Francis Phillips reviews Manual for Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen

Either Satan exists or he doesn’t. Either a malign demon is ceaselessly at work in the world to lead souls to eternal ruin (I don’t have any truck with talk of an abstract “evil”, sometimes used by baffled secularists to explain away the harsher aspects of existence which they can’t comprehend), or our faith is merely a vague feel for aesthetics and force of habit. Why am I saying this? Because so often we carry on as if there were not a dramatic spiritual warfare going on all around us. You don’t have to be an evangelical to know this (though they are often more aware of it than we are). You only have to read the testimonies of the saints – that great army of courageous souls who take Christ at his word.

These thoughts are in my mind as I have been reading Manual for Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen, TAN Books, distributed over here by Gracewing for £20, and in particular his chapter entitled “Help from the Saints”. They include much advice and personal witness from the likes of Ignatius Loyola (everything from him is couched in battle imagery as befits a former soldier); the Cure of Ars; Padre Pio; and Teresa of Avila, among others. As we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi yesterday, I’ll mention that St John Bosco advised the poor boys of Turin whom he cared for, to make use of Eucharistic Adoration in their struggles against temptation.

We had adoration yesterday afternoon in our parish church in reparation for the sin of abortion. I mention this because according to Thigpen the Devil craftily seizes his opportunity and utilises “Trojan horses” to lead unsuspecting humans over the portal to his infernal world: these particularly include playing with Ouija boards, taking drugs and being involved in abortion.

The Cure of Ars, who resisted personal demonic attacks for over 35 years, warns, paradoxically, that “The greatest of all evils is not to be tempted, because then there are grounds for believing that the Devil looks upon us as his property.” A horrible thought. And there is St John Climacus, reminding us that “Humility is the only virtue no demon can imitate.” Apparently they can imitate just about everything else that might lull the unwary into thinking they are in touch with an angel of light rather than their worst enemy.

In this book, which has a durable cover so that it can be carried about and consulted often, you can read the comment from St Maximilian Kolbe, martyred at Auschwitz, a place that we have come to think of as synonymous with evil: “Modern times are dominated by Satan and will be more so in the future.” Modern times for him led to World War II; modern times for us means a world in which so much of what we have taken for granted as sacred – the definition of marriage, the reality of human life in the womb, the God-given difference between the sexes – has been overthrown.

Some time ago I chanced on a group of Catholics. One of them said she was very angry with the Church so had joined her local Anglican parish; another said she was definitely a Catholic but that “all religions are the same really”; another saw no contradiction in joining an Anglo-Catholic parish “because they believe all the things we believe in – Our Lady, Mass, the lot”. I had the sensation I was sitting in the sunshine (it was a sunny day actually) in a deckchair on the Titanic.