Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Living, Dying, and Fighting for the Faith: A Call to Arms and Martyrdom


Looking at what ISIS has been doing to our brethren across the Muslim world, in combination with the open hatred and attacks against the Catholic Faith in the formerly Christian West, it is clear that it’s only a matter of time before some Catholic faithful will be forced to choose between apostasy and martyrdom.

To die for Christ is to make the ultimate sacrifice of love for the sake of love itself, just as our Lord did. If God did not spare His only Son from torment and death at our hands, why should any Catholic not expect that, at some point, he might be asked to renounce the Faith or suffer as Christ did?

All of the disciples save St. John were martyred. And St. John would have shared their fate, had he not been preserved by God after the Greeks attempted to boil him alive. Instead, he found himself in exile on the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation. Still, no exemption was given to others. St. Peter was crucified upside down. His brother, St. Andrew, was also crucified on an “X”-shaped cross. St. Thomas was stabbed to death. St. Mark was fed to lions. St. Bartholomew was skinned alive.  Many throughout history have been tortured for their testimony of the Faith, just as today, there are new martyrs at the hands of ISIS and other Muslim groups across Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.

Statue of St. Bartholomew Draped in His Own Skin – Duomo, Milan

Martyrdom is one of the most profound expressions of God’s love, as it shows both His mercy and His justice. Through the death of another in odium fidei, the martyr gives himself for the sake of Christ, and after but a temporary bout of suffering, undoubtedly wins the most precious prize – eternal life. The murderer also earns another prize: lest he repents, he will certainly be condemned to eternal hellfire.

Martyrdom is a vocation for select individuals and groups at specific times. If dying for Christ is the ultimate sacrifice, and because man can only die once, it is only for those chosen by God. All are supposed to make small sacrifices, such as with fasting and other penitential acts. However, if all Christians were supposed to suffer martyrdom, there would be no Christians left. Not only are some Christians are NOT supposed to be martyrs, but to pursue this fate for the wrong reasons or without His blessing can be a direct violation of the Divine Will.

In the 13th century, a young Portuguese Franciscan Friar named Antonio Martins de Bulhoes saw the Franciscans going to Morocco and being martyred by the local sultan for testifying to the Faith, and he wanted to follow their example. The first time he attempted to travel he became violently ill and could not go. The second time he set off, his ship was blown across the Mediterranean by a violent storm and crashed in Italy. Disappointed and frustrated, the young Franciscan stayed in the city of Padua and became known as the “hammer of heretics.” Today, he is venerated as St. Anthony of Padua.

Contrast this story with an argument I heard between a Catholic and Coptic Orthodox priest several years ago. After a long discussion, the Coptic Orthodox priest said that with respect to the persecution of the Copts in Egypt, this was part of the suffering that the Coptic Orthodox Church was called to endure. It was to this that the Catholic priest responded, “Martyrdom is a calling for individuals and some groups. It is not the vocation for an entire people. That is suicide!”

Where would the world be if the Spanish docilely accepted the Islamic invasion of Iberia in 711 as a “vocation” for the Spanish people? Would the heathens of the Americas have been converted to true Faith, or saved from the horrors of continual human sacrifices? Would the Ethiopian Christians have been saved from the Somaili Islamic invasions of the mid-16th century? Who would have stood up to the Ottoman-supported Lutheran and Calvinist revolutionaries during the Protestant Rebellion?

Would half of the Church’s total population exist today?

When the Muslims invaded Spain, there were many Catholic martyrs, which I have written extensively about. Yet at the same time, there were also many great Catholic warriors who waged glorious battle against the raging Mohammedan hordes, fearlessly cutting down their armies and executing justice on the sons of perdition just as Moses did to the Canaanites in the Old Testament. For every man who laid down his life for the faith, there was another with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other, standing their ground on the bloody Spanish battlefields. Without these latter, Islam would not have been brought to submission in 1492. Consider that St. James himself, one of Jesus’ own disciples, was portrayed regularly on horseback leading Catholic armies to victory, while trampling the Muslims beneath his horse’s hooves:


A Catholic understanding of martyrdom today is bound up inseparably from God’s mercy and justice. If some of us are called to give our lives for the Catholic Faith, then we are also to fight — not just spiritually, but militarily too — for its preservation and propagation. We are to be particularly vigilant against heretics, apostates, and deviants, because the Faith is of such sublime beauty and value. Indeed, if there is no salvation outside the Church, then those who have designs to destroy the Church and her people must not only have prayers and sacrifices made for them and their conversion, but they must also be opposed by all available means, up to and including deadly force.

John Lennon sang in “Imagine” of a world where there is “Nothing to kill or die for.” If there is nothing to kill or die for, then there is nothing to live for, and as such, if there is something to die for, there is something to live, and yes, even to justly kill for.

German-Jewish born American artist Emanuel Leutze beautifully captured this contrast in his 1848 painting The Storming of the Teocalli, which portrays Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs. One can notice that while an Indian on the right is preparing to sacrifice and infant, the Spanish bravely charge forward and smite the heathen priests, while a Franciscan friar on the left tends to a dying Indian, attempting to guarantee his eternal salvation:


There is a great spiritual and temporal struggle coming to the West. Martyrdom is one potential outcome, and for those called to it, it is truly a blessing from heaven. But for the rest of us, we must prepare, not just to die, but to live, to protect and spread our Holy Faith, and to defend the lives of the innocent, even, if necessary, by the force of arms.

7 thoughts on “Living, Dying, and Fighting for the Faith: A Call to Arms and Martyrdom”

  1. I love your website, but am having trouble with this: “Consider that St. James himself, one of Jesus’ own disciples, was portrayed regularly on horseback leading Catholic armies to victory, while trampling the Muslims beneath his horse’s hooves…”
    There were no Muslims until many centuries later. How could one of Jesus’ disciples have fought them?
    Please explain that I don’t understand precisely which St James you’re referring to, or I’ll have to assume you have a protestant’s understanding of Church History.

    • You may be aware that the tomb of St. James the Great is believed to be at Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, the Northwest corner of Spain. It has for many centuries been a pilgrimage site. The visionary and mystic Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich saw St. James journeying from Jerusalem across Europe and into Spain, where he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin, who told him to build a church there, after which he was to return to Jerusalem.

      He did so, and it was in Jerusalem, on Mount Calvary, that he was beheaded, and died. But his body was later returned to Spain, where he had had such an impact, and his remains, to this day, lie in a silver sarcophagus in the great Cathedral there on the spot that the Blessed Virgin had instructed him to build.

      There have been many legends over the centuries that St. James appeared to aid in the battle for the reconquista during the long Muslim occupation of Spain. This depiction is taken from “The Liturgical Year” by Dom Gueranger:

      “Nearly eight centuries, which to the heavenly citizens are but as a day, had passed over that tomb in the north of Spain, where two disciples had secretly laid the apostle’s body. During that time the land of his inheritance, which he had so rapidly traversed, had been overrun first by Roman idolaters, then by Arian barbarians, and when the day of hope seemed about to dawn, a deeper night was ushered in by the Crescent. One day lights were seen glimmering over the briars that covered the monument; attention was drawn to the spot, which henceforth went by the name of the field of stars. But what are those sudden shouts coming down from the mountains, and echoing through the valleys? Who is this unknown chief rallying against an immense army the little worn-out troop whose heroic valour could not yesterday save it from defeat? Swift as lightning, and bearing in one hand a white standard with a red cross, he rushes with drawn sword upon the panic-stricken foe, and dyes the feet of his charger in the blood of 70,000 slain. Hail to the chief of the holy war, of which this Liturgical Year has so often made mention! St. James! St. James! Forward, Spain! It is the reappearance of the Galilean fisherman, whom the Man-God once called from the bark where he was mending his nets; of the elder son of thunder, now free to hurl the thunderbolt upon these new Samaritans, who pretend to honour the unity of God by making Christ no more than a prophet. Henceforth James shall be to Christian Spain the firebrand which the prophet saw, devouring all the people round about, to the right hand and to the left, until Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place in Jerusalem.”

      Whether or not there is any truth to the story — and God certainly works in mysterious ways, so I will not discount the possibility — the soldiers of Catholic Spain thought it so, and would cry out “Santiago! Santiago!” as they rushed into battle against the Moors.

      • Thank you for enlightening me. I had not heard the legends of the battles in Spain aganist the invaders.
        St James The Great, Son of Thunder, Chief of the Holy War, Apostle of Spain, and servant of the true God, Pray for us.

  2. “Christians to the lions.” Not this time, my liberal, Anti-Christ opponents. This time your side can have the ‘martyrs’ for your unjust causes whether they are awarded 72 virgins and/or live forever in a Godless, statist utopia on earth, enshrined in a bronze statue. The bad guys’ own pagan philosopher, Mao Tze Tung, said, “Political power grows out of a barrel of a gun.” This time they can contemplate Mao’s thesis from both dialectic points of view and/or Koranic fatwa on their own heads and necks.

  3. Thank you for posting the “beautiful” statue of St. Bartholomew.
    I see peacefulness, strength, and dignity amidst suffering.
    It seems divinely inspired…
    Dear Mother of Grace,
    Help us to imitate such “beauty”.
    St. Bartholomew,
    Please pray for us!

  4. Thanks Andrew. Good article. Two things occurred to me. One, a good Catholic cannot be a conscientious objector. And second, Pope Francis should call for military action to protect Christian against ISIS.
    As the Church Militant we are here to fight for the Catholic faith. It has always been so. We even have similar symbols to remind us: the cross and the sword. The cross to proclaim the faith and the sword to defend it.
    We are expected to be prudent and use every legitimate means possible to defend the faith and defend ourselves.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...