Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Power of the Cross Against Demons and Magic (St. Athanasius the Great)

By St. Athanasius the Great

(Excerpts from On the Incarnation)

- "Since the Savior has come among us, idolatry not only has no longer increased, but what there was is diminishing and gradually coming to an end: and not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer advance, but what there is is now fading away: and demons, so far from cheating any more by illusions and prophecies and magic arts, if they so much as dare to make the attempt, are put to shame by the sign of the Cross."

-"But they who disbelieve in the Resurrection afford a strong proof against themselves, if instead of all the spirits and the gods worshiped by them casting out Christ, Who, they say, is dead, Christ on the contrary proves them all to be dead. For if it be true that one dead can exert no power, while the Savior does daily so many works, drawing men to religion, persuading to virtue, teaching of immortality, leading on to a desire for heavenly things, revealing the knowledge of the Father, inspiring strength to meet death, showing Himself to each one, and displacing the godlessness of idolatry, and the gods and spirits of the unbelievers can do none of these things, but rather show themselves dead at the presence of Christ, their pomp being reduced to impotence and vanity; whereas by the sign of the Cross all magic is stopped, and all poison brought to nought, and all the idols are being deserted and left, and every unruly pleasure is checked, and every one is looking up from earth to heaven: Whom is one to pronounce dead? Christ, that is doing so many works? But to work is not proper to one dead. Or him that exerts no power at all, but lies as it were without life? Which is essentially proper to the idols and spirits, dead as they are. For the Son of God is 'living and active,' and works day by day, and brings about the salvation of all."

- "And whereas formerly every place was full of the deceit of the oracles, and the oracles at Delphi and Dodona, and in Boeotia and Lycia and Libya and Egypt and those of the Cabiri, and the Pythoness, were held in repute by men's imagination, now, since Christ has begun to be preached everywhere, their madness also has ceased and there is none among them to divine any more. And whereas formerly demons used to deceive men's fancy, occupying springs or rivers, trees or stones, and thus imposed upon the simple by their juggleries; now, after the divine visitation of the Word, their deception has ceased. For by the sign of the Cross, though a man but use it, he drives out their deceits. And while formerly men held to be gods the Zeus and Cronos and Apollo and the heroes mentioned in the poets, and went astray in honoring them; now that the Savior has appeared among men, those others have been exposed as mortal men , and Christ alone has been recognized among men as the true God, the Word of God. And what is one to say of the magic esteemed among them? That before the Word sojourned among us this was strong and active among Egyptians, and Chaldees, and Indians, and inspired awe in those who saw it; but that by the presence of the Truth, and the Appearing of the Word, it also has been thoroughly confuted, and brought wholly to nought."

- "Now these arguments of ours do not amount merely to words, but have in actual experience a witness to their truth. For let him that will, go up and behold the proof of virtue in the virgins of Christ and in the young men that practice holy chastity, and the assurance of immortality in so great a band of His martyrs. And let him come who would test by experience what we have now said, and in the very presence of the deceit of demons and the imposture of oracles and the marvels of magic, let him use the sign of that Cross which is laughed at among them, and he shall see how by its means demons fly, oracles cease, all magic and poison is brought to nought. Who, then, and how great is this Christ, Who by His own name and presence casts into the shade and brings to nought all things on every side, and is alone strong against all, and has filled the whole world with His teaching? Let the Greeks tell us, who are pleased to laugh, and blush not. For if He is a man, how then has one man exceeded the power of all whom even themselves bold to be gods, and convicted them by His own power of being nothing? But if they call Him a magician, how can it be that by a magician all magic is destroyed, instead of being confirmed? For if He conquered particular magicians, or prevailed over one only, it would be proper for them to hold that He excelled the rest by superior skill; but if His Cross has won the victory over absolutely all magic, and over the very name of it, it must be plain that the Savior is not a magician, seeing that even those demons who are invoked by the other magicians fly from Him as their Master. Who He is, then, let the Greeks tell us, whose only serious pursuit is jesting. Perhaps they might say that He, too, was a demon, and hence His strength. But say this as they will, they will have the laugh against them, for they can once more be put to shame by our former proofs. For how is it possible that He should be a demon who drives the demons out? For if He simply drove out particular demons, it might properly be held that by the chief of demons He prevailed against the lesser, just as the Jews said to Him when they wished to insult Him. But if, by His Name being named, all madness of the demons is uprooted and chased away, it must be evident that here, too, they are wrong, and that our Lord and Savior Christ is not, as they think, some demoniacal power. Then, if the Savior is neither a man simply, nor a magician, nor some demon, but has by His own Godhead brought to nought and cast into the shade both the doctrine found in the poets and the delusion of the demons and the wisdom of the Gentiles, it must be plain and will be owned by all, that this is the true Son of God, even the Word and Wisdom and Power of the Father from the beginning. For this is why His works also are no works of man, but are recognized to be above man, and truly God's works, both from the facts in themselves, and from comparison with [the rest of] mankind."