On the Temptations of Christ
By Father Leonardo Castellani (1899 - 1981)
From: 'El Evangelio de Jesucristo', Itinerarium, 1956
Translated from the Spanish by Roberto Hope
About the temptations of Christ, much can be said; but let us be brief and note three major points: the tempter, the Tempted and us.
The malignant spirit did not know for sure whether Christ was or was not the Messiah and much less whether He was God or no. It seems incredible, with the talent the devil has, and knowing the messianic prophecies better than any rabbi, that he did not draw the conclusions that many men drew. But it was so, it suffices to read the Gospel; in addition, Saint Paul expressly says that the devil would not have — by means of the Jews — crucified Christ had he been aware that He was the Son of God (I Cor II, 8).
That a God be made man is an Absolute Mystery, it is, shall we say, an Absurdity; it is beyond the comprehension of any created mind. That mystery cannot be discovered and known if it is not by means of a supernatural act of faith, an act which is impossible without God's grace, which the devil lacks.
That is why the purpose of the Tempter was, as it clearly appears, not only to make Christ sin but also to rid himself of that doubt, which he was unable to accomplish: "If you are the Son of God, make these rocks turn into bread." It must be granted that the devil's audacity is infinite: he is a scoundrel because he no longer has anything to lose. Suspecting Christ to be a divine person, having, however, grabbed Him and taken Him to the Belfry! "How scared must the wretch have been — says Saint Theresa — as he went flying!"... But we don't actually know whether he went flying.
The devil has an enormous power — this is what this Gospel tells — but on the other hand it is a vain power, because it can be overcome "in words", with the Word of God.
Great praise of the Holy Scripture is contained in this Gospel: Christ overcomes the three temptations with the weapon of the Holy Scripture. But the power of the devil is tremendous against those who go unarmed. When he told Christ: "All this is mine and to whomsoever I wish, I give it", showing him the kingdoms of this world — in politics it can be said that the devil has no competitor — Christ did not respond: "Liar! All this is God's, not yours", He did not get into an argument with him, because in a certain sense all this is, indeed, the devil's; in the sense that, because of our sins, he meddles with everything these days. He is the Armed Strong Man, the Powers of Darkness, the Prince of this World, as Christ called him elsewhere. It is likely that, on birth, Satan was the Archangel who had been predestined to maneuver and control the material world; or at least of this planet; and not for having sinned did he lose that connatural power over this silent planet (Castellani alludes to C. S. Lewis' 'Out of the silent planet' theological novel). But all power is God's.
That which our elders used to call "selling the soul to the devil" is possible: it was the transaction proposed to Christ in the Third Temptation. When an evil man does incessantly well in this world. you can tell he is a possessed; to the common iniquitous men, morality imparts punishment in the short term. If God does not prevent him, the devil can do the strangest things to man, and that I know from the books, but if I were to say that I know it only from the books, I would be lying.
Why did he tempt Christ with those things? With the Dumbobrigida (referring to Gina Lollobrigida, a popular Italian starlet of Castellani's time — translator's note) or with some other of God's little female creatures which give us the honor of amusing the rabble of Buenos Aires, with the key to the Central Bank; with the urns full of votes in Congress, I can tempt anybody. But with rocks, with motorless flights, with fantastic promises of universal empires?...
The devil knew that Christ was a saintly religious man — he had seen Him prepare Himself for His religious mission with Moses' fasting, he had seen him burning like a great bonfire in continuous prayer —; and he tempted Him as a religious man, on a religious plane, not on the carnal plane. A note on the Gospel translated by Straubinger says: "the first one was a temptation of sensuality"... This is an error. The three of them were temptations of pride. The devil tempts those who do as rigorous Lents as Christ did, with temptations of pride, not of sensuality.
The devil tries to ape God, since his fall was from wanting to be like God and this is his constant obsession. The devil tempts promising or giving God's things; the same that God is to give us if we have patience and fidelity. Christ could have gotten bread by waiting a bit — "and the angels served it to Him" — without the need of a miracle. The devil pushes us, he hastens us, he is the spur of the world: he invites us to anticipate, to abuse, to get there first. To the first humans he said "You shall be like gods" which is what God proposed to do and does with man, by means of divine adoption (sanctifying grace) and of the beatific vision. "We will then be like Him, because we will see him as He is", says Saint John. Eve sinned because she coveted an anticipation of the divine vision, We cannot be tempted but for according to our own natural.
Thus, he tempted Jesus in accordance with what was natural of Him, with the same that He was to attain one day. Christ was to convert the rocks of gentility into the bread of his Mystic Body, according to that: "Do you think that from these rocks I cannot get sons of Abraham?". Christ was to fly visibly to heaven in front of his apostles and some five hundred disciples. Finally, Christ will someday be Universal King of the whole world as he is already by right and hope.
The devil is now tempting humanity with a Universal Kingdom achieved without Christ, with the force of man alone. All this great movement of today's world (the UN. UNESCO, the World's Council of Churches, the great imperialisms, the promises of a thousand years of peace on the part of the Leaders) represents that unstoppable yearning of humankind for the Millennium, for its natural and peaceful unity, for its integration as the Human Race.
It is useless to oppose that most present yearning — ultra-nationalists are wrong — because it is a yearning contained in the bosom of the world's historical evolution as it is a divine promise. But the devil wants to get there first. We Christians know that this will come, but it can only come with and by Christ; and that this manner, as it is being done now, we cannot accept, because it is the vast preparation of the Anti-Christ. "If this is serving the country, the how to me does not tally" (a paraphrase of "si eso es servir al Gobierno, a mí no me gusta el cómo" from José Hernández novel 'Martín Fierro' — translator's note). So we give the appearance of impotent on the one hand, of backward reactionaries on the other.
The Church appears to be in downright crisis these days; she cannot achieve the peace of the nations, the most urgent of the world needs, she is bruised within herself, she does nothing but take apparently negative measures: Syllabus, Anti-modernist oath, forbid this, forbid that. She is not at the head of "civilization" as in other times; she does nothing but to pull backwards: this is because "civilization" has taken the wrong road, that of the Tower of Babel. A satanic road.
"All this is mine and I give it to whomsoever I want; all this I will give you if, prostrating at my feet, you adore me." Some man someday will accept this deal. I know not when. A friend of mine who pretends to be a prophet says that this man will be born in 1963 and will become Emperor in 1996. I think that neither he nor I know when. I, at least, don't know.
It is not necessary to know much Latin of Greek to predict that the Church will be tempted, if Christ was tempted, and it will be with the same temptations of Christ.
We could perhaps say that the first one was in the Middle Ages, the second one in the Renaissance, and the third one now. This so that we may understand each other, although the three work together.
The first temptation is this: by means of the religious procure material goods for herself — as if we should say to trade miracles for bread — which may go to an extreme called simony, or the sale of what is sacred. But the priests also have to eat and the Church needs goods. I do not deny that the Church needs goods, what I do know is that there is a very fine line, beyond which the "goods" become evils. Being the effect rather taking the bread and turning it into stone, a miracle backwards, as for example making great stone temples where the bread of the Divine Word is lacking, of which as of bread man lives, responded Christ to Satan.
The second temptation is by religious means attain prestige, power, pomposities and "the glory that men give" (John 12:43). And it is also true that the Church needs a good name, since one of the distinctive notes of the true religion is for it to be saintly. Thus one of Saint Augustine's major arguments against the heretics and pagans were the admirable 'customs' of the primitive Church as opposed to the evil customs of them. See his books De Civitate Dei, De Moribus Ecclesiae, De Moribus Manicheorum.
But one thing is that others call one saint and another that one calls himself so. Days ago I heard a preacher who dared say a eulogy of the order to which he belonged, that the Belfry of the Church trembled (ie the Temple's Pinnacle) and I could not less than think: This would be better that the people were the ones who said it.
The third temptation is unconcealedly satanic: prostrate before the devil in order to rule the world. Can the Church be so tempted? The Church is not greater than Christ. Cruelty, for instance, is demoniacal. The saintly and the demoniac are opposites and consequently, they are both on the same plane, and corruption of the best is the worst. Talking about Savonarola, Cardinal Newman said: "The Church cannot be reformed by disobedience." and his interlocutor answered: "Much less by cruelty, my dear Cardinal" The Ascetic can be tempted of hardness of heart, of inhumanity, of cruelty. "My daughter has become cruel as the ostrich", says God through His Prophet.
This is the last temptation, of which God may deliver and guard me, and above all, may God deliver and guard the others: As Ramón Ibarra, the man from Jachal, in a knife fight with Dionisio Mendoza said: "Hold him! Hold him! Hold the other one! As I, whether well or bad, can hold myself alone."