Lucifer, the bearer of light become the prince of darkness, has earned his name of Satan, “the adversary”. He is the enemy of God, of man, of all that is good. It is no part of wisdom to under-estimate an enemy. It is stupidity to cultivate an ignorance of the enemy to the point of blindness to his existence; for in such blindness, it is impossible to face an enemy, let alone hold him at bay or conquer him. This is to invite defeat, to welcome slavery, to yield supinely to a conquest that in this case is radical, irrevocable, eternal.
Our Lord calls Satan "the prince of this world". We find the same doctrine in St. Paul. The apostles and the faithful have to fight "the rulers of the world of this darkness" (Eph. vi. 12; cf. Col. i. 13). The powers of evil are to be let loose during the period of this struggle, which is to precede the final return of Christ.
How does the prince, the god of this evil world, exercise his power? First - and this is a matter of common knowledge—he does so within individual psychology, through the spiritual effect he has on each of us. He is the tempter, the seducer, the perfidious counsellor, the inspirer of evil actions. He deceives, he blinds, he corrupts (John viii. 44; xiii. 2; 2 Cor. iv. 4; Acts v. 3; 2 Thess. ii. 10; I Cor. vii. 5; I John iii. 12). He makes the false seem true and evil seem good by "transforming himself into an angel of light" (2 Cor. xi. 14).
His rule, however, is not despotic: it has to have the acquiescence of the people concerned. He cannot use force: he can only propose, suggest, persuade and cajole. In Eden, he gives Eve reasons for transgressing the commands of God (Gen. iii. 4, 5, 13). just as later, in the wilderness, he is to tempt Christ with the promise of universal dominion (Matt. iv. 9; Luke iv. 5 7).
All this is undeniable. But, having admitted it, one may go on to ask a further question, which cannot perhaps be answered so easily: does the spirit of evil play a part always and universally in the sin of man? Are all wrongs committed at his instigation? The parable of the Sower certainly appears to teach the opposite, for besides the case where the good grain is caught away by the devil, it mentions others, where the grain perishes because it has fallen in shallow earth—a symbol of the shallowness and inconstancy of man—or because thorns, standing for the “cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches”, are choking it (Matt. xiii. 19 ff.; Mark iv. 15 ff.; Luke viii. 32 ff.).
We now come to something less well known, which nevertheless evolves logically and necessarily from what has gone before. If Satan influences individual decisions, he thereby extends his power over the collective. And indeed who, if not the individual, stirs up dissensions, wars, social upheavals, oppression and persecution? It is quite clear that Satan, thus inspiring the individual, can bring about domestic or social calamity. Such cases are described in Scripture. The Sabeans and Chaldeans who steal the cattle and camels of Job and who put his servants to the sword are sent by Satan, who has obtained God's permission to ruin the holy man (Job I). In the Gospel our Lord reveals to Simon Peter that Satan has claimed the apostles, to sift them like wheat (Luke xxii. 31)—an allusion to the triumph of the wicked at the time of the Passion, which was to terrify the apostles and cause their desertion: no doubt an allusion also to the persecutions awaiting them individually in the future. Twice, St. Paul wanted to come to Thessalonica, but “Satan hath hindered us” (1 Thess. ii. 18). The Apocalypse is full of visions of general catastrophes unleashed by Satan and the infernal spirits whom he rules. It is a "synagogue of Satan" established in Smyrna which blasphemes against the Christians in that town, and it is Satan in person who "will cast some of you into prison" (Apoc. ii. 9, 10).
Can one go still further and attribute to evil spirits power over physical nature? The authors of the Bible do not hesitate to do so. These spirits, who belong properly to hell, are nevertheless not confined there. They are not by any means strangers to our world. St. Paul calls Satan "prince of the power of this air", of "these spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph. ii and vi. 12). Since, then, they are present in the universe, the devils have the power to modify its elements. The desert wind which over-threw the house of Job's children and crushed them beneath its ruins was the work of Satan, so was the lightning which struck the patriarch's flocks and shepherds (Job i). The thorn which tormented St. Paul, and which most exegetists interpret as a physical ailment, had been thrust into his flesh by "an angel of Satan" (2 Cor. xii. 7). The crippled woman, for instance, whom Jesus cured, was not possessed: she was in the power of a "spirit of infirmity "; "Satan had bound her", "neither could she look upwards at all" (Luke xiii. II).
What is the nature of the power held throughout the world by the spirits of evil? It is neither general nor absolute. Satan must not be made into a rival of God, into something like personified Evil—" existential " Evil, one might say, opposed to the infinite and subsisting Good, which is God. That would be Manichaeism. Nor is Satan the unique and universal originator of all the evil committed in this world. This diabolical influence can nevertheless be called constant in the sense that, apart from a very exceptional privilege, nobody escapes it completely. Interior diabolical temptations are the common lot; they form part of the ordinary experience of humanity.
But apart from these there is no trace in the Bible of a general assignment received by Satan to trouble and torment mortals as he pleases. He may be "prince of this world" in the sense that we have described, but he is not master of events. He could do nothing, in any order, without divine permission.
What may we conclude from this chapter of theological demonology? That those who attribute to the devil calamities of natural appearance and structure are perhaps not always entirely wrong. Diabolical action not being a matter of general occurrence, it is indeed difficult to know with certainty when it is taking place, hic et nunc. Even if diabolical influences do have a part in some event, that does not mean that other causes—normal, human, natural—cease to function. Indeed, we have seen that the evil spirit makes use of them. If then, we are able to break his instrument or to wear it out by methods in the same order as his own, we shall have won a victory over him.
Condensed from "Some Aspects of Satan's Activity in this World" by Fr. Joseph de Tonquédec SJ. in Satan, ed. by Père Bruno de Jesus-Marie, O.C.D (1952), p. 40-52 by Fr. Therasian Babu SSPX