A note about the term Church Militant

paper-bagI post this because our dear Michael Sean Winters had a little nutty about my use of this term over at the Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter).

All of you Catholics who are reading this, even if you mostly identify with the dissenters at the Fishwrap, are members of the Church Militant, the Ecclesia Militans.

“Militant” is a scary word for libs (keep that paper bag handy) because it looks like the English word “military” (which must be a bad thing to belong to).

Militant comes from Latin milito, “to be a soldier, to perform military service”.  Note, “service”.

As a Catholic who is militans, “militant”that means that we dedicate ourselves with obedience and zeal to the role we are given in life through our calling and through our talents and good inclinations, our vocations in life.  It means that we are also prepared to fight the enemy wherever and whenever threats to the salvation of our own souls and our neighbor’s souls present themselves.  It means working together as units and not as individuals merely.   It means good conditioning and through drills in knowing well our Catholic Faith and practicing virtues and discipline in the use of the Sacraments.  It means submission to the Church’s teaching authority and her duly ordaining pastors.  It means fidelity, loyalty and even a willingness to die.

I now urge the Fishwrap types to have at hand a paper bag they can breathe into.

The Church Militant is made up of the living, we who are still on pilgrimage through this vale of tears, as the Salve Regina describes our earthly life.  The whole Church can be described as having three main kinds of membership, namely, those who are still alive here on Earth, those who are in an earthly sense dead but who live in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) and those who have died but who are, during their time of purification in Purgatory, awaiting their entrance into Heaven (the Church Suffering or Penitent).  These three are united, in one Holy Church, in a common “communion of saints”, even though we of the Church Militant often aren’t very saintly.

Church Militant is a common and traditional way to describe the living members of the Church.  For example, find it used as a hinge pin in the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Even though the Catechism of the Catholic Church 954 doesn’t explicitly use the terms Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, the concepts are clearly there when it describes the membership of the Church:

The three states of the Church. “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is”‘

That paragraph in the CCC quotes Lumen gentium 49; Mt 25:31 (which describes the separation of the blessed from the damned); 1 Cor 15:26-27 (which describes the ultimate triumph of God at the end of things); and the Council of Florence (1439) in DS 1305.  I will add that LG 43, on religious institutes, uses the phrase “militia Christi” to describe the support given by religious families to Church.

The old Catechism of St. Pius X uses the tripartite division, describing the Church Militant as the Church to which we actually belong.  Of course, you have to know that “actually” means “now”, and not loose English “really”.

In the Baltimore Catechism, in its explanation of the articles of the Creed, we find a great description

“The communion of saints:”

There are three parts in the Church. We have, first, the Church Militant, i.e., the fighting Church, made up of all the faithful upon earth, who are still fighting for their salvation. [The catholic Left, the Fishwrap types, are going to hate that description because of the implication that not everyone is saved (except for those meanies who don’t want to redistribute wealth or approve of sex with just about any carbon-based life form] The Holy Scripture tells us our life upon earth is a warfare. [Get that bag if you need it!  Then check 1 Tim 6:12: “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Then check 2 Cor 10: 3-5: “For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  Yes.  We have enemies.] We have three enemies to fight. First, the devil, who by every means wishes to keep us out of Heaven-the place he once enjoyed himself The devil knows well the happiness of Heaven, and does not wish us to have what he cannot have himself; just as you sometimes see persons who, through their own fault, have lost their situation trying to keep others out of it. [The devil has earthly agents, even within the Church.  Think of, for example, the horrid example of priests who harm children and also writers in the catholic media who consistently deceive souls and undermine the faith and good discipline of the Church by promoting dissent.]

Our second enemy is the world. This does not mean the earth with all its beauty and riches, but the bad people in the world with their false doctrines; [See above.] some telling us there is no God, Heaven, or Hell, others that we should pay no attention to the teaching of the Church or the laws of God, and advising us by word and example to resist our lawful superiors in Church or State and give free indulgence to our sinful passions. [I have the impression that the catholic Left’s agenda is mainly focused on sex. When they perceive that something is a threat to their own desires, they attack it.  Of course they will attack any traditional expression of the Faith, because worship and doctrine are inextricably intertwined.]

The third enemy is our own flesh. [See above] By this we mean our concupiscence, that is, our passions, evil inclinations, and propensity to do wrong. When God first created man, the soul was always master over the body, and the body obedient to the soul. After Adam sinned, the body rebelled against the soul and tried to lead it into sin. The body is the part of our nature that makes us like the brute animals, while the soul makes us like to God and the angels.

When we sin, it is generally to satisfy the body craving for what it has not, or for that which is forbidden. Why did God leave this concupiscence in us? He left it, first, to keep us humble, by reminding us of our former sins, and, secondly, that we might overcome it and have a reward for the victory. [Yes, its a war and, as Christians, we are soldiers on the march.]

The Devil is not a myth, friends, and Hell is real.  We have to fight against the effects of Original Sin constantly.  We need to take seriously the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armor of God.  Read this and then say we are not the Church Militant:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Church Militant is a perfect description of who we are as Christians.

Think about this.  How do we fight again, say, temptations of the flesh or of other appetites?  We pursue the opposite.  If you are tempted to avarice, be generous.  If you are tempted to gluttony, fast.  If you are tempted to lie or gossip, hold your tongue and speak rarely.  Get it?  This is war.  We have to be good tacticians in every skirmish.

And another thing!  Who thinks that the “New Evangelization” is possible if we don’t also understand our roles in a Church that is also Militant?

The tripartite description of the Church doesn’t exclude other ways of describing our membership.  We aren’t either/or in this.  We can say that we are both the Church Militant and, say, the People of God, or even the Ecclesia Docens et Discens, the Teaching and the Learning Church, referring to the hierarchical teaching office and those who exercise it and those who are formed by the same.  We can use all sorts of ways to describe the Church, and, when they are balanced with each other, we have a far richer view of who we are and what we are called to.

However, leaving out one like Church Militant is, in light of the world, the flesh and the Devil, imprudent to the point of being either foolhardy or wicked or both.

So, if you are alive, and a Catholic, you are a member of the Church Militant, even if you are AWOL or a slacker or you are undermining your fellow members through dissent or vice.  If you are a one of those, by the way, God help you.  There’s hope for you while you are still drawing breath.  Once that breathing thing stops, however, it’ll be too late for you.  We can pray for you now, but we can never pray you out of Hell.  So, get yourselves squared away, especially through a good confession, and then do better.

By the way… Membership in the Ecclesia Militans… reason #1 for Summorum Pontificum.

Get out there and militate (i.e., be a good Catholic).

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Katherine says:

    My son reminded me recently of Screwtape’s description of the Church:

    “One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy.”

    …terrible as an army with banners! It doesn’t just make Hell’s tempters uneasy.

  2. pelerin says:

    I am surprised that the Reporter does not like the term ‘militant.’ Even the protestant churches use this term – ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ being a popular protestant hymn and what about the Salvation Army??

  3. Andrew says:

    The New Catechism uses the term “militia” in several places, such as:

    No. 162: Sanctus Paulus de hoc monet Timotheum: “Hoc praeceptum commendo tibi ut milites bonam militiam”.
    (St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.)

    No. 1090: Cum omni militia caelestis exercitus hymnum gloriae Domino canimus. (With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord.)

    No. 1295: Hoc modo, milites sigillo sui ducis signabantur … (Hence soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal …)

    The English version prefers to use “warfare”.

  4. iamlucky13 says:

    I was going to add some thoughts on Winter’s weird reaction to the term “church militant” to the discussion in your previous post, but hadn’t gotten around to it when you added this new post, far more eloquently than I could have.

    I’m bewildered by his interpretation of a term that has for longer than I can trace back has signified the unity of the church in heaven, awaiting heaven, and on earth as “schismatic.” Is he ignorant of this comparison of those of us struggling through our earthly lives with Christian solidarity to the unity of compatriots in battle, arguable second only to the unity of the family, as they fight for a common cause in the face of shared dangers?

    That is to say, I know that ignorant or not, he’s grasping at straws to marginalize Fr. Z and others, but picking on a term that has long signified unity in order to suggest schism is being fomented is bizarre.

  5. Eugene says:

    Dear Father how dare you quote things from documents totally unfamiliar to MSW and those that frequent the Fishwrap. They can’t even spell the word catechism. They have no need of such antiquated outdated documents all that matters is the personal views and doctrinal choices as like their partners the magisterium of the LCWR they are beyond Jesus and His Church.

  6. Pingback: The Church Militant | The American Catholic

  7. The Cobbler says:


  8. FrankWalshingham says:

    I appreciate your very sound definition of the Church Militant, Father Z. But readers should be aware of a Facebook Group that uses that name Church Militant which clearly is written by an anonymous apostate loyal to that excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre. Don’t be mislead by that cult’s efforts to use the term Church Militant in their effort lead souls away from following the True Church and the Vicar Of Christ.

  9. JTH says:

    Yes! In the 10 ring.

  10. JARay says:

    Indeed, when I was a child, preparing for my first Communion, I learned that I was part of the Church Militant and that our enemies were 1)the world 2) the flesh and 3) the devil. I was only 6 years old when I learned that definition!

  11. JonPatrick says:

    Frank, the excommunications of Abp. LeFebvre and the other SSPX bishops were lifted by Pope Benedict so it is incorrect to use the term “that excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre”.

  12. Kerry says:

    Perhaps MSW’s text reads, “And there were protests and occupy movements in Heaven. Michael and his narrow minded haters oppressed the forces of progressivism and inclusion, and “…then the metaphor collapses.

  13. msc says:

    One problem here is the simple changing of language over time. I don’t always like the results — well, I rarely like the results — but the meanings of words change. I don’t see anything wrong with “militant,” but in common usage it does not mean what it once did, and people greatly misunderstand it. At this point one can struggle to use a word in its old sense (I still, just for fun, keep trying to resurrect “gay”), or find other words. As people here have said, “struggle” or “strive” would be fine. And if most people are offended by the image of warfare, it might be better to adopt, sometimes, some other terminology where possible. I’ll repeat that I have no trouble with this imagery and the semantic reach of the Latin root milit-, but if using it is a hindrance to the communication of the Church’s message, then some changes might be in order. I wish our schooling were not so inadequate that so many people with so restricted vocabularies were produced, but I can’t change that.

  14. cpttom says:

    HOOHAH! This is the type of language that speaks to the heart and it speaks to Men, and reaches their hearts to make them brave to face the spiritual and real slings and arrows of the world. Of course, this is probably one of the reasons MSW and the Fishwrap community (ever aging and shrinking) don’t understand it, because they could care less about men, and especially their salvation.

    I think we should go back to the old confirmation ritual where the bishop would slap the conferee to remind them that they should be ready to suffer and die for the faith in the battle with the world, and the Evil one. Less lollipops and sunshine, more grit and red meat please!

    St Michael, Defend us in Battle! Hoohah!

  15. Sonshine135 says:

    On second thought, maybe Winters is right. We are schismatic, but not in the way he thinks we are. We are schismatic from the world. The reason he views us as schismatic lies in his perception of what the church is, not what the church is in reality. If your perception of the church is one that leads you to conclude that we should conform to the world and the social whims of the day, then we are certainly going to appear schismatic. Winters and most of the Fishwrap writers do not understand the very elementary concepts of sin. They conceive the only real sin as being a situation where people are made to feel bad. In conclusion, they believe that faith is there to make people feel better about themselves and remove obstacles that make people feel bad. This is quite unlike what Catholicism really is: A faith that challenges people to cast off the world and put on Christ. A faith that many times brings intense suffering as well as joy.

    In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (Heb 12:4)

  16. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Following up the term at the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent, I wa surprised to read in Herbert Thurston’s article on “St. Joan of Arc”, “The judges asked her to submit herself to ‘the Church Militant.’ Joan clearly did not understand the phrase and, though willing and anxious to appeal to the pope, grew puzzled and confused.”

    Efforts should be made to deliver people from being puzzled and confused, and perhaps need to be made in stages, and, as Fr. Z says, “We can use all sorts of ways to describe the Church, and, when they are balanced with each other, we have a far richer view of who we are and what we are called to.” I think this must at some stage or level simply include clear teaching (as here) about terminology, “the imagery of warfare”, and the realities of ‘just war’ theory and practice, and so on.

    “Struggle” would have its problems in German translation (‘Kampf’). At some point in the Middle Ages Latin ‘miles’ came to designate what English calls ‘knight’, an imagery deliberately taken up by St. Maximilian Kolbe in his Militia Immaculatae, so all that imagey has to be taken into (thankful?) consideration, too. And are there remnants of ‘radical chique’ in the use of ‘militant’ as in not-so-distant decades?

    A verse with a different vocabulary but related imagery is that of the Apocalypse of St. John 2:16, “Similiter poenitentiam age: si quominus veniam tibi cito, et pugnabo cum illis in gladio oris mei, ” [“In like manner do penance: if not, I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. “], of which Professor Gagnon’s latest article at First Things just reminded me.

  17. Lutgardis says:

    msc: “And if most people are offended by the image of warfare, it might be better to adopt, sometimes, some other terminology where possible. I’ll repeat that I have no trouble with this imagery and the semantic reach of the Latin root milit-, but if using it is a hindrance to the communication of the Church’s message, then some changes might be in order. I wish our schooling were not so inadequate that so many people with so restricted vocabularies were produced, but I can’t change that.”

    Words matter. And we can change things–specifically our reaction to those with “restricted” vocabularies. Instead of giving in before we even start and condescendingly assuming that products of “inadequate” schooling will be forever unable to understand what is meant by “militant” (or “consubstantial” or “incarnation” or any other “difficult” terms that I have seen some progressive church leaders attempt to protect/shield church members from recently), perhaps we could take one minute out of our day to perform a spiritual work of mercy and kindly and clearly define and explain these terms.

    People can learn. We just have to teach them so that they do not proceed in ignorance. Better that than making decisions based on the anticipated offended reactions of “most people.”

  18. Giuseppe says:

    Since the principle is to serve and not to fight, it might be better to replace “militant” with “obedient,” if one wants greater clarity on the non-warlike meaning of Church Militant.

    That way, when we are not obedient, we must realize that we need to get right with God ASAP to be part of the church.

  19. Lutgardis says:

    The principle is not to serve and not to fight. What kind of service is the Church Militant called to? Military service.

    All of the Church is called to obedience, not just the Church Militant.

    The Church Militant is defined in contrast to the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. The Church Triumphant is made up of members in Heaven with God, who have no more need to fight Satan. The Church Suffering is made up of members in Purgatory who will in time be with God, and who also have no more need to fight Satan.

    The Church Militant is made up of the members here on Earth who have to fight Satan daily.

  20. The Cobbler says:

    I was thinking about this earlier and suddenly remembered the scene with the peacenik in Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross. Anyone got the book handy? Ah, well — if you don’t, go get it handy and… read the whole thing, it’s worth the comparatively little time it takes.

  21. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The Cobbler says, of Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross, “Anyone got the book handy? Ah, well — if you don’t, go get it handy and… read the whole thing, it’s worth the comparatively little time it takes.”

    Among the online ways to “get it handy” are transcribed at Project Gutenberg, variously scanned at Internet Archive, and read aloud to you (in North American accents) in about eight-and-a-half hours at LibriVox.org (variously reposted on YouTube), and I would agree that the whole thing is well worth the time. (I see a lecture about it on YouTube, too, but have not tried that, yet…)

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