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.