On Angels: Part 3: Demonic Abilities and Limitations (Heavily Belated)

Hello, readers, and happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!

This post is incredibly late, but I either a) had school or b) wanted to do something else with my free time. But at last, I have the time and motivation to conclude what I began months ago, and hopefully, with this out of the way, can post on this blog concerning other topics. So, when I last posted, I said that the next post would go into demonic power (and by extension, the power of all angels). Let’s do this, then!

The Power of Demons In and Of Itself

First, I want to go into the power of demons considered by itself, without any external restraints placed upon it. A primary thing you should realize is that, because demons are angels, they have all the powers God gave to angels. God did not withdraw their angelic abilities when they sinned, thinking that because they’re now evil, they don’t deserve to be powerful. No, their angelic powers remained, which means that they’re a great deal more powerful than humans. What is the extent of demonic/angelic power? It varies. But even the lowest angel is intensely more powerful, whether intellectually or otherwise, than a human person. I assume, though, that you’d like a basic list of powers possessed by all angels, regardless of rank, so here you go (and since we’re referring in this post to demons, the list will as well; just know that it applies to good angels unless otherwise noted):

  • Demons have vastly superior minds compared to humans. In Fr. Francis J. Remler’s excellent book How to Resist Temptation, he says that demons know more about the material universe and the expansive cosmos than scientists could know in a million years. In the same book, he says that although demons cannot read our minds as God can, they are nevertheless able to have a generally-correct idea of what we’re thinking at a given moment (Fr. Remler compared it to having a friend whom you know so well that you can “read him like a book”—you don’t know exactly what he’s thinking, but can guess pretty well).
  • Demons have a great deal of power over the material world and the people in it. I recommend you read Part 1 for more on that, but I do have something else to add to the stuff listed over there. In Theology For Beginners, Frank Sheed says that “…angels could, so powerful as they are, destroy our material universe if the mightier power of God did not prevent them” (Chapter Two: Spirit, pg. 15).
  • Demons, as with the good angels, have wills that are unobstructed by emotions. Because of this, they are able to think far more decisively and clearly than humans. There’s no question of how a given thing makes them feel at a particular moment; they’re not one moment happy, another moment sad. They know what they want and they act accordingly.
  • Specifically with regard to demons, the temptations they give to man would at least almost always induce him to sin if he were not given God’s grace to combat them.
  • Demons can appear as good angels, as a saint, or even as Our Lord Himself! This is why one must be very, very deliberate and careful if he claims to have seen a vision from Heaven.

Limits on Demonic Power

Notice that I said previously, “I want to go into the power of demons considered by itself, without any external restraints placed upon it”. That means that there are, in fact, limits on what demons can know and do.

For example, Matthew and Mark’s gospels are at one in agreeing that the angels do not know when the end of the world will be (Mt. 24:53, Mk. 13:32: and just for the record, when it says the Son does not know, it is another way of saying He was not sent to tell us; He and the Holy Spirit do know when it is, because They share the divine intellect that is God the Father’s).

Another limitation placed on demons is that they cannot force us to sin. They can tempt us, and indeed they can tempt us very greatly, but they cannot make us sin. That’s ultimately up to us. Further, demons are prevented by God from tempting us beyond what we can handle. That’s not to say that temptations sent our way won’t be intense, but simply that, with God’s aid, we will be able to handle whatever temptations we encounter, no matter how bad they are.

Yet another limitation on demons is that they are bound to obey a direct command made by God. Note that whenever Christ tells a demon to leave a possessed soul in the Gospels, it listens to Him. This makes sense, since He created all the demons, but it’s still worth noting. I say the demons are bound to obey a direct command for this reason: you might say, well, they didn’t obey God when He gave them the choice between Heaven and Hell. The key difference is that when God offered the demons eternal life, He did not say, “You MUST love Me”, but rather, gave them the chance to do so or not, at their own peril. In the case of the demons, He definitely ordered them to get out, and they did, despite whatever protests and blasphemies they made first. Further, I say they’re bound to obey a direct command from God (as opposed to others) because the Scriptures record instances where men were unable to do cast out demons (Mt. 17:19-20). I’ll admit that on this last point, I may be oversimplifying the situation. It could be that demons must obey anyone who possesses the authority of Christ, but I honestly am not sure. I’d gladly accept pointers here.

There are two final limitations on demonic ability or knowledge that I can think of. The first was one placed on Satan by God in Job 1:12, where the former was not permitted to harm Job. The last and more interesting one appears within the Gospels. It would seem to some degree that Satan was unaware that Jesus Christ was the Only-Begotten Son of God and Redeemer of the world. During Satan’s temptation of Christ before His public ministry in Matthew 4, Satan kept saying, “If you are the Son of God, do yadda yadda yadda…”, going so far as to ask Our Lord to worship him. Now the question is, if Satan did know Who Christ was, wouldn’t he know that asking such a thing was not only pointless but even impossible, considering that God is incapable of sin? The only reason I can think of that he would even bother with the series of temptations is that he was honestly unsure about Our Lord’s identity. This is St. Thomas Aquinas’ take on it as well, who said that demons “can be misled with regard to supernatural matters; for example, on seeing a dead man, they may suppose that he will not rise again, or, on beholding Christ, they may judge Him not to be God” (Summa Theologica I:58:5).

In conclusion, it’s all very intriguing, isn’t it? Perhaps we’ll know more in the next life. In the meantime, I hope these posts have not been too shallow regarding their treatment of these issues, but if you have anything else you’d like me to write about, let me know. Once again, my apologies for taking so awfully long with this.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you and yours,

—Michael

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