Many things come to mind when one considers the devil or a demonic presence. What has been told time and again and is demonstrated by the mediums of art, play, and books is this: the devil is an evil being, the most evil, and hell bent on tempting humans away from their path and away from God. In our daily lives the devil is there to tempt us in everything we do and we must resist him. Temptation that leads to sin is unquestionably an act of the devil. Often, the devil preys on humans to fall and descend into hell the way he did. The devil wants to create an army of sinners one at a time the way he did with Joseph, the soldier, in The Soldier’s Tale. Often depicted as a red, horned man with a pitchfork and surrounded by demons the devil is terrifying, but what is equally terrifying is the devil’s power to tempt and push us away from what we were meant to do. The devil is terrifying and a huge negative influence in the lives of mortals because he can read our thoughts, twisting what’s inside of us and turning us away from both God and good, plunging us into his evil darkness. Despite all this, there is hope against Satan. The devil’s power is only as strong as one allows it to be, as is demonstrated by Antony who fights off the devil countless times in Athanasius.
Through the texts and art mediums examined, one can see that devil behaves similarly with humans and with God in his attempts to spread sin and evil, therefore creating a unified vision of what it means to be Satan. The devil acts deceptively, aggressively and malevolently across all mediums studied, always acting with the goal of triumphing in evil.
In all mediums examined, the devil shows that he has acts on an agenda of spreading evil and sin, attempting to distance people God and turning them over to a life of suffering and sinful behavior instead. For example, Joseph, the soldier in the play The Soldier’s Tale, is unable to relinquish himself from the persistence of the devil. Joseph’s life prior to his encounters with the devil was honest and good – he received leave from serving with the military to see his mother and his fiancé, two important people in his life. After falling to the devil and giving up things that were important to him, Joseph has one more chance and gives in to the devil’s ultimate end game; he walks away with the devil and into a life of evil and sin.
Observing how St. Thomas, Joseph, God, and Antony deal with the devil one can see that devil will always try with all his might to push humans into dark places. However, humans show that it is their responsibility to push back hard against the devil to gain an upper hand and triumph over him. For example, St. Antony of Egypt was able to take down the devil through his strong will and belief in God. Through these strengths, he was also able to purge demons from other people as well. The devil acted deceptively and lied directly to St. Antony, trying to steal his life away from God. He was aggressive through his actions and tried to send hyenas to rip St. Antony apart. St. Antony calls on his strong will and belief in God and says to the devil, “If you have received authority over me, I am prepared to be devoured by you. But if you are sent by demons, waste no time in retreating, for I am a servant of Christ.” He kept the devil from causing him to stray from his own path in life, and more importantly from straying from God.
The relationship with God and humans is vastly different than that of the relationship with humans and the devil because God will always prevail against the devil. Although they are opposite beings, the devil cannot conquer God the way he can conquer and overcome a human. God is an entity that stands on His own before the devil and humans do not hold the power that God has to banish the devil. We can banish the devil as humans, but only through God and not on our own. God has absolute power to do so as both St. Thomas and the Qur’an explain.
We are mortal and capable of sin, and the devil influences the gravity of our sins. God is not capable of sin, and therefore cannot be tempted by the devil. Humans are a curious case because their skills against the devil will determine the extent of his dominion against them. There are two examples with Joseph and Antony as St. Thomas doesn’t have that direct experience with the devil. Does he then understand the devil less and poorly since he hasn’t defeated him? What kind of relationship does one gain by creating theories without direct experience? Augustine had great experience with sin so he could repent and become even stronger through his error and recognizing that error. St. Catherine doesn’t have this direct experience so her view of sin is very different. Direct contact with the devil is a stronger example of overcoming because it gives a real life instant of fighting great evil. In all these examples we see the devil portrayed equally as a malevolent evil being attempting to turn these humans to a life of suffering and utter despair.
Through The Soldier’s Tale, Athanastuis, the Qur’an, and St. Thomas of Aquinas we are presented with several different ways to approach the devil, and we are shown that the devil has a different experience with God as opposed to with humans. St. Antony of Egypt and Joseph the soldier had different endings to their stories as Joseph is unable to ward off the devil and follows him into the darkness. St. Antony was able through his deep faith, to ward off the devil as he tempted Antony as well as being able to purge other people of demons. Truly, all of these versions of the devil have many common themes and present a unified vision of who the devil really is, but the key distinction is the devil’s power over humans compared to God. These interactions are very different, but the huge point to draw is that the devil is only as powerful as one allows him to be. God was able to dismiss the devil to hell, and Antony was able to ward off the devil. Joseph was overwhelmed and taken. St. Thomas had rigid rules and theories about the devil, but I strongly believe because of his deep faith St. Thomas would be able to ward off the devil.
In The Soldier’s Tale, we get a female depiction of the devil (although the devil is male, but the actress is a woman) that is unique to the stereotypical devil previously described. The actress graces the stage in an enchanting way. Enchanting is a rather strange way to think of the devil, but perhaps that is part of the devil’s temptation that works to his advantage in this play and in all situations. The devil in this play is alluring and inviting, until the devil’s true intentions are revealed. Then, the devil becomes increasingly scary and his relationship with Joseph is more toxic and Joseph’s ability to resist washes away. Although Joseph recognizes what he is up against, he cannot in the end, defeat the devil. It is as if he is worn out, and just quits. In the devil’s cunning speech and movements, his end goal for Joseph is reached. First he convinces Joseph to part with his fiddle, but the greater prize but actual problem the devil has caused for Joseph is when he receives a little red book about how to become wealthy that damages him. Every time we think the devil is done with Joseph, he comes back stronger. One on one Joseph stands no chance we learn. Internally, it isn’t available to us everything Joseph is thinking. The devil is all about mind games so it’s extremely hard once the devil gets into Joseph’s mind. The problem is that Joseph doesn’t appear strong or resilient against the devil and weakens as the play goes on.
In St. Antony’s story, the devil never stands a chance against the mighty Antony. With songs, words, and actions Antony becomes famous for how he deals with the greatest evil. His place with God is strong, and it is this relationship that allows Antony great power over the devil. He says he is with Christ and that is enough to scare the devil off. The devil is equally determined in both the play and in Athanasius but in Athanasius the man prevails against the devil because he doesn’t allow the devil to gain strength. There is a power scene of the devil trying to break through, literally. “The demons as if breaking through the buildings four and seeming to enter them changed in the forms of beasts and reptiles.” (page 38) After more beasts appear, Antony seems to them and they dissipate. Antony is a solitary man and that is illustrated by his 20 years in seclusion, but does not ever allow the devil even a chance of overcoming him. He is maimed by animals the devil spurs but God heals him. He thwarts demons left and right and soon is asked to purge others of demons. Something striking about Antony is his great calm through all this. In the paintings, his face is calm and he is experiencing encounters that are a huge nightmare. Somehow he can completely reign in his fear, which is one of the things the devil feeds on.
The Qur’an depicts the devil as a disobedient angel that God throws to hell. There is not room for such behavior and the devil and his demons set about to tempt Adam and Eve after the devil is created. God says to the devil, “Get out from this, disgraced and expelled. If any other then follow you – Hell I will fill with all of you.” God is not messing around and down the devil goes. The devil then succeeds in his evil act of tempting them, but God does not punish the pair, not in the way of the Christian tradition. The Qur’an says, “He duped them.” The God of the Qur’an does not slap them with original sin. Here the relationship between the humans and God is different. It has to be different, but that doesn’t mean we cannot create one vision of the devil. God has to be able to control the devil because of the devil could overthrown God that would be the end of the world. While St. Thomas disproved that anyone can be greater than God using logic, it would also be the end of humankind as we know it if the devil could gather such strength. The Qur’an has the devil at the will of God.
St. Thomas of Aquinas depicts the devil as instant damnation. Through rigid rules about angels we get a sense of the devil and how he operates but the relationship to God and humans is different here. God cannot be overcome by the devil because then the infinite (God) would be replaced by the finite and that is impossible according to Thomas. “But for any creature to be God’s equal does not fall under apprehension, because it implies a contradiction; for if the finite equals the infinite, then it would itself be infinite. Therefore an angel could not desire to be as God.” (St. Thomas) The devil and his natural evil are put under the microscope by Thomas and it is clear that the devil not only can but will tempt humans. Since so much focus is on angels in this reading, it is strange to think of the devil as a fallen angel. The devil’s relationship to other demons is also interesting and should be considered. St. Thomas did not have a direct relationship with the Devil the way other mediums had. In this way, his experience is different and the rules he created are not as strong. That direct access through meeting the devil and facing him are missing here. St. Thomas has all these rules in place based on knowledge and beliefs he has. His relation with the devil is completely second hand, and that is a relationship greatly lacking in substance.
In conclusion, the devil’s evil presence is there for both humans and God to contend with, and a unified version of the devil can be created because the devil always has one goal which is to cause great harm. Despite appearing different across the different forms of medium, the devil is insistent upon wreaking havoc wherever he goes, regardless of how he appears or the nature of his relationships. With God, the devil stands no chance because as Thomas of Aquinas proved with logic one cannot be greater than God because then the finite would become the infinite. With humans the devil is only as strong as you let him get and we see that contrasted with Joseph and St. Antony. He fights off the devil countless times in remarkable ways, such as against animals set upon him and the devil trying to trick him by being friendly towards him. Antony is so strong that he never allows the devil to gain strength over him. St. Thomas of Aquinas has no direct experience with the devil therefore his relationship with the devil is not that same as all the people and God, who have had direct experiences with the devil. Joseph was tempted by the devil, but could not overcome the evil the way St. Antony of Egypt could. Joseph was a simple man, who tried but the devil polluted his mind and he is weak. This weakness ends in his walking off with the devil in quite a sad scene.
Taking into account the painting with St. Antony, one can see what the devil is trying to accomplish. Using all these different mediums, one version of the devil can be created. The devil is a monster that tries with works and actions to turn one from the light and plunge them into darkness. While the relationships vary across the stories we encounter, we always encounter the same devil. He is cunning, swift, cruel, and persistent in his burning need to tempt and cause mayhem. The key to remember is that the devil can be overtaken and he will lose if he is not given the power. Once one is strong in their convictions, we as humans can use all our wits to overcome the devil and the evil he presents, not matter the form.