Father Fortea, should we be afraid of the devil?

afraid of the devilThe devil strives to do all the evil that he can, especially by tempting us to turn away from God through sin. If he could do more evil, he would. If a person prays the Rosary daily and asks God to protect him from all the snares of the Evil One, he has nothing to fear. The power of God is infinite; that of the devil is not.

God, through His gift of sanctifying grace, has given us a powerful weapon against Satan. St. Paul tells us: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11). The words of St. John are equally encouraging: “We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the Evil One does not touch him” (1 Jn 5:18). And Jesus Himself assures us: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you” (Lk 10:19). The words of Jesus are categorical: nothing can harm us if we are in Him.

For a Christian, fear of the devil is completely unjustified, for faith in God casts out all fear. As a child, St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a wonderful dream which she relates in her autobiography:

“One night I dreamed that I went out for a walk alone in the garden. Arriving at the stairs that had to be climbed so as to get to the garden, I was frozen to the spot with fright. In front of me, near the bower, there was a barrel of lime and on the barrel two horrible looking little devils were dancing with surprising agility given they had irons attached to their feet. Suddenly, their inflamed eyes looked towards me and then instantly, showing themselves to be much more scared than I, they jumped off the barrel and went to hide themselves in the clothes room that was there in front. Seeing that they were not very brave, I wanted to see what they were going to do, and so I approached the window. The poor little devils were there, running over the tables not knowing how to hide from my sight. Sometimes they came close to the window looking with suspicion to see if I was still there; and upon seeing me they began to run desperately around the place again.

Certainly this dream has nothing of the extraordinary. But I believe nevertheless that God allowed this dream to be remembered always, to show me that a soul in the state of grace has nothing to fear from demons, who are cowards capable of running away from the look of a child.” (Story of a Soul, chapter 1)

Similarly, St. Teresa of Avila, in her Autobiography , writes:

“Seeing, then, this Lord (God) is so powerful as I see and know He is, and that the demons are His slaves – of which there can be no doubt, because it is of faith – and I am a servant of this Lord and King, what harm can they do unto me? Why have I not strength enough to fight against all hell? I took up the cross in my hand, and I changed in a moment into another person in a short time and it seemed as if God had really given me the courage enough not to be afraid of encountering all of them. It seemed to me that with the cross I could easily defeat them altogether. So I cried out, come on all of you; I am the servant of our Lord. I should like to see what you can do against me.

And certainly they seemed to be afraid of me for I was left in peace: I feared them so little, that the terrors which until now oppressed me, quitted me altogether; and though I saw them occasionally, I shall speak of this by and by, I was never again afraid of them; on the contrary, they seemed to be afraid of me. I found myself endowed with an authority over them, given me by the Lord of all, so that I cared no more for them than for flies. They seem to be such cowards; for their strength fails them at the sight of any one who despises them.

These enemies have not the courage to assail any of those whom they see ready to give in to them, or when God permits them to do so, for the greater good of His servants, whom they may tempt and torment. May it please His Majesty that we fear Him whom we ought to fear, and understand that one venial sin can do us more harm than all hell together; for that is so. The evil spirits keep us in terror just because we want to.

… It is a great pity. But if, for the love of God, we hated all this and embraced the cross and set about His service in earnest, [the devil] flees away before such realities as from the plague. He is the friend of lies, and the lie himself. He will have no pact with those who walk in the truth.

… I do not understand those terrors which make us cry out, Demon, Demon! When we may say God, God! And make Satan tremble. Do we not know that he cannot stir without the permission of God? What does it mean? I am really much more afraid of those people who have so great a fear of the devil, than I am of the devil himself. He can do me no harm.” (Autobiography, chapter 25, no. 19-22)

Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote on the following on this topic:

“The mystery of iniquity is so inserted in the fundamental Christian perspective, that is to say, in the perspective of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over the power of evil. From this view, the freedom of the Christian and the sure trust that rejects fear (1 John 4:18) takes all its dimensions: truth excludes fear and as such allows the power of the evil one to be seen. (Quoted in Renovation and the Power of Darkness by Joseph Cardinal Suenens)”

As you can see, our faith teaches us that the devil exists, but he exists in the theological construction of faith in God our Lord. Faith in God is incompatible with fear; rather, faith destroys all fear. As 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”


Editor’s Note:  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 or not we should be afraid of the devil: Masque Bambara (Bambara Mask), photographed by Roman Bonnefoy, 19 July 2010 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; detail of Padre José Antonio Fortea 2017, photographed by Elgatoconbotaselgatoconbotas, 5 May 2017 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; both Wikimedia Commons. Cover of “Interview with an Exorcist” used with permission, all rights reserved.

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