The Warrior Code

The Warrior Code is something we’ve discussed in one form or another since human beings could talk, I guess. When each of the Gulf Wars started, Just War theory hit the popular radar for a brief period of time. In many churches these days, including the Catholic Church, Culture War has been a topic, especially the need to be warriors for Christ. I even found a website for the Klingons for Christ.

The imagery comes from Scripture. A classic example from the New Testament. in one of the earliest writings in that collection:

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one.And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:10-17)

There are many stories of conflict and war throughout the Canons of the Old and New Testaments, both historical and metaphorical. Here’s an example from Revelation describing the rebellion of Satan before the World began:

Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.  (Rev 12:7-9)

This year is the 1700th anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, where the Emperor Constantine defeated his opponents after putting the Chi Rho (Greek letters for Christ) on the shields of his soldiers as a heavenly vision showed him, solidifying his rule and opening the door for the Edict of Milan, which made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire ever afterward. (It didn’t automatically make Christianity the state religion of Rome: that happened in 395.) After that, the image of Christian armies winning territory for Christ became a dominant image in Western Culture.

I have no problem with a warrior’s discipline as a way of Faith. Faith isn’t easy: it requires courage, stamina, toughness, an ability to resist popular opinion and fads, trust in others, obedience to the authority of Christ, however that gets expressed. Life of Faith isn’t a life of comfort or success, as Paul would testify:

I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. (Phil 4:12-13)

However, the life of Faith is about living virtue, including humility, or checking our egos at the door, and charity, or putting the needs of others, especially the poor and outcast, first. A warrior is called to kill people, that’s the main job warriors must harden themselves for, even though they can do many laudable things. To do that means desensitizing oneself, making the enemy into an objective that must be destroyed or overcome physically. Humility and charity really don’t work well with being a killing machine, at the very least these impulses must be walled off for combat. A warrior has to strip their enemy of human dignity in order to do what’s needed.

Christ calls us to preserve human dignity of all people, including our enemies. It started in the Old Testament:

Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked–O oracle of the Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they return from their evil way and live? (Ez 16:23)

We are called to pray for those who persecute us, and as Justin Martyr witnessed in the middle of the 2nd Century, early Christians did that consistently before 312. Jesus said this during the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said,An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:38- 48)

The temptation of the Warrior Code is to see anyone we disagree with as a demon, and any authority who promotes something we believe immoral to be demonic. That makes things easy; we can throw charity out the window and have at them. We can forget we are dealing with human beings who may at some point of time change their ways, or at least be persuaded to the Gospel, even though it may seem unlikely.

The conquest of Western Europe by Christianity happened long after Constantine died. He was held up as a model for the rulers of Northern Europe by missionaries, who knew if they converted the leaders, the followers would convert as well. The carrot was if the leader embraced Christianity, he would be as blessed and successful as Constantine, the godly ruler, was; the real history of Constantine who served as a pagan High Priest after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, murdered members of his family he felt threatened his authority and was baptized on his deathbed, was suppressed. This is the Christian Warrior code, conversion by the sword, that saw us through 1500 years of Western History, including the Crusades and the World Colonialism of the 19th century, and the code we all live with today.

Augustine, who developed Just War theory, didn’t permit self defense as a justification for war, only the protection of innocents. He tolerated conversion by the sword because it lead them to a Truth they might be able to embrace freely later, however it could be argued he was going along with a popular sentiment of the time rather than staking out new ground. The limitations of conflict from Augustine are the genesis for the standards of Catholic Just War theory today: last resort, all other possibilities exhausted, limited response, return to previous state, protecting non-combatants.

Defending the Holy is an image we’ve had since the Crusader states of the Middle Ages. Although deep understanding of Faith is needed to explain and articulate it to those who misunderstand or do not know it, the concept of defending it from attack is something I think is a temptation to Pride. The Gospel properly understood is its own defense: criticism of Faith begins almost exclusively as a condemnation of those who commit evil in the name of upholding it. G. K. Chesteron once said rather pointedly: “Christianity has not be tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Acts of desecration say more about the evil of the desecrator than the Holy being ridiculed, and desecration never truly destroys what is Holy. The Truth of God is something that cannot be successfully deconstructed or destroyed by any human logic, action or event. Christ is the all powerful savior of the world, who poured out his life willing to overcome Death and Sin. The idea we could protect Him, the Gospel or the Church He established from anything is rather absurd, for to do that would imply we have more power than He does.

Our greatest adversary, the one tempted by demons, the one most likely to lead us to perdition and wreak havoc on those we know, the one who is the greatest hazard to people of Faith, looks out at us from out of our mirror every morning. Our spiritual armor, our warrior discipline, must protect us from that person. The lesson to be learned from the Garden of Eden is that Evil can only enter the world through us if we allow it. If we see any other human in the role of Satan, put the responsibility for evil on anyone else, demonize anyone else, we abuse our calling as followers of Christ. Paul only talked about Spiritual Armor in the passage above, not Spiritual weapons. Jesus told Peter to put up his sword in the Gethsemane. Our battle against Satan is fought with the one in the mirror. To fight anyone else, even in a war of hostile words and attitudes, is a denial of the Sermon on the Mount, a denial of humility and charity, a denial of human dignity. When we give in to the temptation to start or participate in a Holy War against others, we lose.  When we seek to live our lives in imitation of Christ, to win the world to charity and justice through being vessels of God’s unconditional Love, we win.

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