The Church Militant and You

I had reason this morning to review what I might have written about our state in the Church in this earthly realm and I found this. It struck me as something that might be helpful, given what’s going on right now.

From 2015:


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).


What spurred me into this?  A quote from Pius XII at the opening of the North American College in Rome in 1953.  We see its construction in the video I posted yesterday about the Holy Year of 1950.

We belong to the Church militant ; and she is militant because on earth the powers of darkness are ever restless to encompass her destruction. Not only in the far-off centuries of the early Church, but down through the ages and in this our day, the enemies of God and Christian civilization make bold to attack the Creator’s supreme dominion and sacrosanct human rights. No rank of the clergy is spared ; and the faithful—their number is legion—inspired by the valiant endurance of their shepherds and fathers in Christ, stand firm, ready to suffer and die, as the martyrs of old, for the one true Faith taught by Jesus Christ. Into that militia you seek to be admitted as leaders.”

– Pope Pius XII 14 October 1953, Inauguration of the North American College

I made some Z-Swag with most of that quote.  HERE

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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7 Responses to The Church Militant and You

  1. Unwilling says:

    ¡Hagan lío!

  2. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    The title page of the old 1938 Benedictine diurnal that I pray from says: Horae Diurnae Breviarii Monastici … pro omnibus sub regula S. Patris Benedicti militantibus. I like that title. For me, as a layman in the world, the daily use of at least some portion of some version of the Divine Office is a very important part of how I try to keep my focus as a member of the Church Militant. I would highly recommend the Monastic Diurnal or a similar traditional breviary as a very useful piece of gear that many Catholics would benefit from.

  3. Tom Ormon II says:

    As a generation X-er, I enjoy many of Venerable Pope Pius XII’s speeches & encyclicals. (e.g., Mystici Corporis) …

    However, I was a little disappointed to find out he initiated the ‘liturgical reform’ in the mid-50s that got the ball rolling in the wrong direction, so to speak. (Diminishing the sanctoral cycle in favor of the ferial cycle … this being well before Annibale Bugnini took the helm.)

    That being said, his thoughts on Church militancy are spot on {… although the “memorial” of the seven martyr brothers + Rufina & Secunda wasn’t in need of reduction IMHO. I’m attending a Novus Ordo this evening, so they won’t even get a commemoration :-( }

  4. BrionyB says:

    I agree some of the reforms under Pius XII seem misguided in hindsight, and perhaps he had some regrettably ‘clericalist’ tendencies regarding participation of the laity at Mass, but I am convinced he would have been appalled at where things ended up and would likely have done differently if he could have foreseen what would happen. The same may well be true of his successors to some extent.

  5. jdt2 says:

    This is a beautiful, supremely helpful post, Father. These types of words are never used in the Catholic Church I attend, and this is exactly what I need to hear right now. Thank you.

  6. GregB says:

    I wonder if there can be a fourth state of the Church in addition so the Church Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant? All three current states are incomplete. To me there is a fourth state of final perfection that takes place at the End Times that could be called the Church Glorious, when the entirety of the elect of the Church are in heaven with their souls united with their glorified bodies during the resurrection of the dead. To me the Church Glorious is the final perfect eternal form of the Mystical Body of Christ.

  7. GregB says:

    Correction ” in addition so the Church Militant” should read “in addition to the Church Militant”