Who is the Devil?

Who indeed?

Now having read Who is the Devil? by Nicolas Corte it is all too clear, if unnervingly so.

Sophia Institute Press has done us all a service in reprinting this classic text first published in French under the title Satan l’adversaire. At the time of its publication in 1958 it was a brave counterblast to the then fashionable theological thinking, in some quarters at least, that relegated belief in the devil to that of folklore, a psychological regression or, worse still, an outdated medieval superstition.  If at that time there was a need to impress on minds the threat posed from the evil one then how much more timely is this new edition for today’s world?

If you look for information on line about this book’s author you will find little if anything. In a way you don’t need to know as he reveals himself in these pages enough for the reader to understand that one is reading the thoughts of a man whose thinking on this subject has been scholarly, prayerful and urgent. It is the writings of a mind that looks outward comprehending the true nature of what is around him. He has studied the Sacred Scriptures, but he has also read the times he lives in.

We are at war. Not with our fellow man, but with an angelic being and his hordes. Infinitely more intelligent than us, the warfare is lopsided to say the least. Our only refuge is the City of God, as St. Augustine called it, in direct contrast to the Kingdom of Satan. About that kingdom what the author has to say is most surprising.

Where is it? In front of our eyes, it is this realm we inhabit. Using the Scriptures, Corte shows that the devil is indeed the Lord of Hell but, until confined there at the end of time, he is also ‘roaming about’ upon the face of the earth with his legions. After all, he is the Prince of this World; it belongs to him, for now at least. Therefore we should not be surprised in the realisation that he is in ‘control’. Look around, the evidence is clear.

What marks do we look for? The usual ones summed up in the cry: Non Serviam! Where there is a replacement for God in whatever form, shape or fashion then it is of the Kingdom of Satan. The trained eye can see its defining characteristic summed up in one word: counterfeit. Corte shows that from time immemorial pagans and non-believers have made themselves slaves to this tyranny. Liberation was only possible with the coming of the true Light, one that the darkness could not overcome, and which at last penetrated the shadows cast from Eden’s eclipse.

We had better get to know this adversary, and thankfully this book is like a well-timed dossier from a well-placed intelligent source. And what does it reveal? The force behind the war perpetrated on all mankind is not some abstract ideal, some negative energy, or even some being equal in power to the Lord of the Universe – some sort of rival claimant. No, it is first and foremost a personality. Think for a moment of the nastiest individual you can imagine, one that hates you, loathes you in fact, and at every opportunity is out to harm you and anyone or anything belonging to you. In short, your destruction is his goal, nothing less will do. Unfortunately your enemy is so much more intelligent than you, has greater resources at hand and is fully focussed on his mission. Got the idea? Well, what you face from the devil is infinitely more threatening than even this posed in these human terms. Perhaps now one begins to understand the urgency behind what is written in these pages for such an enemy is a terrific threat. Especially so when he has a habit of disappearing from view…

By the time Corte was writing the prediction of Baudelaire had become all too real: the greatest trick the devil played was in pretending not to exist.  Interestingly in this regard the book notes a number of cases of possession. One of the characteristics that came from the mouths of those so possessed under the influence of demons was their displeasure at revealing too much. The example of Antoine Gay is a case in point. The evil spirit that tormented him in the end said just that: too much, and soon the village where this occurred became more devout than ever as all former traces of materialistic atheism vanished in the face of a real and present supernatural threat. Concealment has proved a much better strategy, however, as from ‘off stage’ comes the soft whispers, the ‘balanced’ logic, the subtle reasoning that moves us slowly and inexorably away from what all Catholics are called to namely a total identification with Christ, commonly known as sanctity.

If one’s foe is hidden then there is an even greater need to unmask him and his works. Corte does just that. Forensically he combs the Scriptures for clues to the combat the devil has been engaged in with our forefathers from the very dawn of creation: from Eden down to the attack upon Job, from the temptation in the desert to the extensive writings on the subject by the Apostles; Holy Writ leaves the reader in no doubt. Point by point, episode by episode, we catch glimpses of the evil one, with the most remarkable feature being how consistent he is. It would seem that his methods, his strategy, above all his goals have remained the same since he looked with envy at our first parents; he hasn’t changed, and won’t do so until the Final Battle. Only a persistent misreading, or an unwillingness to see, could alter what is in plain view in the verses of the Bible.

Corte does not just use the Scriptures, however, but 2000 years of tradition as well. He states that the Desert Fathers understood, wrote and taught about demonology in the way modern man understands the hidden workings of science. Such non-material entities were perceived as real and thus to be countered in the same way as, for example, illness is today. In those earlier times, there was no ‘wishing away’ of such forces as some of the author’s contemporaries now attempted to do.

Who is the Devil? is available as a paperback or ebook from Sophia Institute Press.

To the history of Christianity, Corte details its shadow side in the forms that Satanism has taken down through the centuries. The various cults and mystery religions that have sprouted and infected the various times: names such as Ophites, Cainites, and Luciferians mingle on the page with more familiar heretical sects such as the Gnostics and the Cathars.

He notes with interest the widespread change of ‘image’ given to Satan in the literature of the 19th Century: changed from foe and adversary to that of one deserving ‘sympathy’ – this creature but a sad reflection of Divine ‘cruelty’. It is hardly worth dwelling on such wilful blindness, nay stupidity, and Corte does so only long enough to reveal that evil is dynamic. The ‘sympathy’ of that century was followed by later disbelief, but by then the ‘disappearing act’ had taken place. And as this happened, the next century was plunged into darkness. The ruler of this world present in the trenches of futile nationalistic squabbles that led to millions dead and at mass exterminations carried out across the globe in the name of godless ideologies. Corte joins the dots and as a face slowly begins to emerge it is clear to the reader that the eyes that stare back are dead.

This is a scholarly work, one to be recommended. Precise and to the point, there is little time for any novel innovation. This is who the devil is and this is what we can deduce about him; this is what he has done, how he displays himself, and how he will continue to do so. There is a clinical stripping away of any confusion about who he really is: a liar, an accuser, a seducer and a murderer from the beginning. It is as if the author knew that time was short and that this information had to be imparted sooner rather than later. He is in no doubt that the then theological trends were dangerous and if followed would have catastrophic consequences.

When published this work would seem to have fallen on deaf ears, however. By 1975, less than 20 years after the original publication of Satan l’adversaire, the then Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had to issue a document, Christian Faith and Demonology, ‘for the reaffirmation of the teaching of the Magisterium on the theme’. What Corte had warned against had gained ground and energy in the intervening years so much so that the former Holy Office had had to re-affirm that which was clearly set out in Scripture and Tradition, as well as attested to dogmatically at The Fourth Lateran Council (1215). And yet this was at a time in the 1960s & 70s when occult themes were never more present in popular culture.

Maybe it was no coincidence that just a few years prior to the S.C.D.F. document being issued a well known English rock band, following the 19th Century tradition, sang of ‘sympathy for the devil’ whilst detailing the many guises that being donned in the 20th Century. Through all the carnage  – wars & revolutions – the song’s infernal narrator sings that he is ‘pleased’ to meet us, hopes we can guess his name… Needless to say, we are never ‘pleased’ to have any dealings with this ‘character’, knowing exactly who and what he is, and what’s more we should guard against him with all that the Church teaches. That said, in this perpetual struggle, after having read Who is the Devil? one is certainly better prepared against the wiles of this mysterious and evil entity.

image: Detail from the bronze doors of the Basillica of S. Zeno, Verono via Mattana / WikimediaCommons

Editor’s note: Who is the Devil? is available from Sophia Institute Press or your local Catholic bookstore. 

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KV Turley writes from London

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