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The Devil as the Prince of this World

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

Our subject is “The Devil as the Prince of this World.” You might say that this is in contrast with Christ as a Prince of the world to come.

It is the evangelist St. John who concentrates on this title of evil spirit as prince of this world. To be exact there are three passages in the fourth Gospel where Jesus identifies the devil as the prince of this world.

On the first occasion, Jesus is speaking to the people just before He enters His Passion:

“Now is the judgment of the world; now will the prince of the world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” Now He said this signifying by what death He wants to die (Jn 12: 31-32).

On the second occasion, Jesus is speaking during the Last Supper. He is telling His followers not to be afraid. He was indeed going away from them. But He would come back. Then He continued:

“I will no longer speak much with you, for the prince of the world is coming, and in me he has nothing. But He comes that the world may know that I love the Father and that I do as the Father has commended me” (Jn 14: 30-31).

On the third occasion, still at the Last Supper, our Lord predicts the coming of the Holy Spirit and the final victory over the prince of this world:

“I speak the truth to you; it is expedient for you that I depart. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send Him to you and when He has come He will convict the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of justice, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; and of judgment, because the prince of this world has already been judged” (Jn 16: 7-11).

Who is the Prince of this World?

The prince of this world is the devil. When Christ speaks of this world, He means the world of sin. He means the world for which, as He mysteriously declared, “I pray not for the world.”

The world of which the devil is prince or king is the world of unrepentant sinners. Like Lucifer, their leader, they are stubbornly set on doing their own will, contrary to the will of God.

We believe on faith that the devil existed from the dawn of creation. We also believe that the devil entered our world at the dawn of human history.

As we enter this immense subject, it is well to place ourselves in spirit in the time of Christ. The Pharisees were harassing the Savior and plotting His death. So Jesus told him, “The father from whom you are is the devil, and the desires of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his very nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8: 44).

Christ could not have been more clear. The two basic attributes of the devil are that he is a murderer and a liar.

We return to our question. Who is the prince of this world? He is the devil whose very nature is to murder and to lie, in other words to destroy and to deceive. Consequently we may define the world for which Christ did not pray as a world dominated by the devil as destroyer of human life and as deceiver of the human mind.

With this as our foundation, we are ready to examine more closely how Satan, as prince of this world, is both a murderer and a liar. These two traits of the evil spirit are related as cause and effect. The devil lies in order to kill. He deceives the human mind in order to pervert the human will.

Pope John Paul II published two historic encyclicals which might be called two commentaries on how to cope with the devil as the prince of this world. On the Feast of the Transfiguration in 1993, he published The Splendor of the Truth; on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1995, he published The Gospel of Life.

In the two documents, the Vicar of Christ left no doubt who is most hostile to the truth and who is the arch-enemy of human life. It is Satan.

This is how the Bishop of Rome explains it:

God proclaims that He is absolute Lord of the life of man, who is formed in His image and likeness. Human life is thus given a sacred and inviolable character which reflects the inviolability of the Creator Himself. Precisely for this reason God will severely judge every violation of the commandment “You shall not kill,” the commandment which is at the basis of all life together in society. He is then Goel, the defender of the innocent. God thus shows that He does not delight in the death of the living. Only Satan can delight therein for through his envy death entered into the world. He is “a murderer from the beginning.” He is also “a liar and the father of lies.” By deceiving man, he leads into projects of sin and death, making them appear as goals and fruits of life (Gospel of Life, 53).

Satan as Liar

Since the dawn of history, the devil has misled human beings in what may be called an ocean of lies. But in our century he has deceived millions on the meaning of human freedom. Certainly we have a free will. In fact this is the great gift we have received from God to choose to love Him by submitting our wills to His divine will. What the devil does is divorce human freedom from dependence on God.

This is simply atheism in disguise. Each person’s conscience is now being given the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment. The subjective conscience of each person becomes ruler in moral matters apart from the mind and will of God. Conscience thus becomes the final judge for each person of what is right or wrong, independent of the laws of God.

What has been the result? There is a radical conflict between moral law and conscience, between nature and freedom. The objective moral law is ignored or rejected in favor of the subjective judgment of each person for himself.

Do some people also deny human freedom? Yes, ironically many in today’s world who exalt human freedom at the expense of obedience to God’s laws, are the very ones who deny freedom altogether. This is not surprising when you realize that true freedom consists in choosing what we need and not what we want. Anyone who claims this denies that we are ever truly free in anything we choose to do. We become slaves of our own desires. Those who advocate pro-choice make themselves their own gods.

Because the devil is a liar, he is not consistent. He has seduced people into thinking that they, and not God, are the arbiters of moral behavior. This, we know, is not true. But once you make your own will the final judge of what is good, you become a prisoner of your own selfish urges and thus lose every vestige of authentic freedom. On these grounds, “freedom” and “liberty” and “choice” are mere words which the devil put into the human vocabulary as substitutes for self-induced slavery.

The Basic Demonic Lie. The most fundamental untruth which the devil has sown in the minds of modern man is the denial of genuine freedom.

What the evil spirit does not want us to believe is that our freedom depends on the truth. Christ teaches us just the opposite. We are first to know with our minds what God expects of us. We must use our free will to direct the mind to seek and find the will of God. Then, and only then, are we truly free to use our liberty of choice in submitting our wills to the will of the Almighty. This is what the Savior meant when He told us, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”(John 8:32).

By these words, Our Lord means that He came into the world to teach us the truth. Once we know that, we are in a position to use our free will to choose. In other words, our wills can be enslaved if they do not know what God wants us to choose. But if we are duly enlightened by Christ in knowing what to choose, we have true freedom; we have the liberty to choose what we are expected to choose on the way to our eternal destiny.

All of this the devil has been trying, and how successfully, to convince human beings that they, and not God, have the right to decide on what to choose.

The Epidemic of Error. Pope John Paul II is relentless in exposing the widespread dissemination of error in moral teaching. He identifies professedly Catholic universities and seminaries as a seedbed of these errors. He stresses the fact that these errors are especially in the area of sexual and conjugal ethics. So called Catholic moralists are claiming that each person is to decide for himself what is right or wrong regarding contraception, direct sterilization, homosexuality, masturbation, pre-marital sexual relations, and artificial insemination. One result of this moral iconoclasm is to reject even the constant moral teaching of the Church’s magisterium.

The Pope leaves no doubt how believing Catholics are to react to these satanic ideas. They must be condemned as contrary to the truth about man and his freedom. They contradict the Church’s teaching on the unity of the human person, whose rational soul is essentially the form of his body. We are destined for a heavenly eternity in body and soul. We are therefore to serve God here on earth both in body and soul. We are to submit our bodily desires to God’s revealed truth about human pleasure here on earth.

Satan as Murderer

When we say the devil is a murderer, we first mean that he is a murderer of the human spirit. In the vocabulary of the evangelist St. John, there are two kinds of death that we can suffer. We can die when the soul leaves the body as the principle of our natural life. But we can die a second death when the human soul is deprived of its supernatural life, which is sanctifying grace.

The devil was a murderer from the beginning from the beginning of the human race. When he successfully tempted our first parents, he murdered their souls by depriving them of the friendship of God.

Moreover, except for the sin of Adam and Eve, brought on by the devil, our bodies would have been immortal. Consequently the devil is a murderer twice over. He killed the souls of our first parents and their progeny by depriving us of supernatural life. He has also been killing human beings by depriving their bodies of the immortality they would have enjoyed had sin not come into the world through the instigation of Satan.

Ever since the first murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel out of envy, this has been the pattern of all murderers until the present day. It was out of envy that Saul tried to kill the young David. It was out of envy that the Scribes and Pharisees successfully plotted the murder of Christ on Calvary. It was out of envy that the Romans martyred thousands of Christians in the Coliseum. It is out of envy of their fathers that millions of unborn children are being killed through abortion by their unnatural mother.

Our focus in this conference is not on how the devil first brought death into the world. Our concern is to see how the devil continues his double homicide in our day.

The Murder of Human Souls. We believe that our eternal destiny depends on obedience to the laws of God. We further believe that to obey God we must submit our wills to His divine will. We still further believe that, on the last day, we shall be mainly judged on our practice of charity toward those whom God has placed into our lives.

Already in the beginning of the Old Testament, God forbade the taking of innocent human life. The first murder was committed by Cain when he killed his brother Abel. What was the sequence which produced the first homicide? It was the devil who deceived Eve; then Eve convinced Adam to follow her example; then Adam’s sin despoiled human nature by depriving his descendants of the built-in control of their passions; then Cain gave in to his envy of Abel whom he murdered. Thus the devil was the first agent to deprive human beings not only of God’s grace but of mastery over their sinful inclinations.

With the coming of Christ, access to the grace of God was restored to the human race. But Christ also elevated the old law. Not only are Christians to practice justice and therefore not destroy innocent human life. They are to love one another even as Christ has loved them. How has Christ loved us? He has loved us even to dying on the cross for our salvation. How then are we to love others? We are to love them by being willing to die for them.

This is dramatically illustrated in the comparison of two men, both contemporaries: Adolf Hitler and Maximilian Kolbe.

Hitler ordered the murder of millions of innocent Jews and Christians. The holocaust has become synonymous with the mass murder of blameless human beings. What is less known, however, is the instigation behind Hitler’s homicidal mania. It was Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher whose writings can only be described as inspired by the devil. Nietzsche hated God and, like Lucifer, envied God’s supremacy.

The Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe was put in a concentration camp for refusing to follow Hitler’s demonic hatred. Kolbe offered his life in place of a fellow prisoner who was the father of a large family. Kolbe died as a martyr of heroic charity. He is now honored as a saint.

We return to our subtitle, “The Murder of Human Souls.” We believe that the willful destruction of innocent persons is a grave sin. Unless repented, it is punished by a just God with eternal deprivation of the vision of God.

To be stressed is the close relationship between the fifth and sixth commandments: “You shall not kill” and “You shall not commit adultery.”

The verdict of human history is uniform. Sins against chastity lead to sins against charity. That is why Pope Pius XII said what he did when he canonized the young martyr St. Maria Goretti. He told the assembled audience of more than half a million in St. Peter’s Square that in the last half of the twentieth century the devil would seduce millions to abandon their Christian faith by using lustful pleasure as his demonic bait.

We could go down the whole list of the seven capital sins and see that each one is the object of the devil’s temptation. But he specializes in the first two sins of pride and lust. He deceives his victims into thinking they have the right to determine their own norms of morality, and then lures them into every form of lechery.

From pride and lust follow all the sins which the human will can commit. This, after all, is the devil’s main purpose in tempting us. He was condemned to hell for his sin of pride. He wants us to join him in his infernal paradise. Unlike the evil spirit, we have bodies whose most ecstatic pleasure comes from the use of our procreative powers. God has reserved the experience of this pleasure for the sacred precincts of matrimony. The devil has convinced whole nations to the contrary. Is it any wonder that one of the accepted definitions of “hell” in the English dictionary is “unrestrained fun or sportiveness?”

Murder of Human Bodies. All that we have said so far may be called a prelude to what is most characteristic of the modern world. It is the mass murder of millions of innocent human beings, whether born or unborn.

In the United States alone the commonly accepted figure is about one and a half million abortions every year. The actual statistics, which the media are careful to hide, indicate that between ten and sixteen million unborn children are murdered each year by their bewitched “mothers.”

Why the difference in numbers? Because most contraceptives are abortifacients. They not only prevent conception, they kill the newly conceived child.

What is really demonic about this global homicide is not the sheer number of innocent persons put to death. It is the fact that these murders are recognized and approved and we should say even mandated by civil law.

In one nation after another, abortion is now legalized. Commentators throughout the world are speculating on what happened. What happened is that so many once Christian cultures have reverted to their pre-Christian status.

To appreciate this conclusion we should see something of the moral condition of the Roman empire before the rise of Christianity.

The Roman empire into which Christianity was born practiced abortion and infanticide on a wide scale. Chronologically, the exposure of unwanted infants came earlier, and was sanctioned by Roman law. By the first century B.C., Romans were gradually getting away from exposure, while abortions were on the increase. The distinction they made between infanticide and abortion was due to the difference between emotional reactions to what they must see and what they could avoid seeing.

From the outset, therefore, the Christian religion was confronted with a society in which abortion was the rule rather than the exception. The Church reacted immediately and vigorously. The Didache(composed about 80 A.D.) told the faithful what they must not do: “You must not procure abortion. You shall not destroy a newborn child.”

Christian teaching could not be more explicit. From the dawn of Christianity, the murder of unborn or newly born infants was identified as the work of Satan. This doctrine has not changed. It was Christ, the Divine Author of human life, who forbade the crimes of abortion and infanticide. Those who believe in Him are obedient to His teaching. As a result, child-murder all but disappeared among those who believed in Jesus Christ. People with even a vestige of Christianity passed laws that were directly contrary to what the pagan Romans had legalized.

What happened? The same agents of Satan, the prince of this world, who had authorized the killing of innocent children in pre-Christian days succeeded in de-Christianizing one modern society after another. The result was inevitable. Civil laws now not only permit but, we may say, prescribe abortion and infanticide.


We have no illusion about the price we followers of Christ have to pay to remain faithful to our divine Master. Throughout the Gospel of St. John, we are told that when Christ came into the world the world rejected Him. We are told we cannot both love Christ and the world. We are warned, or shall I say promised, that the world will treat us as it treated the living God when He came into this world.

As the Vicar of Christ tells us we are to expect to die a martyr’s death or certainly live a martyr’s life. But we should have no fear. Why not? Because Jesus has overcome Satan who is the prince of this world. After all, we are destined for eternal life that will never end.

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica

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