The existence of peace demands more than just the absence of war. Deacon Pat Taylor explains that there is a Christian calling to build a culture of peace that searches for ways to resolve disputes short of rushing to war.
The need to actively build peace in line with Catholic Social Teaching has a proud tradition. The peaceful direct actions of Greenham Common activist Sarah Hipperson, Catholic Worker Father Martin Newell and US Jesuit Father John Dear all bear witness to this kind of peace building. It is about intervening to stop violent conflict.
It is generally held that it is lawful to take human life in self defence (which would include warfare). If one wilfully threatens the life of another – when the choice has to be made between the aggressor and the victim then the victim can take the life of the aggressor. It is on this principle that the permissibility of fighting in war is deduced.
A tradition within Christianity, founded in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas, has developed a framework known as the Just War Theory. It outlines a series of criteria that needs to be met in order for war to be legitimate.
The Just War theory has 8 conditions:
- Just cause
- Agreed under international law
- Won’t make things worse (comparative justice)
- Right intention (to protect human life)
- Last resort
- Probability of success
- Proportionality (in relation to the threat)
- Discrimination (protection of civilians and non combatants)
Whatever position one adopts regarding the morality of warfare, there are certain values and principles which Catholics and other Christians, and indeed other persons of goodwill on various sides of the argument, have to take into account –
1. The sacredness of all human life
2. The utter gravity of taking another human life
3. The inherent moral limits on every use of force
Our faith must be dominated by the thought of peace. The Christian conscience must always try harder and harder to draw stricter limits to the permissibility of war. Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris– ‘Peace on Earth’ (1963) gave good guidance when he declared that the competition in armaments should cease, that the offensive weapons at the disposal of each country should cease and be simultaneously reduced, that atomic and nucleonic weapons should be forbidden and that finally all countries should agree to simultaneous disarmament with mutual and effective inspection.
What this teaching alludes to is the amount of energy and resource wasted by human beings in the pursuit of conflict. This sense of waste was best summarised by the son of a Quaker pacifist, former US President Dwight D Eisenhower, who declared:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Let us pray for peace and unity among all peoples throughout the world, that they may enjoy new hope and life.
Become activists for peace. Join Pax Christi and Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Learn more about the role of the peacemaker in our world. Hold MPs and governments to account for spending on warfare and involvement in dubious conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. Make peace an issue in your parish – raise it via your justice and peace group and with the parish priest. Ensure that peace issues are raised on Peace Sunday in January of each year. Make sure that your parish holds a collection for the work of peace on that day.
Deacon Pat Taylor, St. Joseph’s Parish, Basingstoke
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