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.”



  • Joshua Bowman

    In her statement, Dr. Faust did not take a side at all, but seems to miss the point entirely. Worshipping Satan is not wrong because it is “flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory,” “highly offensive,” or “a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community.” It is wrong because Satan is the embodiment of pure evil. Charity demands that we presume Dr. Faust understands the difference, but at the same time we should pray for her soul in the event she does not.

    • Eric Johnson

      Joshua, suggesting that we all must agree with your definition of Satan and evil is intolerant, to say the least. I applaud Dr. Faust’s stance and find it anything but “lukewarm.”

      • Brian

        Eric, what other definition of Satan and evil (although Josh did not define evil at all) is there? I have never heard of Satan as anything other than evil.

        To define something as what it is is not intolerance, it is reality. On that note, I really wish people would what intolerance means, especially those who believe it applies to everybody but themselves.

        • Eric Johnson

          Brian, there are many definitions of “evil.” Just check the internet or better yet, ask 10 people to give you they’re definitions. Joshua’s definition is one of many, many definitions and yet he slanders Justice Scalia’s definition simply because it may not match his. That’s intolerance in my opinion.

          • Rebecca


            You base what you know on what you read on the internet or what 10 other people say and grant them all equal status. That is the definition of relativism. Pope Benedict spoke of the dictatorship of relativism. I encourage you to learn why.

  • Will

    How pitiful to insult the name of the president of Harvard.

  • Chris

    Perhaps I am missing something here. I am certainly open to the possibility that Dr. Faust could do more, but I do not know enough about what kind of authority she has to know that with certitude. But to characterize her as “neutral” in this is not fair. She took a definitive side by deciding to attend Eucharistic adoration and using very strong terms to call the “Black Mass” reprehensible, etc… If one wants to invoke Dante in this, I think, at worst, she would find herself in Purgatario, if indeed she had more authority to stop this. We should not conflate the evil of the proposed “Black Mass” with her considered response to a difficult situation. Publicly committing to show up at Adoration-I do not believe she is Catholic-is a definitive siding with God-even if perhaps an imperfect act.

    • Ann

      Chris, you make a good point. I don’t know what authority she had to stop the black mass. I do hope that behind the scenes those in authority pressured the student group with every bit of leverage they had.



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