Depending on who you listen to, Satan prowls Earth’s surface, lives in the White House, lurks in Hell, or doesn’t exist.
About Satan and devils in general, I think C. S. Lewis made a good point:
“…There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight….”
“The Screwtape Letters,” Preface, C. S. Lewis (1942))
In art, they started looking like young men with wings. By the 19th century they looked like young women with wings. They all look a bit like the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Nunut as shown on Tut’s pectoral plaque.
‘None of the above’ show what Satan or angels look like. No picture can. It’s a point René Magritte made in his “The Treachery of Images.” It is not a pipe. It’s a symbol, a realistic picture of a pipe. (July 17, 2016)
Our word for them, “angel,” comes from Old English engel and Old French angele.
Those languages got it from Late Latin angelus, “messenger;” and that comes from Late Greek ἄγγελος, ángelos. The word goes back at least to Mycenaean Linear B, where it’s pronounced a-ke-ro; or thereabouts.
“Angel” is their job. They’re messengers, agents, for God. By nature, they’re spirits. (Catechism, 329)
One of them was God. The other two show up a little later, in Genesis 19:1, they’re identified as angels, and that’s another topic.
As for why the Almighty looked like one of three men: I suspect part of the reason is what George Burn’s character said in “Oh, God!”
“I don’t like to brag, but if I appeared to you just as God—how I really am, what I really am—, your mind couldn’t grasp it.”
(God, in “Oh, God!” (1977) via Wikiquote)
More seriously — I think part of 1 Corinthians’ discussion of love says how well we see ‘big picture’ realities at this point:
“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12)
Folks had mirrors when 1 Corinthians was written; dark pools of still water for most, mirrors made from metal, glass, or stone if they could afford it. Glass-coated mirrors were an emerging technology then.
Stone and metal mirrors were far from perfect. As a Wikipedia page put it, “…they often produced warped or blurred images….” And that’s yet another topic.
Having a good, or bad, feeling about something may mean that it’s good or evil: or not. Emotions are part of human nature. They’re not good or bad by themselves. What matters is what we do about them, how we use our reason and will. (Catechism, 1765–1770)
I try to avoid (self-)righteous outrage about whatever’s upsetting me at the moment.
The point is that I’ve been on the receiving end of moral panic too often to assume it’s necessarily reasonable or justified.
Knowing history helps.
That picture, from Martyr’s Mirror, shows a November 13, 1554 execution. Ursula Werdum and her sister Mary Beckum were killed for being Mennonites. There was a war going on at the time, with the usual tensions.
As I keep saying, I do not miss the ‘good old days.’ (November 6, 2016)
God is the Almighty, infinitely good, and “a mystery beyond words;” beyond time and space, and “here” in all places and all times. I do not fully understand God. I cannot. (Catechism, 206, 230, 268, 284, 300, 385, 639, 647–648, 2779)
God created Satan and all demons, which brings me to the downside of free will.
As long as I am alive, I can change my mind: repent after I have refused truth or chosen a wrong action. After I’m dead, my options are limited. I can choose life with God, or — not. (Catechism, 393, 1021–1022)
I’m not sure what “repenting” virtue would be called. In my considered opinion, that’d be daft. But the choice is possible.
Satan and other demons are angels who said “no” to God’s will. The choice was/is theirs: willingly serve God, or willingly reject truth and their intended roles. Once they decided, their choice was irrevocable. (Catechism, 391–395, 414)
Demons want us to get involved in their revolt against God. (Catechism, 414)
I don’t see a reason to oblige them, though.
Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, and we still try blaming others for our own faults. That’s probably what made Flip Wilson’s line so funny.
More about faith, facts, and making sense:
- “Numbers and Nero”
(November 8, 2016)
- “Sin, Original and Otherwise”
(November 6, 2016)
- “The Virtue Trap”
(October 23, 2016)
- “Trusting Feelings: Within Reason”
(October 5, 2016)
- “Temperance, Catholic Style”
(July 10, 2016)
1St. John of Damascus, about Satan and demons:
- “An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” Book II, Chapter 4. Concerning the devil and demons. St. John of Damascus
(From www.newadvent.org/fathers/33042.htm (November 12, 2016))
2Giambattista Vico apparently identified what we now call psychological projection in 1841, Ludwig Feuerbach said we made God in our image, and Sigmund Freud related projection to his psychoanalytic theory. That’s a vast oversimplification, and still another topic.