Wednesday, December 17, 2014

St. Dionysius the Areopagite on the Relationship Between Demons and Evil

By St. Dionysius the Areopagite

But, neither are the demons evil by nature; for, if they are evil by nature, neither are they from the Good, nor amongst things existing; nor, in fact, did they change from good, being by nature, and always, evil. Then, are they evil to themselves or to others? If to themselves, they also destroy themselves; but if to others, how destroying, or what destroying?----Essence, or power, or energy? If indeed Essence, in the first place, it is not contrary to nature; for they do not destroy things indestructible by nature, but things receptive of destruction. Then, neither is this an evil for every one, and in every case; but, not even any existing thing is destroyed, in so far as it is essence and nature, but by the defect of nature's order, the principle of harmony and proportion lacks the power to remain as it was. But the lack of strength is not complete, for the complete lack of power takes away even the disease and the subject; and such a disease will be even a destruction of itself; so that, such a thing is not an evil, but a defective good, for that which has no part of the Good will not be amongst things which exist. And with regard to the destruction of power and energy the principle is the same. 

Then, how are the demons, seeing they come into being from God, evil? For the Good brings forth and sustains good things. Yet they are called evil, some one may say. But not as they are (for they are from the Good, and obtained a good being), but, as they are not, by not having had strength, as the Oracles affirm, "to keep their first estate." For in what, tell me, do we affirm that the demons become evil, except in the ceasing in the habit and energy for good things Divine? Otherwise, if the demons are evil by nature, they are always evil; yet evil is unstable. Therefore, if they are always in the same condition, they are not evil; for to be ever the same is a characteristic of the Good. But, if they are not always evil, they are not evil by nature, but by wavering from the angelic good qualities. And they are not altogether without part in the good, in so far as they both are, and live and think, and in one word----as there is a sort of movement of aspiration in them. But they are said to be 'evil, by reason of their weakness as regards their action according to nature. The evil then, in them, is a turning aside and a stepping out of things befitting themselves, and a missing of aim, and imperfection and impotence, and a weakness and departure, and falling away from the power which preserves their integrity in them. Otherwise, what is evil in demons? An irrational anger----a senseless desire----a headlong fancy.----But these, even if they are in demons, are not altogether, nor in every respect, nor in themselves alone, evils. For even with regard to other living creatures, not the possession of these, but the loss, is both destruction to the creature, and an evil. But the possession saves, and makes to be, the nature of the living creature which possesses them.

The tribe of demons then is not evil, so far as it is according to nature, but so far as it is not; and the whole good which was given to them was not changed, but themselves fell from the whole good given. And the angelic gifts which were given to them, we by no means affirm that they were changed, but they exist, and are complete, and all luminous, although the demons themselves do not see, through having blunted their powers of seeing good. So far as they are, they are both from the Good, and are good, and aspire to the Beautiful and the Good, by aspiring to the realities, Being, and Life, and Thought; and by the privation and departure and declension from the good things befitting them, they are called evil, and are evil as regards what they are not: and by aspiring to the non-existent, they aspire to the Evil.


The Evil, then, is not an actual thing, nor is the Evil in things existing. For the Evil, qua evil, is nowhere, and the fact that evil comes into being is not in consequence of power, but by reason of weakness. And, as for the demons, what they are is both from the Good, and good. But their evil is from the declension from their own proper goods, and a change----the weakness, as regards their identity and condition, of the angelic perfection befitting them. And they aspire to the Good, in so far as they aspire to be and to live and to think. And in so far as they do not aspire to the Good, they aspire to the non-existent; and this is not aspiration, but a missing of the true aspiration.

From The Divine Names, Ch. 4.