One of the more glaring omissions of the Passion accounts in the Gospels is that no attempt to explore the motives behind Judas’ betrayal is made. This has led to much speculation throughout the years imputing to him various motives such as greed, envy or even impatience that Our Lord was not acting quickly enough in claiming his Messianic throne. The danger of trying to impute a motive is that we will actually miss the reason why the Evangelists only refer to him as the “betrayer” (Luke 22:3). St. John captures the reason explicitly when he says that “After he took the morsel, Satan entered him” (John 13:27). The Sacred Writers want us to realize that it was not Judas nor the Sanhedrin nor even the Romans that ultimately hatched the plan to kill Jesus—it was Satan and his minions. Our Lord recognized this and pointed it out when He tells the Jews that they “belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires” (John 8:44). As the Church prepares to enter into Our Lord’s most intense battle against our Enemy we are reminded that in order to fight we must know about him and his tendencies. As Sun Tzu says in the Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Examining his history, we can better understand his motives. Just how did Lucifer become the Satan? For many it seems that the angels were created in “heaven” with God and therefore it would have been impossible for them to sin. This is an example of how important it is that we properly define our terms, especially given the propensity in English to reduce the number of terms when they only refer to subtle differences (the word love is a classic example). Properly speaking, the angels, although pure spirits, are not by nature heavenly creatures. Instead we should refer to them as naturally “Celestial” creatures. By making this distinction, we are able to reserve the word “heavenly” for those creatures who have the vision of God and see Him as He is (1 John 3:2) rather than in His reflections in creation. No creature naturally has this vision, it can only be granted to those who have sanctifying grace. Communion can only happen between two equals so that in order to have communion with God (i.e. heaven or as Augustine refers to it in the Confessions “The Heaven of heavens”), He must infuse His life in us. Only angels and men (who are made in God’s image) have the capacity to receive this divine life, but they must receive it and freely persevere in it.
Like the first man and woman, the angels were also created endowed with sanctifying grace so that they might have the capacity to be saved. And like Adam and Eve they also were required to undergo a period of probation to test whether they could persevere in that grace. This period of probation included some test in which they could freely choose between good and evil. Although they did not yet have the Beatific Vision, they lived in something like a celestial Garden of Eden. This Garden included sanctifying grace (i.e. God walking in their Garden in the coolness of day) and an experience of being exposed to the danger of committing sin. Those confirmed in grace were then granted the vision of God. The rest, were cast out of the celestial Garden.
Three questions naturally arise from this. First is what was it that actually caused “Satan to fall from heaven like lightning” (Lk 10:18)? It was most certainly pride of some sort as the book of Isaiah testifies:
“How did you come to fall from the heavens, Daystar, son of Dawn? How did you come to be thrown to the ground, you who enslaved the nations? You who used to think to yourself, ‘I will climb up to the heavens; and higher than the stars of God I will set my throne. I will sit on the Mount of Assembly in the recesses of the north. I will climb to the top of the thunderclouds, I will rival the Most High.’ What! Now you have fallen to hell, to the very bottom of the abyss!” (Is 14:12-15).
As to the exact nature of the sin we are left only to the theological speculation of the Church Fathers. Most say that it is directly related to the plan of the Incarnation and the angels’ service of mankind. The Fathers apply the words which the rebellious Israel speaks to its God, “I will not serve” (Jeremiah 2:20) to the fallen angels. Some Saints (like St. Louis de Montfort) have also speculated that their fall was related more specifically to the eventual role of Mary as Queen of Heaven. This might also explain why Satan targets Eve, a type of Mary, directly. So while his first sin was pride, the devil’s second sin was envy. Once he realized he could not truly usurp God, he decided to turn his wrath on mankind so that he could gain pleasure in God’s loss. Interestingly enough we see the same thing happen in man—Adam sins through pride and then Cain kills Abel through envy. This is a familiar pattern in all of us—“pride comes before the fall” and then once truth sets in and we realize we are not God, we envy others for having what we do not have.
The second question is when the angels were created. The book of Job tells us that they were created before the foundation of the world: “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7). This fits with St. Augustine’s explanation of the creation of light on the first day of as referring to the creation and testing of the angels. The light refers to the angels themselves and the separation of the light from the darkness (after judging that the light was good) refers to the casting out of the demons (Augustine’s commentary on Gn 1:4 in City of God, Bk. 11, Ch 19). At the very least we know that the devil is already fallen when Adam and Eve encounter him in the Garden.
If the devil had fallen, why did God allow him to enter the Garden to tempt Adam and Eve? Wasn’t he forever cast into hell? The Book of Hebrews gives us a clue to the answer when the Sacred Author refers to the role of angels. He says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).
The role of the angels in God’s eternal plan is to minister to mankind. God’s plan is never thwarted so that even the devil and his minions still serve to aid “those who are to obtain salvation.” For those who are in Christ, it is temptation and suffering that leads to growth in merit through which they obtain their salvation. The evil spirits merely become means by which God brings this about. Remember that mankind’s fall in the Garden, although caused by the lies of the evil one, is ultimately the cause of the Incarnation which is the source of man’s salvation. The choice for the angels, fallen and blessed, is the same choice that we have as well—do God’s will or do God’s will.
St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!
NOTE: A number of you have emailed me with questions and I would encourage you to continue to do that. In fact this entry is the result of two people asking the same exact question yesterday. I want to encourage you all to also use the Comment section on each post as well. My vision for this web site is that it is one where there is some engagement between the readers and the readers and me. Please don’t be shy about commenting!