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Temptations: From Ourselves or the Devil?

January 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Demonology, Fr. Fortea, Spiritual Warfare, Temptations

Temptations: From Ourselves or From the Devil?

Father Fortea, can we distinguish temptations that come from ourselves from those that come from the devil?

There is no way to distinguish temptations of demonic origin from those that come from within us. Demons tempt us by Temptation_iconinfusing thoughts in our minds. In other words, a demon introduces into our reason, memory, and imagination intellectual objects proper to our understanding that cannot be distinguished from our own thoughts, such as the image of a tree, a memory, or a word. But an angel can also produce such ideas and communicate them to our minds. This is why there is no way to distinguish what comes from us, an angel, a demon, or God directly.

People who are devoted to their spiritual life and pursue an intense life of prayer can recognize those temptations that appear with a fairly surprising intensity and persistence without any discernible reason. For example, if one is reading a book contrary to the faith, we would expect him to experience temptations against faith. But if such a temptation suddenly appears for no reason, lasts for weeks, and is particularly intense, this may be a sign that the temptation may be from a demon. Even then, however, we cannot be sure. As a general norm, we can say that temptations that are persistent and very intense can be suspected to come from a demon.

Priests sometimes counsel spiritual people who have thoughts of blaspheming God or of stepping on a crucifix. If these temptations are chronic, it is reasonable to think that they are the result of mental illness. But if their appearance is sudden, and the person seems to be of sound mind, then there is reason to suspect that such temptations come from a demonic source.

To psychiatrists, we should point out that while we understand the mechanisms of the subconscious, we also need to remember that demons exist. An obsessive temptation can clearly be seen as demonic when it disappears suddenly one day and never returns. The temptations of a demon are never chronic and, no matter how vehement they are, do not leave any lasting effect on the psyche of the person.


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:  Temptation of Christ (part of Russian icon), Simeon Holmogorec, 1682, PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons

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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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  • Jennifer Davis Godwin

    Thank you for your balanced and informative article.

  • kevin

    Thanks for the post. On the topic on angels vs. demons and their ability to influence us, I was under the impression that a demon has to in some way be “invited” in while angels/holy spirit/God enters our hearts and mind readily. I should probably grab your book but I was wondering your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  • $1650412

    I wonder if when Father says that temptations from demons are never chronic, if he means they do not recur- or if it is possible for a demon to harass a soul in a similar manner or over a similar matter repeatedly at different points in a soul’s journey or in a person’s life; or if that is another indicator of mental illness rather than demonic oppression; or thirdly if that is an issue primarily with a psychological component that the enemy might have a means to exacerbate, but if the psychological part is helped then the demon has no foothold there- and so it becomes a moot point.

  • orajen

    We always know if a prompting is from God or an angel, because it is
    directed toward an objective ‘good.’ If the objective is sinful, we know
    that our own weaknesses are being used by the devil, demons to
    thoughts, words, and actions that are contrary to God’s laws.

    • Boo

      This is true, but not an absolute rule of thumb. The devil will also sometimes ‘tempt’ someone to do what is objectively good and then little by little skew the temptation so that it draws us away. An example might be a wife and mother who volunteers to help the poor (objectively good) but over time is tempted to do this more and more to the degree that they are spending more time doing this and thereby neglecting their children. This is (according to Fr Chad Ripperger, exorcist) a common method the devil uses with those trying to lead a good life because they will not choose something obviously bad and therefore manipulation of the ‘good’ to slowly lead them away is more successful.

  • Norma Ann


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