Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his empty show?

The Baptismal Promises begin not with a positive profession of faith—that comes soon enough—but with the renunciation of Satan, and all his works, and all his empty show. Before a person can take the first steps towards the light of God and the life of holiness, he or she must say “no” to the forces of darkness. Painting circa 1750 by Corrado Giaquinto. (Wikimedia Commons) 

Editor's note: This is the second in a multi-part series exploring the fundamental questions Catholics face by virtue of their baptismal promises. Read earlier installments here.

Corruptio optimi, pessima. “The corruption of the best is the worst.” This Latin saying, attributed to the ancient Romans, captures for us the horror and the tragedy of Satan. 

Satan, or the devil, is the prince of darkness, the father of lies, and the enemy of mankind. But he was also the angel Lucifer, which comes from the Latin term meaning, “light-bearer.” And until the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lucifer was the greatest of all God’s creatures. 

His fall from heaven into hell represents the corruption of the best, which is truly the worst. It was the worst for him, as his rebellion set him in permanent opposition to God. And the worst for humanity, because he never stops seeking to corrupt us and deform us so that we, too, might become enemies of God.

“Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” the First Letter of Peter (5:8) tells us. Evil is not merely a concept or spiritual principle. There are personal beings of great power, led by Satan, who are themselves evil and who seek to make men, women, and even children evil like them.

For a vivid and chillingly accurate account of how the devil works to corrupt us, read the 1942 novel “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. It is probably the most insightful book outside of sacred Scripture about Satan’s strategies and tactics.

Saying no to the forces of darkness

It has been said that the devil’s greatest trick is to convince people he doesn’t exist. People who don't believe in him are much less likely to resist him. That's why we begin this second article reflecting on the baptismal promises by affirming Satan’s existence, his malice towards us, and his power. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church. It is also the experience of all of us who observe that the evil of this world often advances not blindly or randomly, but in a way that is strategic and purposeful.

Pope Francis baptizes one of 32 babies as he celebrates Mass on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 12, 2020. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The baptismal promises begin not with a positive profession of faith — that comes soon enough — but with the renunciation of Satan, and all his works, and all his empty show. Before a person can take the first steps toward the light of God and the life of holiness, he or she must say “no” to the forces of darkness.

We know this kind of truth from other aspects of our lives. For example, if a man has cancer, it is not enough for him to exercise, eat healthy food and take vitamin supplements. He needs to eliminate the cancer! 

Life is not only about doing good but also about avoiding evil.

God's final victory over Satan

At the same time, it is essential to recognize that God and Satan are not two more or less equal forces battling for supremacy over the world and in our lives. However powerful he is, Satan is a creature. God is the Creator of all things, and as such is infinitely more powerful than any creature, including the devil.

God does, however, allow Satan to have a limited yet powerful influence in this world. In John 14, Jesus refers to Satan as the prince of this world. “The world” has different meanings in John’s Gospel, but here it refers to the world as it is marked by sin. 

We also know from the book of Revelation that God’s victory over Satan, already won by Christ on the Cross, will become visible to all in the end. Every trace of Satan’s influence will be obliterated, as armies of angels led by St. Michael the Archangel will defeat Satan and his demons. 

A 15th-century painting of St. Michael the Archangel by Cosimo Rosselli. St. Michael the Archangel will lead an army of angels to defeat Satan and his demons (Wikimedia Commons)

 Advanced issue found


At the end of this article is the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, which helps us to share in God’s final victory by invoking the leader of His heavenly hosts. It would be very good to offer this prayer every day, individually, in our parishes, and in our families.

The renunciation of Satan is a potent way to prepare for receiving the sacrament of baptism. Baptism, in turn, empowers us to resist Satan and avoid sin. 

But how do we resist the devil in our daily lives? Here are some things to think about:

  • Satan normally attacks us with temptations to sin. In extraordinary cases, he may harass or even take possession of people, especially those who in some way expose themselves to his influence. But the vast majority of Satan’s attacks come in the form of temptations.

  • God gives us the strength to resist every temptation, no matter how powerful it seems to be. Satan can be incredibly convincing, and the strength of temptations can seem to overwhelm us at times. But God always comes to our aid. He never leaves us without the strength we need to say “no.” This grace is first given in baptism, but it is renewed and strengthened each time we receive holy Communion.

  • Even when we fall, God still helps us! God gives us the sacrament of penance, or confession, so that He can show us His mercy and forgiveness whenever we need it. As long as we are truly sorry for our sins and resolved to live again in union with Christ, God will certainly forgive us!

  • We should avoid all practices that involve communicating with or exposing ourselves to unknown spiritual powers. Ouija boards, seances, certain New Age spiritual practices, or any occult or non-Catholic spiritual activities that involve communicating with anyone or anything other than God, our Blessed Mother, or the saints and angels ought to be avoided.

  • Satan is a bully, and he loves to intimidate and discourage us. But like all bullies, he appears to be more fearsome than he truly is. The reference to Satan’s “empty show” in the baptismal promises refers to the emptiness of sin, which at first appears to promise happiness but always fails to give us true joy and peace. But “empty show” can also refer to Satan’s attempts to look more impressive than he is, and so we need to refuse to be intimidated, reject him, and turn to the Lord.

  • We must never lose heart, no matter what happens. God will always be with us and will always help us to stay close to Him. We must always place our trust in God and in His promises.

These words from the letter of James (4:7-8, 10) perfectly express all that has been said above. It tells us what happens when we renounce Satan at baptism and at all other times: 

“So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds ... Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.