Dear Fr. Fortea, can a person make a pact with the devil?
Many think that pacts with the devil only exist in literature, but they are mistaken. There are those who consciously, with full awareness and intentionality, make a pact with the devil and devote their souls to him in order to get something in this life. The notion of a formal pact with the devil appears for the first time in the fifth century in the writings of St. Jerome. This Father of the Church tells of a young man who went to a wizard so as to obtain the favors of a beautiful woman. As pay for his services, the wizard forced the young man to renounce in writing his faith in Christ. In the sixth century, we also see this type of pact in the legend of Theofilus, who agrees to be a servant of the devil and signs a formal pact. This legend was widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Of course, one can write out a pact with the devil, but he is not going to appear. This is often discouraging to the person making the pact because he or she expects this to happen. Even so, if one invokes the devil for a particular purpose, it may come to pass (as in spiritualism, for example). On this topic, we also need to make the following points:
1. Making a pact with the devil does not mean that you will obtain a life of wealth, luxury, or fame. I personally know of two people who made such a pact, and to put it frankly, their material lifestyle is worse than mine. Neither does it appear that the devil was especially generous to them in a carnal way. We need to remember that the devil is a deceiver; he is not God – he cannot give whatever he wants (see CCC 395).
2. A person can always repent of the pact whenever he wants to with a simple act of the will. Upon repenting, the pact they made remains as ink on paper, no matter what the terms of the deal were. Even if the possibility of repentance was excluded in the pact, such a clause is useless. God has given us the freedom to do as we want; we cannot renounce this gift. This is also valid in eternity – in heaven we will no longer want to sin and in hell we will no longer want to be forgiven, but our freedom remains intact.
Many seem to think that the devil can grant one success in business or in a profession, that he can give one wealth or fame. But, as we have said, the power of the devil is limited. Worldly success depends on a complex interplay of causes and effects. The devil can only tempt humans to be part of his plan – for example, he can tempt a manager to choose one worker instead of another. But this temptation can be overcome, so not even a simple thing like this is certain by making a pact with the devil.
The great destructive power of a demonic pact is that the person may think he is condemned no matter what he does. It is difficult for him to see that he is still as free as before to repent and revoke the pact he has made, returning wholeheartedly to God.
PS from the Editor: To learn more about spiritual warfare and demonology, Catholic Spiritual Direction recommends Fr. Fortea’s excellent book Interview With An Exorcist – An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance.
Art for this post on whether a person can make a pact with the devil: Notre Dame Gargoyle, provided by Dan Burke from istock of unknown provenance. Detail of Padre José Antonio Fortea 2017, photographed by Elgatoconbotaselgatoconbotas, 5 May 2017 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of “Interview with an Exorcist” used with permission, all rights reserved.