We are notably impressed today in hearing our Lord's response to the faith filled request of a Roman soldier. As a pagan, a non-believer, he possesses the kind of faith necessary of the Lord to grant his request for healing his servant.
This raises in our heart and soul the contrast of so many others, even in our time and place with shallow faith and misplaced loyalty, of those people about whom St. Matthew speaks, The Pharisees. .. said, "This man does not cast out devils except by Beelzebub, the prince of devils" Matthew 12: 24.
Satan is head of an infernal kingdom whose object is the destruction of human souls. Ironically, it is also Cassandralike. According to Greek legend, Cassandra, daughter of Priam, king of Troy, was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, who loved her. Later when his love turned to anger, he made her gift worthless. Her fate was to foretell accurately the future, but never to be believed. Similarly, the devil can foretell accurately the fate of a person living a sinful life-style, but the sinner never really believes it. Satan is an angelic intelligence and is extremely cunning in his duplicity.
When the Pharisees accused our Lord of casting out devils with the help of Beelzebub, the prince of devils, they expressed the height of calumny and blasphemy. This is because Satan can never cooperate in anything which is opposed to his nefarious and diabolic purpose. Christ taught his followers not only to be aware of demons, but to pray for deliverance from their wily temptations. His miracles were wrought solely by the power of God.
Therefore I say to you, He warned, that every kind of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this world or in the world to come. St. Mark calls this sin the eternal sin and was the sin whereby the Pharisees assigned the devil as author of Christ's miracles.
Divine grace which illumines the human soul to see the truths of faith is attributed to the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth. Hence, anything that opposes the operation of the Holy Spirit in the soul of man is a sin against the Holy Spirit. The Fathers of the Church identify six such sins: 1) despair; 2) presumption; 3) resisting known truth; 4) envy of another's spiritual good; 5) obstinacy of evil; and 6) final impenitence.
In reality, every sin is a sin against the Holy Spirit, but these sins against the Holy Spirit have a special malice attached to them. The sin which Jesus so severely condemned is against the light of the Holy Spirit in the soul of man. It is in direct opposition to God, a stubborn resistance to the inner convictions of conscience. All the actions of a person have various degrees of good or evil. But this sin has the greatest degree of malice and at the risk of being too legalistic, it must be noted our Lord did not say every form of it is unpardonable. Nonetheless, to accuse Christ of cooperating with the devil to cast out devils is the ultimate sinful affront.
The Fathers of the Church are divided in their interpretation. On one side there are those who hold that no sin is really unpardonable. They maintain that Christ so spoke only to heighten the malice of sin, or that the sin of the Pharisees merited no forgiveness. Others say that it directly attacks and repudiates the grace of God. It is a sin of malice, not weakness.
We recognize the Church does have the power to forgive all sin. However this power of forgiveness is a two-way street. God's mercy is always present and available. The other is the disposition of the sinner. Even so, the question still remains: Does this sin produce a moral impossibility to be properly disposed for forgiveness? Is there a degree of human malice which completely repudiates the light of God's grace? Christ appears to have thought so. He was emphatic in saying the denial of forgiveness either in this world or the world to come precludes all hope of pardon. He also accused the Pharisees of committing this sin, and hence they were excluded from the glory of God.
St. Athanasius said, "Rightly did the Saviour declare that Pharisees uttered blasphemy which has no forgiveness." St. John Chrysostom agreed. "Pardon of such blasphemy will not be given you," he taught. St. Ambrose and St. Jerome both agreed.
Our blessed life is in conflict with the power of the devil. Christ wars against the entrenched power of Satan. Sin is turning toward Satan and the sin against the Holy Spirit is the final terminus of evil which is why it becomes unpardonable.