Warning signs of a diabolical spirit and how to recognize them

September 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog


Questions about discernment of spirits come up from time to time on my “Open Line” radio show (Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. ET).

This has prompted me to study more deeply the Church’s spiritual theology and what God has revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition. The more I’ve learned, the more I see how much I need to learn. As a service to my listeners and blog readers (that’s you!), I bring you some teaching on this subject by the late Dominican theologian, Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P., an expert in spiritual theology.

N.B.: This post is part 1 in a longer series I will be posting here devoted to the discernment of spirits, etc. And now, let’s hear from Father Aumann:

Signs of the Diabolical Spirit. We have already enumerated the signs of the divine spirit, but since the devil may disguise himself as a good spirit and even cause what appears to be authentic mystical phenomena, it is helpful to mention briefly the various signs of the diabolical spirit.

1. Spirit of falsity. The devil is the father of lies, but he cleverly conceals his deceit by half-truths and pseudo-mystical phenomena.

2. Morbid curiosity. This is characteristic of those who eagerly seek out the esoteric aspects of mystical phenomena or have a fascination for the occult or preternatural.

3. Confusion, anxiety, and deep depression.

4. Obstinacy. One of the surest signs of a diabolical spirit.

5. Constant indiscretion and a restless spirit. Those who constantly go to extremes, as in penitential exercises or apostolic activity; or neglect their primary obligations to do some personally chosen work.

6. Spirit of pride and vanity. Very anxious to publicize their gifts of grace and mystical experiences.

7. False humility. This is the disguise for their pride and self-love.

8. Despair, lack of confidence, and discouragement. A chronic characteristic that alternates with presumption, vain security, and un-’ founded optimism.

9. Disobedience and hardness of heart.

10. Impatience in suffering and stubborn resentment.

11. Uncontrolled passions and strong inclination to sensuality, usually under the guise of mystical union.

12. Hypocrisy, simulation, and duplicity.

13. Excessive attachment to sensible consolations, particularly in their practice of prayer.

14. Lack of deep devotion to Jesus and Mary.

15. Scrupulous adherence to the letter of the law and fanatical zeal in promoting a cause. This characteristic readily opens the door to diabolical influence in reformers and demagogues.

Once the spiritual director is certain that a person is acting under the influence of a diabolical spirit, he should: (1) make the individual realize that he or she is a toy of the devil and must resist his influence; (2) encourage the individual to pray to God for the grace to overcome the devil; (3) advise the person to act quickly and with disdain for the devil as soon as the influence is perceived, performing the opposite from what is suggested or felt.

The Human Spirit
The signs of a purely human spirit have been described by Thomas à Kempis in Book 3, Chapter 54 of The Imitation of Christ. His words should be pondered carefully, for he explains the struggle between grace and the human spirit, wounded by sin and strongly inclined to self-love.

The human spirit is always inclined to its own satisfactions; it is a friend of pleasure and an enemy of suffering of any kind. It readily inclines to anything that is compatible with its own temperament, its personal tastes and caprices, or the satisfaction of self-love. It will not hear of humiliations, penance, renunciation, or mortification.

If any director or confessor goes against its inclinations, he is immediately branded as inept and incompetent. it seeks success, honors, applause, and pastimes. It is always a great promoter of anything that will arouse admiration or notoriety. In a word, the human spirit neither understands nor cares for anything except its own egoism.

It is sometimes difficult in practice to judge whether given manifestations proceed from the devil or from a purely human and egoistic spirit, but it is always relatively easy to distinguish between these two and the spirit of God. It will be possible in most cases, therefore, to determine that a given spirit could not possibly be from God and that it must be combatted, even if one is not sure whether it is in fact from the devil or the human, ego.

The following contrasts may serve as general rules for distinguishing between the diabolical and the human spirit. Natural impulses and inclinations are spontaneous; they can usually be traced to some natural cause or disposition; the stimulation of the senses acts upon, the interior powers, and they often persist in spite of prayer.

Diabolical impulse or suggestion, on the other hand, is usually violent and difficult to prevent; it arises unexpectedly or with the slightest provocation; a mental suggestion excites the senses and disappears as a rule with prayer. Self-denial and rectitude of intention are excellent remedies against the spirit of egoism.

In this respect the spiritual director and confessor will do well to keep in mind the general rule for discernment of spirits: if there is a possible natural or diabolical explanation for a given phenomenon, it cannot be presumed that it is supernatural in origin. The following are the principal doubtful reasons or situations:

1. To aspire to some other state in life after having made a prudent and deliberate selection for the existing state.

2. To be attracted to rare phenomena or to singular exercises not proper to one’s state in life. When God desires such things he will give unmistakable proof of his will; the test is obedience and humility.

3. An inclination to practice extreme corporal penances. God has demanded them of some souls, but this practice is not in the workings of ordinary providence.

4. A desire for sensible consolations in the practice of prayer or the exercise of the virtues.

5. The “gift of tears” or the strong inclination to concentrate on the sorrowful and penitential aspects of religion.

6. Exclusive devotion to some particular mystery or pious exercise, which easily leads to a distortion of orthodox theology.

7. Extraordinary favors, such as revelations, visions, stigmata, when they occur in a person of little sanctity. The extraordinary graces do not necessarily presuppose sanctity or even the state of grace, but God does not ordinarily grant these gifts except to his servants and friends.

By way of conclusion, we again warn directors and confessors to proceed with great caution in making judgments in matters involving the discernment of spirits. It is easy to make a mistake. In cases of extraordinary phenomena, it should be noted that, as a rule, when these things proceed from God, the soul first experiences great fear and humility and then peace and consolation. If these things come from the devil they often begin with
feelings of sensible consolation and satisfaction, but later they cause confusion, anxiety, and restlessness.

Lastly, apropos of the inclination some persons experience to change their state of life (and usually to go to a higher and stricter form of life), the director will bear in mind that it is quite possible that a grace is given by God but without God’s wanting the person actually to change one’s state in life.

For example, a priest who is actively engaged in the apostolate may experience a strong desire to spend more time in prayer and solitude. In trying to understand the reason for this strong inclination, he may erroneously judge that it is God’s will that he enter the Carthusians or the Trappists. Such is not necessarily the case, however, for it may be that the only thing that God is asking of the priest is that he be less involved in the whirlpool of activity and that he dedicate more time each day to prayer and recollection.

We would state the following as a general rule for the solution of such cases: if an individual has prayerfully and seriously selected the state of life in which he or she is, then he or she must present a serious positive cause for changing this state of life. Otherwise, the will of God is the present state of life. Another practical test is to see whether the individual is performing the duties of the present state in life with all fidelity; if not, the person should not even think of changing to another state. (To be continued . . .)

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Enter the Conversation...

18 Responses to “Warning signs of a diabolical spirit and how to recognize them”
  1. Halny says:

    Dear Patrick, You really did it this time !!!

    actually, at first, it came out like this:

    Fear Patrick, You really Dead this time :)

    Problem is that English is my third language and more often than not, I manage to either say, or write something really stupid in English….
    Now, after having read your article, I'm not quite sure if those embarrassing mistakes are the result of my poor language skills… or, perhaps, something more sinister and dark lurks in this sinner's soul.

    Has this article been written by, say, Christopher Hitchens (for whom, by the way, I constantly pray NOT to end up playing poker with Hitler and Stalin) I would simply think, "Oh, come on! Not another desperate atheistic offense to obtain more slaves.."

    But, unfortunately, it has not been written by Mr. Hitchens, and this frightens me immensely. I got up this morning, said my prayers, had my cereal with EWTN and a pinch of FOX News, and went on reading my emails, thinking that my daily Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, my frequent visits to the Eucharistic Adoration, and countless authentic encounters with God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Angels, and the Saints, have helped me built strong defenses against this unstable and volcano-like Existence… Then, my whole world collapsed…

    Talking about joining the Trappists or, better yet, the Carthusians, talking about wrestling with my current state in life and departing from the real purpose of my life…. Gush, Patrick! All the 15 points you mentioned are dead on… Have you no mercy ! Have you managed to obtain an illegal wiretap on my brain- this is really spooky!

    In your follow-up articles, would you be so "human" as to enlighten some of us, mostly the confused ones, on how exactly do you propose a person can make the sober distinction he/she is actually walking the right path and praying to God, and not being manipulated by His jealous and disgusting competitor…?

    Getting a good spiritual director would be, indeed, a great step toward understanding soteriology. Unfortunately, it is as remote a possibility as getting to Mount Sinai and having a little chit-chat with the Almighty. Ask Moses how many miles he had to log in on His iPod and Nike+ to achieve The Impossible. And keep in mind that unlike the Biblical people, we don't have the luxury to wander the planet for couple of centuries – what we get is a couple of decades at best – if we behave OK.

    Thank you for all your wonderful hard work at speaking, writing and defending The Truth. Your article was the bomb! Now pick up the wounded ones!

    Blessings!

    Robert

  2. Tito Edwards says:

    mgseamanjr,

    By your accusation, if we follow its logical conclusion, then everyone is rabid.

  3. Zahler says:

    I think the best spiritual advice any one can have is to get a good spiritual director. Of course by saying "good" it presupposes that you know what makes a good spiritual director. I've been told two major traits: someone who themselves lives a life of repentance and conversion to Christ and someone who is orthodox and knowledgable about the faith. If you're unable to find a spiritual director, prayerfully reading books can be a great help. For instance, The Immitation of Christ or The Way of Perfection. The best starting book for non-religious I think might be Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. Of course, none of these books beat a living voice who can help confirm what is genuinely from God and what isn't.

  4. mgseamanjr says:

    Tito Edwards says:

    "In my personal opinion, Medgugorje (sic) seems to meet most, if not all, of the signs you describe."

    Really? I was thinking that those who rabidly critique the phenomenon of Medjugorje at every turn (even in postings after articles that have nothing to do with it) fit the description above far better.

  5. Patrick Madrid says:

    Oreilda, don't be so quick to scoff. For one thing, Mother Teresa was not at all "fanatical" in her zeal for God and neighbor. And Father Aumann neither said nor implied that everyone who does not have a devotion is "going to hell." He pointed out that lack of devotion to Jesus and Mary is a common characteristic in those who are hindered in some way by the devil; but he did not say that everyone who lacks devotion *is* hindered by the devil. By way of analogy: To say that all the high-jacker terrorists of the planes on 9-11 were Muslims does not mean that all Muslims are high-jacker terrorists.

  6. oreillda says:

    So mother Theresa is evil for her "fanatical zeal in promoting a cause" – anybody who is Catholic by no devotion to Mary is going to Hell and anybody who dares make a remark about self love and respect?

    That is ridiculous! Surely anybody who loves and respects God and everybody and everything is good – demons are nothing more than the creation of mans fears rather than trusting in the Love and God.

  7. Nick says:

    Here's an article on false prophet that give examples of signs of diabolic spirit and human spirit: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07698b.htm

  8. rujuta says:

    From what I read here almost everyone I've met and know(including myself) are under diabolical influence….

    anyways they all seem to make sense non the less….

    waiting for more…

  9. Nick says:

    Pat, you should give examples of signs of the diabolic spirit and human spirit. :)

  10. Judith says:

    Look forward to reading what comes next Patrick. I'll be reading Book III Chapter 54 this evening. Blessings to you my brother. JMJ

  11. Patrick Madrid says:

    No worries, Ben. Stay tuned to this blog and I'll post more along the lines that you asked about. Seriously. God bless you, brother.

  12. ben says:

    The signs of of a Diabolical Spirit describe most of the people I work with. I could use a little more specifics before I break out the Crucifix, Holy Water, hammer and wooden stakes. Seriously, who doesn't face Disobedience, Confusion and hypocrisy on a daily basis?

  13. Patrick Madrid says:

    Hi, Charlotte. In this context, "sensible consolation" refers to the soul's sensation of being comforted, consoled, illuminated, brought to ecstasy, etc., by God. It could be compared analogously to the body's sensation of feeling sated by food after being hungry, or its thirst slaked by water, or warmth when it is cold, etc. But, of course, that is only an analogy between the bodily sensations and those the soul experiences when it becomes aware of the movement of God's grace within it. I hope that helps.

  14. Tito Edwards says:

    In my personal opinion, Medgugorje seems to meet most, if not all, of the signs you describe.

  15. John says:

    I have Anxiety that responds to medication, like Doanli, I want to know if you think this is saying that it could be demonic influence? Thanks. This is not "John" I'm his wife.

  16. SusanS. says:

    I have the "gift of tears" often at mass – an uncontrollable flow of tears. It is not tied to my emotions usually, just "happens." Should I be concerned about this? I don't think I concentrate too much on the sorrowful or penitential aspects of religion in general.

  17. doanli aka "orange blossom" says:

    I have a lot of questions too, but Something tells me to just love God and my neighbors. :)

    Also, I suffer from chronic depression that responds to medicines. Surely, this is not a demonic influence, is it? (I'm making a novena hoping God will heal me of it through this wonderful Saint's interceding for me.)

  18. Charlotte says:

    What does "sensible consolations" mean? Thanks.

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