The Nonviolence of Jesus and the Church

Preparing for the Day of Reflection last Saturday gave me some information I want to share with you. We are well aware that the early church embraced the nonviolence of Jesus until 313 when Constantine and the empire recognized the church. In 313, you could not be a soldier if you were a Christian. One hundred years later, you could not be a soldier unless you were a Christian. The cross morphed into the sword.
People who want to refute the nonviolence of the early Christians claim that they eschewed military service because they would have to honor and sacrifice to idols. Reading the writings of the early founders, it is clear that Christians did not want to participate in the military because they saw that it was against the nonviolent teachings of Jesus. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The founders and the early councils ordered long periods away from communion (e. g. 10 years) for those who had killed in battle.
The really scary thing is how the just war theory, which was designed to ameliorate the horrors of war, soon morphed into the holy war theory. My own observation is that the more we got into philosophical defenses of the faith, the more we got away from basic Gospel values. We end up with Crusades—holy war. Holy war takes on a whole new set of principles. God is on our side. God assures us victory. No holds are barred. It is all right to kill those who oppose the “faith.”
Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church, urged Christians to stop fighting one another and to go off and fight the infidels. Bernard of Clairveaux preached a crusade and spoke of heavenly rewards for those who died in battle [Sounds like jihad!]. Bernard also saw death for the infidels as being good for them. Pope Urban II led his own army. How did we get so immersed in empire?
We also have the conquistadors. They did not discover the “new world,” they conquered it. The Spanish made sure that they brought priests on the expeditions so they could convert the indigenous peoples. Bartoleme de las Casas was one of the lone figures pleading for humane treatment of the indigenous peoples.
Finally, we had the holy wars at home. War was waged on Jews and other nonbelievers in the inquisitions. Numerous people were killed in the name of Christ.
Maybe, just maybe, with the statements of recent popes and bishops’ conferences, we are seeing the beginning of a return to the Gospel of Nonviolence. The American Catholic bishops still recognize two approaches to war—nonviolence and the just war theory. Martin Luther King has warned us that it is “nonviolence or nonexistence.”
These are the conditions for waging “just war:”
Jus ad bellum
 Just cause—only use force to correct a grave evil, that is aggression or massive violation of the basic rights of entire populations
 Comparative Justice—injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other
 Legitimate Authority—duly constituted public authorities
 Right Intention—force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose
 Probability of Success—arms may not be used in a futile cause or where disproportionate measures are required to ensure success
 Proportionality—overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved
 Last Resort—only after all peaceful alternatives have been used

Jus in bellum
 Noncombatant immunity—not the object of direct action, must take steps to minimize indirect harm
 Proportionality—Use no more force than is necessary to achieve military objectives
 Right Intention—even amid conflict politicians and military leaders must strive for peace with justice

Jus post bellum
 Just termination—negotiate conditional surrender
 Restitution—victor must repair damage done

[I think it ironic that the program changed my bullets into question marks.]
The question is whether any one has ever applied the principles before going to war, while engaged in war, and after the war. A bigger question is whether the conditions can be met in this day and age. In the last century, 42 million soldiers died in war. The civilian deaths outnumbered the military deaths. Sixty two million civilians died in wars. We killed many innocent civilians when we unleashed the first weapons of mass destruction on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our so-called smart weapons aren’t really very smart! I disagree with the bishops support of “just war”—a great oxymoron. They should reassess their position in the light of the realities of modern politics and modern warfare.
Our current morass in Iraq never has met these conditions. Even more important, we have heard the rhetoric of holy war. “Axis of evil.” “Crusade.” God is on our side! We must bring democracy to the world. That is our sacred responsibility.
Let us continue to work ardently for the peace of Christ—the peace which only Christ can give. Let us bring the imperial church back to its roots in the nonviolence of Jesus.
Joan and I will be in Ireland for three weeks. We plan to meet with peacemakers in Northern Ireland to learn more about peacemaking. Pray for our safe return and that we will learn more about making peace.

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