If God forgives all humans who repent their sins, would God forgive a repentant Satan?
And since Christians are commanded to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” should people in some way love the Devil and other spiritual opponents?
These profound questions are explored by Dr. Peter Steiger, a Chaminade University Associate Professor of Religious Studies, as he researches the ancient manuscripts of Didymus the Blind, an early Christian teacher who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 4th Century.
This controversial theologian is the subject of Dr. Steiger’s academic paper – “(No) Sympathy for the Devil? Love of Spiritual Adversaries in the Writings of Didymus the Blind” – which he recently presented at the annual conference of the Asia-Pacific Early Christian Studies Society in Melbourne, Australia.
“Didymus was an expert on the Bible and wrote many commentaries on Old Testament books, as well as very important theological treatises on debated issues of his time,” Dr. Steiger said. “Unfortunately, 150 years after his death, his writings were judged to be too controversial, and so they were removed from monastic libraries and no longer copied.”
Fortunately, however, an unknown monk probably took several documents written by Didymus, placed them in leather-bound folios, walked down a precarious pathway into a cave near the Nile River “and just threw them on the floor,” Dr. Steiger said.
Some 1,500 years later, the dust-covered manuscripts were discovered by British soldiers as they searched for a safe place to store munitions during World War II.
“They’re kind of stumbling around in there, I’m sure, and they find this pile of books,” Dr. Steiger said. “It was pretty clear almost immediately that they were of extreme value. It’s one of the largest collections of writings from a single author from this time period that’s ever been discovered.
“It does have this sort of ‘Indiana Jones’ scenario to it,” he added.
Given the active antiquities market in Egypt, some pages may have been torn out and sold by local people, Dr. Steiger said, while other pages were damaged by bookworms.
Much of the collection remained intact due to the arid climate, however, and British authorities eventually disseminated the long-lost manuscripts among scholars in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany for critical evaluation and preservation.
Dr. Steiger wrote his dissertation on Didymus’ commentary about the Book of Genesis, including his interpretation of the seven days of creation and banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
More recently, Dr. Steiger researched what Didymus wrote about Abraham and Job as friends of God. He also researched certain biblical figures “who were not friends of God,” notably Judas Iscariot and Satan.
When asked to name God’s enemy, people typically reply: “The Devil,” according to Dr. Steiger. But Didymus said something different.
“His claim and my paper suggest that the Devil is opposed to God, but God has no enmity toward the Devil but rather loves Satan,” Dr. Steiger pointed out. “The Devil’s real enemy is every human being.”
Does that mean humans should have at least some sympathy for the Devil?
“This is one of the ideas that originally got Didymus’ writings condemned,” Dr. Steiger noted.
“So, if I can shed some light on what he said, we may be able to have a better understanding of what it means that Christians are to love their enemies – and who those enemies really are.”