The poet Roy Campbell declared that Spain was “a country to which I owe everything as having saved my soul.”[i] Received into the Catholic Church in 1935, in Altea, a small town in Alicante, only a year before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Campbell’s reception into the Church would be a baptism of fire. The parish priest who received him into the Church would be murdered by communist militiamen and the Carmelite monks whom Campbell and his wife had befriended in Toledo would also be shot in cold blood. Not surprisingly, considering the diabolical actions of the communists and anarchists, Campbell was a vociferous supporter of the Nationalist uprising in Spain that would eventually quell the anti-Christian pogrom.
Campbell saw the Spanish Civil War as being a crusade against the forces of evil, a war in which Christians had taken up arms to protect Mother Church from the attacks of Big Brother. In truth, the history of Europe and the world might have been very different if the Christians had not won the war in Spain. If Spain had remained a communist country, it would have been a crucially strategic Soviet outpost in the heart of Western Europe. The iron curtain which fell across central Europe would also have fallen across the Pyrenees. It is possible, therefore, that the Christians of Spain had saved Europe from the infidel in the Civil War as they had saved Europe from the Islamic infidel eight hundred years earlier. This was certainly the view of Hilaire Belloc who declared upon hearing the news of the Nationalist victory in Spain that General Franco was “the man who has saved us all”.[ii]
Today, in an age in which secular fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism are once again on the rise, the example of Christian Spain can serve as a timely and timeless inspiration. From the leadership of the Cid against the Muslims to the leadership of the Generalissimo[iii] against the communists, Spain has been a bastion and fortress of Christendom against her enemies. She also reminds us that the part of the Church in which we find ourselves, the part that is exiled in Time, is the Church Militant, the Church at war with the Prince of worldliness and his legion of disciples. It is in this militant spirit that God has bestowed upon Spain a host of warrior saints who have offered themselves in sacrifice to Christ and His Church, from the legendary vision of St. James the Great who led the Christians in battle during the Reconquista to the holy Martyrs killed by the secular fundamentalists in the Civil War.
In between her crucial role in saving Europe from Islam and communism, Spain was also of pivotal importance to the Counter-Reformation. One cannot think of the glories of the Counter-Reformation without thinking of St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross, or without paying due deference and homage to St. Ignatius Loyola, the warrior saint who founded the Jesuits. In much more recent times, St. Josemaria Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, has bolstered the Church throughout the world, empowering the laity to evangelize the secular culture in their everyday lives.
Today, Spain is once again suffering under the yoke of a resurgent secular fundamentalism. So be it. It has always been thus. The forces of evil always return, like a fungus, to feed on the fallen fabric of the world. As J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us, history is the Long Defeat, with only occasional glimpses of Final Victory. Throughout the centuries Spain has done more than any nation to fight the Long Defeat and, in her heroism, has shown us many fleeting glimpses of the Final Victory.
All Christians share in Roy Campbell’s indebtedness to Spain. She is a country to which we owe everything because, through the abundant graces given to her, she has saved the Christian soul of Europe. Viva Cristo Rey!
[i] Quoted in Matthew Hoehn, OSB, ed., Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches 1930-1947, (Newark, NJ: Saint Mary’s Abbey Press, 1947), p. 104.
[ii] The Tablet, 15 July 1939.
[iii] General Franco.