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Death and Life

The First Reading says that God did not make death.

Alright, then, who did? The reading says it entered the world by means of the devil’s envy.

This only makes the problem worse, doesn’t it, but maybe we can take a stab at understanding it.

The devil’s envy. What is envy, and how could it bring about death?

Let us understand what human life could be like without jealousy and envy.

You and I have beheld with our own eyes, greedy eyes sometimes, what another person possesses: wealth or power or good looks or talent or strength or control or whatever else. Their success can sting and give us anguish over our own lack. We feel—well it is hard to describe what we feel. Anger, fear, panic, and who knows what else.

Multiply that by a million and you will understand how the devil felt when he first got to earth. He had been an archangel, one of the greatest beings in God's creation, second only to God himself. Lucifer, as he was called then (meaning “light-bearer”), was dazzled by God's greatness. He liked it but he did not like being only finitely great in comparison! He found within himself an irresistible envy of God! It was like the positive pole of one magnet when held up to another magnet’s positive pole.


It propelled him straight out of heaven.
He landed with a thud on earth. He tumbled across the garden of bounty that God had created. This ex-angel now walked bestially, in stunned silence, and amidst shimmering beauty, innocence and intricacy that were not his.

Then he came upon the most difficult sight of all. It froze him in his tracks. His eyes lit upon human beings, in their first purity, as yet unsullied. They were “imperishable, and made in God’s own image,” the First Reading says.

The poet Milton imagined what the devil must have thought of them:

O Hell! what do mine eyes with grief behold, …
whom my thoughts pursue with wonder, and could love,
so lively shines in them divine resemblance,
and such grace the hand that formed them
on their shape hath poured. … *

The father of lies was gravely tempted toward loving these two. But anger and jealous rage knocked this unique temptation aside. He decided to capture them instead of loving them. “I can suck them into myself,” he thought, “their beauty and all its traces. If I possess them I will be great again. I will be able to continue my war against God and I can win it! Horror and death are small prices for what I will gain!”

He was in the process of creating death. Take over and make it mine!

By contrast, let us understand what human life could be like without jealousy and envy. The Gospel says this:

What came to be through [Christ] was life,
and this life was the light of the human race.

Jesus is satisfied to be himself. He is humble. Not hostile. He grieves for others instead of for his own losses. The daughter of the synagogue official is just “asleep,” he says. The crowd laughs. Asleep! What a joke. But Jesus, with God’s own assurance, knew that love is stronger than death, and so he walked through their ridicule, woke the dead girl, and nestled her deep into the rich love that had created her.

Only love brings good. Envy brings death.

  “Evil, be thou my good,” Satan said! [Milton IV, 110]

What do you and I say?

John Foley, SJ
 * From Book Four of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Milton 356-365. Italics mine.

Here is my plain, 21st century prose version of these lines:

Oh no! Who are these creatures
that I am looking at with such grief?
They fill me with wonder,
so much wonder that I could even love them!
They quite resemble the divine one with his dazzling light.
And look how much grace his hand—the hand that formed them
—has poured upon them.

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go