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(I got sidetracked in annotating Andrewes’ Sermons The Wonderful Combat):

The image of Satan fishing is a topic perhaps worth tracing out.  The image of a hook and temptation appears here, “and we counsel you not to suffer them to be wounded with the hook of passion.” Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “The Epistles of Pope Fabian,” in Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 8, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 638. Gregory of Nyssa, likewise writes

through the deception of the great advocate and inventor of vice, that that was beauty which was just the opposite (for this deception would never have succeeded, had not the glamour of beauty been spread over the hook of vice like a bait),—the man, I say, on the one hand, who had enslaved himself by indulgence

Gregory of Nyssa, “The Great Catechism,” in Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, Etc., ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. William Moore, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 492. Gregory the Great uses the image more directly of Satan:

For the most part, then, the adversary of souls, when unable to insinuate into them what is wrong on the face of it, endeavours to supplant them by throwing over it as it were a show of piety, and persuades them, perhaps, that money ought to be received from those who have it, so that there may be wherewith to give to those who have it not, if only he may even so infuse mortal poisons concealed under the appearance of almsgiving. For neither would the hunter deceive the wild beast, nor the fowler the bird, nor the fisherman catch the fish, if the former were to set their snares in open view, or if the latter had not his hook hidden by the bait. By all means, then, the cunning of the enemy is to be feared and guarded against, lest those whom he cannot subvert by open temptation he should succeed in slaying more cruelly by a hidden weapon.

Gregory the Great, “Selected Epistles of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome (Books IX–XIV),” in Gregory the Great (Part II), Ephraim Syrus, Aphrahat, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. James Barmby, vol. 13, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1898), 24.

Ambrose uses a similar image of the “ministers”:

His ministers and his wretched deluded followers are wont to bait their hook with that saying of the apostle, “Now we see through a glass in a figure, but then face to face.”3 As if, forsooth, the Apostle Paul knew in part, and prophesied in part, and saw through a glass in a figure; whereas all this is removed at the coming of Manichæus, who brings that which is perfect, and reveals the truth face

Augustine of Hippo, “Reply to Faustus the Manichæan,” in St. Augustin: The Writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Richard Stothert, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 215.

When we come nearer in time, we find Luther using the image to represent Satan being caught:

Eternal and infinite power is given unto the man, Christ, not because of his humanity, but because of his divinity. For the divinity alone created all things, without any help of the humanity; nor did the humanity conquer sin and death, but the hook hidden under the worm, whereon the devil did fasten, conquered and devoured the devil, which sought to devour the worm.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 258.

But when we come to the English writers, the image of Satan a fisherman with a baited hook becomes a commonplace.

Lancelot Andrews in The Wonderful Combat writes [with an emandation from the plainly defective printing] “The Devil has here offered Christ all kingdoms[1], a very enticing bait: but is there never a hook hidden under it?” Following Andrewes, the image of the fishing Devil is found everywhere. For example:

O it is strange, and yet not strange, considering the degeneracy of man’s nature, to see how Satan carries sinners after him with this golden hook! Let him but present such a bait as honour, pelf, or pleasure, and their hearts skip after it as a dog would at a crust; he makes them sin for a morsel of bread. O the naughty heart of man loves the wages of unrighteousness, which the devil promiseth, so dearly, that it fears not the dreadful wages which the great God threatens! As sometimes you shall see a spaniel so greedy of a bone, that he will leap into the very river for it, if you throw it thither, and by that time he comes with much ado thither, it is sunk, and he gets nothing but a mouthful of water for his pains: thus sinners will catch at their desired pleasures, honours, and profits, swimming through the very threatenings of the word to them, and oftentimes they lose even what they gaped for here

William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 103–104. Thomas Brooks puts in his usual elegant manner:

His first device to draw the soul to sin is,

Device (1). To present the bait and hide the hook; to present the golden cup, and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin, and by hiding from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin.

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 12.

John Kitchin with a very similar image:

God will call over and charge thy sins upon thee, when all the sweet is gone.—Thou makest a shift to swallow the hook with pleasure, when it is covered with the sweet bait; O, but when that is digested or disgorged, and the naked hook piercing and raking thy heart, what wilt thou do then? O how bitter is the pill when all the sugar is melted off!

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 314.

Thomas Watson:

Yet though they pray “hallowed be thy name,” they profane it by shooting oaths like chain-bullets against heaven; they know they should abstain from fornication and unclcanness, yet they cannot but bite at the devil’s hook, if he bait it with flesh, Jude 7.

Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 491. And:

A third subtle policy of Satan in tempting, is, he baits his hook with religion; the devil can hang out Christ’s colours, and tempt to sin under pretences of piety.

Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 559.

Thomas Manton:

That the course which Christ taketh to draw in proselytes is quite different from that of Satan and the world. Satan showeth us the bait and hideth the hook, but Christ telleth us the worst at first.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 17 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 8.

David Clarkson:

He promises advancement too: ‘as gods.’ See how cunningly the arch-enticer baits his hook, and then see how it takes: ver. 6, ‘Good for food,’ there is the profit; ‘and pleasant,’ there is the delight.’ ‘To make one wise,’ there is an higher advantage.

David Clarkson, The Works of David Clarkson, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 343.

The image is also used of temptation generally, without a specific reference to the Devil

Thomas Manton:

Before men be overcome by temptation, they are first enticed by the apprehension of some pleasure or profit which is to be had by their sins, by which apprehension the danger of committing the sin is covered and hid, as the fisher’s hook is by the bait; that is the metaphor there, ἐμπλακέντες ἡττῶνται, lapse again into the slavery of the former sins, which they seemed to have escaped.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 11 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 197.


What was the cause of Solomon’s falling into idolatry and multiplying of strange wives? What, but himself, whom he would rather pleasure than God? What was the hook that took David and snared him first in adultery, but his self-lust? and then in murder, but his self-credit and self-honour?

Samuel Rutherford and Andrew A. Bonar, Letters of Samuel Rutherford: With a Sketch of His Life and Biographical Notices of His Correspondents (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1891), 389.

John Owen offers justification and explanation for the use of fishing and temptation:

THE second thing in the words of the apostle ascribed unto the deceitful working of sin is its enticing. A man is “drawn away and enticed.” And this seems particularly to respect the affections, as drawing away doth the mind. The mind is drawn away from duty, and the affections are enticed unto sin. From the prevalency hereof a man is said to be “enticed,” or entangled as with a bait: so the word imports; for there is an allusion in it unto the bait wherewith a fish is taken on the hook which holds him to his destruction.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 245.

[1] This is one of the many printing errors in the text. This must either be, “The Devil offered Christ” or “Christ was offered”.