by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
There are many demons, as the whole biblical and patristic tradition teaches. It is evident both in Holy Scripture and the works of the holy Fathers that Satan is not alone: there are many demons. There are many like him. Also, some demons are more evil than others, and every demon has his own teaching, as well as his own way of acting and working. We shall look at this interesting topic.
Many passages of Holy Scripture demonstrate that there are a large number of evil spirits in existence. The most well known are as follows. The possessed men in the country of the Gerges-enes had many demons. For that reason they spoke in the plural: “And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29). When St Mark the Evangelist describes the healing of the demoniac in the country of the Ga-darenes, he records Christ’s conversation with the demons inside the man. When Christ asked, “What is thy name?”, they replied “My name is Legion: for we are many.” The account continues, “All the devils besought Him, saying, Send us into the swine.” As soon as Christ granted this wish, “The unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine” (Mark 5:9-13). The Apostle Paul knows that there is not one single “ruler of this world” or one single evil spirit, but many rulers and many evil spirits, so he writes, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Explaining what Christ achieved on the Cross, the same Apostle says, “Having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15). All these demons teach different things. Each demon has his own way of thinking and acting, but the aim of all is to separate man from God and bring about his eternal death. St Paul knows that many will depart from the faith in the last times, “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Not only are there many demons, but Holy Scripture tells us that there are degrees of evil. All the demons are evil, but some are more evil and outdo the others in wickedness. Christ teaches, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there” (Matt. 12:43-45). This shows that some spirits are more wicked than others. There are gradations of wickedness among demons.
The saints teach that there are as many demons as there are passions. They actually identify many demons as linked to particular passions. St Mark the Evangelist records a typical case of a possessed man being healed. A certain father brought his son, who had a “dumb and deaf spirit.” The father related that “oft-times it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him” (Mark 9:22). It is clear here that there was only one demon in the man, not many. But what was this dumb and deaf spirit? In his interpretation of this passage, St Gregory Palamas says that it was the demon of unchastity. He writes, “This terrible demon is the demon of unchastity. Sometimes it casts the victim into the fire (that is, strange loves devoid of affection) and sometimes it plunges him into the water, through gluttony, excessive drinking and too many parties.” This demon of unchastity is deaf and dumb because “anyone who obeys the suggestions of such a demon cannot bear to hear or speak of divine things.” In the same way as there is a demon of unchastity, there are demons of all the passions. St Cassian the Roman writes about the eight spirits of wickedness. These are the spirit of over-indulgence, the spirit of fornication and carnal desire, the spirit of avarice, the spirit of anger, the spirit of grief, the spirit of despondency, the spirit of self-esteem and the spirit of pride. All the passions have their own demon who works to achieve man’s eternal death. Just as the virtues are the fruit of the Holy Spirit and not simply achievements of human nature, so all the passions are the product of evil spirits in collaboration with human beings. St Nikitas Stithatos teaches that the fruit of the devil is “hatred, worldly despondency, restlessness of soul, a troubled heart, guile, inquisitiveness, negligence, anger, lack of faith, envy, gluttony, drunkenness, abusiveness, criticism, the lust of the eyes, vanity and arrogance of soul.”
St Diadochos of Photiki, who was experienced in the struggle against demons, divides demons into two main categories. Demons in the first category are more subtle, whereas those in the second category are more material in nature. The first kind attack the soul, while the second kind, the more material demons, make war on the body and attempt in this way to capture the nous. These two types of demons, although they share the same intention of harming people, fight among themselves. St Diadochos writes, “Spiritual knowledge teaches us that there are two kinds of evil spirits: some are more subtle, others more material in nature. The more subtle demons attack the soul, while the others hold the flesh captive through their lascivious enticements. Thus there is a complete contrast between the demons that attack the soul and those that attack the body, even though they have the same propensity to inflict harm on mankind.”
To sum up, the biblical and patristic tradition teaches that Satan exists and strives to kill human beings, because he is full of dreadful hatred towards them. It also teaches that there are many kinds of demons. Every passion has its corresponding demon, who has considerable experience in leading people to destruction. The war against the passions is essentially a war against the spirits of evil.