I’ve Always Liked Chesterton’s Blunt and Refreshing Assessment…

…of St. Thomas’ belief in devils.  Moderns hem and haw and are embarrassed about the devil.  Chesterton, not so much. In his Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox he writes:

I have not thought it necessary to notice those critics who, from time to time, desperately play to the gallery by reprinting paragraphs of medieval demonology in the hope of horrifying the modern public merely by an unfamiliar language. I have taken it for granted that educated men know that Aquinas and all his contemporaries, and all his opponents for centuries after, did believe in demons, and similar facts.

Devils are facts of our universe. They are not psychological projections, myths, or legends (though, of course, the mind of man takes them–as it takes everything other concrete reality of creation–and makes up stories about them so that devils, like kings, lamps, ants, elephants, and grasshoppers, become part of the vast legendarium that man has been creating ever since he spun the first yarn around a campfire. But just only a fool would conclude that elephants are unreal because somebody once told a tale about one that could fly, so only a fool conclude that devil cannot exist because he once saw a picture of horned gent with a goatee in red tights.

In my discussion of the clause “deliver us from evil” in The Heart of Catholic Prayer I discuss the two principle ways humans come to the realization that devil’s exist. The shortest and easiest route is simply to listen to Jesus Christ who, being God, oughtta know since he keeps and up to date inventory on every creature that he has ever made and he warns very plainly about the reality of Satan.

The other way, of course, is through direct personal encounter with the demonic, which happens more than you might think. I relate one story of such an encounter here:

Years ago, I heard a Black Pentecostal pastor in Spokane talking about a time he and some other local non-denominational pastors had been asked by a family they knew to come and pray for their granny who, her family said, “had an evil spirit”. One of the pastors was of a more modern frame of mind—the sort of frame of mind that fancies itself “open-minded” by closing itself off to the very possibility of the supernatural ever actually occurring. He somehow found himself invited to this meeting of pastors who were going to the house of this family to pray for granny. The liberal pastor reluctantly agreed and joined the circle as they gathered round granny and began to ask God to intervene on her behalf.

The doubting pastor happened to have taken up a position right behind granny, perhaps due to his reluctance to look at her face during what he considered to be a hugely superstitious bit of medieval hocus pocus. Granny, who was quite long in the tooth and rather frail, submitted to the prayer, but as it went on she began to act oddly and, quite suddenly reached behind her (over her shoulders), seized the doubting pastor and lifted him clean off the ground.

“That kind of thing changes your theology,” observed the Black Pentecostal pastor drily.

Another such account is found here in the story of a formerly unbelieving psychologist who did something rationalist skeptics so rarely do: he went and looked.

Rationalist skeptics love to pride themselves on being tough-minded empiricists with the courage to follow the evidence wherever it leads–and to accuse Christians of relying on dogma in the teeth of the evidence.

Rubbish. Nine times out of ten it is the materialist who is the kneejerk dogmatist.

“Even if all the sick in Lourdes were cured in one moment, I would not believe [in miracles]!” – Emile Zola


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