What do Catholics believe about demons?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Friday 15, June 2018 | Category:   Doctrines & Beliefs

Evil is real. Demons are a trickier subject. So start with evil, defined as that which opposes the will of God. Free beings can choose against God’s will with a single act (a mean word) or habitually (a selfish lifestyle). We can socialize evil, as when acquisitiveness becomes a cultural value that’s accepted and perhaps celebrated. We may even institutionalize evil, passing laws that counter the common good.

But is there a way in which evil can “take over” the will of a person surrendered to its thrall? Ancient peoples certainly viewed evil as a spirit that might inhabit a person. Often that person isn’t responsible for the possession, like the unhappy bride Sarah in the Book of Tobit, whose interior demon kills seven prospective husbands on the wedding night.

In the New Testament, Luke shows great concern for the authority of demons. The first recorded miracle of Jesus is the cure of a demoniac in Capernaum who disrupts a synagogue teaching. Later, a Gerasene demoniac contains so many demons, they fill a herd of swine. A boy suffers from seizures, which his father attributes to a demon. Luke also describes Mary Magdalene as a woman from whom Jesus banishes seven demons—without suggesting she’d drawn this situation upon herself.

The ability to cast out demons is a signal to the seventy-two disciples sent on mission that the name of Jesus has power over dark forces. It vexes John when someone not of their association has success utilizing Jesus’ name in the presence of demons. Eventually, some in the crowds are perplexed that demons are answerable to Jesus. Is he in league with the prince of evil, that he commands demons so effortlessly? Jesus gives a teaching about demons, suggesting they take up residence not in folks who are particularly bad, but in those who don’t take care to fill themselves with the spirit of goodness.

Clearly demons find a stronger foothold in those who actively make an overture toward evil. Luke tells us Satan enters Judas and propels him to betray Jesus. Judas cultivated the spirit of greed from the start, which opened the door to admit greater evil. Our modern perspective would describe many of these phenomena in terms of biological or mental illness. But the choice for evil remains open and real to all of us. The more we choose it, the larger the territory it governs in our lives.

Scripture: Tobit 7:9—8:18; Luke 4:31-37; 8:26-39; 8:1-3; 9:38-43; 10:17-20; 9:49-50; 11:14-25; 4:13 and 22:3-6; Matthew 8:28-34; 9:32-34; 10:8; 12:22-32, 43-45; 17:14-20; Mark 1:21-27; 3:23-30; 5:1-20; 6:7, 13; 9:14-29, 38-41

Books: Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology, by Terry Cooper and Cindy Epperson (Paulist Press, 2008)

101 Questions and Answers on Angels and Devils, by Irene Nowell, O.S.B. (Paulist Press, 2011)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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