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For months leading up to the Battle of Lepanto, fought on this day 443 years ago, Pope Pius V urged the faithful to pray for military victory against Muslim forces aiming to storm Italy from its Adriatic coast. Specifically, he enjoined Catholics in Europe to pray daily the most holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Christian navy prevailed, and on the Roman calendar October 7 was dedicated to Our Lady of Victory.

Victory—what a golden word. Christians in earlier times appreciated its value. ICXC NIKA, they wrote. Christus vincit. Christ is victorious. Or, in English more colloquial: Christ wins. 

By and large, Christians in the developed world now recoil from the idea. They’re half in love with defeat, the better to identify with the poor and the downtrodden, with Christ on the cross, as if self-abnegation were an end in itself rather than the means to victory over death and the prince of this world.

In their flirtation with pacifism, liberal Christians are squeamish even about spiritual combat, in part because they’re ashamed to believe in spirits, the order of creatures to which evil spirits belong. It is a grave error to make no distinction between them and our flesh-and-blood neighbor whom they hide behind and use as a human shield. Sometimes they act through him, with him, and in him. You can recognize them in his behavior precisely when it turns inhuman. Read Michael Novak’s description of what Alfa Mustafa inflicted on General Marcantonio Bragadino during the run-up to Lepanto. Or recall the torture of Christians in our own day. You could watch videos of beheadings. But don’t. They’ll tempt you to indulge a vengeful spirit.

We know that it is wrong to treat our neighbor as we would the devil. We need to be reminded that it is equally wrong to treat the devil as we should our neighbor.

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