September 6, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — An ancient Catholic confraternity dedicated to helping its members grow in chastity and purity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas is experiencing resurgence in growth after awareness of its existence faded for several decades.
The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is an apostolate of the Dominican order and an official association of the faithful.
Its roots are traceable to a devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas, who remained chaste despite temptation and went on to be the Catholic Church’s greatest and most famous theologian. When he was young, St. Thomas Aquinas’s family locked him away in order to prevent him from joining the Dominican order, which was then still up-and-coming.
“In order to tempt him to leave the order, his brothers sent in a prostitute,” Dominican Father Ambrose Mary Little, the promoter of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity in the Dominican order’s eastern United States province, told LifeSiteNews. “Famously, he chased the prostitute out, and as he knelt down and prayed, asking God for purity, angels came and girded him with a cord.”
Devotion to the cord of St. Thomas Aquinas spread after the saint’s death. People began visiting his tomb and touching their own cords to it, girding themselves, and asking St. Thomas Aquinas to intercede for them in matters of purity.
“In the 17th century, a Dominican from University of Louvain in Belgium decided to organize it into a confraternity,” Father Ambrose said. “It’s been given to the special care of the order since.”
Joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity gives one a “loose attachment” to the Dominican order. It’s not equivalent to being a Third Order Dominican, but “through devotion, you are inspired to pray in a way that opens you up to graces that are merited by different Dominicans throughout the world,” Father Ambrose explained.
Members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity wear either a blessed cord around their waists or a blessed medal around their necks and pray 15 Hail Marys and two extra prayers for chastity every day. The cord and medal are the sacramentals of the confraternity, similar to how the brown scapular is a sacramental that allows Catholics to participate in Carmelite spirituality.
The 15 Hail Marys members pray daily are for themselves and each other. Joining the confraternity supernaturally bonds members together and gives them St. Thomas Aquinas as their personal patron for chastity. And, neglecting to say the prayers is not a sin, so membership in the confraternity can only help, not hurt, one’s spiritual life.
“The American Dominicans are at the forefront of promoting” the confraternity, Father Ambrose said, but any Dominican priest can enroll new members. Individuals who can’t find a Dominican priest may request permission to be enrolled by non-Dominican priest.
In order to officially join, one must be Catholic. Typically, members will have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, but it’s not a requirement.
“Because it’s an association of the faithful, it implies communion with the Catholic Church,” said Father Ambrose, so official membership is only for Catholics. However, “the grace of God is available to all the baptized in different ways” so Protestants and Orthodox Christians can receive a blessed medal and cord and “be kind of spiritually joined to us even if they’re not officially joined to us.”
Different Dominican houses around the world have their own official registers of members, making it difficult to track the exact number of members throughout the centuries. One of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity’s most famous members is St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Blessed Pier Georgio Frassati, Blessed Columba Rieti, and Blessed Stephana Quinzan were all members.
‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more’
“As St. Paul says, ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more,’” Father Ambrose explained. “So one of the most prevalent sins that we see today are, of course, sexual sins in our society. And, in particular, the scourge of pornography is probably the most noticeable of the sins against the sixth commandment. … In fact, it’s so prevalent, a lot of people in different parts of society think it’s just a normal part of growing up, to watch pornography.”
“As a result of the prevalence of this,” he said, “a lot of people begin to feel enslaved and so they’re looking for ways to preserve their purity or to get out of this slavery.”
The “supernatural influence of the grace of God” and the “supernatural impulse” to correct the sexual sins embraced by society are a part of why so many have joined the Angelic Warfare Confraternity in the past 10 or so years, Father Ambrose said.
People need “supernatural graces to overcome these particular sins,” he said.
“I personally have an email list of almost 7,000 people and that’s not nearly everybody that’s been enrolled in the last 10 years, but that’s a good number of them,” Father Ambrose said. “Considering that we probably went from only having a couple hundred to … possibly 10,000 people enrolled, we are growing exponentially.”
“There were times in the early 20th century in which almost everybody in one of our [Dominican] parishes would have been enrolled as a member of our confraternity,” he continued. “I was in Ireland recently and in our parish in Cork City, Ireland, they have this beautiful marble pulpit that was given by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity … it must have been a fairly sizable organization to be able to donate such a beautiful and very expensive part of the church. The numbers would be very large historically.”
“I hear quite a number of amazing stories” of people overcoming habitual sin after joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, Father Ambrose said. “When you join the confraternity, the graces that you receive are going to differ depending upon the person and what the Lord is going to be doing in that individual person’s life. In general, the graces that one receives as a member of the confraternity will help you to grow in purity. [For] some it will be slower, some it will be quicker.”
“People who have been struggling with deep-seeded sinful tendencies and practices that they were enslaved to so much so that they would have … addictions to pornography where they would be watching [it] for several hours a day,” Father Ambrose said. “And then all of a sudden within a week or two weeks after joining the confraternity find themselves no longer falling into that sin at all — not even having the desire for it. Now that’s rare, but it does happen because God has moved those individuals to seek out his mercy in the confraternity.”
Father Ambrose stressed that joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity isn’t a magical way to make all temptation go away. Rather, it’s a “new avenue of grace.”
“It will age you in the growth of holiness,” he said.
Distortions of human sexuality: today’s Albigensianism?
The Dominican order was instrumental in defeating the Albigensian heresy, a form of Gnosticism, in the 1200s.
“In some ways, the Albigensian heresy is materially — and by that I mean … how it looks — almost exactly the opposite of the problems we’re dealing with today,” Father Ambrose said. “Albigensianism emphasizes the spiritual against the physical. In many ways, society today emphasizes the physical against the spiritual or reduces the spiritual to the physical.”
One of the Dominican order’s specialties is preaching — and the same message that the Dominicans preached centuries ago could help correct modern errors.
“The recognition that there is a visible and invisible realm and that there’s a union between them through the created power of God is one way in which we can actually promote the teachings of the Church,” Father Ambrose said. “And that same message which would be effective against the Albigensian heresy is also going to be effective against modern heresies as they try to divide up the world in ways that it should not be divided up.”
The ‘deepest and darkest sins’ can be ‘overcome by the grace of God’
“When people are struggling with sexual sins in whatever form they come into their lives, there is almost always a sense of hopelessness and a sense of helplessness,” Father Ambrose said. He wants them to know that there is hope and they can be healed by the grace of God.
“Sometimes we try to make excuses for these sins by saying, ‘well, this is just something that everybody does, right?’ But deep down, there is a sense of ‘I cannot overcome this,’” the Dominican friar explained. “And in a way, it’s true. You can’t overcome it on your own. You need the grace of God. Now, those graces of conversion are given to you, of course, primarily through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but sin need not enslave us. God has come to set us free and he wants us to live in the freedom as children of God … to have hope that even these deepest and darkest sins in our lives can be overcome by the grace of God is essential.”