“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Mt 5:8).
Through our dialogue, we have come to understand that Catholics and Mennonites share a common commitment to peacemaking. That commitment is rooted in our communion with “the God of Peace” (Rom 15:33) and in the church’s response to Jesus’ proclamation of “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15). Christ has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. As “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) we are called to be reconciled to God and to one another. Moved by the Spirit, we want to share with our brothers and sisters in faith, and with a wider world, our call to be instruments of God’s peace.
We present the results of our dialogue on the question of commitment to peace in four parts: (1) a survey of distinctive aspects of our respective views of peacemaking and related Christian doctrines; (2) points of convergence; (3) points of divergence; and (4) issues requiring further exploration.
Catholic perspectives on peace
The Church’s Social Vision. The primary way in which the Church contributes to the reconciliation of the human family is the Church’s own universality. Understanding itself as “a sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of mankind,”1 the Catholic Church takes the promotion of unity, and accordingly peace, “as belonging to the innermost nature of the Church.” For this reason it fosters solidarity among peoples, and calls peoples and nations to sacrifices of advantages of power and wealth for the sake of solidarity of the human family. The Eucharist, which strengthens the bonds of charity, nourishes such solidarity. The Eucharist, in turn, is an expression of the charity which binds members of the community in Christ (1 Cor 11:17-34).
The Church views the human vocation as essentially communitarian, that is, all human relations are ordered to unity and love, an order of love confirmed by the life and teaching of Jesus and the Spirit-filled life of the Church (cf. Lk 22:14-27; Jn 13:1-20; 15:1-17; 17:20-24). This order of love is manifest in the lives of the faithful and in the community of the Church, but is not restricted to them. In fact, by virtue of creation and redemption, it is found at all levels of human society.
God created the human family for unity, and in Christ confirmed the law of love (Acts 17:26; Rom 13:10). Accordingly, the Church sees the growth of interdependence across the world, though not without problems due to sin, a force that can contribute to peace. Thus, Pope John Paul II has written: “The goal of peace, so desired by everyone, will certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and international justice, but also through the practice of virtues which favour togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity.”
The Call to Holiness. All Christians share in God’s call to holiness (1 Thess 4:3; Eph 1:4). This is a sanctity “cultivated by all who under God’s spirit and, obeying the Father’s voice …, follow Christ, poor, humble and cross bearing.” As God’s own people, living in the inauguration of the kingdom, we are to be “peacemakers” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6) and “are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Mt 5:11). We are to love one another, forgive one another, and live humbly in imitation of Jesus, who though he was “in the form of God…humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil 2:6, 8). We are to be generous and forgiving with everyone, as God is generous with us (Lk 6:37f.). In a word, as disciples of Jesus, we are instructed to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
All the commandments, as Saint Paul teaches, are summed up in the saying, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom 13:9; cf. Jas 2:8; 1 Jn 4:11f.). For Catholics, love of neighbour takes special form in love and service of the poor and marginalized; indeed, in “a preferential option for the poor.” The ministry of love to the neighbour is promoted through personal and corporate works of mercy, in organized charities, as well as in advocacy on behalf of justice, human rights and peace. Lay people, bishops and Church agencies engage in such initiatives. The love command likewise entails reverence and love for enemies (Mt 5:43; 1 Jn 3:16). Like our heavenly Father, who “makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45), we are to love our enemies, bless them, pray for them, not retaliate, and share our possessions with those who would take things from us (Lk 6:27-35). Furthermore, we must be prepared to establish just relations with them, for true peace is the fruit of justice, and “because justice is always fragile and imperfect, it must include and, as it were be completed by the forgiveness which heals and rebuilds troubled human relations from their foundations.” Finally, in the midst of conflict, the Lord gives us his peace that we may have courage under persecution (Jn 16:33; 20:21).
Nonviolence, in Catholic eyes, is both a Christian and a human virtue. For Christians, nonviolence takes on special meaning in the suffering of Christ who was “led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Is 53:7; Acts 8:32). “Making up the sufferings lacking in Christ” (Col 1:34), the nonviolent witness of Christians contributes to the building up of peace in a way that force cannot, discerning the difference “between the cowardice which gives into evil and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil, only makes it worse.” In the Catholic view, nonviolence ought to be implemented in public policies and through public institutions as well as in personal and church practice. Both in pastoral practice and through Vatican diplomacy, the Church insists, in the face of conflict, that “peace is possible. The Church also attempts to nourish a culture of peace in civil society, and encourages the establishment of institutions for the practice of nonviolence in public life.
Peacemaking. On the pastoral level, the Catholic theology of peace takes a positive stance. It focuses on resolving the causes of conflict and building the conditions for lasting peace. It entails four primary components: (1) promotion and protection of human rights, (2) advancing integral human development, (3) supporting international law and international organizations, and (4) building solidarity between peoples and nations. This vision of peace is articulated in the whole body of contemporary Catholic social teaching beginning with Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in terris (“Peace on Earth”) 40 years ago and continuing through Pope John Paul II’s Tertio millennio ineunte (“The Third Millennium”) in 2000.2
The Catholic Church’s work for peace is carried out in many ways. Since the Second Vatican Council, it has largely been carried out through a network of national and diocesan justice and peace commissions and through the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Their work has been especially influential in the struggle for human rights in Asia, Latin America, and some parts of Africa. Catholic human rights offices, like the Vicarate for Solidarity in Chile, Tutela Legal in El Salvador, Batolomeo Casas in Mexico, the Archdiocesan Office in Guatemala City, and the Society of Saint Yves in Jerusalem have been models for active defence of the rights of the poor, of indigenous people, and of those under occupation. Catholic relief and development agencies, especially Caritas Internationalis and the Caritas network, provide relief, development, refugee assistance and post-conflict reconstruction for divided societies. In many places, individual bishops have also played an important role in national conciliation efforts; and one, Bishop Felipe Ximenes Belo of E. Timor, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The Holy See3 exercises “a diplomacy of conscience” through the Vatican diplomatic corps and other special representatives. This diplomatic activity consists of advocacy on behalf of peace, human rights, development and humanitarian issues. It also contributes to international peacemaking indirectly through initiatives of Catholic groups, like the Community of Sant’Egidio, and various bishops’ conferences. Above all, the pope exercises a unique ministry for peace through his teaching and public statements, in his meetings with world figures, through his pilgrimages across the world, and through special events like the Assisi Days of Prayer and the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has sought to view war “with a whole new attitude. In the encyclical letter, Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope John Paul II identified war as part of the culture of death, and he found a positive sign of the times in “a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument of the resolution of conflict between people, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but ‘nonviolent’ means to counter the armed aggressor.”
The Catholic tradition today upholds both a strong presumption against the use of force and an obligation to resist the denial of rights and other grave public evils by active nonviolence, if at all possible (cf. Rom 12:14-21; 1 Thess 5:14f.). All Catholics bear a general obligation to actively resist grave public evil. Catholic teaching has increasingly endorsed the superiority of non-violent means and is suspect of the use of force in a culture of death. Nonetheless, the Catholic tradition also continues to maintain the possibility of a limited use of force as a last resort (the Just War), particularly when whole populations are at risk as in cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing. As in the days before the U.S. war against Iraq (2003), Pope John Paul II as well as Vatican officials and bishops’ conferences around the world have urged the international community to employ nonviolent alternatives to the use of force. At the same time, they have employed just-war criteria to prevent war and to promote the limitation of force and to criticize both potential and actual uses of force by governments.
Just-war reasoning, however, is not a simple moral calculus. Following the notion of ‘right reason’, valid application of the just-war criteria depends on possessing a virtuous character. Such virtues as moderation, restraint, and respect for life are intrinsic to sound application of just-war criteria, as are Christian virtues such as humility, gentleness, forgiveness and love of enemy. Accordingly, Church teaching and application of the Just War criteria have grown more stringent in recent years, insisting that the function of the Just War Tradition is to prevent and limit war, not just legitimate it.
The Just War today should be understood as part of a broad Catholic theology of peace applicable only to exceptional cases. War, as Pope John Paul II has said, “is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations.” The Pope’s overall assessment of the evils of war made at the end of the 1991 Gulf War remains valid today:
No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing, and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war.
Religious Freedom. Jesus proclaimed the time “when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him” (Jn 4:26). Meek and humble of heart, Jesus “did not wish to be a political Messiah who would dominate by force but preferred to call himself the Son of Man who came to serve, and to give his life as ‘a ransom for many.’” Today the Catholic Church repudiates the use of force in the name of the Gospel and upholds freedom of conscience in matters of religion. In accord with Vatican II’s “Declaration on Religious Liberty” (Dignitatis humanae), Catholics affirm freedom of religion for all and repudiate the use of coercion in the spread of the Gospel. The Catholic Church also repents of offenses committed “in the name of Truth” in past centuries by officials’ use of the civil arm to suppress religious dissent, and she begs God’s forgiveness for these violations.
History, Eschatology and Human Achievement. Catholics believe that human achievement of every sort, particularly the achievements of a political society that contributes to a greater measure of justice and peace in the world, prepares humanity “to share in the fullness which ‘dwells in the Lord.’”
For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in his Spirit have nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom…we will find them again, but free of stain, burnished and transfigured. This will be so when Christ hands over to the Father a kingdom eternal and universal: “a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.”
At the same time sin, which is always attempting to trap us and which jeopardizes our human achievements, is conquered and redeemed by the reconciliation accomplished by Christ (cf. Col 1:20).
1. The source of quotes can be found by going to the source document indicated at the beginning of this section.
2. This constructive approach to peace (that is, Pope Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice”) is a complement to the contemporary practice of Mennonites in conflict resolution, conflict transformation, and technical peacebuilding. It also is supportive of broader conceptions of peacebuilding now being promoted in both Mennonite and Catholic circles.
3. The Holy See is the title the Catholic Church employs in international affairs.