Monday, December 12, 2005

Naming the Demons

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."
Isaiah 5: 20

Human beings possess the charism of naming things (see Genesis 2:19). While some exegetes have claimed that this naming charism bestows power or authority over things, I would dispute this, and following a study by G. Ramsey contend rather that naming is about having insight into things. In Genesis 2:23, Adam 'names' the woman, not because he is to have dominion over her (this being a later aspect of the Transgression/Fall) but because finally, after the previous parade of animals, he sees in the woman his destined helpmate. He sees and understands and this is indicated by his giving her a name.

In the spiritual life, we also must learn to name things. While this does give us a certain power, the power comes from insight into the truth about our thoughts, our sins and God's mercy, rather than from some magic (indeed, the idea that knowing a name gives authority is often, thought not always, a remnant of cultures embedded in witchcraft or voodoo).

This process of naming good good and evil evil is what the monastic Abbas and Ammas called 'discernment'. St. Ignatius of Loyola similarly taught of the discernment of spirits. This is necessary because demons normally masquerade as angels of light. If we are able to see the true nature of a demon, we are better able to reject him.

This means then learning to separate compunction from sadness
delight in God's gifts from vainglory
perseverance from stubborn resistance
steadfastness from fatalistic resignation
hope from optimism
joy from mirth and scurrility
peace from fossilisation
charity from lust or smothering
faith from quietism
fortitude from rashness or bullying
prudence from fear
temperance from envy
compassion from license
wisdom from gnosticism.

Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. Any more than this is from the Evil One.
Peace to you in Jesus Christ.

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Origen of Alexandria
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