Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




When Our Lord was led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, the tempter was the devil. When the temptation was finished, Our Lord said to the tempter, get thee hence Satan. The name Satan is a Hebrew word. In Greek it is translated by the word diabolos, which means accuser, adversary. The English word for diabolos is devil. Who is he? What is he?

The answer to this question is contained in the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, in the seventh, eighth and ninth verses, part of the Epistle for Saint Michael and All Angels Day. “Be sober, be vigilant;” warns Saint Peter, “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith.”

It seems a long time ago since I first heard old-fashioned skeptics expressing doubts as to the existence of a personal devil. I suppose that most of them are dead by this time. They would be far behind the times if they were living now. The modern skeptic has advanced in knowledge since then. He has discovered that the world and the flesh are no longer the fields of temptation. He has discovered that there is no such thing as temptation. He has discovered that there is no such thing as sin. He has discovered that the way to attain to freedom from temptation is to yield to it. He has discovered that the way to escape sin is to sin. This was called at first the new morality. I think that it is beginning to lose the interest of novelty. The unimaginative majority of people are stupid enough to say that it is only the old immorality. Demoniacal possession is as common today as it ever was.

I am not interested in arguing this point, partly because it needs no argument, but chiefly because I want to call attention to a lesson to be gained from the record of the miracle in today’s Gospel: “When the devil was gone out, the dumb spake.” This person, while he was possessed of the devil, was deprived of the use of a faculty. When the devil was gone out the man regained his freedom for self-expression. That freedom was the gift of Our Lord. Our Lord came into this world to restore to man the glorious liberty of the children of God. He came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly.

The enemy of life and “liberty is the devil. Those whom he beguiles and enslaves are lured into a life of perpetual frustration. The spiritual faculties become deadened through disuse. The bodily faculties become brutalized through misuse. Social bonds of love and loyalty are destroyed by passion and treachery. In the end everything worth having in this world and the next is lost. The awakening, when it is too late, to this consciousness of irretrievable loss, brings with it the worst pain of hell, which the theologians call poena damni, the pain of loss.

“Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb.” So Our Lord looks into a devil-possessed soul. He sees within it, buried under the diseased tissue, the wasted form of the imprisoned person, who in spite of captivity and madness yet retains the remnant of a personality capable of restoration by the exercise of the virtue which He alone possesses. He speaks the word which exorcises. The devil is cast out. The victim regains consciousness. Our Lord cleanses, heals, restores, and releases the faculties which belong to the Sons of God, to praise the God who created, redeemed and illuminated them.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury