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.


Anonymous said...

Pax Christi!

It's encouraging to know someone is reading my chicken scratches. This is supposed to be a shorter 3-5 page module term paper, but I hope it reveals a decent amount of collected information.

It seems like you and your wife write on a good amount of topics I would be interested here, I'm glad you found me.

May I inquire, are you currently in seminary? Your profile says you are a theology student? I'm currently interested in Catholic theology if you ever have time to mull over it with me.

Grace and Peace,

JB said...

We are currently working on our Master's theses. We plan to work on PhD's next year, but don't know... God laughs at us when we try to tell him our plans, so we'll see.

I'd certainly be interested in mulling things over. Time can become an issue, but I'm willing to do what I can to answer whatever questions you may have.