Demons: According to St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross

Importance of Demonic Temptations

Both Teresa and John of the Cross emphasize the importance of demonic temptations. Teresa warns that the crafts and wiles the devil uses to prevent souls from walking the way of perfection are terrible. For John of the Cross, the devil is the mightiest and most astute enemy, his wiles more baffling than those of the world and the flesh. He is "the hardest to understand," causes the ruin of a great multitude of religious who set out on the life of perfection, and no human power can be compared with him (Spiritual Canticle, 431).

The devil deceives, blinds, corrupts, and seduces. Diabolical temptations are the ordinary experience of humanity. For Tonquedec, he is the tempter, the seducer, the inspirer of evil actions. Homicide, hatred, and lying are his "works." He is the "father" of murderers and generally of all sins. Woods believes that contemporary and historic experience reaffirms the importance of the role of the demonic in humanity's spiritual evolution. He adds: "Apparently, well-organized Satanic sects do exist throughout America, and some, at least are vicious and even homicidal" (Satan, 100).

But the devil is not the only cause of our sins, as Aquinas observes in the Summa and Teresa in her book, The Foundations. For Teresa, our own perverse inclinations and bad humors, especially if we suffer from melancholy, also cause us much harm (ch.4, n. 2). "Melancholy" was the term formerly used to describe neurosis. It is fair to say, however, that the devil is indirectly the cause of all faults arising out of our nature in the sense that as a consequence of original sin the devil introduced disorder and concupiscence to human nature.

The Devil and the Weaknesses of Human Nature

We must realize that demons are pure intellectual beings, not rational beings like us. They possess a superior knowledge of our weaknesses and dispositions, which they use to tempt us. Teresa is aware that, "The devil knows very well to take advantage of our nature and little understanding" (Letter to Isabel de S. Jeronimo and Maria de Jesus in Obras Completas, 980). In Spiritual Canticle, John of the Cross also suggests that demons use the world and flesh to enhance the power of their work: "The temptation of the devils . . . is stronger than those of the world and the flesh, because the devils reinforce themselves with these other two enemies, the world and the flesh, in order to wage a rugged war" (431).

The devil knows how to exploit our instincts and passions, the weakness of our flesh and our pride. Victor White, in God and the Unconscious, remarks that misfortune, sickness, and mental anxiety are not sins, but they may induce us to rebellion and despair. And Satan may take advantage of all of them to tempt us to sin.

For Aquinas, the devil can only act on the human mind through natural, physical, and psychological causes; conversely, all natural, physical, and psychological causes can be instruments of diabolic purposes. This view blurs the distinction between mental disorder that comes from internal causes and mental disorder that comes from diabolic agency, posing a difficult problem of discernment. For White, there is no such thing as a purely mental diabolic disorder.

Ways of Demonic Temptations

The demonic temptation generally affects the psychosomatic powers; viz., the imagination, memory, and sensory appetite, which are important for using and controlling our emotions. By tempting these powers, demons disturb the sensory appetite and indirectly affect the intellect and will. The experiences of Teresa and John of the Cross verify this doctrine that is commonly accepted in spiritual theology. John says that the greatest demonic deception is through the memory, and that it can last a long time, especially in souls that are engrossed in the dark night of the senses at the threshold of the night of the spirit.

In addition to ordinary temptations of imagination and memory, souls in advanced states of perfection are the object of another kind of temptation. The devil knows that a temptation causing the downfall of an advanced soul cannot usually be an open temptation, which is easily rejected, but a deception (viz., evil) under the appearance of good. Thus Teresa writes:

But the devil comes with his artful wiles, and, under the color of doing good, sets about undermining it in trivial ways, and working it in practices which, so he gives it to understand, are not wrong; little by little he darkens its understanding and weakens its will, and causes its self-love to increase in one way or another; he begins to withdraw it from the love of God and persuade to indulge its own wishes (Interior Castle, 120).

John of the Cross also writes of these experiences, observing that the devil causes the greatest harm and makes the soul lose abundant riches by alluring it with a little bait out of the simple waters of the spirit. Teresa had similar experiences, finding that this sort of temptation usually occurs with contemplative souls who find themselves in the "fifth mansion," the mansion characterized by the contemplative prayer of union with God.

3/30/2010 4:00:00 AM
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