Chaput: Have No Sympathy for the Devil

devil with christCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput devoted a particularly hard-hitting column last week to explaining why any attempt to discount the personification of evil is a fool’s folly.

In an article appearing on, Archbishop Chaput tells the story of a former prominent Marxist philosopher in Poland named Leszek Kolakowski who was exiled from the Soviet Union and  eventually became a great fan of St. John Paul II and one of the great scholars of the 20th century.

One day, 30 years ago, Kolakowski gave a lecture at Harvard entitled “The Devil in History.”

“Early in the talk, the mood in the room became restless,” the  Archbishop describes. ”
Many of the listeners knew Kolakowski’s work. They knew he could be playful and that he had a wicked sense of irony. But they couldn’t figure out where he was going with his lecture.”

It took a while, but eventually his listeners realized that he really was talking about the devil. This surprised the audience who were “baffled that an urbane public intellectual, fluent in five languages, could really believe in ‘religious nonsense’ like the devil and original sin. But that’s precisely what Kolakowski did believe.”

And he was not afraid to preach it to the nay-sayers of his day.

For example, Kolakowski once said, “The devil is part of our experience. Our generation has seen enough of it for the message to be taken extremely seriously” and “Evil is continuous throughout human experience. The point is not how to make one immune to it, but under what conditions one may identify and restrain the devil.”

As Chaput points out, Kolakowski saw that we can’t fully understand our culture unless we take the devil seriously.

“The devil and evil are constants at work in human history and in the struggles of every human soul. And note that Kolakowski (unlike some of our own Catholic leaders who should know better) was not using the word ‘devil’ as a symbol of the darkness in our own hearts, or a metaphor for the bad things that happen in the world. He was talking about the spiritual being Jesus called ‘the evil one’ and ‘the father of lies’ — the fallen angel who works tirelessly to thwart God’s mission and Christ’s work of salvation.”

For this reason, the evangelization of our culture is always, in some sense, is a call to spiritual warfare. It’s a battle for souls.

“Our adversary is the devil. And while Satan is not God’s equal and doomed to final defeat, he can do bitter harm in human affairs,” Chaput writes.

Yes, the modern world makes it hard to believe in the devil, he continued, but it treats Jesus Christ the same way.

“And that’s the point. Medieval theologians understood this quite well. They had an expression in Latin: Nullus diabolus, nullus redemptor. No devil, no Redeemer. Without the devil, it’s very hard to explain why Jesus needed to come into the world to suffer and die for us. What exactly did he redeem us from?”

No one appreciates this irony more than the devil – that we can’t fully understand the mission of Jesus without him.

“And he exploits this to his full advantage,” the Archbishop continues. “He knows that consigning him to myth inevitably sets in motion our same treatment of God.”

He goes on to use the lesson of Faust – the character who famously sells his soul to the devil in exchange for all the secrets of the universe – as a warning to all of us. We can’t understand our world or even our own lives with reason alone.

“We need both faith and reason to penetrate the mysteries of creation and the mysteries of our own lives. That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for nations,” he writes.

“A culture that has a command of reason and the byproducts of reason — science and technology — but lacks faith has made a Faustian bargain with the (very real) devil that can only lead to despair and self-destruction. Such a culture has gained the world with its wealth, power and material success. But it has forfeited its soul.”

The good news is that we have the weapons we need to fight this Godless trend in our culture. In the book, The Rosary: Your Weapon for Spiritual Warfare, authors Johnnette Benkovic and Thomas K. Sullivan lay out an eight-point battle plan on how to meet the spiritual challenges of our day with the weapon Our Lady stressed so emphatically during the apparitions of Fatima – the Rosary.

“Today we face unprecedented challenges on every front,” the authors write. “The evils of ‘this present darkness’ weigh heavily against us. Perhaps this is what makes the advice of St. Pio, a holy man from our own age, so valuable and insightful. He reminds us of the Rosary’s power against the devil and his minions, and he reminds us of the efficacy of the Blessed Virgin’s mediation for us through it.”

Let us avail ourselves of this weapon of choice for today’s battle against the evil being who is stealing too many precious souls.

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