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Should We be Afraid of the Devil?

November 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Demonology, Fr. Fortea, Spiritual Warfare

Father Fortea, should we be afraid of the devil?

afraid of the devilThe devil strives to do all the evil that he can, especially by tempting us to turn away from God through sin. If he could do more evil, he would. If a person prays the Rosary daily and asks God to protect him from all the snares of the Evil One, he has nothing to fear. The power of God is infinite; that of the devil is not.

God, through His gift of sanctifying grace, has given us a powerful weapon against Satan. St. Paul tells us: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11). The words of St. John are equally encouraging: “We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the Evil One does not touch him” (1 Jn 5:18). And Jesus Himself assures us: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you” (Lk 10:19). The words of Jesus are categorical: nothing can harm us if we are in Him.

For a Christian, fear of the devil is completely unjustified, for faith in God casts out all fear. As a child, St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a wonderful dream which she relates in her autobiography:

“One night I dreamed that I went out for a walk alone in the garden. Arriving at the stairs that had to be climbed so as to get to the garden, I was frozen to the spot with fright. In front of me, near the bower, there was a barrel of lime and on the barrel two horrible looking little devils were dancing with surprising agility given they had irons attached to their feet. Suddenly, their inflamed eyes looked towards me and then instantly, showing themselves to be much more scared than I, they jumped off the barrel and went to hide themselves in the clothes room that was there in front. Seeing that they were not very brave, I wanted to see what they were going to do, and so I approached the window. The poor little devils were there, running over the tables not knowing how to hide from my sight. Sometimes they came close to the window looking with suspicion to see if I was still there; and upon seeing me they began to run desperately around the place again.

Certainly this dream has nothing of the extraordinary. But I believe nevertheless that God allowed this dream to be remembered always, to show me that a soul in the state of grace has nothing to fear from demons, who are cowards capable of running away from the look of a child.” (Story of a Soul, chapter 1)

Similarly, St. Teresa of Avila, in her Autobiography , writes:

“Seeing, then, this Lord (God) is so powerful as I see and know He is, and that the demons are His slaves – of which there can be no doubt, because it is of faith – and I am a servant of this Lord and King, what harm can they do unto me? Why have I not strength enough to fight against all hell? I took up the cross in my hand, and I changed in a moment into another person in a short time and it seemed as if God had really given me the courage enough not to be afraid of encountering all of them. It seemed to me that with the cross I could easily defeat them altogether. So I cried out, come on all of you; I am the servant of our Lord. I should like to see what you can do against me.

And certainly they seemed to be afraid of me for I was left in peace: I feared them so little, that the terrors which until now oppressed me, quitted me altogether; and though I saw them occasionally, I shall speak of this by and by, I was never again afraid of them; on the contrary, they seemed to be afraid of me. I found myself endowed with an authority over them, given me by the Lord of all, so that I cared no more for them than for flies. They seem to be such cowards; for their strength fails them at the sight of any one who despises them.

These enemies have not the courage to assail any of those whom they see ready to give in to them, or when God permits them to do so, for the greater good of His servants, whom they may tempt and torment. May it please His Majesty that we fear Him whom we ought to fear, and understand that one venial sin can do us more harm than all hell together; for that is so. The evil spirits keep us in terror just because we want to.

… It is a great pity. But if, for the love of God, we hated all this and embraced the cross and set about His service in earnest, [the devil] flees away before such realities as from the plague. He is the friend of lies, and the lie himself. He will have no pact with those who walk in the truth.

… I do not understand those terrors which make us cry out, Demon, Demon! When we may say God, God! And make Satan tremble. Do we not know that he cannot stir without the permission of God? What does it mean? I am really much more afraid of those people who have so great a fear of the devil, than I am of the devil himself. He can do me no harm.” (Autobiography, chapter 25, no. 19-22)

Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote on the following on this topic:

“The mystery of iniquity is so inserted in the fundamental Christian perspective, that is to say, in the perspective of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over the power of evil. From this view, the freedom of the Christian and the sure trust that rejects fear (1 John 4:18) takes all its dimensions: truth excludes fear and as such allows the power of the evil one to be seen. (Quoted in Renovation and the Power of Darkness by Joseph Cardinal Suenens)”

As you can see, our faith teaches us that the devil exists, but he exists in the theological construction of faith in God our Lord. Faith in God is incompatible with fear; rather, faith destroys all fear. As 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”


Editor’s Note:  To learn more about spiritual warfare and demonology, Catholic Spiritual Direction recommends Fr. Fortea’s excellent book Interview With An Exorcist – An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance.


Art for this post on whether or not we should be afraid of the devil: Masque Bambara (Bambara Mask), photographed by Roman Bonnefoy, 19 July 2010 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; detail of Padre José Antonio Fortea 2017, photographed by Elgatoconbotaselgatoconbotas, 5 May 2017 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; both Wikimedia Commons. Cover of “Interview with an Exorcist” used with permission, all rights reserved.

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About Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea

Father José Antonio Fortea is not only an exorcist, but also a writer, and parish priest. He once thought he would lead what he has termed ordinary life as an attorney in Madrid, much as his father did before him, but sensed instead a vocation to the priesthood in his adolescent years. A theology graduate of Navarre University in Spain, Father Fortea wrote a thesis there on exorcism. He has been a practicing exorcist for several decades.

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  • Camila

    “one venial sin can do us more harm than all hell together”

    • RobinJeanne

      I don’t get that part. We’re taught venial sin hurts the relationship with God but doesnot break it. Being in hell (result of mortal sin) severs/breaks the relationship with God… so how does venial do more harm….?

      • I’m not sure… But I think the message here is that, even if we were greatly tempted and tormented by many devils, that would still be better than committing even a venial sin. Because a venial sin distances us from God. But devils can never make us sin, only tempt us. Better to be horribly tempted than to actually sin. Is this right?

        • Camila

          You got it MarytheDefender!

          The title of the post is ‘Should we be Afraid of the Devil?’ – my little re-quote was pointing to what we ought to fear. Sin.

          • RobinJeanne

            Ok, that makes sense… thanks!

          • $1650412

            I think this has more to do with the interior dynamic of what is going on when we are being tempted to sin. I think that when we are inclined to blow off what we might consider smaller faults- venial sins; when we have a habitual interior disposition to let ourselves off the hook on the supposed ‘little things’- that this is more dangerous to ourselves and more offensive to God than the perceived objective danger to our souls that all of hell’s minions might present to us in any given moment.

            I find myself very comfortable with the socially acceptable ‘sins’- I am no longer aghast at the mortal evils in my midst, hardly even wink at them when they flit across my laptop screen as new headlines, or see them flash on a billboard in town, or hear them mentioned in line at the post office, or see them emblazoned on a magazine cover in the checkout at the grocery store. Venial sins are little so they can just skip and dance along in my mind playing games with my overinflated ego. In fact if I position myself just right on Sunday morning, the image of the Divine Mercy will be so smudged with finger prints or kiss prints, and the sun will reflect off of those or the dust in the air so that the glare will obscure the face of the Lord in it, just enough for me to pretend I am having something of a mystical feel good experience in the Mass, instead of really dealing with my critical spirit, or gossipy habits, slothful neglect of my duty toward my family, wasteful stewardship, etc…- if I can come up for prayer ‘air when I am not being distracted by this, that, or the other kid not sitting still, not using their whisper voice,or ‘wow those are the cutest shoes that lady has on with that dress!’— Perhaps someone else out there understands what I mean here by all of this.
            Maybe the sheer quantity of my kind of nonsense has crossed over into the more serious realm, but my point is that I am very likely more in danger from what I am dealing with in my own sinful nature in these seemingly lesser matters- what I give the devil free reign to work with because of my lack of vigilance in my own heart and mind, than from what would seem to be a major full scale assault or siege from without- although you know, the devil always strikes below the belt. He hits where you least expect it, where you are weakest, and he hits as many places as he can as many times as he can- so, while he is not one to fear, he is also not one to disregard flippantly.
            I think the challenge we face is that we must master ourselves, resist the enemy, and overcome the world.
            Mastering ourselves is a side effect of loving God. Essentially, we grow in love of God through our lives of prayer, and grace through the sacraments. But all y’all knew all this already.

      • Jeanette

        Venial sins don’t destroy supernatural life, and they don’t even lessen it. Mortal sins destroy it outright. The trouble with venial sins is that they weaken us, making us more vulnerable to mortal sins. Allowing ourselves to stay in venial sins without compunction would be the equivalent of a minimum of sanctifying grace in our souls. It’s enough to get you into heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain itself. It’s easy to fall from grace, as you know. The more solidly you possess sanctifying grace, the more likely you can withstand temptations. So, we need to respond to the actual graces that God sends us which is like a supernatural kick in the pants!. If we respond to these actual graces and do what God wants us to do (for example God moves us to repent even our venial sins) and we obey and go to confession, we then receive more sanctifying grace which build us up to withstand temptations.

      • Camila


        There are 3 classes and 4 effects of venial sins. Let me summarize these for you. I hope this helps.

        Class 1 – Sins that by their nature are disordered or are a deviation although only slightly. For example, a small lie that does no damage to anyone.

        Class 2 – Sins that are small in matter involved. For example, stealing a small amount of money.

        Class 3 – Sins that lack complete deliberation or full consent of the will in matters that would otherwise be serious.

        Effect 1 – It deprives us of many actual graces. Actual graces are necessary for growth in virtue, so venial sins actually deprives us of these, causing loss of advance in the spiritual life.

        Effect 2 – Lessens fervor of charity and one’s generosity in the service of God. By sinning venially one deliberately halts the struggle for greater holiness.

        Effect 3 – Increases the difficulties in the exercise of virtue. ( A result of effect 1 and effect 2). The soul gradually loses more and more of its spiritual energy and virtues appears to be more difficult.

        Effect 4 – It predisposes for mortal sin. Little by little the soul lessens and weakens its defenses until the enemy by a quick and strong assault ‘conquers the city’ and the person commits a mortal sin.

        (The above is a very quick summary of what Jordan Aumann explains in his book Spiritual Theology. Required reading for the students in the Avila Institute []. AWESOME stuff!)

        • Jeanette

          Great info. The only thing I would add to Effect 1 where you said It deprives us of many actual graces: This is true what you have said, but God keeps giving us these divine pushes, and all one has to do is go along. But, if we don’t go along and that actual grace passes us by, another is always on the way because God never abandons us to our own foolishness. (1Tim. 2:4). God is so Good!

          • Camila

            Hey Jeanette!

            Jordan Aumann explains this too (p. 156) where he says “prayer is of extreme importance in this regard, because the only way in which we can obtain actual grace is by petition”

          • Jeanette

            And thank God for others who pray for us!

          • Camila

            To that I say “Amen Sister!”

      • MaryofSharon

        Fr. Fortea isn’t saying that hell isn’t a bad thing, but rather that we need not fear hell itself; neither hell or the demons can do anything to us as long as we stay close to Christ. What warrants our greatest and most immediate fear is our own sin (which, of course, can ultimately land us in hell). Thus our greatest vigilance should be over our sin.

        Take a look at Ralph Martin’s post on The Loss of the Sense of Sin in which he quotes Teresa of Avila about the gravity of deliberate venial sin:
        “It seems to me a sin is very deliberate when, for example, one says: ‘Lord, You see it, and I know You do not want it, and I understand this; but I want to follow my whim and appetite more than Your will.’ It doesn’t seem to me possible that something like this can be called little, however light the fault; but it’s serious, very serious.”

  • John

    Very fascinating article. Thank you. I would be interested in Fr. Fortea extending it to help explain why in reported exorcisms (not movies but other more reliable accounts) the devil or demons do NOT seem to “flee” but rather resist and torment. The exorcist(s) I assume would be well prepared (state of grace). This seems to be the “tension” between the article above and the question at hand.

    • Eskor Ekpe


      I agree with you. The messages seem conflicting: to fear the devil or not to.


  • How many times have I tried to state this simple truth to the so-called Catholic Charismatics who see Satan everywhere. I was long ago taught, and sincerely believe that so long as one is in a State of Grace, it is impossible for the Devil to have any power over them or take habitation in their souls. I often ask them. Do you truly believe that a Soul which receives Holy Communion daily, goes for Confession weekly and is determined to remain in a State of Grace at all times can have a space for the Devil???? Can Satan surely remain in occupation of a Soul where Jesus is on the Throne???? They look at me as if I have no idea how powerful Satan is and how many people he has taken possession of and they need Deliverance from them!!!! And this – their Ministry of Healing and Deliverance – draws multitudes to their Prayer Days!!!! Yet I have always believed real demonic possession is exorcised only by Ordained and Trained Catholic Priests appointed by the Ordinary and the exorcism is performed in absolute privacy to protect the dignity of the Person being delivered.

    • Tessye

      Hi Mary@42, your questions brought lots of thoughts to mind. How does a person who does all the necessary holy attivities and is persecuted by evil? Only God knows, but one possibility comes to mind as Saint John Vianney said; ” We also know the value of our soul by the efforts the devil makes to ruin it. Hell is leagued against it–Heaven for it. Oh, how great it must be! In order to have an idea of our dignity, we must often think of Heaven, Calvary, and Hell.” I believe God allows evil to attack people in the state of grace (Padre Pio, Saint Vianney, etc.) to remind us of Hell and to help us stay in this balance of Heaven, Calvary and Hell. In addition to trained RC exorcist priest, God has allowed others to perform deliverance in His name (Luke 9:49). And to not fear the devil means total submission to God’s will, but since we are all sinners, we tend to stray from total submission, which provides one of many opportunities for satan to attack and send us running back to our Lord while clinging our arms around His neck saying, “I’m sorry Lord, please forgive me, Your will be done Lord!!”….well that’s how I see it. God bless.

      • Tessye, I know the Devil torments Saintly and Holy Souls. What I find difficult to believe is that he can actually take possession of them and inhabit in them. How can he live in a soul where Jesus is Enthroned? As for lesser souls satan is always lurking around to trip us using our own human weakness and brokenness. That is why Jesus left us His Tribunal of Mercy where we encounter Him to heal us and strengthen us against our own wretchedness and the attacks of the evil one. As He told Saint Faustina, a soul that hides under the two rays from His Divine Mercy Image will be safe, from itself and the evil one.

        • Tessye

          Hello Mary@42! Ah ok, I see your point, it’s hard to accept how God can allowed such possesions to take place of saintly people, especially with that Sister Faustina qoute, seems contradicting huh? But it’s not, I would say she referred to our soul being protected from the dangers of getting lost. Before I explain, keep in mind everything is allowed by God, but not everything is willed by God. Father Amorth states in An Exorist, More Stories pg 181,”When possession is not culpable…man suffers it against his free will, but he is called to respond to trail as he would to any other human adversity, such as disease…freedom of the will, neverthless remains.” And here’s the biggie, Father Amorth also speaks about on how the lives of many saints have been afflicted by possession with no fault of their own….things God allowed for greater good of their souls, because no matter what the origin, possesion does not deprive of freedom except during times of acute attacks where we are not responsible for words/actions. On the other hand, where God allowed, but not willed, is Judas Iscariot, although he walked and lived with Jesus, he choose to do wrong prior to possession and ended up as he did due to his hardened heart that was closed to the two rays of light St.Faustina refers to. As for the Charismatic Catholic group you mentioned, unlike an exorcism, they can only perform deliverance prayers on people who are demonic influenced, not the liturgical rite that is carried out by an exorcist. According to Father Fortea, Interview With An Exorcist, such demonic influences or “clinging spirits” can attach themselves to a “wound” to prevent healing such from the sin of pornography or from the horrible act of sexual abuse, deliverance prayers can be performed, which is asking God to set free the person of the “evil influences”…evil spirits/people. I hope this makes sense, and if it does, it’s still a hard pill to swallow to think that possession can help some of us to reach a higher level of sainthood, God save us from this trail!!!

          • Thank you, Tessye. Yes it all comes down to this one wise saying which my mother – God rest her soul in peace – used to tell us. God always produces Divine Good from the worst evil. Or the contemporary one that “He always writes straight with the crooked lines we give Him”.

          • Tessye

            Greetings Mary@42! Thank you for sharing your mother’s saying, she was very wise. That short saying is easy to say, but hard to grasp because we tend to see things our way and not His way. May God fill us with the Holy Spirit and bless us all!!!

  • connie

    Hello Fr. Fortea. I am Connie from the Philippines. I like to share with you my two very distinct enlightening and empowering experiences allowed by God. My late beloved very dear husband, Allan & I are members of a Catholic prayer group that meets on a weekly basis, praising, praying, reading God’s Holy Word & afterwards sharing God’s wisdom to one another.
    The first very beautiful experience happened last 2009. In the middle of our singing praises to our God Almighty, my body started to tremble. I started singing in tongues. My dear husband Allan and friends around me noticed what’s happening to me physically. While singing gloriously in tongues, another friend sang also, so sweetly, so beautifully. In a very beautiful angelic high-pitched voice, our lady-friend who also danced while singing with arms lifted up, her head raised above, eyes closed, she translated in our native language my singing in tongues. The words that came out of her mouth were really so deep-words of praising to God Almighty. At first, everybody got transfixed, looking interchangeably at the two of us. Both of us were in tears while singing & were smiling sweetly, head raised looking up to heaven. Our other companions continued praying. After 20 minutes of singing in tongues (I am so tired already, my mouth specifically, my body still trembling), I was so, so, weak & had to be supported by my dear husband, Allan. With my eyes still closed, I saw angels of all sizes appearing. The place changed into a very spacious, covered with cloud-like, so very dazzling white environment. Joyful, singing angels of all sizes, joined us. I felt so weak already that I thought I’m to faint. Allan, my husband, made me sit. Immediately, a tall, strong, beautiful angel sat beside me. He had a huge, very white wings but when he sat beside me I didn’t feel his wings touched me although he sat so close to me. This tall, beautiful angel told me that God was so happy with our praises, singing & prayers. They were also delighted that God was happy with us. God allowed them to come down & join us & to tell me that, He hears our prayers and God is letting His angels bring our prayers at the foot of His Throne in heaven. The tall, beautiful angel also told me to remember that everytime we hold prayer meetings in honor of God, God’s angels will always be with us, singing & offering our prayers to God. The tall, beautiful angel told me that when they bring our prayers before God, it is made pure already (I don’t know what that means). When the angel finished talking to me, he disappeared & so as the hundreds & hundreds of angels that were with him. I still felt weak but I was not trembling anymore.
    God’s angels are so beautiful. So pure in spirit, so gentle yet so powerful but I sensed their very, very, deep reverence for God.
    It was an unforgettable experience & up to this day, everytime I attend a prayer meeting, I sense the presence of God’s angels but I don’t see them anymore. Sometimes, I see Jesus walking, entering the house where we are holding the gathering & Mama Mary standing behind Jesus. And whenever I see Jesus, I fall prostrate on the ground that I cannot lift my head to look at Him. It is a very automatic gesture, to press my forehead on the ground when Jesus is in front of me.
    The second experience happened last 2010.
    The same lady friend I mentioned earlier, introduced me to a nun of the Bridgettine congregation. Allan & I together with our kids, became very close to the nuns. The head nun, to whom we got very close with, gave me a prayer booklet, Devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. I prayed it religiously, followed the requests made by Jesus. I observed the Gethsemane Hour, Jesus asked. A year after the start of my devotion To the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, God granted me another wonderful experience. One night, right after my Gethsemane Hour prayer, our room turned pitched-dark, so very, very, dark. I was lying on our bed when it happened. I was wide awake because I just finished praying. When the room got dark, I noticed a bubble-like shield above me. It was a clear, domed-shaped shield. I also sensed Jesus & Mama Mary beside me inside the very thin clear shield. Immediately after being enclosed inside with Jesus & Mama Mary, outside the shield thousands of demons of all shapes & sizes appeared. The demons also were so dark, yet, however dark they were I can see their forms. Their eyes were blazing red, as if on fire. They were there looking at me inside the shield. Some were trying to get their hands inside the shield. Amazingly, I was not afraid of them though they were so numerous. They were fighting for space, trying to outdo one another. Their eyes were full of hatred, jealousy, envy. They were all looking at me. My head kept turning from left to right, above my head & below my feet. They were all around, they were fighting one another. After some time, I felt sleepy. I like to sleep already. I asked Mama Mary & Jesus to let me sleep already. I uttered, Jesus, Mary Mary.. Jesus, Mama Mary.. I was not afraid, I was just really sleepy. I noticed that by just mentioning Jesus & Mama Mary the demons were like bubbles bursting like ashes. One by one they disappeared. Then I prayed & thank God for the beautiful, not terrifying experience and I fell asleep already, peacefully.
    God is so great! I believe in His awesome powers. He really is the Creator of All, of everything. He is above-all! I am blessed that I have a Father in heaven who loves me so much! And to Mama Mary, all praises be to her.
    Thank you Fr.
    God bless you & protect you always!

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