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Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a “long defeat”—though it contains… some samples or glimpses of final victory. – J.R.R. Tolkien

Together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat. – Galadriel

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence. – Jesus Christ

One of the fatal errors that Christians make is the belief that Christians need to rule the world. If we had Christian rulers, it is argued, we would have a better world. And indeed we would. The problem is that the world is always more powerful than the Christians and will never be ruled by followers of Christ. It never has been and never will be. If Christ stood for election, he would lose. The media would be against him, the advocates of Pride would be against him, the corporate globalists and other followers of Mammon would be against him. He would have his followers and they would be the salt of the earth but they would be powerless against the forces aligned against Him and them. The media would mock Him. The mob would crucify Him. And the followers of Mammon would be relieved that the troublemaker had been removed and that everyone could return to business as usual. Meanwhile the followers of Christ would be marginalized and ostracized and at times forced underground. It has ever been thus.

The first thirty or so popes, in the first 300 years or so following the crucifixion of Christ, were all put to violent deaths. During this time, Christians were part of an underground Church worshipping in the catacombs. Laity and clergy alike, powerless politically, were slain by the secular powers.

During the times that Christianity was in the ascendant in terms of its worldly power it was prone to a corruption from within which was perhaps even more pernicious than the persecution from without. Christ promised that Christians would be persecuted as He Himself had been persecuted. If the world hated Him, it would hate those who follow him. Christ did not promise that following the fads and fashions of the world, or accommodating the demands of the rich and powerful, would bring forth any fruit other than that cankered kind which portends damnation. The Church persecuted is the Church purified; the Church which accommodates the fads and fashions of the world is the Church decadent. Those who understand these bedrock realities know that the Church in the land of exile which is called Time, and in the vale of tears which is the Long Defeat of history, is always the Church Militant, the Church at War with the world. This is why modernism is always a deadly enemy of the Church. It is the error of those who think that the Church needs to move with the times whereas, as Chesterton reminds us, we don’t need a Church that will move with the world but a Church that will move the world. The war cry of the Church Militant is pro Ecclesia contra mundum. For the Church against the world.

Herod, the perennial symbol of the secular power, responded to the birth of Christ by slaughtering the holy innocents. It has ever been thus. Today a host of Herods systematically exterminate the holy innocents in the wombs of their mothers. Having responded to the birth of Christ so violently, the secular power responded to the life of Christ by putting Him to death, as it has put to death millions of His followers in every century since.

If Christ is not who He says He is, the whole of history is an endless defeat, a grimly grotesque diabolical comedy, consisting of nothing but meaningless suffering in a meaningless cosmos. Such is the anti-gospel of despair which counters the Gospel of Hope.

If, however, Christ is who He says He is, we know that the Long Defeat of history is only the stage on which we fight for our eternal lives. The Long Defeat is, for each of us as individuals, a very short history, spanning our own lifetime. We are called to fight the Long Defeat for a short time so that we might win the everlasting victory; or, alternatively, we are free to refuse to fight the Long Defeat, surrendering to the false promises of the world and succumbing to its seductive sordidness, winning pathetic pyrrhic victories which prophesy the Final Defeat.

This understanding of the Church Militant and her place in history is understood by those Christian warriors who have the courage to fight the secular power, even in the midst of great persecution. A perfect example of such a warrior is Cardinal Emeritus Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. Having fought the good fight against the secular fundamentalist regime in China for decades, the 86-year-old retired Bishop of Hong Kong, had these words of encouragement for those faithful Christians facing renewed and intensified persecution:

“The faithful in China are suffering and are now coming under increasing pressure. Early this year, the government tightened regulations on the practice of religion. Priests in the underground on the mainland tell me that they are discouraging parishioners from coming to Mass to avoid arrest…. And yet, to the underground bishops and priests of China, I can only say this: Please don’t start a revolution. They take away your churches? You can no longer officiate? Go home, and pray with your family. Till the soil. Wait for better times. Go back to the catacombs. Communism isn’t eternal.”

O for more such courageous Christian leaders as Cardinal Zen in a time characterized by so much cowardice and corruption both inside and outside of the Church. How right he is. Communism isn’t eternal. Nor is the Long Defeat of history. Nor is time. Nor is the world. All such temporal things are passing away. For each of us, as individuals, they are passing away very soon. In this season of Advent may we learn to wait for the coming of Christ with hope in our hearts, girding our loins for the struggles ahead.

Be of good cheer. Be not afraid. There is nothing to fear. The dragon is slayed!

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Editor’s Note: The featured image above is “Triumph of Faith – Christian Martyrs in the Time of Nero, 65 AD” (19th century), by Eugene Thirion, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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6 replies to this post
  1. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, yet he taught us to pray that his kingdom would come to this world.

    If we retreat to the catacombs, how is that courageous? That’s defeatism. It’s certainly not love your neighbor.

    Sure the world will not win, so we can fear not about that, but, fear is not our motivator for advocating and fighting for good that benefits all around us, and demonstrates to others that we and God still care about them, if nothing else.

  2. Indeed, Amen. May the disciples of Christ/children of God not pursue earthly power but exaltation from our Heavenly Lord, worshipping His true, good, and beautiful reign amid our fallen state of long defeat. Joyously, we are far from alone in our pilgrimage on this side of heaven – Psalm 61.

  3. To this day I remember something my 8th grade nun said: “It’s easy to be a Catholic when it’s hard to be a Catholic, and it’s hard to be a Catholic when it’s easy to be a Catholic.” It took me a while to really understand but it has stuck with me ever since.

  4. Joseph, thank you for this. Your message of the hope of final victory was exactly what I needed to hear right now. Like many faithful Catholics the events of the past year have led me to occasional bouts of melancholy over the spiritual fitness and morality (or lack thereof) of the leadership in the Church, but it is a good reminder that we are called the Church Militant for a reason, and that our victory has already been won!

  5. I was just meditating on the concept of “Long Defeat” described above by Mr. Pearce and it can be viewed as closely related to the message of Divine Mercy properly understood. One pious and well advanced in spiritual life priest described Mercy as “loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, to see pain in someone’s heart and take it on yourself.” And many times voluntarily taking on this pain is lifelong endeavor that could be seen as a “long defeat.” And paradoxically the Devil will do anything possible to stop that “long defeat” roaring into your ear “are you ill-advised or something?! You wanna be a loser?! Do you really wanna humiliate yourself like that? It is not your problem(s), go and enjoy the life and the world I prepared for you! Don’t be a loser!” And the Devil like a slayed dragon will moan at us his lies, as long as we stay in the “long defeat” because he knows very well that if we persevere in the “long defeat” bounded to Love, we will be the part of the final victory and enjoy everlasting happiness.

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