Taking Satan Seriously

Interview With Cardinal Georges Cottier

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- We should take the devil "very seriously," but without losing confidence in the love of God, says the theologian of the Pontifical Household.



Cardinal Georges Cottier gave this interview in the wake of last Saturday's murder of a priest in the cathedral of Santiago, Chile. The killing was linked to Satanism.

Q: In the great mystery of evil, how much does the action of the devil count and how much responsibility does man bear?

Cardinal Cottier: The devil is without a doubt the great seducer because he tries to lead man to sin by presenting evil as good. But the fall is our responsibility, because the conscience has the ability to distinguish what is good and what is evil.

Q: Why does the devil want to induce man to sin?

Cardinal Cottier: Out of envy and jealousy. The devil wants to drag man with him because he himself is a fallen angel. The fall of the first man was preceded by the fall of the angels.

Q: Is it a heresy to affirm that the devil also forms part of God's plan?

Cardinal Cottier: Satan was created by God as a good angel, because God does not create evil. Everything that comes from the creative hand of God is good. If the devil has become evil, it is by his own culpability. It was he who, by using his freedom badly, made himself evil.

Q: Will there ever be redemption for the devil, as some theologians affirm?

Cardinal Cottier: Let's articulate a premise: Man has fallen into sin because the first sinner, namely the devil, dragged him into his abyss of evil. What does this mean in substance?

The rejection of God is, above all, opposition to the Kingdom of God as Providence's plan for the world. This rejection that stems from the freedom of an altogether spiritual creature as the devil, is a total rejection, irremediable and radical, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church also says.

Q: There is no hope, then, that in the end the mercy of God will be able to conquer the devil's hatred?

Cardinal Cottier: The perfect character of the fallen angel's freedom makes his choice definitive. This does not mean putting a limit to God's mercy, which is infinite. The limit is constituted by the use that the devil made of freedom. It is he who impedes God from canceling his sin.

Q: Why did the devil, who is a most intelligent spirit, use his freedom in this way which in any case is always a gift of God?

Cardinal Cottier: Here we are before the mystery. The mystery of evil is first of all the mystery of sin.

We are stricken, justly, with physical evils. But there is a much more radical and sad evil which is the evil of sin. The devil is fixed in his rejection. Moreover, the angel's sin is always more grave than man's.

Man has so many weaknesses in himself that in some way his responsibility may be veiled; the angel, being a most pure spirit, has no excuse when he chooses evil. The angel's sin is a tremendous choice.

Q: It seems impossible that an angel created in God's light could have chosen evil.

Cardinal Cottier: When we speak of a fallen angel due to sin we address a very serious argument and we must therefore treat it with great seriousness.

In man's temptation we have almost a reflection of what was the very sin of the angel. Here is the supreme seduction: to put oneself in God's place. Satan also did not recognize his condition of creature.

Q: Why is the devil called the prince of this world?

Cardinal Cottier: It is an expression of John's Gospel. It means that, when the world forgets God, it is dominated by sin. The devil's action is guided by hatred for God and when we follow his temptations he can cause grave damage. The devil's principal evil is spiritual evil, that of sin. This action touches both the individual and society.

Q: Could not God have impeded all this?

Cardinal Cottier: Yes, but he permitted both the devil and man to have the freedom to act and, at times, to sin. It is a tremendous mystery.

St. Paul says: "Everything contributes to the good of those who love God." That is, when we are with God, even evil contributes to our good.

Q: Isn’t this difficult to accept?

Cardinal Cottier: Let us think of the martyrs, of the extraordinary spiritual good that, in the light of faith, derives from a tragedy such as a martyrdom.

Commenting on Paul, St. Augustine said: "God would not have permitted evil if he had not willed to make of this evil a greater good." There are goods that humanity would not have known if it was not for the presence of sin and evil. It is difficult to affirm this, but it is the truth.

Q: How does the devil act in everyday reality?

Cardinal Cottier: We can understand it from some expressions of John's Gospel, when he says that the devil has been a murderer from the beginning. That is, he is a destroyer and causes death, either in the proper sense or spiritually. This is why he is called the great tempter.

Q: Are we referring to the devil when we say in the Our Father "lead us not into temptation"?

Cardinal Cottier: Yes, we pray to God to resist temptation. It is mistaken to think that every temptation comes from the devil, but the strongest and most subtle, the most spiritual, certainly have his mark. And they are both individual and collective temptations.

The devil acts on human history. His influence is negative. Death, sin and deceit are signs of his presence in the world.

Q: You say that not all temptations come from the devil. On what else must we be on guard?

Cardinal Cottier: Christian Tradition tells us that there are three sources of temptation.

The most terrible, of course, is that of the devil. Then there is the world, society, "others" in John's sense. And finally there is the "flesh," that is, we ourselves.

St. John of the Cross says that of these three temptations the most dangerous is the last, that is, we ourselves. The worst enemy for each one of us is ourself.

Before attributing the temptations to the devil and the world, let us think of ourselves. Here we also find the importance of humility and discernment. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of discernment and preserves us from the arrogance of placing too much confidence in ourselves.

Q: What is the most correct attitude that the Christian must have before the mystery of the Evil One?

Cardinal Cottier: Not ever to forget that the passion and death of Jesus have triumphed forever over the devil. This is a certainty. St. Paul's says it. Faith is the victory over the father of sin and lies.

This means that the devil, being a creature, does not have infinite power. Despite all his efforts, the devil will never be able to impede the building of the Kingdom of God, which grows despite all the persecutions. The Christian, thanks to fidelity in the faith, conquers evil.

Q: In conclusion...

Cardinal Cottier: We must take the devil very seriously, but we must not think that he is omnipotent. There are people who have an irrational fear of the devil.

Christian confidence, which is nourished with prayer, humility and penance, must be above all confidence in the love of the Father. And this love is stronger than all. We must have the consciousness that the mercy of God is so great as to surmount all obstacles.