. There are other books published, especially by Christians, more frequently by Protestants, again best sellers warning about satan and his influence in the world. The best selling novel, The Exorcist, has I believe, sold more than a million copies and the movie by that name based on the book is setting an all time, absolutely all time, box office record. I have seen people standing, literally, for half a block to get into the movie houses that are featuring The Exorcist.
There is a growing number of satanic organizations throughout the country, national like the American satanic Brotherhood and local churches of satan are being organized and legally recognized. Clearly some evaluation is called for naturally in the light of our Catholic faith. For the sake of convenience, I will distinguish the three main forms of satanism known to past and present history, about which the Catholic Church has some very definite ideas and counsel to offer. These three historic forms of Satanism, while they can be given different names, I would identify as philosophical satanism, polytheistic satanism and cultic satanism. While they overlap, that is, no one of these is completely distinct and independent of the other, nevertheless each has a long history behind it and can be described separately.
Philosophical satanism is really another name from a different angle for what I think we are more familiar with as Manichaeism. The term Manichaeism is derived from its founder, Manes. He was a middle-eastern oriental who had been a Zoroastrian, a follower of Zoroaster [who] became a Christian, more or less, never fully converted and before he died shook the foundations of Christianity by introducing the theory of two gods. A good god, who was the creator and source of all the good things in the world, and a bad god, who was the creator and source of all the bad things in the world. In general the good god is the creator of things spiritual. The bad god is the creator of all things material. Matter, therefore, is evil and while there were many levels and forms of Manichaeism, in general, theoretically the idea was to gradually emancipate oneself from the body in order that the evil god, not spirit merely, but evil god might not have master over one, however each persons final destiny, as indeed the destiny of the world, depends on which god will finally prevail. If the good god prevails in me, well, clearly I will be a good person and will be happy after death. If the evil god prevails, well, I will be unhappy. And it finally depends not on mans free will Manichaeism denies human freedom. There is a cosmic struggle going on between these two forces in the world and it is all a question of which one will prevail. The name just for the record of the good god was (Sounds like: a-hora-mazda). The name of the evil god ultimately won the creator of all things evil was (Sounds like: o-re-man). And just to take this philosophical satanism seriously, we should recall that St. Augustine was a Manichaean for nine years, so that many of our profoundest writings among the Fathers are the anti-Manichaean writings of Augustine after his conversion.
What then is satanism on Manichaean principles? It is the recognition, or better, the claim that there is not one but there are two ultimate principles in the universe. They are utterly distinct and the evil principle is not subordinate to the good principle. The evil principle is not created. He, if you wish, or it, if you prefer, is uncreated. And it offers, as you can gather immediately, a remarkably facile solution for the existence of good but especially of evil in the universe. It absolves god, that is, the one true god in whom we believe, of having anything to do with evil. Clearly, the whole idea of a god that is the one true god permitting evil is denied by Manichaeism. The Manichaean tendency has been in the Church ever since. Its principle outcropping in modern times was in John Calvin, one of the cofounders of Protestantism. According to him, (now he did not use Manichaean vocabulary, but he did profess Manichaean ideas), he claimed that god from all eternity foreordained some people for heaven, other people for hell, irrespective of their use of their freedom, which he denied. Well, clearly this is only a latter day and camouflaged Manichaeism. No single god could possibly, irrespective of human freedom, condemn those who he so decided, to condemn to an eternity of hell. Calvinism is really a resurgent Manichaeism. He really postulated two gods, a good one who saves and an evil one who condemns. Thats philosophical satanism.
Polytheistic satanism. As you know most of the human race is polytheistic. Non-believing, at least not clearly believing in, one god but believing in a plurality, hence polytheists, many gods. While they will generally have some one chief deity whom they consider the outstanding, they will have many deities with varying names. In India there are three principle deities but no one has counted. One estimate is there are 10,000 deities among the Hindus. Among these deities they can be graduated or stratified from the very, very benevolent to the very, very malevolent. Some, in other words, are good and some are evil.
Polytheistic worship, which loosely you might call pagan worship, though I never use the word you see I teach these religions. Better, I teach about them and I do not use the word paganism, which is a misnomer. But those deities, and they are given genders, men or women, it is masculine or feminine gender deities. The benevolent ones are to be invoked in order to obtain such favors as presumably, because they are benevolent, they will confer on condition they are invoked. The malevolent you dont invoke, you propitiate. Just as the benevolent deities will not do you favor unless you ask them, the malevolent ones will do you harm unless you propitiate them. So in Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto and the various forms of polytheistic religion, the good deities are invoked, but for our purpose, the evil deities, who in our language would be demons. And in fact there are passages which I think you sometimes recite in your songs that all the gods of the Gentiles are demons depending on the translation. For these would be the evil deities, evil by presupposition that they will surely harm unless they are propitiated. These evil deities demand propitiation not only verbally but ritually and often with great sacrifice, including human sacrifice. While human sacrifice to these evil deities in the major polytheistic religions like Hinduism or Buddhism has been reduced to a minimum, mainly by the governments that have entered the picture and forbidden such sacrifices by law, they are nevertheless practiced. They are most certainly practiced among the so-called primitive or tribal peoples who are polytheistic.
And among my students, especially in Canada where I have been teaching for the last seven winter terms mainly about these various religious systems outside of Christianity, this is my specialty. I have students, priests for example, from Africa who will tell me how extremely difficult it is to make converts to Christianity from certain tribal peoples because they are so dreadfully afraid after having been converted to Christianity that they will be harmed by these evil deities since they have stopped propitiating them. And often they will lapse into their paganism again out of fear because then they will say that some evil which befell them came to them because they had become Christian and had ceased to invoke, that is, propitiate, the evil gods.
I just read in the Cincinnati Inquirer, which your chaplain brought me yesterday, that in Africa a baby was born with four eyes and three ears. It died shortly after birth, but has been embalmed and is being put on medical display, that is, for scientific study. Well, whatever took place in the womb of the mother, whether its kind of a Siamese twin situation which didnt fully materialize into two human beings joined together as you know, or whatever the reason medically speaking or physiologically, immediately after the birth took place it of course was announced throughout the country I think it was in Nairobi. Word went out from the government that this was not due to the lack of propitiation of certain native evil deities so that the people might not be afraid, that is either pregnant women or mothers in general, might not be afraid that maybe for lack of having done enough sacrifice or ritual in favor of these evil deities that now their children are going to born monstrosities.
So that floods, famine, sickness, disease, epidemics are regularly attributed to the evil deities venging themselves on people who have not been sufficiently worshipful. Now this clearly is a form of satanism where what we would call satan, or in this case plural, demons, are literally worshipped as gods. This is going on now in upwards of, I would say, one billion people.
The third form, cultic, which touches us more immediately in the United States. Cultic satanism may be synonymized as witchcraft. It may also, of course, be mixed up with either philosophical or polytheistic satanism. But generally, cultic satanism of the type that I am now going to describe, originates among ex-Christians and with emphasis, among ex-Catholics and to our horror, among ex-priests. What does cultic satanism believe? It believes as we do that there is a devil who is a creature. Now the notion of just who satan is may be somewhat unclear among these people and they may in fact sort of deify him and then you would have an approximation of either polytheism or Manichaeism. But most cultic satanists do not think through on philosophical or theological grounds what they are doing. It is, if you wish, an activist type of satanism. It recognizes the evil spirit as very powerful and not have, generally speaking, through the reading that I have done and the consultation that I have done. It seems to have its genesis in people who had been Christians but somehow fell on evil ways and then discovered, and either they or somebody else for them, must make the discovery that if you somehow give yourself to the evil spirits, they will do things for you that youve never enjoyed or experienced before.
Consequently the cultic form, and thats what the word means, the cultics are worship of satan not unlike the way we understand him except we dare not worship him. We ask God to protect us from him. But these people, believing that he is very powerful and very shrewd (hes both), that if persons invoke him (and notice this is different than polytheistic satanism because here it is invoking the evil spirit), that he will, we would say by Gods permissive providence, but thats not quite the way the satanists think, that he will then grant favors to his devotees which others who ignore satan will not receive. It is, if you can imagine the word, it is invoking satan and offering in worship and sacrifice in order to obtain his favor, demonic grace, in return for humble worship. Now here we must distinguish this demonic worship on two levels. Generally speaking, most satanic worship, and this I repeat is mostly among ex-Christians, is to obtain benefits for oneself or others from the devil. But the devil may also be invoked in order to obtain, if you please, not exactly benefits but harm, injury for someone against whom, well I, have ill feeling and whom I want somehow to injure or if possible to destroy. So we distinguish between satanic worship which is benevolent and satanic worship which is malevolent. In both cases among the satanists are two classes: on the benevolent level there are satanists or so closely in league with the, well of course you see we dont call it anymore evil spirit, but the spirit we consider to be evil by his nature. Well, they are so closely in league with the devil that they can obtain favors from him just by the invocation. Others on the other hand, and this is more common, must go through certain rituals, and provided a person knows what ritualistic to perform, what words to use, what incantations to practice, what gestures to go through, the effect will take place. So too the malevolence. There are some people, satanists, who by their mere invocation of satan can harm. Their will act, their intention to injure and being in league with the evil spirit, the person or persons will be harmed at a distance. Or and, and much more commonly, they will too have to practice certain ritual, use certain formulas, go through certain gestures, and provided they do them in the right way and they are very secret formulas which theyve got to practice. Anyone who practices those formulas or pronounces those words, believing of course that satan will grant what is asked for, the favor, in this case to do injury, will surely be granted.
By way of very summary conclusion, because I could, as you can see, give a series of conferences on this subject. What should we as Catholics think of the remarkable upsurge of satanism in the Christian world? First weve got to know that it is going on. Pope Paul has more than once said that satan has perhaps never been more active since apostolic times than today. First then, to recognize the fact, secondly, to realize that satan has always, from Eden on, has always sought human agents to assist him. Satan does not work alone. He works through others. Consequently it behooves us to use discernment of spirits, and the plural here is important, spirits. Between the spirit that is of God or the good spirits, the angelic hosts who do the bidding of God and the evil spirits who are permitted by God as we know to tempt and lead people into sin, we must practice discernment and pray and ask God to grant, especially the leaders in our Church, the light to distinguish the good from the evil spirit, because the evil spirit always hides his evil intentions. In the history of the Church, he has managed to lead people astray who are taken in by ideas and certain practices and in general to (remember this is the teaching of the Church), we can recognize the evil spirit operating through human agents by the manifestation of pride and the practice of lust. This is the way he misleads people and often, very good people, unless they are profoundly humble, they can become victims of the evil spirit through pride and unless they control their bodies, their passions can be exploited by the evil spirit of pride and lust, so much so, that we can speak of the evil spirit of pride and the evil spirit of lust as manifesting himself among people in the world, including some in the Church, and therefore we should ask for ourselves first and then for others that they might recognize the evil spirit who is working (we know he doesnt sleep) day and night to mislead especially the dedicated persons in the Church away from Christ either through pride or through sins of the flesh.
Finally, as St. Peter tells us, lets remember the evil spirit goes around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, he says, strong in faith. The word faith in St. Peter in which this passage occurs is not only faith in the sense of believing, it is faith, especially in confidence, in trust. Last, God will never permit us or anyone else to be tempted by the evil spirit not only beyond our strength but what we seldom say beyond our light. We have enough faith to recognize the machinations of the evil spirit and enough strength to resist him but, and with this I close, we must have great confidence that Christ, Who is God in human form, Who allowed himself to be tempted by the devil, and remember if God become man was tempted by the devil and He wants us to learn from him, what is Christ telling us? We are also going to be, we are also being tempted by the devil, so not to be surprised but to be absolutely sure that because Christ overcame the devil before us and we are in His grace then we have both the faith as light and the faith as confidence. To first recognize him and distinguish the evil spirit from the good spirit and secondly, no matter how strongly he may tempt us, we can resist him, but we must pray, and not just for ourselves, but for all the people of God, because it is especially the people of God that the devil is tempting so they might become people of satan. Lets ask our Savior to help us recognize the devil and resist him.
Conference Transcription from a retreat that Fr. Hardon
Mother of Sorrows Recordings, Inc.
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