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Demons and Demonology - Part 1

Updated on October 17, 2016

Scripture gives a hint of how some angels, led by the angel of light (Lucifer) chose to rebel against God and were consequently thrown out of paradise (Jude 6, Revelation 5:2, 11, 7:1, etc). They, though were created good, by their own free choice have rejected God, the summum bonum (Ultimate Good) and have constituted themselves into agents of the negation of good which we now call evil.

known now as the devil and demons, scripture tells us that they go about seeking the ruin of souls. Since devils are fallen angels, we only need to transpose the expositions we have made about the nature of angels to derive the ontological nature of demons. For example, Thomas Aquinas is of the opinion that just like among the angels, there is also precedence among the demons. He says: "the demons are not equal in nature, and so among them, there exist a natural precedence". In other words, they are of different grades and ranks.

The scientific study of demons is what is called Demonology. Let us now do a little survey of how Catholic Demonology has developed over the centuries right from biblical times.

Demons in the Old Testament

Early Judaism gave very little attention to the subject of demons. Perhaps because of the threat posed to monotheism for this would mean giving attention to something else other than Yaweh who is the one Lord and God, who alone must be given absolute attention and devotion.

According to Nnamani, "initially Jews merely accepted that demons could tempt, corrupt, and physically injure, or kill a human being but later with the influence of the Canaanite, Babylonian and other Mesopotamian religion, they came to recognize the significance of demonic power even in interior possessions."

Jewish demonology later, especially from the time of the the (Babylonian) exile came to associate demons with the fallen angels and to a lesser degree with the pagan gods of their neighbors.

Satan is present in Jewish demonology as the leader of the rebellious angels, but God retains him as a member of the heavenly court permitted to afflict men as the story of Job suggests (Job 1:6).

Kent notes that "one characteristic of Jewish demonology was the amazing multitude of demons... the air is full of them and ... they were the causes of various diseases..."
Among these demons were Nephilim (Genesis 6:1 - 4), giants said to have been fathered by fallen angels (Genesis 6:2); Azazel was supposed by some to be a demon to whom the scapegoat was sent through the wilderness bearing the people's sins (Leviticus 15:10, 16:21). Other names for devils belonging to the Old Testament demonology are Lucifer, Satan, Mammon, Leviathan, Asmodeus, Lilith.

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Demons in the New Testament

The second Vatican Council Document: Les formes multiples de la superstition (1975) "Christian Faith and Demonology" offers a succinct New Testament demonology. The Fathers of the Council teach that though he was a Jew, Jesus always had an independence of mind with regard to Jewish traditions. His teachings even on demons were therefore not repetitions of what existed in Judaism. In fact, there was even no agreement as to the existence of angels or spirits (good or bad) among the various Jewish sects in Jesus' day (Acts 23:8).

In the gospels, Jesus warned his hearers against the adversary. His handling of the devil was radical. He literally led a crusade against the kingdom of darkness (Mark 3:22 - 26). Jesus blamed Satan in his parables as an obstacle to the kingdom of God which he came to inaugurate. To purport that Jesus' reference to the evil one was a mere personification of the principle of evil, needing demythologisation, is to say the least a contradiction to the faith of the first hearers of the gospel.

Jesus' personal testimony treats Satan as real. Jesus however, showed his power over Satan through his exorcism in which he "threw or cast out" the demons and healed the afflicted persons. The two terms "to heal" and "to cast or throw out" used interchangeably in the Gospels should draw our attention to the prevailing world view of the time which ascribed some illness to demonic possession which we would see as psychological or psychiatric disorders today.

Dufour avers that "most of the time, diabolic possession and sickness are intermingled" (Matthew 17, 15:18). Consequently, sometimes Jesus is said to heal the possessed (Luke 6:18; 7:21), sometimes to drive out evil spirits (Mark 1:23) Dufour however, proceeds to contend that this knowledge should not lead us to undermine those cases of possession that were clear cut and in which Jesus actually hard to exorcise. Examples of which are the demoniac in the synagogue at Capharnaum (Mark 1:23 - 27) and Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2).
Thus, though his healing and exorcisms are sometimes taken as the same, Jesus actually did both, that is, heal infirmities and cast out demons, as signs of his liberating presence in the world; the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.

Pauline Demonology

Pauline demonology nearly personifies sin and death, but never equates them with the personal being, Satan whom he refers to as the cunning adversary. The struggle against principalities and powers which includes the struggle against sin is of greater concern than the possession of individuals by the for Paul. However, he warns the Ephesians that they struggle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 - 13).

The rest of the New Testament says nothing really different from what the gospels and Pauline epistles offer. The Apocalypse of John is however, remarkable for its symbolic representations of the victory of the lamb over Satan and his agents (Revelation 6:15 - 17).

While Johanine literature treats Satan as the prince of this world, it does not therefore, attribute every evil to him and exonerate human beings who will be judged based on their discipleship of the lamb and denouncement of the beast. And at the end, only those washed in the blood of the lamb will be saved.


Most of the words used on this write up, are from Father Michael.

In this first part, I have explained from the beginning, how demons came about and how both testaments have seen it. In the next part, we shall conclude by going deeply into more on demons and demonology starting with the Patristic and Conciliar Demonologies.


Amuluche Greg Nnamani, Demonology and African Experience.

Cruz, J. C., Angels and Devils, Rockford Illinois, USA, Tan Books and Pub, Inc. 1993.

Leon Dufour, Xavier (ed), Dictionary of Biblical Theology, London Burns & Oates, 2004.

Kent, K. W., "Demonology" in the Catholic Encyclopaedia: Vol. iv, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 2003.

Demonology: - A-E List of Demons, Devils, trickstars and other evil:

Demonology: A Comprehensive Guide:

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