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Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ, is the General Superior of the Jesuit order.

August 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The devil is a not a personal reality but a symbol for evil, the head of the Jesuit order said this week.

Satan, the devil whom the Catholic Church says was behind the fall of mankind (CCC 391) as the “seductive voice, opposed by God,” is, according to Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, a “symbolic reality” of the conflict in the human conscience between good and evil.

The devil “exists as the evil personified in different structures but not in people, because it is not a person, it is a way of implementing the bad,” Sosa said. “He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life.” 

“Good and evil are in a permanent struggle in human consciousness, and we have ways to indicate them,” he said. “We recognize God as good, entirely good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Sosa’s controversial remarks on the existence of the devil came in an interview published Wednesday (in Italian, his comments translated) with the Italian magazine Tempi, also covered in an article from Catholic News Agency (CNA).

In denying the personal reality of the devil, Sosa is rejecting an article of faith, prominent canon lawyer Ed Peters said, which is an element in the canonical crime of heresy. 

“The existence of the devil as a personal reality, and not merely as a symbol of evil, is an article of faith,” Peters wrote in his blog, citing Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 126-131, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church 395, 2851). 

“Denial of an article of faith is an element of the canonical crime of heresy (1983 CIC 751),” he said, “an act punishable by measures up to and including excommunication, dismissal from the clerical state, and/or loss of ecclesiastical office (1983 CIC 1364, 194).”

Sosa’s statements warrant an official response, specifically from parties placed in authority over issues involving heresy, Peters said, and the bishop of the Diocese of Rimini, where Sosa made the remarks, has the duty to inquire into and act upon them.

“Failure to act on such information as is available in the public forum would constitute, in my view, a dereliction of governing duty,” said Peters (see 1983 CIC 392, 1389).

He added that the bishop of Sosa’s place of residence is also competent to inquire into the Sosa’s remarks denying the personal existence of the devil, as well as his remarks on other topics. 

Sosa’s place of residence, he pointed out, is Rome. 

The bishop of Rome is Pope Francis.

Sosa, 70, has been the superior general of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, since 2016. He is a native of Venezuela and was a Jesuit provincial superior there from 1996 to 2004 before taking on an administrative role for the Jesuits in Rome in 2014.

He is the first person from Latin America to lead the Jesuits. Similarly, Pope Francis is both the first Jesuit pope and Latin American-born pontiff.

The Jesuit superior general often carries the nickname of “the Black Pope” because of the influence of the Jesuit order and the contrast to the white garb of the pope.

St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1534. The Jesuits have been historically noted for their educational, missionary and charitable work. 

In more recent years, the order has seen a decline in numbers, and as the Cardinal Newman Society Catholic education advocacy group wrote just before Sosa’s 2016 election, “dissent and moral confusion within its ranks, and a widening gulf between many Jesuit universities and the Church.”

Sosa’s controversial comments this week on the existence of the devil follow a previous instance when Sosa made a problematic statement on Satan’s existence.

In a May 2017 interview with the Spanish paper El Mundo, Sosa also said the devil is a “symbolic figure” that doesn’t really exist. 

“We have formed symbolic figures such as the Devil to express evil,” he said at the time.

After the controversy created by the 2017 remarks, a spokesman for Sosa said his comments on the devil must be read in context and that Sosa “does not hold a set of beliefs separate from what is contained in the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

The Church teaches that Satan is a fallen angel who rejected God by free will.

“Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy,” the Catechism states. “Scripture and the Church's Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil.” The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

Satan is “powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit,” the Catechism says, “but still a creature.” 

A 2017 report from Catholic World Report details as well how the Catechism holds that the evil in the “Our Father,” from which we pray to be delivered by God, is in fact the person of the devil:

Also notable is the Catechism’s explanation that the petition “Deliver us from evil” in the “Our Father” does not refer to evil as “an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (par 2851). Which means that even those who might deny the personal, creaturely nature of Satan unwittingly acknowledge it whenever they recite the “Our Father.”