Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare February 10, 2011

Abba Pityrion, the disciple of Abba Anthony said, “If anyone wants to drive out the demons, he must first subdue the passions; for he will banish the demon of the passion which he has mastered. For example, the devil accompanies anger; so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And so it is with each of the passions.”[1]

We are all called to engage spiritual warfare in our lives. We all have temptations, weaknesses in our lives, passions which we fall for again and again. Though early monks and nuns went out to the desert to fight against demons, they found the main conflict was one which was within. They came to understand that the way to overcome the influence of demons was to come to know oneself, and by coming to know oneself, one can see the spiritual traps one faced and not fall for them when encountered. While there can be more significant ways for demons to hurt us (oppression, obsession and possession), most demonic conflict is psychological. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters presents the reality these monks and nuns came to know, as they saw the subtle influence demons can have on us and our way of thinking. They do not force us to act, but, if we don’t confront them, they engage us, and influence us, just like any and every social interaction ends up influencing our perception of the world.

Talking about the primary means of demonic influence in our lives as being psychological is not to say they cannot oppress is – they can, if we let them; we have to diligently confront them whenever they circle around us trying to cause us distress. They play mind games with us, distracting us from where we can best overcome them. They thrive upon us when they lead us to sin. They surround us when we falter. They mock us and make us feel as if there is nothing we can do. Then they can interact with us, cause us real physical harm. A weakened spirit leads to a weakened body. But, we must not give up. The more we examine our lives, the more we know ourselves, the more we will know how and why temptations make us falter. We will know how to gain mastery over ourselves. Demons keep us fragmented, because they are the powers of chaos, sapping away at the good within. Evil corrupts and destroys, trying to take apart that which should be whole. Demonic presences in our lives, if left unchecked, can end up harming our lives, making us live in despair. The solution is spiritual warfare, founded upon self-knowledge. The more we know ourselves, the more we know who we are as a whole, the less demons can fragment us within and without.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b). St. Anthony the Great overcame his demons, but not before they took a great toll on his body. He had to lean on his faith in God and find it was greater than his fear; when he saw demonic presences threatening him, he said they could, if given the power to do so, find a way to have him killed, but he told them nothing they would do would turn him away from God.  This reliance upon God is what is necessary for us when we find ourselves being spiritually assaulted. We must not give in. The more we know ourselves, the more we know we need to open ourselves to the work of God in our lives. The more we know ourselves, the more we see ourselves in the light of Christ, and we come to know who we are by what Christ means us to be. The more we know ourselves, the more we can resist the devil, not because of any power we have within, but because of who we become in Christ. We can overcome, because it is Christ who overcomes. We overcome by finding the power and influence of demons to be insignificant in comparison to the glory of God.

[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 200.

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  • Beautiful post again, I think this is three in a row for you. The one thought that kept running through my mind during this piece was the power of denial. I do seriously wonder if an earnest quest to know one’s self can ever overcome the strongest levels of denial.

    I have see denial so strong the person was not even remotely aware of it’s existence. Even when you figuratively turned their heads and held it in place directed at that exact point within them, they could not see the wall, still they were blind to its existence, as well as the problem that plagued them from behind it.

    In these instances I have turned to prayer for others afflicted with denial, as from what I have seen, it sometimes takes divine intervention to open their eyes.

    • The power of denial is difficult to overcome. I think the way to overcome it, however, is to use it for one’s advantage. That is, to find a way it can be transformed, to look for what good or reason why we have this instinct to denial. I think it is supposed to help keep us humble, help to make us look beyond ourselves and not be stuck with self-affirmation (in a static, harmful way). However, if this cannot be done, the other thing to do is to try to get oneself (or others) to find some positive good and focus on it, in meditation. Since denial is a part of the psychological warfare leading to our own peril, the solution is to try to find some positive affirmation to counter it. This is not easy, and as you said, with strong denial, I think the solution is to find many people to help bring that affirmation out (the more we hear something, the more likely it can influence us).

      And yes, prayer certainly is a help, too, and whatever else we do, this should be included.

  • Henry – thank you so much for this post. I am learning the power of self-knowledge in a very focused way (one that requires a rigorous honesty about myself) just recently, and this:

    The more we know ourselves, the more we see ourselves in the light of Christ, and we come to know who we are by what Christ means us to be.

    …is a great help. In seeing myself as I am, I see myself as God sees me, and His actions then more evident.

    Bless you, Henry.

    • Matt

      I’m glad the post help — and I hope it helps many others. It is in many respects the fruit of my studies but also some practical experiences I’ve had (in my life and with others). I think it also helps us understand more what demons are doing with us — what we see in sensationalistic movies, though can happen, are the extraordinary means by which demons interfere with our lives. The local exorcist here even explained how supernatural actions by demons are really put on for show to distract from the combat itself. How many of us need such distractions?