Article 40 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Like ourselves, saints and sinners down through the years have asked the question, “where does evil come from?” This question has become the topic of innumerable books and articles in history, theology and literature as well as countless plays and movies.
Saint and scholar Saint Augustine likewise asked, “where does evil come from?” in his famous “Confessions.” He observed: “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution.” The Catechism takes up the question and explains: “We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror” (ccc 385).
“Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile” (ccc 386). The Church teaches in the Second Vatican Council, that the “dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness,” is overturned by “the Lord Himself” who “came to free and strengthen humanity, renewing us inwardly and casting out that prince of this world (John 12:31) who holds us in the bondage of sin. For sin has diminished us, blocking our path to fulfillment” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gautium et Spes, 13).
Without God’s revelation through the Sacred Tradition of his Church, we would not have a clear understanding of sin but would explain it away “as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc.” (ccc 387). It is “only in the knowledge of God’s plan,” the Catechism tells us, that we come to understand sin as “an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another” (ccc 387).
The Catechism further explains: “we must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin” (ccc 388). Then we are told: “The Spirit-Paraclete, sent by the risen Christ, came to ‘convict the world concerning sin,’ by revealing him who is its Redeemer” (ccc 388).
Returning to the earliest account of the fall of humanity in third chapter of Genesis that “uses figurative language,” we are told that “revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (ccc 390).
Then the Catechism, having considered the fall of humanity, examines the fall of the angels.
The Creed we say each Sunday at holy Mass begins, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
The “visible” referred to includes all natural things in the universe that are observable, most especially human beings. The “invisible” refers to saints, angels, and most especially the Godhead. The “invisible” angels are pure spirits with no matter, no body. Each angel is a person, having a mind and a will like ours, but angels are of a nature higher than ours.
Angels were not created in heaven with the vision of God. If they had enjoyed the vision of God, sin would have been impossible. But God gave the angels some sort of command – we, do not know what. Some obeyed God’s command while some did not. Those who disobeyed were fixed in evil, and became demons. When we sin, our intelligence is limited by the material part of our intellect, the brain in our heads. For a material brain is much less powerful than the spiritual intelligence our souls have. This means that we seldom see things as fully as possible all at once. But an angel has no such limit, and sees everything as fully as possible in one instance. So Angels cannot go back on their decisions, and say: “I see it differently now; I wish I had not done that.” The have an ability, unlike us, to see everything in context.
Although separated from God, the fallen angels, the demons, still keep the great powers natural to a pure spirit. That is why they can do things that often seem like miracles to us.
According to the Catechism, these fallen angels with their “seductive voice, opposed to God” find their origin “behind the disobedient choice of our first parents” (ccc 391). Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church tell us that Satan or the Devil is prominent among the fallen angels and, although Satan was created by God as a good angel, he and the other demons “became evil by their own doing” (ccc 391).
Saint John tells us in his gospel: “[The Devil] was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Later, in the Book of Revelation we are told: “The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Revelation 12:9).
Saint Peter speaks about the sin of the Devil and the other fallen angels: “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to hell in chains of darkness and handed them over to be kept for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). The Catechism explains that the “fall” of these angels turned demons, “consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign” (ccc 392). Although made good by God, they freely chose to abandon God for all eternity.