The Church Militant
“The Prince of Peace brings his peace through violence and hatred, shown forth in the sword,” says Michael Voris, a Catholic media producer and apologist, while holding a sword. “Following the babe means violence, division, and hatred.” Voris clarifies that he’s speaking of spiritual violence, not physical violence, but it should not escape our notice that he’s swinging a weapon (with sound effects) while he says all this. His primary symbol of the spiritual life is an instrument designed to cause harm and death. He speaks also of light casting out darkness, but chooses words that signify brute force: “when light comes into a room, the darkness is abused and driven out by the violence of brilliance.” Light too is like a sword.
Voris markets himself as a soldier of the light fighting against spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical corruption in the Church, and he’s developed an following from among those who, like him, believe the Church has been decimated by heresy and modernism. He’s pretty intense. Only a handful of bishops the world over seem to meet with his approval. He refers to much of the clergy as “emasculated.” Voris wants a strong warrior God who demands the sword, but he alleges that these clergy want only a weak, cooing baby of a god who makes no demands. He calls his presentation of the Faith “bold and muscular.” The Sr. Executive Producer of ChurchMilitant.TV knows how to pick fights.
Although he’s something of a fringe figure, Voris’ spiritual militancy is not entirely out of step with the history of Christian spirituality. Anyone who has ever tried to overcome a vice or bad habit knows that this endeavor is hard work. A struggle, even. Reason, will, and appetites don’t always get along. Sometimes desires are at war. I for one long to be virtuous, but, damn, I do enjoy my vices. Even when I know they’re not good for me or my relationships with others. If I want to be good, I can’t let my bad habits win; I must, instead, fight against them and seek to conquer them. There’s a militant aspect to the moral life.
Traditional Christianity expands this metaphor into a grander narrative, interpreting the conflicts in the human soul as part of a larger battle between God and the Devil, where God freely gives his people the graces they need to overcome their sins and the Devil cleverly tempts souls to evil means and ends, away from God and away from grace. An old name for the Christian church on earth is the church militant: those still fighting the good fight, hoping to attain heaven and avoid hell.
This metaphor of spiritual warfare has always been a part of the larger narrative of Christianity, but it hasn’t been the whole story. Christianity has been home to many images of the spiritual life, many of which have little or nothing to do with warfare: the pilgrimage or journey, the relationship of children to a parent or of sheep to a shepherd, the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, the building of love, the detachment from temporal things in favor of eternal things. Being different people coming from different places, Christians tend to emphasize different images in their own spiritual lives. This is only natural.
Voris, however, does more than emphasize spiritual warfare, its figures and images. For him, it’s the framework by which he interprets and understands all other ways of the spiritual and the religious. Hateful violence is not a metaphor for some aspects of the spiritual life, but the central theme uniting the entirety of true Christian (i.e., Catholic) spirituality. In his telling, the angels of heaven didn’t sing in praise of the Incarnation because it was itself a joyful and glorious event, but rather because the birth of God announced the Final Battle with the diabolical. He has a place in his story for men beating their swords into plowshares: at the very end, when evil and sin have been defeated. For Christians in the world as it is now, the peace of Christ “means total war.” He wants the followers of Christ to take up their sword against the world, sin, and evil. Love of God means hatred of these things. “Catholics are born for combat” is the tagline of his apostolate.
Is all this a problem? It is if you think the spiritual life should be directed towards God. What Voris is selling isn’t. The sword is the image of his spiritual life, and the sword is directed not to God, but to the enemy. That’s what you attack with the sword: your opponent. God has a place in his spirituality, but not as the object of focus and attention. He envisions God as something like a general on the battlefield and also ultimately as the prize to be won, but in the day-to-day drama of Christian spirituality, which he sees as marked by violence and hatred, God is on the periphery. The focus is, ironically, on the diabolical. You might say it’s theologically disordered.
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