The Church Militant

The Church Militant

The term Church Militant may feel to many as though it belongs to a bygone age. However, being militant is not merely a soldierly reference, but also to be aggressively active (as in a cause). And like it or not, as pilgrims on earth we are at war; and we would do well to better remember that God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us. (St. Augustine, Sermon 169)

Now, through some inexplicable twist, we seem to be 70 million US Catholics hopelessly outnumbered. We are seemingly unable to successively engender active parishioners who are then: i) well catechized, and ii) inspirited to act. Continuous improvement in this conscription process is not infrequently deliberated. However, the means by which we struggle to point all souls toward heaven must increasingly emphasize making the most of limited resources.

Any soldier can tell you that sheer numbers, discipline, and morale combine to form only a share of total combat effectiveness. Recollect what happens when fearless waves of naked, screaming Gauls run headlong into a Roman legion on open field and you will see my point. It is the principled use of limited resources that is most tantamount to success in war.

The Principles of War

Of course principles of war have been around for centuries; but they began to take more definitive form in the 19th and 20th centuries beginning with Clausewitz’s study of the Napoleonic Wars. Today you can find the generally accepted principles for the US military set forth in ‘US Army Field Manual FM 3-0: Operations.’

These principles of war are not a checklist. They do not apply in the same way to every situation. Rather, they summarize the critical success factors of most any successful operation (which is why they are often borrowed for purpose in business, politics, sport, etc.). Importantly for us, they can be as useful in advancing truth and charity as they are in seizing territory.

  • Objective: Direct every operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective.
  • Unity of Command: For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander.
  • Simplicity: Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.
  • Offensive: Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative.
  • Maneuver: Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power.
  • Mass: Concentrate the effects of combat power at the decisive place and time. Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.
  • Security: Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage.
  • Surprise: Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared.

Success in optimizing any or all of these principles creates ‘force multipliers’. It is force multipliers that can allow small Special Operations forces to successfully engage whole battalions of enemy soldiers (and legions to repel hordes of Gauls).

Of course, we must also evaluate these principles in light of our chiefly defensive posture.

Defensive Strategy

Mounting a long-term defense is an exceedingly difficult endeavor (as we have seen in our defense of religion and morality). Patton once remarked that, “fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.” He emphasized care to avoid over-reliance on static positions and the sense of security they falsely secrete. Instead, good defense must be farsighted, well-coordinated, and energetic – paradoxically offensive in a sense.

When Frederick “the Great” found himself surrounded by French, Russian, and Austrian armies during the Seven Years War, it is safe to say that he too felt a bit defensive minded. In addition to good Prussian discipline and the motivation to defend their country, Frederick employed a strategy of ‘interior lines’. He maneuvered quickly and massed decisively in order to upset any balance in his opponents. As the enemy enveloped, his lines of movement, communication, and supply became geometrically shorter – granting him greater and greater advantage. The more they closed in, the more dangerous he became.

Frederick’s tactics on the battlefield were likewise innovative. His ‘oblique order’ massed the force of his line to one flank. Then as the opposing armies drew near to engage, he would refuse the weaker flank and pound a single point of the enemy line with a concentration of force aimed at inflicting a swift fracture. He even changed the cadence of the marching drums from the standard 80 beats per minute to 120 beats per minute – literally out hustling his opponents on the field. But nevertheless, he always shunned grand battles of annihilation in order to avoid risk to his limited resources.

You see defense does not always require eviscerating an enemy – but often only to complicate and frustrate to the point of breaking his spirit to give offense.

So impressive was Frederick’s success in his day that when Napoleon visited his tomb (having finally subdued Prussia years later) he remarked to his generals that, “if he were alive we wouldn’t be here today.” Imagine if we garnered such a reputation amongst our enemies.

“All the Energies the Catholic Community Can Muster” 

To the extent that the ground war belongs to “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture,” (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the United States of America on their Ad Limina Visit, January 19, 2012) a call for more energy alone is not enough. Energy released without direction is merely an outburst (more often only a fizzle).

It has simply never been enough to hurl one’s self into the fray as the Gauls (no matter if shouting “God wills it!”). Instead, we must resolve to fight more as legionaries. Although we no longer have access to Tribunes, Prefects, and Centurions to show us the way, in a free market society one would think that we should be able to find the essential DNA strands within a body of vigorous business professionals.

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Written by
David Laidler