The Fight Against the Forces of Darkness

Author: Pope John Paul II

"I will establish hostilities...":
the man involved in the fight against the forces of darkness

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 10 December 1986, the Holy Father reflected on the enmity, foretold in Genesis 3:15, between the Woman and the Serpent. 

1. In the introduction to the Constitution Gaudium et spes of the Second Vatican Council, we read: "The Church therefore has before her the world, that is, the entire human family with the universal set of realities among which it lives; the world, theater of human history, with its toils, failures and victories; the world , which Christians believe founded and preserved by the love of the Creator, enslaved under the bondage of sin , but freed by Christ, crucified and risen , broken the power of the devil, so that the world may be transformed according to the divine purpose and reach its consummation" ( Gaudium et spes , 2).

2. It is the world that we have before us in these catecheses of ours. These refer, as is known, to the reality of evil, that is, of sin , either at the beginning or throughout the history of the human family. In trying to reconstruct a synthetic image of sin, we also make use of everything that the varied experience of man over the centuries says about it. But we do not forget that sin is itself a mystery of iniquity, whose beginning in history, and also its successive development, cannot be fully understood without reference to the mystery of God-Creator., and in particular of the Creator of the beings that are made in his image and likeness. The words of Vatican II that we have just quoted say that the mystery of evil and sin, the "mysterium iniquitatis", cannot be understood without reference to the mystery of redemption , the "mysterium paschale" of Jesus Christ, as we have observed since the first catechesis of this cycle. Precisely this "logic of faith" is already expressed in the most ancient symbols.

3. In such a framework about the truth of sin , constantly professed and announced by the Church, we are already introduced from the first announcement of redemption that we find in Genesis. Indeed, after having broken the first commandment, on which God-Creator founded the oldest Covenant with man, Genesis informs us of the following dialogue: "The Lord God called him: Where are you? He answered: I heard your noise in the garden scared me because I was naked, and I hid myself. The Lord replied, "Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree from which I forbade you to eat?" You gave me a companion, offered me some of the fruit, and I ate. The Lord God said to the woman, "What have you done? She said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate" ( Gen 3:9-3).

"The Lord said to the serpent: Because you have done this you will be cursed ... I will establish enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; she will strike your head when you strike her heel" ( Gen 3, 14-15).

4. This passage from Genesis 3 fits harmoniously into the " Yahwist " context to which it belongs, both in terms of style and way of presenting the truth that we already know from examining the words of the tempter and the description of the first sin. Despite the appearances that the style of the biblical story may give rise to, the essential truths are sufficiently legible in it . They allow themselves to be captured and understood in themselves, and even more so in the context of everything that the entire Bible says on this subject, from beginning to end, through the fullest meaning of Sacred Scripture (sensus plenior).

Thus, the passage of Gen 3, 9-15 (and also the continuation of this chapter) contains God's response to man's sin . It is a direct response to the first sin, and at the same time a perspective response , because it refers to the entire future history of man on earth, until its end. Between Genesis and Revelation there is a true continuity and at the same time a deep coherence in the truth revealed by God. To this harmonious coherence of Revelation corresponds the "logic of faith" on the part of man who consciously believes. The truth of sin enters into the development of this logic.

5. According to Gen 3, 9-15, the first sin of man is described above all as "disobedience", that is, opposition to the commandment that expresses the will of the Creator. We have seen it. The man (male and female) is responsible for this act, because Adam is fully aware and free to do what he does. The same responsibility is found in every personal sin in the history of man, which acts for an end. What is significant in this regard is what Genesis makes known, that is, that the Lord God asks both of them - first the man, then the woman - the reason for his behavior: "What have you done? "

It follows that the essential importance of the act is in reference to this motive, that is, to the purpose of the behavior. In God's question, the "what" means for what reason , but it also means for what purpose . And here the woman (with the man) excuses herself by alluding to the instigation of the tempter: "The serpent deceived me." From this answer it must be deduced that the reason suggested by the serpent: "You will be... like God", contributed decisively to the transgression of the Creator's prohibition and gave an essential dimension to the first sin. This reason is not directly taken into account by God in his sentence of punishment: but it is certainly present and dominates the entire biblical and historical scenario as a call to gravity and the folly of the claim to oppose or replace God, as a indication of the most essential and profound dimension of original sin and of all sin that has its first root in it.

6. That is why it is significant and just that following the response to man's first sin, God addresses himself directly to the tempter , to the "ancient serpent", of whom the author of the Apocalypse will say that he "tempts the whole world" ( cf. Rev 12, 9: "the whole earth goes astray"). Indeed, according to Genesis, God, the Lord, said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you will be cursed ". The words of the curse addressed to the serpent refer to the one Christ will call "the father of lies" (cf. Jn 8, 44). But at the same time, in that response of God to the first sin, there is the announcement of the fight that throughout the history of man will be established between the same "father of lies" and the Woman and her Kindred.

7. The Second Vatican Council pronounces on this issue very clearly: "Throughout all of human history there has been a hard battle against the power of darkness , which, begun at the origins of the world, will last, as the Lord says to the end. Engaged in this fight , man has to continually fight to abide by what is good, and only at the cost of great efforts, with the help of God's grace, is he able to establish unity in himself" ( Gaudium et spes 37). In another passage, the Council expresses itself even more explicitly, speaking of the struggle "between good and evil" that is waged in every man: "Man finds himself incapable of effectively controlling the attacks of evil on his own." ; up to the point of feeling as if shackled in chains ". But to this strong expression the Council counterposes the truth of redemption with an affirmation of faith no less strong and determined: "But the Lord came in person to liberate and invigorate man , renewing him interiorly and expelling the 'prince of this world' ( Jn 12, 31), which held him in slavery to sin" ( Gaudium et spes , 13).

8. These observations of the Magisterium of the Church today repeat in a precise and homogeneous way the truth about sin and about redemption, expressed initially in Gen 3, 15, and subsequently in all of Sacred Scripture. Let us still listen to the Gaudium et spes : "Created by God... man... at the very beginning of history abused his freedom from it, rising up against God and pretending to reach his own end apart from God" ( Gaudium et spes , 13). Obviously it is a sin in the strict sense of the word : both in the case of the first sin, and in that of any other sin of man. But the Council does not fail to remember that this first sin was committed by man " at the instigation of the devil " ( Gaudium et spes , 13). As we read in the book of Wisdom: "... through the envy of the devil death entered the world, and those who belong to him experience it" ( Wis 2, 24 ), it seems that in this case " death " means either sin itself (= the death of the soul as the loss of divine life conferred by sanctifying grace), or bodily death deprived of the hope of the glorious resurrection The man who has broken the law regarding "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", the Lord has removed him from the " tree of life " ( Gén3, 22), in the perspective of all his earthly history.

9. In the text of the Council, with the allusion to the first sin and its aftermath in human history, the perspective of the struggle announced by the words attributed to God in Gen 3:15 : "I will establish hostilities" is closed. It follows that if sin from the beginning is linked to man's free will and responsibility and opens a "dramatic" question between man and God , it is also true that man, because of sin, is entangled ( as Vatican II rightly expresses) "in a hard battle against the power of darkness" ( Gaudium et spes 37). He is implicated and "like shackled in chains" (always according to the Council: Gaudium et spes , 13) in the dark dynamism of that mysterium iniquitatis , which is greater than him and his earthly history.

The Letter to the Ephesians expresses this well: "Our struggle is not against men of flesh and blood, but against the superhuman and supreme forces of evil, which dominate this world of darkness " ( Eph 6:12 ).

But also the thought of the cruel reality of sin that weighs on all of history with particular consideration for our times, pushes us once again to the tremendous truth of those biblical and conciliar words about "man... locked in the hard battle against the power of darkness." However, we must not forget that in this mystery of darkness a light is lit from the beginning that frees history from the nightmare of an inexorable condemnation: the announcement of the Savior.

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