A Diabolical Correspondence

Grubgall,

I recognize this is your first assignment, so I will try to be gentle. According to your file, your man is young, carnal, baptized, but with a Christian religiosity that is no more developed now than it was a decade ago. You complain that the shame he feels over recurring sins is as stale a pleasure for you as the pornography is for him. You want more of a challenge, do you?

The reason we assign novice tempters to weak souls is a tactical necessity, I’m afraid. Has it not occurred to you what chance this soul would stand if he were placed under an advanced tempter? He would be so fast in our grip, he might never break free. You might wonder, then, why we don’t pair strong tempters with weak souls to increase the odds of securing them forever. In the first order, our best tempters have their hands full with the Enemy’s strongest. Allowing those to walk about unchecked, letting their light shimmer to the ground like snow, threatens us far more than raking up these “easy pickings” benefits us.

In the second, our priority isn’t purely acquisitional. We have no real interest in cramming cages with the maximum number of sinners. Our metric is elevations, not quantities. Undoing the Enemy’s work of creation–that is our real priority. These go together, but do you see the distinction? Contrary to popular human depictions of us, we are not “in the business of souls.” Our business is bringing low what is high. Uncreating. This means our work is not ultimately about the soul, but the soul’s Maker. 

Still, in the past, it has aided our cause for some humans (those which believed in our existence) to think that we thought greatly of their souls. Picture two suitors fawning over a maiden, and you get their notion of their position in the war between heaven and hell. Cultivating this self-importance happens to be my specialty. I managed to convince a man (I spoke of this case at your commencement, do you recall?) to think so highly of his soul that he supposed he could tempt us tempters with it! All I had to do was play the eager buyer. If I saw him veering in the wrong direction, I would remind him firmly that we had struck a deal and that I had upheld my end. This appealed enough to his sense of justice, which was purely commercial at this point, to march him back into line. What consequences would follow a breach of contract that would be worse than damnation I had to keep far from his mind with a steady succession of pleasures and other distractions. The bargain was pure fiction, of course, and he could have repented at any time. Today, I keep him rolled up in a cabinet. There is no need to cage him. He believes he is contractually obligated to be there and that I must gain something from it somehow. The reality is I neither lost nor gained anything by our “deal.”

We do not capture souls because they benefit us, for one must then ask: Beneficial for what? We have no motivation but spite. If we have a soul, then the Enemy doesn’t, and this is reason enough to capture it. Tempting these creatures impressed by the Enemy’s image is the closest we get to doing real violence to the Enemy himself. Even so, if we manage to smear all sorts of fleshly odors over it, we can never completely mask the aroma of that image. Occasionally, I get a whiff of the soul in my cabinet. It infuriates me that the Enemy lavished such a distinction on a creature so frail and disgusting. Let every whiff remind you of the dangerous mini-Enemy your man was meant to be and could still become!

The corollary to bringing high things low is keeping low things low. This is your task for now. Assigning your man to a novice like yourself accords with the optimal distribution of resources. As you advance in your descent to our Father Below, you will find yourself contorted by wrath into more clever and useful diabolicisms, but you would stand little chance against a sanctified soul at your current level, and your complaint is proof enough that you are not ready for a new assignment. The degree of a tempter’s satisfaction in its work corresponds with the purity of its hatred, so do not blame the condition of the soul in your charge for your boredom. Your dissatisfaction suggests to me that you are deficiently invidious, and invidiosity is the true measure of a tempter, its food, its solitary pleasure.

Your Infernal Mentor,
Mephistophilis

NOTES.

1. In this essay, I use the “diabolical correspondence” device to explore the doctrine of spiritual powers (i.e., demonology and angelology) as such, which is not how C.S. Lewis used it in The Screwtape Letters. The basic thesis, you may have gathered, is that demons gain nothing from tempting and captivating souls. Their sole motivation is spite, and sharing hell is torture for them as well as for us. The concept for this letter was conceived while reading Evagrius Ponticus, an early Christian monk and ascetic, who wrote that, as Christians grow in sanctification, there is a corresponding rise in the strength of the demons who tempt them. Conversely, God will not allow inexperienced Christians to be tempted by demons too powerful for them.

2. “Diabolicism” is my own coinage.

3. Mephistophilis is a name for the devil in Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy, Doctor Faustus. Faustus is the “crummy soul” folded in the letter writer’s cabinet. Unlike Goethe’s later play, Faust, Marlowe’s protagonist is damned in the end, not redeemed at the last moment.

Pronoun Trouble: Inclusivity and Effective Writing

This essay began as a footnote in a graduate school paper. My alma mater, Wheaton College, has a strict but standard policy on inclusive language. She states in her catalog:

We want our students to succeed in graduate school, in the corporate world, and in public communication, all settings in which gender inclusive language for human beings is expected and where the inability to use such language may well be harmful to the Christian witness.

This policy is vague. It expects inclusive language without further statements on what qualifies as such. Shrewdly, the college leaves the task of clarifying up to the faculty. Yet most syllabi (granted, most syllabi I handled were limited to a single department) simply restated what’s found in the catalog. Some syllabi don’t bring up inclusive language at all. These might assume that students already know what constitutes inclusivity and how to implement it and have already worked out the grammatical difficulties it creates.

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Martin Luther, a Master of Media?

Few figures in history are attributed as many profiles as Martin Luther. Books of all kinds portray him not only as a reformer, but as a family man, a preacher, a revolutionary, a heretic, a madman, a prophet, a renegade, or even a “demon in the appearance of a man.” Brand Luther, by Dr. Andrew Pettegree, professor at St. Andrews University, hits bookstores in time for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In this insightful study, Pettegree investigates a neglected aspect of the great reformer: Luther, the master of media.

Although credit for the success of Luther’s Reformation has been attributed to many things—political conspiracy, divine providence, witchcraft, theological aptitude, the will of the people, blind luck, a combination of these, etc.—any study of the period worth its salt will acknowledge how the printing press factored into the Protestant movement. In fact, historians often ask whether there could have been the latter without the former.

This has been the typical historical treatment. But Pettegree comes at it from a different angle: Instead of asking how print shaped the Reformation, he asks how the Reformation shaped print.

His findings enrich our understanding of the Reformation and its enduring influence. He shows it transformed not only the church, but also the world of publishing—which in turn, by lending power to the reader, transformed how we conducted public dialogue and exchanged ideas. The legacy of the Reformation goes beyond the theologian’s studyroom: Every time you grab a paperback at a Barnes & Noble, you are benefiting from the Reformation.

But why should anyone (besides Reformation and/or communication historians) read Pettegree’s study of Luther as a master of media?

The study gives the modern church leader historical precedent for maneuvering their own ministry in a world that is shared, like Luther’s, with new and powerful technology. Any church leader who has fretted over the implications of livestreaming, social media, blogging, or the mobile device for the gospel will find some direction in this book—as well as some challenges. Though Pettegree does not devise modern applications from his study (that will be my undertaking), Brand Luther shows that recovering the gospel was only half the battle: how Luther preached it was just as important.

As Pettegree repeats fondly: “The medium itself was the message.”

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According to the Scriptures (in Their Entirety)

farkasfalvyFarkasfalvy’s goal in this chapter is to expound the relationship between Christianity and the Jewish Scriptures. The formula given is a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 15:3–4: “All that has been written has been written for us.” By “All that has been written,” Farkasfalvy means Paul means the entirety of the Jewish Scriptures; by “us,” he means the Christian Church.

What Farkasfalvy offers is a description of what the early Christians and New Testament writers believed to be the status of the Old Testament in light of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and its canonical relation to the New Testament. Moreover, he offers this candidly as the present and official view of the Church. However, Farkasfalvy imagines nothing in this opening chapter would face much disagreement across denominations, and I agree. The reader, then, can expect a presentation of the Christian view on the subject, but with no apology.

Anytime the word Scriptures appears in this précis, it refers to the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament). Though these days it typically includes both Testaments, the word in its New Testament usage refers strictly to a body of sacred literature originating among the Jewish people. Our use here will follow suit.

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What Is Tradition?

pieperΑmong the strands in the process of history, which are many, and not all are known, and none are known thoroughly, tradition stands apart from the others. It differs in a single fundamental respect: It preserves something pre-existing through the passage of time and in spite of it.

On one hand, tradition’s constancy through time is a claim more open to objection than assent. Modernity favors the ancient adage, “The only constant is change.” But supposing the claim is true, we have an alternate concern whether it isn’t some unnatural monstrosity, its existence oppressive to history’s other strands—such as the march of scientific progress. The first concern is whether tradition is a farce; the second, with which this books opens, is whether tradition is anti-historical.

Immediately, let’s clarify the prefix. Pieper is asking literally if tradition is against history. This is not to be confused with whether tradition is ahistorical, i.e. without history. The first question presumes tradition operates and originates in history (albeit, perhaps, as a virus or malaise); the other sees tradition as quite unconcerned with history or historical developments. While an interesting question, the latter is not addressed here.

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What Is Myth?

What is myth? In our modern vernacular, we use the word interchangeably with “fantasy,” “superstition,” or even “lie.” We enjoy reading Greek myths, which many curricula require. However, in our modern classrooms, we experience these stories very differently from the way Greeks did. For them, the myth was, if not fact, a vessel for communicating transcendent truths. It was believed. A myth read by a modern can be dissected and all its parts appraised. We can read it like it is a lesson trying to teach us something, or as a nice piece of writing which we find entertaining, or as a historical document with revealing cultural insights, but the full value of its story is invisible unless we confront it as people inside it, not as historians or scholars outside it. While there is value to scrutiny, we come nowhere close to understanding myth like a Greek, because we are not Greeks.

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