Distilling some of the ideas in my book on Thomistic angelology, I published a previous column in Crisis on the massive intelligence and powers of angels. The flip-side of these spiritual faculties, as Aquinas points out, is the existence of a dark kingdom, using the same intelligence and power to prevent the spread of God’s kingdom, get more recruits, and consolidate the powers of evil in the world. In Luke 4:7, Satan declares that power over the kingdoms of the world have been delivered to him, and he offers Jesus a share in this power, if only Jesus would worship him; Jesus avoids the temptation, but does not contradict Satan’s claim of power. With some restrictions, the power is there. The spiritual panorama we are facing includes extraordinarily intelligent, gifted, influential and murderous demons capable of outsmarting all the forces of “the other side.”
Contemporaries of Pope Leo XIII have mentioned the Pope’s account of a vision of Satan, asking for and receiving permission to subject the Church to a test of fidelity for 100 years. Whether this vision is factual or not, future popes have certainly discerned diabolical opposition—one thinks of Pope Paul VI’s warning about the “smoke of Satan” in the Church, and Pope Francis’ recent remarks ascribing the persecution of Christians to the devil, and exhorting “Let us renounce Satan and all his works and seductions because he is a seducer.”
We should not lose sight of the tremendous advantages that Satan has in his project of subverting the Church—with the unflagging help of human minions bent on exterminating Christianity, and even sometimes aided by great numbers of well-meaning Christians and Christian leaders, anxious for the Church to gain secular acceptance.
The greatest advantage for Satan is the experience he has had with Christians for two millennia. He probably doesn’t know whether most individuals who have died are in heaven or purgatory. But he probably has very accurate knowledge of all those human souls who have joined his forces in hell; and also has knowledge of just exactly what sort of things brought him or her to this final destiny. This very extensive knowledge of the sort of things that manage to get people into hell is his “trump card.” Certainly enticing people to murder and steal and lie would be on his agenda. But sex may have pride of place.
Why on earth did Our Lady of Fatima in the 1917 visions to the three Portugese children point to “sins of the flesh” as the main cause of souls ending up in hell? We may scratch our heads on this. Fornication, adultery, sodomy, pornography, etc.—understandable peccadillos? Mere vicissitudes that “flesh is heir to”? No gross deeds like murder entailed, unless we consider the abortions caused by those seeking to avoid the consequences of sex, or the use of abortifacients for purposes of “safe sex.” Certainly God’s slaying of Onan (Genesis 38:10) is misunderstood, isn’t it? Just for refusing to procreate?
On the other hand, we have that very vivid picture of God in Genesis commanding the human race to procreate, and imbedding the sexual instinct in human nature, so that it becomes imperious, almost like a command coming from within for many. Apparently God really wants to “fill the earth,” and does not share the worries of the “overpopulation” pundits!
In other words, it seems that attempts to truncate procreation in the human race, in such a way as to block God’s plan, amount to an egregious offense against God himself, not to be taken lightly.
And here we come to one example of the extraordinary subtlety of Satan, made possible by the advances of modern science—the advent of the contraceptive pill. Other contraceptive methods—condoms, IUDs, diaphragms, spermicides, etc.—were unmistakably gross methods for blocking conception. But the Pill, which can even be used legitimately to control certain female irregularities, takes on the aspect of a mere healthy “tweaking” of hormones for birth control or birth prevention (in spite of the unhealthy side effects which are occasionally reported in medical studies).
But probably the most important “side effect” of the Pill is on religion, and especially for Catholics. The dissent that ensued Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae on contraception, set the stage for endemic dismissal of Petrine authority in faith and morals. In the present milieu, homilists at Mass know that preaching about Catholic laws regarding contraception, divorce, sodomy, etc. would keep some in their congregation from entering their doors again. But being silent, as is usually the case, doesn’t help, since the news spreads far and wide that this is the Catholic position. Liberal pastors preaching indiscriminate inclusiveness hope to stem the tide, but their congregations are diminishing before their eyes. The Anglican church has been the trailblazer in relaxing traditional standards of sexual morality, but even their novelty of female priests and bishops has not been able to get their congregations back into the pews.
The Case of Medjugorje
Another example of Satanic ingenuity, which I have already commented on in these pages, has been the devil’s strategic concealment of his hatred for Mary—even appearing as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), as the Virgin Herself, or “Gospa,” at Medjugorje. Becoming rather uncharacteristically loquacious, the Gospa has appeared approximately 40,000 times to six seers since 1981, promoting the “new age” nostrum that “all religions are the same,” and other heresies, encouraging disobedience to bishops, occasionally creating great “signs” (Mat. 24:24) in imitation of the “miracle of the sun” at Fatima, and making predictions that have never taken place. The ultimate triumph for the devil would be to receive approval from the Church, in spite of the heresies, disobedience, etc.
The brilliance of this maneuver consists in the popularity of Marian devotions among some Catholics, who might be looking for shrines more relevant and exciting than Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe, etc., and with apparent frequent direct encounters with the supernatural. And Satan, famous for his “I will not serve,” will be enabled to slip in little snippets of spiritual rebellion here and there, depending on the credulity of his audience.
It is frequently objected that, in spite of their disobedience to bishops, and the disobedience of their patron Franciscans to Vatican mandates, they promote traditional Catholic spirituality—prayer, fasting, confession, Mass attendance, communion reception, saying of the Rosary, etc. So do other Catholic cults like the Old Catholics and the SSPX, also noted for disobedience to the magisterium. Jesus reversed the effects of the sin of Adam through his obedience, St. Paul tells us. Mary, the Lord’s handmaid, if she was present in Bosnia-Herzegovina would certainly not frequently urge disobedience to Bishop Zanic, as did the “Gospa.”
Islam and the Antichrist
A third diabolical but admittedly sagacious chess move, as I have also indicated in these pages, consists in inspiring ill-fated quasi-ecumenical rapprochements with Islam, encouraged by Catholic churchmen presumably ignorant of the history and main tenets of Islam, which the evangelist Franklin Graham characterizes more realistically as an “evil religion, fomenting hatred and wars.” There is no doubt that many Islamic leaders would consider it a compliment to be heralded as the Antichrist.
“Dialoguing” with a religion that is out to destroy or subordinate all other religions compromises otherwise commendable campaigns of Christian “outreach.” Ecumenical efforts, as initially indicated by Vatican II, must focus on the “separated brethren”—especially the Orthodox sister churches, which, unlike Protestant breakaways, share the Apostolic Succession with Catholics. A final reunion of Christians, Satan knows, would wreak havoc with his plans for hegemony of the Kingdom of Darkness. Misplaced attempts to harmonize with Muslims will help delay and postpone that dreaded threat of the reunion of Christendom. Strategic dialogues with Islam make even less sense than dialogues with other non-Christian religions, such as Buddhism or Mormonism, which are at least less violent. In days gone by, in the face of the massive Church burnings, murders and abductions being perpetrated on Christians in the Middle East, another Crusade might be called. But crusades on the battlefield, in the old sense, are no longer possible. The minimally adequate response now, rather than appeals for dialogue, would be a demand for cessation of that violence which is doctrinally approved in Islam.
Mary’s Prescription Against Satan
No doubt the main fear that the Master of Evil has about his present strategies misfiring, is his searing memory of the warning of God about enmity from a woman, and about his “head being crushed,” in Genesis 3:15. He, with his thorough knowledge of Scripture, might also feel anxiety about interference from that Woman mentioned in Revelations 12:1, arrayed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and crowned with twelve stars.
And he may also be aware of the measures offered by Our Lady of Fatima in the twentieth century to counter the victories of the dark kingdom, and help stem the thoughtless lifestyles that lead to eternal confinement in Satan’s underground fiefdom:
Look, my daughter, at my Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me; and say that I promise to assist, at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.
For those of us hoping for salvation in spite of a world descending into mire, this offers one solid solution to the spiritual derangements mentioned above. Maybe too easy! But it would be an understatement to say that the plea for reparation to Mary’s Immaculate Heart has gone unheard. I think of a Sunday homily by our liberal pastor who, after reading the parable of the Prodigal Son, and saying how beautiful it was, skipped commenting on the Gospel, and spoke about how, thankfully, in the spirit of Vatican II, we have put behind us the excess of devotions like the rosary, nine First Fridays, five First Saturdays, scapulars, medals, novenas, etc., and now are emphasizing adherence to the Word. (I am not quite sure what elevated type of spirituality he was recommending. I accused him afterwards of being on a soapbox, and he, a proud supporter of the “Call to Action” and “Voice of the Faithful” movements, answered enthusiastically, “I love it.”)
I recently finished reading James Hitchcock’s book, The History of the Catholic Church. It offers much grist for thought. In the final chapters, as Hitchcock made his way into twentieth- century modernism and the aftermath of the 1960s, the event that caught my attention most was the story of the remaking of the Immaculate Heart Sisters.
Instead of growth, the number of sisters in the United States declined by over 65 percent in the period from 1965 to 2010. The most celebrated “renewal” story in the United States was that of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Los Angeles, whose program of aggiornamento was guided by the prestigious psychologist Carl Rogers (d. 1987), a one-time student for the Protestant ministry who had developed a negative attitude toward religion. The Immaculate Heart “renewal” was a paradigm for many others that followed: Many religious, having abandoned both traditional spiritualties and traditional ministries, created vacuums waiting to be filled by new absolutes—left-wing politics, environmentalism, and above all feminism.
Ironically, it was nuns dedicated to the Immaculate Heart, shedding their habits and often their vows, who were pioneers, leading the way to developments quite removed from the intentions expressed by Our Lady. The surest weapon against the onslaughts of Satan (that tremendously resourceful and humanly invincible enemy), as many saints have taught us, is confidence in, imitation of, and devotion to the Queen of the Angels, who is far ahead of the strategies and nefarious designs of the fallen angels. This weapon, recommended by saints and the traditions of the Church, may be a “last resort”; but still offers us the best hope for the defeat of the subtle moves of a supremely evil Mastermind.
Editor’s note: The thirteenth century Romanesque German sculpture pictured above shows the “Devil Noting Down Man’s Sins.”