Question: At a recent Bible study, the deacon said that Satan is the “prince of this world,” so he’s in charge down here. That didn’t really sit right with me. Is this really what the Bible teaches?
— Name withheld
Answer: As your question implies, we need to be careful. It is true that in John 14:29-30, Jesus in describing his passion, death and resurrection to his disciples concludes by saying, “I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me.”
And thus, Jesus does use the phrase “ruler of this world,” (or “prince of this world” in many translations) thereby indicating that Satan has some power and influence here. However, whatever influence the prince of this world has, Jesus remains the king of the universe, and thereby limits Satan’s power and overrules it.
Jesus says elsewhere that, as a result of his being lifted up from the earth, the prince of this world will be driven out; he also says later that the prince of this world now stands condemned (cf. Jn 12:31; Jn 16:11).
All these texts must be carefully balanced. The title “prince of this world” is fundamentally limited to the hearts of those who have refused the kingship of God and accepted the practical authority of the evil one. Sadly, through them, Satan exerts influence in this world.
Though Satan’s activity at times seems intense, it always remains under God’s power who permits his influence only to obtain greater good from it.
We ought not so exaggerate Satan’s power that we forget God’s grace, which is greater. Scripture elsewhere says that, for now, Satan’s power is limited, and that at the end of time, he will be released for a brief time, and then utterly cast into the lake of burning fire forever (cf. Rv 20:1–3; Rv 20:7-10).
Be assured of this: Satan, whatever power he may seem to have now, is the loser. His plans are going nowhere. Christ has already conquered, and we ought to be clear of the final victory for the Lord and all who choose and trust in him.
Question: You wrote recently about the dates in the Genesis text and said it is not a requirement of a Catholic to accept a very literal reading of the Bible. I have always understood that it is a requirement that we accept the Bible pretty much as written (i.e., a literal interpretation).
— John S., via email
Answer: The principle stated applies to the early Genesis texts (and the references to “days” and other time indicators). It is not to be understood as a sweeping principle for all of Scripture. Certain biblical texts describe people and events in very literal ways. Other texts use parables, poetic images, metaphor, hyperbole and other genres and modes of speech.
Thus we must rightly attend to the nature of a text by determining the genre and mode of speech used, view it in context and relation to the whole of Scripture and sacred Tradition, and defer to the judgment of the Church, which exercises the divinely conferred commission of watching over and interpreting the Word of God (cf. CCC, Nos. 108-119).
Some texts are understood literally, others metaphorically, but always conferring divine truth.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.