By Ambrose Rucker, Christendom College
In this article we are going to examine the church teachings on the power of demons over humanity, how they operate, and how they are limited. First off I will explain why the modern-day belief that demonic activity is virtually nonexistent in the modern world is not only wrong but dangerous. Then we shall look at the catechism and Sacred Scripture to gain a basic understanding of what demons are and what they are able to do. Finally, we shall end with a discussion of how demons can directly interfere with us and how easily they can be thwarted by their lack of power in the face of God.
There are several ways in which modern day people ignore and dismiss the demonic in today’s day and age. There are those who simply think that by Christ’s resurrection the powers of hell have been broken, which is true, but then on top of that they believe that the demons have been completely overshadowed and are virtually trapped in hell, unable to leave or bother humanity without getting promptly sent back to the abyss by Jesus and the angels. Then there is the much more clear and dangerous idea that attempts to call the very idea of the existence of the demonic into question using the very words of Scripture. As the article Christian faith and Demonology from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says:
Some critics, believing that they can define Jesus’ own position, claim that none of his words guarantees demonic reality. They assert that affirmation of the existence of this reality, where it is made, rather reflects the ideas of Jewish writings, or is dependent on New Testament traditions, but not on Christ. Since it does not form part of the central Gospel message, the existence of demonic reality, they say, no longer has a call on our faith today, and we are free to reject it.
Beliefs such as this only serve to confuse those who are lax in their faith, shake the belief of those who are strong but wavering and give unnecessary strength to the demons as those who are uniformed about the demonic are susceptible to attacks from it and can easily be overwhelmed. Moreover, the idea that demons are inactive in the modern world is simply absurd. In reality the need for exorcisms and the number of people reaching out to the church has grown in modern times. In America alone in 2011 the whole country had fewer than 15 priests who where known to be exorcists. In 2018 there were over 100. Thus, rather than subscribing to the ill-fated belief that demons are not real, we should be at peace with the knowledge that they are in fact real but we as Catholics have the knowledge necessary to protect ourselves and fight in the holy war against the fallen angels.
The demons themselves are fairly simple to understand. In the beginning when God created all the angels in goodness there were those who were jealous of God and wished to be like Him, and, led by Satan, refused to accept the truth that humanity, which seemed so much lower than them, would become like equals to them in heaven. St. Thomas explains that since angels are created rational moral beings they are capable of sinning despite being such high spiritual beings. The demons’ sin that caused their fall can be divided into three parts: pride, envy and resemblance to God. The fallen angels were prideful in that they took credit for their goodness without giving credit to the source of their goodness: God. Envy came about from falling into the conceit of overstating their goodness in their minds and thus thinking themselves as capable of being equal to God. Finally, by their arrogance they thought themselves so good that normal rules did not apply to them and they could rise higher than their nature allowed. In Scripture we see examples of demonic activity in all these ways; a good example of the arrogance of Satan occurs when he tried to tempt Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4:1-11. He thought himself capable of turning the very Son of God away from Himself. Lastly, we know the three ways that the demons were intellectually punished for their sin. Their natural knowledge was darkened into nocturnal knowledge, still higher than ours but not as clear as the good angels, their supernatural knowledge became speculative and unclear to them, and they completely lost their affective and delectable supernatural knowledge of the mystery of God.
The demons work against God in a twisted but still ordered way (ordered ultimately by God and His Providential plan, that is), and thus imitate in a twisted version the ways in which the good angels interact with us. The demonic influence is always a parasite of goodness and in that way can trick us if we are not careful. They have in effect seven principles of their activity. First, they will attempt to lie to us with partial truths, or present things that are true and good outside of the proper context. Second, they will attempt to keep themselves hidden and put the blame of their actions on other people or on yourself while they remain in the shadows still causing harm. Third, they will try and isolate us from one another and God, making us feel alone and trapping us within our own thoughts. Fourth, they attempt to get us to hyper focus on one thing, even a good thing, and thus get us to miss everything else that is more important or a higher good. Fifth, they try and imitate God and the good angels, mostly by attaching themselves at the end of actual spiritual experiences with God and the good angels and acting like a continuation of them and thus distracting and misleading us from the original message we just received. Sixth, they will throw lesser goods into our attention to try and distract us from the True Good. Seventh and lastly, they will torment us by harassing us with mind games of headaches, distractions, making things go wrong and so on. They also can cause obsessions over places, things or even people in events we know as hauntings. Finally, they can take control over a person through possession, but this can only be achieved by permission of the person or someone who has authority over the person. It is by these means that the demons interfere in our lives and attempt to lead us astray.
However, when compared to the power of God they are mere annoyances, literally flies that by God’s assistance we can swat away. The best thing to do to keep yourself safe from demonic harm is to pray consistently, receive the sacraments and remain in a state of grace. If you are in a state of mortal sin you are much more vulnerable to attacks from the demonic. If you do find yourself being bothered in a way that seems to be demonic do not panic. Remember that they only have power over you that you grant them, God is by your side and He is infinitely more powerful, and the very fact that you are under attack shows that you are being a good servant of God to draw demonic attention to yourself to try and stop the good work you are doing. In this case the best recourse is to continue doing your routine but add an extra prayer to St. Michael and your guardian angels to help you in your struggle with the demonic. Make sure to bring it up in Spiritual counseling as the priest can do things like bless you, give you a sacramental to wear or just give you advice and help you in your fight. The demons are still angels and as such are higher beings than humans, and on our own we could never hope to defeat them. However, we are not alone, and with God on our side and with knowledge both naturally known and revealed we can defend ourselves easily from the annoyances that the demons are.
Catholic Church. Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei. (1900). Christian Faith and Demonology. Boston: St. Paul Editions.
Mike Mariani. “American Exorcism.” The Atlantic vol. 18 (2018) Paragraph 1, TheAtlantic.com/archives (Accessed April 19, 2021)