Question: The phrase “non serviam” has been associated with Satan and his response to God when being cast from heaven. Is this in the Bible? If not, where did this come from?
— Deacon Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado
Answer: The declaration “non serviam” (“I will not serve”) is associated with Satan by legend; it is not in the Bible. But it is the fundamental stance of all demons who, on account of pride, will not obey, will not be “told what to do.” It is also the chief temptation that Satan made to Adam and Eve, namely, that they should not let God tell them what to do and that they should be like gods (cf. Gn 3:1-5).
As for the war that you mention, there is a tradition that a war occurred in heaven when Lucifer (Satan) rebelled at God’s plans for the Incarnation. This war was fought long before the biblical era, but its exact time frame is not clear. It is said that a third of the angels joined Lucifer in this rebellion. St. Michael and the good angels fought back, and Lucifer and his allies were cast out of heaven and fell to earth. They became “demons.” This is the traditional backstory most often repeated.
In the Book of Revelation, a war in heaven is mentioned that includes some, but not all, of these details. Further, it seems the war in Revelation 12 has transhistorical qualities, encompassing not only the past but also the first century and the future. The passage describes “a woman clothed with the sun” who gives birth to a son, destined to rule the nations with an iron rod (Rev 12:1-2,5). Clearly, this son is Jesus, and, historically, the woman is Mary, though some argue she is also an allegory for Israel, from whom the Messiah came forth. Whatever the case, a red dragon with seven heads and 10 horns (Satan) seeks to devour the child when it is born. But the son escapes and is caught up to heaven (Rev 12:3-5). Is this a reference to the Ascension of Christ? Is all this a prophecy seen by the angels well beforehand, or is it describing the historical event of the Incarnation that had just recently taken place in the first century? In either case, at this point in the text from Revelation, it says: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Rev 12:7-9)
The war is won
So, is the war described in Revelation the war that took place in heaven long before the Book of Genesis and that explains the presence of Satan in the garden? It would seem so, but since Revelation 12 places everything in a murky timeframe, there are debates about this. In a way, it doesn’t matter, since the great battle is epochal, constantly at work until the last judgment. Christ has won the war, his victory is “already but not yet.” That is to say, the outcome of the war has already been determined, but not everyone across all history has taken sides yet.
Clearly, the upshot of all this is that we should choose the winning team! At times, in this warzone of the fallen world, it may seem that evil triumphs, and the kingdom of God is on the ropes. Yet appearances can be very deceiving. Remember, Good Friday is just as much a part of the victory as the Resurrection. But the final outcome is that Satan and all those who prefer the prideful non serviam of hell will be cast down into the fiery pool, never again to deceive the nations or ensnare God’s people. The echo of the final victory hymn is heard in Revelation 12:10-12: “For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them.”
So, whatever you think is going on, this is what is really going on. We are at war, a terrible war indeed. But the victory is already ours through faith, courage and the blood of the Lamb of God. Stay faithful unto death!