Satan is a real, existing being, working among people, In the Holy Scripture he appears as early as the Book of Genesis, as the serpent. It is he who persuades the first people to be disobedient to God and thus leads them to their fall. The devil is a cunning tempter who leads away from obedience to God. From then on his work is identified with the spreading of sin, suffering and death. In the book of Job, Satan’s impudence, his power over the physical world and his perversity are shown. The tempting of Jesus Christ depicts the evil spirit as a usurper. It is visible in biblical scenes of exorcism. The devil, tempting through greed, induces Judas to denounce Jesus to the Pharisees.
Images of Satan
Satan’s work is usually hidden, aimed for people’s fall. The evil spirit most easily attacks those, who have forgotten about God’s law and are susceptible to sensual temptations. The devil lies in wait for a man’s inner peace, trying to destroy all that is holy in him, every tie linking man to God. Demons are spiritual beings, who – like angels – do not have a material body. Where did representations of a horned, hairy devil with hooves come from, then? They were borrowed from pagan cults. Images of Charon, the Etruscan demon of death, are a good example. His features included a nose shaped like a vulture’s beak, pointy animal ears, wings, sharp fangs, goat legs, a tail and hooves. Sometimes he has one hoof and one foot, sometimes – bat wings. In the mythology a shepherds’ god with goat horns and legs, named Pan, also appears. The word “panic” comes from his name. In the Middle Ages Satan was depicted as a beautiful youth, whose back was devoured by toads, snakes and worms, or symbolized by a snake or dragon, slain by pious knights. The fallen angel also appeared as a basilisk, a fox, a squirrel, a cuckoo or a lion (which springs from a literal reading of the Bible: “prowls around like a roaring lion”, see 1 Peter 5:8). The devil from Łysa Góra (where witches’ sabbaths were held according to Polish folk beliefs) has a second face to be kissed by his subjects. It is placed… on his buttocks. Sometimes Satan was described as a hunter in a black or green doublet or as a monster with three heads or faces, which was meant as an opposition to the Holy Trinity. In tarot, the figure on the fifteenth card of the Major Arcana is a horned devil – the ruler of hell, holding people on a chain. It is a symbol of punishment for submitting to temptation.
Confrontation with saints
Saints who had met Satan face to face later spoke of his incredible horribleness, described him as the ugliest of all creatures, frightening with bot his appearance and his intelligence, surpassing the intelligence of man. But a frightening appearance does not accompany power – Satan is completely powerless, defenceless and cowardly when facing God and sanctity. In times of temptation, Saint Francis said to Satan, “open your mouth wider, I’ll defecate into it.” The saint who perhaps suffered most due to direct cruel demonic interference was St. Padre Pio. The devils physically and mentally tortured the monk of San Giovanni Rotondo so hard, that the noises coming from his cell woke the other Capuchins during the night. In spite of all the sufferings and temptations, St. Padre Pio did not yield to the one he, with jocular irony, called a “bearded, whiskered, envious, good-for-nothing, disgusting troublemaker, or a filthy brute”.
Danger for people
Demons, however, cannot be ignored and considered to be unable to harm people. They do all they can to pull man away from God and lead him onto the path of sin. Also through intimidation and inducing notions of their own terribleness, which is meant to raise fear and respect for them. A person who yields to such deception will be willing to act according to the Polish proverb “A candle for God, but a candle-stub for the devil.” St. Padre Pio’s life proved that the devil does not deserve even a candle-stub, but he might deserve a bucket of holy water spilled on his “filthy face”.