The devil is one of God’s creatures. We cannot talk about him and about exorcisms without first stating some basic facts about God’s plan for creation. We will not say anything new, but we might present a new perspective.
All too often we have the wrong concept of creation, and we take for granted the following wrong sequence of events. We believe that one day God created the angels; that he put them to the test, although we are not sure which test; and that as a result we have the division among angels and demons. The angels were rewarded with heaven, and the demons were punished with hell. Then we believe that on another day God created the universe, the minerals, the plants, the animals, and, in the end, man. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve obeyed Satan and disobeyed God; thus they sinned. At this point, to save mankind, God decided to send his Son.
This is not what the Bible teaches us, and it is not the teaching of the Fathers. If this were so, the angels and creation would remain strangers to the mystery of Christ. If we read the prologue to the Gospel of John and the two christological hymns that open the Letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians, we see that Christ is “the firstborn of all creatures” (Col 1:15). Everything was created for him and in the expectation of him. There is no theological discussion that makes any sense if it asks whether Christ would have been born without the sin of Adam. Christ is the center of creation; all creatures, both heavenly (the angels) and earthly (men) find in him their summation. On the other hand, we can affirm that, given the sin of our forebears, Christ’s coming assumed a particular role: he came as Savior. The core of his action is contained within the Paschal mystery: through the blood of his Cross, he reconciles all things in the heavens (angels) and on earth (men) to God. The role of every creature is dependent on this christocentric understanding.
We cannot omit a reflection about the Virgin Mary. If the firstborn creature is the Word become flesh, she who would be the means of the Incarnation must also have been present in the divine thought before every other creature. From this stems Mary’s unique relationship with the Holy Trinity.
We must also mention the influence that Christ has on angels and demons. Concerning angels, some theologians believe that the angels were admitted to the beatific vision of God only by virtue of the mystery of the Cross. Many Fathers also make interesting statements. For instance, Saint Athanasius writes that the angels owe their salvation to the blood of Christ. The Gospels give us many statements concerning demons, and they clearly state that Christ defeated the reign of Satan with his Cross and established the reign of God. The demons who possessed the Gerasene man exclaimed, “What is there between us, Son of God? Have you come to torment us before our time?” (Mt 8:29). This is an obvious reference to the fact that the power of Satan is gradually broken by Christ. Satan’s power, therefore, still exists and will continue to exist until our salvation will be completed, “because the accuser of our brethren will be cast out” (Rev 12:10). Additional information on the role of Mary, enemy of Satan since the original announcement of salvation, can be found in the beautiful book by Father Candido Amantini, Il mistero di Maria (Naples: Dehoniane,
If we see everything in the light of the centrality of Christ, we can see God’s plan, who created everything “for him and in expectation of him.” And we can see the actions of Satan, the enemy, the tempter, the accuser. By means of his temptation, evil, pain, sin, and death entered the world. It is in this context that we are able to see the restoration of God’s plan, which Christ accomplished at the cost of his blood.
In this context, we are made aware of the power of the devil. Jesus calls him “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). John affirms that “the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19); by “the world” John means everything that is opposed to God. Satan was the brightest of the angels; he became the most evil of the devils and their chief. The demons remain bound to the same strict hierarchy that was given them when they were angels: principalities, thrones, dominions, and so on (Col 1:16). However, while the angels, whose chief is Michael, are bound by a hierarchy of love, the demons live under a rule of slavery.
We are also made aware of the action of Christ, who shattered the reign of Satan and established the kingdom of God. This is why the instances where Jesus freed those possessed by demons become particularly important. When Peter teaches Cornelius about Christ, he does not mention any miracle besides the fact that he cured “all those who had fallen under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38). We understand, then, why the first authority that Jesus gave his apostles was the power to expel demons (Mt 10:1). We can make the same statement for all believers: “These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils” (Mk 16:17). Thus Jesus heals and reestablishes the divine plan that had been ruined by the rebellion of some of the angels and by our forefathers.
We must make this abundantly clear: evil, suffering, death, and hell (that is, eternal damnation in everlasting torment) are not acts of God. I want to expand on this point. One day Father Candido was expelling a demon. Toward the end of the exorcism, he turned to the evil spirit and sarcastically told him, “Get out of here. The Lord has already prepared a nice, well-heated house for you!” At this, the demon answered, “You do not know anything! It wasn’t he (God) who made hell. It was us. He had not even thought about it.” Similarly, on another occasion, while I was questioning a demon to know whether he had contributed to the creation of hell, I received this answer: “All of us cooperated.”
Christ’s centrality in the plan of creation, and its restoration through redemption, is fundamental to understanding God’s plan and the end of the world. Angels and men received an intelligent and free nature. When I am told (by those who confuse predestination with God’s providence) that God already knows who will be saved and who will be damned, and therefore anything we do is useless, I usually answer with four truths that the Bible spells out for us: God wants that everyone be saved; no one is predestined to go to hell; Jesus died for everyone; and everyone is given sufficient graces for salvation.
Christ’s centrality tells us that we can be saved only in his name. It is only in his name that we can win and free ourselves from the enemy of our salvation, Satan. At the end of the most difficult exorcisms, when I am confronted with total demonic possession, I pray the christological hymn of the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (2:6-11). When I speak the words “so that all beings in the heavens, on earth, and in the underworld should bend the knee at the name of Jesus,” I kneel, everyone present kneels, and always the one possessed by the demons is also compelled to kneel. It is a moving and powerful moment. I always feel that all the legions of the angels are surrounding us, kneeling at the name of Jesus.
Fr. Gabriele Amorth was the Chief Exorcist of Rome and one of the world’s foremost authorities on demonology. This article was excerpted from An Excorcist Tells His Story, Ignatius, 1999.