- Catholic peace traditions
Catholic peacemaking includes three major traditions:
nonviolencepracticed by individuals, groups and mass movements;
just wartheory and practice borrowed from Roman thought and expanded by Catholic moral and legal thinkers; and
internationalism(creation of structures and institutions of international law and peace-building between states) and universality( jus gentium, supra-national standards of law, justice and peace transcending national, racial, ethnic, and other boundaries).Overarching these is the apocalyptic City of Godand the New Jerusalem: an irenic “vision of peace.”
These traditions reflect a long-term discourse among Catholic laity, clergy and intellectuals, privileging diverse voices over two millennia. From the late twentieth century they have converged into a new Catholic theology and praxis of peacemaking. This includes both resistance to war and active work for justice on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and marginalized, and for the wholeness and health of the individual, society and all creation.
While some see distinctly “Catholic” peace traditions only in the post-Reformation period, most of what we discuss to c.1500 — including marginalized peace thinkers and movements — was essentially “Catholic.” This interpretation departs from historiography (
Roland Bainton) that defines Christian peacemaking beginning with the Gospels, interrupted with the era of Constantine I(c.300), resuming with the Protestant peace churches (c.1500), and becoming distinctly “Catholic” again only with Vatican II(1960s). Far from focusing on the crusade, holy waror the just war, Catholic peacemaking shows a rich variety of active nonviolenceon all levels throughout its history. In describing this tradition we prefer such terms as “ peacemaking,” “peacemaker” and “gospel nonviolence.” “ Pacifist” and “ pacifism” are not historical terms: they do not appear until the late nineteenth century among elite internationalists and still connote passivity and aloofness.
Catholic peace traditions have both suffered and benefited from the centralized and hierarchical nature of the Roman church. Because of its emphasis on doctrinal, liturgical and spiritual uniformity Catholicism has often been slow to acknowledge the peace witness of individuals and small groups and to recognize the orthodoxy of intellectuals and schools of thought that have developed in advance of — or sometimes in apparent contradiction to — official doctrine. Strict controls on popular spirituality and its manifestations among suspect groups (poor, women, workers) have sometimes sought to squelch or co-opt movements from below. Conversely, some of the most powerful popular movements have won first cautious, and then enthusiastic, support among the hierarchy and been accepted as universal Catholic practice and doctrine: a strength often lacking in smaller and more loosely organized Christian denominations.
Magisterial teaching of the papacy and hierarchy has often seemed out of step with local or more general historical and social contexts; but the process of doctrinal clarification and teaching from the top down has also transformed religious and secular society to a vision more in accord with the Gospels. The Mystical Body offers a symbol of this diversity within unity: a model both of leadership (head) and of resistance to unjust authority (members).Catholic
universalityand separateness have also spurred the development of ideas and practice of individual conscienceand dissentagainst war. Catholic doctrine, moral teaching and legal theory have offered individuals a firm and universal basis to judge the morality of wars and for societies to debate their justice. Catholic insistence on being above and over secular society and the state has afforded nodes of resistance to oppression for local churches and for individuals and groups throughout the ages.
Catholic peacemaking can be divided into seven distinct periods.
The teachings of
Jesusin the Sermon on the Mountand the Law of Love were based on the Jewish teachings and practice of shalom. These reflect a communal and individual obligation to the Covenant, prophetic teachings, inner conversion and forgiveness. Greek "eirene" defined peace as material well-being and prosperity that reveals divine favor toward individuals and communities and that evolved into Stoicuniversalism. Roman paxderived from the political and social meanings of "pactum" as an agreement that expanded over the course to empire to mean order and justice brought about through superior force, embodied in the Pax Romana. These traditions were incorporated into the Greek Septuagintand Latin Vulgateand thus transmitted to the Christian West. The apocalyptic “vision of peace” "(visio pacis)" added the image of the New Jerusalem: the ideal society and the new people of God who embody peacemaking. Such apocalyptism contrasts with the violent, exclusionary stereotypes associated with recent Christian fundamentalisms.
The Early Church (to c.500)
This period saw Christianity’s accommodation to the realities of Roman imperial rule in most aspects of social, cultural and intellectual life (
Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Ambrose, Augustine). Gospel nonviolenceremained one of the few areas in which Church teaching retained its opposition to the Roman state ( Tertullian, the martyrs, Christian military objectors, such as Martin of Tours). While often cited for Christianizing the Roman just war, Augustine’s City of Godalso offered a universalist rejection of the state’s claims.
The Early Middle Ages (c.500 – c.1100)
These centuries witnssed the Migrations, collapse of empires and beginnings of
feudal society. Western Christianity fostered Gospel nonviolencethrough conversion ( Germanus of Auxerre, Severinus of Noricum, Caesarius of Arles) and education of the “ barbarians” ( hagiography, sermons, letters), new law codes and penitentials(Finnian’s, Theodore’s, "Irish Penitential"). Monasticismdeveloped as a protest against social and political oppressions, but also (in the Merovingianand Carolingianperiods, c.500 – c.900) nurtured a literature and practice of peace as inner tranquility and mystical surrender to God ( Alcuin of York, Druthmar, Rabanus Maurus) that transcend the world.By the late Carolingian period (10th c.), these elements came together in France, Germany and parts of Italy in a series of popular movements that mobilized tens of thousands of Christians in demonstrations and marches designed to empower church condemnations of feudal violence and to protect the marginalized and the vulnerable (women, children, clerics, farm workers and their animals: Peace of God), and exempt specific days and seasons from armed violence ( Truce of God).
The Later Middle Ages (c.1100 – c.1500)
These centuries evoke the
Crusades. Just-war thinking ( Gratian, Thomas Aquinas) developed from theological and legal theory ( jus ad bellum, jus in bello); but holy warand crusadewere at best their tendentious extensions and not separate doctrines. A far greater proportion of Christians participated in widespread and deep-rooted peace movements. St. Francis of Assisi, the mendicantsand third orders countered the ethos of feudal violence and the new urban economies with lives of conversion, simplicity and peacemaking that included rituals of peace and reconciliation, religious confraternities and urban offices of peace and justice (Italy).Intermittent mass movements of peace and social reconciliation ( Flagellants, Great Alleluia, Venturino da Bergamo, Bianchi) numbered tens and hundreds of thousands of participants. Nonviolent missions to Islam attempted alternatives to crusading ( Peter the Venerable, Roger Bacon, Ramon Lull). Papal and episcopal arbitration settled countless disputes; and just-war legal and some theological thought affirmed rights of individual conscience and popular consensus against war ( Raymond of Peñafort, Robert of Courson, Roland of Cremona). Protest poets ( Guillem Daspols, Guilhem de Tudela, Étienne de Fougères) mocked and condemned crusading.
The Renaissance and Reformation (to c.1800)
These periods produced two major responses to the new nation states. First, Humanist intellectuals (
John Colet, Desiderius Erasmus, ).
The Modern Church (to c.1945)
Modern Catholicism witnessed the failure of elitist internationalism and the reemergence of active Catholic peacemaking. Lonely Catholic resistance to
Nazismand fascism(Jacques Semelin, Franz Jaegerstatter, Lauro De Bosis) joined new papal teaching on institutional and personal peacemaking ( Leo XIII, Benedict XV, Pius XIand Pius XII). The post-war era ( Vatican II, Mater et Magistra, Pacem in Terris) and the emerging global church ( John XXII, Paul VI, John Paul II) incorporated the lessons of the world wars, reasserted the supremacy of individual conscience and the laity’s role in peacemaking, de-privileged the nation state, and recommitted the Church to global peace and justice.
The Post-modern Church (c.1965 – )
Since the late twentieth century the church has returned to Hebrew and Greek meanings of peace as justice, wholeness and the works of creation. With occasional reluctance the Church welcomed individual and group witness in Europe (
conscientious objection, Lanzo Del Vasto, Danilo Dolci, Irish Peace People, Polish Solidarity, Eastern European Velvet Revolutions), North America ( Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker, Thomas Merton, Cesar Chavez, Pax Christi, conscientious objectionto Vietnam, "The Challenge of Peace"; Sanctuary movement, Witness for Peace), Latin America, Asia and Africa ( Medellín, Sucre, Bogotá, Pueblaconferences, Helder Camara, Oscar Romero, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Filipino “ People Power”), and emerging spiritualities ( feminist theology, liberation theology, environmental and creation theology).
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References and Further Reading
* Bainton, Roland H. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/384668 "Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace."] New York: Abingdon, 1960.
* Egan, Eileen. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/40698609 "Peace Be with You: Justified Warfare or the Way of Nonviolence."] Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1999.
* Fahey, Joseph J. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/60401905 "War and the Christian Conscience: Where Do You Stand?"] Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005.
* Merton, Thomas. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/10571305 "The Nonviolent Alternative."] New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.
* Musto, Ronald G. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/57254492 "The Catholic Peace Tradition."] Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1986; reprint New York: Peace Books, 2002.
* Musto, Ronald G. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/27066266 "Catholic Peacemakers: A Documentary History."] 2 vols. 1: "From the Bible to the Crusades." New York: Garland, 1993; 2: "From the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century." New York: Garland, 1996.
* Musto, Ronald G. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/23016258 "Liberation Theologies: A Research Guide."] New York: Garland, 1991.
* Musto, Ronald G. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/15015055 "The Peace Tradition in the Catholic Church: An Annotated Bibliography."] New York: Garland, 1987.
* O’Brien, David J. and Thomas A. Shannon, eds. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/2983265 "Renewing the Earth: Catholic Documents on Peace, Justice and Liberation."] Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.
* Zahn, Gordon. [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1425081 "War, Conscience and Dissent."] New York: Hawthorne, 1967.
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