Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Devil, Temptation and Sin



I answer that, The temptation which comes from the enemy takes the form of a suggestion, as Gregory says (Hom. xvi in Evang.). Now a suggestion cannot be made to everybody in the same way; it must arise from those things towards which each one has an inclination. Consequently the devil does not straight away tempt the spiritual man to grave sins, but he begins with lighter sins, so as gradually to lead him to those of greater magnitude. Wherefore Gregory (Moral. xxxi), expounding Job 39:25, “He smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains and the shouting of the army,” says: “The captains are fittingly described as encouraging, and the army as shouting. Because vices begin by insinuating themselves into the mind under some specious pretext: then they come on the mind in such numbers as to drag it into all sorts of folly, deafening it with their bestial clamor.”

Thus, too, did the devil set about the temptation of the first man. For at first he enticed his mind to consent to the eating of the forbidden fruit, saying (Genesis 3:1): “Why hath God commanded you that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” Secondly [he tempted him] to vainglory by saying: “Your eyes shall be opened.” Thirdly, he led the temptation to the extreme height of pride, saying: “You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” This same order did he observe in tempting Christ. For at first he tempted Him to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be–namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part–namely, to desire worldly riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: “If Thou be the Son of God”; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whereas it does apply to the two preceding temptations.

And Christ resisted these temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, “so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man”; as Pope Leo says (Serm. 1, De Quadrag. 3).

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. The three temptations are vital in my faith struggles.

    Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that proceeds from the mouth of God. The spiritual is all-important. The Second Sorrowful Mystery -the Scourging at the Pillar – desire a sprit of mortification. Think Lent. Think repentance, Confession, penance, amendment of life and, through Jesus, good works to the greater Glory of God.

    You should not put God to the test. Faith alone. Mysteries: we should need no physical or rational evidence or even to have answered our prayers. God’s will be done. Offer it up. The Fifth Sorrowful mystery – The Crucifixion – pray for the grace of final perseverance. think of the love which filled Jesus’ heart in the three hours of agony on the holy Cross; and ask Him to be with you at the hour of death.

    We should worship God alone. We cannot love/serve/worship both God and Mammon. Meditate on this past Sundays. Gospel. The Fourth Joyful Mystery – The Presentation in the Temple – desire a spirit of sacrifice. think of Marys’ obedience to the Law of God.

    Finally and off topic, the enemy’s (Satan’s) most devastating defeat over Man was when he falsely (like the NY Times – Satan is all lies all the time) convinced so many poor, damned souls that he does not exist.

  2. This is similar to the threefold division of sin that the Church uses in reference to “the world, the flesh, and the devil”. The flesh: in both cases, food. The world: what this passage calls “vainglory”. And the devil: pride.

    I’ve heard this threefold breakdown of sin before, but nearly every place I’ve looked for it, I end up finding the seven deadly sins. I think that Augustine used the breakdown I’m talking about. Can anyone give me a lead on this? I find it really useful and I’d like to know more about it.

  3. Our neo-Catholic Church of ‘Social Justice’ is the work of the devil by having us believe that merely proclaiming the right Democrat attitudes we can achieve eternal life without the necessity of obeying the will of God.

  4. Thus, too, did the devil set about the temptation of the first man. What was the Temptation of the man? As I have read Satan’s conversation all of it was with the woman and why did Satan wait until the woman was created? Again exactly what was Mans Temptation.

  5. @John.

    Being allowed to be swayed away from Truth and partaking of the forbidden fruit. Influence and disobedience.

    He allowed the first woman to influence him in breaking his obedience to God.

    When a young boy or girl is influenced by culture to sway her away from natural identity, and adopt the lie that she can be like God in choosing her identity..boy if she so chooses, then the power of influence can prolonge the great Joy of living in union of the creator of the Tree of Life. Separation from God is Hell. If one isn’t prepared, the influence of the world could destroy his/her ability to nurture a relationship that leads to obidence and Joy in God.

    Recalling the great lie that once we eat of the fruit, we to will see and be like God.

    Adam choose poorly to say the least.

  6. @John.

    His sin is disobedience.

    (Please excuse my typo’s…chose v. choose.) One of my sins is not proof reading prior to posting comment.

  7. Satan promised Adam and Eve that they would be like gods. Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God as the children of God. Satan promised Adam and Eve something Satan did not have to offer, something that Adam and Eve already had.
    Satan addressed Jesus by saying “IF” you are the Son of God…” Jesus knew WHO He was. Jesus is the revelation of God. Jesus’ life was spent on earth serving His Father WHO is in heaven. How could Jesus serve Satan or not serve His Father WHO is in heaven. Yes “WHO” is very important. WHO is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. “I AM WHO I AM”

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