“And do this, understanding the time, for it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe. The night is far advanced; the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought for its lusts.”
~ ROMANS 13: 11–14
Prayer and fasting, worship and adoration, Scripture and sacraments and sacramentals all provide the weapons of our spiritual warfare. With them we go on the offensive against the Evil One. But the virtues provide our defensive armor. As Blessed Pope Paul VI once observed, St.Paul “used the armor of a soldier as a symbol for the virtues that can make a Christian invulnerable.” They are our best defense against his attacks, for they guard our minds and hearts from his deceptions and temptations. A lapse in virtue is in fact a chink in our armor that makes us vulnerable.
Faith, the first of the theological virtues, serves us as a shield, according to St. Paul. His description reminds us that faith must be firmly grasped and held up as a barrier between ourselves and the Enemy. Faith includes both a knowledge of God and a confident trust in Him. A clear knowledge of the Church’s teaching exposes the lies and enticements of the Devil. A firm trust in God renders powerless the doubts and accusations he hurls at us. As St. Paul assures us, “the shield of faith” will “quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one” (Eph 6: 16).
The second theological virtue, the “hope of salvation,” is a helmet, the Apostle declares (1 Thes 5: 8). It’s essential for protecting the mind. The temptation to despair is a powerful tactic of the Enemy. If we lose hope for our salvation, we open our minds wide to all the poisonous thoughts that the Enemy seeks to plant there. If we should conclude that we have no hope of winning the battle, why even fight? So we must never take off the helmet of hope if we hope to overcome the Devil.
In one of his epistles, St. Paul describes love (or charity) as the breastplate of our spiritual armor, and in another epistle, he says righteousness (or justice) fulfills that function (see 1 Thes 5: 8 and Eph 6: 14). When we note that righteousness means being rightly related to God and to others, then we can see why he would identify righteousness with love, the third of the theological virtues. Jesus taught us that to be rightly related to God is to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind; and to be rightly related to others is to love them as we love ourselves (see Mt 22: 36–40). The breastplate protects the heart–symbol of the will, that center of our soul that makes choices for or against God. Love consists, of course, not merely in feeling, but in doing, in choosing what is right and good. When our love for God and for others grows cold, our hearts wither, and we lose the resolve–the “armor”–that strengthens us in making the right choices. When love is lost, the Enemy can take deadly aim, straight for the heart.
St. Paul notes that truth also forms part of our spiritual armor (see Eph 6: 14). Truth, he says, girds our “loins”–that intimate part of our inner selves that is so easily led astray by blinding passion and the Devil’s enticement. We must seek the truth and live the truth about what it means to live and love rightly if we’re to resist the father of lies in this regard. The Apostle elaborates on this aspect of our armor, which he calls “the armor of light,” in his letter to the Christians of Rome (Rom 13: 12). Rather than succumbing to the dark vices of our physical appetites, he insists, “let us behave becomingly.” We must not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh, but instead we must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” imitating the virtues displayed in His character (v. 14).
Readiness for the gospel of peace
Finally, the Apostle tells us that on our spiritual “feet” we must wear, like sturdy military boots, a readiness for the gospel of peace (see Eph 6: 15). Wherever we go, we must be prepared to bring the good news of salvation, of peace with God, to all we may encounter. In this way, by winning the hearts of others to Our Lord, we do spiritual battle by helping to rescue the Enemy’s captives. When we seek to share our faith in this way, the Devil will try to turn us back. He’ll scatter across our path, like so many rocks and thorns, a wagonload of doubts, accusations of our inadequacy, and fear of conflict and rejection. But if we’ve put on the “boots” of readiness–if we’ve prepared ourselves, through faithful study and prayer, to share the gospel–then we’ll walk safely over these obstacles, crushing them as we go.
One last virtue is critical in spiritual warfare. Humility is the essential virtue that provides the soil in which all the other virtues grow. St. Paul tells us that through the humility of Christ, the Devil was defeated (see Phil 2: 3–11). And we, too, must humble ourselves if God is to exalt us in victory (see Jas 4: 10). When St. Peter exhorts us in his first epistle to “clothe [ourselves] . . . with humility toward one another,” he goes on to warn us that this armor is necessary because our “adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt 5: 5, 8 RSVCE). Humility keeps us from dangerous “high places” where the Enemy could tempt us to pride and vainglory. St. Anthony the Great was a pioneer among the ancient fathers of the desert, a champion in spiritual warfare who endured horrific demonic attacks. He once reported a vision. “I saw all the Devil’s traps set upon the earth,” he recalled, “and I groaned and said, ‘Who do you think can pass through them?’ And I heard a voice saying: ‘Humility.’” Like soldiers crawling under a barbed wire fence, we can crawl right under the Enemy’s snares by lowering ourselves through humility. Each of these virtues, then, and all the others as well, play a vital role in protecting us from enemy assault as the armor we must wear. St. Paul sums it up: “Put on, therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Bear with one another, if anyone has a grievance against any other; even as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection” (Col 3: 12–14). Only with such armor will we be fully covered and protected from the Evil One’s attacks.