Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sympathy for the devil

Since it's June 6, 2006 -- or another way of putting it: 06/06/06 -- I thought I'd put in a little word on the devil.

Our common conception of the devil is a fallen angel who, in a fit of pride, rebelled against God. Interestingly enough, this story doesn't actually exist as a prologue to the Fall of Man in the Bible. Instead, the references to the devil's fall from grace are scattered and hinted at in the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah, and the New Testament, in the 2nd Letter of Peter (2 Pt 2:4), in the 1st Letter of John (1 Jn 3:8), and of course, Revelations (Rev 12:9).

Still, the story of a once-favored angel who fell away from God has been part of a long-standing Christian tradition. This was established as Church teaching in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. All this was immortalized in Dante Alighieri's Inferno and John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Aside from the connotation of evil, the word 'devil' also means accuser or slanderer. In the Book of Job, the devil acted not so much a tempter as a prosecutor. In this role, the devil has my sympathies: he keeps us honest. After all, what is virtue that is not tested?

Not that we need a whole lot of prodding ourselves. There was the tale of the devil who was crying by the roadside. When people asked him why he was crying, he said that it was because people were blaming him for all the things they had done wrong, even the ones he hadn't caused.

Sometimes I feel like that very devil myself. Blamed for things I didn't do. Shunned because my behavior is a silent accusation against the people around me. What can I do? I am a devil, too. And also, echoing Chesterton's Father Brown, “I am a man, and therefore I have all devils in my heart."

Nevertheless, the devil's essential fault still remains one of pride, a virtue taken to the extreme. The devil held his dignity to be worth more than his loyalty to his Creator, and thus, the fall. I doubt the devil would cry as the story or my cartoon portrays him. No, too proud for that.

Let that pride not be my fault.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Dom!

    I remember reading an old article about Father Gabriele Amorth being interviewed by Gyles Brandreth of The Sunday Telegraph.

    Father Amorth is the Chief Exorcist of Vatican City in Rome and honorary President-for-Life of the International Association of Exorcists.

    In his interview with Gyles Bradreth:

    "I speak with the Devil every day," he says, grinning like a benevolent gargoyle.

    "I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in day out, for 14 years."

    "And are you sometimes frightened?" I ask. He looks incredulous.

    "Never. I have faith. I laugh at the demon and say to him, 'I've got the Madonna on my side. I am called Gabriel. Go fight the Archangel Gabriel if you will.' That usually shuts them up."

    Bearing that in mind, it just strucked me that the Devil is a multilingual cheat because he is the Father of All Lies. And I always fancy the thought whether he speaks machine language: bits 0’s and 1’s just as well. Well, it could possibly be one of his spooky sneaky snares. An odd justification to sudden technical computer hangups or worse cranky crashes you experience before you could even save up or back up -- in split seconds -- that major project you’ve been working on forever only to start it all over again. Well, it happens. Right? Yes. I know. It’s a queer thought.

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  2. Hi, Claire, thanks for visiting, and for the informative tidbits. Regarding the diabolical 1's and 0's, yes, so true. Here's an earlier entry I made on the subject, which was actually fun to write.

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  3. This reminds me of a post I made over a year ago about Job and the Devil and the problem of evil. It's too long to cut-and-paste, but with your permission, here's the link

    http://ergone.blogspot.com/2005/04/book-of-job.html

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  4. Dom,
    I think the Screwtape Letters, which I discovered by accident as a young boy in my father's library, is the most insightful book on the psychology of the Beast. You're probably familiar with this work, in which an older devil writes to Wormwood, his apprentice demonyito. From Letter 1:
    I note what you say about guiding your patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons, we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

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  5. Yup, Dean, read Screwtape letters a long time ago. CS Lewis is one of my favorite writers; in fact, my favorite, until I discovered GK Chesterton (who, it turns out, influenced CS Lewis.)

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