Can demons manifest in bodily form in the physical(?), just like angels do in the Bible?
Catholicism accepts the possibility that Satan and the Demons may appear to men, just like the Holy Angels.
Satan appeared to our first parents in the Garden of Eden. In the Old Testament's Book of Genesis, the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is commonly associated with Satan. In the original Hebrew text, though, no such name is given to the creature. (According to Marina Montesano, the only references to "Satàn" in the Hebrew Bible mean "adversary," "obstacle" or "enemy" and can refer either to human antagonists or supernatural entities.) It is only later, in the New Testament, that Satan is referred to explicitly as a serpent. Despite this, serpents and snakes remain commonly associated with the devil.
He is described as a dragon in the Apocalypse of St. John.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that there are three types of visions. Both the Good Angels and the Demons may appear to men in these forms.
Three types of visions
Since St. Augustine (De gen. ad litt., 1. XII, vii, n. 16) mystical writers have agreed in dividing visions into corporeal, imaginative, and intellectual.
Corporeal vision is a supernatural manifestation of an object to the eyes of the body. It may take place in two ways: either a figure really present strikes the retina and there determines the physical phenomenon of the vision, or an agent superior to man directly modifies the visual organ and produces in the composite a sensation equivalent to that which an external object would produce. According to the authorities the first is the usual manner; it corresponds to the invincible belief of the seer, e.g. Bernadette at Lourdes; it implies a minimum of miraculous intervention if the vision is prolonged or if it is common to several persons. But the presence of an external figure may be understood in two ways. Sometimes the very substance of the being or the person will be presented; sometimes it will be merely an appearance consisting in a certain arrangement of luminous rays. The first may be true of living persons and even, it would seem, of the now glorious bodies of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, which by the eminently probable supernatural phenomenon of multilocation may become present to men without leaving the abode of glory. The second is realized in the corporeal apparition of the unresurrected dead or of pure spirits.
Imaginative vision is the sensible representation of an object by the act of imagination alone, without the aid of the visual organ. Sometimes the subject is aware that the object exists only in his imagination, that it is a purely reproduced or composite image. Sometimes he projects it invincibly without, which is the case in supernatural hallucination. In natural imaginative vision the imagination is stirred to action solely by a natural agent, the will of the subject, an internal or an external force, but in supernatural imaginative vision an agent superior to man acts directly either on the imagination itself or on certain forces calculated to stir the imagination. The sign that these images come from God lies, apart from their particular vividness, in the lights and graces of sincere sanctity which accompany them, and in the fact that the subject is powerless to define or fix the elements of the vision. Such efforts most frequently result in the cessation or the abridgement of the vision. Imaginative apparitions are ordinarily of short duration, either because the human organism is unable to endure for a long time the violence done to it, or imaginative visions soon give place to intellectual visions. This kind of vision occurs most frequently during sleep; such were the dreams of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar (Genesis 41; Daniel 2). Cardinal Bona gives several reasons of expediency for this frequency: during sleep the soul is less divided by multiplicity of thoughts, it is more passive, more inclined to accept, and less inclined to dispute; in the silence of the senses the images make a more vivid impression.
It is often difficult to decide whether the vision is corporeal or imaginative. It is certainly corporeal (or extrinsic) if it produces external effects, such as the burnt marks left on an object by the passing of the Devil. It is imaginative if, for example, the image persists after one has closed one's eyes, or if there are no traces of the external effects which ought to have been produced, such as when a ball of fire appears above a person's head without injuring it. The time most conducive to these visions is a state of ecstasy, when the exercise of the external senses is suspended. However, although the question has been discussed among mystics, it seems that they may also be produced outside of this state. This is the opinion of Alvarez de Paz (De grad. contemp., 1., V, pt. III, cii, t. 6) and of Benedict XIV (De servorum Dei beatif., 1. III, c. i, n. 1). Imaginative vision may be either representative or symbolic. It is representative when it presents an image of the very object to be made known: such may have been the apparition to Bl. Joan of Arc of St. Catherine and St. Margaret, if it was not (which is more probable) a luminous vision. It is symbolic when it indicates the object by means of a sign: such as the apparition of a ladder to Jacob, the apparition of the Sun, Moon, and stars to the patriarch Joseph, as were also numerous prophetic visions.
Intellectual visions perceive the object without a sensible image. Intellectual visions in the natural order may apparently be admitted. Even when we hold with the Scholastics that every idea is derived form some image, it does not follow that the image cannot at a given time abandon the idea to itself. The intellectual vision is of the supernatural order when the object known exceeds the natural range of the understanding, e.g. the essence of the soul, certain existence of the state of grace in the subject of another, the intimate nature of God and the Trinity; when it is prolonged for a considerable time (St. Teresa says that it may last for more than a year). The intervention of God will be recognized especially by its effects, persistent light, Divine love, peace of soul, inclination towards the things of God, the constant fruits of sanctity.
The intellectual vision takes place in the pure understanding, and not in the reasoning faculty. If the object perceived lies within the sphere of reason, intellectual vision of the supernatural order takes place, according to the Scholastics by means of species acquired by the intellect but applied by God himself or illuminated especially by God. If it is not within the range of reason it takes place by the miraculous infusion into the mind of new species. It is an open question whether in intellectual visions of a superior order the understanding does not perceive Divine things without the aid of species. In this kind of operation the object or fact is perceived as truth and reality, and this with an assurance and certainty far exceeding that which accompanies the most manifest corporeal vision. According to St. Teresa
"We see nothing, either interiorly or exteriorly. . . But without seeing anything the soul conceives the object and feels whence it is more clearly than if it saw it, save that nothing in particular is shown to it. It is like feeling someone near one in a dark place" (first letter to Father Rodrigo Alvarez).
This is the sense of the presence, to use the expression of modern writers. And again:
"I have rarely beheld the Devil in any form, but he has often appeared to me without one, as is the case in intellectual visions, when as I have said, the soul clearly perceives someone present, although it does not perceive it in any form" (Life, 31).
The vision is sometimes distinct, sometimes indistinct. The former attests the presence of the object without defining any element. "on the feast of the glorious St. Peter," writes St. Teresa, "being at prayer, I saw, or rather (for I saw nothing, either with the eyes of the body or with those of the soul) I felt my Savior near me and I saw that it was he who spoke to me" (Life, 27).
At a certain degree of height or depth, the vision becomes indescribable, inexpressible in human language. St. Paul, rapt to the third heaven, was instructed in mysteries which it is not in the power of the soul to relate (2 Corinthians 12:4). There is no occasion, however, to accuse the mystics of agnosticism. Their agnosticism, if we may so speak, is merely verbal. The inexpressible is not the incomprehensible. Since Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagitica mystics have been in the habit of designating the profundity of Divine realities by negative terms. The avowal of the powerlessness of human speech does not prevent them from saying, as did St. Ignatius, for example, that what they have seen of the Trinity would be sufficient to establish their faith, even though the Gospels were to disappear. It is impossible to establish a parallel between the degree of spirituality of the vision and the degree of the mystic state or the sanctity of the subject. Imaginative or even corporeal visions may continue in the most advanced state of union, as seems to have been the case with St. Teresa. However, intellectual visions of the supernatural order, as of the mystery of the Trinity, point indisputably to a very high degree of mystical union.
Visions of demons
Since the day when, in the terrestrial paradise, the enemy of the human race took the form of a serpent in order to tempt our first parents, the Devil has often shown himself to men in a sensible form. The struggles of St. Anthony in the desert against the visible attacks of the enemy are well known (St. Athanasius, Vita S. Antonii) as also in more recent times are the Devil's visible attacks on the Curé of Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney. As St. Paul says (2 Corinthians 11:14) Satan often transforms himself into an angel of light in order to seduce souls. Sulpicius Severus has preserved the account of an attempt of this kind made against St. Martin. One day the saint beheld in his cell, surrounded by a dazzling light, a young man clad in a royal garment, his head encircled by a diadem. St. Martin was silent in surprise. "Recognize," said the apparition to St. Martin, "him whom thou seest. I am Christ about to descend upon earth but I wished first to show myself to you." St. Martin made no reply. "Martin," continued the apparition, "why dost thou hesitate to believe when thou seest? I am Christ." Then said Martin: "The Lord Jesus did not say that he would return in purple and with a crown. I will not recognize my Savior unless I see Him as He suffered, with the stigmata and the cross." Then the diabolic phantom vanished, leaving behind an intolerable odor (De Vita Martini). Newman has given an interpretation of this vision for his own period (Martin and Maximus, 206). The best way of judging of the origin of these manifestations is that given by St. Ignatius, namely, to examine the series of incidents; to question one's self concerning the beginning, the middle, and the end, will lead to a good result (Spiritual Exercises: Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, 5 a).
Throughout Church history, there have been many apparitions of Demons to men and several saints in particular.
Having read hundreds of biographies and lives of the saints, this is evidently possible. Many of the lives of various saints are recognized to in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches, to name a few.
My personal favourites are the lives of St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Benedict of Nursia and Father Pere Lamy.
The Dialogues of Pope St. Gregory the Great contains my favourite story which, by the way I read each Halloween in order to give it a more Christian meaning:
Chapter Seven (Book 3): of Andrew, Bishop of Funda.
But as I am thus busied in telling the acts of holy men, there cometh to my mind what God of his great mercy did for Andrew, Bishop of the city of Funda: which notable story I wish all so to read, that they which have dedicated themselves to continency, presume not in any wise to dwell amongst women: lest in time of temptation their soul perish the sooner, by having that at hand which is unlawfully desired. Neither is the story which I report either doubtful or uncertain: for so many witnesses to justify the truth thereof may be produced, as there be almost inhabitants in that city. When, therefore, this venerable man Andrew lived virtuously, and with diligent care, answerable to his priestly function, led a continent and chaste life: he kept in his house a certain Nun, which also had remained with him before he was preferred to that dignity; for assuring himself of his own continency, and nothing doubting of hers, content he was to let her remain still in his house: which thing the devil took as an occasion to assault him with temptation: and so he began to present before the eyes of his mind the form of that woman, that by such allurements he might have his heart wholly possessed with ungodly thoughts. In the meantime it so fell out, that a Jew was travelling from Campania to Rome, who drawing nigh to the city of Funda, was so overtaken with night, that he knew not where to lodge, and therefore, not finding any better commodity, he retired himself into a temple of the god Apollo, which was not far off, meaning there to repose himself: but much afraid he was, to lie in so wicked and sacrilegious a place: for which cause, though he believed not what we teach of the cross, yet he thought good to arm himself with that sign. About midnight, as he lay waking for very fear of that forlorn and desert temple, and looked suddenly about him, he espied a troop of wicked spirits walking before another of greater authority: who coming in took up his place, and sat down in the body of the temple: where he began diligently to inquire of those his servants, how they had bestowed their time, and what villany they had done in the world. And when each one told what he had done against God's servants, out stepped a companion, and made solemn relation, with a notable temptation of carnality he had put into the mind of Bishop Andrew, concerning that Nun which he kept in his palace: whereunto whiles the master devil gave attentive ear, considering with himself what a notable gain it would be, to undo the soul of so holy a man; the former devil went on with his tale, and said that the very evening before he assaulted him so mightily, that he drew him so far forth, that he did merrily strike the said Nun upon the back. The wicked serpent and old enemy of mankind hearing this joyful news, exhorted his agent with very fair words, diligently to labour about the effecting of that thing which he had already so well begun, that for so notable a piece of service, as the contriving the spiritual ruin of that virtuous Prelate, he might have a singular reward above all his fellows. The Jew who all this while lay waking, and heard all that which they said, was wonderfully afraid: at length the master devil sent some of his followers to see who he was, and how he durst presume to lodge in their temple. When they were come, and had narrowly viewed him, they found that he was marked with the mystical sign of the cross: whereat they marvelled and said: "Alas, alas, here is an empty vessel, but yet it is signed": which news the rest of those hell-hounds hearing, suddenly vanished away. The Jew, who had seen all that which then passed among them, presently rose up, and in all haste sped himself to the Bishop, whom he found in the church: and taking him aside, he demanded with what temptation he was troubled: but shame so prevailed, that by no means he would confess the truth. Then the Jew replied and told him, that he had cast his eyes wickedly upon such a one of God's servants; but the Bishop would not acknowledge that there was any such thing. "Why do you deny it," quoth the Jew, "for is it not so true that yesternight you were brought so far by sinful temptation, that you did strike her on the back?" When the Bishop, by these particulars, perceived that the matter was broken forth, he humbly confessed what before he obstinately denied. Then the Jew, moved with compassion to his soul, and tendering his credit, told him by what means he came to the knowledge thereof, and what he heard of him in that assembly of wicked spirits. The Bishop, hearing this, fell prostrate upon the earth, and betook himself to his prayers: and straight after he discharged out of his house, not only that Nun, but all other women that attended upon her. And not long after, he converted the temple of Apollo into an oratory of the blessed Apostle, St. Andrew: and never after was he troubled with that carnal temptation: and the Jew, by whose means he was so mercifully preserved, he brought to everlasting salvation: for he baptized him, and made him a member of holy Church, And thus, by God's providence, the Jew having care of the spiritual health of another, attained also himself the singular benefit of the same: and almighty God by the same means brought one to embrace piety and virtue, by which he preserved another in an holy and godly life.
Why Speak of Angels and Demons?
To speak of Angels to modern man and woman is often very hard, if not altogether anachronistic. In fact, while in other times people’s relationship with the sacred and transcendental was often the subject of frequent discussion, today people are more inclined to the immanent and have lost this familiarity with the divine. So, discovering the role of the Angels in the economy of salvation means renewing our faith in Eternal Life. It also means putting our trust in these heavenly creatures that God has put at our side.
The experience of the Angels in the lives of the Saints is one of the topics that most challenges our own existence, precisely because it also involves us. “The Angels are purely spiritual creatures, incorporeal, invisible, immortal, and personal beings endowed with intelligence and will. They ceaselessly contemplate God face-to-face and they glorify him. They serve him and are his messengers in the accomplishment of the saving mission to all” (Compendium, n. 60).
The existence of the Angels and Demons is a truth of faith: these are beings created by God, as is attested in the Dogmatic Constitution, “De Fide Cattolica” of the Fourth Lateran Council (November 30, 1215): “We firmly believe and openly confess that the true God is one alone#133;. that He is the only source of the universe, the creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and material. With His all-powerful force He – from the very beginning of time – created from nothing both orders of creatures: the spiritual and the material, namely, Angels and the earthly world. Then he created human beings as sharers, as it were, of both one and the other, composed of body and soul. In fact, the Devil and the Demons were created by God naturally good, but on their own they transformed themselves into wicked beings. Then man sinned through the instigation of the Demon.”
The sin of the fallen Angels is worse than that of man because their spiritual perfections, the knowledge of their Angelic intellect, their freedom and closeness to God were greater. By rejecting the truth about God with an act of his own free will, Satan becomes “the cosmic liar” and “the father of lies.” (See Jn 8:4). The French writer, Charles Baudelaire used to say that the most insidious cunning of Satan consists in persuading us that he doesn’t exist. John Paul II used to say that Satan “lives in a radical and irreversible negation of God and tries to impose on creation, on the other beings created in the image of God, and in particular on human beings, his tragic ‘Lie about the Good,’ which is God.”
In certain situations God “permits” the Devil to “torment” people but does not allow the Devil to try them beyond their strength. In fact, we know by faith that God is always able to draw from this “evil” an even greater good because, with His grace, the heart is purified by trial and faith becomes stronger. In the stories of these Saints we can see that the Devil generally works with temptation, deceit and deception. This topic has to do also with us because the Demons have always tried to ensnare men and women with a thousand acts of cunning. However, we know that Jesus Christ has – once and for all – conquered Satan, smashing the power of the evil spirit: “Have faith in me, for I have conquered the world,” the Lord tells us (Jn 16:33). “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which is immovable; which forever stands” (Ps 125).