Rorate Caeli

Why is St. Michael portrayed stabbing Satan in the mouth? Reflection by Fr. Peter Miller OSB

Dedication of the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel
September 29, 2023
Fr. Peter Miller, OSB
Whitestone Monastery

Today, the spiritual feast of Holy Mother Church honors St. Michael the Archangel, one of the four principal angels according to Holy Scripture and Christian tradition. Michael’s name appears four times in Sacred Scripture: Daniel 10:13; Daniel 12:1; in the Epistle of Jude; Revelation 12:7.
In the Book of Daniel, Michael appears as an apocalyptic warrior who defends the Israelites against the Prince of Persia. The Book of Revelation recounts war breaking out in heaven, whereby “Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels” (Rev 12:7). Michael and his army of angels prevailed, and the dragon and its angels were “cast out, that old Serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world” (Rev 12:9). Thus, Michael is a cosmic warrior, an angel who battles Satan and defends God’s people against the forces of evil.

Up and down the centuries, artists have depicted St. Michael the Archangel in a variety of ways. Medieval depictions of St. Michael present him standing over a serpentine Satan. Unlike many Renaissance depictions of St. Michael that show him with raised-sword, just a second away from slicing dead Satan, the medieval St. Michael is often portrayed stabbing Satan in the mouth.

Why is this so?

Satan’s battle is not primarily against our bodies but against our souls, and unlike the body which can be harmed from the outside, our soul can only be harmed from the inside.  In the end, only we can damage our own souls, by choosing what is wrong while thinking it is right.  Thus, Satan’s primary method of attack is to lie, to get us to think that evil is good and good is evil.

Our monastery’s primary patron is Mary, Mother of the Word.  St. Augustine pointed out that Mary first conceived the Word in her intellect before she did so in her body.  And Christ himself, in response to that woman who shouted out  “Blessed is the womb that bore you,” responded “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (cf. Luke 11). Mary is most blessed first because of her faith, because of her fidelity in hearing and doing the Word of God.  It is Mary who, having kept and pondered the words of an angel—the words given to her by our Lord—models what our monastic life must be.

Today, many pretend to be Catholic while denying the Words of Christ.  He says that adultery is bad, they say it is not really that bad (in certain circumstances.)  He says that the just punishment for sin is death, they say that the human person is so dignified in his nature, that he never deserves death.  He commands his disciples to leave the towns that won’t listen to the Word; they say that we should work for a “more inclusive Church.”  The tedious list goes on. More than ever do we need St. Michael to stab the mouths of Satan and his slaves.  More than ever do we need to imitate Mary in her fidelity to Christ’s words.

While the evils in the Church are great, they do not compare to those which Mary witnessed.  Imagine what it must have been like for her, learning of that wicked meeting of the high priest (the true high priest!) and his council, their plotting to murder her Son? 

Our response must be like her’s.  She suffered much because she loved much, and while the evils in the Church today are great, they are only allowed by God so that we too can love much.  The perpetrators of our modern lies are indeed deceived by Satan, but they are still our beloved brothers, whom we should desire to return to Christ.  Blessed Catherine Emerich recounts that when Mary learned of Judas’ plot, she prayed for him.  We too must love, suffer, and pray.  Like Mary, we put our confidence in God, in her tender and powerful intercession.

We ask Our Lady and St. Michael to crush the serpent once again, to stab him in the mouth, crush his head, and stop his lies, to bring us peace, and to restore order, unity, and truth within the Church and among her leaders.

(Whitestone Monastery is embarked on an ambitious program of preparing a remote and beautiful mountain property for a future monastery, where the Lord may be worshiped and glorified in the monastic life nourished by the traditional Roman Rite. Read more about the community here. To make a donation, go here.)