Catechism Lesson 16: The Militant Church and the Armour of God
What are the tools that have been given the Militant Church for struggling against the world, the flesh and the devil?
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels, And every height that exhalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ. (II Corinthians 10:3-5)
Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord, and in the might of his power. Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:10-18)
I looked up all the Scripture references to armour, searching for passages that would support and enhance the importance of wearing armour when charging off into battle. What I found was not exactly what I had expected. I found that Saul’s armour did not fit David and that Goliath’s armour was useless against David’s stone. I also discovered that a stray arrow found a crack in Ahab’s armour, killing the wicked king. It seems that the armour was, in reality, not very
But then I realized that we are not called to wear the faulty body armour of Saul, Ahab, or Goliath. Rather, we must put on the unfailing armour of God! In fact, at the very moment that St. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he might well have been chained to a soldier wearing the armour of the Roman Empire. St. Paul could see firsthand how frail the defenses of man were against the prince of darkness. This is why he twice emphasized “the armour of God.” Also St. Paul seamed to be expanding on the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaias/Isaiah, who had made a similar spiritual association for two of the articles of armour. “He put on justice as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head:” (Isaias/Isaiah 59:17).
Now we must be careful not to miss the importance of wearing all of the articles of the armour that God provides. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the armour of God,” and Ephesians 6:13 declares, “Wherefore take unto you the armour of God.” and then 7 articles of the armour is mentioned. If you do not wear all seven articles then the armour is faulty. It should be all or nothing! This is where many Catholics fail. They take some of the armour, but forget one or two parts of the suit—and pay an eternal price for their neglect. Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the apostle Paul attaches a spiritual association to seven implements of earthly armour. Let’s consider each of these articles of defense one by one to see what we can learn.
"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth"
In Bible times, the girdle about the waist held together the soldier’s garments, which might otherwise hamper his movements while marching or engaging in combat. The spiritual significance is that God does not simply want us to point at the truth; He wants us to wear it and have it wrapped about us. Not only does the belt hold everything in place, but it also serves to carry the sheath that holds the sword of the Spirit for ready access. Some people have the sword of God’s Word, but without the belt of truth they come to reckless conclusions.
"But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Timothy 3:15)
Understand that the Girdle of Truth held the sheath , that is the Church. And the sheath, the Church, held the sword of God's Word which is is truth handed down, truth spoken, and truth written. With out the girdle of Truth, and with out the sheath of the Church, what has happened is that those who have left the Church for some other Denomination took there sword with them (the Word of God) but did not take the girdle of Truth and nor did they take the sheath. Thus they had nothing to hold the rest of armour together. By not having Jesus the girdle of Truth (John 14:6), and by not having the sheath which is the True Church, the Catholic Church, the pillar and ground of the truth, They all "have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way:" (Isaias/Isaiah 53:6)
Never forget that wearing the girdle of truth also means wearing Christ, for He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This is why Paul said: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
Breastplate of Justice ( Righteousness)
"One who has put on a sturdy breastplate is difficult to wound. Especially well-protected are those essential parts of the body upon which life depends." "One protected by such a breastplate of justice will not be like a vulnerable stag that recieves the arrow to the liver. He will not lapse into rage or lust. Rather he will be protected, having a clean heart, having God as the fashioner of his breastplate, since he fashions the whole armour for every one of the saints."-St. Jerome
With all watchfulness keep (guard) thy heart, because life issueth out from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
What is Justice?
My tongue shall pronounce thy word: because all thy commandments are justice (righteousness). (Psalm 118 DRB/119:172)
Whosoever committeth sin committeth also iniquity; and sin is iniquity. (1 John 3:4)
Awake, ye just, and sin not. For some have not the knowledge of God, I speak it to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34)
To be just is to do what is just or right in God's eyes. God's commandments are righteous. In contrast, sin is iniquity, and iniquity is the opposite of righteousness. So to be righteous is to obey God's laws of love.
And we are all become as one unclean, and all our justices (righteousness) as the rag of a menstruous woman: and we have all fallen as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaias /Isaiah 64:6)
Righteousness may deliver from death, but whose righteousness are we talking about? The above scripture makes it clear that our individual level of righteousness is on par with "rags of a menstruous woman"—and when you're looking to protect yourself from death, filthy bloody rags make for a lousy breastplate.
In those days shall Juda be saved, and Israel shall dwell confidently: and this is the name that they shall call him: the Lord our just one (our righteous one). (Jeremias/Jeremiah 23:6)
It is God's Justice, God's righteousness, and not our own, which must serve as our breastplate and defense against Satan.
Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace
The gospel is to be carried abroad. It is to be preached among the nations. Wherever, then, it is preached, it must be heard. But so that all may hear, one must use one's feet to travel. And so do we travel with haste and urgency.- St. Marius Victorinus
Your footwear is not put on in order that you may walk about foolishly but to accomplish the course of the gospel. In this way you will receive the prophetic blessing: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings. Isaias (Isaiah) 52:7- St. Theodoret
How fitting is it that the words of Isaias (Isaiah) 52:7 come immediately before he presents the greatest and most complete Messianic prophecy in all the Old Testament. And that is Chapter 53 where he gives us a pen portrait of the suffering Saviour and tells us of the glorious work of the cross He was to undertake in order that the the sin question might be settled forever to the satisfaction of God.
How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10: 14-15)
The early fathers are very clear that Romans 10:14-15 is a reference to the Apostles and those who have been ordained after them:
"Paul quotes the prophet Nahum by talking about feet he means the coming of the apostles who went around the world preaching the the coming of the kingdom of God."-Ambrosiaster
There is a difference between Preaching and Witnessing
To be a herald, to officiate as a herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald; it is always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed
A witness in a legal sense. In an historical sense it is one who is a spectator of anything, e.g. of a contest. In an ethical sense those who after his example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death
The commandment to Preach the Gospel through out the world was given to the Apostles and there Succesors.
And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)
All the Early Fathers would agree on this.
"He willed that the apostles as spiritual predecessors of the new humanity would be sent by his Son into the entire world, so that all humans sufferers might come to the knowledge of their creator."- Novatian
"Then in this same way the apostles went out to found churches in every city possible. It is from these apostolic churches that all the subsequent churches, on after the other, derived the rule of faith and the seeds of doctrine. Even to today they continue to dervie from the apostles that which is necessary in order that they are able to deem themselves as apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches."- Tertullian
The commandment to be Witnesses was given to all Catholics not just to Apostles and there Succesors.
But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
It is the Holy Ghost who empowers you at your comformation to give testimony to those around you of what God has done for you through Christ and His Church, and prompts you to witness to a lost world.
So whether given by the Church to Preach the Gospel of Peace or as confirmed Catholics being witnesses to the Gospel of Peace, We all should be shod with the Gospel of Peace, telling everyone we meet what God can do, has done, and will do for all those who believe that Christ was born, died and was resurrected for each and every one of them. That they must repent of their sins, and be baptized into the Church.
The Shield of Faith
Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. (Hebrews 11:1)
But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
The Roman shield of the time was called a scutum. This type of shield was as large as a door and would cover the warrior entirely. Such a shield was not just defensive but could also be used to push opponents. When fighting as a group, a body of troops of soldiers could position their shields so as to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (“tortoise”). This was especially helpful to protect against arrows launched from the walls of cities they were attacking. Shields, often made of wood and then covered in hide, when wet, could extinguish flaming arrows.
Clearly, a shield is vitally important to a soldier. It provides a blanket of protection. It is meant to be taken up in all circumstances. It is the first barrier against the enemy’s attack. Often, shields were painted with identifying marks; a Christian who takes up the shield of faith identifies himself as a foot soldier who serves the Commander of the Lord’s army (see Joshua 5:14).
Satan’s attacks can sometimes cause us to doubt God. Faith prompts us to believe God. We give in to temptation when we believe what it has to offer is better than what God has promised. Faith reminds us that, though fulfillment of God’s promise may not be readily visible to us, God is true to His Word. When Satan attempts to plague us with doubt or entice us with instant gratification, faith recognizes the deceptiveness of his tactics and quickly extinguishes the arrows. When Satan accuses us, faith chooses to believe that Jesus has redeemed us and that there is no more condemnation.
All believers have this promise: “For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world: and this is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4). Faith is a protective barrier between us and the schemes of Satan. When we believe God and take Him at His word, we remain grounded in truth, the lies of the enemy lose their power, and we become overcomers. In that way, faith is our shield. (3)
Helmet of Salvation
The fifth piece of God’s armor is represented by the Roman soldier’s helmet, without which he would never enter battle. Some of the helmets were made of thick leather covered with metal plates, and others were of heavy molded or beaten metal. They usually had cheek pieces to protect the face.
The purpose of the helmet, of course, was to protect the head from injury, particularly from the dangerous broadsword commonly used in the warfare of that day. That was not the much smaller sword mentioned later in this verse, but was a large two–handed, double–edged sword (rhomphaia, see Apocalypse /Revelation 1:16; 2:12; 6:8) that measured three to four feet in length. It was often carried by cavalrymen, who would swing at the heads of enemy soldiers to split their skulls or decapitate them.
The two dangerous edges of Satan’s spiritual broadsword are discouragement and doubt. To discourage us he points to our failures, our sins, our unresolved problems, our poor health, or to whatever else seems negative in our lives in order to make us lose confidence in the love and care of our heavenly Father,(4) and to begin to doubt and question God's love and care for us.
The Sword of the Spirit Which is the Word of God
The Word of God is the source of victory over the enemy. It is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God that gives us the weapon against our enemy.
The previous armor has been primarily defensive. But now we come to a piece of armor that is both defensive and offensive.
Now the word sword here is a very interesting term. It is the word in the Greek, machaira, and it’s a very common word in Greek, a very common word even in the New Testament. The other word for sword, rhomphaia. It refers to that large broadsword we mentioned. It could be as long as forty inches plus, longer than a yardstick, a great, broad, two-edged sword that was wielded with two hands. That is not in view here. This is the more normal sword carried by the soldiers, the machaira, anywhere from 6-inch long daggers to 18-inch swords or so. They were put in a sheath or a scabbard by the side of the soldier and were used in hand-to-hand combat. That’s what’s in view. In fact, by the way, machaira, is the word used to describe the swords, in Matthew 26:47, that were in the hands of the Romans who came to capture Jesus while He was in the garden. It was the normal Roman soldier’s sword. It is the same word used to speak of the sword with which St. Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. It is the same word used, machaira, to speak of the sword used in Acts 12:2 to kill St. James. It is the same word, machaira sword, used to speak of the sword used against the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. It is the normal sequence of sizes in this machaira, concept that was the everyday routine sword used by soldiers. But in each case it seems apparent that a machaira, had to be used in a rather precise way to be effective. Now St. Peter simply cut off an ear with it. I’m sure that if he had a rhomphaia he’d have come all the way from the ear to the tip of the guys toe. The machaira, had to be used as a precise weapon.
Again, the sword as a weapon is both defensive and offensive. Let’s talk about its defensive capability. If you’ve ever seen anybody use a sword, you know that a sword is used as much to parry a blow as it is to inflict one. And a person who uses a sword uses it along with that part which covers his hand to defend himself against the blows of his enemy. And the way you use the Word of God defensively is really critical. Satan comes to attack you with his temptations. He comes to attack you with his assaults, and you can literally parry his blows with the proper use of the Word of God.
We see Jesus, in Matthew chapter 4 and in Luke chapter 4 parrying with Satan. Satan comes to Him three times and Satan attacks Him with three direct temptations.
Notice at the end of Ephesians 6:17 it says the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. The term, “Word,” here is not the greek word logos. Logos is a term meaning word that speaks of a broad or general reference. "Word" here is the word rhēma, and it means a specific statement. It isn’t talking about a broad knowledge. It’s talking about a specific statement. The sword of the Spirit is the specific statement of God. You must learn to know the total of the Word of God so that you know the specifics and be specific in the use of the Word of God. (5)
This is why you must learn the principles of the Word of God, and that’s why you have to study to show yourself approved unto God. We need to study scripture, read the commentaries of the Early Fathers, listen closely to what the Church teaches. Know your Catechism. You see when we as Catholic speak of the Word of God we can be speaking of it in three ways:
The Living Word of God, Jesus himself.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The Spoken Word of God.
And he (Jesus) was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee. (And) the multitudes pressed upon him to hear the word of God, (Luke 4:44; 5:1)
And when they had prayed, the place was moved wherein they were assembled; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with confidence. (Acts 4:31)
The Written Word of God
Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
All three, The Living Word, The Spoken Word, The Written Word, are considered The Sword of the Spirit. And all three are needed as part of your armour when battling against principalities and power, the rulers of the world of this darkness, the spirits of wickedness in the high places.
The last of the armaments was really an attitude. Any general knows that victory almost always depends on which army has the element of surprise. In the story of Gideon, the soldiers were chosen based upon their watchfulness, and they caught the enemy sleeping and won through surprise. (See Judges 7) Even the best of armor is almost useless if the soldiers are found dozing. We are commanded to be "watching with all instance (all perseverance)”
The prayer mentioned here is not just any prayer. No, it is more specific then that. St.Paul says, "watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints" We are to be praying for our fellow Christians, our fellow Saints.
St. Paul lived what he preached!
"Therefore we also, from the day that we heard it, cease not to pray for you" (Colossians 1:9)
"Wherefore I also, hearing of your faith that is in the Lord Jesus, and of your love towards all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making commemoration of you [remembering you] in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:15-16)
"Your battle Buddies are always together and that allows them to never feel like they're alone," he said. "The idea is to let Soldiers feel like someone's always got their back."- Sgt. 1st Class Casey Vanzant, A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment platoon sergeant.
That's how we as the Militant Saints should be. We should always have each others back in prayer. But not only should we be praying for each other but also for the Suffering Saints in Purgatory. For they are just as much as part of the "for all saints" as the Militant are. (see II Maccabees 12:39-46)
This will lead us into the next Catechism lesson on the communion of saints, which is the Suffering Saints in Purgatory.