Monday, September 29, 2008

Christ our Hope... OT Appendix

The following is a response I wrote to a comment on a previous post. Someone suggested I make it a post of its own, so here it is.

The commenter wrote: "It is not congruent with a pacifist deity." [Here it references some actions of God in the OT, specifically death of the first born at Passover and "wiping out" "wicked people"]

I’m not at all making an argument for a pacifist deity. I am not really sure what that means. The God who is Being or Existence, whose name is I AM, who is eternal and the Author of all created things, cannot rightly be called either pacifist or violent, etc--that would be, I think, of anthropomorphism akin to that of the Greek gods. We may be able to debate whether He reveals Himself in Scripture to just and loving God or malicious and cruel, but as Creator he cannot rightly be called violent or pacifist. A limited being, like human, we he discovers another being, has only finite authority over that being, if any at all. However, the Maker of a being has infinite authority over that being--the authority to choose to give life or to revoke that gift, etc.

I am not arguing that God is a pacifist deity.I am claiming that the most virtuous response, the Christian response, to conflict is a non-violent response. Hopefully the difference will be becoming more clear in the final few posts.

There are certainly incongruencies and perhaps even flat out contradictions between the OT and NT. Heck, Jesus himself admits as much in the “you have heard that it was…., but I say to you…” sermon. Nevertheless, for the Christian, Jesus is the Christ, the Word made Flesh, the full and complete self-revelation of God, thus he is the final interpreter of Sacred Scripture.

Also, as I mentioned before, God is revealing himself slowly to sinful humanity, and in doing so, he is slowly revealing man to himself. This revelation is also completed and perfected in Christ.

Finally, the Bible is not primarily a history book, or a science book, or even a morality book. It is primarily a book of proclamation. A legit use of the historical-critical method reveals that ancient literature did not so much intend to convey fact as to convey truth. Thus “what happened” and “what is true” do not always coincide perfectly (although it is difficult if not impossible for us to draw that line).

The Bible tells a story. It tells us about Salvation history. It speaks Truth, but this Truth is not always historical or scientific fact or moral platitude. God works with us where we are. Thus it is possible to conceive that what is in the OT is a lot of an imperfect and muddled following of God’s will. They may have intended to do what He willed, but were incapable of conceiving of the radical Hope they could have in him. This becomes more explicit later in the OT. As Israel is responding, perhaps “justly” and perhaps not, according to the reason of men, the prophets are calling for peace and mercy and repentance. Even David, who despite his obvious flaws, could be called a “saint” of the OT, is denied the honor of building the Temple because he has blood on his hands.

David, it seems to be, could be a microcosm of what I am talking about. God calls him and blessed him. David sins and repents. God forgives him and blessed, granting him success and kingship, but God tells him that his hands are stained with blood. He may not build the Temple.

Considering briefly your question about Passover, I would like to make a few points. We must ask ourselves a series of questions, questions for which I do not yet have well articulated answers.

What is being proclaimed here? What is the historical situation of the event? Of the authorship of the story?

We can say that it was Pharaoh who initially ordered to killing of the Hebrew first-born. Thus the Passover is not rightly conceived absent from this. This is yet another case of self-inflicted judgment, and God, as God, has the right to judgment. However, I would add that his judgment cannot be separated from his mercy. Thus Pope Benedict argues that the transcendent concept of Justice, which can never be achieved on earth (how then was it originally conceived?) is itself an argument for the afterlife. Thus God, who is God of both the living and the dead, who is the Author of Life, has the authority and ability to the judge the Egyptians in this way, but in His justice, may reward to the “innocent” children infinitely more than justice would demand.

Much of this is somewhat speculative and will probably come across as grasping for straws, but I can only add this. For me, Jesus is no longer merely some piece of information I was taught in school and raised to believed. Jesus is a person whom I have encountered in very real, but unempirical and difficult to articulate ways. I do not question the existence of God or the Love of Christ anymore than I question the love of my wife or parents. The Christ whom I have encountered is the Word made flesh. Integrity and authenticity compel me to interpret life and scripture in light of Him. I do not fully understand the intricacies of the Bible. But I trust in its Truth and hope to grow in understanding. I thank you for continuing to push me, because it is forcing me challenge some of my preconceptions and helping my knowledge to grow in depth.

Finally, I would suggest listening to the following, which is a little more coherent although less specifically directed to your question, than my response: click here


Friday, September 26, 2008


This is the conclusion of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 and Part 4 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war and . Part 5 looked at the witness of early Christianity and the changes which took place after Constantine along with the thought of Augustine and Aquinas on the issue. In part 6 we studied the witness of the contemporary Church. Part 7 examined the thoughts of some recent American Catholic theologians on the topic. Part 8 explored the way of violence.

Genesis reveals to us the presence of violence at the onset of history. Ever since, mankind has chosen to express its jealousy, vengeance, and hatred with violence. Christ calls us to move past this. He institutes the new law. He tells us no longer an eye for an eye, but love, forgiveness, prayer, sacrifice. Why does Christ not want us to use violence to mete out justice? Because, “Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”[1] Not only will violence not bring about lasting peace; to the contrary, violent war devastates what it claims to defend, human life, dignity, and freedom. In light of this knowledge and the indeterminate violence of modern warfare, the Compendium adds,

“War is a ‘scourge’ and is never anappropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations, ‘it has never been and it will never be.’ In the end, war is ‘the failure of all true humanism,’ “it is always a defeat for humanity,’ ‘never again some peoples against others, never again! ... no more war, no more war!’[2]
Again we hear reference not only to our Christians brothers and sisters, but to humanity as a whole. Because of our understanding of the Communion of Saints, we can understand that when a Christian merely wishes harm upon a brother Christian, he harms and desecrates the Body of Christ. However, what we easily forget is that we are merely temporal. We cannot know when, how, or if a person may convert and choose to walk with Christ. Therefore, we must treat all humanity as our brothers. We must treat all humanity as we would treat Christ. For Christ intends to drawall men to himself,[3]and we, as the living Body of Christ, must be his hands and feet, must witness to his love to all mankind. Christ tells us that he, as the Divine Physician, comes for sick, the sinner, those who really need him;[4] we, as his Body, must especially strive to love those who are so lacking in the peace of Christ that they would turn to violence, hatred, and evil.

We can turn to the Communion of Saints, the Body of Christ, for examples and inspiration in this regard. Franz Jagerstatter, a German Catholic during the reign of the Third Reich, who
was martyred for refusing to join the army, even though his priests and bishop gave him permission, writes, “As a Christian, I prefer to do my fighting with the Word of God and not with arms. We need no rifles or pistols for our battle, but instead spiritual weapons — and the foremost among these is prayer.”
[5] Nearly two millennia earlier, St. Justin Martyr writes, “We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies but, that we may not lie or deceive our judges, we gladly die confessing Christ.”[6]

We have testimony to the love, the self-sacrificial love, which the holy ones of God embrace as Christ embraced his cross. We must live and love in solidarity with all humanity. Here we can gain confidence from the efficacy and success of this new way when it is actually attempted on the large scale. Even Weigel affirms this. He writes, “By igniting a revolution of
conscience in Poland in June 1979, John Paul II had a decisive impact on shaping the nonviolent politics that eventually produced the revolution of 1989 in east-central Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
[7] However he adds that it is unreasonable to believe that this example can be universalized. We must address this critique before concluding our analysis.

Weigel may be correct. He is not correct that this is the inevitable state of things in a fallen world. But, he is right because too few Christians have considered and attempted Jesus’ nonviolent love. Instead of hoping in the witness of Christ, we hope in the power of the U.S. military. Now that the Church is no longer wedded to the state, the Church, the Body of
Christ, no longer has need of military force. We Christians, we faithful disciples of Christ, must remember that we belong to the City of God first and foremost. With Origen, we can theoretically or potentially confirm the justness of certain secular wars, but as Christians we can no longer allow the Body of Christ to be associated with the violent destruction of life. Origen argues that Christians are doing more good for justice by praying than are those who
take up arms in the name of righteousness.
[8] Just as the pagan priests were kept from warring to keep their hands clean for sacrifices, so we, a “holy priesthood”, must keep our hands free from human blood and worthy of offering “spiritual sacrifices” to God.[9] Over time, the powerful witness[10] of the Body of Christ loving and, in some cases, dying in solidarity with the
poor and the violent will bring the Truth of Christ’s victory to all nations, such that those who are willing to take up the sword, or the gun,
in the name of justice will dwindle in number. However, those violent aggressors will also dwindle in number. This would be a long and slow solution, but it is the divine way of bringing about peace and justice without sacrificing the Gospel.

This witness cannot and will not merely happen by force of will, on the practical realm; we, the Body of Christ, must mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically prepare ourselves for nonviolent resistance, just as soldiers prepare themselves for violent resistance. We must educate ourselves in peace and nonviolence. We must recognize that there is no guarantee that it will succeed in every instance, but neither does violence. Furthermore, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta reminds us that we are not called to be successful, but faithful.

Jesus’ new way, the way of kenotic nonviolent love is not easy. Because, “the only real difference between violent force and nonviolent force is who we are willing to sacrifice –
ourselves and our enemies,”
[11] Self- sacrifice is certainly not easy, but “there is no greater love than this.”[12] It will be more challenging than resorting to violence. Nevertheless, we must
answer this call to sacrificial love and witness. We can only accomplish this if we give attention to the spiritual realm as well. We shall listen to the advice of Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Encyclical
Spe Salvi in this regard. The Vicar of Christ writes:

“the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme.

“Yet once again the question arises: are we capable of this? Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on his account, a person who suffers? Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile? Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself? In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering that are decisive for his humanity. The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God —Truth and Love in person—desired to suffer for us and with us… in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which
we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.”[13]

All Christians share a universal call to holiness. We are all called to be saints. If our hope is in Christ and his victory over death, and if we have hope that God is justice and peace and mercy and love, then we can have the courage and faith, to follow He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to the death if necessary for love of his children, our brothers and sisters, even if they happen to be our enemies.

If we can be faithful in following Christ, God will work through us and bring Christ, bring hope, to those who may want to kill us.

[1] CSDC, 496.
[2] Ibid., 497.
[3] John 12:32.
[4] Matt 9:12.
[5] "Franz Jagerstatter: The Blessed Objector." Whispers in the Loggia. (accessed April 25, 2008).
[6] St. Justin Martyr, "First Apology." Early Christian Writings: New Testament, Apocrypha, Gnostics, Church Fathers,” (accessed April 25, 2008), 39.
[7] Weigel.
[8] Orgien, Contra Celsus, (248), VII, 73.
[9] 1 Peter 2:5.
[10] Part of our witness should also be lobbying our countries to spend time and money researching and developing nonviolent weapons that could rend unjust aggressors unable to cause harm without violating the dignity of the person.
Nate Wildermuth, “Militant,” Vox-Nova, (2-20-08). I am in debt to Nate for much of his research and thought on this topic.
[12] John 15:13
[13] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi, (2007),38-39.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Christ our Hope: Part 8 - THE WAY OF NONVIOLENCE

This is Part 8 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 and Part 4 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war and . Part 5 looked at the witness of early Christianity and the changes which took place after Constantine along with the thought of Augustine and Aquinas on the issue. In part 6 we studied the witness of the contemporary Church. Part 7 examined the thoughts of some recent American Catholic theologians on the topic.

Pope John Paul II, echoing and explaining Christ’s teachings and witness writes:

“One’s neighbor is…the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One’s neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person’s sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one’s life for the brethren.”[1]

However, at another speech he reminds us of the duty we have to defend ourselves and others from unjust aggressors.[2] Nevertheless, he does add that war can never truly solve the problems it intends to, because of the death and destruction it leaves in its path.[3]

We hear from him a reaffirmation that Jesus’ call to nonviolence is not a cowardice or passivism. It must be active. We are duty bound, by justice, to defend others. But, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, as followers of Christ, our response must not be violent.

“[Christ] does not oppose violence with a stronger violence. He opposes violence precisely with the contrary: with love to the end, his cross. This is God’s humble way of overcoming: With his love … he puts a limit to violence. This is a way of conquering that seems very slow to us, but it is the true way of overcoming evil, of overcoming violence, and we must trust this divine way of overcoming.”[4]
It seems then, that we can say with Pope Benedict XVI that our hope must not be in violence. We must love our neighbors and even our enemies with the very love of He who is Love. This new way of overcoming evil which Christ shows us on the cross will run in the face of our American microwave “I need solutions now”mentality, but the Holy Father encourages us that this slow way is the trueway, the divine way, of overcoming evil.

In light of this, we can confidently say that we must confront injustice and evil, but our confrontation must not be violent. It must be an imitatio Christi. But, practically speaking, what might this look like? Is war necessary for justice? Is justice necessary for peace? Is violence necessary for war? Pope John Paul II again points us in the right direction: “There is no peace without justice. There is no justice without forgiveness.”[5] John Paul II is speaking only a few months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He is gently chiding and lovingly reminding us that we must not repay violence with violence. Vengeance is empty and cyclical. Justice must be served, but if we want peace, we must be willing to forgive. This is not new
or novel. When we pray the
Our Father, we admit as much.

We can now recognize the importance of forgiveness, but how does this forgiveness relate to justice? How do they coexist? John Paul II again offers us his wisdom, teaching, “The
primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice - this is a mark of the whole of revelation - are revealed precisely through mercy”
[6] and “Properly understood, justice constitutes, so to speak, the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as
its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult.”
Now, Jesus’ new way begins to come into focus. Nonviolence does not mean passivity. Love is superior to justice, thus self-defense and defense of others does not have to be violent. Furthermore, in order for true justice and peace to reign, violence cannot be relied upon, while mercy and forgiveness, based in love, must be offered to our neighbor.

Those with acute knowledge of the evils of the world, those have experienced war or are aware of the irrationality and hatred which has corrupted the hearts of our “enemies,” will at this point proclaim that without force, without violence, without arms, we will not be able to secure justice, and the violence of the enemy via terrorism or other means will win the day. In response to this we must briefly address the folly of violence.

[1] John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, (1987), 40.
[2] John Paul II, “Peace: a Gift of God Entrusted to Us,” World Day of Peace Message,(1982), 9. [3] John Paul II, “Offer Forgiveness and Receive Peace,” World Day of Peace Message, (1997), 4. [4] Benedict XVI, “Benedict XVI’s Reflection on Peace” Zenit, (July 25, 2005),
[5] John Paul II, “No Peace Without Justice, No Justice Without Forgiveness,” World Day of Peace Message, (2002), 15.
[6] John Paul II, Encyclical Dives en Misericordia, (1980), 4.
[7] Ibid., 14.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


This is Part 7 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 and Part 4 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war and . Part 5 looked at the witness of early Christianity and the changes which took place after Constantine along with the thought of Augustine and Aquinas on the issue. In part 6 we studied the witness of the contemporary Church. The present installment will examine the thoughts of some recent American Catholic theologians on the topic.

While we must admit the occasional acknowledgement by the popes that all men have a duty to defend others, peace, mercy, and nonviolence have begun to occupy more of their thought and teaching. However, in contrast with the popes, we can see the thought of American Catholic theologians[1] continuing to focus on the just war theory and even attempting to interpret it less restrictively than was apparently intended by Augustine and Aquinas. First, they have exacerbated the misuse of the just war theory for politics rather than pastoral purposes. Michael Baxter explains,

The teaching on just war was, first and foremost, a form of pastoral reflection and discernment. And it was in this respect an ecclesial discourse. But a shift occurred in modern times…such that "just war theory" came to be seen primarily as a set of norms for managing the affairs of modern states in the arena of international politics. At length, it came to be seen almost exclusively in this way[2]

This has resulted in an eradication of the concept of penance from war. It has transferred the perceived moral culpability from the soldier in tandem with the state, to the head of the state alone. And it has led to the just war theory being used as a rationalizing tool to justify military actions of nation states rather than as a criterion meant to limit war and to discern penances.

A few examples will suffice to shed light on their thought. In 1963 Blessed John XXIII wrote Pacem in Terris in which he outlined a vision of peace based on truth, justice, love, and freedom – a vision which he considered to be attainable if the world would embrace the awareness of human dignity and rights and if the world would justly agree on an international public authority to help resolve conflicts. However, Weigel considers this a utopian vision. He writes, “Human nature being what it is, someone would undoubtedly breach the peace, and in some instances that breach of the peace would have to be met by the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force.”[3] Because the pillars set forth by Pope John XXIII –truth, justice, love, and freedom—cannot and will not succeed, according to Weigel’s implication, we must have a backup plan. That backup plan must include violent armed forces.

Let us conclude this portion of our discussion by considering a disagreement Weigel, Pope John Paul II’s biographer, has with John Paul’s year of 2000 message on the World Day of Peace, in which the Pope writes, “war is a defeat for humanity.”[4] The Pope continues to speak of the need for humanitarian intervention for those innocent victims in war torn countries.[5]Weigel assumes this intervention necessarily must be violent and armed intervention. He writes of “John Paul II’s insistence on a duty of humanitarian intervention, which would presumably include the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force.”[6] Cardinal James Stafford of Apostolic Penitentiary responded to Weigel in an interview, explaining that Weigel’s interpretation is “abbreviated” and “omits” important qualifiers which specify and limit the Pope’s statement. Specifically, says Stafford, Weigel ignored John Paul II’s insistence that the United Nations, an international authority like the one mentioned in Pacem in Terris, is the authority to make the call on potentially armed interventions, not any specific nation-state.[7]

Cardinal Stafford’s implication is that Weigel, intentionally or not, is ignoring the importance of an international authority because of his allegiance to the United States. In doing so, Weigel is departing from an authentic Catholic understanding of the just war theory as taught by our recent popes. Thus, he and those like him have failed to perceive the continual shift toward a renewed emphasis on nonviolence. Cardinal Stafford refers to this implied disobedience of American theologians and identifies a key to this new way of thinking about war to which the Council Fathers, following Jesus’ exhortation, have called us. Stafford explicates:

"Pope John XXIII spoke of this in 1963 when he said that a program for peace is based 'on the Gospel of obedience to God, mercy and forgiveness.' Major portions of the World Day of Peace messages…have been devoted to forgiveness and reconciliation. No one is talking about the Christian understanding and practice of forgiveness which are unique.”[8]

Thus we can finally begin to come to a conclusion, a resolution of this apparent contradiction between nonviolence and war, between mercy and justice. In order to do this we shall analogically adopt Augustine’s approach[9] to Sacred Scripture and assume that apparent contradictions between Scripture and Tradition are only apparent: if there appears to be a discrepancy, the error is in our interpretation, thus we much approach humbly, ridding ourselves of preconceptions and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. Let us begin.

[1] We speak here primarily of Richard Neuhaus, Geroge Weigel, and Michael Novak, among others.

[2] Baxter.

[3] George Weigel, “World Order: What Catholics Forgot,” First Things, May 2004.

[4] Pope John Paul II, “Peace on Earth to Those Whom God Loves,” World Day for Peace Message, 2004, 3.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Weigel.

[7] Delia Gallagher, “Cardinal Stafford on War and the Church’s Teaching,” Zenit, May 2004,

[8] Ibid.

[9] St. Augustine, Letters, 116.3.