The Little Elf with Horns – who Tempted Christ

This is a reprint, (with full permission) of a recent article from Catholic & Welsh. It is provided here as one in the series of contributions by guest authors. If you would like to be a guest author, please get in touch.

Pure Evil?

I picked up a copy of the Redemptorists’ Sunday Bulletin the other week and on reading it, thrust it into a pocket for future usage.

Sunday Bulletin is a slightly less happy clappy, fudgy and gooey version of their other bulletin Sunday Plus which I’ve written about in the past (that weekly offering promotes Buddhism, relativism and lukewarm ‘take it or leave it’ cafeteria Catholicism, primarily to youngsters).

This issue of the Sunday Bulletin is less openly offensive, but one worrying aspect struck me.

In numerous books I’ve read, whether theological, biographical or autobiographical, I have come across the fact that the Devil’s main trick is to convince others that he does not exist. Exorcists especially are adamant on this point (read Fr Gabriel Amorth’s books – it’s also a point repeated in the recent Anthony Hopkins’ film The Rite).

Just this week some “expert” has been doing the rounds explaining how ‘evil’ does not exist, but rather a lack of empathy. If only we all loved each other there would be no wickedness. As comforting as that might be to pupils in an infant school, the reality of the world is far more complicated and (sad to say) evil does exist as surely as fish fingers contain no fingers — and often fish of questionable provenance.

Satan exists. Temptation exists. Whilst we do not need to be fixated on the former, I think all humans should be wary, and should be vigilant against the latter, for we all have a fallen nature, we are all human with our glaring human weaknesses.

The Devil’s power exists in knowing our weaknesses and targeting them in subtle, powerful, manipulative and even in outwardly just ways. But to be fixated with Satan is wrong, as Our Lord and Our Lady give us the Graces and help we need to overcome Satan’s temptations.

However, it is equally as wrong to make-pretend that Satan does not exist or seek to re-write his nature. The Bible clearly states he exists. That fallen angel who refused to serve God and obey the Divine Will tempted our forefathers, for the remedy of which Christ the Redeemer was born and dwelt among us.

To whitewash the Devil out of history is to undermine the Salvific nature of Christ’s Incarnation.

Preachers who say the Devil (and/or Hell) doesn’t exist may be trying to make our road easier and more comfortable (or to make churches seem more welcoming and “inclusive”), but to max out on clichés, life isn’t meant to be a bed of roses, and the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Priests who try to ignore Satan totally (as opposed to putting him in his place) remind me very much of the 1980s when there seemed to be a spate of clerics –mostly Anglicans I think– who were renowned for stating that there was no Virgin Birth, or that the Resurrection didn’t happen. Dear God.

I have just finished reading With Us Today by Fr J Hardon SJ and God Has Not Changed by Alice Thomas Ellis. Both authors (who come at Catholicism from different angles, but defend the same Truths) say they know priests who do notbelieve in central tenets of Catholicism. Fr Hardon says a priest he met did not believe in Transubstantiation. Bizarre. Thomas Ellis asks why these people are priests at all if they do not believe (saying it is akin to her joining the Masons or the Hell’s Angels)?

Yet here in the Redemptorists’ publication (used in many churches I am sure), we have snide remarks about the Gospels and what I perceive as the undermining of Catholic Truth. On dealing with Christ’s temptation in the desert, at the hands of Satan directly, surely one of the main Gospel texts which can be used directly to prove the existence of the Devil and thus of pure evil and malice, we have this rather bizarre couple of sentences:

What form did Satan take? We don’t need to imagine the tempter as a little elf with horns and a tail, springing around quoting biblical texts. When we are tempted…. no such elf is required.”

Now, as is usual in such fudgy, hedging-ones-bets, woolly language it is notheretical. It does not deny the existence of Satan. It would be crass to do so given the week’s reading. However, one thing we can be sure of is that Satan didtempt Christ directly, Satan did quote the Scriptures at Christ, trying to twist them to his own ends and tempt God. How he appeared to Christ is kind-of irrelevant. If anything he would have appeared ‘all sweetness and light’ (like a thought-for-the-day cleric) to deceive. To dismiss Satan as “a little elf with horns” is childish, to say the least.

No he does not appear in a flash of lightning when we are tempted, but our souls are at risk from temptation and just as the Saints and Angels are there to help us in our daily battles (one should always remember the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel “defend us in battle”), so Satan and demons are abroad tempting us, or pushing others to put temptation in our way.

As you may have guessed I am no theologian, but I find it discomforting (to say the least) that this kind of infantile writing seeks to diminish the role of Satan and make him into some kind of kids’ cartoon character red smurf who is banished to history books. That is as wrong as those who personify evil at every turn and become fixated by the occult.

In an age when fewer and fewer people receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinty of Our Lord at the Altar of God — and Christ made it clear that to be saved we have to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood (a Gospel passage Protestants prefer to skim across) — it is essential that the Church is not seen to demote evil from being a very real thing with an author, for just as Jesus Christ brought us Salvation, so Satan brought about our initial downfall from paradise.

I would rather have Faith in Christ and Love of the Blessed Virgin than ever fear Satan; but if I have to chose between fearing Satan and laughing at some “little elf with horns” I would rather the former, for the latter smacks of false pride and hubris.

The following prayer was written by Pope Leo XIII, a very Holy Pope and much-cherished leader of our Church. He was permitted, by God, to see the battle raging wherein Satan and his demons sought to destroy the Catholic Church. Rather than talk of “a little elf with horns” we would do will to daily recite this prayer, which used to be said after every Low Mass (the long version of the prayer is below the shorter version in English and Latin)


Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio. Contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur. Tuque princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo divina virtute in infernum detrude. Amen.

Original Long Version of the Prayer

“O Glorious Prince of the heavenly host, St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle and in the terrible warfare that we are waging against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the evil spirits. Come to the aid of man, whom Almighty God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of Satan.

“Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven. That cruel, ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of His Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.

“These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where the See of Holy Peter and the Chair of Truth has been set up as the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be.

“Arise then, O invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and give them the victory. They venerate thee as their protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious power of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly find mercy in the sight of the Lord; and vanquishing the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.

V. Behold the Cross of the Lord; be scattered ye hostile powers.
R. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered the root of David.
V. Let Thy mercies be upon us, O Lord.
R. As we have hoped in Thee.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.

Let us pray.

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we call upon Thy holy Name, and as supplicants, we implore Thy clemency, that by the intercession of Mary, ever Virgin Immaculate and our Mother, and of the glorious St. Michael the Archangel, Thou wouldst deign to help us against Satan and all the other unclean spirits who wander about the world for the injury of the human race and the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Roman Raccolta, July 23, 1898, supplement approved July 31, 1902,
London: Burnes, Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1935, 12th edition.
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10 Responses to The Little Elf with Horns – who Tempted Christ

  1. Toadspittle says:

    The poor old Devil.
    Gets the blame for everything awful mankind does, or has ever done.
    It’s all his fault. If it wasn’t for him, everything would be peachy. What a shabby excuse for evil.
    Has any man, (or woman) ever done anything unimaginably bad? No. If it has been done it is, at least, imaginable.

    No doubt, though, the worst is yet to come. Naughty old Devil! What will he think of next!


  2. athanasius says:

    Why should acknowledging evil as an objective reality in the world exclude a sense of personal responsibility? Evil is real, and one can associate with it (or not) by one’s own choice.

    You are trivialising the Christian concept of the devil, Toad, in assuming that if one believes that evil is a reality one is thereby denying one’s own sinfulness, using Lucifer as an escape clause. Could you point me to the particular teaching of the Catholic Church which makes such a claim, since it seems to be what you are deriding?

    For my own part: I consider that evil exists beyond myself; I also know that I am a sinful human being who, in his weakness, is capable of choosing to do that which is wrong. Just because I might succumb to temptation it does not mean that I am not to blame for my choices. I am: that is why I say the Confiteor and/or go to Confession.

    I do wish that you would satirise the reality of the Church rather than a peculiar (and false) parody of the Church which you have conceived of in your imagination. There is plenty of scope for having fun at the expense of the actuality.


  3. Patricia says:

    The long version of this prayer is AWESOME! I am sure the shorter version is effective, but doesn’t pack the same punch. We need to get serious about praying against evil. I now will use the longer version as much as possible since “we won’t mention his name” is packing more punches these days on just about everyone. The prayers that aren’t in the “lite” version somehow just make me feel better. As for the Redemptorists, I hope they don’t take up the “lite” version of preaching in the mission field because St. John Neumann sure was a heavy-weight when it came to preaching the truth.


  4. Toadspittle says:

    “Why should acknowledging evil as an objective reality in the world exclude a sense of personal responsibility?”

    Asks Athanasius.
    Toad has no doubt expressed himself badly again. What he is trying to get over is that, whether there is a Devil or not, all the evil in the world is mankind’s personal responsibility.

    (Tornados, typhoons, tigers and typhoid et al, are not evil.)


  5. athanasius says:

    Well, I partly agree, Toad. Thanks for the clarification. (But you didn’t actually say that in post no. 1!) Of course Tornados, etc are not evil – just natural phenomena – so let’s set them aside.

    You say “all the evil in the world is mankind’s personal responsibility”. I don’t see how this can be so, expressed so exclusively. I return to my earlier argument: evil is an objective reality in Christian doctrine but human beings can (and do) choose to behave in evil ways; therefore, the evil to be found in the world has ‘the devil’ (for want of a better term to objectify evil) as its source, but we (human beings) commit evil deeds.

    It is not quite the case to imply that “all the evil in the world” is therefore solely mankind’s fault, is it? It is also possible to argue that, even if human beings were perfect and sinless, evil (the devil) is capable of manifesting evil works, without human cooperation.


  6. Toadspittle says:

    Athanasius, excellent answer, for which I thank you.

    But then, while contemplating his dogs at play, Toad thought that if there were no ‘humans’ on the planet, only ‘animals,’ there would be no evil.

    That must have been the case for several millions of years.

    Toad doesn’t really know what to extrapolate from all this, except, perhaps, the sooner all humans get off the planet, the better for all the other living things.


  7. Toadspittle says:

    ” It is also possible to argue that, even if human beings were perfect and sinless, evil (the devil) is capable of manifesting evil works, without human cooperation.

    says Athanasius.

    Yes, it is indeed possible to argue that. But Toad would have to fall back on his (in fact, Bertrand Russell’s ) old standby,
    “How do you know that?” On which point we are not likely to agree.

    But still, this is a good blogsite.


  8. athanasius says:

    Dear Toad,

    Thank you for your posts- and yes: it is a good blogsite.

    “How do you know that?” is a good question. I can’t prove it, of course; I can only say that I believe it, which is the customary fall-back of the religious person! How frustrating we are. I don’t know it, but I do think that the Fall story in Genesis is attempting to explain exactly the point I made, so I am at least in good company.


  9. ann says:

    One must not make the mistake of ascribing every thing to the evil one but at the same time it is very dangerous to write him out of the scenario and indeed against the Catholic faith and the scriptures. Christ makes very clear that we are dealing with a real enemy, baleful and cunning. Peter repeats the warning and Paul in more detail. James gives us some salient advice as well. To simply do away with this in one’s theology if one is a believing Catholic is beyond foolish–and when priests do it, God have mercy. They do it at their peril. It’s like deciding you don’t believe in gravity so why should it affect you if you jump off a building. Of course, you learn your mistake but by then it’s too late. If only Pope Benedict would bring back the St. Michael prayer at the end of every Mass. It would be a start.


  10. Pastorious says:

    My eye was inevitably caught by the article’s title.

    Much of the article must pass without comment, though I was pleased to be introduced to a new term to accompany ‘cradle Catholic’, and it is ‘cafeteria Catholicism’.

    In the post of 17.23 we read of the need to get humans off the planet in the best interests of all other creatures. Difficult to disagree with and I look to the views of Prof Lovelock of the Gaia hypothesis. He was asked, given the warnings on climate he has expressed for decades, why he now seemed so relaxed about our prospects . He replied that it was now “far too late”.


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