Friday, August 5, 2011

From "The Smoke of Satan in the Temple of God"

….At the close of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI remarked that Christianity, the religion of God-Incarnate, had encountered the religion of man-made God. He was of the opinion that much of the Council was given over to demonstrating the compatibility of Enlightenment belief with Catholicism. Several years hence, on June 29, 1972, Paul delivered another assessment of the state of the Roman Catholic Church since the close of Vatican II. As Cardinal Silvio Oddi recalled it (in an article first published on March 17, 1990, in Il Sabato magazine in Rome) the Holy Father told a congregation:

We have the impression that through some cracks in the wall the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God: it is doubt, uncertainty, questioning, dissatisfaction, confrontation. And how did this come about? We will confide to you the thought that may be, we ourselves admit in free discussion, that may be unfounded, and that is that there has been a power, an adversary power. Let us call him by his name: the devil. We thought that after the Council a day of sunshine would have dawned for the history of the Church. What dawned instead was a day of clouds and storms, of darkness, of searching and uncertainties.

His fears of demonic penetration of the Church were even stronger in a later statement:

The opening to the world [aggiornamento or “updating”] became a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking....We have perhaps been too weak and imprudent.

Following these remarks we have a further address given by the Pope to a general audience in November, 1972 which sheds much light on what the Holy Father had in mind and heart in referring to “the smoke of Satan.” It deserves careful reflection, and so is quoted at length. The Holy Father began:

What are the Church's greatest needs at the present time? Don't be surprised at Our answer and don't write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church's greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil.

After discussing the goodness of God’s creation, the fall, and the problem of evil in a world created good, and man’s capacity to do evil, he continued:

We come face to face with sin which is a perversion of human freedom and the profound cause of death because it involves detachment from God, the source of life. And then sin in its turn becomes the occasion and the effect of interference in us and our work by a dark, hostile agent, the Devil. Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening.

It is a departure from the picture provided by biblical Church teaching to refuse to knowledge the Devil's existence; to regard him as a self-sustaining principle who, unlike other creatures, does not owe his origin to God; or to explain the Devil as a pseudo-reality, a conceptual, fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes. When the problem of evil is seen in all its complexity and in its absurdity from the point of view of our limited minds, it becomes an obsession. It poses the greatest single obstacle to our religious understanding of the universe It is no accident that St. Augustine was bothered by this for years: "I sought the source of evil, and I found no explanation.”

And so it was that Paul VI became of a mind that by 1972 an “adversary power” which he called by his name - the Devil - had entered the Church. (cf. Job 1:6; Satan means “the opponent” or “adversary” ) How so? For starters, Bishop Fulton Sheen warned us in his popular retelling of the life of Christ, The Eternal Galilean: "Do not mock the Gospels and say there is no Satan. Evil is too real in the world to say that. Do not say the idea of Satan is dead and gone. Satan never gains so many cohorts as when, in his shrewdness, he spreads the rumor that he is long since dead." Such an attitude only leaves the devil freer than he would otherwise be to work to gain souls for hell. “I am who am not.”
A 1997 survey of beliefs about Satan revealed that 69 percent of Catholics believe that “Satan is only a symbol of evil;” only 26% believing that “Satan is a living being.” Pope Paul instructs us that the former position is “a departure from the picture provided by biblical Church teaching.…” This appears as one little “crack in the wall” through which the smoke could enter: belief in the Devil makes for bad cosmology! Priests, catechists and religious who take the Devil lightly are indeed the easiest target for what St. Paul termed “the mystery of iniquity.” What the Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur taught me regarding the reality of the Devil prior to Vatican II proved no different from what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us today:
The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man's situation and activity in the world. By our first parents' sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free[emphasis added]. Original sin entails 'captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil. Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals .
This originally good angel, the Devil, is a powerful spiritual creature whose goal is to destroy us by turning us against the Father. Christians refer to him every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer—“deliver us from evil” refers to the Evil One, of and to whom Jesus spoke regularly in the Gospels, the angel who opposes his Father. The Catechism broadens this teaching, noting that “heresy, apostasy, and schism--do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes.” Thirty years of teaching in Catholic schools , all of them since the time of Vatican II, has taught me that the Church has witnessed the aforementioned errors in the Sacred Liturgy, religious life, catechesis, social action, and morals, all of which have divided the People of God.