ROME – Father Erich Junger, an Anglican exorcist, has joined the chorus of those voicing concern over recent comments by Jesuit Father General Arturo Sosa saying the devil is not a real person, but a symbol.
Speaking to Crux, Junger, a member of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), said that while he is not a spokesman for his church, as a priest and exorcist he was “greatly shocked and disturbed” to see a person of such prominence in the Jesuit order refer to the devil as “a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”
Though not considered part of the Anglican Communion by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ACNA is in communion with some Anglican provinces in the Global South. It follows the Anglo-Catholic tradition on exorcism, which adheres to more of the practices and rites of the Catholic Church, tending to use the Roman Catholic rite.
Sosa’s comments, Junger said, “are dangerous and inconsistent with the teachings maintained by the Roman Catholic Church as is codified by their own catechism.”
Though the Jesuits themselves did a fair amount of “damage control” after Sosa’s remarks, Junger said the comments were “very startling and unexpected” for many people. “I do not agree with him at all, nor do many of the orthodox Anglican priests, bishops and laity that I know who are involved in the ministries of Exorcism and Deliverance Prayer,” he said.
The kerfuffle happened last week during the annual Rimini Meeting organized by the Italian Communion and Liberation movement, when Sosa was invited to give a talk on the theme “Learning to look at the world with the eyes of Pope Francis.”
During the talk, Sosa said the devil “exists as the personification of evil in different structures but not in people, because it is not a person, it is a way of implementing evil.”
The devil “is not a person like a human person,” Sosa said, but is rather “a way of evil to be present in human life.” He said symbols are a normal part of reality, adding that “the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”
There was immediate uproar in Catholic circles when the comments went public. The International Association of Exorcists immediately put out a statement Aug. 22 saying, “The real existence of the devil, as a personal subject who thinks and acts and has made the choice of rebellion against God, is a truth of faith that has always been part of Christian doctrine.”
Offering a lengthy history of Catholic belief in Satan, the association said belief in the devil as a person and fallen angel is a key aspect of Catholic teaching. They issued a warning to “those who, like Father Sosa, consider him only a symbol,” saying the comments do not align with Catholic belief.
This was not the first time Sosa has caused a stir with comments about the devil. Elected to lead the Society of Jesus in 2016, Sosa in 2017 granted an interview to Spanish newspaper El Mundo saying, “we have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil.”
Pope Francis has often voiced belief in the devil, warning against his temptations in homilies and speeches.
Since 2005, Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University has run an exorcist training course. This year, Junger spoke during the course’s first ecumenical roundtable.
In his comments to Crux, Junger said the general Christian view of the devil is clear, and it is that “Satan is a real person, fallen angel who rebelled against God and as such has become twisted and perverted by his own pride and hatred.”
“Jesus spoke of Satan literally and directly, not as a metaphor or allegory,” he said, and, quoting Article 210 of the Catechism of the ACNA, said that “Satan and the other demons with him had already opposed God and chosen evil.”
The ACNA catechism goes on to say, “Demons, of whom Satan is chief, are fallen angels. Satan rebelled against God and led other angels to follow him. They now cause spiritual and sometimes physical harm to mortals, and they sow lies that lead to confusion, despair, sin and death.”
“Allegories and metaphors do not do these sorts of things,” Junger said, explaining that while there are some Christian denominations which choose to downplay the figures of the devil and demons, preferring a “happy-clappy” theology, the vast majority of Christian denominations – Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and Baptist, among others – are “very clear on their belief that Satan and demons are real and a very dangerous threat.”
Junger said he believes most Christians are aware of this teaching and that most denominations are clear on teachings about the devil. However, he said it is “up to the individual believer to accept the teachings, or ignore them because they are frightening or unpleasant.”
Drawing on his experience as an exorcist, Junger warned about the dangers of underestimating the power of the devil, saying a false concept of Satan “is no different than underestimating any Enemy, human or supernatural.”
“It will lead people to greatly underestimate the power of the enemy, and greatly overestimate their own power (particularly if they convince themselves that the enemy is not real to begin with),” he said, noting that both Jesus and scripture are clear when it comes to Satan and his motives.
“I am quite sure that Jesus is far smarter than I and I do not need to question what He has told us in his own words,” Junger said, but stressed that while the devil tempts through weakness, demonic oppression or even possession, “We are the ones who sin and are responsible for our sins.”
“Ignoring or minimizing the threat of this enemy,” he said, “would obviously be a bad idea with dire consequences.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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