Fulton Sheen on the Demonic Today

A few months ago, I came across a talk from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on The Demonic Today. The talk struck me very much. A friend transcribed the talk for me and I would like to make it available for you here.


The Demonic Today

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Every nation is very much concerned with the Church in our times. And most of them have made sociological surveys. We spent close to $500,000 on a sociological survey. We were trying to discover the moods and attitudes of the American priests. All we ended up with was really a few additional decimal points because we generally knew what was wrong. And furthermore, sociological surveys do not touch the essence of the problem, nor do national

We are not American priests. We are not Philippine priests. We are not German priests. We are Christ’s priests. Where we are is quite secondary. More important still, the crisis that we are going through is not peculiar to your country or to mine. Germany has it. Africa has it. Europe has it, every country in Europe. If, therefore, we are suffering from a crisis, it is affecting the priesthood, the attitude toward faith. We cannot ever say that it’s national. That is why these national surveys are not really profound. If, therefore, the trouble is international, everywhere, there must be some other cause than that which we unearth in our surveys.

There has to be a supranational cause of the crises in the world today, and that supranational cause is the demonic. The devil in our age has been given a long rope. Whenever there is an outpouring of the Spirit, there is also an outpouring of the Satanic. When Moses worked miracles, the magicians of Pharaoh simulated a few of them.  With Pentecost there was the martyrdom of Stephen. With the Vatican Council and the descent of the Spirit upon the Council, then there began to be the spread of the demonic in the world.

We never hear about the demonic from our own spiritual writers. In fact, there is a book for sale out there that I have read in which there is no mention of hell, no mention of Satan though it is a discussion on the last things. The moral theologians have dropped the Satanic. Who talks about it? The poets, psychiatrists, and the Scriptures.

First, poets. They are always ahead of the times. By “poets” I do not mean popular poets. I mean those deep and profound thinkers who really are prophets. They seem to see what is coming. Though Nietzsche was not a poet, he sure classified. He wrote a poem when he was a young man about the Passion of our Lord which was very beautiful. He was a great musician, friend of Wagner, and after he had written his book on the Antichrist, he went mad thumping the keys, shouting against the person of Christ. And the next 11 years lived as a madman until he died. But he makes a madman say that God is dead. A madman says it. And the madman asks, “What made us strong enough to kill God?” It is not denying, it is killing God. Will all the waters of the ocean cleanse us from that guilt? How can we wipe our sword of his blood? The only way that we can ever overcome the killing of God is by making a new god. And the madman says, “The time is not yet.” And this was at the end of the 18th century. But he will come. And in the last, latter part of that book of Nietzsche, the madman falls silent. And I looked at his hearers again, they too are silent. At last he threw his lantern on the ground. It broke into pieces and went out. “I come too early. It is not yet my time.” This monstrous event is still on the way. It has not yet penetrated men’s ears. Lightning and thunder need time. The light of the stars needs time. Deeds need time even after they’ve been done in order to be seen and heard. The deed is further from men than some stars and yet, they have done it.

Oden, the English poet, draws his inspiration from the Anabasis of Xenophon. And writes not about the going up but of the catabasis. Heroic charity is rare. Without it, what except despair can shape the hero who will dare the desperate catabasis into the snarl of the abyss that always lies just underneath the jolly picnic on the heath of the agreeable. And then this oft-quoted poem of William Butler Yates:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are filled with passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with a lion body and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Added to these poets raise apocalyptic writers like Father Benson, Lord of the World, Solovyov of Three Conversations, Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor. In each and every one of these masterpieces it is always someone in the Church who leads the assault. As we read in the book of Ezekiel [9:6], incipite a sanctuario meo. And St. Peter, in one of his letters, quotes it. The attack must begin first against the Church and led by someone in it. In the book of Revelation, the second beast is the one who speaks in favor of the first. The first is political and the second is ecclesial.  It would be interesting to explain to you some of these, these antichrists as they come. I suppose The Grand Inquisitor is the most famous of them all. The scene is set in Seville, in the 16th century, and Christ returns. He comes to a church and raises a dead little girl to life. And the Grand Inquisitor then attacks Him. Attacks Him for not answering the questions of Satan. And the Grand Inquisitor is a priest. A wizened-up old man about 90 years old. And for page and page in Dostoevsky the challenge goes to Christ, repeating the three temptations, but now is a new temptation. Our Lord never answers a word. But at the end He leans over and kisses the forehead of the wizened old man, and for the first time perhaps in years, blood begins to come to his face and he says to Christ, “Get out. Never come back.”

Why are we so fond today of destruction? Why the towering inferno? Why movies that depict disaster? It’s because not being creative on the inside we become destructive on the outside. So, literature, therefore, is warning us. As I told you before, we’re at the end of Christendom and we have not yet taken that into account. But we will see in a few years how we will have to adapt ourselves with a new spirit of Christ to meet it.

Now that’s the poetic in the literary. The second, the psychiatric. Again, the theologians are missing. They are not speaking of Satan. Rollo May, the professor of psychiatry at Rockefeller Institute, in his book on psychiatry has three chapters on the devil. What is the devil from the psychiatric point of view? Dr. Rollo May analyzes the meaning of the word diabolic. It comes from diaballein, tearing apart, rupture, disunity, a splitting. It almost seems that ever since we split the atom everything else has been split. So, we’re splitting the Church. The priests are split among themselves. The bishops are split among themselves. Laity are split. This is the diaballein, tearing us apart. And he says that it is accompanied by three facts. One: the love of nudity, sex without love. Secondly: violence and aggressiveness. Thirdly: a schizophrenic mentality. He never analyzes these three from a biblical point of view but they are exactly the characteristics of the young man in the land of the Gadarenes [Mark 5:1ff]. This young man, first of all, was naked. Secondly: he was so violent he could not be kept in chains. Thirdly: he was schizophrenic. He was going in two directions. And our Lord said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “My name is Legion.” The Roman Legion was 6,000 men.  “My name is Legion for we are many.” No unity. This is the psychiatric explanation of the demonic.

Now we come to more sound grounds. We come to Scripture, and we go back to the 16th chapter of Matthew. In the first conference we spoke of the democratic, aristocratic, and theocratic government of the Church, and then our blessed Lord saying that He was not just a priest, He was a victim. He came to die. And as soon as our Lord said that, Peter said, “This shall not be. We’re willing to have a divine Christ but we’re not willing to have a suffering victim of Christ.” How modern that language is. And our Lord said, “Get behind me. Do not try to lead me. I lead you, Satan.” Satan. Peter, personally, is Satan.

Now, why did our Lord call him Satan? In order to interpret Scripture, you have to really interpret it by other passages. So, we go back to the beginning of our Lord’s public life. It began with a temptation. Our Lord was led by the Holy Spirit to meet the spirit of evil. Three times He was tempted on the Mount. We know the temptations well. But in order to drive them home, I’m going to speak of them in modern language. The three temptations of our Lord were three sharp cuts from the cross. The first temptation: Satan says to our Lord, follow your id. You’re hungry. You haven’t eaten for 30 to 40 days. Look at those little stones down there. They look just exactly like bread. Now other people are hungry in this land and their hunger has to be satisfied. And they’ve got other ids besides hunger which You suffer from. They’ve got a sex id. They have a power id and an aggressive id. You’re never going to win the world if you’re going to crush that id. Satisfy their gullets! Fill their stomachs! Turn those souls into bread and You’ll never need to go to a cross. The world will be Yours.

The second temptation was technological. Men love marvels, wonders, great portents, things that are difficult of explanation, those which demand an appeal to the preternatural. So, in order to satisfy this yearning for technological marvels, throw Yourself down from this steeple, unhurt. Fly to the moon! They’ll not remember Your Name in three weeks, then you give them a new wonder. But science is the great marvel of our times. And now, with Your scientific technology, give them these wonders, and give them these models, and You’ll never need to go to a cross. That’s what they want, excitement! Something that will make them say, “Oh,” and they’ll not need a cross.

And the third temptation of the world, of our Lord: theology is politics. “Why bother with theology? The abstractions of Your hypostatic union and belief in the Invisible Father? Men are not interested in Your theology. You’re never going to draw them to a pulpit. But there is a way of drawing them and I will tell you what it is. Talk politics. That’s what the world wants. See this little globe in my hand? All the political kingdoms there? They are all mine, mine.” Was Satan telling the truth for once in his life or was he lying? What he was saying to the Lord, “give up the theology of the cross, redemption’s satisfaction, expiation, mortification, penance. These will not win men. They like to talk about political liberation. Give it to them!! Then you’ll need never go to a cross!” And this will be the temptation the Church will have in the next 100 years. Watch it. St. Thomas, in his Commentary on the letter to the Thessalonians in which there is revealed a man of lawlessness, says that the last struggle of the Church will be the potestas politica. As politics begin to absorb us, sometimes begin to absorb too much our attention as priests and as bishops. Now this was the third temptation of our blessed Lord.

They were shortcuts from the cross, the way to win the world without talking about sin or guilt. See, politics admits only social guilt. Technology admits only social guilt. Following of id admits individual pleasures but no personal guilt. Now, let us go back to the scene of Caesarea Philippi. Our blessed Lord calls Peter “Satan.” Why did He call him Satan? Because he’s [Peter] saying “No, You will not go to the cross. We’ll not have this. We admit Your divinity but we will not admit You’re a victim. We’ll admit You’re a priest but we refuse to admit that You’re a victim for sin!” And that is why our blessed Lord called him Satan.

What then is the demonic? The demonic is the temptation away from the cross of Christ and redemption. That’s the essence of the demonic. This is an example of the demonic. The taking down of Crucifixes from our hospitals’ rooms, from our schoolrooms. I went to a bishops’ meeting in a convent and the sister was, she didn’t look like a sister but she said she was. Did you ever hear about the very modern sister that went in to see the pastor and she said, “Father, you didn’t know I had red hair, did you?” “No,” he said. “I didn’t know you had varicose veins either.” And she said, “Do you know that we put a sign out in front of our convent the other day, ‘For sale: crosses,’ which they wore. And do you know that in two hours we sold all of those crosses to hippies?” You see, as we drop things, the world picks them up and perverts them. As we, nuns drop the habits, the girls put on maxi coats. We drop the rosary, the hippies put beads around their necks, and they become useless to us.

But the point is the essence of the demonic is the anti-cross—and all that that means. It means sin. It means redemption. It means glorification. It means a resurrection. It means an eternal peace and joy, but not the cross. So, we have even movements in the Church today where we have the Spirit without a Calvary. No mention of a cross or of discipline, just the celebration.

When we talk in our Holy Hour tonight, we will see another evidence of the demonic so that we’re not to think that it is spectacular, it’s phenomenal, that it’s extraordinary. It isn’t. In [indiscernible] in the New Testament, there were two priests who left.  Or, no two priests who were demonic, or at least, well, one I should not say perhaps is demonic. But the two mentioned that left, one was Demas. Demas was the companion of Paul and Luke. And St. Paul says of him, “Demas is going back to the world” [2 Timothy 4:10] as one kind—the kind that just go in for worldliness. The other kind stays in. They stay in to disrupt from within. Judas stayed in. And in the Holy Hour tonight we will see how he stayed in.

Now, who have the best comprehension of the demonic? Only those of us who are truly Christ-like. It is because we know what clear water is. We are offended by foul waters. It is only because we know Christ that we begin to see evil in its depth because evil is relational. Evil has no substance of its own. It is a parasite on goodness. And the more Christ-like we are, the deeper is our vision of the evils of the world and the evils that can creep into the Church. How long this conflict with the forces of evil will last? Well, we do know but now it is intensifying. And it centers so much in the Eucharist which brings us to the necessity of the Holy Hour.

I do not know whether you have many Tabernacles robbed. We do. In one Diocese there were two country parishes within seven miles of one another where the Blessed Sacrament was stolen. Corpuses torn off the Crucifix. No Christ on the cross. Where there is a priest who will offer the Black Mass, there is no need of stealing hosts but there must be a consecrated host for a Black Mass. That is an absolute essential, where everything will be done backwards. The Our Father will be said backwards. Prayers will be said backwards. And when the priests join the movement, they have the body of Christ to re-crucify. So much so that some of our churches ask to have lights that are put in facing the Tabernacle so that when anyone approaches the Tabernacle it breaks a circuit and an alarm goes off. We may be a little lax in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but Satan is not. As the Scriptures tell us: Satan believes. He believes. And this, then, is an additional reason for the Holy Hour. I just heard that one of your bishops made a classic remark which I think deserves to be universalized. He said, “I guess I’ll have to give up my alcoholic hour for the Holy Hour.” I agree with that! That’s all right! That’s fine! That man ought to be immortalized. I like him.

Now there are a thousand times ten thousand roads down which any one of us may travel for a lifetime. But all those roads are going to end in front of two faces. One: the merciful face of Christ, and the other, the miserific face of Satan. And either one of those faces will speak to us and say, “Mine! We have already spoken. We are Christ.”