God’s Armor versus the Devil’s Stratagems

Spiritual Combat Revisited

Mosaic in Archiepiscopal Chapel (Ravenna) representing Christ as a warrior

Mosaic in Archiepiscopal Chapel (Ravenna) representing Christ as a warrior

To say that we are living in thoroughly trying times is unfortunately neither an exaggeration nor a platitude. We are witnessing the symmetrically opposite progression of falling ethical standards on the one hand, and rising levels of violence in societies on the other. It seems undeniable that evil is more and more visible in this world: warlike tensions and conflicts have become daily commonplace on a global scale. Psychologically, one is almost ineluctably pulled into a vortex of growing fears and even terror. Compounding the unease is the fact that certain individuals have the incomprehensible audacity to call on God’s name as they perpetrate unspeakable atrocities among their fellow humans. Some invoke Holy War as a historical matrix to explain the gloom.

All of these ominous symptoms can also serve as an urgent invitation to ponder our mission as Christians in this world so torn and tormented. This present essay intends to offer a reminder of how biblical concepts of “struggle” and “warfare” do influence our everyday lives. This is an occasion, I believe, to refresh our minds and memories regarding a sometimes forgotten notion of Spiritual Theology, namely, that of “spiritual combat.”1 It will be helpful to first revisit the primordial reason for the existence of evil on earth, then rediscover how God enters the human battlefield, and eventually discuss ways for us to rally behind the divine General, for our good, and for the salvation of many. As our companion and guide into this meditation, we choose the passage in Ephesians 6:10-18.

 I. The Methodicalness of the Devil
Surveying current signs of the times, and taking stock of the increasing darkness around us, we should allow ourselves to be summoned again by the query: what are we really up against? It is the apostle, Paul, who, toward the end of his letter to the nascent Christian community of Ephesus,2 forewarns them against an altogether sinister reality. He solemnly asseverates that they are caught up in a kind of confrontation that has little to do with “blood and flesh,” Eph 6:12a. To emphasize the adversarial nature of Christian spirituality, he not only brings into play the strong semantic antithesis of “not—but on the contrary” (non–sed),3 but also restates the preposition “against” (adversus) no less than six times in just two verses (Eph 6:11-12). Exacerbating this antagonistic portrayal is the Latin noun, colluctatio, at the beginning of Eph 6:12, suggesting the image of two wrestlers engaging in a man-to-man combat. Paul then proceeds to identify the actual enemy, and he does so in two stages.

First, there is a generic indication of the devil (diabolus) and his scheming at Eph 6:11. Unpropitiously, a closer look at the Greek reveals something that goes beyond mere deceptiveness or guile, as chiefly implied by the Latin insidias: what is really evoked is a diabolical mastermind investing all his intellectual genius into designing deletery stratagems with cold-blooded methodicalness (methodeía). Consequently, his warfare turns out to be crafty, wily, and ruthlessly premeditated; he is like a lurking juggernaut, seeking to entrap believers. Cautionary mention of him had been made already in Eph 4:27, and in a telling correlation, at 4:14, this selfsame trickery is attributed to the false teachers starting to infiltrate the Pauline community. What that demonstrates is the close connection established in the author’s judgment between the earthly experience of falsehood, and the venomous workings of the evil one, often “disguising himself as an angel of light,”2 Cor 11:14.

Second, he then describes the lethal foe in more detail: although four different entities are brought up—“the rulers” (principatus), “the authorities” (potestates), “the cosmic powers4 of this present darkness” (mundi rectores tenebrarum harum), and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (spiritalia nequitiae in caelestibus), Eph 6:12—they can be interpreted as a figure of speech, namely, a merism, which lists several synonyms for one and the same thing. Thus, those seemingly diverse groups all represent the reign of Satan in this created world. “Rulers” and “authorities” featured prominently in Eph 1:21, 2:2, and 3:10 already. They are the spirits who were thought to govern the stars, and, by extension, the entire universe. Inhabiting the heavens or the “air” (Eph 2:2), they were understood to populate the space between terrestrial and celestial spheres. Scripture also teaches them to be among the “elemental principles of the world,” Gal 4:3. After disobeying their Creator, they now contend to enslave humanity to themselves in rebellion and sin.

Taken as they are into this epic drama, Christians are living an embattled life,5 embroiled with spiritual powers exerting their malevolent clout. They are the real cause of evil, if we may simplify the mysterium iniquitatis for a moment. The caption over Eph 6:10-20 in The Jerusalem Bible calls it “the spiritual war,” a conflict hailing back to the first pages of Genesis, where the serpent tries to conquer the heart of the woman (3:1-5). That prototypical assault amounted to an authentic spiritual combat, tragically lost, and causing, in a certain sense, the irreversible perversion of original holiness into original sin. Underlying St. Paul’s teachings is the conception that ever since, the world is arrested in a clash between divine and diabolical forces, which will one day be resolved by the overthrow of chaos and death. Until then, spiritual powers profoundly affect human societies, and their evil dominion will engender great moral corruption (cf. Eph 2:1-3). Or, in other words, the sorry state of our contemporary world should be understood as the result of a cosmic strife. However, in order to stay committed to universal salvation, even in the face of relentless hostility, we have to remind ourselves that there is somebody at our side who will secure the definitive victory. And so, in the upcoming section let us investigate the way God comes to the aid of his children in this monumental saga.

II. A Warrior God and His Warrior Son
Victory is logically preceded by battle, and in the cosmic skirmishes between good and evil, a divine warrior will win out in the end. Sunk in the soil of God’s revelation in the Old Testament are the roots of that “divine warrior” motif. Conducive to a better grasp of it will be a brief review of a few salient passages. They do occur across the spectrum of literary genres of historical, prophetic, and wisdom books. There is first the programmatic assertion in Exo 15:3, “The Lord is a warrior (vir pugnator)” (cf. Isa 42:13; 59:17; Zeph 1:14-16; Wis 5:18). He is further shown as Lord “mighty in battle” (potens in proelio),” Psa 24:8, girding his sword, Psa 45:3, shattering his foes (Psa 68:21), and even breaking their teeth (Psa 3:7-8). God is also depicted as someone who instructs his people in military tactics: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues the peoples under me,” Psa 144:1-2.

These texts were undoubtedly intended to lift the spirit of a stricken people in need of guidance and protection, pilgrims in an inimical environment; the covenant-keeping God would never abandon them, his outstretched arm ever present to defeat the opposers of his kingdom: “One of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, as he promised you,” Josh 23:10 (cf. Deut 5:15). The tribal warrior-God, Yahweh, was seen as going to war against competing gods and their loyal nations on behalf of Israel, marching at the head of its armies (Deut 33:27), his right arm bringing victory to its banners. Israel’s wars over time became the wars of Yahweh himself (Num 21:14). In fact, this divine warrior did not just lend his assistance from afar, or through divine agents, but was thought to literally accompany the infantries into the theater of combat. “Yahweh intervened not only to support the army on the battlefield, but He also marched in front of the king and soldiers. The victory after the battles was given to Yahweh, and the spoils obtained were dedicated to him.”6 Later on, in the form of the ark of the covenant, the Israelites even carried their God with them into armed conflict (Num 10:35f), and in due course, it became associated with the presence of God himself, and was routinely brought to the battle front.7

That the divine warrior grew into one of the basic motifs of the Bible can be gathered from the choice of name itself: “Lord of hosts” or “Lord of armies” (Hebr. Yahweh Sabaoth) could also be translated as “the one who created the heavenly armies.” This would insinuate that Yahweh was first and foremost envisaged as a warrior God.8 Moreover, “Lord of hosts/armies,” which defines God’s function as war-God, is the most frequent descriptive title, used over two hundred and eighty times in the Hebrew Bible,9 second only to the generic names “Yahweh” (6,519 times), “Elohim” (over 2,000 times), and “Adonai” (434 times). By comparison, the title “Lord of Peace” is used only once, and in an uncomplimentary context at that.

Turning then to some selected New Testament allusions to Christ as the worthy Son of this warrior God of the Old Covenant, we have already, in Wis 18:14-16, this shrouded announcement of his coming: “For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior (durus debellator) carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth.” In overt continuity with this prophecy, Jesus exclaims: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Mat 10:34. Paul views Christ’s ascension as the moment when the victory is achieved, and when the divine General returns home accompanied by his war spoils: “Therefore, it is said, when he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people,” Eph 4:8. Most enthralling, though, is the way the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of Saint John, narrates the decisive end-battle: “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords,” Rev 19:11-16.

In summarizing, one could divide the biblical recurrences of the “divine warrior” into five stages: The first stage is God’s appearance as a warrior who fights on behalf of his people Israel against their flesh-and-blood enemies. Overlapping with the first is the second stage culminating in Israel’s independent political history, all the while God, like an opponent, fights in judgment against his own people. Wrapping up the Old Testament period would be the third stage during which Israel’s seers look to the future and predict the advent of an omnipotent divine warrior. Reflected in the Gospels and Epistles is a fourth stage, delineating Christ’s earthly ministry as the work of a conqueror, who overcomes death itself as our greatest foe. The fifth and final stage is anticipated by the Church as she awaits the return of the divine warrior who will judge the demonic and human enemies of God. Hence, Jesus is the warrior rejected and slain, who ends up triumphantly repelling all the powers of evil, opening the way to a new exodus, and a new conquest of heaven:10 “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all,” 1 Cor 15:28.

These considerations might create the perception in us that we are off the hook, in a way, without any need of participating in this cosmic fight. Very much to the contrary, however, each one of us, strictly without exception, is called to join the fray with Christ in preparing for the Day of the Lord.11 Which takes us to the principal part of this essay, namely, our own situation of engagement in this overarching spiritual warfare, in imitatio Dei and imitatio Christi.

III. Putting on God’s Armor
Faced with the chilling prospect of a continuous warfare, our first and fundamental reaction should be not to be distressed, but rather to take heart, or, as Paul puts it: “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,” Eph 6:10. We know that we “can do all things through him who strengthens” us, Phil 4:13 (see also 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 2:1; 4:17), and that the joy of the Lord is our strength (cf. Neh 8:10). Next, and more concretely, we are encouraged to “put on the whole armor of God,” Eph 6:11.13, reminding us of the apostle’s earlier exhortation, “clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” Eph 4:24. It appears to be another way of speaking about the Christo-centric transformation that believers must undergo: Christians are to arm themselves with the values of the Gospel in order to become participants in the present, earthly dimensions of this larger spiritual and moral contention. It will be important to examine more closely this symbol of the armor: The Greek term for “whole armor” (panoplía)12 is the one typically employed for the full gear of a heavy-armed Roman legionary.13 Incidentally, its metaphorical use, as well as that of battle language in general, would have been reasonably familiar to the religious and philosophical thinking of the day.14 However, the unconventional formulation of “God’s armor” mirrors the Old Testament concept of divine example and help as expounded above. Paul had already drawn upon this theme in his letter to the Romans: “the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” 13:12-14.

Our focus will be on the connoted message, and that is a universal call to individual spiritual combat, “so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm,” Eph 6:13. The sacred author utilizes the energetic “so that” (Latin ut) to convey the sweeping finality of all our ethical efforts. To internalize this is paramount: we are not meant to succumb to, or to be swept away by, the evil one and his methodical bellicosity, but rather to “stand firm.”15 Parenthetically spoken, on a syntactic level, the expression “to stand” is inculcated four times in vv. 11.13.14, underscoring how indispensable it is not to collapse along the way. This “(with)standing” will be put to the test expressly “on that evil day” (in die malo), v. 13. In the following paragraphs, we will inquire into the meaning of this phrase:16

a.) It could indicate the pressures, including persecution, that Christians are often exposed to, and in many places on a daily basis; the present day culture wars intensify their strictures and invectives against religious freedom, much in line with Paul’s assessment of his own Gentile times: “the days are evil!” Eph 5:16.

b.) The challenge of the “evil day” could be construed as a hint at a potent encounter with the devil, too, that believers might experience in their lives.

c.) As an added possibility, Paul may have thought of individual personality flaws that we all bear along this earthly journey, or a particularly vexing temptation that we must guard against. This explanation has a strong backing in the language of “resisting” (resistere) and “having done everything” (omnibus perfectis) in our striving for moral goodness and perfection, v. 13.

d.) Besides, could it not also point to the apocalyptic battle at the end of the éschaton (e.g., 1 Cor 7:26; 1 Thess 5:2-4; 2 Thess 2:3-12; Rev 19:11-21)?

e.) Perhaps it signals the awe-inspiring Day of the Lord with its Final Judgment; the wording would be akin to the idiom of “having a day in court,” that is, a fair opportunity to defend oneself before receiving a just sentence. Notice, however, that Paul does not use the future tense in qualifying the “evil day,” but the Greek aorist for a rather unspecified broader temporal horizon, not excluding the present time.

With these interpretations in mind, the burning question arises as to who or what enables us to “stand firm” on that “evil day”? Well, the truly emboldening response is provided in the subsequent verses, Eph 6:14-18. In them, the specifics of the “full armor of God” are furnished, involving seven pieces of paraphernalia.17 As we set about exploring the type of armament supposed to be handled, we will attempt to always go beyond the literal sense (sensus literalis), and ascertain their deeper scriptural sense (sensus spiritualis), so as to serve as a practicable advice for our personal spiritual combat:18

a.) Paul starts out by highlighting the officer’s cincture: “Stand, therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,” v. 14a. Christians are, therefore, to stay close to Christ, and him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, Joh 14:6 (Eph 1:13; 4:21), versus the devil “who does not stand in the truth” (Joh 8:44). Truth is, of course, an especially significant part of our new identity: “putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another,” Eph 4:25, “for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true,” Eph 5:9. It is also fitting to again recall that Eph 4:14 had identified the deceitfulness (methodeía) of false teachers as a key source of threat against the Church. Hence, all satanic cunningness can and must be dismantled by truthfulness in our thoughts, words and actions (see also Isa 11:5).

b.) Furthermore, “put on the breastplate of righteousness,” v. 14b (cf. Wis 5:18). All the vital organs of our Christian life are protected by this bulletproof vest, as it were. Interestingly, the Nova Vulgata translates the dikaiosúne as iustitia. It is necessary to remember, however, that the Greek has a wider range of connotations, featuring the virtues of uprightness (cf. Mat 5:6; Acts 24:25; Rom 9:30; Phil 3:6; Titus 3:5), mercy, charitableness (cf. 1 Thess 5:8, where Paul connects the breastplate with “faith and love”; Mat 6:1; 2 Cor 9:9f), holiness, and equity (cf. Acts 17:31; Heb 11:33). A righteous person is the one who conforms his/her conscience to the law of God, and does what is right in light of it. Evidently, any authentic spiritual warfare will demand the obedience to a well-formed conscience, in order to make one steer clear of all manifestations of duplicity, injustice, and anarchy.19

c.) Continuing his description of the full armor, the apostle then counsels: “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace,” v. 15. By “readiness” he illustrates a state of eager preparedness (praeparatio) for combat,20 as well as alacrity to spread the message of the One “who is our peace” (Eph 2:14; cf. Isa 52:7). Hence, an intimate identification with the very person of Christ is envisioned, which would be the “mystery of the Gospel” alluded to in Eph 6:19. By being attuned to that Gospel, the Christian struggle will flow into profound peace of heart, as well as contribute to either the avoidance or resolution of societal strain.

d.) Another element of the armor is now introduced: “With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one,” v. 16. This metaphor relies heavily on prevalent practices of warfare. For one, the author imagines the large convex and oblong shield designed to protect the combatant’s whole length of body, sometimes set up in a permanent sheltering position.21 As such, it is distinguished from the buckler, i.e., a small, round shield worn on the arm.22 Also, flaming arrows were commonly used in antiquity to besiege and storm cities, not to mention any fiery missiles and bombs, used worldwide by armed forces to the present day. There are numerous references to God as a shield or shelter in the Old Testament (cf. Gen 15:1; Psa 5:12; 18:30; 28:7; 35:2). Prov 26:18 uses the figure to typify verbal charges, and in Wis 5:19, we see God himself taking up holiness as an invisible shield in his fight against “frenzied foes.” By the way, this verse contains the only verb in the future tense within this pericope, prophetically reassuring the believers that in faith, they “will be able” to withstand all attacks. Neither should it go unnoticed at this juncture that the Greek term for “faith” (pístis) also signifies related virtues such as “trust,” “faithfulness,” “loyalty,” “reliability,” and “commitment.” Naturally, from a perspective of ongoing spiritual combat, faith is a most efficacious safeguard against the recurring ailments of the human mind, such as agnosticism, atheism, relativism, subjectivism, and narcissism.

e.) Still, within the array of protective gear, we are to “take the helmet of salvation,” v. 17a. A Roman mercenary received his helmet from an attendant, who placed it on his head, and handed him his sword. He is, therefore, a passive recipient of the finishing pieces of his weaponry. There is also a subtle grammatical shift from participles to the more insistent imperative mood of the verb: “be sure you don’t forget the helmet!” Salvation and the word of God are gifts, received from God. Thus, in our spiritual contest, we are spurred on to conscientiously keep up our “hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:8), defusing any proclivity to sadness, depression, or wholesale surrender to the culture of death.

f.) The armor would be woefully incomplete had its bearer not “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” v. 17b, enhancing the analogy of the “two-edged swords” in the hands of the faithful at Psa 149:6. It should be noted, however, that the picture presented remains that of a trooper waiting attentively, not of one provoking aggression. He is clad in defensive equipment, while handling the one and only means of offense, which is a supernatural sword. The noun “word” (rēma) refers to what is spoken, in contrast to the more abstract “lógos of truth” at Eph 1:13. While we are on the subject, the “Spirit” is mentioned multiple times in this epistle, bringing to mind the Catholic sacrament of confirmation, by which the grace of baptism comes to completion. A person is enriched with the Holy Spirit, and the soul is marked with an indelible seal, just as draftees were marked with their leader’s seal in the ancient world. This sacrament holds the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial; it gives us special stamina to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, confessing the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.23 As followers of the divine Warrior, we are thus invited to regularly reflect on the Scriptures, in order to expel the shadiness of an unenlightened mind and a dull conscience. Ruminating on the biblical message, and evangelizing others through it, will keep the vision of our soul sharp and vigilant, preventing us from falling for the trappings of the material world. Lawrence of Brindisi, priest and doctor of the Church, sees in the Sacred Scriptures “a hammer against vice and the hardness of heart, and a sword against the temptations of the flesh, world, and devil, killing all sin.”24 Frequently meditating on the word of God will also have the benefit of maintaining an ever more undivided eye contact with the Lord, not giving in to a splintering of the soul. Needless to say, it will also be instrumental in shunning any damaging overconsumption of globalized entertainment by the mass and social media. Their substantial distractions have an implacable tendency to lull the human spirit to sleep. This interior slumber inevitably spells the end of all spiritual combat. Contravening this jeopardy, Paul finally recommends:

g.) “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints,” v. 18. A singular emphasis rests on the quality of constancy of Christian prayer, as already taught by Jesus in Luk 18:1 (oportet semper orare; cf. 1 Thess 5:17). Hence, our battle against evil has simply nothing to do with engaging in acts of physical force;25 the attitude is rather one of patient resistance,26 turning all attention to unceasing prayer and supplication.27 In times of pandemic proneness to worldly addictions, the children of the Church, and all people of good, will overcome by keenly walking in the presence of the Lord: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” Heb 13:8.

In concluding his contemplation on this subject, at Eph 6:19-20, Paul switches the focal point towards his own person: his desire is to declare the mystery of the Good News with boldness (parresía). One might say that, in light of Wis 5:1, where the righteous stand “with great confidence (parresía) in the presence of those who have oppressed them,” Paul presents himself as such a righteous one, and even as the “typological model for true Christian existence in the world.”28 Nodding toward the “chains” that shackle his wrists, Eph 6:20, he leads his audiences to the realization that gold has to be tried and purified in the crucible of suffering, so to speak, to become pure wisdom.

Humankind used to be desperately vulnerable vis-à-vis the onslaught of diabolical methodicalness, until Christ came to liberate us (see Eph 1:21; Col 1:13; 2:15.20). From then onward, if Christians are armed with his power, they will be able to fight, to resist, and to vanquish. Hence, the absolutely critical necessity of living indefatigably in the consciousness of spiritual combat.29 By writing about taking up and putting on the whole armor of God in Eph 6:10-18, Paul has proposed a fairly complete spiritual program whose aim it is to outmaneuver the devil’s astute campaigns: “Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war in accordance with human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ,” 2 Cor 10:3-5.

We have the total certainty that if the tempter was able to malevolently ambush the God-Man in the wilderness, trying his best to make him fall, he will surely pursue and tempt each one of us, as well. As the “murderer from the beginning” (homicida ab initio, Joh 8:44) he will remain our mortal enemy. Yet God’s Messiah rose beyond it all undefeated, making sure that that most puissant of antagonists will have no final say over us in a combat that does eventuate in heaven or hell. We can be confident in accomplishing great things for God because Christ is on our side, fighting in us, and with us, and for us, wielding his power on our behalf, so we can truly claim that he is our strength (Psa 28:7). As a matter of fact, the evil one, and his minions, fear the power of Christ manifesting itself in his brothers and sisters through the Holy Spirit (Mar 5:1-10; 2 Tim 1:7).

By way of closing, we refuse to be surprised that the adversary will do everything possible to stop us from confronting him on the internal battleground of our hearts. Instead, we put all our reliance on Jesus the Savior. While the strength of a military general lies in his troops, in the army of saints the fortitude of each one resides in the Lord of hosts: “For not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them,” Psa 44:3. Whenever we feel weak or despondent in our spiritual struggle, and perhaps overwhelmed by the crushing obscurity of our times, let us remember the son of Jesse, David the young shepherd. How bravely did he stand his ground, unperturbed by the frightening presence of Goliath: after turning down even king Saul’s own armor, and with the simple tool of a sling in his hand, he routed the giant Philistine. Those five stones he collected from the wadi (1 Sam 17:40) could symbolize the five salvific wounds of the Body of Christ, really present among us in the Eucharist, which in turn originates in the stream of God’s love for his Church. God does not ask impossible things of us, yet he desires to see good will, and the endeavor on our part to engage in a lifelong spiritual combat. And why does he permit his children to be tested? Because he wants to eternally reward them for their love and labor.30 So, let us then again be inspired to “fight the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7), trusting that the ultimate victory will be ours, “in the strength of his power” (Eph 6:10).

  1. Echoing the title of Lorenzo Scupoli’s classical book, The Spiritual Combat, on the strategy for achieving spiritual perfection and salvation. First published in 1589, it quickly became one of the most successful works of Catholic Spirituality: known to have been the favorite book of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, who kept a copy in his pocket for many years, reading from it every day, and recommending it to everyone under his direction.
  2. In terms of epistolary context, at Eph 4:1, he begins his ethical exhortations, and Eph 6:10 marks the start of conclusion of that section.
  3. Latin quotes are taken from the Nova Vulgata.
  4. The Koiné Greek kosmokrátoras is a single occurrence in the Bible, having parallels only in the Greek Magical Papyri (2nd cent. BC to the 5th cent. AD), in the Mandaean Gnosticism, and in the Testament of Solomon.
  5. The collecta on the memorial of the Maronite hermit St. Charbel Makhlouf renders it as pugna erémi, “battle in the desert”
  6. Sa-Moon Kang, Divine War in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Vol. 177, Walter de Gruyter: Berlin 1989, p. 224.
  7. Cf. Firestone, R., Holy War in Judaism, The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Idea, Oxford University Press: New York 2012.
  8. Cf. Kirsch, J., God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism, Penguin Books: London, reprint 2005.
  9. Freedman, D.N., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI 2000, p. 1402.
  10. Cf. Longman, T.—Reid, D.G., God is a Warrior, Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology Series, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1995, pp. 16-17.
  11. Eloquently reinforced by St. John Chrysostom: “Non est enim hoc praemiorum tempus, neque nunc gloria illa mea apparebit; sed praesens vita est caedium, belli ac periculorum”, Hom. 65, 3: PG 58, 620.
  12. Cf. the hoplítes, who were citizen-conscripts of ancient Greek city-states, primarily armed with spears and shields.
  13. E.g., Polybius 6.23; Thucydides 3.114; for biblical uses of the basic noun “armor/weapon” (hóplon), see 2 Macc 15:28; Luk 11:22; Rom 6:13; 13:12; and notably the cognate 2 Cor 6:7 (“with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left”)
  14. Cf. Seneca, Const. Sap. 6.8; Qumran’s War Scroll (1QM) and Thanksgiving Hymns (1QH) 3:24-39, 6:28-35; et al.
  15. Cf. Liturgia Horarum, Friday, Week I, Ad Vesperas, intercessions: “Tuam fideles omnes indue armaturam, ut adversus insidias diaboli consistere possint.
  16. Cf. MacDonald, M.Y., Colossians and Ephesians, Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 17, The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN 2000, p. 345.
  17. In contrast to the five components to God’s own armor in Wis 5:17-20.
  18. In the apostolic Father Ignatius of Antioch, we find an early patristic reception of it, albeit somewhat modified: “Baptismus vester maneat velut arma, fides ut galea, caritas ut hasta, patientia ut tota armatura”, Epistula ad Polycarpum 7: Funk, F.X. –Bihlmeyer, K., Die Apostolischen Väter 1, 252.
  19. See the famous prayer “Lorica of Saint Patrick.”
  20. Whereas the Greek hetoimasía occurs only once in the New Testament, its stem appears seventy times in Old Testament books; there, it has the additional connotations of “foundation, base” (bases, Ezra 3:3; Zech 5:11), “strength, confirmation” (Psa 9:38), “foundation” (firmamentum, Psa 88:15), and “muster for war” (Nah 2:4).
  21. Also known as a pavise, usually held by a shield bearer (pavisier) marching ahead of the archer or crossbowman, allowing the latter more freedom of action; a commander might be protected by several shield bearers as he oversaw an advancing phalanx of men with overlapping shields and long spears.
  22. Giving emergence to the heraldic escutcheon, or coat of arms.
  23. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285-1303.
  24. Sermo Quadragesimalis 2: Opera Omnia 5, 1, 52; concerning “flesh, world, devil” as the traditional archenemies of the soul, see Mar 4:15-17; Eph 2:1-3; 1 Joh 2:16.
  25. Prescinding from cases of “legitimate defense” as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2263-2265; cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Washington, D.C. 2005, no. 500-506.
  26. See the threefold repetition of “to stand” in Eph 6:11-14, instilling the idea of quiet resolve and enduring forwardness.
  27. See the general association of prayer with watchfulness in the New Testament: Mar 14:38; Luk 21:36; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Thess 5:6.
  28. Cf. Wild, R.A., “The Warrior and the Prisoner: Some Reflections on Ephesians 6:10-20”, CBQ 46 (1984) 284-298.
  29. Compare the military jargon of always preserving “situational awareness.”
  30. Placete illi, cui militatis, a quo et stipendia fertis; nemo vestrum desertor inveniatur,” Ignatius of Antioch, Epistula ad Polycarpum 7: Funk, F.X. – Bihlmeyer, K., Die Apostolischen Väter 1, 252.
Fr. Andreas Hoeck, SSD About Fr. Andreas Hoeck, SSD

Andreas Hoeck, born 1964 in Cologne/Germany, studied Philosophy, Theology, and Exegesis in Bonn/Germany, Anápolis/Brazil, Rome, and Jerusalem. After his priest ordination in 1992 he earned his doctorate at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 2002. Member of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Denver in Colorado, he has served as the Academic Dean at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary from 2010 till 2015. After a Sabbatical, he has resumed his full time position of Seminary teaching as an Associate Professor in the spring of 2016. Fr. Hoeck has contributed to the field of Scriptural Exegesis by publishing books and articles, both in scholarly periodicals, as well as in popular journals. His field of specialized research is the New Testament literature of Saints John and Paul.