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On Enemies of the Church by JC Sanders

On Enemies of the Church

| Wednesday, August 22, 2012
In my previous post, I took stock of the possibility that President Obama is an enemy of the Church. Supposing that he is, what would this mean for us as Catholics? For one, it would obviously exclude voting for him or otherwise supporting his campaign for re-election: the exhortation that “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Proverbs 25:21) does not extend to lending our enemies aide in the act of actually persecuting, harming, oppressing, or otherwise attacking us.

Actually, we have a pretty clear set of principles for what to do about our enemies—whether they are elected officials or something a bit more local. Our own society has raised tolerance to the level of a civic virtue, telling us constantly that we must tolerate the people we disagree with, that we must tolerate them and their ideas and their lifestyles. But, as the venerable Fulton Sheen noted in Old Errors and New labels,

“Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience towards evil, and a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. But what is more important than the definition is the field of its application. The Important point here is this: Tolerance applies only to person, but never to truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error.”

We can tolerate President Obama as a person, but not his enmity, his hostility towards us. We have a duty—moral as well as civic—to resist those policies of his administration which will erode our freedom of religion and chip away at our rights of conscience. If, moreover, these policies are to be the centerpieces of his administration, then we have a duty, not so much as Catholics but as citizens, to work to remove him from office at the ballot box.

But tolerance alone is not enough for us as Catholics. We are called to take things a step further, not merely to tolerate our enemies but to love them.

“You have heard it 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 the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not 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” (Matthew 5:43-48).

We do not merely tolerate our enemies: we must love them and pray for them, even as we hate their sins and persecutions. Moreover, we find that we should do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27), which is clarified to mean that we should engage in the various corporal and spiritual works of mercy on their behalf (e.g. rebuking sinners, instructing the ignorant, praying for them and for their conversions, but also taking care of their material needs when they are finally cast down).

It may not be the seven princes of hell, but hey, it was good enough for Dante. Image source.

Here, then, we encounter one of the paradoxes of the Faith. The Church may have many enemies—those who persecute her or work to undermine her, those who would subvert her authority in public and in private—she herself is the enemy of very few. President Obama may be an enemy of the Church; there have certainly been others before him, from the Mohammedans to Marx to Nietzsche, from the Tudors to Bismarck to the caliphs to Juarez and Calles, from Hitler to the heresiarchs to Dawkins and his ilk, and from Turks and Saracens to vikings to the Roman emperors of the first few centuries AD.

All of these men persecuted the Church or worked to undermine and destroy her, many by force and often with direct intent to do so. Yet none [1] of them can lay claim to being the true enemy of the Church, that is, the true enemy of the Church, the only one who can make the claim that the Church really is his enemy. That enemy is Lucifer, Satan (literally, “the enemy”), the devil; I suppose that we must also count his minions, the devils and demons, the legions of fallen powers and principalities. These are ultimately our true enemies, and we are ultimately theirs. Prayer can only be against them, for their defeat and for God’s protection of us against their devices. They alone can we hate and curse. And since it is ultimately suffering to willingly serve them, we may pity their instruments on earth and pray for their release and conversion.

“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood,” we are warned by St Paul, “but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). Saint Augustine, for his part, tells us that many people who will become holy are now hidden among the ungodly (there are many unexpected converts), and that there are many false Christians within the Church (think “devoutcafeteria Catholics or “Church hating Catholics,” though even these may change their hearts and minds). In The City of God, Saint Augustine tells us that the Church

“must bear in mind that among these very enemies are hidden her future citizens; and when confronted with them she must not think it a fruitless task to bear with their hostility until she finds them confessing the faith. In the same way, while the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, she has in her midst some who are united with her in participation of the sacraments, but who will not join with her in the eternal destiny of the saints. Some of these are hidden; some are well-known, for they do not hesitate to murmur against God, whose sacramental sign they bear, even in the company of his acknowledged enemies. At one time they join the enemies in filling the theatres, at another they join with us in filling the churches.

But, such as they are, we have less right to despair of the reformation of some of them, when some predestined friends, as yet unknown even to themselves, are concealed among our most open enemies. In truth, these two cities are interwoven and intermixed in this era, and await separation at the last judgment” (City of God Book I Chapter 35).

We cannot therefore treat as true enemies even those who are openly enemies of the Church, for even among them are to be found future friends. Our only true enemy is the devil, and we fight him best through prayer, fasting, penance, the sacraments, and joyful obedience to the Church; and above all by placing our whole trust in God. In short, we fight a spiritual battle which we can win only by becoming faithful, hopeful, and loving men: that is, by becoming saints. In the words of Saint Paul:

“Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good…Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality, bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them…Do not repay anyone evil for evil..Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:9, 11-14, 17, 21).

President Obama may be an enemy of the Church—but the Church is not and can not be the enemy of President Obama. We may not be able to vote for him in good faith or with clear consciences: but we can and even must still pray for him. There are no wasted prayers, even if the only effect is to prepare us for another four years under his rule (or worse). In the end, we can but pray and persevere; these tasks are difficult enough, but the rest are for God.


[1] Unless we want to count such things as Nietzsche’s claim to being anti-Christ.

About the Author ()

JC Sanders is a cradle Catholic, and somewhat of a traditionalist conservative. He is currently a physics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas, where he studies high-intensity laser-plasma interactions and Raman processes. He is a lay member of the Order of Preachers, with a three year commitment to the Order. JC has been happily married since June of 2010. He has at times questioned – and more often still been questioned about – his Faith, but he has never wandered far from the Church, nor from our Lord. “To whom else would I go?”

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