Pope Francis inaugurated a new catechetical series on vices and virtues during Wednesday’s general audience by opening with the story of Adam and Eve, which introduces “the dynamic of evil and temptation” and points toward the dangers of dialoguing with the devil.
The Holy Father instructed the pilgrims gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican that the best way to eschew the precipitous fall into temptation is to “never argue with the devil; he is astute and intelligent,” with the pope adding that “the devil is a deceiver. Never talk to him, because he is smarter than all of us and will make us pay.”
The pope pointed to the Book of Genesis, where evil, or the devil, is manifest in the infamous figure of the serpent. That animal’s insidiousness is often unnoticed as it is able to “camouflage itself well in its environment,” Francis said.
In the biblical account of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the fall of man, the progenitors thought the serpent to be benign. But, the pope warned, the devil is a master tactician and shapeshifter who was able to instill doubt, which was veiled as “wicked gossip.”
At the same time, Pope Francis noted that we ought to think of the tree of knowledge not as a “prohibition” imposed by God on “the use of reason” but rather as his way of introducing a “measure of wisdom.” In this way, God is signaling to us to be cognizant of our limits so we do not falsely believe that we “are the master[s] of everything, because pride is the beginning of all evil.”
The pope noted that in the biblical account, the prohibition imposed on Adam and Eve of eating from that tree was God’s way of “preserv[ing] them from the presumption of omnipotence, of making themselves masters of good and evil, which is temptation, a bad temptation even now. This is the most dangerous threat to the human heart.”
“The Bible explains to us that evil does not begin in man in a clamorous way when an act is already manifest, but much earlier when one begins to fantasize about it, to nurse it in the imagination and in thoughts, and ends up being ensnared by its enticements,” the pope cautioned.
The pope offered the example of Jesus as a way to counter this innate tendency of succumbing to hubris, noting that Christ “never conversed with the devil; he chased him away.”
The New Testament is replete with examples of Jesus doing so, such as “in the desert, during the temptations” where “he did not respond with dialogue; he simply responded with the words of holy Scripture, with the word of God,” the pope noted.
“When temptation comes, never talk. Close the door, close the window, close your heart. In this way we defend ourselves from this seduction,” the pope said.
“Guard the heart,” the pope repeated several times, so that it is “a form of wisdom.” The pope argued that “he who guards his heart, guards a treasure.”