Thursday, November 8, 2012

Iconography of the Devil

Roman Catholic images of Satan often depict him as a horned, muscular, bat-winged man in combat with Michael, whose feast is today  (right).

In many ancient religious traditions, horns were associated with the crescent moon and thus with fertility, night, darkness, death, and the underworld. On the devil, they signify his power, his association with death, and destructive sexuality.

            The bearded muscular figure is consonant with the view found in many religions that the principle force of evil is powerfully masculine (cf. Matt 12:29).

            Wings, which allow creatures to dwell in the air and grant them swiftness, i.e. the ability to be “everywhere in an instant,” signify the spiritual nature of both angels and fallen angels. According to Tertullian, “every spirit is winged.” In later imagery, bat wings serve to distinguish demons from angels.

Perhaps indicating a more dualist perspective, the Western image depicts Satan – though defeated – as well-matched to fight Michael. I believe Eastern iconography better represents the truth (left).
While the depiction of Satan in the icon contains some of the same elements – e.g. horns and wings – he is dramatically smaller and no match for his fellow angel Michael. Icons consistently represent demons this way – as tiny black specks, rather like flies (which evokes a name of their master: BeĆ«lzebub). This effectively communicates the ultimate insignificance of evil. 

(I've written about some of this before). 


Anonymous said...

interesting that the term "Fallen angels" isn't used in your post to refer to demons;(that being what they are.)
Angels fell from all ranks, so it can logically be presumed that Michael and Lucifer would be from the same choir and therefore equally matched.
I do like the idea that Lucifer as Satan is depicted as a fly sized creature in Eastern art, however, depictions that diminish his strength could also suggest that he is not a seriously dangerous opponent which takes the strength of God to combat.

John R.P. Russell said...


I appreciate your perspective. The Gospel, as I cited, refers to the devil as "a strong man." His strength and intelligence far exceed our own. His created spiritual nature is the same as Michael's.

Demons are indeed fallen angels. I have edited the post to include this point. Their created nature is exactly the same as the angels. The only difference between angels and demons is that the former freely chose to worship God and the latter freely chose evil.

Whether or not one has God with them is an enormous difference. Michael (who is like God?) has God (El) in his very name. It certainly does take the strength of God to defeat Satan. Michael and all who are in Christ have with them the strength of God, against whom Satan is nothing - a petty black speck.

Thank you for your comment.

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