The Presence of the Chaotic One in Times of Disorder
The Devil Is Afraid of Me: The Life and Work of the World’s Most Famous Exorcist
By Gabriele Amorth
Publisher: Sophia Institute Press
Review Author: Gerard T. Mundy
The societal chaos that has lately subsumed many areas of life has often been perpetuated, incited, and enflamed by societal elites and the leadership classes. Proper and prudential leadership calls for calm, measured, resolute, and reasoned words and decisions. Recent social, public-health, and political crises have been met, however, with words said, decisions made, and actions taken in impulsive and whimsical fashion and in deference to the winds of emotion, the passions, and popular sentiment. As a certain chaos has plagued these times of pandemic and social and political unrest, all those who love order and unity must re-orient themselves and act precisely in the fashion opposite of that desired by the Chief of Chaos.
The great sower of evil, Satan, is the Chief of Chaos, and as such, he stands as the supreme opposer of tranquility and order. Angels and men, by virtue of their choices, join Satan’s ranks and participate in the evil, discord, and chaos he attempts to sow. Although men may participate in his evil works, it is the fallen angel Lucifer who stands as the most foolish and enduring of those who align themselves against the good and the Word.
In Catholicism properly understood, Satan is neither outside material reality nor some symbolic figure meant to represent an abstract theological concept. Rather, Satan, though pure spirit, has the ability to manifest himself in material things and cause effects in the material world. As he roams the earth seeking to destroy the good that God has created, Satan makes human life a constant struggle. For men must overcome their natural concupiscence, or tendency to sin, all while the Devil tempts them to submit to sin. God equipped man with the ability to see and understand the Devil based on his effects in the material world and through his material manifestations. In other words, because the work of the Master of Lies is earth-centric, the results of his successes can be measured and observed by men in the material world.
To help understand this evil being and his concrete effects in the world, one can turn to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, an expert on Satan and his conscious and unconscious accomplices. His posthumously published The Devil Is Afraid of Me provides a glimpse of Satan’s material manifestations by way of testimony from the man who encountered him as chief exorcist for Rome beginning in 1985 until his death in 2016. This Italian-born Passionist priest was no fringe character in the Church; Fr. Amorth was as “mainstream” and “official” as a priest could be, operating in the diocese of the pope. The book’s editor, Fr. Marcello Stanzione, who collected Amorth’s testimonies, as well as background on Amorth’s life and others’ comments about him, claims that “it has been calculated that during his last thirty years, [Amorth] did at least a hundred thousand exorcisms.”
In one interview, Amorth cautions against the view that the Devil’s work is somehow a biblical phenomenon no longer active. “Satanic actions and prayers of liberation do not belong solely to the past, when Jesus practiced His ministry, but they are also part of the present,” he says. “Today Satan is trying more than ever to lead as many souls as possible to an eternal death.” Amorth recalls one possessed client who would spit on him during exorcisms. “Once, as he spit, three nails materialized in his mouth. I still have those nails,” he testifies.
Although in the Trinity can be found the One who triumphs over Satan fully, man is not God; hence, victory over Satan requires God’s grace and the aid of His Church, both of which necessitate that man exercise his free will in such a way that he walks toward the light. As Fr. Stanzione writes of the Devil’s actions, “The world and men are continuously exposed to the attacks of these powers, which are concentrated on the Church and her members.” Man can defeat Satan if he makes the choice to do so. As Stanzione points out, “The arms with which one can do battle are: faith and obedience; the works of justice and truth; vigilance; and the gift of the discernment of the spirits.”
Choice is key in exorcisms, for, as Fr. Amorth explains, “an exorcism against the will of a person, cannot be done.” Abundant time is also needed. Real exorcisms are not like television programs that fit entire storylines into a one-hour time block. “I am content,” says Amorth, “if, in a mildly serious case, a person is liberated within four to five years of exorcisms. I have had rare cases of liberations in a few months.” And again, “I have exorcised some persons for fifteen or twenty years, who have made some great progress, but they are not yet liberated.”
All that Satan can offer are the finite things of this world. As Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas teach, the impermanent things can never satisfy the soul. According to St. Thomas, man is, by nature, aimed toward union with God. Therefore, when men have the wrong end in mind, and aim solely to obtain or experience the things of this world, they are divorced from their proper operation and experience only restlessness. These men will become increasingly restive and lost, for the sense of satisfaction one feels when getting closer to a goal never materializes for them. The Devil and his minions capitalize on the weaknesses of men who are disposed to seek material things incessantly, and on those who live wayward lives without a clear end in mind. When men desire to submit to temptations, a result of concupiscence that harkens back to the Fall, Satan rejoices.
Fr. Amorth explains, “All demons are engaged in tempting men to do evil in order to detach them from God and to try to destroy God’s plan.” Satan “is tremendously monotonous, and when I interrogated him on this point, he said to me that even if he is monotonous, we men fall for it just the same.”
Indeed, human nature does not change; the vices that plagued man yesterday are here today. Additionally, one could argue that it is man’s constant indifference, ignorance, or rejection of Satan’s presence that ensure his common tactics go unrecognized or not ascribed to him. When man ignores Satan, the Evil One wins, for his goal, says Amorth, is to bring man “to the same place [Hell], and suffer the same punishment [as him].”
The collect for this year’s 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time reads, “O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.” Indeed, Satan aims to direct men toward “the darkness of error.” St. Thomas held that man has a natural inclination to seek good and to resist evil. A general conception of the good is impressed upon man, but this natural inclination does nothing by itself. One must act properly in particular instances in accord with the good general principle. Thus, practical ability to understand how to act in such a fashion is of great consequence, meaning that moral education and cultivation of the mind and soul are required. Man, then, needs to hone, in a habitual and constant manner, his skills at reaching the good. Satan attempts to interrupt man’s proper operation toward his right end. Thomas’s philosophy fits neatly into the practical knowledge and experience Fr. Amorth offers.
Clergymen are as susceptible as anyone to the influences of the Devil. “Careerists” in the Church are especially vulnerable. These men, says Amorth, “who are seeking only the things below, not those above,” are within reach of Satan, who proceeds by “dazzling those who seek success and power.” The Devil is a sycophant, but when he promises and flatters, he seeks only his own ends. His promises are empty.
Fr. Amorth, who prayed the Rosary daily, explains that Mary is the great opposite and rival of Satan, for her humility and purity are the antithesis of the Devil’s pride and impurity. Amorth testifies to speaking in the course of exorcisms with demons who verbalized their great hatred and fear of the Virgin Mother. When she intercedes for the possessed, says Amorth, the demons have met their match.
The greatest defense against the Devil is not a great mystery. “Anyone can be struck by the demon, with the exception of the one who prays or who lives in the grace of God,” Amorth says. “We can say, in general, that everyone can be the object of evil actions. But, for the one who prays, who is close to God and who lives in the grace of God, the situation is different; he is protected.” Indeed, a gloomy discussion of evil in the world need not be pessimistic, for truth, order, and happiness can be found in God — but man must choose God. Amorth states that it is possible for saints and the saved also to manifest themselves — “it has happened to me with St. Gabriele of Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Benedict, and St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina,” he reports — thereby demonstrating that true goodness, too, can materially present itself in the world. There is great reason for hope, then, if one follows and serves Christ.
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