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What Was the Devil's Mistake?

Father Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life


The war between the culture of life and the culture of death did not begin after Roe v. Wade, although it did enter a new chapter at that point. It has its origins at the dawn of human history and, in fact, in the history of the angels.

In Revelation 12:7 we read, "War broke out in heaven." War is a terrible thing on earth. What must it mean that war broke out in heaven? This war involved some angels who rebelled against God and became devils. What was it that caused an angel to become a devil? What was the Devil's mistake?

In Isaiah 14, we read a rebuke to the King of Babylon. The passage also has a deeper spiritual meaning and is a glimpse into the thinking of the evil one. It reads, "How you have fallen from the heavens, Oh Lucifer! ... You said in your heart: 'I will scale the heavens; above the stars of God I will set up my throne ... I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!"' (Is. 14:12-14).

There is the Devil's mistake. He thought that he could be God! This is why the angels who fought him in heaven were led by one named Michael, which means, "Who is like God?"

Michael and his angels won, but the war did not end there. Satan and his legion "were cast down to the earth" (Rev. 12:9), and our troubles began.

The account of those troubles continues in the Garden of Eden, where the Devil approaches Eve with the temptation to eat from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17). To understand what this original temptation was, keep in mind the Devil's mistake: to think he could be God. The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" represents this way of thinking. It is not the idea that we would simply know the difference between good and evil, but that we would decide the difference between good and evil. No more moral laws! What's right for me is right for me; what's right for you is right for you -- the decision is ours to make. So the tempter says, "You will be like gods" (Gen. 3:5).

The most recent echo of this temptation is the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which states that at the heart of liberty is the right "to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

Here we have the core of the thinking behind contraception, abortion, and euthanasia.

The solution to the thinking of the evil one is the thinking of the Holy One. As Isaiah lifted the veil to show us the mind of Lucifer, so St. Paul lifts the veil to show us the mind of Christ: "Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. It was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him" (Phil. 2:6-9).

This attitude, which St. Paul says must be ours, counteracts the attitude that we exalt ourselves by our own choices. Rather, our exaltation, our freedom, and our fulfillment come from a humble acceptance of and obedience to a truth that we did not create. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil marks the limit of our choices. True freedom is the power to choose what is right, and to love as Christ did, by giving ourselves away for the good of the other person. Let this attitude of Christ's permeate our lives and the fabric of our society!

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