SPIRITUAL WARFARE: The Sword Of The Spirit by Christopher Dawson

The Sword Of The Spirit by Christopher Dawson

From The Judgment of the Nations

We have seen that the Christian view of man and society is far from being a static traditionalism, as its rationalist critics have so often supposed.  What distinguishes the Christian view of history from that of secular philosophy is above all the belief in the divine government of the world and the intervention of the Spirit in history and in the power of man, to resist or cooperate with this divine action.  These conceptions are most clearly expressed in the prophets of Israel, who are in a special sense the bearers of the Sword of the Spirit.  For the prophets not only give an interpretation of history in terms of the kingdom of God and the divine judgment, they also show the power of God manifesting itself above all in the prophetic word.

The Voice said, Cry.  And he said, What Shall I cry? All flesh is grass,
and all the glory of it like the grass of the field.
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth because the Spirit
of the Lord bloweth upon it.  Surely the people is grass.
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word
of the Lord shall stand forever.

In all the crises that changed the course of history they saw the hand of God, and for each crisis there was also a corresponding word which it was the mission of the prophets to declare.  If God withheld his word, or if it was perverted by false prophets, the course of history ran blind.

The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream, and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.  What hath the chaff to do with the wheat, saith the Lord?

Is not my word like a fire, saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rocks in pieces?

But the word of God was not only the word of judgment and destruction, it was also a creative force, the Word of Life, the organ of the spirit which renews the face of the world, as we see in Ezechiel’s vision of the valley of bones: the dry bones of the House of Israel, when the holy city had been destroyed and the people were exiles and captives who had lost their hope.

And he said to me: Prophesy to the Spirit, prophesy, O son of man and say to the Spirit: Thus saith the Lord God: Come Spirit from the four winds and breathe upon these slain that they may live.

Here we have a really dynamic vitalism, in comparison with which the new biological vitalism of blood and race and the old pagan vitalism of the gods of the Earth are weak and degraded and obscure.  The Spirit blows through the world like wind and fire, driving the kingdoms before it, burning up the works of man like dry grass, but the meaning of history is found not in the wind or in the fire, but in “the small voice” of the Word which is never silent, but which cannot bear fruit unless man cooperates by an act of faith and spiritual obedience.  This dynamic and prophetic element is an essential part of the Christian tradition, and it is present even in periods when the church seemed bound to a fixed and changeless social order, as in Eastern Christendom.  But today it has acquired fresh importance owing to the breaking down of the partition which divided the religious and secular spheres of life during recent centuries and the coming together of the inner world of spiritual experience and the outer world of historic events in a new unity.

Today Christianity is implicated in history just as much as Israel was in the age of the prophets, though there has not yet been time for Christians to adjust their minds to what has happened.  Nevertheless, there is already a general realization that social and political issues have become spiritual issues – that the church cannot abstain from intervention without betraying its mission.  The reason for this great change is not, however, primarily religious – that is to say, it is not due to the advance of the Christian element in our culture and the reconquest of the world for God.  Quite the contrary.  It is due to the invasion of the spiritual by the temporal, the triumphant self-assertion of secular civilization and of the secular state against the spiritual values and against the church.  The real meaning of what we call totalitarianism and the totalitarian state is the total control of all human activities and all human energies, spiritual as well as physical, by the state, and their direction to whatever ends are dictated by its interests, or rather the interests of the ruling party or clique.

Such an attempt has been made by the despots of the past – for the God-state is the oldest of all the enemies of God.  But in the past the power of the state was limited by the means at its disposal.  Today it is unlimited.  For the advance of science and technology, while it has immeasurably increased man’s control of his environment, has also increased the control of society over the individual, of the state over society, and of the rulers over the state.  In the new states not only a man’s property and his work, but his family, his leisure and his thought are controlled by the immense and complex machinery of party and police and propaganda which are gradually transforming society from a commonwealth of free citizens into a hive or an ant-heap.  For the new tyranny is not merely a matter of subjugating the people by force to the rule of a master, like the tyrannies of the past; it uses the new techniques of psychology and behaviorism to condition the personality and to control the mind, as it were, from within.  By continued repression and stimulation, by suggestion and terrorization, the personality is subjected to a methodical psychological assault until it surrenders its freedom and becomes a puppet which shouts and marches and hates and dies at its masters’ voice, or in response to their unseen and unrecognized stimulation.  In such an order there can be no place for religion unless religion forfeits its spiritual freedom and allows itself to be used by the new power as a means for conditioning and controlling the psychic life of the masses.  But this is an impossible solution for the Christian, since it would be a sin against the Holy Ghost in the most absolute sense.  Therefore the church must once more take up her prophetic office and bear witness to the Word even if it means the judgment of the nations and an open war with the powers of the world.

The Western democracies and their leaders gravely underestimated the revolutionary force that drove the totalitarian states forward with the result that the old European states system has collapsed like a house of cards and we are fighting for our existence against a ruthless enemy.  And, similarly, Christians have failed to realize how profoundly the moral foundations of the world had been shaken and what a tremendous effort was needed in order to save humanity from the abyss of nihilism and spiritual disintegration.  These two struggles are indeed not the same.  For it is possible that the defeat of Germany might leave the spiritual evils of totalitarianism as strong as ever, while war is itself a destructive element which favors the progress of the spirit of nihilism and destruction.  Everything depends on whether it is possible to use the temporal struggle, not for destructive or purely material ends, but as a means of checking the demonic forces that have been let loose on the world.  For, as Burke wrote a century and a half ago, no material gain is sufficient to outweigh the cost of war, which is the lives of men.  “The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man.  It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind.  The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.”  If this is true of the limited wars of the past, it is much more so of total war with its monstrous burden of destruction.  This immense evil is only bearable if it is the only means of preventing or ending still greater evils. And this, in fact, is what we believe, for I think it is difficult to deny that the majority of Englishmen, whatever their religious beliefs, feel that they are defending not only their lives and property, but things that are greater than themselves; and deeper than political or economic interests.  They believe that they are standing against violence and treachery and injustice in the cause of all mankind.

If the ordinary man is prepared to stake everything, as he has done, for this obscurely felt, but real, faith, the Christian is bound in faith and honor to do no less in the spiritual conflict that lies behind the battle of the nations and to bear witness to the Word of God at whatever cost.  This is the fundamental aim of the Movement of the Sword of the Spirit, which has taken as its title the words of Saint Paul, where he speaks of the spiritual armament for the war that is fought, “not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  As Cardinal Hinsley said in the address which inaugurated the movement:

The Apostle wrote these words in prison chained between two Roman soldiers in their warlike array.  He says in effect that the gross panoply of warfare or material armaments count for little against the Spirit, for the Word of God is not bound down, Verbum Dei non est alligatum.  The Spirit cannot be enslaved or imprisoned except by its own willful betrayal.  The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, and the Word of God is more piercing than a two-edged sword.

If Christians had realized this truth and had made it their principle of action, the evils that now threaten to overwhelm us would never have arisen.  But this is just the truth which the modern world has denied.  It has put its trust in the “arm of flesh” like the Jews of the Old Testament, it has believed the word of man rather than the Word of God.  It has reversed the whole hierarchy of spiritual values so that our civilization has been turned backwards and upside-down, with its face towards darkness and nonentity and its back to the sun of truth and the source of being.  For a short time – whether we reckon it in decades or centuries is of small importance – it remained precariously skating on the thin ice of rationalism and secular humanism.  Now the ice has broken and we are being carried down the flood, though we may delude ourselves that the forces that have been released are of our own creation and serve our will to power.

Is it possible to reverse this process?  No human power can stop this progress to the abyss.  It can only come about by a profound movement of change or conversion which brings the human spirit once more into vital relation with the Spirit of God.

Every world crisis is, as the word denotes, a judgment and a decision out of which something new must come.  It is therefore an opportunity to hear the Word of God and for the Spirit to manifest its creative power to humanity.  This is the hope that the prophets always maintain in their vision of judgment against the nation, and which the church constantly repeats in the liturgy.  “Come, O Lord, do not wait, deliver thy people from the hand of power.  Show thy face and we shall be saved.”  This tremendous sense of urgent need and real deliverance finds only a very pallid and vague reflection in the religious attitude of the average Christian.  That is why the Christian faith has made so little impression on the modern world and seems powerless to influence the course of history.  And although the Movement of the Sword of the Spirit may seem in itself a very small thing.  I think it is important, because it does attempt to face this vital issue which has been so neglected and ignored by the more highly organized forms of ecclesiastical activity.  As Cardinal Hinsley says, everyone can play a part in this spiritual crusade, for the Spirit divides his gifts to each according to his will to use them.  We can take part in it by prayer, by study, and by action.  It is not necessary to say much about the first and last of these, for all Catholics understand the importance of prayer, and all Englishmen understand the importance of action.  But both Catholics and Englishmen are inclined to neglect the second intellectual arm and to undervalue the importance of the power of thought.  The real reason of the success of the new powers that are conquering the world and the failure of Christians to withstand them has been that the former have used the intellectual arm to the fullest extent, however perverted their aim, whereas the Christians have been content with good intentions and sound principles which they have accepted as a matter of course.  It was the greatest of the dictators, Napoleon, who said: “There are two powers in the world, the sword and the mind.  In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind.”  Yet no one can accuse Napoleon of undervaluing the power of the sword.  And so the fact that we believe the power of the Spirit is even greater than that of the mind is no reason for neglecting the latter, which can be either the most potent instrument of the Spirit or its most formidable adversary.

The attempt of the mind to dispense with the Spirit, to build a world that should be entirely in man’s power and should find its end in him, is no new thing.  It is, as Saint Augustine showed, a universal tendency that runs through the whole of history and takes on different forms in different ages.  But never has it revealed itself so explicitly as it does today in the totalitarian state, which has almost succeeded in constructing a world completely closed to the Spirit and leaving no loophole or corner for spiritual freedom.  But the result is so oppressive to human nature, so ultimately self-destructive, that it must inevitably produce a reaction of resistance and revolt, in which the Christian elements in Western civilization will once more make themselves felt.  It may seem Utopian at this time to speak of the coming of a new Christian order – a new Christendom.  But the more we recognize our distance from the goal and the immensity of the difficulties to be overcome, the more hope there is of ultimate success.

For what we must look for is not the alliance of the temporal power, as in the old Christendom, and an external conformity to Christian standards, but a reordering of all the elements of human life and civilization by the power of the Spirit: the birth of a true community which is neither an inorganic mass of individuals nor a mechanized organization of power, but a living spiritual order.

The ideal of such a community was the dream that inspired the political reformers and revolutionaries of the last two centuries, but since they rejected the power of the Spirit their ideals proved unreal and Utopian, and they achieved either freedom without order, or order without freedom.

Today, we are fighting against the totalitarian order, which is the most radical and systematic denial of freedom that the world has seen.  But we must recognize while we fight for freedom that freedom alone will not save the world.  A true peace can only be secured by the restoration of spiritual order, for it is only in the Spirit that power and freedom are reconciled and united, so that the Sword of the Spirit is both the power that can deliver us from the hand of the enemy and the force that awakens and sets free the dormant sources of energy in human nature itself.



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