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.


Henry Karlson said...

gThanks for this series -- it's great to see people writing on this important topic. And, as I've said before, it's not just an important theme, but you handled it greatly!

Nate Wildermuth said...

You saved the best for last, JB, and it's terrific.

JB said...

I am elated that you guys read and enjoyed the WHOLE thing. Thanks again for the kind words, helpful insights, and personal encouragement.