The Devil Rides Out

While the recent riots slip into the memory, discussion of how to deal with the offenders continues. Indeed only this week the question was raised on Radio 4’s Moral Maze.

A prominent argument is that, crime for crime, we are punishing rioters more heavily than would normally be the case. But are there particular reasons which justify this?

Some would say that we need to give people an object lesson and that harsh sentences will drive the message home. I rely on memory here, but I recall that the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 were only checked by the use of substantial prison sentences.

Another view is that civil disorder can spread very quickly and that the maintenance of order is the first imperative – without which nothing else is possible. This for example was the reason why the Catholic Herald, after much soul-searching, decided to support Franco and the National Front in the Spanish Civil War. It believed that the heavily left wing Popular Front was simply unable to restore and maintain order. Indeed many of its internal factions were committed to disorder as an objective. I am, of course parti pris here because my late father was editor at the time.

But one aspect does not seem to have been considered. It came to me when I found myself describing the riots as diabolical. And I realised that I was giving the description a real meaning which went beyond the metaphorical.

I mused on this until suddenly the phrase “Evil, be thou my good” popped into my mind. You will recognise this from Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book 4, if you want to look it up). It is the Devil speaking.

Most crimes and evil acts seek an objective beyond themselves. Thus we do not steal for the sake of stealing but to benefit from the good of the items we steal. We do not lie because our aim is deceit, we lie because of the good that deceit will bring us – and so on. But in the riots many people were apparently doing evil for its own sake. They took pleasure in its exercise deliberately. They cried out, with Milton’s Devil “Evil, be thou my good.”

Many of the actions which took place were not extremely grave: the breaking of a window here, the receiving of stolen goods there. Far more serious crimes are committed every hour of the day. But, to the extent that they share the quality of evil for evil’s own sake, they need to be marked with a unique disapproval. Deep within the public’s unconsciousness lies an instinctive awareness that the Devil is abroad.

My title is of course pinched from Denis Wheatley’s 1934 novel. I knew Wheatley slightly towards the end of his life. He always spoke with interest on the subject of the occult. And he had no doubts about the dangers of the Devil and his servants.

*    *    *

You may be interested in the Moral Maze programme and also the BBC 2 Horizon programme Are you good or evil?, on Wednesday evening. They should both be available via the internet. Interestingly, in the Horizon programme, a major researcher discovers that he had the genetic profile of a psychopath, being related to the notorious Lizzie Borden who

…………………….took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

I wonder what your reflections on the riots have been?

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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86 Responses to The Devil Rides Out

  1. claret says:

    Terrible as the events of the riots were there were still far worse crimes against humanity happening in other parts of the world. I am not too sure of the precise statistic but it goes along the lines of : “Since the end of the Second World War there has only ever been 24 hours of complete peace in the world.”
    Somehow evil lurks beneath the surface of virtually all mankind. I am always intrigued when Jesus says to the man ; “Why call me good, only God is good.” This is often used as ammunition against the deity of Jesus and the Trinity but i think it is because the man finds himself in the presence of goodness ( and only God is good.)
    The rest of us fall short but where we are in the presence of someone we consider to be a good person then our limitations, and sinfulness, become more obvious to us.
    As for the Devil then we have the words of him who is good, who saw satan cast out of heaven.

  2. Ion Zone says:

    I really find this subject interesting. Does the Bible itself paint the Devil as a pure source of evil? I ask this because, as many of us will already know, our perception of what the Devil is has been tainted by some surprising things, for example Dante’s Inferno.

    Do we truly understand what the Bible teaches about evil and the Devil? After all, we normally perceive the Devil to be the master of Hell when, if I remember correctly, the Bible says he is actually prisoner there. We think of it as being the fire into which evil men are cast, but the actual fire mentioned in the Bible is spoken of as if it were an incinerator. We rarely acknowledge the ‘Final Death’ – the death of the soul promised to evil men.

    But, then again, how much trust can we put in that? After all, a lot of what we know about this comes from a list of those who will be cast into fire in Thessalonians. Is Thessalonians trustworthy? After all, the list of those who will be cast into the fire is rather notorious for its seeming to change to reflect the prejudices of the translator rather than what the text actually says. And Thessalonians itself is certainly a lot harsher in its language than Jesus was. Is this a reflection of truth, or was Paul simply trying to shock his apathetic audience into action?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Ion Zone,
      I must say I like to see posts which bring in blblical issues. 1 and 2Thessalonians are definitely polemical in that they take the form of letters written by Paul to convince argue and cajole. Like the other letters of the New Testament they were not written down as standard exercises in doctrine but took the form of passionate communiques. In 2Thessalonians is the strange idea that if you turn from the truth of the gospels then God will bind you thus into delusion in order to cement you into punishment!
      I can’t find any lake of fire castings into in Thessalonians but there are plenty of lists elsewhere which are enough to make us pall. As far as I can see these letters are the work of a man in history and culture which bear nonetheless the pattern of the divine-they say that giving oneself to lawlessness isnt a great idea…Of course Paul will have had strong views on law being a pharisee himself and to that degree his thinking and speaking would be partial. None of the writings of the New Testament can be taken in isolation and I find it best to balance out Pauls dire threats with Jesus’ forgiveness of the man next to him on the cross-But I wouldnt much fancy the place of the chap on the other side, the one who mocked that is.

  3. Rahner says:

    I can’t really understand the media hysteria over the riots. They were largely opportunistic and I don’t think they tell us anything new about UK society. I don’t think demonic explanations of human behaviour are useful in analysing the causes of crime or in providing a language to use to promote for behavioural change.

    • st.joseph says:

      Thank you Quentin. I thought Miltons Paradise Lost, Book 4 very interesting.
      I have often felt tempted by Satan, two wills fighting against the other. I just presumed it was the Devil. What else could it be? I often found myself arguing with him, and not wanting to sell my soul to him. I used to think when I was young that I would kick him in the ‘face’ No I dont think I was going mad-or depressed. I think when one is trying to be closer to God,one is closer to Satan. Those are the ones he tries to tempt the most.He has already got the lost souls-so he thinks! We need to be viligent-always on the watch!

  4. Bob says:



    There is so much in this.
    In relation to moral considerations, you will doubtless recall the debate that came hot on the heels of the riots: do they demonstrate a wholesale decay in moral values or something more individualistic ? Mr. Cameron was keen to adopt the former point plainly motivated, the cynic might say, by political expediency i.e. seeing an opportunity to take on the guise of knight in shining armour. Mr. Blair had once adopted a similar approach to the tragic Jamie Bulger case claiming that it revealed widespread societal moral decay.
    It is worthy of note that Blair recently declared that this position was erroneous and that the Bulger case and the recent rioting were essentially people-specific problems arising on the fringes of society. I err towards the Blair position.
    There is no doubt that the rioting is symptomatic of moral decay. The reality is, however, that the condition does not affect the whole of society simply those elements that were, for one reason or another, incapable of resisting the urge to offend. Why did they do it? Quite simply, their self-control failed. Why did it fail? Perhaps their nurture was lacking, or peer pressure overwhelmed them, or greed, or their DNA or a combination of any of the above.
    On any showing, and from any perspective, whether Catholic, buddhist or humanist, the offending arose out of darkness. I think much of it, in the final analysis, on some level or another, boils down to a lack of love, a lack of light, however you want to put it.
    In relation to sentencing, as a criminal barrister I can only offer the following thoughts, trite as they may be. Each sentence imposed by the Court turns on its own facts – facts specific both to the offence and the offender. A key factor in determining the sentence is the degree of culpability. Any sentence should be motivated by a desire to rehabilitate, punish and, perhaps most significantly in this context, to deter.
    In relation to the riots, the Courts were obviously at pains to send out a clear message, in the public interest, that such behaviour will not be tolerated by the criminal justice system. Sometimes a message of deterrence needs to be sent out by the Courts. The sending of such a message inevitably means that someone who may have been more leniently dealt with in different circumstances might receive a much more Draconian penalty for the sake of the wider public interest. I think that such an approach is sadly, on occasions, unavoidable. Equally, a sentencing decision that ignores personal mitigation and is devoid of compassion should, at all costs, be condemned.
    The plain fact is that the Courts in such circumstances can face impossible dilemmas, balancing often irreconcilable positions in an effort to produce a just outcome. The riots have thrown up such factually complex sentencing exercises in relation to which it is truly impossible to make any general statements of principle.
    There is a world of difference, for example, between a close friend of the man who died smashing a window in utter frustration and grief and the member of a looting group who makes sure that the particular Nike trainer he is trying on fits perfectly.
    Perhaps one of the most pernicious aspects of the rioting is the fact that the second offender engaged in cynical criminality on the back of the first who may have had a legitimate and heart-felt reason to protest.

  5. Michael Mahoney says:

    Is it a case of the devil rides out or a case of our animal nature rides in?

  6. st.joseph says:

    Do we have an animal nature?

  7. st.joseph says:

    I wouldn’t say a new born baby enters the world capable of sinning, neverthless we are all born with the stain of original sin from our first parents.
    The catechism of Christian Doctrine says ‘Although Baptism cleanses the soul from the stain of original sin, it still leave us subject to many of the effects of original sin, such as bodily weakness,suffering,death and concupiscence, or that rebellious principle within us, that strife between the spirit and the flesh which remains for the trial even of the most virtuous.. Yet these evil emotions,although they incline us to sin,are not sinful as long as they are not voluntary and not consented to. They even increase our merit when faithfully resisted.
    A child reaches the age of reason at 7 yrs.

    • st.joseph says:

      I would also like to add the way I see it, When you see the example of the young people who went to see the Holy Father or just look at the young people who are present at the Songs of Praise, choir singers etc and the compare it to the rioters-what is it that makes them do it compared to a christian upbringing.

  8. Vincent says:

    I can scarcely better st,joseph’s description, but perhaps I can add a word or two. A baby cannot properly be described as a sinner, but we are all born in need of redemption from our state of sin — perhaps expressed better as state of separation from God. For most of the Church’s history it has been held, though never as an article of faith, that a child who dies unbaptised goes to a place of natural happiness called Limbo. But more recently the powers that be have in effect said that they don’t know, and it’s quite possible that God’s mercy swoops them up into heaven. The Church has always been used to giving definite and crisp answers, but of late she has been much more open to accepting that this does not always meet the case.

  9. Horace says:

    I was not aware of ‘Lizzie Borden’ but her case reminds me of a similar (but not so publicised) case in Ireland some 25 years ago.
    Some relatives of mine had a neighbour who was a mental nurse and his son was a diagnosed schizophrenic, at that time discharged from hospital and living with his parents.
    One afternoon the son came into my relatives house asking if his mother was with them and when told that she wasn’t, asked if they knew where she was (they didn’t).
    The following day they discovered to their horror that before he came in to them he had attacked and killed his father with an axe and that later when his mother returned he had dealt with her in the same way.
    It seems fairly clear that this young man was in the grip of a schizophrenic delusion and what, if any, part the devil had to play is arguable.

    In the “Lizzie Borden” case Lizzie was, I understand, acquitted for lack of evidence but it has been suggested that she was a ‘psychopath’ – a diagnostic category often difficult to differentiate from schizophrenia.
    It has also been suggested that she committed this ‘crime’ during a ‘temporal lobe epileptic attack’ – a suggestion that I feel to be possible but unlikely (see my comment on the post “Grandmama” on 1 Sept 2010 ).
    Once again the part played by the devil is not obvious because the behaviour, while appalling is not, as far as we know, consciously sinful.

    The idea that the devil may have had a part to play in the genesis of the recent riots is much more appealing.
    There are two suggested (‘scientific’) explanations for ‘mob’ behaviour of this kind:-
    a) People in a crowd tend to think similarly and therefore become less aware of the true nature of their actions.
    b) A crowd tends to attract people of similar beliefs. The resulting behaviour is not irrational, it is simply the product of the beliefs of members of the group.

    Both of these suggestions are probably more or less correct, either way a rioting crowd or mob would seem to be fertile ground for satanic manipulation!

  10. mike Horsnall says:

    I’ve never really felt that I was anywhere big enough a fish to attract the personal attentions of Satan believing that he spends far more time roaming those corridoors of power than checking out my garden. But I have at time definitely sensed the presence of evil either around me as force or as emanating from the hearts of other individuals who appear to have lost part of their inner landscape to darkness, chaos and terror as if the war within us ebbs and flows across the territory of the mind.

    I agree with Horace that there are instances of behaviour which may seem evil but most likely represent a breakdown of chemistry-we are not always all human all of the time. I’ve suffered one or two quite serious bouts of depressive illness in my own life and reflect on them from time to time. One of the queerest things about the ‘common cold’ of psychiatry is the experience of moving from black, bleak suicidal despair -self directed murderous rage in other words- back to relative equanimity in the space of a couple of weeks thanks to medication. I know, having also worked for Samaritans over several years, that this kind of experience is common and it tells me that far more of our emotional lives than we care to realise is the simple result of brain chemistry.

    Having said all that it is also the case that human beings are pack animals and as such very liable to willingly relinquish the rigors of self control for something far more luxurious- the loosing of the self from its leash of conscience, the failure of self control that Bob speaks of is I think probably momentarily a hugely potent force and does represent the whisper of temptation and allure.

    I have a good friend in the Anglican Camp who was for nearly thirty years Diocesan Exorcist. He had a very astute and well worked understanding of the presence of the demonic which went something like this -from most to least common:

    1) The ability of individuals to somehow unconsciously project their powerful inner turbulence on to others and in some cases things.
    2) A kind of as yet not understood neutral ‘imprinting’ wherein psychic turbulence can become located in a place.
    3) Some interruption in the normal passage of the soul through death and onwards.
    4) The presence of frank evil.

    My friend said to me recently that he still held a healthy respect for the dull and brutish power of the demonic which, though defeated and in rout, would still, whenever given the slightest leeway, lash out in crude and loutish rage; I have no reason to disagree with him.

  11. John Nolan says:

    I don’t think the Catholic Church takes the Devil very seriously these days. The older rite of Baptism has two exorcisms (more in the case of adult Baptism) whereas the newer form has none; what is called the prayer of exorcism is nothing of the sort. The short lesson from I Peter which compares the Devil to a roaring lion who circles, seeking whom he may devour, is not in the revised office of Compline. The 1999 rite of Exorcism was drawn up by people who had never performed one; exorcists found it less effective and were told by Cardinals Ratzinger and Medina that they could continue to use the rite of 1614. The prayer to St Michael, which all Catholics once knew by heart and recited after every Low Mass, is now rarely prayed. It looks very much to me like unilateral disarmament.

  12. st.joseph says:

    I agree with the fact that illness can make someone do evil. we are still imperfect human beings with the stain of original sin, although pride may make us think differently.
    Satan feeds on this,but the Lord will do the judging in the end.
    The Devil will work in a lot of different disguises!Especially to confuse!
    I agree with John Nolan on the rite of Baptism.
    Why was the prayer to St Michael stopped.?
    I think we are not to think of Satan now a days,in case we are considered to be off putting to christianity.but if we dont see evil for what it is, we are seeing through rose coloured glasses!
    We see the Goodness of God when we are able to turn it around!

  13. Quentin says:

    I think that st. joseph is on to something here. When we look at good actions, the fact that we can see natural explanations for them doesn’t prevent us from seeing the presence of God’s grace. Reciprocally, the fact that we can see natural reasons for evil actions doesn’t mean that the Devil isn’t lurking behind them. I speculate of course; but it seems to make sense.

  14. mike Horsnall says:

    Yes. There is also I think a natural reluctance in the Christian to speak of the Devil. This is I think for two reasons. Firstly we do simply do not want to give room to his ugliness and arrogance. My initial Christian experience was in the charismatic church where they do things very differently and are forever confronting this and binding that. I prefer the silent resistance and refusal to yield an inch of the holy ground of our lives -along with leaning towards the Lord who’s we truly are; and then to do as much good as I possibly can…. which is sufficient battle any old day of the week!
    The other reason for our reluctance is fear. We know there is a strong adversary and the business is no joke. Roaring lions do roar and cause us to huddle together timidly sometimes until someone remembers who we are and helps us stand up.That someone is Christ indwelling us as his Church coming often to our aid in the form of our neighbour or our friend. Also in eucharist or in the myriad other ways the Spirit of God strengthens us and bids us not to be afraid.

  15. Michael Mahoney says:

    In anwer to your question, St. Joseph, we might say with the psalmist, “You have made us little less than a god”.
    However, there is a disconcerting similarity between the conduct of the mob of school children who pursued another child into Victoria Station and stabbed him to death and that of a pack of hounds tearing a fox to bits or, in respect of Mr Renyard, his seeming delight in slaughtering not just one fowl but the whole flock of poultry and, in the same vein, the mobs who delighted in looting and vandalising our high streets.
    One might adduce a common element here, but not original sin or the devil.

    • st.joseph says:

      Thank you Michael.
      We could say that when God made Adam and Eve,He made them in His image.
      Then we could say ‘well then- who tempted them’?? Their animal instinct!!Nothing to do with Satan in the form of a serpent. Or what?

      • Rahner says:

        Only a fundamentalist can believe that human beings once existed in a paradisal state at the start of human history from which, in virtue of their own “free” actions, they “fell” – thus bringing pain, suffering, moral weakness and death to the rest of humanity. On this interpretation God would appear to be a sort of cosmic scientist who starts an experiment that goes disastrously wrong and ends up with the Black Death and Auschwitz rather than Eden. The current formulation of the doctrine of original sin given in the 1994 Catechism is, in my view, completely inadequate

  16. st.joseph says:

    Rahner. Do you think that God could not have forseen the future, or do you think He Made a mistake!!
    I think He put them to the test. Like He does to us.

    • Rahner says:

      I would suggest that original sin is the biological, behavioural and cultural inheritance of human beings that was formed in the context of an fierce evolutionary struggle for survival in an extremely hostile environment in the very remote past. It is an inheritance that gives rise to a tendency to selfishness, aggression and destructive behaviour. Of course, we simply don’t know why God chose to make/permit this type of evolving world….

  17. mike Horsnall says:

    So Rahner tell us your ‘adequate’ answer, give us your positive and not your negative. I know the view of original sin seems strange-though you caricature it -How do you account for these things? For certainly we began somewhere and certainly man and woman came to be ‘self aware’ We know that our beginnings are shrouded in mystery and that the Genesis story is not to be read in a full literal sense. So without caricature or setting up a straw man to knock down, how do you honestly account for the presence of what we call concupiscence? Do you recognise the term or do you simply view sin as behaviour we don’t like? Do you recognise evil in itself at all and if so from whence do you think it springs?

    • Rahner says:

      “though you caricature it” – in what way do I caricature it?
      Are you telling me you don’t have ANY problems with the traditional formulation?
      I agree much about human origins will remain unknown and so we can only speculate, but as I have already suggested original sin can be seen as our the biological, behavioural and cultural inheritance formed in an evolutionary struggle in an hostile environment.

  18. st.joseph says:

    Rahner. Do you not believe that Jesus cast out demons.?That He was not tempted in the desert?
    Where do you think these demons come from.

  19. Rahner says:

    Are you asking a question or making a judgement?
    The judgement is for God to make – unless he has delegated it to you? And of course it depends on what you mean by “a Christian”.

    • st.joseph says:

      A Christian is someone who believes in the Trinity- 3 Persons in One God- Father Son and Holy Spirit.
      People can do many acts as a Christian -but the true meaning of a Christian is one that has been Baptised.
      Your comment ‘ It is ‘likely ‘that Jesus did possess some paranormal powers’.
      Perhaps you would like to explain that?

      • Rahner says:

        Well, I can assure you that I am a baptised RC and that I accept scripture and tradition – interpreted in an ongoing manner.

  20. Quentin says:

    The question of Rahner’s religious standing does not seem to take the question of original sin much further. While I imagine that most contributors are Catholic there are no boundaries here. It is sometimes helpful to know an individual’s religious starting point in order to understand their views. but everyone’s contribution has a right to be judged on its own merits.

    On the question of original sin it might help to go to — where the topic is discussed at length.

  21. st.joseph says:

    Quentin, I missed those posts. I think I had not been a blogger for long.
    Yes, what you say is true it is good to know where one is coming from.
    I think Pope Benedict said that eveloution is not necessary as a Doctrine of Faith- I maybe wrong.
    I also believe that it is good to question and knowledge does broaden ones mind.
    But I will not question the Divinity of Jesus.! So it is a good thing to know where one is coming from, because if we doubt that, everything else to my mind will collapse like a lot of dominoes.

  22. John Nolan says:

    There are certainly no boundaries and I for one would welcome any contribution which makes
    us think even if in the last resort we may ‘sentire cum ecclesia’. By all means be prepared to refute arguments but a starting point might be to take them seriously.

  23. mike Horsnall says:

    Rahner-I must have posted my question this afternoon at the same time as you were posting your answer…thankfully you have, albeit narrowly, avoided being burnt at the stake so I can come back to you on this very interesting theme. Firstly I think the view about original sin being if you like the ‘cover story’ for evolutionary quirks is quite reasonable. It is a pleasure to see your thought process laid out clearly for inspection I might add.

    I would think that many knowingly or unknowingly share a similar view yet remain oblivious to what might be the theological problem underlying- namely that it meanders towards a thought that without original sin the whole shebang including the need for the crucifixion and a Saviour falls down flat-I guess thats why you disagree with the doctrine of original sin and seek to replace it with something else? I should add here that I don’t think we are much judged, any of us, on our theories of origins.

    As to the second point of the ‘traditional formulation’ of Adam and Eve I had no idea that a ‘literalist’ interpretation was still part of catholicism hence the notion of caricature. Does anyone here still adhere to the literal story?? I was taught that belief as part of the Evangelical system and absorbed it for awhile.Gradually it became too difficult too believe that two human beings suddenly arrived on a new planet fully grown and compis mentis so I was mightily relieved when I became a Catholic that no one was going to insist upon what you call the ‘traditional formulation’ any more. Mainly Rahner I am simply and genuinely interested in how you work your belief in with your relgious practice, I’ve’ been a Christian’ some 25 years or so now, most recently I find the whole thing completely and utterly incomprehensible yet at the same time I find myself increasingly devout!

    • Rahner says:

      Mike, The church has not given a definitive interpretation of the doctrine of salvation or the atonement. But I accept that any reinterpretation of original sin will also lead to an reinterpretation of other doctrines e.g., in relation to salvation and the role of Christ. Salvation is not to be understood in terms of a sacrificial/juridical transaction which Christ endures/repays by suffering on our behalf. Rather salvation is the process by which God identifies himself with the suffering of his incomplete creation and seeks to heal and nurture this creation so that it comes to have a fuller and richer life in Christ.

      The following are extracts from the CCC which present a fairly traditional view of original sin:

      390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

      397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

      399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.

      400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.

      1008 Death is a consequence of sin. The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. “Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned” is thus “the last enemy” of man left to be conquered.

  24. mike Horsnall says:

    PS Quentin thanks for the link to that excellent thread on this blog-we seem to be at the same line again in a roundabout sort of way.

    • st.joseph says:

      Mike, you say ‘we seem to be at the same line again in a roundabout way.
      Maybe so, but the subject as I read it was Quentins Post.’The Devil rides out’.
      I can not see the comparision of evolution and Satan.Are we saying here that Satan is not a fallen angel-or can we forget all about the Devil?

  25. st.joseph says:

    My thinking on this is a little limited, but however I will ask a silly question if I may be excused of my ignorance. That is if we have evolved from apes why has it stopped ,and there are still apes in existence?

    • Quentin says:

      It’s not a silly question but what the evolutionists believe is that the apes and humans had a common ancestor. The line split and the ancestors of modern apes went down one path of development, while our ancestors went through gradual stages in which their brain size grew and they became able to walk upright etc, and eventually became modern man. The Church has no problem with this, as long as we accept that the human soul was created directly by God.

      • st.joseph says:

        Thank you Quentin.
        I can accept the Ressurection of the body more than I can accept that.
        Jesus speaks about our ancestors, but I seem to think He began with Abraham.
        He also mentions Adam!
        I somehow believe that Jesus would have said something more about our ape ancestors if that were true,Or maybe He did and I didn’t read it!

  26. Iona says:

    To pick up on a few points made earlier (since I’ve only just caught up with this thread and galloped through all 45 comments at a sitting):

    I have no difficulty at all in believing in the devil, and I frequently say the prayer to St. Michael. I note that it is still said at the end of a Low Mass according to the Tridentine Rite (which I occasionally attend). Mike, I note you feel you’re “not big enough to attract the personal attention of Satan”, but I doubt if Satan is bound by human ideas of what’s big and what’s little, any more than God is. No sparrow falls to the ground without Him, and every hair of your head is counted. And by the way, I loved your description of yourself as finding your faith “completely and utterly incomprehensible” while simultaneously you are becoming “increasingly devout”! That describes my own position very well!

    John, you’re afraid the Church has gone in for “unilateral disarmament” with regard to the devil, but I am in possession of a CTS booklet on Exorcism which was published in 2008, from which it seems that demonic possession is very much recognised and being actively counter-attacked.

  27. Iona says:

    On evolution…

    Rahner, you said “original sin can be seen as our biological, behavioural and cultural inheritance formed in an evolutionary struggle in a hostile environment”. I should like to be told what you see as evidence for this, in terms of what specific hostile circumstances were regularly encountered by evolving humans, and how they (the hostile circumstances) would or indeed could have been countered by “riot-like” behaviour on the part of the early human groups that were subject to them.

    I’m sure you will avoid falling into the trap of a circular argument such as “well, it must have been like that, mustn’t it, to explain how we got to be as we are”.

    And still on evolution… I think the fossil record shows that not only have modern humans descended (at least physically) from an ancestor shared with apes, but that there have been other branches of humanoid creature (best-known, Neanderthal – but there have been others too) now extinct, and what their spiritual status is we can only guess. In fact, I think this has been discussed previously on Second Sight, and no doubt Quentin will be able to point us to the reference.

    • Rahner says:

      I don’t know what you mean by circular. After all, the traditional doctrine of original sin seeks to account, in part, for current human sinfulness with reference to the past. In many fields of empirical knowledge we explain aspects of the present by reference to the past.

  28. Quentin says:

    st.joseph, I obviously didn’t make myself clear. We have no ape ancestors, but we share a common ancestor with the apes. The last common ancestor was eight million years ago, or five million years ago — depending on which scientific claim you accept.

    Perhaps I should also clarify what Jesus knew. If you had met Jesus when he was, say, 6 months old and asked him about evolution, your response would be the infant babbling of a tiny baby. If you waited until he was grown up, and then asked him about antibiotics or what was going to happen on 9/11, he would be flummoxed. Jesus was a true human being, not God in disguise. In his human nature he could only know what a human could know — although that of course was to include many things which his Father revealed to him. Of course he had a divine nature, but that’s an infinitely different thing. We don’t understand this because it is mystery. And much of the squabbling in the early Church was about the exact statement of Jesus’ possession of two natures.

  29. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Quentin.
    I do understand what you are saying, and I am not underestimating your understand of our ancestors.
    Let me just make my understanding a little clearer.
    I know Jesus had two natures, He had to learn the Jewish Scriptues
    God would know the future (perhaps not the details as you describe-but neverthless He would have a good idea as to how mankind through sin will develop also through Grace.
    It is through this Grace I see it that all good things for our Salvation will continue on earth if His Will is kept
    Surely we have enough reason to see all this in what has been written in Holy Scripture since the Prophets.
    We can work from Genesis through to Noah ( if that is counted in to-days philisophy) right the way through to the Annunciation, which has all been described in the Old Testament.
    Then if we move on to the Book of Revelation to St John. when through the Cross the desciples sees the sin soiled world washed clean in the Precious Blood of The Lamb.
    St John the evangelist in his prophetic vision see ‘a new heaven and a new earth- the Holy City ,the new Jerusalem, ccoming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying; Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them,And they will be his people and God himself with them shall be their God.
    And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. and death shall be no more, nor mourning nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are pased away (Rev.21-4

    Quentin I have no objection to anyone trying to find out where we come from, but if the world tried to find out where we are going I firmly believe it wont be until then that these things will come to pass!
    I dont read the Bible as a ‘child -‘ I see it -Genesis to The Last Gospel. The Holy Spirit moving from page one to the end continuing through to now , the Holy Spirit Working in us all

    The end of the Revelations the Epilogue I believe and I am not God it is an important message for

    • st.joseph says:

      Quentin also I will add to my comment.
      Of course I understand Jesus also had a human nature.
      ‘He was born of the Virgin Mary and was made man’.
      As some might believe that He was just that.
      Just to make it clear!

  30. Michael Mahoney says:

    I am not surprised that those whose antennae are attuned to the devil, the occult or the paranormal, find evidence of what they are looking for. It has been the case throughout history. We only need to think of the terrible fate of those, often the deranged, eccentric or disfigured in society, accused of witchcraft, riding on broomsticks and of supping and copulating with the devil.
    Perhaps, more astonishing to us in the 21st century, we have those cults in Africa and even Britain, some calling themselves Christian, who have abused and killed adults and children in the pursuit of demons.
    I think we should steer well clear of the devil. He has done enough damage to the innocent
    On a more metaphysical note, could anyone tell me who or what tempted Lucifer to fall from grace, and, if you tell me pride, where did he get it from?

    • Bob says:


      A refreshing injection of realism enters the fray ! I agree that these things have a tendency to develop into self-fulfilling prophecies. Presumably, Lucifer exercised free will (motivated by pride) vested in him by God.

  31. mike Horsnall says:

    Pride and envy I think.
    According to the story back in the days when angels and archangels had freewill Lucifer,a being in Gods creation, envied the worship due only to God- and was thus cast down to the earth. Michael I agree with the steering clear bit though I do think there is a big difference between ‘awareness of’ and ‘obsession with’. The Vicar I spoke of earlier as Diocesan Exorcist is a perfectly normal little chap who’s chief hobby is making model aeroplanes-he has no evident disfiguring characteristics, no antler helmets and nor does he keep a broomstick in the cupboard.

    • Bob says:


      I suppose Lucifer’s advocate (!) might ask the question: why was I created in a way that meant I was going to fall to Earth ? Put another way, couldn’t God have just created a nice Lucifer and avoided all the trouble ?

      • Vincent says:

        I suspect that the answer here is the same as it is for the question: why didn’t God make humans better people so that they could all go to Heaven?
        Presumably because he held that free will was the greater gift. We can actually choose God, and, by the same token, we can refuse him. So us, so Lucifer.

  32. mike Horsnall says:

    “The church has not given a definitive interpretation of the doctrine of salvation or the atonement”
    This is a very interesting comment Rahner. I have noticed that ,compared to systematic protestant salvation doctrines there is a less formulaic approach in the Catholic fold. But if one looks at sayCCC456-460 then there is a pretty clear formulation taking place that Jesus is involved with the expiation of sins. If you could elaborate a little that would be helpful…I guess the emphasis would be on ‘definitive’ would it not?

    • Rahner says:

      The Church has certainly tolerated a range of speculation by theologians on the nature of the atonement etc. The CCC does use the language of sacrifice and satisfaction but seems to draw back from giving a detailed account of the “mechanism” of salvation (found in some cruder accounts of the atonement) and it affirms that “it is love to the end that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction” (616).

      • hs905883 says:

        Bob & Vincent:
        I find it less difficult to believe that the spiritual realm (Angels etc) were originally given free choice in its pure form. Freed from the ravings of the flesh one would imagine a clearer view perhaps. The thought that Lucifer really was free to choose is quite staggering but I seem to remember in the story that Lucifer was an archangel who went astray of his own volition. We go astray through our own volition but also because our scales are loaded by a fallen disposition and so we will INEVITABLY sin though we also have a choice in the matter.
        I have from time to time come across a kind of rueful feeling (usually after confession) when I realise that I came very close to ruining something precious -and thereafter was much more appreciative of that thing. So with God and the Fall. There is a strong biblical discussion through Paul’s letters about the second Adam being greater than the first etc.

  33. JohnBunting says:

    mike: being a lifelong aeromodeller, I would have loved to meet your Diocesan Exorcist! Some years ago, someone actually made a flying model in the form of a witch on a broomstick.

    I’m sure some of us here have read Rene Girard. In one of his books, “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning”, he explores the idea of Satan as the seducer and also the accuser of mankind: pesenting himself as an angel of light, offering a spurious freedom which leads to conflict, then restoring peace – for a time – by providing a scapegoat to resolve it. This false freedom is what Jesus rebukes, in saying to Peter “Get behind me, Satan”.

    I’ve long been fascinated by this strange poem of William Blake:

    “To the Accuser who is The God of This World:-

    Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
    And dost not know the Garment from the Man.
    Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
    Nor can’st thou ever change Kate into Nan.

    Tho’ thou art Worship’d by the Names Divine
    Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still
    The Son of Morn in weary Night’s decline
    The lost Traveller’s dream under the Hill.”

  34. mike Horsnall says:

    Now that IS a strange poem indeed-has a ring of veracity to it whilst remaining almost completely incomprehensible…still that yer Blake for you!! I will look up Rene Girard so thanks for the reference.

  35. mike Horsnall says:

    Sorry John I missed the ‘s’ off thats.

  36. Iona says:

    I think Blake felt that God, as presented by many of the churches of his day, was a very negative and unsympathetic character, dealing more in disapproval than in compassion. “Old Nobodaddy”, he called such a God. One of his jottings, addressing “God” and probably never intended for publication, goes:

    If you have formed a circle to go into
    Go into it yourself, and see how you would do.

    Still, the poem John quoted above is very ambiguous. How could an “accusing” God be what the “lost traveller” dreams of? Unless the lost traveller is having a nightmare?

  37. mike Horsnall says:

    I think the ‘accusing’ probably relates to satan in his role as ‘the accuser of the brethren’ . It might also be that the ‘lost traveller ‘ who ends up entombed under the hill has been seduced away by the evil spirits who dwell therein yet disguised-there is a ring of melancholy, nostalgia and betrayal is there not? Perhaps we should look it up!

  38. Bob says:

    I understand the free will – “greater gift” – argument and was content with it for years. However, it seems to me, now, that free will comes at too exacting a price to be explicable as a loving gift. I see its direct consequences every day in my working life. I am sometimes exercised by the thought that God could have taken an easier route and the fact that he didn’t really troubles me. I guess the mist will clear at some point !

    • mike Horsnall says:


      We all think that. The question is why do we all think that? For if one sits quietly and weighs it, despite all the horror carnage ad apparent chaos this world is unnutterably, radiantly beautiful. All of us partake of that loveliness at some time in our lives; all of our lives are shot through, no matter how briefly, with skeins of beauty which promise for the future about which we know little if anything.

      Could God have taken an easier path? Perhaps the question really should be phrased could we have taken an easier path? Could I, could you? Could the thief, the soldier, the lover or the judge have taken easier paths? Its worth perusing the book of Job about this one but for me God deals with what actually IS.

    • Quentin says:

      It seems to me that one can come at this problem from two angles.

      First, philosophically. By definition freedom applies only when we can genuinely make a choice. In many instances, what may appear to be free is either not free, or the degree of actual freedom is very small. But we can scarcely hold God accountable when we freely choose evil.

      Second, experientially. I can look back and see all too many instances when I have made the choice for evil rather than the good. But I cannot blame God for that.

      I could, I suppose, wish that some brain defect would take away my moral freedom. Or perhaps that I should become some kind of non human animal, swapping the prospect of salvation for the certainty of annihilation at death. But I relish neither.

      • Bob says:


        Compelling words and much food for thought.

      • What a dull human heaven the Catholic intelligentsia so often seeks to perpetuate through the notion of “certainty of annihilation at death” for all but our own particular species.

        What precise ‘certainty’ do you hold Quentin, when Christian leaders such as John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon and a large number of Catholics over the years have found no sensible reason to exclude non-human creation from the realm of redemption?

      • Quentin says:

        I can’t speak for the Catholic intelligentsia, and my certainty is a working rather than a philosophical one. It is based on the lack of any evidence in Revelation, and the absence from non human animals of spiritual faculties such as free will — which are in themselves immaterial (although in this life they work through the material).
        But I am confident that if, when you get to heaven, your happiness is marred by the absence of non human animals they will immediately be present to you.

      • I’m not sure what metaphysical yardstick could actually be applied to the discernment of spiritual faculties among creatures other than ourselves. I tend to regard many near-death experiences as the most potent form of revelation to have been given to our general state of spiritual understanding over recent decades.

        Not that there’s any biblical basis for discriminating between the souls of human or non-human species, as the same Hebrew term ‘breath of life’ is applied without distinction between species in Genesis.

        I guess it’s just ‘obvious’ to many religious practitioners that animals exude spiritual qualities which are present in most human beings but equally ‘obvious’ to many Catholics that non-human existence perishes upon their physical demise.

  39. st.joseph says:

    A hypothetical thought-we will never know the answer too-but if Jesus hadn’t been sent to make Sacrifice for our sins,would our conscience develop with the knowledge of the 10 Commandments.
    I know that is the reason He came , because man could’t save himself.
    We have a lot to thank The Lord for!

  40. mike Horsnall says:

    Something else thats interesting about this. We talk of free will in the same way as if speaking of the snows of yester-year… I think when we humans use the label ‘freewill’ we are often expressing nostalgia or longing for a state which we yearn after but know not to be accessible-we have only the forensic judicial idea as a remnant. Rather as if we know deep in our hearts that we have fallen- and that free will has gone…So we look to heaven or some utopia… then blame the boss! Either that or we confuse the motions of reacting to various stimuli with something much nobler which is the genuine thing.

    • Bob says:


      What a lovely reply. Thank you. As you know, I ponder these matters on an almost daily basis !
      The soul of even a cynic (like me) is nourished and sustained by – and possibly ONLY by – beauty, whatever form that takes. Beauty as another human being, a poem, a landscape, a Hepworth sculpture, a Chopin scherzo, a lighthouse in a dark night or just a sign or the merest hint of warmth in another. You would ask me, no doubt, to ponder the source of that beauty. I guess even in the midst of a fog one is aware of the presence of light and one’s soul continues to respond to it.
      Laughter has an equally important role to play !

  41. mike Horsnall says:

    Bob this chap is a monk who runs Downside Abbey-a Benedictine Order:

    “…The Spirit is something we desperately need to re-discover. Life is not just biological; the mind is not just material. We are body, mind and spirit: our bodies need food and exercise to flourish; our minds are fed by truth,goodness and beauty, and they need education to flourish. Our Spirits also need nourishing. This nourishment comes from the Holy Spirit and from our contact with holiness in all its forms. Conversly, if we lose touch with the sacred, we lose touch with our inmost selves. Prayer attends to this world of the Spirit; we cultivate our awareness of the Spirit by attending to our experience of beauty,truth and goodness. For the Spirit is the dimension that gives these values their absolute and infinite claim on us. This awareness of limitlessnes,of absoluteness,and unconditional demand on us is the basis of prayer as an experience of God….”

    David Foster Deep calls to Deep.p81

    No I wouldnt much call you to ponder on the beauty of the world…just see it and let it move you more fully towards its end….and get to Mass occasionally…!!

    • Bob says:

      Yes I will…unless I happen to be in Heptonstall awaiting the arrival of the ghost of Ted Hughes !

      • st.joseph says:

        Years ago,I dont know about now adays, but ghosts were thought to be souls that were waiting to be released.
        Another thought was that on all souls night ,souls were realeased to visit their close families !
        There was a big story in the papers many yers ago, when a local paish priest who hs died now, he was asked to go to Princess Michael of Kents house who attended the local church, to exorcise it-apparently it was haunted. He was also called to an elderly peoples home to exorcise it, without going into detail,many peculiar things were happening. I know that for a fact.
        When my older brother was about 7 he used to sleepwalk,and I remeber my mother being very distressed over this. A friend of my grandmothers told her to take him to a local priest in my grandmothers parish in Ireland as he was a wonderful healer. I went with them and we both had a blessing (I wasn’t going to be left out) and consequently he never did it again.
        Would this happen to-day. I am not sure now if people have their houses blessed now.
        We always had a Sacred Heart image in our house.
        The healing hands of a priest -and he was always thought of as a healer, not only by administering the Sacraments. Jesus said to the sick many times it is written, ‘Go show your self to a priest, and they would not ‘be catholic’, so is something being neglected here?

  42. mike Horsnall says:

    Hi St Joseph,

    That was a lovely post! Yes as it happens I think something is being neglected. I’m in the ‘healing business’ myself though in a very straightforward manner as an Osteopath. Occasionally people ask me to pray with and over them if they know I am a catholic (its not that hard to figure out on account of the icon in my treatment room!) I also take communion around my local hospital regularly.
    It does seem to me that there is a definite healing gift that comes with the laying on of hands of a devout person, priest or lay come to that, though one would expect a greater effect from a priest. Personally I believe that a huge amount of ill health and anguish is the direct result of fear, it is said is it not that: “Perfect love casts out fear”

  43. Michael Mahoney says:

    Vast millions, throughout history and today, have lived lives of utter misery, their fate, testament only to a pitiless impersonal universe.
    Were the mothers who mourned their dying children in Somalia comforted in this life? Were the the mothers who mourned as they and their children were herded into the Nazi gas ovens comforted in this life? Were the families starved to death in the grim workhouses and dirty ditches of rural Ireland comforted in this life?
    Do those skeins of beauty mock them?
    The only desperate motive that makes one hang on to any hope of a benign Creator, is the wish that such suffering may be redeemed and the wistful hope that our lives and the lives of those we love have some purpose.

  44. st.joseph says:

    Yes Michael, I agree-It must be tragic for those who suffer such sufferings.Without faith in The Lord it must be very difficult to be in the debth of despair.

  45. mike Horsnall says:

    Michael I was expecting this, How do you know? .. by what right do you consign so many to your merciless vision? Go to Prague, take a left and drop in at Terezin where you will read the moving testimonies of those locked in that small hell which was the staging post to Auschwitz. Mainly there they speak of love. Believe what you wil, but NEVER allow yourself to imagine that God is immune from- or is unable to be present in the heart of the deepest sorrow…what do you think the cross actually means?

  46. mike Horsnall says:

    Just to clarify Michael: All these ‘vast millions’ you speak of were actually human beings who loved , were loved, tried to do their best, cared for one another even though overtaken by circumstances wrought upon them by other human beings in times of great pressure.
    That does not mean that all these individuals never knew joy or pity or caught the breath of lifes passion…it does not mean they never lived or had lives as you suggest-you cannot say they did because you do not know their inner lives or their own heroism.
    The inmates of Terezin for example tried to care for one anothe and tried to keep cultural activities and music going even whilst being doen to death by gestapo guards and terrorised in all manner of ways. In Auschwitz the inmates tried to shield the children from the horror that was befalling all-many sacrificed their own lives for the lives of others. God was found guilty by the Rabbis and elders in Auschwitz -who then went of to keep sabbath and their faith in the face of the unutterable-the same all over the world and through the continuing difficulties of human existence…none of these difficulties go to support your folorn conclusion and I wonder what has led you to make it.

  47. Michael Mahoney says:

    Thank you for your comments Mike.
    I have read accounts of the holocaust, especially that of Primo Levi, and also accounts of other genocidal massacres, the atrocity at Srebrenica and the Turkish massacres of the Armenians and a history of massacres in the Balkans. I have also read acccounts of those charitable institutions, the Victorian workhouses, of children whose lives were cruel miseries of starvation and abuse until they died of disease.
    Look at the pictures on your television, of the terrible famines in the horn of Africa and the floods in Pakistan. Do you not think these disasters have happened throughout history? How many children have been orphaned through flood, famine and plague and left to fend and die on their own. Witness the abandonned street children of Rio, hunted and shot as vermin. And, that is not to speak of the suffering caused by endless wars, slave transportation and slavery itself.
    Of course anyone with the least grain of human sympathy would be haunted by these sufferings and many thousands have courageously sought to mitigate and remedy them and what anguished parents would not sacrifice themselves to spare the agonies of their innocent children.
    If this is just my merciless vision, then in the words of the poet,
    “God is in his heaven – All’s right with the world!”

  48. mike Horsnall says:

    Michael, Piling on yet more more graphic examples does not alter the point one jot. As I have said look into some survivor accounts.
    Its not that I cannot see the same things as you Michael just that there is another side to the coin-its not what was done to these people that defines them or the discussion. Evil exists and persists as does the animal brutality you mentioned earlier-but it cannot and does not triumph. I think you have not understood.

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