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Vol.VIII, March 2002

 

"All He Has Is in Your Power" Part II
(Job 1:12, II)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

God permitted Satan to test his servant Job. "‘When fire fell from the heavens and at one blow consumed Job’s family together with his flocks...,’ these, observes Augustine, ‘were Satan’s doings—they were not illusions’ (De Trin III,8; PL 42,875)" (S.Th., I,114,4 c). We had raised the question as to how Satan could use man despite his freedom for his own plans, how could he move the Sabeans and Chaldeans to "put the servants of Job to the sword?"

1. To shed light on the question of diabolical seduction is of no little interest, be it with respect to defending ourselves or with respect to helping others.

a) Recall that each man must reckon with the fact that the devil tries to destroy man’s union with God. This is one of the first things we are told in Divine Revelation (cf. Gen 3), and one of the last: "The great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent,...who leads astray the whole world" (Rev 12:9). For this reason St. Peter and St. Paul warn the faithful, "Keep sober and alert, because your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8; cf. Tob 1:7; 2:2). The Catechism explains, "By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free...Man has a wounded nature inclined to evil...This dramatic situation of ‘the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one’ (1 Jn 5:19; cf. 1 Pet 5:8) makes man’s life a battle: ‘The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil’ (GS 37.2)" (CCC 407 and 409).

b) Now, how does the devil influence man?

The devil can attack man from outside in two ways: first by attacking what belongs to man; for example, Satan destroyed the animals, a house and even the children of Job. Secondly, the devil can attack man physically, his body and external senses. The first is not as harmful for it does not touch the man himself and he remains with the hope of substituting any damage or loss. In fact, at the end of the book of Job we read that "Yahweh gave him double what he had before," and granted him ten more children in whom he was even more blessed than in the first (cf. 42:10-13). The second refers to his influence on the bodily senses such as the eyes or ears. This may come about through real, external objects like music or pictures; or through his direct influence upon the corresponding organs, such that man sees and hears something physically without the existence of any objective physical cause.

The devil may also attack man from inside in two ways: He can act upon his interior senses, such as the memory or imagination; and he can influence the emotions or sensitive appetites of man. In the first case he makes man recall, for example, some seductive pictures or melodies which he may have already experienced in the past. He suggests these objects with such insistence, that man cannot free himself from this ‘knowledge’ except by a very strong effort. Since knowledge is the guiding light for the human will, it is by such imposed ‘knowledge’ that the devil influences the emotional or even the rational will of man.

If, for example, one is looking for a pen which he had had a minute before in his hand, we may attribute the loss to man’s weakness. But we know that such situations are also a very frequent and favored way of the devil to arouse man’s passions and to lead him to irritation. Although the devil cannot directly influence man’s intellect and will, by this tactic he still has many opportunities of stimulating and directing man in his decisions according to his own infernal will, contrary to the will of God. In this way we can explain the extreme hatred of men and their sometimes sudden attacks on others: Cain’s hatred of Abel, for instance; Saul’s moody hatred of David; or here in Job, the cruel attack by the Sabeans and Chaldeans on the family of Job.

2. St. Thomas’s teaching on this is very clear:

a) First, St. Thomas asks, "Can angels change man’s senses?" He answers, "The senses can be changed in two ways: first, externally as when they are affected by the objects of senses; second, internally, as when the senses suffer change when the bodily spirits and humors are disturbed. For the tongue of a sick man who is completely affected by a choleric humor tastes everything as bitter. And the same happens with the other senses. Angels, however, can by their natural power bring about changes in the human senses in both ways. For they can present objects to the senses externally — either natural objects or something quite new as when an angel takes on a bodily form, as said above (I,51,2). Similarly angels can move the spirits and humors internally, as noted before (a.3), and from these in turn the senses are subjected to change of various kinds" (S.Th., I,111,4c). And further, "Angels can to some extent induce change in the nutritive power by internal agitation of the spirits and humors. And the same goes for the desiring and sense powers and any other powers making use of bodily organs" (S.Th., I,111,4 ad 2).

b) On the influence upon the thoughts, and through thoughts, upon the will St. Thomas says, "The demons cannot put thoughts into our heads by causing them from within since the power of thought is subject to the will. However, the devil is called the kindler of thoughts in that he incites us to think, either by persuading us to desire the things we think of, or by arousing our emotions. Damascene terms this kind of excitation an inducing since it takes place within the mind. Good thoughts, however, are derived from a higher source, namely God, though they may be induced with the help of the angels" (S.Th., I,111,2 ad 2).

Then the devil can influence the will through the imagination or emotions: "Both the good and bad angels can change the human imagination by their own natural power. This can be shown as follows... Material things are subject to angels as regards local movement...[and] imaginary appearances are sometimes induced in us by local changes in our animal spirits and humors... Therefore, just as this happens through a natural disturbance of the humors, and sometimes through the will (as when a man deliberately imagines what he had previously experienced), so also this can occur through the power of good and bad angels"(S.Th., I,111,3c).

All these observations are based on a solid psychology which lead to the conclusion that "Even if a demon cannot change a man’s will, yet, as said above (111,3 and 4), he can to some extent change the man’s lower powers through which his will can be, if not coerced, at least disposed in a certain way" (S.Th., I,114,2 ad 3).

3. From such a strange phenomenon as the diabolical incitement of the Sabeans and Chaldeans against the servants of Job we may draw some general conclusions valid for anyone today:

a) The devil does not show much respect for human freedom. He says to himself, "What is not forbidden, is allowed." To have a greater chance of overcoming someone, he tries to discover to which vice a man is most inclined (cf. S.Th., I,114,2 ad 2). Through his seductive suggestions taken from the "world" or incited in the "flesh" (cf. ibid., 2c), he seduces man by drawing the attention of his mind in an exaggerated degree to sensible or material objects. In this way the will of man is drawn to give preference to what is of less value. The hierarchy is uprooted; the will is weakened and made less resistent in proportion to the frequency of his yielding to temptation.

b) In order to remain undetected, the devil often disguises himself behind the relatively good qualities of things or "ideas". For example, it is good to recall past sins in order to repent of them more profoundly - but it should not be done constantly, as is taught by true faith and reason! Or it is good to take an alcoholic drink for the digestion - but for this phrase to be really true, one must complete it and clarify that this is so only when the drink is taken after a meal and in a small quantity. Similarly, Satan may have reminded the Sabeans and Chaldeans of some past offenses of the servants of Job, and at the same time made them forget that it was already paid for. Whatever the case may be, the devil having inflamed their anger, may have driven them in this way to act unreasonably, with an uncontrolled rage toward their apparent enemy. Insisting upon justice with regard to one point and thereby covering up an injustice, the devil here again appears as an "angel of light" (cf. 2 Cor 11:14).

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood! "Behold, I am sending you forth like sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore wise as serpents, and guileless as doves" (Mt 10:16). The example of Job seems to be a good lesson about the meaning of these words of Our Lord.

The tactics of the fallen angels show us how vigilant man has to be at all times, even in small things and from their very beginnings (cf. Imitation of Christ, I,13:5). It also demonstrates how important and useful spiritual instruction is for making prompt and sure discernment.

The devils’ influence through the body upon the human will, even in such new forms as drugs or bad rhythms, brings to light the prudence of the Holy Church in her rules for fasting. It is through fasting that concupiscence and the sexual impulse can be restrained and freedom of mind secured (cf. e.g. S.Th., II-II,147,8).

However, in the final analysis, confident recourse to the omnipotent love of God is our ultimate refuge. It was in this love that Job took immediate refuge in his first trial, saying: "Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh!" (1:21).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC