“Now if the devil himself confesses that he can do nothing, we ought utterly to condemn both him and his demons.”
-St. Anthony of the Desert
Seeing that I have begun to discourse thus unwisely, take for your safety and encouragement this also. And believe me, for I do not lie. Once someone knocked at my door in the monastery, and going out I saw a tall and mighty figure.
Then on my asking, “Who are you?” he said, “I am Satan.” I asked, “Why are you here?” and he said, “Why do the monks and all other Christians blame me for no cause? Why do they curse me every hour?”
When I said, “Then why do you annoy them?” he answered:
“It is not I that annoy them, but they disturb themselves, for I am become powerless. Have they not read that the swords of the enemy have failed to the end, and their cities thou has destroyed? (Ps. 9:7). I have now no place, no weapon, no city. Everywhere are Christians, and now the desert too is grown full of monks. Let them watch themselves, and not curse me without cause.”
Then I, marveling at the grace of the Lord, said to him:
“Liar though you always are and never speaking truth, yet this time you have spoken true, even against your will, for Christ has come and made you powerless and cast you down and disarmed you.”
He, hearing the Savior’s name and not enduring the burning heat thereof, disappeared.
Now if the devil himself confesses that he can do nothing, we ought utterly to condemn both him and his demons. The enemy, then, with his hands has all these wicked arts, but we who have learned his weakness are able to despise them.
Therefore, let us not droop in mind in regard of this, nor ponder terrors in our soul, nor weave affrights for ourselves, saying, “But how if a demon come and overthrow me, or lift me and hurl me down, or appear suddenly and craze me with fear?” Such things must not enter our minds at all, nor must we be sad as though perishing. Rather we must be brave and glad, as men who are being saved.
Let us bear in mind that with us is the Lord, who defeated them and brought them to naught. And let us always believe and ponder this, that, while Our Lord is with us, our enemies shall not touch us. For when they come, as they find us, so do they themselves become to us: they fit their phantoms to the mind they find in us.
If they find us in fear and panic, at once they assail us, like thieves who find the place unguarded; and all that we of ourselves are thinking, that they do and more. For if they see us afraid and cowardly, they increase our fear yet more by phantoms and threats, and thereafter the wretched soul is punished in these ways.
But if they find us glad in the Lord and pondering on the good things to come and thinking thoughts of God and accounting that all is in God’s hand and that a demon avails naught against a Christian nor has power over any – seeing the soul safeguarded with such thoughts, they turn away in shame.
So the enemy, seeing Job thus fenced about (Job 1:21), fled from him; but finding Judas bare of these thoughts (John 13:2), mastered him. Therefore, if we would despise the enemy, our thoughts must always be of God and our souls always glad with hope, and we shall see the toys of the demons as smoke and themselves fleeing instead of pursuing, for they are, as I said, very cowardly, always expecting the fire that is prepared for them.
This sign also keep by you to cut off fear of them: When any vision comes, do not begin by falling into panic, but whatever it be, first ask bravely, “Who are you, and whence?” and if it be a vision of the good, they will satisfy you and change your fear into joy.
But if it is anything diabolical, at once it loses all strength, seeing your spirit strong; for simply to ask, “Who are you, and whence?” is a proof of calmness. So when the son of Nave questioned (Jos. 5:13) he learned, and the enemy was discovered when Daniel (Dan. 13:54, 58) questioned him.
This article is taken from a chapter in St. Antony of the Desert by St. Athanasius which is available from TAN Books.