Thursday, November 13, 2014

Peace in Christ and Peace of the World

In two previous articles we looked at the concept of Catholic unity as symbolized by garments in the Sacred Scriptures (here) as well as accusations that frank commentary on problems facing the Church today constitutes the sins of 'discord' and 'contention' (here). Today we will examine the question of how the peace that Christ commands us to have is different from worldly peace.

This is a very relevant question. Our Lord says plainly in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt. 5:9). But as we have seen in our previous articles, remaining faithful to the truth sometimes means that falsehood must be contended against or that men of equally good standing will disagree on the best approach to something. 

In other words, the necessities of the Christian life mean that there is no escape from argument, debate, and disagreement - at least for most of us. This is why one cannot simply say that contention is bad; as we saw in our examination of Aquinas, contention for the truth is praiseworthy. It depends upon the nature of the contention. This is why St. Paul condemns contentiousness in Titus 3:9 ("avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain") but why St. Jude in Jude 1:3 encourages Christians to be contentious in striving for the Faith ("I found it necessary to write appealing to you to earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints"). If contention simplex were always bad, St. Jude could not appeal for Christians to contend.

The question then becomes one of peacefulness. How can we fulfill the appeal of St. Jude to earnestly contend for the faith while also obeying Christ's command to be a peacemaker? Are not disagreement and peacefulness contradictory?

Again, we must examine what our Lord means by "peace" and "peacemaker." It would be simple to assume that peace means the simple cessation of hostility; that promoting "peacefulness" means bringing together, and therefore whatever unites is good and whatever divides is bad. But is this what our Lord means?

Our Lord's exhortation to peace in the Beatitudes should not be understood apart from his other comments about peace in Matthew 10 and the Gospel of John chapter 14. 

In Matthew 10:34, our Lord says:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth; I come not to bring peace, but a sword."

What does this "sword" refer to? It refers to the fact that adherence to the Gospel brings division; its sets men apart from others, both in their belief and their conduct, sometimes even within their own household. This is why in verses 35-37 of the same chapter Jesus goes on to say:

"For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household."

The Faith is a kind of boundary that sets the Church apart from those outside it. Those outside its confines not only do not understand it but are hostile to it. Hence our first Sovereign Pontiff observes:

"They [the non-believers] think it strange, that you run not with them into the same confusion of riotousness, speaking evil of you" (1 Pet. 4:4). 

They find our beliefs and morals strange, even incomprehensible, and so revile us for them. Thus Matthew 10 reminds us that adherence to the truth necessarily sets one apart from others. Interestingly enough, Aquinas quotes this passage in his comments on discord and how discord is not always against charity (STh II-II Q. 37 art 1).

That truth divides provides an obvious corollary to the fact that is also unites. When we draw a circle around a group of people and define ourselves as "in" that circle, there is unity among those who are inside - but this implies a disunity or a separation from those outside. That circle is our Creed. And, as Chesterton says, a creed does not unite men by itself. It is differences in creeds that unite men - boundaries that distinguish one creed from another. Paradoxically, the boundary that separates also unites:

"It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men—so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites." (G.K. Chesterton. What's Wrong with the World, Part I. Chap 3, "The New Hypocrite").

So to think of Christian peace in terms of simply "bringing people together" - that is, in the manner which the progressives tend to think of it - is seriously deficient. In John 14, our Lord reminds us that the peace He gives us is not the peace of the world; it is something drastically different:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27).

What is the difference between the peace of Christ and the peace of the world? Aquinas defines "concord" simply as a union of wills (II-II Q. 37 art. 2); peace is union of wills but also a kind of right ordering of appetites, even within a single man (II-II Q. 29 art 1) which presumes man in right relation with God. Worldly peace takes no consideration of man's relation to God. Worldly peace then is a simple union of wills. Christian peace, on the other hand, would be a union of wills of men in right relation with God; that is, joined together in the truth. Worldly peace ignores the question of truth and is content with mere union of wills in the cessation of hostility; Christian peace seeks for a union of wills, but subservient to and in the truth, and is willing to sacrifice temporal peace for the sake of eternal truth. Worldly peace, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of temporal advantage. This is in fact one of the characteristics of the End Times:

"For when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape" (1 Thess. 5:3).

Jeremiah 6:14 and Ezekiel 13:10 also associate a misguided notion of temporal peace with a corrupt society on the verge of judgment. Let us examine ourselves and see if we have not allowed the world's definition of peace to color our thinking. There are many things in the world, some good, some bad, but in general, my approach is to view worldly issues in the context of James 4:4: 

"Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becomes an enemy of God."

Being a peacemaker cannot mean promoting peace in a purely worldly sense without reference to the truth, and here the advocates of a Christianity dedicated to merely fixing social ills and speaking out against war, etc. go astray. Truth is supreme. Where there is no truth, there can be no unity. It does not matter what other external circumstances we are dealing with. Let us recall the story of St. Peter of Alexandria and the heretic Meletius from the days of the Roman persecutions. St. Peter and Meletius were both imprisoned in the same cell and awaiting death during the time of Diocletian. Yet when St. Peter found that Meletius was an adherent of a heretical sect, he put up a curtain in the prison cell to separate himself from the heretic. Even when both were awaiting death int he same cell, St. Peter wanted to make it clear that there was no semblance of unity between himself and a heretic. 

Christians are certainly called to work towards temporal peace, as temporal peace provides the necessary social tranquility necessary for men to be able to think about and work towards saving their souls. For this reason peace is said to proceed from charity (STh II-II Q. 29). We should always promote and work for tranquility and those things that will best affect tranquility, but always in subservience to the truth. Because without truth, there can be no peace. The first consideration of a Christian is for adherence to the truth. We are not called to die for peace. We are called to die for the truth.

Thus, the Christian becomes the most docile laborer for peace when it is sought in the truth, but the most intransigent and obstinate foe of every work contrary to truth.

The Christian is the most humble and most willing to serve others in his household and his work, always willing to take upon himself unpleasant or difficult tasks without complaint - but is also willing to die rather than compromise his conscience by one jot or tittle when it comes to performing some work that is displeasing to God.

The Christian rejoices at the thought of all men joined together in one worship and one communion giving praise and honor to the true God, but would prefer to see the entire universe obliterated than tolerate God being dishonored.

The Christian is silent and willing to let faults and wrongs go unrequited without raising a voice in protest, but when he sees God being blasphemed or the Church being assaulted he becomes the most vocal of opponents. In other words, he is willing to suffer for the sake of the Bride but does not stand by idly while the Bride is ravaged.

One final thought: Aquinas says it is possible to construct a worldly concord based simply on a union of wills. but for there to be true peace, individual men must be in right relation with God. Therefore, if we really want world peace, the best thing we can do is bring people to Christ. This is how we build a peaceful world. Yes, unbelievers are excluded from the circle, but we should work to make the circle as big as possible, because all men are called to enter the circle. This work will not be easy; at times it will mean that the Gospel will actually divide. We will be called "divisive" because the truth itself is offensive. But this is the great work. To be peaceful is to labor patiently in service of everything that advances the truth, and to be the most intractable opponent of everything that keeps men from the truth. There can be no harmony between truth and error.

"What concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?" (2 Cor. 6:15)

2 comments:

Agnes said...

Thank you, Boniface! It makes me happy to see people speaking the Truth, regardless of how unpopular it is, especially nowadays.

Mighty Joe Young said...

Man o man, if this post is not the proper response to all of the Papal Praxis since the V2 Rocket was launched.

The Saint Peter of Alexanderia story is FANTASTIC.

Now THAT was a man!!!


Where do such men exist in the church today?

Not in the Papacy or the Episcopacy or the Cardinalate but in the caves of covadonga- the traditional orders