THEOLOGIAN PAUL THIGPEN TALKS ABOUT HIS BOOK SAINTS WHO BATTLED SATAN – “To continue to reject truthfulness, seems to me more the expression of a blind and irrational belief”

– Miguel Augusto

In an interview granted to Aleteia in 2016, theologian and professor Paul Thigpen spoke about his book Saints Who Battled Satan, published in November 2015, which he considered to be a continuation of his bestselling Manual for Spiritual Warfare. The existence of Satan and other malevolent spirits is very much present in the Holy Scriptures and is attested by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as by the writings of the Fathers of the Church. The presence of these entities is also confirmed by the testimony of countless saints, and this is the central theme of Paul Thigpen’s book. In this work, Thigpen tells us the stories of seventeen saints (men and women of God) – chosen among many others – who faced the Devil in various historical and geographical contexts.

Given the numerous narratives of battles waged by saints against Satan throughout history, one of the first questions posed to Paul Thigpen, was about the criterion he used to choose the few elected, a total of seventeen saints. Paul Thigpen confessed that it was not an easy task, primarily because the author wanted to emphasize the universal character of spiritual battle. Thigpen wanted to include saints from diverse cultures, and from various historical contexts. The saints he chose come from twelve different countries: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. “There are representatives of every century since the dawn of Christianity – except the twenty-first century which has just begun.”

A second concern of the writer was to include narratives and passages that could illustrate the principles already addressed in his earlier book, Manual for Spiritual Warfare. “I wanted to present to my readers, the stories of men and women of ‘flesh and blood,’ direct witnesses to the ordinary and extraordinary manifestations of Satan.”

For Thigpen, he was keen to show how the Saints make use of ‘spiritual weapons’ in the midst of the most violent confrontations, such as prayer, the study of the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacraments. In the most difficult moments, the author tells us that these saints requested the assistance of Jesus Christ, as well as of the saints who waged such battles; they appealed to the angels, and especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Paul Thigpen, specifies: “When tempted by lust, I would recommend asking for St Benedict’s help; in moments of anger, one could ask the assistance of St Jerome; to resist the sin of pride, I would resort to St Ignatius of Loyola; so as not to get discouraged in our path, the intercession of St Teresa of Avila; and in moments of despair, St Padre Pio, for example.”

Asked about what are the most important virtues for keeping evil away, Thigpen gives us the key: “Since the earliest times, countless Christian spiritual counsellors have recommended humility as the fundamental virtue; it is the soil on which all other virtues flourish.”

Some people seem to be more confronted by the Devil than others. For Paul Thigpen, a pattern repeated in the biographies of many saints is as follows: “When the Devil realizes that a person will do significant damage to his infernal empire, he attacks her furiously.” Thigpen tells us that it was so with St Anthony, when he demonstrates his firm decision to live as a holy hermit in the desert; also with Saint Catherine, when she decided to consecrate herself to Christ as a child. The same happened to St Padre Pio, continue Thigpen, the moment he joined the order of the Capuchins. “It was in these moments of the life of the saints that the enemy of their souls made the most violent attacks in an attempt to prevent them.”

To prevent us from becoming obsessive, overly concerned about evil, Paul Thigpen refers us to the Scriptures, which speak of our battle against ‘the world,’ ‘the flesh,’ and against Satan (James 4:7). “I believe that if we are able to cultivate the habit of recognizing the origin of our thoughts, much of our battle will be won.” Thigpen sums up and tells us that this type of discernment is cultivated through the spiritual disciplines traditionally recommended by the Catholic Church: frequent prayer, participation in Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, regular reception of the sacraments – especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, as well as the study of the Holy Scriptures and spiritual counselling.

“The saints, though they took the Devil very seriously, they also displayed a kind of ‘holy contempt’ for him; they knew that it was ultimately a defeated enemy.”

Unfortunately, there are many people – even within the Church – who do not believe in the existence of Satan and his demons (fallen angels), and are more exposed and unprotected. Paul Thigpen tells us that peoples of very different cultures, and from the most diverse regions of the globe, have affirmed the existence of evil spirits. “Even today, we hear people who are cultured and intelligent, attest to personal encounters with demonic forces. Now this seems to be an idea so universally accepted that, it must have some basis.”

Thigpen is cautious and reminds us that, in same cases, many diseases and mental disorders are often wrongly attributed to the influence of demons. But he reminds us also that the Gospels tell us that Jesus Christ himself spoke to Satan. Christ referred to demons on several occasions, and the activity of casting out evil spirits from demoniacs, was a striking and indispensable aspect of his mission. “Some scholars have suggested that in these episodes, Christ would actually be simply healing physical or mental illnesses erroneously, taken by demons by the people of that time. In response to such arguments, we need only to remember that, as the Gospel attests – obeying orders of Christ – demons abandoned their human host, to invade the bodies of animals. Now, a medical disorder of a man, can not be transferred to a rod of pigs.”

Theologian and writer Thigpen asserts that this reality and presence, has been a constant element in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, since its establishment by Christ, through His apostles, and concludes that the existence of Satan, has also been reiterated in several statements of Popes and Councils of the Church. At the end, he tells us about his book, saying that it shows us that over the centuries, countless saints have borne witness to their own personal battles against demonic aggressors. “The obstinacy to continue rejecting the truthfulness of these facts, seems to me more the expression of a blind and irrational belief,” he concluded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.