Jesuit Superior General: The Devil Is ‘Not a Person’, ‘Symbolic’

The Satanic Temple’s bronze Baphomet. Photograph: The Satanic Temple/AP
The Satanic Temple/AP

ROME — The superior general of the Jesuits declared this week that Satan is not a real person but a symbol of evil acting in the world, sparking a sharp rebuke from the world’s exorcists.

The devil “exists as the personification of evil in different structures but not in people, because he is not a person, but a manner of carrying out evil,” said Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal in an interview with Tempi.it published Wednesday.

“He is not a person like a human person. He is a way for evil to be present in human life. Good and evil are in a permanent struggle in human consciousness, and we have ways of indicating them,” said the Venezuelan priest. “We recognize God as good, entirely good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

On Thursday, the International Association of Exorcists (IAE) issued a press release reproaching the leader of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) for twisting Catholic teaching regarding the existence of the devil.

Faced with these “grave and confusing statements,” the AIE said, “some doctrinal clarifications are necessary in the light of the magisterium, including the current pontiff.”

“The real existence of the devil as a personal subject who thinks and acts and has made the choice of rebelling against God is a truth of faith that has always been part of Christian doctrine,” the statement reads.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that Satan or the devil is a “fallen angel,” who was created by God as a good angel. “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing,” it states.

“Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls ‘a murderer from the beginning,’” the Catechism states, adding that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

In their press release, the exorcists quote Pope Saint Paul VI, who said in 1972 that evil in the world is “the effect of an intervention in us and in our world of a dark enemy agent, the devil. Evil is not just a deficiency, but a living, spiritual, perverted, and perverted being.”

The pope went on to reiterate that the devil “is the number-one enemy, the tempter par excellence. We know that this dark and disturbing being really exists.”

The IAE also cites Pope Francis in his insistence that the devil is a real person and not just a symbolic personification of evil.

“Let us not think therefore that [the devil] is a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure or an idea,” Francis said. “This deception leads us to lower our guard, to neglect ourselves, and remain more exposed.”

“As an International Association of Exorcists, we wish to end by reporting what was stated by the Italian Episcopal Conference at the Presentation of the Italian version of the new Rite of Exorcisms,” the statement concludes.

“The disciple of Christ, in the light of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, believes that the Evil One and the demons exist and act in the personal and communal history of mankind,” the citation reads.

“The Gospel, in fact, describes the work of Jesus as a struggle against Satan. The life of his disciples entails a battle that ‘is not against creatures made of flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of evil,’” it says.

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