The Roaring Lion of Compline

Are you on your guard against the devil? He does not appear on earth because he is a spiritual being, the prince of the power of the air. He merely manipulates his agents, the demons, for our disadvantage (Eph. 2.2). Jesus, when on earth, cast these demons out of man (John 3.8). The devil tells God he walks the earth (Job 1.7), but the devil is the master of lies (John 8. 44).

A murderer from the beginning

After his baptism Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 3.16). It was a spiritual battle that Jesus won. In the life of the Christian, it sets the theme for spiritual warfare during forty days of Lent. The Prayer Book Litany tells us that the devil can still harm us and so we pray ‘From the crafts and assaults of the devil, Good Lord deliver us.’ This is because man has chosen to know ‘good and evil’. Yes! the devil does assault and attacks to kill because he was a murderer from the beginning (John 8.44). Like all deceiving cowards, he attacks man when he is at his lowest ebb, unconscious in sleep, but the soul is wide awake to its dangers.

The devil can be seen appearing through tunnel vision, which man has, being a spiritual creature as well as a human. The devil can be seen approaching, a tall figure of darkness with no shape, surrounded by a ghostly light. He disappears and reappears at will. Then he strikes, changes into a reptile, a lizard-like creature, with scales and bumps like a toad. His grip is fearful like a vice, his object to strangle you across the waist and press to death with his weight. One’s cry seems to be lost in an ocean of space. No one will hear, but God hears and the devil is gone.

In the watches of the night

The Night Offices remind us of these dangers. In the Compline hymns we sing, ‘Keep all disturbing dreams away, and hold the evil foes at bay.’ ‘Defend and bring us Lord of might, Safe through the coming hours of night.’ Psalm 4.8. states, ‘Only you, Lord, makes us dwell in safety’ and Psalm 91.5, ‘You shall not be afraid of any terror by night.’ The Nunc Dimittis antiphon petitions, ‘Lord, save us while we are awake, protect us while we sleep’, and the concluding prayers ask ‘Drive far from us all the snares of the enemy’. Take well the advice of the great Apostle Peter, who the devil attacks like a roaring lion, ‘Resist him firm in your faith.’

Medieval paintings of devils with horns and tails make it difficult to take the devil seriously. In Christian thought evil is non-being, so that Satan is not evil pure and simple as God is pure goodness; he is an angel, and his fall did not destroy his angelic nature. CS Lewis’s imaginative presentation of this angelic nature in Screwtape is more correct than the medieval paintings. Satan is an angel but malignant and his nature is wholly given to the pursuit of evil. God created free beings with the freedom to choose a retreating from reality into nothingness, non-being, privation, for that is what evil is. Satan is the first of those beings to choose this path. Underneath the resurgence of the worship of Satan there is a deep hatred of God and a servitude to his greatest enemy that ravages souls and distorts personalities. To believe in Satan is to be logically committed to believing in God. Therefore it is not unreasonable to experience a fear inspired by the Mystery of Iniquity that can never be ultimate reality.

Sister Katherine Margaret is a member of the Society of Bethany