In the battle against the Culture of Death, there is a certain gravity pulling towards two self-defeating tendencies, both of which equally plague those building a Culture of Life. The first is to treat evil as something abstract, a mere force or darkness that looms around us. No one ever won a battle against an abstract enemy. The second is to treat other men as evil, that is, to literally demonize them. It puts a face on the evil, showing it to be something that is orchestrated, but also misses the mark because it misidentifies the true enemy. This temptation is perennial, especially since the enemies are relentless and have no real face, but instead are powerful and intelligent evil spirits, hell-bent on destroying as many human beings as possible. “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). The Apostle to the Gentiles wants to remind the Ephesians (and us) that a Christian, as their name suggests, does not defeat his flesh and blood enemy but instead wins him over. When we forget this fact, more souls will be lost. No doubt, the Devil’s plan was always self-defeating, but our goal must always be to limit the casualties.
In a gloss on St. Paul’s aforementioned spiritual combat plan, St. Thomas Aquinas paints a vivid word picture which helps us to better understand our plan of attack. Using the analogy of a battle, he says that “evil men are horses, and the demons the riders; hence, if we kill the riders, the horses will be ours.” We win souls by releasing them from the grips of the Devil. This means using first and foremost spiritual weapons of the Mass, Our Lady, prayer, and fasting. But it also means engaging the enemy head on by exposing him and his works for what they are.
The Historical Battleground
This may sound woefully abstract, until we look at a historical example that illustrates what this looks like in practice; an event whose effects are still felt today. Not surprisingly, we will have to do some digging to uncover what actually happened because like much of Christian history, it has been overcome with the Smoke of Satan, obscuring the truth with outright lies and revisionist history. The event that I am referring to is Hernan Cortes and the conquering of Mexico.
The wind of truth can sweep away the haze by posing a simple, almost common-sense question that challenges the conventional wisdom of the day: how could Cortes, commanding 500 men with 10 cannons, 16 horses, 13 muskets and 32 crossbows, possibly conquer an enemy who outnumbered them at least 100 to 1? For sure, the Spaniards may have enjoyed a technological military advantage, but the Aztecs were no backward savages either. Their advanced culture would have rivaled anything found in Europe at the time. They had many fierce warriors skilled in hand to hand combat and had conquered most of Mexico through their military prowess. In fact they may have been able to match the military skills of the Spaniards except for one thing—they refused to kill their vanquished enemy, insisting on carrying them off as prisoners instead. This novel approach however was not really a military tactic but a religious one as we shall see in a moment.
The Aztecs may have had an advanced sanitation system, aqueducts and a very accurate calendar system, but they exceeded all cultures in previous history in one particular regard. It was this regard that especially drew the interest of Cortes and his Spanish Conquistadors. It was not their gold or their riches, but their blood lust. They were unrivaled in their penchant for human sacrifice, sacrificing at least 50,000 men women and children every year and as many as 80,000 during a 4-day festival in 1487.
Although the Aztecs had a number of gods in their pantheon, it was their primary god Huitzilopochtli, who was called the Hummingbird Wizard or the Lover of Hearts and the Drinker of Blood who demanded the human sacrifice. It was to sate the Hummingbird Wizard that the Aztecs would carry away their vanquished enemies in battle—offering them as human sacrifices to the Lover of Hearts and the Drinker of Blood. But we should resist the temptation to think the Aztecs think that these were backward people caught up in superstitious practices of sacrificing human lives to imaginary idols. This would ignore the reality and the power of the Devil.
By possessing a few people of influence (influence he was able to give them) and speaking to the people through them, he was able to enslave the entire population of Mexico. Things would go well when his demands were met, instilling a sense of fear and loyalty in the average person. When they failed to meet his demands, he would punish the people through a reign of terror. Without the light of Christ to free the people of Mexico from this demonic stronghold, the people were trapped in a bloody snare.
One might be accused of “over-spiritualizing” history to view it this way, except for the truth that the Devil is the great copycat—mimicking the good that God does, to set himself up as a god. For Huitzilopochtli was believed to have been born from the goddess Coatlicue who was an earth goddess who was depicted as a woman wearing a skirt of snakes and a necklace of hearts torn from victims. She immaculately conceived her son when a feather fell on her apron. When her son was born, he killed all her other children who became the stars and the moon. The parallels to Revelation 12 are uncanny, especially given they had no contact with the Christian story. Compound this with the fact that they viewed cannibalism as a religious ritual in which those who fed on the flesh were thought to be eating the flesh of the gods that Huitzilopochtli killed and we can see that it was a great Black Mass that Cortes encountered.
The story can only be fully understood by adding one important detail. The Aztecs were awaiting the return of Quetzalcoatl, a god wholly unique among their pantheon because he was of light and wanted men to live and serve him, rejecting all forms of human sacrifice. He was supposed to return in a year of 1-Reed which occurred every 52 years on the day of 9-Wind. When Cortes arrived on Good Friday 1519, which was both a 1-Reed year and a 9-Wind day and was dressed in penitential black, the same color that Quetzalcoatl wore as a priest, the Aztecs, especially their leader Montezuma assumed it was Quetzalcoatl returning. Cortes never said he was Quetzalcoatl, but he was vague enough to use the deception to his advantage.
Cortes was joined in his war against the Aztecs by many of the indigenous peoples in the region, who were only too eager to finally be freed from the yoke of the Hummingbird Wizard. In order to placate the Aztecs they regularly had to supply them with victims for sacrifice. When they refused, the Aztecs would go to war with them and carry away their warriors as sacrificial victims. They were quite literally damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. Cortes was hailed as a great savior of the native peoples, especially because he did so in a true Christian spirit, always with his eyes towards their conversion and the toppling of idols and human sacrifice to be replaced with churches and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Having been so recently victorious in freeing their homeland from the Muslims once and for all, the Spanish had a natural crusading spirit; a spirit that Cortes appealed to in rallying his men to fight for the freedom of the Mexicans, “The greater the King we seek, the wider the land, the more numerous the enemy, so much the greater will be our glory, for have you not heard it said, the more Moors, the greater the spoils? Besides we are obligated to exult and increase our holy Catholic faith which we undertook to do like good Christians, uprooting idolatry, that great blasphemy to our God, abolishing sacrifices and the eating of human flesh, which is so contrary to nature and so common here.” Surely, there can be no question as to Cortes’ primary motive in setting out to tear down the Aztecs’ altars of sacrifice and “conquer” the Aztecs.
What it Means for Us
One can’t help but wonder given the valor exercised by Cortes and his men why we are so quick to condemn him. How many of the descendants of the indigenous people are alive today because of him? The Aztecs were slowly but surely eliminating all the other peoples in Mexico so hungry had the Hummingbird Wizard become. Surely any celebration of “Indigenous People’s Day” that is true to the name would be marked with gratitude for the Spanish.
The Conquest of Cortes and his companions serves as a great reminder that every cultural battle is a spiritual battle. As soon as he arrived in Mexico City he set up icons of Our Lady and altars so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be celebrated. Everything that he did, was aimed first and foremost towards the conversion of the Mexican peoples. He knew that a time would come when some of his fellow Spaniards would demand that the Mexican people be sacrificed in slavery to their idols—gold and that only through Baptism could this be avoided so that he always acted with a sense of urgency. It was he and Christopher Columbus who called Our Lady down from Heaven into the New World by frequenting the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain because they knew the only way to squash the serpent was by becoming her heel.