Why do we rarely give the Devil his due?
Opinion: Pope Francis is aware of a sceptical element within the Church on the ousting of demons
Pope Francis said, “Maybe some of you might say, ‘But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century.’ But look out, because the Devil is present . . . even in the 21st century. We mustn’t be naive.” Photograph Franco Origlia/Getty Images
‘Give the Devil his due,” we say. But we don’t. You rarely hear a good word said about the Devil. Whatever happened to balance?
The question of the Devil’s status and standing has come back into focus following Pope Francis’s pronouncement that the Devil is for real, not an abstraction or a class of a bogeyman used to terrify children into better behaviour, but an actual being, moving among us filled with mendacity, on permanent alert for vulnerable souls to drag to his netherworld lair.
Addressing the doubters directly on April 11th, the pope said: “Maybe some of you might say, ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century.’ But look out, because the Devil is present . . . even in the 21st century. We mustn’t be naive.”
This wasn’t the first time Francis has confronted the Devil since becoming pontiff. In October last year, preaching in the chapel of St Martha’s House – the building adjacent to St Peter’s which he has adopted as his living quarters – Francis took for his text a passage from Luke 31: “When Jesus had driven out a demon, some of the crowd said, ‘By power of Beelzebub, prince of demons, he drives out the demons.’ But he knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? . . . If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your own people drive them out?”
Francis is aware there is a sceptical element even within the church when it comes to the ousting of demons. He went on to tell the St Martha’s congregation: “There are some priests who, when they read this passage, will say, ‘Jesus merely healed a person with a mental illness . . . It is true that at that time they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession. But it is also true that there was the Devil! We do not have the right to simplify the matter.’ ”
Here we can see that Francis has no time for modern-day Catholics, ordained or otherwise, who would seek to deny or minimise the fact of the Devil’s presence. In this he takes the same stance as, for example, the entirety of the Irish church in the years when the Devil stalked the dance halls of the land.
From inside the Plaza, we’d hear the alluring sound of the Lakewood Swingtette, while the church would hear a din of iniquity.
He was always dressed like the coolest dude in town when he hit the floors with his cloven heel, was the Devil, had the suave manner of a matinee idol and Brylcreem hair just so. Nothing if not presentable, the Prince of Darkness.
The Devil once took to hanging around Borderland, three miles outside Derry, a hundred yards into Donegal. His first appearance at the venue came within the octave of publication of the Catholic Truth Society’s best-selling pamphlet, The Devil at Dances, by Fr Robert Nash SJ. It was widely reported that with a flick of his quiff he could (the Devil, not Fr Nash) sweep innocent girls off their feet and in the general direction of perdition before disappearing in a puff of sulphurous smoke.
The pamphlet was given a glowing review from the pulpit at St Eugene’s. If memory serves, they had to put on extra buses from Derry the following Friday night. Personally, I found no change in my success ratio, the Devil’s vaunted moral destructiveness proving somewhat overbilled.
Pointless slaughter The Devil also tends to fall short in the matter of slaughtering your enemies. We regularly hear reports of fervent believers in particular religions swooping upon usually defenceless people, brandishing knives to cut their throats, crying exultantly, “God is great!”
Has anybody ever heard of any faction or group doing any such thing to the shout of, “the Devil is great!” No.
Not to mention that every regiment on every side in the unforgiveable pointless slaughter now known as the first World War had a chaplain on hand to tell them they had God on their side. Has there ever been a suggestion of soldiers being told before going over the top not to worry, you have the Devil on your side? No.
We might, too, parse the words of papal legate the Abbot of Citeaux in 1209, who, asked about the morality of killing Catholics and Cathars when the required kill rate made positive identification impossible, replied: “Kill them all, let God sort them out.”
Obviously, God was okay about that sort of thing. The least we can say of the Devil is that in his case the evidence is far less convincing.
There is only a sprinkling of Devil worshippers in Ireland. They must feel isolated and deeply offended every single day by the relentless negativity of the coverage their fellow receives. In comparison, God’s people scarcely ever have reason to feel offended.