It is impossible to spend much time going through the Bible or praying in the traditional liturgy of the Church, or reading the writings of the saints without being reminded forcefully time and again about the dramatic nature of man’s life on earth.
Genesis alerts us to the enmity established between Satan and man from the primeval age: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; she shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel.” (Gen 3:15). This enmity will last until the world’s last hours throughout the ceaseless conflict between good and evil waged on both a personal and a social level in the Israel of Old Testament times unto the hostility-surrounded life of the “Prince of Peace”, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Final Age until His Second Coming.
The sacred texts hammer home a clear message: “Man’s life upon Earth is a military campaign.” (Book of Job 7: 1) Triple is the enemy of man’s soul: firstly, Satan, the “Father of Lies”; secondly, the World, alienated from God and alienating; thirdly, the enemy within the interior depths of the psyche, a gravitational pull towards evil that is a consequence of original sin.
The position taken by every individual, whether angelic or human, determines whether he is a citizen of the Kingdom of God or of the Kingdom of Satan. All of history, whether occurring in the secret depths of the interior or in the public squares of society, is therefore a tale of these two warring empires. Everything, the Bible assures us, is involved – not only persons but the entire universe since the fall of Satan and the first angels introduced physical evil into the cosmos. Although mysterious and difficult especially for our highly prejudiced contemporary mentality, the biblical texts backed by the Church’s liturgy and all of her tradition, assert that Satan and his satellites have not only enslaved man but are ultimately the remote causes behind all the physical and moral evils terrifying humanity: not only temptations to sin but disordered passions, warped psychology, diseases and death.
Each of us, pilgrims journeying through a world that, notwithstanding much goodness and beauty, has become in many ways Mordor, a devastated war-stricken land, is at the center of this global conflict. Although each man ultimately determines his own final salvation or damnation, his decisions are not made in a “no man’s land” where only his own psychology is at work. Rather, both sides relentlessly fight over him and everything and everyone, every place and every time are brought to bear upon the conquest of his soul. Nothing and noone remains neutral.
Evil is therefore a web, a fog, with all of its physical and moral components interlocked and allied in the cosmic conspiracy against man’s temporal and eternal wellbeing. The power of this “conspiracy” is known best of all, not to the man who surrenders to the Kingdom of Satan, but to the man who is striving to fight evil in the Kingdom of God. The more one fights for goodness and truth, the more one discovers the power of the other side and its sinister ability to thwart merely human efforts to be noble, pure, good. As one great fighter for Christ shouted in a moment of anguish: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24)
This awareness of the complex web of evil both surrounding us and surging upwards from the very depths of our psyche also obliges us to distinguish between the sin which we must violently hate and combat and the sinner whom we must just as intensely love. For without renouncing our God-given responsibility to judge evil and evil people, never falling into simplistic attitudes (“Who am I to judge?”) we must never cease to remind ourselves that each man’s soul is a cosmos in which so many forces largely out of his control (genetics, upbringing, psychology) while never in any way destroying his moral responsibility certainly urge us, his fellowmen, to have compassion.
For instance, take the case of a modern philosopher who dedicated his life to the destruction of Christian civilization. Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) at one point lifted the veil on the depths of his own interior life to enable us to glimpse something of the poignant pain that held a grip on his emotions and conditioned his thinking on the campaign to change society through cultural marxism:
“How many times have I wondered if it is really possible to forge links with a mass of people when one has never had strong feelings for anyone, not even one’s own parents: if it is possible to have a collectivity when one has not been deeply loved oneself by individual human creatures. Hasn’t this had some effect on my life as a militant–has it not tended to make me sterile and reduce my quality as a revolutionary by making everything a matter of pure intellect, of pure mathematical calculation?”
Knowledge of the Triple Enemy of the human soul, through philosophical and theological study but above all through personal ascetical-mystical effort is therefore an essential dimension of the Ignatian’s formation, determined as he is, to be a compassionate warrior fighting alongside his Lord and Savior for the souls of men.