The Challenge of Peace: A Theology of Defeat

The U. S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on War and Peace has issued a second draft of a proposed Pastoral Letter on War, Armaments and Peace. The authors of this document, instead of committing our bishops to a consideration of this subject as shepherds of their flocks, have involved them instead as partisans in a secular debate on nuclear policy. This they have done by combining the natural world with the supernatural in an incoherent pastiche which, when all is said and done, submerges the message of the Gospel and all it has meant through the ages, in the politics of detente, appeasement, and retreat. Its likely effect, if acted upon, will finally be the surrender of our country to her enemies whose implacable goal is to conquer her if and as they can.

The most important aspect of this document, therefore, is not its insistence that we as a country be upright in our conduct of foreign policy, or that we fight wars according to the moral law; nor is it the more particular stands which it takes on the various aspects of nuclear war (the tendency and substance of which are mostly disastrous). More important is the fundamental point of view to which the Bishops of the Catholic Church in America would be committed as they seek to instruct us — if indeed, given such a point of view, they could instruct us as Bishops at all.

The message of the Church is supernatural. It comes from above, transcends the order of nature (without destroying it), and promises a supernatural reward as the completion of a living faith here on earth. It exhorts us to be completely devoted and obedient to Christ, and to his Vicar and the teaching Church, while encouraging us to perform our roles as citizens of both our country and members of the Body of Christ.

It is this message which is obscured by the proposed letter — so much obscured that it all but disappears; in fact, it is present in word alone. Here are a few of the many examples of this obfuscation:

1 The document speaks of an intensified desire to contribute to the daily challenges of life “in light of the good news which has come to us in the person of Jesus, the Lord of History.” And “from our faith we seek to provide hope and strength to all those who seek a world free of the nuclear threat.” And now the definition of hope:

Hope is the capacity to live with danger without being overwhelmed by it; hope is the ability to struggle against obstacles even when they appear larger than life. Ultimately, our hope rests in God who gave us life, sustains the world by His power, and has called us to serve the life of each person and all people.

We start here with the good news, which comes from Christ, and by “our faith we seek to provide hope ….” This coupling of faith and hope suggests the three theological virtues, whereby we are lifted up to a share of God’s own life. Each of these virtues has a supernatural object. Hope, in particular, has eternal beatitude as its proper object. From this context, however, which sets the tone for the rest of the document, the “hope” which is commended is primarily (if not entirely) concerned with goals to be achieved in this life. It has been thoroughly secularized. The truth is that our faith is in Christ our Lord who saves us from our sins, and hope, the second theological virtue, looks to God’s mercy in order that we may achieve an arduous good — life everlasting. To speak of “the capacity to live with danger without being overwhelmed by it” might better specify a natural hope for a temporal end, but is not to define the hope of Christians, nor the hope we live by “in light of the good news which has come to us in the person of Jesus, the Lord of history.” The message here co-opts the Lord of History and His good news in the service of a temporal end, and while using the words “faith” and “hope” — which we find in the Gospels — transforms their meaning and destroys them as signs of the supernatural virtues.

2 “The Catholic tradition on war and peace,” we are told, “is a long and complex one. It reaches from the Sermon on the Mount to the statement of John Paul II.” With no disrespect to our present Holy Father, he is speaking, as quoted in this document, in a general way about international relations between countries and their leaders, while the Sermon on the Mount applies to the interior life of the sanctified man, a life that the Church has never taught or even suggested to be, incompatible with going to war. Christ did laud a Centurion, without suggesting that he change his occupation, and Louis IX of France, twice a crusader, was a great saint. The Sermon on the Mount is here used to establish the Gospel message as a pattern for a secular messianism concerned with temporal peace — again a clear secularization of the Gospel.

3 “The Catholic social tradition,” we are told, “… is a mix of biblical, theological and philosophical elements which are brought to bear upon the concrete problems of the day.” The language here is interesting, for “mix” signifies a composition without distinction or order. But Catholic tradition, like any tradition worthy of the name, is consistent and hierarchical. The scriptures give the principles of Catholic teaching, and sacred theology depends upon these, while philosophy is in turn judged and confirmed by theology. Among theologians there are authorities and even these are ranked. The present document, on the other hand, by treating Catholic tradition as a mixture of disparate and apparently equal elements, makes a ruin of genuine Catholic thought, and permits anyone of any persuasion (provided he concentrates on temporal peace) to be a part, an equal part, of that tradition. But a tradition without distinction, order, and judgment is no tradition at all; rather, it is inherited chaos. It seems, however, that for the purposes of this document the Catholic tradition must be regarded as a “mix” so that its authors can adjust the proportions to fit their own conceptions, and without re-stating or developing that tradition, use bits and pieces of it as it suits their convenience. This is seen clearly in their utterly capricious treatment of “a non-violent lifestyle” and “Christian pacifism” as well as in their treatment of the “just-war positions,” considerations which should be at the heart of their concerns, but which take us on a new tour with Alice through Wonderland.

4 We are taught here that, according to the Bible, the world is destined “for the kingdom.” But that kingdom is never specified as not of this world, as a kingdom fully realized only at the end of time with the general resurrection. Rather, we are left, by default, with the unmistakable impression that if we escape the ravages of nuclear war, the kingdom will be of this earth. The conclusion of the whole document makes this clear. The penultimate paragraph tells us that “it is our belief in the risen Christ which sustains us in confronting the awesome challenge of the nuclear arms race.” It goes on to call all of us “who can draw strength and wisdom from [this letter] in the conviction that we cannot fail him.” It insists that we “must subordinate the power of the nuclear age to human control and direct it to human benefit,” and assures us that “as we do this, we are conscious of God’s continuing work among us.” To justify, and seal this conviction, the final paragraph quotes the Apocalypse:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, Behold the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new'” (Revelations 21:1-15).

Either the New Jerusalem is a temporal kingdom of this earth, which of course is nonsense, or we are subjected to the even greater nonsense of using this text as direct authority for the political positions which are advanced in the document. Neither use of the text makes any sense, since it is concerned with the holy city beyond history, when this earthly life shall have ended forever, whatever its condition at the end.

5 We are told that “the work of theology is to penetrate ever more adequately the nature of the biblical vision of peace and to relate it to a world not yet at peace.” The work of theology, however, is to penetrate ever more deeply what God has revealed about Himself, and to consider everything else in relation to Him. This document focuses on man in his temporal life, and not as he is ordered supernaturally to God. This is made clear when we are told that “at the center of the Church’s teaching on peace and at the center of all Catholic social thought is the dignity of the human person.” But the dignity of the human person is common ground for believers and unbelievers; yet it is not the center for believers. It is unbelievers, those for whom there is nothing transcending man, who think man is at the center. This letter, then, takes the stance of the unbeliever in the name of the Gospel.

6 We are told that “the gift of peace is promise and hope for those who live in a yet imperfect world …”, that “the reign of God … must be achieved in history …,” and that “our belief in the truth and power of the word of God leads us to say … peace is possible.” But the hope that comes from our faith gives us no assurance concerning the way of the world, gives us no assurance, that is, that this “yet imperfect world” is on the way to improvement or is progressing toward a better state. If anything, we are warned about a steady (and sometimes catastrophic) deterioration of the human condition. Our hope cannot be in the deterioration of the human condition. Our hope cannot be in the peace to be achieved in this world by the avoidance of nuclear war. The private revelations approved by the church, such as those at Fatima, make the avoidance of catastrophe dependent upon a general reformation of life and a return to a submission to God in all things. The modern world, or at least those forces in it which produce the most evil, as well as those which have the greatest power to resist it — is in a general condition of apostasy. Public business is carried on as if God did not exist, and (sometimes) on the explicit premise that He does not exist. So long as this is the condition of modern life, any hope of a stable peace is illusion. By the theological virtue of hope, on the other hand, we are confident that God will not abandon those who believe in Him in their efforts to do His will and achieve eternal life. No assurances about this world are given or should be expected. The Jesuit martyrs in North America not only lost their own lives but saw almost the whole of their missionary work, a totally unselfish and spiritually motivated effort of many years, destroyed along with their own lives. But they saved their souls, along with the souls of their converts who died bravely with them. This was the reward of their efforts — eternal life for themselves and for those whom they had brought to a knowledge of the true God. And this was the object of their hope — not a world of peace and plenty where there are no barriers of hostility and the dignity of the human person is revered.

These are but a few of the many examples which show how the document displaces God by man, and secularizes the Gospel.

If this letter cannot speak for the Bishops as descendants of the Apostles, it can, if they so agree, speak for them as a prominent body of Americans who take some positions on the present situation of the United States in a hostile world.

The letter in this case, is not reassuring. It tells us that the discussion of war and peace is to take place “in a world of sovereign states, devoid of any central authority, divided by ideology, geography and competing claims.” We have here a world in which communism is an ideology, the principles of Western Civilization are an ideology, the founding documents of our own country constitute an ideology, and they are all more or less of equal merit. This position, proposed over and over by those leftists who have not openly espoused communism, simply surmounts the question of good and evil. We cannot even ask, since all men are created in the image and likeness of God, whether there is first of all a question of right and wrong. To speak as if the arms race comes about because of competing and morally equivalent claims is to speak about another world than this one; it is to speak of an imaginary world fabricated by leaving aside the whole experience of the West since 1917. There is no remedy for those who hold such a view; neither experience, nor logic, nor learning, nor history, nor faith has ever made a dent in it. At this late date it is simply the expression of an appetite to survive at any cost.

As a result of their moral blindness, the authors of this letter tell us that “(nuclear war) is a threat more devastating than anything the world has yet known.” Thus, the more serious evil of sin and personal moral corruption is implicitly dismissed. The worst thing that can befall the human race is to blown up en masse; there is no need to fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell. They tell us further that “. . . the destructive potential of the nuclear powers threaten the sovereignty of God over the world he has brought into being. We could destroy his work.” This approaches blasphemy. No nuclear war would change one whit God’s sovereignty over the world. He has complete control; He would be as undisturbed as ever He was, supremely happy and continuing to determine through His providence all the events He wills to take place. To speak otherwise is to subject His dominion to the actions of men, which would make Him our inferior, and dependent upon us for some of His perfections.

We are told that there is today “a sharply increased awareness of the danger of the nuclear arms race” which has produced “a public discussion about nuclear policy here and in other countries which is unprecedented in its scope and depth.” But this “sign of the times” (their expression) is simply manufactured by our enemies and their minions to inhibit our leaders in defending us. There is simply no increased awareness among ordinary citizens of the danger of a nuclear arms race; we who remain sane have always been aware of the dangers of the international situation, and if there is an increased awareness of any danger it comes from our knowing how badly we have been fleeced by detente and the measures this document espouses.

We are told that “deterrence is today received with political and moral skepticism.” By whom? Not by those, i.e. the majority of Americans, who know that, were it not for the power of deterrence, the whole of our civilization, crumbling piece by piece before the Communist menace, would by now have been Finlandized.

While the authors “do not advocate a policy of unilateral disarmament,” they believe “the urgent need for control of the arms race requires a willingness for each side to take some first steps.” “The United States,” they tell us, “should take some independent initiatives in order to encourage a constructive Soviet response.” All this is said as if we were dealing with men who, once they learned to trust us would opt, given our good will, for constructive alternatives leading, perhaps, to peace.

When speaking of America’s relationship with the Soviet Union, we are told that “these two sovereign states have avoided open war, nuclear or conventional, but they are divided by philosophy, ideology and competing ambitions,” This, again, is fantasy, for to say that the United States is ambitious in the same way as are the communists is to refuse the evidence of our senses, let alone that of our minds. We are asked to consider “the memories” of “Soviet policies in Eastern Europe and recent events in Afghanistan and Poland” which “have left their marks in the American political debate.” They have indeed left their mark, but now the conclusion: “Unfortunately, this has led in some quarters to an obsessive perception that Soviet policy is directed by irrational leaders striving insanely for world conquest at any costs.” It is interesting to note that practically no one thinks so. What follows for most of us is that Soviet policy is directed by leaders striving to dominate the world without nuclear war or even a direct confrontation with the United States at this time. We have here a persistent drive for world conquest, as sane at least as most well-planned criminal actions, which, because of views such as the one before us, have been all too successful in the last forty years. To adopt the general advice of this letter, in fact, would help ensure the final demise of Western Civilization.

We are told that “Soviet behavior in some cases merits the adjective monstrous, but neither the Soviet people nor their leaders are monsters; they are human beings created in the image and likeness of God.” That the Soviet leaders are indeed created, as are all men, in the image and likeness of God is undoubted, and it is true that they are not monsters, in the usual sense of the word. They are, in fact, worse, for their cruelty and barbarism come not from a disordered spleen, or unregulated appetite, or incontrollable anger; they come, rather, from a view of life, from philosophical principles, from the deification of the emancipated man, and it proceeds from there in its diabolical subversion and attempted destruction of everything our civilization has been able to offer us. So much is this true that the message of Fatima is our final recourse, our only real recourse, if we would defeat the enemy.

This present administration is trying to do what is upright and prudent in defending this nation. To speak from the Gospel message as advisors and counselors is proper to Bishops, and indeed to all Christians. But we must also speak as Americans who, in this global battle of the minds, the souls and the bodies of all men, are defending a civilized order while our sworn enemies are essentially wrong about God, man, nature and human society. To speak as Americans and yet place ourselves on a par with these adversaries, and to traduce the Christian message in the bargain nullifies a right to be heard. This letter, then, does not deserve the serious hearing of concerned Americans. Its fruits, were it to be adopted, would be catastrophic for the Church, our country and the whole world.


  • Ronald MacArthur

    Ronald P. MacArthur is President of Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula.

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