early 15c., "fighting, engaged in warfare," from Middle French militant "fighting," from Latin militantem (nominative militans), present participle of militare "serve as a soldier" (see militate). Related: Militantly.
Originally especially in Church militant (1530s), which is the Church on earth, seen as engaged in warfare with the devil, the flesh, and worldly powers of temptation and unrighteousness. The Church triumphant (1550s) is the collective body of saints now glorified in heaven.
"one engaged in war or strife," c. 1600, from militant (adj.); in a political sense, it is attested by 1907.
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