Sympathy for the Devil


Justice Scalia was right. Satan is very much present in the world. As the august jurist said to New York Magazine back in October, “What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.” On Monday of this week, a strange-bedfellows (although perhaps not so surprising) consortium of ultraliberal academics, Atheists, and Satanists failed to go through with their much-publicized and ill-conceived plan to stage a “re-enactment” (i.e., an enactment) of the Black Mass on the grounds of Harvard University. In response, the Catholic community of Boston demonstrated the beauty of our faith by participating in a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Cambridge, dispelling the shadows of the evil one with the power of prayer.

In all this, one has to wonder what has happened to academia. In a response to the Catholic News Agency, a representative of the students complained that Catholics who opposed the worship of the devourer of souls and prince of darkness have views “based on intolerance and ignorance.” Indeed, Satan is well known for his enlightened and tolerant worldview. It is true that the gaping maw of the black pit of despair is open to all without prejudice. One can easily see how opposition to the undying worm which dwells in the place of unquenchable fire is a form of bigotry and anti-intellectualism. Robert Frost is sometimes attributed as saying, “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.” When the other side is the Devil himself, this describes everything wrong with modern liberalism in a nutshell.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

Meanwhile, the President of Harvard, the delightfully-named Dr. Faust, was stuck in a kind of limbo (so to speak), offering her respect for the sensitivities (if perhaps not the actual beliefs) of the Catholic community while stating that she was powerless to stop the group from carrying out their plans. The belching fiery depths of Hell are not exactly “a community based on civility and mutual understanding,” but Harvard is. As a kind of modern-day Pontius Pilate, she did her best to wash her hands of the whole affair, but we should all pray for her soul, that when she is called to judgment before the dreadful throne of the most high, her hands are not stained with guilt like Lady Macbeth for her cowardice in the face of evil. The battle for souls is not a genteel debate club. As Christians, we do not “profoundly disagree” with Satan. He is the enemy of all mankind.

The Divine Comedy describes the plight of the angels who remained neutral in the Battle in Heaven. Perhaps they were too busy filling out applications for Harvard and couldn’t be bothered. In Dante’s account, they now endure eternal torment in the shadow of the gates of Hell:

Here sighs, with lamentations and loud moans,
Resounded through the air pierced by no star,
That e’en I wept at entering. Various tongues,
Horrible languages, outcries of woe,
Accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse,
With hands together smote that swell’d the sounds,
Made up a tumult, that forever whirls
Round through that air with solid darkness stain’d,
Like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies.

I then, with horror yet encompast, cried:
“O master! what is this I hear? what race
Are these, who seem so overcome with woe?”

He thus to me: “This miserable fate
Suffer the wretched souls of those, who lived
Without or praise or blame, with that ill band
Of angels mix’d, who nor rebellious proved,
Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves
Were only. From his bounds Heaven drove them forth
Not to impair his lustre; nor the depth
Of Hell receives them, lest the accursed tribe
Should glory thence with exultation vain.”

I then: “Master! what doth aggrieve them thus,
That they lament so loud?” He straight replied:
“That will I tell thee briefly. These of death
No hope may entertain: and their blind life
So meanly passes, that all other lots
They envy. Fame of them the world hath none,
Nor suffers; Mercy and Justice scorn them both.
Speak not of them, but look, and pass them by.”

The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, 1880-1917

The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, 1880-1917

The message is clear, and is most likely inspired by this passage from the book of Revelation:

To the angel of the church in Laodicea, write this:

“The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this:
‘I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.’”

In our world, the Devil takes many forms. He seduces us with false promises of power and wealth and fame and sophistication, but most of all indifference. It is very rare in our time that we are confronted with the forces of malice and destruction in such a manifest and unambiguous way. God’s mercy abounds in the sacrament of reconciliation for the sinner of contrite heart, but the lesson of history and of scripture is clear: the penalty for those who do not take sides in the battle against Lucifer’s army of demons is far more severe than for those who are merely misled by the serpent’s guile. How can we repent if we do not believe we are in error? We would do well to follow the words of my namesake, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Joshua Bowman joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved back to his beloved native Virginia from Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities.

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