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Special Report
Last Updated: 05/09/2005
Peace and Catholicism
Sr. Donna Jean Kemmetmueller

This piece outlines briefly the Catholic Church’s consistent living of a peace tradition throughout a history tainted by conflict and violence. Based largely upon the work of Ronald G. Musto in his book The Catholic Peace Tradition (Orbis Books, 1986), the article examines the historical development of peace, considers the current meaning of peace (from the past 20 years, highlighting contributions of our recently deceased Pope John Paul II), and ponders some questions left unanswered. It challenges the common misconception that violence is necessary in the pursuit of peace, and highlights the power of the media of technology as well as the influence of each individual to contribute to peace-making efforts.


Click here for the full article (pdf format)

 

Barbarians overwhelm Europe while abbots condemn as murder the shedding of blood, even in a just war, and stop armies single-handedly with a message of peace; knights wage holy wars while friars and missionaries speak of love and toleration of the non-Christians and troubadours mock the ways of the soldier; Renaissance popes lay waste to cities while Humanist scholars move readers to peace and the imitation of Christ; modern bishops bless field artillery while college students seek to live the message of the gospels; nations threaten nuclear destruction and citizens prepare for death or lonely survival while popes and bishops speak for peace and hope (Musto 1986, 4).

 

Introduction

Catholic tradition as a whole supports and favors peacemaking efforts.  In identification with and imitation of Christ, the consistent practices expressing the beliefs of the Catholic Church in the world are peace-seeking.  Some insist that fidelity to this Catholic tradition at times requires the use of violent forces.  The just war theory and the Crusades movement are examples of justified violence in Catholic Church history.  The conclusion that some peacemaking efforts require violence is only validly reached, however, by the assumption of a misconception: in order for violence to be justified in peacemaking efforts, one must assume that the faithful living of the Catholic Peace Tradition requires one s engagement in violence.  This is a false assumption, as we will see.  When we examine how peace has been defined and sought after in the history of the Church, it becomes clear that Catholics have consistently upheld peace and condemned violence.  Hence, we must conclude that no peacemaking efforts may deem violent forces a necessity.  In the tradition of the Catholic Church, we are challenged to continue working for peace in ways that are not violent, but peaceful.

 

I.  The Historical Development of Peace

To show that the Catholic Church has consistently upheld peace and condemned violence, it is necessary that we examine how peace has been sought after and lived in the tradition of the Catholic Church.  Dr. Ronald G. Musto, a professor of Medieval and Renaissance History, has completed extensive research to compose an historical account of peacemaking from a Catholic viewpoint.   I briefly summarize here his work compiled in The Catholic Peace Tradition. 

The meaning of peace and the various historical efforts made for peace can be traced from biblical to modern times.  Between the period of 33 300 AD, from the time of Paul to Constantine, Christians actively affirmed non-violence.  Their positive peacemaking efforts aimed at converting Rome and overturning its social and ethical life to reflect a new relationship between God and humanity.  They understood peace to begin in an individual s heart, necessarily working outward to some form of external manifestation, resulting in institutional change.  Early Fathers of the Church spoke against war and emphasized killing as a mortal sin.  When forced to acknowledge the Roman gods, Christians offered their lives in martyrdom; by imitation of Christ they hoped to usher in the new kingdom.

   

Between the second and seventh centuries, between the reigns of Constantine and Charlemagne, the early church came to be accepted and favored by the Roman Empire.  The church and the empire mutually influenced each other for the sake of survival, becoming increasingly integrated.  Joint efforts were made to assist in civil life, including military service, and a distinction was made between inner peace and the external condition of peace.  Peace became associated with one s right to order and harmony, determined by the divine justice administered through the clergy. 

  

Within an increasingly imperialized church, Christian thinkers such as Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo retained the gospel meaning of peace.  Ambrose highlighted for the early Christians that the Lord, not weapons, protects them.  Augustine contributed to the growing dichotomy between the internal attitude of true peace and the external false peace of the world, but condemned violence utilized for peacemaking as a perverted imitation of God (Musto 1986, 49).  Numerous men and women in this period boldly defended justice by nonviolent means.

 

Sr. Donna Jean Kemmetmueller is a member of the Daughters of Saint Paul, an international congregation dedicated to media evangelization. She joined the Pauline community in 1993 and has been involved in the apostolate of communicating Christ in various capacities since that time. Currently, she resides in St. Louis, MO where she assists in the apostolic work her community is engaged in through their Pauline Book and Media Center. Sr. Donna Jean completed her M.A. in Theology at St. Louis University in January, 2005.


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