To our distinctly liberal theological seminary in New England there came some years ago a young evangelical from Belfast. Three days it took him to size us up. Then he spoke his mind. “The students on this campus,” he said in his open-air voice in the dining hall, “do not believe in a personal devil, but you’re not here more than a day or two before you meet him face to face.” Last year in the Church of England an unexpected outcry arose and caused the reversal of an official committee’s recommendation to omit from a revised catechism specific reference to the devil. Even the much-criticized translators of the New English Bible made no attempt to modernize 1 Peter 5:8, but faithfully rendered: “Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, prowls round looking for someone to devour.” In some ways we have here a theme which is a neglected area in our theological thinking.

There are signs, however, that this whole question is increasingly being brought into the limelight; one biblical scholar called a recent article “Satan Returns from Holiday,” but I disagree violently. Four centuries ago Bishop Latimer took the diabolical measure. “Who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office?” he asked. “It is the Devil. He is the most diligent preacher.… He is never out of his diocese … never unoccupied … never out of the way, call for him when you will. He is no lordly loiterer, but a busy ploughman.” Inordinate preoccupation with such matters might be dangerous, as Dr. G. C. Berkouwer has shown. In his article “Satan and the Demons” in CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S Basic Christian Doctrines series (now available in book form), he rightly indicates the pitfall of using Satan as an explanatory principle of evil, thus excusing ourselves. Even more common is sheer unbelief in the Prince of Darkness. “A religion can no more afford to degrade its Devil than to degrade its God,” stated Havelock Ellis. (Incidentally, the amateurs and even the agnostics are, perhaps understandably, often better on this than the theologians.) André Gide pointed out that our great mistake consists in making a romantic picture of the devil; he is neither more nor less romantic than the man he is dealing with. “With me he has made himself a classicist,” said Gide ruefully, “because this was necessary in order to catch me.” In addition to Stephen Vincent Benét’s famous narrative of Daniel Webster, there are many other modern writers, C. S. Lewis among them, who have written of His Satanic Majesty and have reminded us that the world is a continual battleground, the scene of a deadly struggle against the forces of darkness, with the soul’s eternal destiny in the balance. “I do not know what he is by theological arguments,” wrote one of the nineteenth century’s greatest theologians, F. D. Maurice, to his friend F. J. A. Hort, “but … I am sure there is one near me accusing God and my brethren to me.”

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One man who is determined to present the devil in his true colors is Roger Lloyd, Canon of Winchester Cathedral, who some months ago published a significant work in novel form entitled The Troubling of the City (George Allen & Unwin, London, 18s.). It takes its starting-point from part of Revelation 12:12: “… The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” Described by the publishers as “a fantasy with a teaching purpose,” it tells of a number of fiends from Hell, led by the Archdemon Vitrios, who are sent to make war on a modern English cathedral city (identified by Lloyd himself with Winchester). His four chief henchmen are specialists in different fields, each directing his art toward winning the souls of the population, and the soul of the city itself; each tempting, luring, goading into sin. The demon Mandrill softens. human resistance to temptation by the vitiating power of sheer continuous noise. Vilifor, minister of misinformation, creates hysteria and panic by the spreading of rumor. Sloombane induces corruption through insomnia. Snirtle, “a pert and sniggering spirit,” intensifies the constant muddle and delay inherent in everyday living.

“Human beings nowadays have four soft spots,” declaims Vitrios to his foul brood. “They are, briefly, Excessive Stimulation, the Complexity of Modern Life, the Sense of Despair, and the Forgetfulness of Forgiveness.” He advises his subordinates on each of these in turn, and urges: “Wherever … you find simplicity, don’t try to destroy it, just complicate it.… You will find that putting into their minds a thought like, ‘Over-simplification is the mark of the unintelligent’ will pay large dividends.” (Here and in other sections of the volume the reader will find traces of C. S. Lewis’ influence on the writer.) Another piece of devilish counsel is: “… It is so easy to persuade them that the amount of forgiveness they can receive is measured by the quality of repentance they can offer.” So each in his own way the demons work out the satanic strategy pointed to the condition of the city, trading in the age-old but durable lies which still have power to delude and bewilder a humanity accustomed to regarding the devil with semi-affectionate indulgence.

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There is a gripping climactic scene in the cathedral when, the legions of evil having been routed by prayer and simple faith, the fiends are arraigned before the forces of Good led by the medieval Bishop St. Swithun. For this thrilling episode especially we forget that the novel has basically little literary merit, that the fantasy has not been steadily sustained throughout, that little pieces of High Churchmanship obtrude and somewhat obviously contribute toward the ultimate triumph. We overlook the tremendous theological implications of the conversion experienced by one of the chief demons, and have our disappointment partly allayed at finding Francis Thompson looming large where the Bible ought to be, and the Incarnation stressed where we would have expected the Atonement.

Nevertheless, the impact of this book lies in the power of the whole. In an age when even we pastors tend to make Christianity the subject of intellectual study rather than a practical program for spiritual living, there is clamant need at times for the extraordinary, and, in J. B. Phillips’ phrase, for “words shaped cunningly to pass men’s defences and explode silently and effectually within their minds.” In some measure Roger Lloyd has done this here in winsome and eminently readable form. The devil is given some unwelcome publicity; we apprehend more vividly the deadly and ceaseless combat between darkness and light; and some of us not accustomed to thinking in such terms might find inspiration for an uncharacteristic sermon on the Communion of Saints.

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