Angels, Monks, & Fatima Part I: The three enemies of the Kingdom of God in men

07-11-2021Weekly ReflectionFr. Jose Maria Iraburu

The Gospels frequently point to "the devil, the world and the flesh" as the resistances that make it difficult for man to receive the Kingdom of God. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains that "the devil, the world and the flesh" can prevent the sowing from taking root and growing in man (Mt 13,1-23). And the first monks, in the fourth century, were well aware that of the three enemies of the Kingdom the most powerful is the devil, "prince" and "god" of this world (Jn 12,31; 2Cor 4,4; + Catechism 2851), the first to achieve sin in Adam and Eve, disobedience to God. That is why the monks had the good angels in their fight as their main helpers.

Spiritual teachers, such as Saint John of the Cross, teach that "the world is the least difficult enemy," especially, of course, in those who have left it. "The flesh is more tenacious", because it is in every man until his death (Cautious to a religious 1-3); "The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak" (Mt 26:41). But without a doubt the most dangerous enemy is the devil, who fights against man by hiding in his direct accomplices: world and flesh, while they serve him; but when the two have been defeated, he attacks directly. That is why the saints are the ones who suffer the most direct attacks from the devil. And in general, Saint Paul already warns that "our struggle is not [mainly] against blood and flesh, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of this dark world, against evil spirits" (Eph 6,12 ).

Fight of the monks against the devil

All this the first monks knew perfectly well, who left the world, thus weakening the fascination of the flesh, and they went to the desert first of all to engage in combat with the devil, organized combat, a death and life struggle, looking down at their own salvation and that of the whole world. The monk García M. Colombás in his great work El monacato primitivo (Madrid 1975, BAC, I-II) tells us that for the monks “the Enemy par excellence was Satan, surrounded by his phalanxes of demons. The monks knew it very well ”(II, 234). And so did the demons who “shouted furiously at Saint Anthony the abbot: 'Out of our domain! What have you lost in the desert? ”(II, 235; Vita Antonii 8). "The Gospel tells very explicitly that" Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil "[Mt 4,1]. Consequently, it was the evil spirits against whom the monks waged war, and the desert, as for Jesus, was the preferred battlefield "(II, 234). The early monks, like Saint Paul, were convinced that their ascetic struggle was fundamentally against evil angels.

Alliance with the good angels

That certain knowledge in faith confirmed them in the conviction that in their ascetic struggle they absolutely needed a special alliance with the good angels, more powerful in Christ than the bad angels, because they work with the power of God, who sends them. In the first monastic life, then, the guidance and custody of the angelic world was very important. That is why García Colombás points out that the presence and action of angels, so important in the Gospels, is frequently captured and witnessed by the first monks of the desert. For the monks "the holy angels are their comrades in arms, since embracing monastic life is equivalent to enlisting in the same angelic legions in order to take part in the war against the empire of Satan" (II, 248). As Evagrio Ponticus (345-399), the learned monk of the desert, says, “the part that fights are the men, the helpers are the angels of God; the adversaries, the perverse demons" (Antirrheticós, preface: II, 247).

Jesus leads the fight

"But the monk still has a more powerful and exalted assistant than the angels themselves: Jesus Christ… Saint Jerome said to the monks of Bethlehem:" Jesus himself, our chief, has a sword, and he always advances before us, and fights for us, and conquers the adversaries ” (II, 249).There are innumerable examples that have been referred to us about the family and assiduous relationships of the first monks with the angels of God. I do not quote them for brevity, but I refer to the Apothegmas, the Sentences of the Desert Fathers, the Philocalia, etc. and other similar works, of which there are current editions.