We have already noted that this paradox appeared also in the treatment of the early Church. It was important while it was still insignificant, and certainly while it was still impotent. ... It was resented because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war. It had risen out of the ground to wreck the heaven and earth of heathenism. It did not try to destroy all that creation of gold and marble; but it contemplated a world without it. It dared to look right through it as though the gold and marble had been glass.
-- G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, Part II, Chapter 1: The God In the Cave
Here is the picture of Chesterton looking smart and fat and quotable that is required
to appear on all Catholic blogs (and earns extra points on Protestant ones).
I haven't written much about my pacifist convictions, although I wrote a series on anarchism a few months ago. The controversy in the combox that extended through the last several Raw Tact posts, however (specifically Part X, Part XI, and the Appendix, as well as this interruptive but related post), has had my mind turning to the nature of reconciliation, and thus to pacifism -- for I believe that all reconciliation must, in the last resort, be pacifistic if it is to have real and lasting effects: those effects that take root in the heart, rather than in the smaller question of whether men are killing one another.
That is not irony or authorial cleverness, by the way. I really believe it. As a Catholic, I believe in the immortality of the soul; in Heaven; in Hell. That men kill one another is a horrible reality, and I long for it to cease, everywhere and forever. That men hate one another is far more hateful to me even than killing. After all, there are circumstances in which killing can be justifiable or at least excusable -- self-defense and innocent accident spring to mind. But God is love; God makes the sun shine upon the just and the unjust alike; when He was crucified, He not only cried out to the Father for the forgiveness of His tormentors -- something we have heard so often that, often, it fails to strike us -- but He was actively maintaining their life and well-being as they murdered Him. ("In Him all things hold together.")
For all his flaws, Mel Gibson got something exactly right here, I'm told: the hand holding the nail is his.
The unearned, the utterly gratuitous character of all existence, is often lost on us. Jean-Paul Sartre experienced this when he perceived all things as de trop, superfluous, unnecessary. He was right, in a sense -- but without the conviction of the being and love of God, the experience was a negative, maddening one, which he himself described by the title of his book Nausea. The obverse side of this idea is what a Catholic means by grace. Not only salvation, but even existence, is a gift that we could never earn by any amount of goodness or anything else.
'I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity.''Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything here is for the asking and nothing can be bought.'*
At a seminary in Bangalore, a nun once said to me, 'Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them things free. They are losing their human dignity.' When everyone was quiet, I said calmly, 'No one spoils as much as God Himself. See the wonderful gifts He has given us freely. All of you here have no glasses, yet you can all see. If God were to take money for your sight, what would happen? ... What would happen if God were to say, "If you work for four hours, you will get sunshine for two hours"? How many of us would survive then?'**
Okay, she'd probably be fine.
The gratuity of the Divine gift of life is my chief reason for being a pacifist. Specious reasons and equally specious objections are frequently set forth by advocates and enemies of pacifism. It is perfectly possible to believe the Sermon on the Mount, and also believe in the justice of the cause of the First Crusade or the Battle of Lepanto; it is perfectly possible to believe in the justice of the First Crusade or Lepanto, and at the same time be a pacifist (at least in terms of personal vocation). But when I am confronted with the intolerable generosity of God in making me and sustaining me at every moment, I cannot bring myself to regard violence, even in self-defense or the defense of others, as anything but a distant second-best. To imitate His open-handed and open-hearted love, taking no vengeance, willing no ill, however deserved -- what can compare with that?***
It is often urged against pacifism that it is impractical. Now, I reject from the get-go that a Christian's chief concern ought to be with practicality. However, I also think that the practical effects of pacifism in history have been ignored. The independence of India was achieved through the wholly pacifist efforts of Gandhi and his followers, and the civil rights movement in this country was as successful as it was largely through the same influence. Not to turn this into a quotefest, but the following, from Gandhi's writings, seems to me to express the matter well:
Reader: I deduce that passive resistance is a splendid weapon of the weak, but that when they are strong they may take up arms.
Editor: This is gross ignorance. Passive resistance, that is, soul-force [satyagraha in Sanskrit], is matchless. It is superior to the force of arms. ... Physical-force men are strangers to the courage that is requisite in a passive resister. Do you believe that a coward can ever disobey a law that he dislikes? Extremists are considered to be advocates of brute force. Why do they, then, talk about obeying laws? I do not blame them. They can say nothing else. When they succeed in driving out the English and they themselves become governors, they will want you and me to obey their laws. ... But a passive resister will say that he will not obey a law that is against his conscience, even though he may be blown to pieces at the mouth of a cannon.
What do you think? Wherein is courage required -- in blowing others to pieces from behind a cannon, or with a smiling face to approach the cannon and be blown to pieces? Who is the true warrior -- he who keeps death always as a bosom-friend, or he who controls the death of others? Believe me that a man devoid of courage and manhood can never be a passive resister.
This, however, I will admit: that even a man weak in body is capable of offering this resistance. One man can offer it just as well as millions. Both men and women can indulge in it. It does not require the training of an army; it needs no jiu-jitsu. Control over the mind is alone necessary, and when that is attained, a man is free like the king of the forest and his very glance withers the enemy.
Passive resistance is an all-sided sword, it can be used anyhow; it blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used. ... It never rusts and cannot be stolen. ... It is strange indeed that you should consider such a weapon to be merely of the weak.****
But it is not primarily the military or political implications of pacifism, potent though I believe -- or, more precisely, observe -- they are, that I'm interested in. Nor, though I also declare myself a pacifist in the class war and the culture war, am I focused predominantly upon those, either. I have in mind, above all else, a pacifist spirituality. I don't believe that the Lord Jesus had war chiefly in mind when He preached the Sermon on the Mount; indeed, there is no mention of the kinds of violence we are familiar with in war and tyranny at all: only the kind of day-to-day exasperations and frustrations that could be expected in a life among rowdy villagers. But there comes in the image of the gratuitous sunshine that falls with indifferent genersotiy upon evil and good alike; there, too, the blessing upon those who are persecuted, and the exhortation to rejoice and to bless when we suffer under it. That is the root of pacifism -- at least, of the kind of pacifism that I consider worthwhile. A rejection of violence merely as violence, and not as a kind of anti-sacrament that is the hatred it signifies, seems to me like a very arbitrary rule. Pacifism too must be sacramental. Pacifism, not animated by and acted to convey love -- well, if I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames ...
Only by choosing to end injustice in oneself -- to suffer its consequences and deliberately refuse to retaliate, with the soul as much as the body -- can the cycle of revenge be stopped. Every act of violence, of vengeance, of punishment, begins the cycle of violence afresh; and it will always be that way, until our attempts at justice are swept away in the terrible finality of the justice of God.
As illustrated here, possibly.
And this is how the Church first took root. Sanguis martyrum Ecclesiae semen, wrote Tertullian, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." A martyr is one who chooses to love to the uttermost, a love so powerful that mortal life cannot contain its force. Nor has the reality or the spiritual power of martyrdom ceased in the intervening centuries. The power of the Church has always lain in her rejection of power, her refusal to be controlled by it; when she has embraced earthly attitudes towards power, she has experienced a corresponding decline, first in sanctity and then -- and then what else could possibly matter? Seek ye first the kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you; seek these things, and you shall lose them and the kingdom with it.
This is a great part of why I cannot bring myself to be alarmed, or even particularly interested, by the decline (such as it is) of Christianity as a cultural and political force in this country. This decline has bad effects, certainly, but it will not prevent God from reaching people however He pleases. It also has good effects, or at least it can; for instance, it could lead us to ask ourselves as believers why, exactly, the people have left their temples, and left their temples very largely not for another temple but for nothing at all, an act virtually without precedent in the religious history of mankind.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs where once the sweet birds sang.
If our sole response to such reflections is that this people who knoweth not the law are cursed, then I think we need to stop and seriously ask ourselves who the hell we think we are. Do we suppose that we are doing God some benefit by being the recipients of His astonishing generosity in the Scriptures and the sacraments? Do we think there isn't enough of His love to go around, and that if we share His compassion and patience with those outside there will be less left for ourselves? And even if, on some level, we do, are we to react like the resentful workers who expected more than the denarius they agreed to work for, or the elder brother who was angry with his father's joyful reception of the prodigal son?
The point is, the path to holiness suffers no obstruction from the Church losing status or prestige. Indeed, that kind of decline can make it easier rather than harder to grow in the love of God, by moderating the temptation to (to put it bluntly) avarice. And if we should come to the point that we are actively persecuted -- rejoice. For then, ours is the kingdom of heaven.
Christmas is a time when we are disposed to think about the warm, comforting side of Christianity; it is, also, a time when the kulturkampf gets more emphatic than usual. Annoy to the world, the Lord is come. But some of us were never told, and others of us forget, that there are as many martyrs celebrated in this season as in any other. Saint Lucy, martyred brutally under the Emperor Diocletian, was just this past Friday; Saint John of the Cross, commemorated yesterday, was not killed, but was imprisoned and savaged by the thoroughly Catholic society of sixteenth century Spain, and indeed by his own religious superiors; the day after Christmas is the day devoted to Saint Stephen, the first of the Christian martyrs. And on the twenty-ninth, though it is not a well-known memorial in this country, is the feast of Saint Thomas Becket, about whom T. S. Eliot wrote his remarkable play, Murder In the Cathedral. Becket too was murdered, at the altar no less, by a society that professed itself to be wholly Christian and Catholic. There is no enclave, no shelter that will shield us; but if in Jesus we mortar the stones of the Church with our blood, they will stand fast thereafter.
Bar the door. Bar the door.
The door is barred.
We are safe. We are safe.
They dare not break in.
They cannot break in. They have not the force.
We are safe. We are safe.
Unbar the doors! throw open the doors!
I will not have the house of prayer, the church of Christ,
The sanctuary, turned into a fortress.
The Church shall protect her own, in her own way, not
As oak and stone; stone and oak decay,
Give no stay, but the Church shall endure.
The church shall be open, even to our enemies. Open the door!
My Lord! these are not men, these come not as men come, but
Like maddened beasts. They come not like men, who
Respect the sanctuary, who kneel to the Body of Christ,
But like beasts. You would bar the door
Against the lion, the leopard, the wolf or the boar,
Why not more
Against beasts with the souls of damned men, against men
Who would damn themselves to beasts. My Lord! My Lord!
You think me reckless, desperate and mad.
You argue by results, as this world does
To settle if an act be good or bad.
You defer to the fact. For every life and every act
Consequence of good and evil can be shown.
And as in time results of many deeds are blended
So good and evil in the end become confounded.
It is not in time that my death shall be known;
It is out of time that my decision is taken
If you call that decision
To which my whole being gives entire consent.
I give my life
To the Law of God above the Law of Man.
Unbar the door! unbar the door!
We are not here to triumph by fighting, by stratagem, or by resistance,
Not to fight with beasts as men. We have fought the beast
And have conquered. We have only to conquer
Now, by suffering. This is the easier victory.
Now is the triumph of the Cross, now
Open the door! I command it. OPEN THE DOOR!
-- T. S. Eliot, Murder In the Cathedral, Part II, pp. 73-74
*This is in C. S. Lewis' brilliant The Great Divorce, and takes place in what he calls the Valley of the Shadow of Life -- the first vale of Heaven seen by entering souls. I forget where it is exactly, and I haven't got a copy of the book with me, but, like so many passages, this one stunned me and has stuck in my memory.
**In the Heart of the World, pp. 57-58. Blessed Teresa is among my favorite figures in all Catholic history, for this and a host of other reasons.
***It may be said, and not without justice, that there will indeed be judgment at the end of time. That is of course quite true. But in my view, if God can wait that long to avenge Himself, I don't need to hurry things along. His justice will be more intelligent, more compassionate, and more just than mine, to put it mildly.
****Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), M. K. Gandhi, pp. 51-52.