Authority over Demons

From Catholic Lane
by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio

Lenten veil of the Cathedral of Gurk, Kärtnen, Austria

I’ve read many term papers in my day. Most of them are no more than a patchwork of quotes. That’s because college students are smart enough to know that they really can’t say much on their own authority–to make their case, they have to lean on the authority of others more learned than themselves.

That’s exactly how the scribes and Pharisee’s taught in Jesus’ day. “Rabbi Abraham says this. . . Rabbi Gamaliel says that . . .

So when a new young rabbi appears in Capernaum, this is what people expect. They are in for a surprise: he quotes no one else except God’s Word. That’s because there is no one more learned than He. In fact, he happens to be God’s Word made flesh.

But he doesn’t just speak to the humble townspeople this way. When he encounters superhuman forces that strike fear into the hearts of men, he is unruffled. There are no incantations; he does not plead. Rather than Jesus being afraid of them, the demons are afraid of him. Upon seeing Him, they shriek. He calmly commands,“shut up and get out.” A moment later all is still. A former victim is now a free man and bystanders marvel. Word easily travels fast–little Capernaum happens to be right on a caravan route from Syria to the region of Galilee and beyond.

But isn’t all this talk of demons just a relic of the mythological worldview of pre-scientific people? After all, these primitive folks don’t know about mental illness, chemical imbalance, viruses, and bacteria. Surely they just explained as supernatural what they could not understand.

That sounds very sophisticated, but it’s dead wrong. First of all, demons are not supernatural at all. Super-natural means above and beyond nature or creation–in other words, uncreated and transcendent. Only God qualifies for this label.

St. Thomas called the realm of angels and demons “preternatural” since it escapes the sensory knowledge that we can have of the rest of creation. We human beings were created by God as enfleshed spirits. But divine revelation tells us that God also created pure spiritual beings with the same freedom we have. Those who have chosen to use that freedom to serve God we call “angels” or messengers. Those who used their freedom to defy God are called demons. Pride and envy lead them to hate not only God, but also us who are made in God’s image and likeness.

So people in Jesus day had good cause to fear demons–they are hostile and powerful. Plus, their intelligence is superior to ours–note that the demon in the story, unlike the humans, instantly recognized who Jesus was.

OK, the ancients may have attributed too much to demonic influence, but moderns tend to make the opposite error. The existence of the angelic and demonic realm is part of the ordinary teaching of the Church’s Magisterium, reaffirmed clearly by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. In fact when we say in the Creed that we believe in the Creator of heaven and earth, “of all things visible and invisible,” the invisible things refer precisely to this world.

So why is it important to believe that such creatures exist? Because the first rule of warfare is to know your enemy. Paul tells us clearly in Ephesians 6:12 “Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers . . . the evil spirits.”

Only God has power over this world. Jesus, in commanding the demons as he later in the Gospel commands the wind and the waves, does only what God can do. Once we are joined to Christ, the enemy has no more authority or power over us. Unless, of course, we give it to him through sin. If we cling to the Lord and listen to him, we have nothing to worry about. If not, we have lots to worry about.

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8 Responses to Authority over Demons

  1. toadspittle says:


    “OK, the ancients may have attributed too much to demonic influence,”

    What is the man getting at?

    If demons do exist, it would be near impossible to attribute “too much” influence to them, thinks Toad. How would anyone know where to draw the line?
    How can we ever know how much influence demons actually have?

    If they don’t exist, well…


  2. JabbaPapa says:

    Certain psychiatric orders, previously attributed to demons, are demonstrably caused by material reasons.

    Now, psychiatric disorders and demons do not rule each other out ; but it is clear that it is possible that lack of knowledge can attribute some personality disorders caused by chemical imbalances, or physical lesions in the brain, etc, to be wrongfully attributed to demonic influences.

    Hence, the possibility to attribute too much influence to them.


  3. Chris Sullivan says:


    The Church turns down almost all applications for the Rite of Exorcism, because in some 99% of cases, she determines the causes of the affliction not to be demonic.

    Of course that still leaves the 1% …

    God Bless


  4. toadspittle says:


    From the reassuringly down-to-earth comments of both Chris and Jabba, it’s plain that demons are grossly overrated by Dr. D’Ambrosio.

    There’s a comfort for us all.

    (Toad will still let his do as they like, though.)


  5. kathleen says:

    OK, the ancients may have attributed too much to demonic influence, but moderns tend to make the opposite error. “

    That’s the trouble! We have now gone to the other extreme: to either refuse to believe in the devils’ existence, or at least of ignoring or diminishing their “demonic influence”…. as a look around us at the world today will verify. It has often been said, that the current general disbelief in the devil has been his (the devil’s) greatest achievement!


  6. toadspittle says:

    “…as a look around us at the world today will verify.”

    I dunno, Kathleen. The world has been pretty awful from Day One. (God would agree. Remember the Flood?) Nowadays it’s awful in a different way. Not necessarily worse than the other ways, just different.
    And it varies. Life now is surely less awful than it was in, say, 1942, but possibly more awful than in, say, 1962. And a fair bit more awful than in, say, 1992.

    Of course these observations by Toad are all simply relative. To him.


  7. Louise says:

    From what I have heard…….One way you can tell if someone is possessed or “possibly’ possessed is when medication (psychiatric medication) doesn’t work on the person.


  8. tgb says:

    One can tell how prevalent the demonic influence on our society is by the condition of the Catholic Church. If there is a crisis in the faith, and there is, then the demon prowls about the world freely seeking the ruin of souls.


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