Christianity and Peace

This concerns the Christian’s duty to be a peacemaker, according to the Catholic Church, which can be found in the chapter Christianity and Peace in the book: How Christ Changed the World: The Social Teachings of the Catholic Church by Msgr. Luigi Civardi of Catholic Action, published in 1961 (edited here by A. J. MacDonald, Jr. (.pdf here.)

Christianity and Peace

Peace is tranquility, to wit: the absence of disturbances, disorders, and of strife; and such tranquility rests upon order, which comes from the regular convergence of means to an end, by virtue of which everything finds itself in its proper place. True order is first of all that internal and moral order that is found in wills before it is found in things, in wills guided by justice, which is respect for the right of all and each.

Justice is the guardian of order and, consequently, of peace. Without justice, men would always be fighting like wild beasts over the prey. Hence the biblical saying: “Opus justitiae pax” – “The work of Justice shall be peace.” (Is. 32:17).

Without justice it is possible to have a purely external, mechanical, apparent, unstable order, liable to be broken with every wind that blows; and order resting on the points of bayonets.

There is an inward peace that reigns among people’s faculties, whereby the lower are subject to the higher; and there is an outward peace that reflects the relations between man and man, between classes, and between peoples. Outward peace is national when the relations between rulers and subjects and between citizens are founded on justice. It is international when the relations between nations that make up the human family are founded on justice.

Jesus Christ was foretold by the prophets as the Bearer of Peace, the Peaceful King. Isaiah says: “And he shall judge the nations, and rebuke many people; and they shall turn their swords into plowshares, and their spears into sickles; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Is. 2:4). The kingdom of Christ will, therefore, be the Kingdom of Peace; the same prophet, in fact, elsewhere, calls the future Messiah the Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6).

Zachrias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that the divine Messiah will come “to enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke. 1:79). The prophecies find their fulfillment in the doctrine, in the teachings, and in the life of Christ.

Jesus made a summary of his public teachings by his Sermon on the Mount, which is, as it were, his program, and in it he said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9). Peace is the loving wish of Jesus to his disciples: “Have peace among you.” (Mark 9:49). “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give you.” (John 14:27). And his first word of greeting to them after the resurrection is “Pax vobis” – “Peace be to you.” (John 20:19). Besides this, he wants his disciples to be messengers of peace: “And when you come into a house, salute it…If that house be worthy, your peace shall come upon it.” (Matt. 10:12-13).

The Jews were dreaming that the Messiah would be a warrior, and a conquerer: Jesus presents himself to them as a mild King, as the Prince of Peace. When the inhabitants of a Samaritan city had refused him hospitality, two of his disciples, James and John, prompted by an indiscreet zeal, put this question to him: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” and Jesus replied: “You don’t know what spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy souls but to save.” (Luke 9:54-56).

What are the prerogatives of the peace of Christ, of that peace that he brought to the world and that he wills should reign at all times and in all places, in the individual, family, and social life among men and nations? In substance, the peace of Christ is friendship with God and with men: first of all, inward peace, from which, as rays from the sun, comes outward peace; peace within souls from which it radiates upon things; peace founded on justice and inspired by charity. Let us develop these two doctrines.

Peace founded on justice. Jesus came upon earth not only to preach peace, but to bring justice, which is the foundation and the safeguard of peace, as we have seen. The prophet Isaiah, speaking of the future Redeemer, says: “And justice shall be the girdle of his loins.” (Is. 6:5). And the Psalmist, describing the work of the Messiah, exclaimed: “Justice and peace have kissed.” (Ps. 84:11). How Christ inculcated justice, the basic virtue of individual and social life, we have already seen. His disciples must not only “hunger and thirst after justice” (Matt. 5:6), but they must be ready to suffer every kind of persecution rather than default in their duties toward justice. In fact, the last beatitude runs thus: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:10).

The peace of Christ is not, therefore, any peace whatever, peace at any cost. It is peace founded on justice; therefore when justice is violated and there is no other means of redressing it, it is lawful to have recourse to force, which is entirely different from violence, since it is not summoned to the service of caprice or of passions, (like violence), but of law and order. Hence, the lawfulness of war under certain circumstances. According to Catholic moral theology, war is lawful when:

  1. It is declared by legitimate authority;
  2. It is just; that is, is waged for a just motive, such as re-establishing justice when offended, repairing an injury or defending oneself against aggression;
  3. It is inevitable; that is, when all other peaceful means of obtaining justice and of obtaining redress have failed;
  4. It is useful; insofar as it is likely that the advantages obtained will outweigh the damages suffered.

Some pacifists accuse the religion of Christ with legalizing war which, according to them, is never lawful. It should be pointed out to these people that justice is a higher good than peace itself, because without justice, as already observed, there can be no human society. That accounts for the coining of the aphorism: “fiat justitia, pereat mundas” – let justice be done, though the world perish

Christian peace, besides being founded on justice, is inspired by charity. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to observe the rules of justice if there is no fire of charity burning in the heart. Indeed, charity is the inspirer, the nourisher, the guardian of peace. If men love themselves like brothers, they cannot offend or kill one another as enemiesThe peace of Christ was promised by the heavenly messengers to “men of good will”; and the will is good precisely when it is guided by justice and inspired by love. The prophet Isaiah saw and described this wonderful scene in the future reign of Christ: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion and ox shall eat straw.” (Is. 65:25).

What will ever be able to achieve this prodigy, that those who are wont to tear each other to pieces should become friends? The love of Christ. Take away this love and that which a cynical philosopher fancied concerning the origins of society will readily come true: : “homo homini lupas” – “Man is a wolf to man.”

The representatives of all nations have been seeking and are still seeking a way to general disarmament, or at least to substantial reduction of arms. Physical disarmament is an excellent thing, but either it will never come to pass, or it will not last, unless it is preceded and accompanied by moral disarmament: that of vengeance, of individual and collective selfishness. Peace is sometimes represented by a dove bearing an olive branch in its beak. This dove of peace soars aloft on two wings, the names of which are justice and love.

The Pontiffs have pointed out particularly the foundations and the safeguards of peace, in the following remedies: association of nations, universal disarmament, compulsory arbitration (for the solution of international controversies, the independence of all nations, respect of minorities, and equitable distribution of wealth (among the various nations, large and small, rich and poor).

Benedict XV, in his note to the heads of belligerent nations (August 1, 1917) wrote: “First of all, the fundamental point must be that the moral force of right must be substituted for the material force of arms; thence must follow a just agreement of all for the simultaneous and reciprocal diminution of armaments, in accordance with rules and guarantees to be established hereafter, in a measure sufficient and necessary for the maintenance of public order in each State; next, as a substitute for armies, the institution of arbitration, with its high peace-making function, subject to regulations to be agreed on and sanctions to be determined against the State which should refuse either to submit international questions to arbitration or to accept its decision.”

The same Pontiff, in the Encyclical Pacem Dei Munus, said: “All States, putting aside mutual suspicion should unite in one society, or rather a single family calculated both to maintain their own independence and safeguard the order of human society…of making every effort to abolish or reduce the enormous burden of military expenditures which States can no longer bear, in order to prevent these disastrous wars or at least to remove the danger of them as far as possible.”

Pius XII tells us: “A fundamental postulate of any just and honorable peace is an assurance for all nations, great and small, powerful or weak, of their right to life and independence. The will of one nation must never mean the sentence of death passed upon another…Within the limits of a new order founded on moral principles, there is no place for that cold and calculated egoism which tends to hoard economic resources and materials destined for the use of all, to such an extent that the nations less favored by nature are not permitted access to them. In this regard, it is a source of great consolation to see admitted the necessity of a participation of all in the natural riches of the earth even on the part of those nations which, in the fulfillment of this principle . belong to the category of givers and not to that of the receivers. It is, however, in conformity with the principles of equity that a solution to a question so vital to the world economy should be arrived at methodically, and in easy stages, with a necessary guarantee, always drawing useful lessons from the omissions and mistakes of the past. If, in the future peace, this point were not to be courageously dealt with, there would remain in the relations between people a deep and far-reaching root blossoming forth into better dissensions and burning jealousies, which would lead eventually to new conflicts.

The exhortation of Christ to his disciples, an exhortation that is also commanded: “Have peace among you” (Matt. 9:49)., still re-echoes in the heart-rending words of the representatives of Christ. That exhortation is addressed also to us: Let us keep peace in our own little world, in our hearts, in our family, in our society, in our place of work, in our community, in the circle of our friends and acquaintances. Away with animosities, with quarrels, with envy!

Let us hearken to the appeal of the apostle: “If it be possible, as much as is in you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom.12:18).

Let us strive to be at peace with all men, even if all around us there is hatred and strife. Thus we will help to bring about the peace of Christ – universal peace!

“Blessed are they that suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” ~ Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:10)


About ajmacdonaldjr

writer, author, blogger
This entry was posted in Activism, Bible, Crime, Culture, Ethics, Government, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society, Theology, Violence and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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