Angels and The Devil

1. Regarding God reconciling the devil with himself. How can God do that if the devil does not want to be reconciled? Wouldn't that be a violation of Satan's free will?

2. If a Catholic believes in the existence of a personal devil, must she also believe in an eternal Hell as the devil’s destination?

3. Implied in the previous question is a deeper question of what it means to be Catholic. Does it mean being bound to what Church Councils have said?

4. Do you believe in angels?

5. Does the devil exist?

6. What is the purpose of the devil?

7. Can the devil be explained without the concept of hell?

8. Does believing in a personal devil who is eventually reconciled with God, contradict the Catholic faith?

9. Recently, I read a book called "Hostage to the Devil" by a Catholic priest named Fr. Malachi Martin. Undoubtedly, you know of him and must have read his works. His exorcism experiences seem to indicate that there is a spirit (or several spirits) that are pure evil--call them Lucifer and the demons. Can there be such a thing as pure evil? Does universal salvation apply only to fallen men, and not to fallen angels? I think it does not apply to angels, since Christ died for humanity. That being so, there are evil angels on the loose, and Christ and the Apostles did battle with them. What do you think?

10. A Muslim friend and I were having a discussion about the devil. It was in the context of Jesus fasting for forty days in the desert. I said that the devil didn't exist. His reaction was, "What?!" I clarified things by saying the devil does not exist in a physical form such as a tree, nor does he look like the guy with the horns and the pitchfork. These things came about from man's need to manifest the devil in a tangible way. He said he doesn't believe in the physical existence of Satan either.

Well, if the devil doesn't exist then I figured it was some hallucination or bad trip Jesus was on while he was fasting. (This is the part where you set things straight for me!).

11. How do we know that Satan made himself into the Devil? Are there Scriptures/Books omitted from our present day Bible that tell more about the Creation than Genesis? It seems the devil was already present in the account where the snake tempted Eve.

Q 1: Regarding God reconciling the devil with himself. How can God do that if the devil does not want to be reconciled? Wouldn't that be a violation of Satan's free will?

A 1: First of all, I refer you to the discussion of the existence of angels and devils. For the sake of this question, however, let us assume there is a personified evil that we call "devil" or "Satan". Forgiveness always lies with the offended. If God chooses to forgive and continue to love, that is not a violation of anyone's free will. In fact, as I have reflected in other questions, forgiveness is essential to being God. The moment that God refuses to forgive, he ceases to be God. We might ask ourselves if we really believe in forgiveness. It is hard to imagine that someone who had actually been forgiven by God and knew that he/she was forgiven would not, then, desire that forgiveness. It is usually our self-hatred and embarrassment that lead us to shy away from forgiveness and decide that we cannot, and therefore do not want to, be forgiven. The power of forgiveness is that it tells we are still good and lovable--no matter what we do. Who would refuse that?

Q 2: If a Catholic believes in the existence of a personal devil, must she also believe in an eternal Hell as the devil’s destination?

A 2: No. Even if there is a personal devil, there is no reason to believe that this devil is outside the realm of God's love and mercy--certainly not for eternity.

Q 3: Implied in the previous question is a deeper question of what it means to be Catholic. Does it mean being bound to what Church Councils have said?

A 3: Certainly the teachings or pronouncements of Church Councils carry a special claim on our assent. But we must remember that the Catholic faith is a living faith and continues to grow. Not all pronouncements are of the same weight. We might take a lead from what the Second Vatican Council says about inerrancy (truth) in the Bible. In the Document “Dei Verbum” (Word of God), the Council Fathers state the only thing that must be accepted as true in the Bible is what is necessary for salvation. So, for example, things of a scientific nature in the Bible do not have to be accepted as true, because the Bible is not a scientific book and the science references are not necessary for salvation. The same can be said of Conciliar pronouncements. The only things that must be believed are the statements that are necessary for salvation.

Q 4: Do you believe in angels?

A 4: The answer is not a simple one. But here goes. Angels have been a part of popular Jewish and Catholic faith for centuries. Without going into too much detail, the references in the Old Testament to "the Angel of the Lord" which occur before the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel, are more properly an earthly representation of God's own presence. After the exile, angels are thought of as truly distinct beings and are even given names such as Michael, Raphael and Gabriel.

In a sense, angels filled the gap between God and humanity. After all, the concept of God as omnipresent was a contribution of Hellenistic thought. The Hebrew idea was that God was in heaven (cf. psalm 115, 1-2). So how could anyone claim to have personally experienced the presence of God? Angels fill that need. When Tobiah, for example, sets out on a journey and is accompanied by God, he identifies that presence as Raphael.

The idea of angels also fits into the cosmology of the biblical world. That is a cosmology we do not share today. I don't believe it is possible to disprove the existence of angels, and the idea is clearly of some comfort and support to those who do believe in them. At the same time, I don't think that their existence is essential to the message of salvation or to how we choose to respond to Jesus in building up the Kingdom of God here and now. Since we know so little about "being", particularly in the non-material world, it is possible that there is a form of intelligent existence between God and humans.

Finally, my own personal belief should be not the determining factor in what you choose to believe. I am willing to share and speak about my belief, but ultimately, you must make a decision for yourself.

Q 5: Does the devil exist?

A 5: This answer is not so easy. That evil exists is a given, but whether evil exists as a being, is another matter altogether. There is a long tradition both in the scriptures and in the history of the church about the existence of a personified evil that we call the devil or Satan. Some elements of the scriptures can be explained by the cultural and cosmological understanding of the biblical writers. Certainly one of their aims was to explain the existence of evil, since, as they believed, God is good and all that he created is good. There is a desire within all of us to do what is right, yet there is also a propensity for doing what is wrong. A personified evil (devil) can be part of the explanation.

Speaking for myself, I do not buy into the existence of the devil. I think the concept trivializes the problem of evil and provides a convenient distraction from our own tendency to do what is wrong or harmful. The phrase “The devil made me do it” makes for entertaining comedy. But it is the idea of the devil’s existence that for some makes the comedy possible and for others turns the comedy into reality.

In the grander scheme of things, it does not really matter. Given the history and long-standing belief, it is certainly possible that there is a devil, and many people choose to believe that. It just does not matter to me.

Q 6: What is the purpose of the devil?

A 6: This question implies two things: 1) that the devil exists; and 2) that God devised a plan of creation that included the devil.

In regards to the first, I refer the reader to the previous discussion of the existence of the devil. As to the second, I have a problem with the notion that God devised a plan of creation that included the devil, since the creation stories indicate that everything God created is good. The devil, as such, would not have a purpose--at least not in the divine plan. Over the years, there is a simple statement that has been used in an attempt to take into account the concept of free will and at the same time shore up the idea that everything God created is good. It is that God created Satan an angel, and then Satan made himself a devil.

That answer, however, is more than a little simplistic. The concept of free will plays an important role in discussing human actions and reactions. However, assigning that same concept to spiritual beings is risky at best. It might be better to conclude that if the devil exists at all, his purpose is to undo the good of creation, and that is not a purpose that could have been assigned by God. Although at any given moment it might seem as though the devil is succeeding, in the end his purpose is self-defeating. I would prefer to say that it is we, ourselves, who advance the cause of evil. But in either case, my faith tells me that the fulfillment of God’s kingdom is inevitable.

Q 7: Can the devil be explained without the concept of hell?

A 7: There has been a movement for a long time to view the notion of heaven and hell in terms of relationship, i.e. heaven is being with God and hell is being without God. That would seem to make it difficult to explain the devil without the idea of hell. Again, I would refer the reader back to my first answer.

Q 8: Does believing in a personal devil who is eventually reconciled with God, contradict the Catholic faith?

A 8: The easy answer is no. As I have stated in earlier questions, the existence of a personified evil called "Satan" or the "Devil" is problematic at best and not essential for the faith of a Christian. Nevertheless, for someone who does believe that there is a devil, there is nothing in the Catholic faith that prevents one from believing that God can reconcile the devil to himself. Clearly God can forgive and reconcile any being he chooses--for any reason he chooses.

Q 9: Recently, I read a book called "Hostage to the Devil" by a Catholic priest named Fr. Malachi Martin. Undoubtedly, you know of him and must have read his works. His exorcism experiences seem to indicate that there is a spirit (or several spirits) that are pure evil--call them Lucifer and the demons. Can there be such a thing as pure evil? Does universal salvation apply only to fallen men, and not to fallen angels? I think it does not apply to angels, since Christ died for humanity. That being so, there are evil angels on the loose, and Christ and the Apostles did battle with them. What do you think?

A 9: There are several points in your question that do not lend themselves to a simple response. At the core is whether or not one believes in a personified evil, regardless of what name is used. As you may have noticed in previous questions, I do not believe in a personified evil. Therefore, the book you mention holds no meaning or value for me. But for those who choose to believe in angels--good or bad, another, more profound issue arises, namely salvation.

Several times we are assured in our scriptures that God loves us. In fact, we are told that God's love is proved precisely because it is unearned. Is it conceivable that God would love us, and not the angels who had fallen from grace? That certainly smacks of capriciousness on the part of God and arrogance of the part of humanity. On the other hand, if all creation is loved by God, then how could the fallen angels be left out of the gift of salvation?

There is no question that evil exists in the world around us. But the notion of some devil roaming about the world seeking to destroy God's creatures should be finally put to rest.

Q 10: A Muslim friend and I were having a discussion about the devil. It was in the context of Jesus fasting for forty days in the desert. I said that the devil didn't exist. His reaction was, "What?!" I clarified things by saying the devil does not exist in a physical form such as a tree, nor does he look like the guy with the horns and the pitchfork. These things came about from man's need to manifest the devil in a tangible way. He said he doesn't believe in the physical existence of Satan either.

Well, if the devil doesn't exist then I figured it was some hallucination or bad trip Jesus was on while he was fasting. (This is the part where you set things straight for me!).

A 10: First of all, no, Jesus was not hallucinating nor was he on a bad trip. The temptation story in the desert is not meant to be taken literally in that Satan appeared to and tempted Jesus. Rather, it is meant to be an example of how all of us are tempted, especially when we find ourselves weakened in one way or another. For Jesus, the setting was the experience of being hungry after fasting for forty days. The three temptations of Jesus can be considered as attractions to power, honor and glory. Other names can be given to them also, but they are indicative of the kind of temptations that we all experience--temptations to turn away from God and our total dependence on God.

Q 11: How do we know that Satan made himself into the Devil? Are there Scriptures/Books omitted from our present day Bible that tell more about the Creation than Genesis? It seems the devil was already present in the account where the snake tempted Eve.

A 11: I am not endorsing the statement that Satan made himself into a devil. That concept is one attempt to explain evil in a world that God created good. As for the Scriptures, there were many books written during the time of the early Church. The canonical list of books that we have now, are the ones that the Church, over a number of centuries, identified as inspired. The other books were not included because, in the experience of the Christian Community, these books did not reflect our faith, and in fact many of them were Gnostic in nature and content. In any event, the books not included did not reflect the faith of the early Church.