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Center for Action and Contemplation
Evil Is a Social Reality
Evil Is a Social Reality

Principalities and Powers 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. —Ephesians 6:11–12 

In a talk for the Living School, CAC teacher Barbara Holmes helps students make sense of the biblical language of the “principalities and powers” of evil:  

Just when one might think we’ve taken all the fire, mystery, divine comings and goings out of the Bible, we encounter the book of Ephesians. In this verse [above], we read about mystical powers, clashes in heavenly places, and arming ourselves so that we can withstand the wiles of the devil. The devil?! Many of us would say we don’t believe in such things anymore. Yet there is that language, right there in Ephesians….  

Our lives and the lives of our biblical ancestors are full of stories of power.… When Jesus comes on the scene, the power struggles don’t disappear. On the contrary, the battle is in full swing. His appearance always seems to exacerbate the situation. Right after his baptism, and right after God acknowledges his sonship, Jesus is driven to dry places in the wilderness. He is tempted and badgered by the “evil one” and then later crucified by the powers-that-be. [1] 

For Father Richard, Paul’s language of “principalities and powers” names the corporate evils of our day:  

When Paul talks about the “devil,” he uses words like “powers,” “principalities,” and “thrones” (see Ephesians 6:12). These are almost certainly his pre-modern words for what we would now call corporations, institutions, nation-states, and organizations that demand our full allegiance and thus become, in many ways, idolatrous—not just “too big to fail,” but even too big to be criticized. Suddenly, the medieval notion of devils comes very close to home. 

When the systems of “the world” are able to operate as denied and disguised evil, they soon become “spirits in the air” that do immense damage but are invisible and unaccountable. Therefore, “the devil” is those same corporate evils when they have risen to sanctified, romanticized, and idealized necessities that are saluted, glorified, and celebrated in big paychecks, golden parachutes, parades, songs, rewards for loyalty, flags, marches, medals, and monuments. That’s how disguised “the devil” is! We all join in on bended knee. 

We must first convict religion in its organizational form—not in its adherents, who might be quite good and holy—but the glorified organization itself. Then we must consider nation-states, war economies, penal systems, the banking system, the pharmaceutical system, etc. They are all good and necessary, in and of themselves. But when we idolize them and refuse to hold them fully accountable—I am going to dare to say the unsayable—they usually become demonic in some form. We normally cannot see this until it is too late. [2] 


[1] Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Living School Symposium (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021). Unpublished transcript.  

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil?The World, the Flesh, and the Devil  (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2019), 50‒51. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Exercise in Grief and Lamentation credits from left to right: Jessie Jones, Jennifer Tompos, Jenna Keiper. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

Story from Our Community:  

Reading about shame … has put me in touch with the deep shame I’ve carried my whole life. Growing up in poverty, with alcoholic and mentally ill parents, I had no guide or path to help me get rid of the deep shame I felt, [along with] the belief that I was such a sinner that I’d wind up in hell. God is good – REALLY good, because he guided me to CAC and the daily meditations! They are providing me with the path and guidance that is slowly healing me from my shame and helping me see how much I am loved and cared for by God. I will be forever grateful to Fr. Richard and the CAC team. —Mary W. 

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