Featured Image: Joan of Arc at the Stake, Hermann Stilke (1843). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
For several years the Shadow’s Wormtongues have been trying very, very hard to start an American race war. They have filled mainstream and social media with tales of “White Supremacism” and demonized working-class White Americans as hateful, toothless, gun-toting, meth-addled bigots. They have tried to blame the ongoing BLM riots on “White Nationalists” and “Boogaloo Boys” despite abundant evidence to the contrary. And when the “White Terrorists” refused to participate in their honeytraps, their troops turned their attacks on White allies and insufficiently deferential “Karens”.
Their attacks on “Whiteness” have garnered a fair bit of notoriety (or, as some would have it, triggered a great deal of White Fragility). Their attacks on Christianity have received less attention, perhaps because we pay less attention to Christianity. While 65% of Americans described themselves as Christian in a 2019 Pew Research poll, that was down 12 percentage points from the previous decade. While 84% of Americans born 1928-45 are Christian, only 49% of American Millennials (1981-96) so identify and only 22% attend services weekly. Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism have been hemorrhaging members for decades. No matter how many rainbow flags they hoist or how loudly they scream the latest fashionable slogans, pastors have found their churches increasingly empty.
But while mainline Christianity struggles, Pentecostalism is booming around the world. In the past decade membership in the Assemblies of God (US) increased 12%: by 2050 there are expected to be over 1 billion Pentecostals worldwide. Many of America’s most devout Catholics have been finding their way to the Traditional Latin Mass and to conservative Catholic groups like Opus Dei and the American Society for Tradition, Family and Property. Christians are choosing the passionate heat of the Charismatic movements or the icy rigor of Traditionalism: they are spitting out the lukewarm. And because the Shadow fears devotion and piety these faithful have found themselves under increasing scrutiny.
Pentecostalism has traditionally been associated with impoverished holy-rollers. The wealthy and educated never could understand those hillbillies yammering in tongues at tent revivals. People who understood allegory and myth could only scoff at those who insisted every word in the Bible was literally true no matter what science says. Then came television and suddenly those revivalists were filling up stadiums and building megachurches. Today the old stereotypes of slack-jawed crackers handling rattlesnakes have been joined by images of greasy televangelists conning the credulous. But because churches are still important social centers in most rural White communities they have found themselves tarred as a Bible-thumping gay-bashing American Taliban.
The SPLC has declared that Radical Traditionalist Catholics “may make up the largest single group of serious antisemites in America.” The ADL claims that the Society of St. Pius X “is mired in anti-Semitism, which it disseminates through its Web sites and publications” and goes on to specify:
Jews are described in SSPX documents as being cursed by God for the sin of deicide. Jews are accused of being in control of world financial and cultural institutions and of plotting to create a “world empire” or obtain “world dominion.” SSPX has justified the burning of Jewish holy books and the segregation of Jews into ghettos. One article on SSPX’s U.S. Web site goes so far as to accuse Jews of ritual murder of Christians and charges that “International Judaism” engineered usury and capitalism in order to bilk Christians of their money.
SSPX denies these charges, noting that:
The Priestly Society of St. Pius X completely rejects the false claim that it teaches or practices anti-Semitism, which is a racial hatred of the Jewish people because of their ethnicity, culture or religious beliefs…Today, accusations of anti-Semitism are also falsely and unjustly levied against those who disagree with Jewish beliefs or anti-Christian positions
Churches which rewrite their teachings to conform with worldly standards find their parishioners wandering off in search of something better. Churches which adhere to tradition find themselves under fire as tools of oppression. Many devout believers are starting to feel like war is on the horizon. Every day more decide the war is already here. People on all sides are making enemy lists. Before this is over quite a few names are likely to get crossed off. And when everybody starts making battle plans, we need to think about the causes we will die for and the causes for which we will kill.
In Summa Theologiae 2.2.40 St. Thomas Aquinas gives us three requirements for a Just War:
First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in war time. And as the care of the commonweal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the commonweal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them.
In today’s America it is difficult to ascertain just whom that proper authority is. For four years we have been assured that our current President was illegitimately elected. After November it is a pretty safe bet that half the country will be convinced the election was stolen. But while we deal with Schrödinger’s Sovereign, we can rely one of Aquinas’ greatest influences, St. Augustine of Hippo. Dave Pattison notes Augustine’s doctrine of a Just War is based on caritas or “loving one’s neighbor.” For Augustine caritas means protecting one’s neighbor when they are attacked, even if one is forced to employ violence to protect that individual. If our community is threatened we have not only the right but the moral obligation to defend it.
St. Thomas relies on Augustine for a definition of his second condition, a “Just Cause:”
A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.
Pattison notes that “Aquinas’ just cause would support the use of force to curb aggressive non-state actors, protect individual human life via humanitarian intervention, and punish rogue regimes that disrupt the international status quo.” This would suggest that given sufficient wrongs against one’s neighbors and family, a moral man could target the infrastructure or officials of a corrupt state. Those burning police precincts have certainly argued their anger is rooted in a just cause. So too have those who saved babies by bombing abortion clinics. Both have found people willing to justify and even to celebrate their violence. War is notoriously foggy.
Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. … For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says: “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1807 states “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” For Aquinas Justice was one of the four Cardinal Virtues, along with Temperance, Prudence and Courage. Justice allows us to weigh what is due to our fellows; Temperance gives us control over our passions; Prudence gives us the wisdom to choose that which serves Good and thwarts Evil in a given situation; Courage gives us the strength to do what is right despite all hardships. War offers many temptations toward evil. To that end CCC 2307-8 tell us:
The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.
All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.
In 1425 a young peasant girl named Joan had a vision of Saints Michael, Margaret of Antioch and Catherine of Alexandria. They told her to go to Dauphin Charles of Valois, the rightful King of France, and help him reclaim the throne. This was no small task for a 13 year-old. King Charles VI (whom his subjects called “Charles the Beloved” and “Charles the Mad”) had signed a 1420 treaty disinheriting his son in favor of the infant Henry VI of England. The House of Valois had been feuding with the House of Burgundy for nearly 20 years: English and Burgundian troops controlled much of northern France, including the capital city of Paris. But three years later Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs, a nearby town, and petitioned garrison commander Robert de Baudricourt for an escort to see the Dauphin in Chinon.
Sir Robert took Joan as seriously as you might take a 16 year-old girl insisting she had visions and needed to speak to her favorite celebrity. But Joan was undeterred and returned to Vaucouleurs in January 1429. This time she convinced two soldiers of her sincerity and they got her another audience with de Baudricourt. Joan told Sir Robert French forces had just been defeated in Roudray, a town some 150 miles (240 km) away. When a messenger came and confirmed Joan’s vision, de Baudricourt’s skepticism disappeared. Disguised as a male soldier, Joan and her escort traveled through hostile Burgundian territory and in March 1429 reached the French royal court.
Charles and the court were captivated by the peasant seeress and provided her with a horse, armor, sword and banner so that she could lead the French troops against the English forces besieging Orléans. Perhaps their hope was born out of desperation. France had been losing to English troops since their 1415 rout at Agincourt: the territory controlled by Charles and his supporters was so small his subjects derisively called him the “King of Bourges.” Whatever their motivations, their faith was rewarded. Within two weeks after arriving at the city French troops following her banner had reclaimed Orléans. In July the Dauphin’s troops seized Reims where, on July 24, 1429 Charles entered Notre-dame du Rheims, the traditional French coronation site, and was crowned Charles VII of France.
Being crowned is one thing, defending your kingdom is another. After a brief truce with England failed, Joan rode out again to lead the King’s troops. But this time her luck failed her and on May 23, 1430 Joan was captured by Burgundian soldiers. Charles tried ransoming her; French troops stormed her prison on several occasions; she jumped 70 feet from her tower window into a moat in an escape attempt; she impressed witnesses and judges with her piety and sincerity at her trial. But Joan’s fate was sealed from the moment she was dragged off her horse. On March 30, 1431 Joan was burned in Rouen. In 1435 Charles VII would regain control of his country with the Treaty of Arras. Joan was found innocent at a 1452 inquisitorial appeal. In 1909 France’s beloved Maid of Orleans was canonized Ste. Jeanne d’Arc.
Divisions within the Church have cost us greatly. Latin and Greek Catholics squabbled over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and Son while Saracens and Turks advanced. Dutch Protestants and Spanish Catholics fought an Eighty Years’ War between 1568 and 1648. 1618 to 1648 saw Catholics and Protestants across Europe embroiled in a Thirty Years’ War that killed over 20% of the population. Mistrust and suspicion still exist within and between denominations. Many TradCaths think Pope Francis is too liberal. Quite a few Protestants believe he is the Antichrist. But even if we honor it more in the breach than the observance, every Bible-believing Christian remembers St. Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 3:26-29:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Everyone who stands beneath the shadow of the Cross and kneels before the King is my brother and my sister. Those who do not are still, without exception, possessed of an immortal Soul made in the image of God. Their lives are sacred, without exception, from the moment of conception to the moment of death. I am obligated to treat them with the respect due a fellow human being and a fellow sinner. I must make every effort to avoid war: should that be impossible, I must do whatever I can to minimize the bloodshed. And so I offer you these warnings.
We have not yet weighed the costs of the COVID-19 lockdown. Every day more people lose their jobs and their homes. Every day the food banks get busier. Every day the Federal Reserve prints more dollars to prop up a teetering economy. Plague, poverty and famine precede war as often as they follow it. But times of crisis are also times of religious fervor. The Black Death brought us flagellants. The horrors of the St.-Domingue plantations led slaves organized around traditional African religions to liberate Haiti. End Times Christianity has always been popular in America. What visionaries kneel waiting to lead the Remnant into battle?
I number many devout Protestants among my friends. We have serious differences on important theological issues. The fact that we consider those differences important means we have more in common with each other than with someone who thinks them silly. We also share common enemies. Those who cheered Notre-Dame’s burning would happily see the Little Brown Church in the Vale aflame. Our enemies care not about the things that divide us save insofar as they can use them to their advantage. They fear the Cross and the King.
The last Crusade ended in 1481 when the Portuguese expedition to Otronto arrived after the Ottomans had already left the battlefield. The last major battles between Catholic and Protestant armies ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. The dragon which ravaged so many landscapes has slept for centuries. Today many are poking that dragon with sticks. They believe it will be no great matter to wipe out any heretic who stands in the way of their Crusade. They are mistaken. They say they hate Christ because of our crimes. We know they hate Him because of the triumph His Resurrection tore from their hands.