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Demons and Demonology - Part 2

Updated on October 15, 2016

Patristic and Conciliar Demonologies

After the Apostolic era, during which time the New Testament was written, Church Fathers (The Patristics) from Melitos in the 2nd century to Augustine in the 5th century gave a thought to the devil and his efforts to vitiate the salvation brought to human beings by Christ. After them, the medieval theologians and later on the scholastics like Thomas Aquinas also took the subject of demonology to task.

It is noteworthy that it is the collective thoughts of these Fathers of the Church that snowballed into doctrinal formulations in general Church councils. Specifically, Iraenaeus spoke of the devil as an apostate angel, thereby implying that he was good ab initio (from the beginning). This was in contradistinction to the prevailing Manichean dualism which held that the devil is an evil principle independent of God, which emanated from darkness, and runs a parallel kingdom to that of God.

Saint Augustine, who himself was a convert from Manicheanism, adopts a modified dualism, in which though God has no parallel, Satan who is a fallen angel of God is at work in the earthly city prompting men to go against the earthly principles that leads to the heavenly city. In summary, the early Church Fathers saw the devil and his agents as those angels of God who out of pride became disloyal to God and as a result, were thrown out of heaven.

"In the course of 20 centuries, the teaching authority of the Church has made few dogmatic statements on the devil and the demons." There are two main points that one can garner from the proceedings of various Church Councils. The first is that God created all things whether spiritual or material good, but some (spiritual beings: the devil and his angels) became bad by their own free choice. The second is that man's fall was at the prompting of the devil who continues to lure him away from the path of salvation.

The above teachings were taught with the force of Ecclesiastical anathema between the 4th and the 5th centuries. Conciliar demonology did not add much to this idea from the Council of Braga in the middle of the 6th century when Pope Innocent III inserted the two dogmatic propositions mentioned earlier into the creed drawn up at the fourth Lateran Council (1215). Against dualistic tendencies, the Fathers of the fourth Lateran Council firmly posited that there is only one principle of all things both visible and invisible... For the devil and the other demons created good according to their nature... The Council of Florence (1431) simply added a new dimension that redemption is liberation from every domination of Satan. At the Council of Trent, the Pauline teaching that sinful man is under the power of sin and death was re - echoed.

Medieval and Modern Demonologies

Medieval demonology is not seriously different from Patristic and Conciliar demonologies, since for the most part, the various Church Councils had clearly outlined what was orthodox demonology and what was not. But, what is striking about this period is the overemphasis on demonic operations which are traceable to the pagan demonologies which conciliar demonology tried to correct with little success before this time.

Nnamani puts it this way:

"Much fear characterized this period... it seemed that the whole nature (mount, stream and forests) was filled with demons, intermittently harassing people in sleep and sucking their blood (vampires) and taking possession of them, demons were believed to be appearing in fearful human forms and in beasts like cats and bats... it provoked the witch craze that swept over Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries. True to their belief, people could testify to many demonic manifestations; for apart from tempting and corrupting souls, demons were also alleged to have been causing diseases, madness, sickness, death and natural disasters."

What followed was the attempt to clamp down on witches throughout Europe known in history as the "witch craze". This was followed by the period of Enlightenment: the rise of rationalism and scientism (17th - 18th centuries) which made men see belief in the devil and demons as belonging to the past, to the pre - scientific era.

Vatican Council II Demonology

Vatican Council II makes a succinct recasting of earlier Conciliar demonologies. In view however of the need to respond to the tendency towards a rationalism that denied the reality of the devil and his agents, the Fathers of the council drew particular attention to the following:

  • "That it is a departure from the picture provided by biblical and Church teachings to refuse to acknowledge 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 and fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes... Exegetes and theologians should not be deaf to this warning".
  • The devil is a creature and not God's parallel.
  • We are free and as such, though tempted by Satan and his agents, we are responsible for our evil actions.
  • Prudent discernment and a critical attitude must guide our approach to possible diabolical interventions.
  • The devil is real and not even all exegetical demythologization has sufficiently accounted for the obscurities surrounding the devil. To think that such a rationalist position resolves all the puzzles about the devil and his agents is atleast naive.
  • Faith in God's providence in the face of evil is what we require. The Apostle Peter calls for such a disposition when he admonishes us to stand up to him, strong in faith. (1Peter 5:9).
  • After all our efforts at reaching an understanding, the evil one and the evil which he perpetuates along with his agents, remain a mystery.

Notes

In this hub, a continuation from the first part, we have seen that Catholic Demonology teaches that God is the creator of all things spiritual and physical and that some of his spiritual creatures (angels) rebelled against Him and as such have come to be bad angels who are also called demons along with their head Lucifer or Satan. These bad or evil spirits continue to trouble human beings. The witchcraft spirit especially in Africa, is considered as evil spirits, belonging to one of the cadres of demons, who disturb the people of God.

Most of these as written, are words of Father Michael.

With it, comes the end to my view of demons and demonology.

References

Amuluche Greg Nnamani, Demonology and African Experience.

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

Demonology: - A-E List of Demons, Devils, trickstars and other evil: www.deliriumsrealm.com

Demonology: A Comprehensive Guide: www.djmcadam.com/demons.htm18k

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

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

www.spiritualcuriosity.com/demonology.htm-11k_Margoni

www.newadvent.org/cathen/04710a.htm

www.angelfire.com

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