Satan before the Lord Satan is a religious figure found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and similar to figures found in Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions. He is generally depicted as an evil adversary of God. Although the word Satan is derived from the Hebrew word for "Accuser," Satan is not given as high a profile in Judaism as he is in Christianity.
Often depicted with little horns, cloven hooves and a goatee, Satan is known by a number of different names, including the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Diablo, the Father of Lies, Lucifer (meaning “light bearer”), Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, Belial, Mastema, and the Lord of Lies. In the Bible he is referred to as the Evil One and the Prince of the World. Muslims know him as Iblis or Shaytan. Among the various spirits that have been summoned by his commands are demons, gods, idols, demigods, angels, sprites, ghosts, goblins, imps, fairies, fauns, jinns, nymphs, and poltergeists.
Satan is generally characterized as being powerful but not nearly as powerful as God, which begs the question, “Why doesn’t God just destroy him?” and “Why was he created in the first place?” The answer for this some scholars say is more of a literary question than a theological one: He is a convenient literary devise for personifying evil.
The concept of the devil seems to have originated with Zoroastrianism, which originated in Persia. The Jews were under Persian rule for two centuries beginning in 539 B.C. No doubt they were exposed to the Zoroastrian devil Ahriman. See Zoroastrianism, under Animism, Shamanism and Ancient Religions
Book: “The Origin of Satan” by Elaine Pagels (Random House).
Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ;
Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex
Satan in the Christian Tradition
Lucifer cast from heaven , 1887 According to Christian tradition, Satan is a pure spirit created by God with his own free will. He chose to devote his attention to tempting and preying on humanity. He is generally characterized as being of great intelligence, a liar and a seducer.
In the New Testament Satan is mentioned numerous times but the details of what he is like and his background are sketchy. In the Gospels, Satan is depicted as an adversary of Jesus, who was tempted by the Devil on several occasions.
The devil tested Jesus in three ways during his 40 day, 40 night fast. First he asked a hungry Jesus to use his powers to make bread from stones. Second he told him to win fame by throwing himself off the roof of the Temple and getting angels to save him. Third, he took Jesus to a high a place and promised him all things.
On the third test, a passage in Chapter 4 of the Book of Matthew explains: “The devil taketh him up into an exceedingly high mountain and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith unto him: all these things I will give the if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Jesus refused, saying "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'" Mount of Temptation (near Jericho) is traditional place where this event is said to have occurred.
Among Christians he is given a more prominent role by Evangelical Protestants than Catholics. According to one survey 60 percent of American Evangelical Protestants say they have been tempted by the devil while only 26 percent of American Catholics said the devil had tempted them.
Satan in the Old Testament
There is little mention of the devil in the early books of the Old Testament. The serpent in the Garden of Eden was later identified with the devil, but as he is written in Genesis he is only a snake. When he appears in the later books he takes on different names. In the Book of Job, he is a member of God’s angels who roamed around the world testing the faith of the chosen people. In Samuel he “incited David.” For the most part he is a minor figure.
Around 200 B.C. Satan began to emerge as a major figure in his own right among some Jewish sects. It was during this period that he developed into God's major opponent and was identified with the serpent that tempted Eve and the "Son of the morning" ("Lucifer") described by the prophet Isaiah.
Mephistopheles Early Jews believed that when the Messiah arrived he would vanquish Satan and usher in a new era for God and his faithful followers.
Satan in the Early Christian Era
Our definition of Satan was put together in the early years of the Christian church, long after Jesus died and the Gospels were written, by early Christian thinkers and theologians. After four centuries of debate they defined Satan as a former angel’some said the first angel and leader of all angels — who led a rebellion in heaven and was cast down to hell.
By some accounts Satan lead the rebellion out of envy or pride and it took place before the creation of Adam, as it was Satan who was held responsible for tempting mankind into sin. In the Revelations and other passages in the New Testament he is portrayed as holding a grip on mankind until the End of the World when he will be vanquished by Christ during his second coming and he and other sinners will be condemned to eternal suffering.
Many of the monks in the early Christian era who went to the desert to live alone, were emulating Christ confrontation with the devil during the Temptation. Those that recounted their encounters with Satan often described him as lion, serpent, wolf or some other animal despised by humankind.
Satan in the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Modern Times
Our image of Satan was shaped mainly by the literature and art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The first known rendering of the Devil as a distinct creature appeared in manuscript from the 9th century called the “Utrecht Psalter”. He is depicted as a half-naked man holding a pitchfork.
The Devil by Michael Pacher By the 10th century, Satan was a notorious figure in medieval Europe. He was pictured in manuscripts, tapestries and painting; chiseled onto the facade of churches and vividly described in books and religious texts. He appeared in a number of different forms, often with hairy legs and cloven hooves derived from the Greek god pan, a pitchfork previously associated with the Roman god Neptune and an animal head like the Egyptian god Anubis.
Fearful Christians believed that Satan lurked everywhere and was the source of a countless number of maladies and hardships. They believed he waited for people to let their guard down before making an attack. One reason people to this day say “God bless you” after someone sneezes is that people from Middle Ages believed that devil waited outside of people’s body and used sneezes as an opportunity to get in.
Satan is generally given a higher profile in Calvinist Protestantism than in Catholicism. Protestants tend to ascribe things like pride, lust and envy to Satan. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” helped shape the image of devil in the minds of English speakers. Not only is he evil he is also charming, clever, self-confident, proud and independent. Placed in almost any other context he would be a hero.
A popular medieval story recounts the purported experience of Theophilus of Cilicia, a 6th century ecclesiastic figure who made a pact with the devil to exchange his soul for a powerful and profitable position in the church. When the devil appeared and demanded payment the Virgin Mary intervened on Theophilus’s behalf and descended into hell and pulled him away from the devil and vouched before God that he had repented. The story helped elevate Mary’s status and was an inspiration for Marlow’s “Doctor Faustus” and Goethe’s “Faust” , whose witty, garrulous devil Mephistopheles also shaped our modern concept of Satan.
Nietzsche pointed out that the Christianity popularized the devil. Over the years Satan has been used by a number of writers as a literary device and is now a fixture of films. Sometimes he is charming but spookily evil. Other times he is a bit of a clown.
Tales of the Devil
“The Devil Confessed That He Had Entered a Woman Because She Had Been Delivered to Him by Her Husband” by Caesar of Heisterbacb in the 13th century: When our abbot was celebrating mass last year on the Mount of the Holy Saviour near Aachen, a possessed woman was brought to him after the mass. When he had read the gospel lesson concerning the Ascension over her head and at these words, "They shall lay hands on sick and they shall recover," had placed his hand upon her head, the devil gave such a terrible roar that we were all terrified. Adjured depart, he replied, "The Most High does not wish it yet." When asked in what manner he entered, he did not reply nor did he permit the woman to reply. Afterward she confessed that when her husband in anger said, "Go to the devil 1" she felt the latter enter through her ear. Moreover that woman was from the province of Aachen and very well known. [Source: (Dist. V, Cap. XI. (Vol. I, p. 291), Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 7-11, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]
In “Concernig Gerard, a Kinght, Whom the Devil Carried in a Moment from the Church of St. Thomas in India to His Own Country”, Caesar of Heisterbacb wrote: “In a village which is called Holenbach there lived a certain knight named Gerard. His grandsons are still living, and hardly a man can found in that village who does not know the miracle which I am king to tell about him. He loved St. Thomas the Apostle so ardently and honored him so especially above the other saints that he never refused any pauper seeking alms in the name of that one. Moreover he was accustomed to offer to the saint Many private services, such as prayers, fasts and the celebration of masses. [Source:Dist. VIII, Cap. LIX. (Vol.II, p.131ff), Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 7-11
“One day, by the permission of God, the devil, the enemy of all good men, knocking at the knight's gate, in the form and dress of a pilgrim, sought hospitality in the name of St. Thomas. He was admitted with all haste and, since it was chilly and he pretended to be catching cold, Gerard gave to him his own fur cape, which was not badly worn, to cover himself with when he went to bed. When the next morning he who had seemed a pilgrim did not appear, and the cape was sought and not found, his wife in anger said to the knight, " You have often been deceived by wanderers of this kind and yet You persist in your superstitions But he replied calmly, "Do not be disturbed, St. Thomas will certainly make good this loss to us." The devil did this in order to provoke the knight to impatience on account of the loss of his cape, and to extinguish in his heart his love for the Apostle. But what the devil had prepared for his destruction redounded to the glory of the knight; by it the latter was incited the more strongly, the former was confused and punished. For after a little time Gerard wanted to go to the abode of St. Thomas, and when he was all ready to start, he broke a gold ring into two pieces before the eyes of his wife, and joining them together in her presence, gave one piece to her and kept the other himself, saying, "You ought to trust this token. Moreover, I ask you to wait five years for my return, and after that you can marry any one you please." And she promised.
“He went on a very long journey and at length with great expense and very great labor reached the city of St. Thomas the Apostle. There he was saluted most courteously by the citizens and received with as great kindness as if he had been one of them and well known to them. Ascribing this favor to the blessed Apostle he entered the oratory and prayed, commending himself, his wife, and all his possessions to the saint. After this, remembering the limit fixed, and thinking that the five years ended on that very day, he groaned and said, "Alas! my wife will now marry some other man." God had delayed his journey on account of what is to follow.
“When he looked around in sorrow he saw the above mentioned demon walking about in his cape. And the demon said, "Do you know me, Gerard?" He said, it No, I do not know you, but I know cape." The demon replied, "I am he who sought hospitality from you in the name of the Apostle; and I carried off your cape, for which I have been severely punished." And he added, "I am the devil, and I am commanded to carry you back tto your own house before nightfall, because your wife has married another man and is now sitting with him at the wedding banquet." Taking him up, the devil crossed in part of a day from India to Germany, from the east to the west, and about twilight placed him in his own house without injury
Hell by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem
“Entering his own house like a stranger, when he saw his own wif eating with her spouse, he drew near and in her sight taking out the half of the ring, he sent it to her in a cup. When she saw it, she immediately took it out and joining it to the part given to her she recognized him as her husband. Immediately jumping up she rushed to embrace him, proclaiming that he was her husband Gerard and saying good-bye to her spouse. Nevertheless, out of courtesy Gerard kept the latter with him that night. In this as in the preceding miracle it is sufficiently evident how much the blessed Apostles love and glorify those who love them.
Two Heretics Worked Miracles by the Aid of the Devil
Caesar of Heisterbach wrote: “Two men simply clad, but not without guile, not sheep but ravening wolves, came to Besançon, feigning the greatest piety. Moreover they were pale and thin, they went about barefooted and fasted daily, they did not miss a single night the matins in the cathedral, nor did they accept anything from any one except a little food. When by such hypocrisy they had attracted the attention of every one, they began to vomit forth their hidden poison and to preach to the ignorant new and unheard of heresies. In order, moreover, that the people might believe their teachings they ordered meal to be sifted on the sidewalk and walked on it without leaving a trace of a footprint. Likewise walking upon the water they could not be immersed; also, they had little huts burnt over their heads, and after those had been burnt to ashes, they came out uninjured. After this they said to the people, 'If you do not believe our words, believe our miracles." [Source: Dist. V, Cap. XVIII. (Vol I, pp. 296, ff.), Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 7-11]
“The bishop and the clergy hearing of this were greatly disturbed. And when they wished to resist those men, affirming that they were heretics and deceivers and ministers of the devil, they escaped with difficulty from being stoned by the people. Now that bishop was a good and learned man and a native of our province. Our aged monk, Conrad, who told me these facts and who was in that city at the time, knew him well.
“The bishop seeing that his words were of no avail and that the people entrusted to his charge were being subverted from the faith by the devil's agents, summoned a certain clerk that he knew, who was very well versed in necromancy, and said, "Certain men in my city are doing so and so. I ask you to find out from the devil by your art who they are, whence they come, and by what means so many and so wonderful miracles are wrought. For it is impossible that they should do wonders through divine inspiration when their teaching is so contrary to God's." The clerk said, "My lord, I have long renounced that art." The bishop replied, "You see clearly in what straits I am. I must either acquiesce in their teachings or be stoned by the people. Therefore I enjoin upon you for the remission of your sins that yon obey me in this matter."
“The clerk, obeying the bishop, summoned the devil, and when asked why he had called him responded, "I am sorry that I have deserted you. And because I desire to be more obedient to you in the future than in the past, I ask you to tell me who these men are, what they teach, and by what means they work so great miracles." The devil replied, "They are mine and sent by me, and they preach what I have placed in their mouths." The clerk responded, "How is it that they cannot be injured, or sunk in the water, or burned by fire?" The demon replied again, "They have under their arm-pits, sewed between the skin and the flesh, my compacts in which the homage done by them to me is written; and by virtue of these they work such miracles and can not be injured by any one." Then the clerk, "What if those should be taken away from them?" The devil replied, "Then they would be weak, just like other men." The clerk having heard this, thanked the demon, saying, "Now go, and when you are summoned by me, return."
“He went to the bishop and recited these things to him in order. The latter filled with great joy summoned all the people of the city to a suitable place and said, "I am your shepherd, ye are my sheep. If those men, as you say, confirm their teaching by signs, I will follow them with you. If not, it is fitting that they should be punished and that you should penitently return to the faith of your fathers with me." The people replied, ,We have seen many signs from them. The bishop replied "But I have not seen them." Why protract my words? The plan pleased the people. The heretics were summoned. A fire was kindled in the midst of the city. Nevertheless before the heretics entered it, they were secretly summoned to the bishop. He said to them, "I want to see if you have any evil about you." Hearing this they stripped quickly and said with great confidence, "Search our bodies and our garments carefully." The soldiers, truly, following the instructions of the bishop, raised their arms and noticing under the arm-pits some scars that were healed up broke them open with their knives and extracted from them the little scrolls which had been sewed in.
“Having received these the bishop went forth with the heretics to the people and, having commanded silence, cried out in a loud voice, "Now shall your prophets enter the fire, and if they are not injured I will believe in them." The wretched men trembled and said, "We ar not able to enter now." Then the bishop told the people of the evil which had been detected, and showed the compacts. Then all furious hurled the devil's ministers, to be tortured with the devil in eternal flames, into the fire which had been prepared. And thus through the grace of God and the zeal of the bishop the growing heresy was extinguished and the people who had been seduced and corrupted were cleansed by penance.”
Music and The Devil
Certain musical exploits have been attributed to the Devil. He not only loves singing but is master of the violin. Some say he invented the instrument and promised mastery of it, bartering the skill for the pupil's soul. These legends are related to the larger belief in the supernatural origin of musical skill and individual songs." (Botkin, B. A., A Treasury of American Folklore, Crown Publishers, p. 718; Cf. The Devil and the Fiddle, Herbert Halpert, Hoosier Folklore Bulletin, Vol II (Dec., 1943). [Source: piney.com]
According to a report published in piney.com “The American Restoration Movement had two streams. The first was the Stone Movement. This was a movement which depended on a direct movement of the 'holy spirit' as proven by some form of hysterical breakdown. This was a studied and calculated form of huge gathering using all of the machinery of the arousals or awakenings which are much like witchcraft or Devil worship. That part of the musical or charismatic revivalists still appeal to the charismatic prophesiers as authority for prophets in the modern "worship" assembly. A major authority is:
Charles Daily Northwest College of the Bible Part One appeals to charismatic prophesiers as authority for music in public worship. Part One shows no exception: "prophesying" by the “Poetic Women” was "the Law" to which Paul appealed to show that women should be silent meaning sedentary. "Men" would not be caught dead if they knew the meaning of musical worship performance. Part Two. Charismatic prophetesses (Paul would say mad) Part Three the Temple "Musicians" Any singer or instrument player who stumbled into the Holy Place as a "non functioning" type of the body or church of Christ would be executed: even if he intended to clean out the garbage. People keep skinning their knees looking for authority for musical sectarianism: it does not exist. All such performance "worship" is threskia or charismatic which makes a sexual appeal to people which absolutely shuts down worship in the new place of the human spirit.
While the denominational background of this revivalist background consisted by Presbyterians who could not get the sign that they had been predestinated to be saved. They therefore lived in mortal feat. Barton W. Stone sought to produce these signs by studying a successful Methodist. The revivals at Caneridge, in Kentucky, consisted of all of the ingredients to "wind up the minds" of those not Biblically literate. The outcome was quite identical to Devil Worship in ancient and fairly modern Iraqu. These, too, consider themselves as Christians but their practices are clearly devil worship. Not doubting the Stone Movement's manipulators, the outcome is clearly not a Christian movement.
Soul Carried to Heaven Angels are messengers between God in heaven and humankind on earth. Angels often appear at key events in the Bible. They delivered messages to Abraham in the Old Testament and Mary in the New Testament as well as to Mohammed in the Koran. “Angel” is derived from the Greek word for “ambassador” or “messenger.”
In the Gospels, an angel tell Mary that she will become pregnant and give birth to Jesus; “a great throng of the hosts of heaven” sing God’s praises at Jesus’s birth. After the temptation in the wilderness , “angels looked after him” and “an angel...from heaven” comforted him during his moment of agony in Gerthsemane. On Easter morning, two angles announce the news that Jesus has risen.
Angels and saints are often depicted with halo around their heads, symbolizing God’s holiness radiating from them. The idea of the halo did not originate with Christianity. Gods and spirits in ancient Hindu, Indian, Greek and Roman art sometimes had light radiating from their heads.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Symbols of Catholicism” by Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (Barnes & Noble, 2000); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Newsweek, Time and National Geographic articles about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated February 2024