Dave Gregory on “the Enemy”
April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
After a few days off for The Ignatian Educator, we return today with a bold essay from Dave Gregory on a sensitive topic for all Christians, particularly students: the reality of evil.
April 10, 2013
By Dave Gregory
“My dear brothers, never forget, when you hear the progress of enlightenment vaunted, that the most beautiful of the devil’s tricks is to convince you that he does not exist.”
– Charles Baudelaire, 1864
St. Ignatius of Loyola sincerely believed in the presence of evil. Lucifer, Satan, the Most Unclean, the Son of Perdition, Beelzebub, Legion: however this force has been named over the centuries, Ignatius believed that it maintains some true form separate from the divine and the human. For Ignatius, a 16th century Basque Catholic, some supernatural, malevolent, violent, malicious, sinister force really, truly exists. This is a fundamental premise of the Spiritual Exercises, and this organic series of prayers and meditations and contemplations do not make sense apart from this assumption.
The Meditation on the Two Standards presents one of the more vivid images of evil contained within the Exercises. It is a Tolkein-esque fantastical contemplation in which the retreatant imagines a great battlefield: on one side an army under the banner of the Devil prepares for war in the great valley of Babylon, and on the other side Christ holds his banner aloft upon the great hill of Jerusalem, inviting his followers to join him. From a classical Christian perspective, this makes complete sense, that two opposing — and very real — forces face one another, good and evil, preparing to confront one another for the destinies of human souls. Ignatius understood this on a macrocosmic scale, but he also viewed this warfare occurring within the human heart. The same conflict rages within us. Thus, in the discernment of spirits, we must also be mindful of another spirit, which Ignatius refers to as “the Enemy of our human nature.”
This term hearkens back to the Principle and Foundation, the opening statement of the Exercises, which asserts that the human person is “created to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord our God, and in doing so, to save his or her soul.” Each of us is called to form our lives in order that we can accept the salvation offered to us, in order that we can live with God in Heaven; evil, on the other hand, will do everything in its power to dissuade and distract us from this purpose. In this, Ignatius offers great insight. We can call evil many things, but what other purpose does it have than to lead us away from God? None. Thus, “the Enemy” might be the most accurate description of the demonic.
Our secularized 21st century culture prefers (intentionally or not) to ignore the full reality of evil. Sure, we hear the word crop up in news reports or in casual conversation, but even Catholics often do not consider the possibility of damnation or the notion that evil is just as operative as grace. In doing so (or, rather, in failing to do so), we condone some ludicrous conclusions.
First, if evil does not exist as a real force outside human nature, if there is no such thing as the demonic or supernatural malevolence, then evil must originate within the human heart; this is a terrifying notion, one which runs contrary to the Judeo-Christian tradition, which affirms the original goodness of the human person. Yes, our hearts are corruptible; yes, we can be twisted; but we are not fundamentally corrupt, nor are we basically (and therefore irredeemably) twisted. The concept of evil’s non-existence affects our “theological anthropology”* in a remarkable way: if there is no evil, God did not in fact create humanity as originally good, for evil in this image inseparably dwells within the human heart.
Second, if evil does not actually exist, why hope for salvation? If the Enemy is not constantly attempting to lead us toward perdition, then what’s the point of grace? What’s the point of even trying to discern much of anything? What’s the point of trying to cooperate with God’s operation within my heart? If sin is not real, then neither is forgiveness, for there is nothing to truly forgive if no true evil can be wrought. Likewise, if there is no Cross, then there is no Resurrection, and if there is no true damnation, there is no true salvation either.
Just as the Spiritual Exercises do not make sense without the presence of evil, Christianity doesn’t need to exist unless evil does. Without evil, Jesus has nothing truly unique to do or say. His love was a dangerous kind of love, a love that confronted and challenged and transformed evil wherever He went. Before the person of Christ, demons cried out in agony, their power rendered empty.
Because Jesuit schools exist to draw their students into relationship with God and Christ, there can be no Catholic education without a discussion of evil. Acknowledgement of evil drives us toward hope, motivates us to seek God, and compels us to discern carefully between those spirits which invade and permeate our hearts. Sin invites us toward graced forgiveness, damnation points toward salvation. Hatred leads toward love, and the reality of the demonic toward the reality of the Evermore.
*Theological anthropology is that branch of theology that reflects on the nature of the human person in light of what we know or believe about God, and vice versa.
Dave Gregory graduated from Manhattan’s Regis High School in 2006 and from Georgetown University in 2010 with a double major in philosophy and theology. Prior to coming to Xavier, Gregory was in the Jesuit novitiate in the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus. Gregory’s interests include Ignatian spirituality and the practical implications of the Spiritual Exercises for secondary education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.