Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The meaning of this compound term is sufficiently obvious, for all must be familiar with the significance of its two component parts. But the thing denoted by the name is by no means so easy to understand. For there is such a strange startling incompatibility between the notion of devil and that of an object of worship, that the combination in this case may well present a grave difficulty. And the more we are able to understand about the character and history of the Devil and about the true nature of worship, the more difficult is it to believe that men can have been led, even in the utmost extremity of folly and wickedness, to worship the Devil. Yet, incredible as it may seem, it is unfortunately true that some worship of this kind has prevailed at many times and among widely different races of mankind. The following considerations may help in some degree to lighten the difficulty presented by this singular phenomenon.

In the first place it may be well to recall the analogy between the worship given to a divine being and the tribute paid to a king. Both alike are sensible proofs of service and subjection. In the case of kings, besides the willing service paid to a just and legitimate sovereign, there may be tribute paid to some alien oppressors or blackmail grudgingly given to some pirate Chief or marauder in order to deprecate the evils that may be feared at his hands. And so in the case of religious worship, we may find that in the rude polytheism of barbarous races, where the gods were not only many in number but various in character, besides the willing worship given to good and beneficent beings in the service of love and gratitude, there is a sort of liturgical blackmail offered to the evil and malignant gods or demons in order to placate them and avert their anger. In like manner, when we pass from Polytheism to the philosophic Dualism --where the worlds of light and darkness, good and evil, sharply defined, are constantly warring against each other over against the good men, who offer worship to the good god, Ahura Mazda , there are the wicked Daeva-worshippers who sacrifice to the Demons and to Ahriman their chief, the principle of evil.

Another source of this strange worship may be found in the fact that in the early days each nation had its own natural gods; hence racial rivalry and hatred sometimes led one nation to regard the protecting divinities of its enemies as evil demons. In this way many who merely worshiped gods whom they themselves regarded as good beings would be called devil worshippers by men of other nations. Such may be the case with the Daeva-worshippers in the Avesta. In the same way the Greeks and Romans may have worshiped their divinities, fondly believing them to be good. But the Christian Scriptures declare that all the gods of the Gentiles are demons.

This declaration, it may be added, was not the utterance of a rival race but the teaching of Holy Scripture . For as the Fathers and theologians explain the matter, the fallen angels besides tempting and assailing men in other ways have, by working on their fears or exciting their cupidity, brought them to give worship to themselves under the guise of idols. If not in all cases, it would seem that much of the heathen idolatrous worship, especially in its worst and most degraded forms, was offered to the devils. This may explain some of the manifestations in the old pagan oracles. And something of the same kind occurs in the demonic manifestations among the modern demonolaters in India. Nor has this been confined to heathen nations, for in connection with magical practices and occultism some forms of devil worship appear in the heresy history of medieval Europe. Görres, in his great work on Christian Mysticism, gives some curious and repulsive details of their obscene ceremonial. Of late years there seems to have been a recrudescence of this evil superstition in certain countries of Europe. While there is some authentic evidence as to the existence of these evil practices, the truth is overlaid with a mass of legend, many charges of this kind are false or grossly exaggerated, and a number of innocent persons have been cruelly put to death on charges of witchcraft or devil worship. It is well also to remember St. Augustine's words: "Non uno modo sacrificatur traditoribus angelis"; and possibly calumny and cruelty may be more dangerous forms of devil worship than all the dark rites of African medicine men or medieval magicians.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 20:1-4, 11--21:2
1 Then I saw an angel come down from heaven with the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 84:3, 4, 5-6, 8
3 Even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:29-33
29 And he told them a parable, 'Look at the fig tree ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 28th, 2014 Image

St. Catherine Laboure
November 28: St. Catherine Laboure, virgin, was born on May 2, 1806. At an ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter