Satan in the Thought of Augustine

The great adversary/Satan to the early Christians was the Roman and Jewish systems. The Jewish system passed away in A.D. 70, and Roman opposition ceased once the empire converted to Christianity under Constantine. Visible persecution of Christians ceased, for the most part. The lack of visible adversaries perhaps encouraged mainstream Christianity to conclude that the adversary/Satan was therefore invisible and cosmic. It was against this background that Augustine came onto the scene.

The logical and analytical mind of Augustine probably had the greatest influence in codifying Christian thought on the Devil, and setting the tradition in stone for future generations. He realized the weakness of the common Christian position on the Devil, and more than any others, scoured Scripture for support of the idea. He focused upon the symbolic prophecy of Revelation 12, that immediately prior to Christ’s return there would be a battle between Michael and his angels/followers, and the system symbolized by “the dragon”. I discuss the actual meaning of this passage later, in section 5-32. What Augustine surely willfully ignored was the basic context of Revelation 12—that this is a prophecy of the future, rather than a description of events in the past, at the beginning of Biblical history. The obvious objection, of course, is that God’s people were informed nothing in the Genesis record of any battle in Heaven, a Satan figure, fallen angels etc. Why would they have to wait until the very end of Biblical revelation in order to be told what happened? And in this case, how could knowledge of these supposed events be made so fundamental to Christianity, when for so long God’s people had lived in ignorance of them? Undeterred, Augustine pushed his point insistently, consciously or unconsciously. He pushed it to the point that the impression was given that it was the Angel Michael, rather than Christ personally, who overcame the Devil—thus devaluing the huge Biblical emphasis upon the fact that it was the human Christ and not an Angel who overcame the Devil, sin, death etc.—the whole of Hebrews 1 and 2 emphasizes this. Augustine’s idea got to such a point that later a whole cult of Michael worship developed, in studied ignorance of Paul’s warning not to worship angels (Colossians 2:18). Indeed in that passage, Paul speaks of Angel worship as the result of being “vainly puffed up by [the] fleshly mind” and not holding on to an understanding of Christ as the supreme “head” of all things. Perhaps it was exactly because Augustine and others missed the Biblical definition of the Devil as “the fleshly mind” that they came to their wrong conclusions. Paul even seems to hint that he saw this matter as a salvation issue—for he speaks of angel worship as ‘robbing you of your prize’ (Colossians 2:18 ASV). And yet, fed by Augustine’s City of God and other writings, the cult of worshiping Michael and his “angels” spread throughout the Christian church, as witnessed by the building of Mont St. Michel in France and countless expressions of the cult in Christian art, building and culture.

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Author: Duncan Heaster

Keywords: Satanology, Demonology, Adversary, Christ tempted, Christ tempted in the wilderness, Christ's temptation, Christ's temptation in the wilderness, Devil, Devil and Jesus, Devil tempts Jesus, diabolos, Evil angel, Evil Inclination, Evil nature, Evil one, Hara Yetser, Ha-ra Yetser, Hara Yetzer, Ha-ra Yetzer, Hara Yezer, Ha-ra Yezer, Jesus' temptation, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Jesus tempted, Jesus tempted by Satan, Jesus tempted by the devil, Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Jesus's temptation, Man's sinful nature, Personification of evil, Satan, Satan and Jesus, Satan tempts Christ, Satan tempts Jesus, Seducer, Sin in the flesh, Sin within, Sinful nature, Snatcher, Temptation, Temptation from within, Temptation in the wilderness, Tempted in the wilderness, Tempted of Satan, Tempted of the devil, Tempted sexually, Tempted to do evil, Tempts Christ, Tempts Jesus, The devil tempts Christ, The devil tempts Jesus, The Evil Inclination, The Evil One, Wicked one, Wilderness temptation, Yatsar, Yetsarim, Yetser ha ra, Yetser ha tov, Yetser ra, Yetser tov, Yetzer, Yetzer ha ra, Yetzer ha tov, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer ra, Yetzer tov, Yezer ha ra, Yezer ha tov, Yezer Hara, Yezer tov, Two inclinations, Tempter, Envy of the devil, Augustine

Bible reference(s): 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6-9, Job 1:12, Job 2:1-7, Isaiah 14:12, Zechariah 3:1-2, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 12:26, Matthew 13:19, Matthew 13:38-39, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 25:41, Mark 1:13, Mark 3:23, Mark 3:26, Mark 4:15, Mark 8:33, Luke 4:2-5, Luke 4:13, Luke 8:12, Luke 10:18, Luke 11:18, Luke 13:16, Luke 22:3, Luke 22:31, John 6:70, John 8:44, John 13:2, John 13:27, John 17:15, Acts 5:3, Acts 10:38, Acts 13:10, Acts 26:18, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 3:6, 1 Timothy 3:7, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, Jude 1:9, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 2:24, Revelation 3:9, Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:12, Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:10

Source: “The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration.”

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