What Is the Codex Gigas?

In classic medieval illumination style, the Codex Gigas, its other nickname, “The Devil’s Bible,” is one of the largest medieval books in the world (if not the largest). It has illustrations that are scattered throughout the several hundred pages including an illustration of the devil that some claim is a scarily accurate depiction, with red horns, eyes, claws, tongs, and a greenish face.

Hope Bolinger
What Is the Codex Gigas?

If you’re anything like me, you may not have heard this term prior to this article. Its other nickname, “The Devil’s Bible,” may also throw readers off balance. Owing to a rather large illumination (or illustration) of the devil, this 13th-century document earned the aforementioned nickname.  

Codex Gigas means “Giant Book,” owing to the book’s large size, weighing in at 165 pounds. Famous for being one of the largest medieval books in the world (if not, the largest), this historical document does not come without its controversies.

In this article, we’ll dive into a brief history of the Codex Gigas, a brief discussion of what the devil looks like in comparison with the illustration featured in the book, and why this matters. 

A Brief History of the Codex Gigas

Created in a Benedictine monastery in what is now the modern-day Czech Republic, in the 13th century, the book was crafted out of wooden covers and animal skin paper known as vellum.

In classic medieval illumination style, illustrations are scattered throughout the several hundred pages. This included an illustration of the devil that some claim is a scarily accurate depiction, with red horns, eyes, claws, tongs, and a greenish face.

Although portraits of the devil were not uncommon in medieval illuminations, this one was by far the largest, and it even portrayed the devil in royal regalia, showing him to be the prince of darkness (Ephesians 2:2). 

Interestingly enough, the penmanship seems to indicate that one writer took up the project himself. Including the Latin Bible, there were other popular writings from that time period included in the 13th century, items on exorcism and Josephus’ Antiquities, among other documents. 

The history gets a little funky from here, shrouded in legend and conspiracy. 

Some of these conspiracies include:

  • A monk, who failed to uphold his vows and was sentenced to death, offered to write the Codex Gigas overnight, an endeavor that would easily take years, and more likely decades. Supposedly he made a deal with the devil to absorb some of his power to complete the task.
  • The devil included a self-portrait in the Codex Gigas, enshrining his image in one of the most historically famous documents. 
  • One of the documents torn out of the original Codex Gigas included a devil’s prayer that could bring about the end of the world.

Scary and bizarre. Granted, with myths and legends we always have to take any conspiracy theory with a grain of salt. We could bring up a number of reasons why the devil did not write the devil’s bible or possess someone to do so. 

For instance, the devil hates truth and God’s Word, why would he command someone to write both? (John 8:44). Second, on the opposite page of the devil’s portrait, we see the heavenly city. The author was most likely illustrating a contrast between the heavenly rewards of faithful followers and the deadly destruction of those who choose not to follow God. 

And, of course, considering it would likely take the writer decades to complete such a work, it is highly suspect that a monk completed it in one night, even if charged with supernatural power from the devil.

What Does Satan Look Like?

Speaking of the devil, how accurate is the portrait in the Codex Gigas?

Although we do have near-death experiences that have described what demons look like and even what the devil looks like, such as 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese, it’s difficult to say what exactly Satan looks like. After all, he does disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

In other words, similar to how the angels present themselves as men (John 20:12), Satan and his demons can disguise themselves, so the world does not recognize them. 

We have to keep in mind that biblical writers had a tough time describing angels (Ezekiel 1) because angels are supernatural beings and our minds have a tough time comprehending such things.

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Satan, in his true form, would look very different than the Satan coming to us in a disguise. The best way that we can recognize him is by how his words fail to align with Scripture. He likes to twist truth ever so slightly so that the undiscerning ear fails to hear the lie.

Why Does This Matter?

Why does the Codex Gigas matter? For one thing, it’s an important piece of history. We can see how medieval writers attempted to contemplate spiritual beings and truths through their writings and illustrations.

Second, no matter what conspiracy theories we encounter, we have to understand that God is far stronger and greater than Satan. Even if Satan somehow, by all unlikely odds, possessed a monk and made him write the heaviest book (literally) in medieval history in the span of one night, God is far stronger, greater, and more powerful than him. No fear-mongering that the Devil uses can replace our hope in God.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

Finally, we need to be able to recognize the devil. He doesn’t always come to us with red horns and eyes. We need to be in Scripture and prayer daily, so God can help us to truly recognize him. 

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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.


Originally published February 05, 2020.