We have been slowly working our way through the Catholic Catechism for the past year and a half. We covered articles 391 – 412 this past week, on 3.3.10. This includes sections on the Fall of the Angels and the Original Sin. Both of these doctrines have been challenged lately and deserve our attention.
In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis portrays a senior devil, Screwtape, writing advice to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. One of the first lessons he gives, is to make sure that the person Wormwood is assigned to tempt, does not believe that devils exist. This is a spirit of modernism that suggests that it is medieval and primitive to believe that a malicious spirit exists. Lack of faith here can lead one to a false complacency and inattentiveness to the subtle occurrences of temptation. The fact is, we are tempted. If so, by what?
The three classic sources of temptation are the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is that spirit of peer pressure that tells a person that they ought to conform to some value that is not shared by Christians. The flesh is that concupiscence that is a consequence of the original sin. We have an inclination towards sin. While baptism repairs much of this, we are not totally free from this weakness during earthly life. The last source of temptation comes from those devils that are allowed to disturb our lives.
If one does not believe in the devil’s existence, I would encourage a read of several works on exorcism: The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist or An Exorcist Tells His Story. Both are by priests who have been called to deal in this most difficult ministry. The role is real, as more and more dioceses provide training for what modern psychology tried to explain away. All except Scott Peck, who wrote a compelling work on the problem of evil called People of the Lie. He began the book as an agnostic and ended up a Christian. All this is to say, if you don’t believe in Satan, how do you explain these phenomena? Most Christians who invest in prayer likewise run into obstacles of a spiritual nature that go beyond nature.
Our susceptibility to temptation reveals the original sin that left us impaired. Why else addiction? Why else war? Why else irrational evils committed for no apparent reason? Augustine speaks of stealing a pear as a child merely for the pleasure of stealing. He was not hungry, except for some delight in doing something that was forbidden. Not so different from an older garden where the sin was not about an apple in a tree, but rather the pair on the ground. Something in our hearts allows itself to be deceived by those three sources of temptation. Our reason, if engaged and especially if enlightened by faith, knows better.
What is the cure? Gen 3:9, 15 speaks of a victory on the horizon, through a Woman and her seed, who would conquer the serpent. We need to cling to her and those who know well how to fight. Unsuspecting Mary is often depicted with a snake under her foot. While it’s not the normal image of a housewife from Nazareth, it should make us want to be on her side in a pinch. There is power in humility. There is strength in purity. There is victory in love.
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