Angels and demons in spiritual warfare today
22 September 2021
By Cristiana de Magistris
The greatest cunning of the devil consists in making us believe that he does not exist: this is his greatest triumph. From Scripture we know that the devil – in addition to being a murderer – is a liar (cf. Jn 8:44). For this reason, it would be a very pernicious mistake to imagine the demon’s action as something spectacular and, consequently, easily recognisable. This runs counter to his purpose, which is to deceive. On the contrary, his action is generally subtle and concealed, and therefore has the characteristics of the most refined perversity. His ultimate goal is to prevent souls from being united with God and saved. And to this end he undermines the basis of the spiritual life, which is faith.
This theological virtue puts us in direct contact with God, albeit in an obscured way. It is the foundation of supernatural life and unites us most intimately with God. The Council of Trent affirms that faith “is the beginning, the foundation, the root of justification, and therefore of sanctification”. Through faith, says Bishop Guy, “the light of God becomes our light, his wisdom our wisdom, his knowledge our knowledge, his mind our mind, his life our life”. The devil cannot enter this domain reserved only for God, and the soul that lives by faith is free from his power. Faith is like a breastplate that defends the soul from his attacks, and therefore the devil uses all his tricks to get the soul away from faith, dazzling it with the vast array of wonders that he can work: all this to bring the soul to depend on something other than pure faith.
Nowadays, this is the greatest danger of the wild proliferation of apparitions and revelations that, being imitations of the supernatural, are strongly suspected of being diabolical in nature. St John of the Cross affirms that faith – and not revelations – is the means to strive towards our end, which is God, and that “naked and pure faith infuses the soul with more love of God than all visions”. Faith is the only proportionate means for union with God and, to this end, the soul must rely on the Church’s doctrine and not on revelations. “The devil,” continues the great Carmelite, “is very skilled in insinuating lies, from which it is possible to free oneself only by fleeing from all supernatural revelations, visions, and locutions.”
The “craving for the marvellous and the extraordinary” has always been an almost irresistible temptation for man who, through sin, has lost the vision of God. But redemption from sin lies precisely in the life of faith. It is on theological faith, however obscure, and not on revelations, however marvellous, that the life of the Christian is founded.
One must not forget that the devil always offers us counterfeit coin. It is also true that it is not easy for wayfaring man, fallen and redeemed, to always follow the right path and keep his gaze fixed on the truth. And it is equally true that Satan tries to blur the sense of God’s existence, to distort the vision of him, to manipulate everything, with illusion and disillusionment: the combat against his angelic intelligence is beyond our limited powers as wayfaring creatures. So we need the angels to teach us to walk as true children of the light. To his contemporaries, Bossuet recalled this truth of faith:
“You believe you are dealing only with men; you try to satisfy them only, as if the angels did not concern you. Christians, do not be deceived: there are invisible beings – the Angels – who are united with you through charity.”
St Bernard exhorted his monks in this way:
“Brothers in Christ, love the Angels of God tenderly, as our joint heirs in the future, but in the interval as advocates and guides, given to us by the Father.”
St John of the Cross exhorted spiritual people to imitate the serenity of the Angels in the face of evil, especially in the face of the sins of their neighbour, instead of indulging in unbridled zeal or sterile complaints. The more the soul advances in the spiritual life, the more its attitude towards the sins and mistakes of others changes.
“The soul behaves like the Angels: these are perfectly aware of everything that causes pain without ever feeling pain; they practice the works of mercy without feeling the sentiment of compassion. So it is of souls elevated to this transformation of love.”
All the diabolical forces that grip us and worry us, both in our personal life and in the life of the Church and the world, are always and invariably under the control of Divine Providence, which uses the forces of evil as privileged instruments to purify the elect. Never, at any time in history, does God lose control of events. Even in the most stormy and dangerous times, when everything seems to be collapsing, the good Angels dominate the rebel angels uncontested. The least of the good Angels rules over Lucifer himself and obtains his obedience, says St Thomas. This supremacy is founded on the fact that the will of the good Angels is perfectly in conformity with the plans of God, plans that are unfailingly realised always and everywhere. “Every man or angel, if united with God, becomes one spirit with him and is therefore superior to every other creature.” In this is all our hope and also our strength.
The invisible presence of the Angels is a truth of faith that infuses an extraordinary force of action and contemplation. Our invisible companions are the first protagonists of the counter-revolutionary action that must be continued in the Church and in the world. They know what we do not and they see in the Word what for us is completely obscure. But just as the beauty of the stars can be seen only at night, so also to enjoy the presence of the blessed Spirits it is necessary to enter the obscurity of faith, which is night for the senses but a dazzling light for the soul.