On Perverse Angels
Introduction by Juris Lidaka
Gradations of Devilry
At one end of the spectrum of supernatural creatures are devils or demons, whom Bartholomew treats briefly at the end of Book 2 of De proprietatibus rerum. Although Bartholomew has two chapters on them, titling one "De angelis malis" and the other "De angelis perversis," the distinction is not particularly clear. That is, the archetypal evil angel is Lucifer - also called Sathan, Behemoth, Leviathan, and other names, just as we continue to think of him - but and by implication the other angels who rebelled and fell with him are also "evil."
So what are the "perverse" angels in this text? Simply put, these are the angels seduced or "perverted" by the evil angels. But then, if Lucifer was the chief evil angel, did he not in effect pervert the other evil ones, so that they should be called "perverse" rather than "evil" as well? To this question we have no answer from Bartholomew.
In general, the distinction seems to be one of demons versus devils: the first are major, the second are both major and lesser (no doubt even as minor as, say, imps), and they seem to be more pervasive.
What are demons made of?
Looking at the two chapters more closely, we find that the chapter "De angelis malis" (DPR 2.19) concentrates on Lucifer but admits of more than one evil angel. These other evil angels are also described as having an airy nature, like Lucifer. As a consequence of their fall from the heavenly kingdom, their elemental composition changed. No longer were their bodies constituted by the celestial or quintessential element, but rather from the element air; their bodies became airy: ante transgressionem coelestia corpora gerebant, lapsi vero in aeream qualitatem conversi sunt.
Among the powers Bartholomew ascribes to them is the capacity to foretell the future (presciunt enim multa futura). He believes that demons pose a serious threat to dedicated religious men: daemon sicut bos comedere foenum appetit, quia suggestionis suae dente conterere spiritualium virorum vitam mundam quaerit.
Before their transgression they wore heavenly bodies, but fallen they changed into an airy quality.
Just as an ox likes to eat hay, the demon likes to grind the clean life of religious men with the tooth of his temptation.
Demons and humans
"De angelis perversis" notes that devils are more perceptive than humans are. Though they cannot foretell the future, their lively intelligence allows them to understand the hidden natures of things, the seminal virtues described by Augustine: in eorum vivacitate ingenii cognoscunt seminales rerum virtutes nobis occultas. What are seminal virtues? They are the beginnings of form in matter prior to the actualization of complete forms. Medieval thinkers disagreed about their function: some described them as passive potential; others described them as active potentials that by themselves or with an extrinsic agent transform matter.
In the vigor of their abilities they know things' seminal virtues which are hidden from us.
When they finish one evil, they suddenly reach to do another; thus leaving the possessed man they sought to enter pigs (an allusion to the Gadarene swine of Matthew 8: 28-31, Mark 5: 2-12, or Luke 8: 27-32).
In any case devils are energetic as well as clever. They are perpetually busy spoiling nature for humankind, if the good angels permit them to do so. They tempt people in many different ways according to their inclinations: some with luxury, others with presumption. Even when forestalled by the forces of good, they immediately seek to infect something else, as Bartholomew reminds us by citing Matthew 8: 28-32: quando unum malum intulerint, ad faciendum aliud subito se attingunt; unde exeuntes ab obsesso porcos intrare petierunt.