Only the Rice Loves You: a month with Thich Nhat Hanh In Paris

By Jim Forest

Thich Nhat Hanh, Paris 1975 (photo: by im Forest)
Thich Nhat Hanh, Paris 1975 (photo: by Jim Forest)

Note: The text which follows was written and published in the fall of 1972.

I have just returned from an extraordinary experience. I hardly dare try writing about it. Words sometimes seem a cruel instrument — little chance to use silences, a shaking voice, whispers, laughter, tears, body language. None of that here, Somehow it has to pass through the needle’s eye of a typewriter.

The experience was in Paris, with Vietnamese. I stayed for a month with the staff of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation, a group that has no role in the negotiations and is almost unheard of in the United States, even within the anti-war movement. If we think of Vietnamese Buddhists, at best we may recall that, yes, there were many monks and nuns in demonstrations in the streets of Hue and Saigon nearly ten years ago. Or perhaps there is a flickering recollection of a monk sitting prayerfully within a wrapping of fire, communicating wordlessly the agonies of his people.

But more recently, what was once often referred to as the “Buddhist movement” in Vietnam seems to have evaporated from Western sight. We seem to see only the people who carry weapons. Perhaps there is a half-conscious assumption that the extreme suffering of the war has been such that even the Buddhists, and even the monks and nuns, are under arms or finding other ways to support the military struggle of the liberation army.

In fact there is, in Vietnam, a huge nonviolent struggle that continues, despite arrests, torture, imprisonment, despite the drafting of novices and monks, despite the seemingly ceaseless waves of violence, despite homelessness, injury and death.

Why do we hear nothing of it? Or imagine it isn’t there? Perhaps because we, too, more than we know, are victims of the war, to the extent that we have difficulty either seeing or even imagining a way of life that doesn’t respond in kind. Even in many homes, and certainly in most schools, churches, and places of work, the only way of life we know is of coercion, manipulation, threats, punishments; we use goodness as a word for the obedient: a “good” child is one who obeys. The violence may be subtle, but it is the only mainspring we know much about. How, then, to imagine nonviolence?

It is hard to imagine. And if it is hard to imagine for ourselves, how much more so for those who have experienced violence without any padding? Many Vietnamese families have seen their homes burned or bombed not once or twice but five or six times. Thousands of young women have been driven into prostitution in order to protect their families from starvation. Many children and aged people have suffered extreme malnutrition, Countless have been killed, wounded, driven insane, How could anyone’s rage not hunger to turn the suffering back toward those who have caused it and who profit from it?

Yet I have just spent a month reading the letters and seeing the photos that have come from a few of those whose experience of violence has only deepened their resolve to have no part of violence, who would sooner die than pass on to others the suffering they have known and witnessed. And I have lived with several of the persons they have sent out of Vietnam to speak for them. If I can only dimly understand the mystery of their non-vindictive courage, at least I cart try to listen and watch and attempt sharing with others the privilege that has somehow been given to me.

I was able to go to Paris only because a friend had paid for the ticket and because the Community for Creative Nonviolence in Washington had loaned me some expense money. My charter flight having been a week earlier than expected, I hadn’t yet received a response to a letter to Thich Nhat Hanh asking for hospitality. He was the only person I knew in Paris. I didn’t have his phone number, couldn’t find it, couldn’t speak French, and couldn’t even read the directions on how lo use the phone. But as I had come to Paris to represent the Catholic Peace Fellowship at a meeting, I did have the address of the meeting place — the Quaker International Center on rue de Vaugirard. After a bus ride and miles of walking, I got there, and with the help of an English-speaking staff person, called the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation. I was told to come right over, and given instructions for the Metro ride underground.

The Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation: with such a name, I imagined their offices in Paris’ diplomatic quarter, something simple of course, in keeping with their Buddhist affirmation, but nothing resembling what I found.

Their office is in the north of Paris, in a North African section not unlike the East Harlem I had lived in in New York, except here the streets were much narrower and, in these areas, twisted like railroad wrecks. The address was 11 rue de la Goutte d’Or — the street of the Drop of Gold. The building, freshly white-washed, was barely twice the width of a Volkswagen bus. Inside was a squeezed circular wooden staircase, old worn grey wood that looked often scrubbed.

The Delegation’s offices were on the top floor. An office. A small grey room, several desks, and two windows looking out over rooftops toward old gothic St. Bernard’s with its flying buttresses and charcoal black steeple. The only decoration, other than the view, was a pair of pine cones that were hanging on the wall — simple, wooden flowers.

Two people were there. One was blond and looked vaguely familiar. She smiled and said, “Do you remember me?” “You look familiar,” I said uncertainly. “I’m Laura Hassler.” We laughed. I hadn’t seen her since she was dividing her time between being a Swarthmore student, being part of a folk singing group, and trying to oppose the war. That had been five years ago. More recently she had been working for the Committee of Responsibility in Philadelphia raising medical help for the war’s civilian casualties.

The other person, laughing too, was Cao Ngoc Phuong. I had heard of her: a professor of biology from the Universities of Hue and Saigon. She had been a leader of peace actions, which led to her imprisonment by Saigon authorities. Protest from academic figures in several countries resulted in her release. When friends in the government let her know that she was about to be arrested again because of her involvement in the underground peace press, she was smuggled out of Vietnam (no exit visa was possible). She had traveled internationally since then, speaking for the peace community she had been a part of. Nhat Chi Mai, a young Buddhist nun who burned herself as “a gift for peace,” had been one of her closest friends, But I didn’t know Phuong was in Paris or part of the Delegation,

She wore traditional Vietnamese clothing — black silk trousers with a slim brown dress, open along the sides to the waist for ease of movement in chairless, couchless, rice-matted houses.

Such a welcome. I had worn large holes through my shoes and socks in my long pilgrimage through the streets of Paris. The borrowed suitcase, though it had seemed light when packed, had given blisters to both hands. I had lost my sleeping bag. I couldn’t have been feeling more insecure. And now these two women, born on different sides of the planet, were both laughing at the sight of me in this tiny office in the African section of Paris.

An hour later, at sunset, they took me home, driving around the edge of Paris in washing-machine traffic, our vulnerable selves protected from disaster only by our tiny car, which seemed made of tin foil.

We survived, finally arriving at Maisons-Alfort, a town of brick houses, a few modern apartment buildings and many trees. We were just southeast of Paris, near the joining place of the Seine with the Marne.

The apartment itself, however, was in Vietnam. It was mainly a large room with rice mats on the floor, a small corner table covered with books and papers, other books in rows at the floor’s edge, and a neatly blanketed mattress on the floor beneath the windows (a view of houses, a parking yard for trucks, trees and sky), Off to one side was a small kitchen. In a closet-sized space there was a toilet, and across from that a bathroom that had largely been taken over by a mimeograph.

Thich Nhat Hanh was there.

He is the main exception I know to the saying, “Adults are nothing more than deteriorated children.” He seems a living illustration of Jesus’ teaching, “Unless you are like children, you cannot enter into perfection.”

But Nhat Hanh is not childish. One senses the years he has lived, and the deep toughness within his vulnerability, but his eyes are so uncallused. I saw around and in his eyes an absence of tension that only children seem to have, as if adult eyes were inevitably located within a muscular pentagon of anxiety and the genuine mark of adulthood were a tense set of sentry muscles around the place light enters the head. Nhat Hanh doesn’t have those sentries.

I had first met him six years ago. Under the sponsorship of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, we had traveled together throughout the country, meeting with huge groups and small ones, from businessmen to poets — anyone who would listen.

As I usually introduced him, I came in know — of necessity — the main facts of his life.

It was from Vietnamese students, however, that I learned that Nhat Hanh (despite the official condemnation of his poetry by the Saigon and Hanoi governments, the National Liberation Front and Radio Peking) is one of the most popular living poets in his homeland, in a culture where the love of poetry is a national trait. Though in underground editions, his books sold in the tens of thousands of copies.

Nhat Hanh had become a monk at sixteen, now thirty years ago. We had often talked about it in the past, and did again (this time on a tape for contemplatives in the US) during the stay in Paris.

“I was initiated into the monastic life by a master,” he recalled, adding that his master had died in the Tel offensive of 1968. “He didn’t give me things to learn — he just put me into community life. We didn’t begin by doctrine. We began by living the community monastic life. So the very morning I came, they asked me to carry the water and to work in the garden. But they recommended to me that I look carefully at the others, to see the way they do things. You know, at that time I already had received some education of a Western nature, so I thought the kind of education in the monastery was not very advanced, because they gave me something to learn by heart. Not theory, but practice.

“For instance, when you wash your hands, you have to raise in your mind a thought that goes along with washing your hands. You would think to yourself, ‘While I wash my hands, I wish that everybody would have clean hands capable of handling the truth.’ So whatever you do, you have to become concentrated on it with a thought, and this is how we are trained for meditation. You get stronger concentration of mind.

“They had me learn things by heart. I thought it wasn’t very advanced, but I finally found it very important. The most important thing is that they don’t want to initiate you with philosophy, theory, doctrine; they want to push you right away into life, into that kind of monastic life. You learn better that way.”

After the first four years in the monastery near Hue, he was sent to a Buddhist institute. He continued monastic life through to profession, and later became founder of a new monastic community.

In the early 1960’s, he studied and lectured at Princeton and Columbia. In 1964, when he returned to Vietnam, the war had reduced most of Vietnamese monasticism to rubble. Where the monasteries had physically survived, the monks had either fled for their lives or been forcibly evicted by the Saigon government (then under the leadership of a Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem). The monks could have re-banded into lest visible monastic communities, continuing life as before. But they didn’t. Increasingly, they became opponents of the war and active in helping the victims — activities which would, from the viewpoint of most Catholic monks, be seen as un-monastic.

Nhat Hanh explained, “Well, there is really not much division between the two kinds of life. The monastery is like a laboratory. A scientist, if he wants to do his scientific work, has to be in his lab; he has to refrain from such things as smoking, listening to the radio, chewing gum — things like that. It is not because these things are evil. But if you want to work for something, you have to stop doing those things which interrupt your work. So monastic life is a lab in which you work hard to obtain something. It is not an end In itself — it is a means.

“Now, as you know, the essence of Buddhism is compassion and wisdom. But if that compassion and wisdom are not translated into life, it would not be called compassion and wisdom!

“So it is not a problem of speculation. If a man who has some compassion and wisdom finds himself in a situation of suffering, he will do what his conscience dictates. The only thing we believe is that action should be rooted in a non-action base, which is the spiritual source of wisdom and compassion. For without wisdom and compassion action would only further trouble the world.”

Nhat Hanh’s voice was quiet, with pauses between many words.

“That is why conserving monastic life is very, very important. But monastic life is also for life. There is really not such separation between monastic and non-monastic life. The hard thing is trying to find the needed work while preserving your spiritual strength.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of those monks who has been able to preserve his monastic essence even in the most non-monastic circumstances. During the weeks with him in France, I was again struck by a deep calm and quiet in him that was like the mysterious, prayer-compelling silence within the ancient cathedral at Chartres, or which lingers In the ruins of monasteries.

Out of his “non-action” base, Nhat Hanh founded Van Hanh University in Sargon, named for a monk of the eleventh century whose followers initiated a nonviolent movement which resulted in discouraging the Chinese from invading Vietnam, a chapter in nonviolent history unknown in the West. The university, along with La Boi Publishing House, also founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, became an intellectual and spiritual base for “engaged Buddhism,” a religious philosophy which remarkably resembles what the Catholic Worker in America has called “applied Christianity.”

To supplement the academic format of the university, Nhat Hanh went on to found the School of Youth for Social Service as a faculty of the university. The School has become one of the principal channels for relief and direct action through which increasing numbers of young people have found a way to assist refugees, to help in village reconstruction, to set up emergency medical centers, to teach better methods of agriculture and sanitation, and even to begin small schools.

In 1966, with the character of the University and School established, Nhat Hanh was encouraged by his friends In the Unified Buddhist Church to speak in America and elsewhere in the West on behalf of the war’s main victims, the peasants. (Asked by one American why he hadn’t stayed in Vietnam, if he were so interested in ending the Vietnam war, Nhat Hanh responded, “We try to go to the root of problems. If you want to help a tree to grow, you do not water the leaves.”)

Hours after Nhat Hanh had left his room at the School of Youth for Social Service, a hand grenade exploded there.

Despite the horrors of the war, there had seemed to be a tremendous hopefulness In Nhat Hanh. My first impression of Nhat Hanh In Paris was that much of that hope had wilted. There seemed an unspeakable sadness in him, as if he were a rabbi at Auschwitz. I discovered from Laura, however, that his depression was recent, and had to do with two things: an event and tendencies within the peace movement.

There was a clue to the event in the room in Maison-Alfort: against one wall was a small, low table, black in color, a simple altar. On it was a candle, some flowers, the ash of burned incense, and a photograph. It was of Thich Tanh Van. A young face. Tanh Van was the director, since Nhat Hanh’s departure, of the School of Youth for Social Service.

Laura gave me a mimeographed sheet announcing Thich Tanh Van’s death. It said that on June 2nd (less than forty days prior to my arrival in Paris), Thich Tanh Van was returning from relief work in Suoi Hgne when his small car was hit by a US Army truck. Tanh Van was refused admittance to an Army hospital. Two days later he died. Thousands came to the funeral, said the announcement.

It continued:

“During its seven years of service, the School has been able to relieve very little of the suffering of the people, but it has shared their suffering of all kinds. Great numbers of Vietnamese civilians have been killed by the warring parties. Great numbers of Vietnamese peasants are suspected, kidnapped and liquidated. Eight of our workers have been kidnapped. Great numbers of peasants suffer from the bombs — seven of our workers disappeared under the bombs in Quang Tri in April, 1972, because of their efforts to rescue people trapped between the two lines of fire. Thousands of Vietnamese are killed accidentally by irresponsible American soldiers — car accidents, “mistakes” of military targets, etc. — and there are no damages paid to their families, and no discipline for the killers. This kind of suffering is the least known to the world outside Vietnam. It seems as though our colleague, Thanh Van, chose to share this kind of suffering with those who die the most ignored deaths.”

There was another paragraph:

“During the funeral service of Thich Tanh van, members of the School community stated that they do not blame anyone for their colleague’s death: ‘Thich Tanh Van’s life was for love and giving: his death should be for the same,’ they said.”

I learned that Thich Tanh Van had been Nhat Hanh’s most loved student and friend, closer than a brother, and that both Nhat Hanh and Cao Ngoc Phuong had been devastated by this loss. “He cannot be replaced,” Nhat Hanh told me later, on a day when he was showing me pictures of the School and Thanh Van.

On a later day I was told of a conversation that was going on within the delegation staff regarding what Thich Tanh Van might choose to be in his next incarnation. It was implicit that Thich Tanh Van had reached that rare degree of wholeness in which it would be possible for him to freely choose. Some thought Tanh Van would now leave the world of suffering forever and enter the “pure land” of complete peace and final liberation. Others said — and, in saying, transformed my understanding of the Buddhists response in Vietnam — that Thich Tanh Van would return to Vietnam, and not to a future, peaceful Vietnam, but to the Vietnam of the present where once again he would voluntarily share in the suffering.

Yet there was another source of depression. Four years ago, there had been much interest in the US in the Buddhists’ nonviolent struggle. Many Americans seemed to find a new source of energy for peace work in response to their awareness of what the Buddhists were doing without weapons in Vietnam.

Now peace activists had seemed without any interest in the Buddhists’ struggle, though it was continuing as intensely as ever. Many peace movement leaders, in the US and elsewhere, were openly critical of the Buddhist for putting primary emphasis on a cease-fire rather than the nature and composition of a future government in South Vietnam. One peace periodical went so far as to attempt connecting the Buddhist movement in Vietnam to the American CIA. Representatives of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation were not invited to several huge international peace gatherings (see WIN magazine, 9/15/1972). There was even a time last year when a pacifist leader informed Nhat Hanh that his invitation to speak at a rally had been withdrawn because he was “politically unacceptable.”

So, while Buddhist monks and nuns and lay people were in prison cells and tiger cages for their peace struggle, they were being made unwelcome in the world peace movement. While a leader of relief and peace work lay dead in Vietnam because there was no room for him in an American Army hospital, the American peace movement has quietly closed its eyes to the existence of the movement Thich Tanh Van had shared in making.

Cause for depression indeed.

One day an American war resister came to the office with several Europeans. A discussion evolved as to whether the Buddhists’ emphasis on a ceasefire did not actually help the American war effort; this was the American’s view, and one currently shared by a number of peace movement leaders in the US and elsewhere. Justice must come before peace, he told the delegation staff. He spoke of American imperialism and the history of deceit in Vietnam, as if these facts were unknown to the delegation staff. A ceasefire, he said, would merely be used by the Americans as an opportunity to entrench themselves more deeply. “Lives will be saved in the long run,” he said with assurance, “only if those who struggle for Vietnamese liberation settle for nothing less than absolute, unconditional US military withdrawal.” (The Buddhists, though with dwindling support from peace groups, had consistently made a ceasefire their first priority, even though they called for US military withdrawal, an interim coalition government and completely free elections as well. The ceasefire came first because the most crucial demand of the people was the right to continue living.) The American could not understand what he viewed as Buddhist indifference to the priority of liberation. In effect, he offered the familiar advice of all warriors throughout history: The way to peace is more killing; it’s sad, but there Is no other way.

Nhat Hanh’s usual feather-light voice was astonishing in its anger. “When you say that, it shows that you do not understand human suffering, that you are alienated from the feelings of those who are dying.” He spoke passionately of the way in which “the warring parties had created a wall of violence in which the peasants were trapped, caught in an agony that was endless so long as both sides relied on the same means.”

The visitors listened hard, the war no longer simply an abstract meeting ground of incompatible ideologies. In the urgency and pain of Nhat Hanh’s voice was implicit the conviction that explains every thought and action of those in the Vietnamese pacifist struggle; that every life is infinitely precious, that no one is replaceable, that no one’s life should be seized and destroyed so that another, in some theoretical future, might be given some leader’s idea of a “better life.”

Nhat Hanh’s voice calmed and conversation resumed. The farewell at the door, when the visitors finally left, was nearly tearful. Different people left the office from those who had arrived.

During the weeks we were together, the sorrow that I had sensed in Nhat Hanh and Phuong began to lift. Not that there hadn’t been moments of peace and even happiness, as when I arrived, but a new current gradually returned. I began to notice It over our meals together.

We were talking about rice one day. Laura had mentioned the Vietnamese saying, “Only the rice loves you.” I wondered if perhaps it would be better to say, “Of all foods, only the rice loves you,” for people might think the Vietnamese despair of love from any other source. But even in saying those things, I realized the words had to be left alone, a gift for meditation.

We talked about the rice we were eating. It hadn’t come from the food market but from a pet store. It was on broken grains of rice, not whole, and less than half the usual price — a good saving in a household where nearly everyone has at six bowls of rice a day. But the man at the pet store was puzzled by these huge purchases from the Vietnamese. “How do the birds you feed eat so much?” the shop owner asked Phuong. She told us her reply: “Well, they are very big birds.”

We laughed. Then Nhat Hanh offered me another bowl of rice. I shook my head no. He opened his eyes extra wide and said, “Don’t you want the rice to love you?” What could I say? He took my bowl, filled it, and handed it back, saying, “Special delivery!”

That night he was quiet again. He brought a book over and opened it for Laura and me. It was a reproduction of an old Zen master’s painting. Very simple: a dead twisted branch coming in from one side, and out of it, a new and fragile limb, very thin and covered with blossoms. There was no need to know the meaning of the Chinese words, or any words. A Christian might say it was a way of showing the resurrection: life rising out of death. A simple painting of hope, hope as experience, as evident in the gospel of trees as it is in the gospels of words, all oration affirming, if we listen: There is no death.

I remember some words of Nhat Hanh’s that were in the introduction to his play, “The Path of Return Continues the Journey,” about the assassination of four of the School’s workers in 1967. It had been written soon after Nhat Chi Mai’s death, an event that must have shaken Nhat Hanh deeply. Out of that shaking came the play, and finally its introduction. I read it on the way to Chartres my third day in France. It ends:

“Love enables us to see things which those who are without love cannot see. Who will be gone and who will stay? Where do we come from and where shall we go? Are the other shore and this shore one or two? Is there a river that separates the two sides, a river which no boot can cross? Is such an absurdly complete separation possible? Please come over to my boat. I will show you that there Is a river, but there Is no separation. Do not hesitate: I will row the boat myself. You can join me in rowing, too, but let us row slowly, and very, very quietly.”

All the while I was gazing at the Zen painting of the branches. Nhat Hanh turned the page. No word had been spoken. This time there was a painting of a monkey with large eyes and a face that seemed, in its few brush strokes, full of expectation. There was an oval shape in the water, just beyond the monkey’s reach. The Chinese ideographs along side were translated in text at the bottom of the page:

The monkey is reaching for the moon In the water.
Until death overtakes him, he’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and disappear in the deep pool,
the whole world would shine with dazzling pureness.

I said to Nhat Hanh that it seemed to me that I had let go of the branch several times, and several times entered into dazzling pureness. That day, I think, Nhat Hanh had let go of the branch again; some new corner in his rebirth process had been turned. The seed had fallen into the ground, died, and now there was a bit of green breaking open the ground’s surface.

The next day Nhat Hanh asked if I would draw a picture for a new poem he had written. He gave me the English words:

Excitedly the sky gives birth to a new dusk.
The blue-eyed bird hops among crystal leaves.
Awakened from forgetfulness
my soul gives birth to a new dawn.
The lake of mind silently reflects a peaceful moon.

Nhat Hanh’s hand had certainly let go of the branch. There was a new momentum about him and in all of us. Perhaps Thich Tanh Van’s reincarnation was partly in ourselves.

The new sense of hope, of possibility, didn’t dilute, however, the painful words that came each day in envelopes from Vietnam. In particular there were detailed reports from the senior nun trying to help the refugees coming to Buddhist centers near Hue, fleeing U.S. obliteration bombing in Quang Tri province. B-52 raids were reducing towns and villages, and finally Quang Tri itself, to splinters. Those who were escaping did not dare go to Saigon-government refugee camps because these were often the target of attacks from the liberation army, which didn’t want the people to believe Saigon could offer them security even as refugees. But the Buddhist centers — schools, pagodas and monasteries — while being relatively safe from bomb and mortar attacks, had nothing to offer materially other than what could be begged door to door in the city.

One Sunday morning, another letter from the nun arrived — a desperate appeal. There were now 15,000 people, she said, 3,000 more than reported in the previous week’s letter. Still there was no rice and not even tins of condensed milk for the infants.

In the same mail was one other letter. It bore the return address of a large religious relief organization. The letter’s author, though expressing regret for the refugees’ difficulties, suggested that the problem be referred to another staff member. “Could you write so-and-so?” he wondered. In fact, the Delegation had written so-and-so weeks earlier it had been his suggestion to address the present correspondent.

“I am really angry,” Nhat Hanh said, “I am really angry.” His voice was quiet, but the words shook. He held the agency’s letter in his hand. On the floor were scattered photos that had come with the nun’s letter. There was a picture of the tents in which the refugees were staying; many others were of a mass funeral. The one that haunts me was of an old woman. She was wandering aimlessly, with a nun unobtrusively watching. One trouser leg was rolled up. Though the woman had lived her many decades in a modest culture, she had forgotten her shirt. Much of her hair was gone. All her relatives had been killed in the bombing, the nun had written on the back. Now, though in a refugee center, she was wandering with vacant eyes calling their names.

Before losing her sanity, she had stood for days in an underground shelter up to her chest in water as the earth shook continuously with the explosion of bombs.

Each day the mail seemed to bring a different range of news. Some days there was news of the draft resistance efforts in which the Buddhists were playing so decisive a part. Huge numbers of draft-age men and boys had been put in hiding; but with the letters of success came the painful news of arrests. When resisters were found in a family’s house, the whole family was arrested. Thousands were being arrested. Many were being tortured with needles hammered through fingers, electric shock applied to genitals and other acts that sometimes resulted in death.

Shortly before I left, another harsh blow was struck: the Saigon regime, whose president and many assistants are Catholic, had ordered the drafting of monks and novices between the ages of 18 and 43, a step never before taken. Pagodas and other Buddhist centers, the correspondents reported, had been surrounded by police in several areas, and the monks taken away at gunpoint. There was no further news of their fate, but it is likely that, as pacifists, they refused induction and were now paying the penalty, as the government must have predicted in advance. A new step In “Vietnamization.”

One day the mail brought a letter from a Vietnamese boy in Philadelphia. He had been brought to the US several years ago by a medical aid group. A number of operations were carried out to gradually rebuild his bomb-shattered mouth and jaw, but the group had recently dissolved in favor of “more relevant” political activities. Interest In the boy had waned. But he wrote not to complain of these things, or even to mention them (we knew these facts only because Laura had known him when she was working in Philadelphia), but to ask the Delegation if there was anything they could do to find his grandmother, or at least to discover whether she was still alive. He mentioned the name of the last village he thought she had been in, and the name of the village chief. His letter was signed with his name and, beneath that, “Hoa Binh.” The words, In Vietnamese, mean “peace.”

So it went. Each day was shaped by such letters. Events were never simply black type on newsprint or bits of film on television; they came to us in personal letters often sent at great risk. “Dear Thich Nhat Hanh” or “Dear Cao Ngoc Phuong,” they began. Or more often, “Dear Uncle” (or Sister, or Brother, or Master), for it would be dangerous to write actual names in case the letters were intercepted before leaving Vietnam.

So even though the depression of the first two weeks had lifted, and we were able to laugh with each other over meals and eat more bowls of “special delivery” rice, there were still nights when I watched tears slipping down the side of Phuong’s face as she lay under the window on the blankets, staring through the ceiling, Laura reaching out sometimes to touch her foot or hand.

One night, after a long day of work, we had only a candle for light. Laura played the guitar and sang ballads, all very quietly, almost like a wind-bell. Then she told a story about a bear that awoke from hibernation to find himself in a factory. “Once upon a time,” she began, “I think it was on a Thursday…” And we all lay on the floor in the dark, turned into children again.

I said at the beginning it is impossible to write of these recent weeks in a way that doesn’t brutalize their reality. My words and the experience are as different as witch hazel is from good French wine. As Nhat Hanh once said to a student in Texas who wanted suggestions for books to read on Zen, “It is better to look into the eyes of a Zen master than to read all the books.” There is no way to tell you about Nhat Hanh’s eyes, or his voice, or the touch of his hand, or the way he cuts vegetables or says “air mail!” with a big smile when he presents a fourth (completely unsolicited) bowl of rice. Nor can I tell you much about Phuong’s tears, or her face when she is listening to an anti-war visitor explain how the war must continue so that liberation can be assured, or the compelling voice with which she sings traditional Vietnamese songs, or what it is like to hear her describe how monks and nuns, wearing saffron ceremonial robes above their usual clothes, formed a double column as an escape channel for peasants caught between lines of fire. I can’t even say much about my American friend Laura, who is paid nothing but given a place to live and meals to share in, who is able to be there because of the help of family and friends and savings, and who sings in a way that seems to make the universe whole again despite the Humpty Dumpty falls our eyes have taken during the day.

So I will try to say no more, at least not here or now.

Coming back, it was hard readjusting to knives and forks. Chop sticks are a gentler way to eat. Knives and forks felt like artillery pieces afterward, and many meals tasted like gunpowder.

I hope some of the people who read this will at least send some money to the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation to help the refugees who have found themselves treated as political objects by everyone except the Buddhists. Surely some of us could not buy some things, not eat some meals, not pay some bills and with the money saved do something to keep a few Vietnamese alive. God knows we do enough to help them die.

(Posted with the request that the readers will drop me a note about typos that crept in due to scanning)

copyright by the author

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Thomas Merton a poster boy?

Often works of biography reveal more about the author than about his subject. Mark Shaw’s recent book about Thomas Merton strikes me as a case in point. Here is the review I wrote for the Winter 2009 issue of The Merton Seasonal.

Jim

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Beneath the Mask of Holiness:
Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair That Set Him Free

by Mark Shaw
Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pages, $27

review by Jim Forest

While still a young, aspiring writer who had not yet set his sights on becoming a monk, Merton lamented his latest rejection letter in a journal entry with which any writer can identity: “Other people’s bad books get published,” he noted in his journal. “Why can’t my bad book get published?” Mark Shaw has much to celebrate. Despite (or perhaps because of) his purple prose style and sensationalist approach to the life of Thomas Merton, his particular bad book has gotten published.

The book centers on what Shaw presents as shocking revelations of closely-guarded secrets. The reader learns that, while a college student in England, Merton had a sexual liaison that resulted in the birth of an out-of-wedlock child; and then later in life, long after becoming a monk, fell in love with a nurse he met while recovering from surgery.

Is there anyone with the remotest interest in Merton’s life who is unaware of Mark Shaw’s headline news? Soon after Merton’s death in 1968, his friend Ed Rice became the first to write, in The Man in the Sycamore Tree, about Merton fathering a child while at Clare College, Cambridge. No subsequent biographer has ignored the event. As for his affair with the nurse when he was 50, it was first described a quarter century ago by Michael Mott in The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton. It is now more than a decade since Merton’s journals about the affair, included in Learning to Love, were published.

Shaw is indignant that Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, published in 1948, referred in only “watered down” terms to the more serious sins he committed before he became a monk. This is nothing less than intentional misrepresentation, Shaw asserts, “the result of a concerted effort to disguise a tormented sinner as some sort of plastic saint rehabilitated through monastic practices.” (21) The real Merton was transformed into a Catholic “poster boy.” (p vii)

Continuing in the same vein, Shaw sees the lack of detail as nothing less that the result of “a quiet conspiracy, a cover up, if you will, by not only Merton, but also the Catholic Church hierarchy stretching from the United States to the Vatican, Abbot Frederic Dunne [Merton’s abbot when he wrote the book], Merton’s literary agent, and his publisher, none of whom did anything other than promote the book as factual even though critical parts did not disclose the whole truth. Strict censorship, in effect, issued a restraining order on Merton’s true story, omitting crucial information about him, and readers were hoodwinked and misled into believing that while Merton may have been a sinner prior to entering Gethsemani, he was not ‘that bad’ a sinner.” (21)

Thus the book’s title: Beneath the Mask of Holiness. Shaw sees “holiness” as a disguise that the Catholic Church and the Trappist Order managed to squeeze Merton into. But, thanks to his affair in 1965, Merton finally discovered what life was all about and thus was no longer “a schizophrenic persona, passive on the outside while pangs of anguish and fear patrolled within him.” (9)

If such over-heated sentences appeal to you, either for content or prose style, I urge you to rush out and buy a copy. Otherwise save your time and money for a better book.

Perhaps it’s not entirely accidental that the reader is reminded of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, populated by evil Catholics whose goal in life is to conceal the truth. In Shaw’s book, Merton is assigned the starring role in an anti-Catholic tract. (In the book’s last chapter, Shaw speculates that Merton may have been murdered, in which case “the logical suspects would be directives hired by the Catholic Church hierarchy, who were afraid of a scandal if Merton were to return to his lover or leave Gethsemani.” [213-4])

If you want to know about actual Merton’s life, including those events that he brought to confession, read Merton himself or one of his less conspiracy-minded biographers.

Regarding his year at Cambridge, Merton asked aloud in The Seven Storey Mountain, “Shall I wake up the dirty ghosts under the trees of the Backs and out beyond the Clare New Building and in some rooms down on Chesterton Road?” He decided to let the ghosts slumber. “There would certainly be no point whatever in embarrassing other people with the revelation of so much cheap sentimentality mixed up with even cheaper sin,” as he put it in an earlier draft of the autobiography. It was characteristic of Merton to take pains not to embarrass others.

What Merton makes crystal clear in The Seven Storey Mountain, as published, is that it was a hellish interval in his life, “an incoherent riot of undirected passion,” as he put it — a time of “beer, bewilderment and sorrow,” in the words of his friend, Bob Lax. “I had fallen through the surface of old England,” Merton wrote, “into the hell, the vacuum and the horror that London was nursing in her avaricious heart.” He remembers reading Freud, Jung, and Adler, struggling to understand “the mysteries of sex-repression.”

Though clearly something dreadful occurred, the reader was left guessing exactly what actually happened — something to do with the mysteries of sex-repression, clearly, but what? On the other hand, what Merton shared with his readers is a great deal more than is provided by most authors of autobiographies. In Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, to give one typical example, Chaplin simply skipped over some of the more painful or humiliating moments in his life, while inventing or radically revising others.

For all its sorrows, Merton’s year at Cambridge wasn’t a total loss. Perhaps the high point was Professor Edward Bullough’s class on Dante. Canto by canto, Merton read his way to the frozen core of hell, finally ascending through purgatory toward the bliss of heaven, a “slow and majestic progress of … myths and symbols.” It was purgatory’s seven storey mountain that provided Merton with the metaphor for his autobiography.

While Shaw provides a compact if voyeuristic chronicle of how Merton fell in love with a young nurse and what occurred between them in the weeks that followed, by far the best and most vivid and three-dimensional account of the same story is related by Merton himself in Learning to Love. Here the reader gets both a day-by-day history of what happened as well as a poignant account of his struggle to make sense of what all this meant, his justifications side-by-side with his self-recriminations. Here one can also can read about the very human community Merton was a part of and his frustrations with his abbot, James Fox – and then hear him express his gratitude for both.

Unfortunately, Shaw seems to have no understanding of or sympathy with Merton’s basic choices: to become a Christian, to be baptized in the Catholic Church, and then to embrace monastic life in a penitential order. It was ultimately because of Merton’s renewed realization that he had a monastic vocation, not a vocation to marriage, that made him end the affair.

It wasn’t, in my opinion, Merton’s finest hour. Many priests suffer from extreme loneliness and have affairs which, in most cases, end as Merton’s did. I have known several women at the other end of similar stories who felt abandoned, suffered from a deep sense of rejection for years afterward, and even wrestled with thoughts of suicide. The fact that this particular story involves Thomas Merton doesn’t make it better and mean that, thanks to the special magic of the Merton factor, it became an encounter sprinkled with pixie dust for the young woman who so desperately loved him.

“God writes straight with crooked lines,” says a Portugese proverb. After the affair, Merton realized he needed not only a hermitage but also vital relationship with several Kentucky families he had begun to know. Never a hard-hearted man, he became even more compassionate. One hopes the nurse he loved was also able to make good use of the intense relationship she had with Merton in that period of her life. (In the past, biographers have shielded her identity, either using the initial “M,” as Merton did in his journals, or her first name, Margie. To his shame, Shaw reveals her family name.)

One could write much more about Shaw’s book and its thesis that it was only thanks to his affair that the true Merton at last emerged from hiding rather than remaining a masked counterfeit coined by the Catholic Church. But then I would have to discuss every chapter, the reading of which is a penance I leave only to those who find ordinary penances inadequate.

* * *

Catholics and Conscientious Objection

Catholics and CO cover[This was first published as a booklet by the Catholic Peace Fellowship in April 1966, updated two years later; more than 300,000 copies were printed between 1966 and the end of the Vietnam War nine years later. The booklet had the imprimatur of the Archbishop of New York.]

By Jim Forest

The Catholic attempting to discover the Church’s teaching on war may find himself confronted with historical and theological confusion. On the one hand we are clearly enjoined to love our enemies as ourselves; we are under orders to feed our enemy if he hungers, to provide drink if he thirsts. On the other hand, the vast majority of Catholics have, for seventeen centuries, taken an active part in their nations’ wars, often battling against each other. In the stained glass windows of our churches, it would be no surprise to find the sandaled St. Francis of Assisi side-by-side with an armor-vested St. Joan of Arc. “Love does no evil to neighbor,” we read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Yet we have the Crusades to look back upon. Speaking at the United Nations, we hear the Holy Father state, “If you wish to be brothers, let the weapons fall from your hands.” Yet we have to admit the caustic accuracy of an observation made by the Jesuit biblical scholar, John L. McKenzie: “We shall have peace, but we have no hope and no intention of achieving it by peaceful means.”

The contrasts are sharp indeed. The problem is a real one. Where does the Christian who seeks to better shape his mind and conscience in regard to war begin? What is the mind of Christ? Was Christ only address-ing Peter when He said, “Put away your sword”?

EARLY WRITINGS

From Apostolic times to 170 A.D. no evidence has been unearthed of Christian participation in military service. The Christian community was in fact reproached for this. In 173, the Roman Celsus, a pagan, challenged the Christian community with these words: “If all men were to do as you, there would be nothing to prevent the emperor from being left in utter solitude and desertion and the forces of the empire would fall into the hands of the most lawless barbarians.” Speaking of the Christian community, Church Father Origen replied, “Christians have been taught not to defend themselves against their enemies; and because they have kept the laws which command gentleness and love to man, they have received from God that which they would not have achieved if they had been permitted to make war, though they may have been quite able to do so.” (Contra Celsum, III, 8.) Origen argued that the Christian refusal of military service did not indicate an unwillingness to bear their fair share in the common life and its responsibilities, but said theTJhristian role was spiritual and transcendent: “The more pious a man is, the more effective he is in helping the emperor—more so than the soldiers who go into the lines and kill all the enemy troops that they can.” He went on to add, “The greatest warfare, in other words, is not with human enemies but with those spiritual forces which make men into enemies.”

Justin Martyr wrote along similar lines: “We who were filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed our weapons of war . . . swords into plows and spears into farming tools.” (Trypho, CX.) Elsewhere Justin Martyr wrote, “We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies, but—that we may not lie or deceive our judges—we gladly die confessing Christ.” (I Apol. XXXIX.)

Church Father Clement of Alexandria, sometimes considered the father of Christian humanism, saw the Christian community as “an army which sheds no blood.” (Protrepticus, XI, 116.) “In peace, not in war, we are trained.” (Paedagogus, I. 12.) “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are his laws? . . . Thou shalt not kill. . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Prot. X.)

LATER DEVELOPMENTS

As even a superficial examination of history makes clear, the Cross and the sword were not to remain permanently apart. Yet the transition from the early period of Christian pacifism to the days of holy wars and inquisitions was quite slow, beginning quietly during the last few decades of the Second century.

It is at that period that the tombstones of Roman Christians indicate some of the deceased to have been milites—soldiers. Though this was precisely the period that saw Celsus condemning the Christians for refusing military service, it seems evident that there were in fact at least a few who remained in the army after their conversions. No doubt their particular duties required no more than what police today would call “restraining force,” not the violence and bloodshed associated with war. St. John the Baptist, in his admonition to the soldiers on guard duty, suggested the possibility of such justifiable military service: “Do not use men roughly, do not lay false information against them; be content with your pay.” (Luke 3, 14.) It took more than a century, however, for canonical recognition to be given Christian military service; such a canon was approved at the regional Council of Aries in 314. (In 416, the Emperor issued a proclamation excluding non-Christians from military service.)

Still the question of Christians actually killing was hardly resolved. It was not until the latter part of the Fourth Century, in fact, that theologians began discussing the just war theory. St. Ambrose (d. 397) and St. Augustine (d. 430), both Church Fathers, continued to emphasize the primacy of love, even stating that Christians as individuals had no right to self defense. At the same time, they found it permissible for Christians to participate in communal defense, even to the point of bloodshed. The only limitation, an obvious one, was that the war must be just. The just war theory (whose later developers include St. Thomas Aquinas and Suarez) required that a war could be considered justifiable only if it met, without exception, certain basic conditions: It must be declared by just authority, for a just cause, using just means and have reasonable expectation of success. Clergy were not to take part. The lives of innocents and non-combatants were to be protected. The means were to be no more oppressive than the evil being remedied. The burden of guilt was to be on one side of the dispute; the pot-calling-the-kettle-black wars were not to receive any moral sanction.

THE NONVIOLENT WITNESS

It would be a misreading of history, however, to maintain that violence and Christianity ever became synonymous.

In the Acta Sanctorum, a confrontation in 295 between a 21-year-old draft refuser, St. Maximilian, and a Roman Proconsul in North Africa is recorded: “I will not be a soldier of this world,” Maximilian said, “for I am a soldier of Christ.” Reminded that other Christians were serving as soldiers, he replied, “That is their business. I also am a Christian and I cannot serve.” Sentenced to be beheaded, Maximilian proclaimed, “God liveth!”

St. Martin of Tours was apparently not opposed to military service per se, only to participation in battle. Remaining in the army two full years after Baptism, he resigned in 336 only when battle seemed imminent: “I am a soldier of Christ; to fight is not permissible for me.” In response to the charge that he was simply afraid, he offered to face the enemy troops unarmed. Inexplicably, however, the enemy sued for peace, and St. Martin was granted his discharge.

Later in the same century, St. Basil the Great (d. 379) prescribed three years abstinence from Holy Communion for those soldiers who actually killed anyone.

Even with the seeming consecration of violence during the Crusades, there were still to be found such men as St. Francis of Assisi, who not only renounced violence but incorporated the renunciation in the founding constitution for his lay order: “They are not to take up lethal weapons or bear them about against anybody.” (Rule for the Third Order, Chapt. 5.) While the controversial section was eventually deleted, during the Saint’s lifetime it was upheld by Papal Bull.

The rejection of military service, it is important to note, did not always imply a rejection of war so much as a personal vocational decision. Such was likely the case with St. John Vianney—the Cure of Ars—who deserted the French army and hid in the forests. His principal reason seemed to be his determination to attain ordination to the priesthood. His decision to desert, he said on his deathbed, was something he had never come to regret.

Others, while not addressing themselves to the problem of war in general, have suffered death rather than take a military oath which seemed to place obedience above conscience, or which required service in what the individual saw as an unjust war. Such was the case of Franz Jaegerstaetter, an Austrian farmer and family man beheaded by the Nazi government in 1943 for his refusal to take the military oath, even with the promise of noncombatant service in the army.

Yet despite the lengthy procession of Catholics who have for one reason or another refused to take up the sword—or wear a military uniform or take a military oath—the question continues to be asked: Does a Catholic have the right to withhold his services from the government in its wars or preparations for war? Can a Catholic be a conscientious objector? Can a Catholic be a draft resister?

UNQUALIFIEDLY YES

The teaching of the Church regarding the primacy of conscience, the Church’s application of this teaching in defense of Catholic conscientious objectors and, not least, the continued presence of such objectors throughout Church history would indicate that the answer is unqualifiedly yes. In defining conscience, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote into the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World the following:

“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. (Rom. 2, 15-16.) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. (Pius XII, March 23, 1952.) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. (Matt. 22, 37-40; Gal. 5, 14.) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.” (Sec. 16.)

Addressing themselves more specifically to the problem of war, in the same document, the Council Fathers called for legal recognition of the rights of conscientious objectors to war’:

“It seems right that laws make humane provisions for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided, however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way.” (Sec. 79.)

Many countries, including the United States, provide some form of exemption from military service for conscientious objectors. U.S. provisions will be outlined later in this text.

Those who renounce violence altogether, selecting the tools of nonviolent defense instead, are praised in the text, as long as the choice does not imply a desire to ignore one’s public responsibility:

“… we cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or of the community itself.” (Sec. 78.)

After decrying as “criminal” those who, in the name of obedience, obey commands which conflict with the “all embracing principles” of natural law, the Council Fathers praised those who refuse such obedience:

“The courage of those who fearlessly and openly resist such commands merits supreme commendation.” (Sec. 79.)

Those who choose military service, the Council Fathers added, “should regard themselves as the agents of security and freedom of peoples. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace.” (Sec. 79.)

Of course the positions of the Council Fathers as stated in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World are in no case new but merely a restatement of definitions and positions deeply rooted in Church history.

THE C.O. HIMSELF

While there has been a steady stream of conscientious objectors in the past, it is interesting to note that their numbers have been swelling in recent years, in the United States and elsewhere. This tendency, in the U.S. at least, became obvious to conscientious objector counseling agencies during the last year of Pope John’s reign. The question is frequently asked, why?

As the reasons for coming to the conscientious objection position vary from person to person, generalization is difficult. Some base their convictions on a new appreciation of Christian tradition, the witness of the Early Church, the inspiration of such individuals as St. Francis and Pope John. Often study of the New Testament plays a decisive role. With others it seems rooted in a more profound sharing in the liturgical life of the Church and in the Sacraments. Still others are moved by personal contact with other conscientious objectors, others by the study of theology, others by the discovery of such nonviolent methods of resolving conflict as have been used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Certainly it is a rare conscientious objector who is not particularly aware of the suffering and death inflicted upon the innocent in recent and current wars: the incineration of villages, the destruction of crops, area or obliteration bombing, the possibility of sudden death hanging over whole nations, and in the background always the shadow of far larger and perhaps suicidal wars, a threat cited in the concluding sections of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:

“… we should not let false hopes deceive us. For unless enmities and hatred are put away and firm, honest agreements concerning world peace reached in the future, humanity, which already is in the middle of a grave crisis, even though it is endowed with remarkable knowledge, will perhaps be brought to that dismal hour in which it will experience no peace other than the dreadful peace of death.” (Sec. 82.)

A number of Catholic conscientious objectors come to their position via a stringent application of the just war ethic, most concluding that a just war in the modern world is inconceivable.

In support of this position, Pope John’s statement in Pacem in Terris is frequently cited:

“Therefore, in this age of ours which prides itself on its atomic power, it is irrational to believe that war is still an apt means of vindicating violated rights.” (para. 127.)

THE UNJUST WAR CO.

“It wasn’t I who persecuted the Jews,” the planner of German death camps, Adolph Eichmann, told his jurors. “That was done by the government. Obedience has always been praised as a virtue. I accuse the rulers of abusing my obedience.” Millions today realize that there is often an unbridgeable chasm between conscience and obedience—even between common sense and obedience. The realization has been stimulated in large measure by public horror at the crimes committed by otherwise good and decent, citizens—all acting under the seal* of obedience and patriotism—during recent times just as during the era of Adolph Eichmann.

On the floor of the Second Vatican Council, Bishop John Taylor of Stockholm emphasized the particular responsibility of Christians to place intelligence and conscience above the demands of authority:

“In view of the monstrous crimes committed by both sides in war and Christians’ past involvement in these through unquestioning submission to authority, Christians confronted today by the possibility of even more terrible crimes cannot surrender their moral judgment on wars to civil authorities. They have instead the responsibility, in justice and charity, to examine the orders of authority and to bear witness, as conscience demands, to the peace of Christ and the sacredness of human life.”

It must be admitted that in times past Church leaders have given only sporadic emphasis to the Church’s age-old teachings in regard to conscience. Even less have those leaders sought to apply its common-sense criteria (earlier cited) in ascertaining the justice (if any and on which side) of a particular war. Those who have found no sustaining justice in their nation’s current wars seldom found a welcome at their chancery office. As for secular authorities, the American Congress has never erected a legal sanctuary for objectors to war unless their objection was to war in general.

Within the Christian community, however, the tide has been changing. The American Catholic bishops, in a pastoral letter of November, 1968, have called for laws recognizing the objector to particular wars.

“As witnesses to a spiritual tradition which accepts enlightened conscience, even when honestly mistaken,” they declared, “we can only feel reassured by this evidence of individual responsibility and the decline of uncritical conformism … if war is ever to be outlawed, and replaced by more humane and enlightened institutions to regulate conflict between nations, institutions rooted in the universal common good, it will be because the citizens of this and other nations have rejected the tenets of exaggerated nationalism and insisted on principles of nonviolent political and civic action in both the domestic and international spheres.”

Citing the present legal provisions for conscientious objection to war in general, they go on to say, “We consider that the time has come to urge that similar consideration be given those whose reasons of conscience are more personal and specific.”

Men professing objection on such grounds can now hope for effective support not only from such unofficial groupings as the Catholic Peace Fellowship but from chancery offices as well.

FORMS OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION

The Congress has exempted from military service those who, “by reason of religious training and belief,” are “opposed to participation in war in any form.” Those opposed to military service in any capacity, combatant or non-combatant, are required to perform alternative service under the auspices of a civilian agency carrying out work serving “the national health, safety or interest”—a broad definition encompassing employment in many areas of public service. Those opposed only to combatant military service are inducted into the armed forces but are not trained in the use of weapons; they are usually assigned to medical or office work. A growing number of objectors—some opposed to war in general, some not—are in various ways, and for various reasons, refusing to cooperate with the Selective Service System; they are generally known as resisters.

Some are covered by no handy labels. There are those who go to other countries, just as many came to America to escape conscription elsewhere. There are those who would cooperate with conscription if it recognized objectors to particular wars, such as the wars in Vietnam and Thailand. There are those who cannot contemplate taking part in wars abroad when justice has yet to be won for all Americans. The groupings are numerous.

Alternative Service

The majority of conscientious objectors, though often objecting to conscription in principle, are willing to undertake compulsory alternative service for a two-year period in lieu of the armed forces or prison. The draft classification for such men, while pending work assignment and after other classification eligibilities have been exhausted, is 1-0.

The most common C.O. assignment is to hospital work. However any area of work in the public interest may qualify. Usually the registrant is expected to relocate for the performance of his work.

Among international agencies providing alternative service employment are the American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Brethren Service Committee and Catholic Relief Services.

Non-combatant Military Service

For those C.O.S willing to serve as non-combatants in the armed forces, most are assigned to the Army Medical Corps, though other assignment is possible as long as the work does not require the use of weapons. When other classification possibilities are exhausted, such registrants are classified 1-A-O. Those contemplating this position should be aware that the armed forces view all branches in uniform as committed to a common responsibility and goal: “The primary duty of medical troops as of all other troops,” the Army Field Manual states, “is to contribute their utmost to the success of the command of which they are a part.” (FM 8-10, P. 195.)

Resistance or Non-cooperation

The reasons for draft resistance (or non-cooperation, as it is sometimes called) vary considerably from person to person. Many cannot in good conscience cooperate with the institution of involuntary servitude, which they see as simply one more form of human slavery; they are unwilling to concede to the state or other body the important decisions of life. Some, less certain about the broader issues of conscription, withhold cooperation because of their objection to the particular functions of the Selective Service System: filling uniforms on the one hand, and “channelling” young men in a multitude of other ways; a Selective Service System memo refers to “the club of induction” being used to keep men in certain areas of study and vocational pursuit and states that the draft accomplishes in the “indirect or American way” precisely what is accomplished by more overt direction in Communist countries.

Some withhold cooperation because they believe that present Selective Service provisions are grossly unfair, not only in failing to provide conscientious objection provision for those who object—for whatever reasons—to a particular military conflict in progress, but because the draft places an unfair burden of military responsibility upon the poorer and less-advantaged members of the populace.

Those who chose not to cooperate with Selective Service—to resist illegitimate authority, as the statement of Dr. Spock and others put it—face up to five years in prison plus a possible $10,000 fine.

Emigration

More than 15,000 potentially draftable American men, plus many friends and relatives, have emigrated to Canada, their decisions to do so often having been motivated by objections to the draft and war; smaller numbers have gone to other countries. Information on this alternative may be obtained from most peace organizations (including the Catholic Peace Fellowship) or from overseas offices of the various countries.

The CO. in the Armed Forces Many do not think seriously about the questions of war, peace and personal responsibility until actually in the armed forces. For those who become conscientious objectors while in uniform, there are provisions either for discharge or reassignment, according to the individual conscience. Information on the procedures may be obtained from the Catholic Peace Fellowship.

OBTAINING C.O. STATUS

The law requires men to register with their local draft board within 10 days of their 18th birthday. At that time, or later, those who register may request SS Form 150, a special form for conscientious objectors which contains four questions and which requests other personal information. (Sample copies may be obtained, with other information, from the CPF.) The form must be returned within 30 days.

It is well to write the answers on separate sheets of paper in order to discuss them with an experienced draft counsellor before incorporating them into the form. It is also advisable to obtain four to five supporting letters from known members of the community, persons able to attest to the registrant’s character and sincerity (the letter writer need not agree with the registrant’s convictions) and his reasons for taking his particular position. For those taking the 1-0 position, the letters might mention the registrant’s reasons for objecting to non-combatant duty in the armed forces. Letters from priests should further emphasize the validity of Catholics being conscientious objectors.

The local board frequently does not approve requests for CO. classification, even after a personal appearance before the board’s members. Board members sometimes do not feel competent to make the necessary judgment. Sometimes one or more of the board members is hostile to the position and would urge disapproval no matter who asked for it.

If the local board does not provide the classification, an appeal should be made in writing within 30 days. This puts the case in the hands of the State Selective Service Board; it is at this level that most Catholic CO. claims have been recognized.

It is important to read the Handbook for Conscientious Objectors, a detailed manual dealing with the draft and appeal processes from the local through Presidential Appeal levels, as well as court procedures (should they prove necessary) and other information; see the reading list at the end of this booklet.

COMING TO A DECISION

Up to this point these pages have been impersonally concerned with facts. An effort has been made to avoid the present. But the times cannot help but intrude. In Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Peru and Guatemala, Americans are fighting wars large and small. The threat of other wars is constantly present. Even where there are presently no bombs falling and no napalm-charred bodies, there is a more subtle violence, institutionalized and gunless—what some have termed the violence of the status quo. This is the form of violence which allows exhaustion to rob men and women of half their lives in order that a relative handful may live in luxury and which gives arms production priority over health and education.

The draft is the most serious and immediate point of contact most Americans have with the machinery of war, an institution compelling us to confront the life-and-death realities from which millions of others have no hope of escaping. Point after point decisions have to be made, and by no means easy ones: to register, or not to register; to fill out, or not to fill out draft forms; to accept or reject various classifications; to report—or not to—for draft board hearings, physicals, induction itself, and there whether to take the step forward into uniform.

Making a responsible decision is no easy matter. Not only must decision be an act of intelligence and will, it must be rooted in man’s most crucial and mysterious faculty, that of conscience. It is not unlikely that great courage may be required.

At least it is now clear that none of us can any longer accept as God’s will what congressmen, generals and draft officials might wish of us. Unthinking obedience has at last been made to stand without a virtuous or even patriotic facade; our concepts, both regarding love of man and love of native land, have been considerably enriched and expanded. In the words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, we have learned that “Man’s dignity demands that he act according to a free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressures.'” (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Section 17.) We have come to realize, though sometimes at great cost in suffering, that freedom and happiness ultimately spring from the individual’s willingness to take responsibility for the use of his life.

The study and listening, the prayer and meditation that go into the decision-making process need hardly be described here. Obviously the peacemaker is first of all one who can listen and is eager to learn, one who is willing to try and see the world as others see it, no matter how incomprehensible other cultures or persons may seem.

But what is more difficult to speak of is the centrality of love, a much-abused word. “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams,” Dostoevsky wrote. Where love is, no token response will suffice. It is the opening of one’s whole self to the pressing needs of others. It is to understand that French proverb which declares, “When we die, we carry in our clutched hands only that which we have given away.”

The Council Fathers speak of this activized love in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:

“This Council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus. In our time a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception, and of actively helping him when he comes across our path…” (Section 27.)

That in the end love is the measure, there is no doubt:

“Come you blessed of my Father and take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you brought me home, naked and you clothed me, sick and you cared for me, a prisoner and you came to me . . . Believe me, what you did to the least of my brothers, that you did to me.” (Matthew 25.)

Against the invitation to love and care stand the ceaseless commands of those—and they are found in every country and across all ideological frontiers—who believe power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Their commands—to burn, to starve, to make homeless and naked, to imprison, to march in step, to obey without pause—remain eternally in conflict to the ways of mercy, peace and justice.

The rewards for a life founded in the works of mercy are not pictured in magazine advertisements. The “reward” granted Jesus, though turned into an ornament and made synonymous with comfort and respectability, is still the criminal’s cross. And for all the reverence showered upon those who have taught the way of liberation and the power of love, few are yet free enough to follow that path no matter where it may lead. For us, as for the disciples at the foot of the cross, the resurrection still seems incomprehensible.

WHAT WILL YOU DO?

You are your own yes-sayer and no-sayer. For all the generals in the world and for all the judges, no one can force a free man to walk across a room, or wear a uniform, or speak when he chooses silence. What precise form your own response to life in these times ought to be no one should even guess. It can only be hoped that the decision will favor life and that from each person, each complicated gathering of intellect, skill, enthusiasm and imagination, will come a gift which will help some and force harm upon no one.

Though decision is ultimately a matter of conscience, an interior perception of mandates we do not impose upon ourselves, for those entering upon the less-traveled path, or thinking about it, there is a community at hand which can help in a multitude of ways, ranging from friendship to study and legal resources. Among such communities are the Catholic Peace Fellowship and the Catholic Worker.

Relatively few give more than a small portion of their energies to the service of life. Even fewer see the putting aside of violence and coercion as an integral part of such a life commitment. For someone making the first difficult steps along the way of peace it is often surprising to find how many others have begun. But better than the proximity of friends is the immediacy of that within us, nothing less than the Spirit, the lord and giver of life.

* * *
“Let us take this opportunity of saying clearly that the Church, the People of God, does not seek protection from its enemies, whoever these may be—in war, and especially not in war of the modern type. We are the mystical body, and Christ is our Head. He refused to defend Himself and His mission by the swords of His disciples, or even by legions of angels, the ministers of God’s justice and love. The weapons of the Gospel are not nuclear but spiritual, and it wins its victories not by war but by suffering. Let us indeed show great sympathy for statesmen in their immense difficulties; let us gratefully acknowledge their good intentions. But let us add a word of reminder that good ends do not justify immoral means; nor do they justify even a conditional intention of meeting immoral attack with immoral defense. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
— Rt. Rev. Christopher Butler, O.S.B.
Abbot of Downside, England
* * *

NIHIL OBSTAT:
Robert T. Kennedy, J.U.D. Censor Deputatus
IMPRIMATUR: + Terence J. Cooke, D.D. Vicar General Archdiocese of New York March 10, 1966

The nihil obstat and imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free from doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the nihil obstat and imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions or statements expressed.

* * *

The Blessings of Theophany

Theophany in Amsterdam 2011
Theophany in Amsterdam 2011

by Nancy Forest-Flier

At the back of our refrigerator, among the jams and mustards, is a Heinz Sandwich Spread jar filled with water. The hand-lettered label on the jar reads “blessed water.” I collected the water last January during the Feast of Theophany at the Great Blessing of the Waters, the second Theophany Liturgy I had attended after becoming Orthodox. I know that many of the people in our church used blessed water for anointing themselves or their family members at times of sickness. Some people drink small amounts of it before departing on a journey. For me, still a newcomer to the rich traditions of Orthodoxy, the little Heinz jar represents those truths which I found so complete two years ago when I was received into the Christian community at the St. Nicholas Church in Amsterdam.

Theophany is one of my favorite feasts. I wasn’t surprised to learn that, after Pascha and Pentecost, the third greatest feast among Orthodox Christians is Theophany. I love to watch Father Alexis, our priest, dip the Precious Cross with such dignity and grace three times into the tub of water in the center of the church. I love to join the procession of parishioners and take a long drink of the cold January water, just blessed. I love to stand as our priest sprinkles us with the great bunch of basil dripping with water; I love his vigor and joy as he sprinkles us. I love the priest’s attempts to sprinkle the choir members, singing in the loft above us. He hurls the droplets up as far as he can, and the choristers lean way over the choir rail, singing and laughing; I love to watch everyone in the church strain forward and take off their glasses, eager to be drenched in the glorious, festive waters of Theophany.

I understand that many Orthodox parishes celebrate Theophany outdoors. Although Holland is a country of water — nearly two-thirds of it would be deluged if the sophisticated dike system failed — we keep our Theophany celebration inside. Our church is just off the Prinsengracht, one of the ancient canals in the heart of Amsterdam, and in this tightly-packed Dutch city being “outdoors” might put us to tottering right on the edge of the Prinsengracht itself. Still I enjoy seeing the documentaries from Russia, where priests of vast proportions wearing nothing over their vestments stand outside in the freezing cold, dip the Cross into the tub and intone the Slavonic blessing with deep, sonorous voices. Around them a cluster of solid babushkas with heads wrapped in woolen shawls, cheeks glowing with cold, clutch their empty bottles, jars and buckets.

It would make sense to bless the waters outdoors. Jesus was baptized, after all in the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan was just a river until Jesus submitted to John’s baptism on our behalf. All of the created world was fallen and foreign until Jesus stepped into the water and made all things new. Now every time a priest blesses the waters at a Theophany Liturgy he is continuing Jesus’ original blessing through time. This re-creation of Creation, this blessing of material things, was one of the truths that so attracted me to Orthodoxy in the first place. In my Heinz jar in the fridge there’s more than a little blessed water; the news of the Incarnation in there as well.

The impact that this has had on my life has been profound. It means that the other categories of “sacred” and “secular” that I grew up with as a western Protestant no longer hold. All the world and everything in it is shimmering with God’s grace and mercy, and it’s only my sad spiritual condition that keeps me from seeing it. The waters of Theophany give me something to live for. Every time I pray or fast I can anticipate the day when I will see things “face to face” for what they are, and not “darkly” as I do now. Every time we reach for the Heinz jar and take a teaspoon of water for a sore throat or a troubled mind, every time we rub a bit of blessed water over my asthmatic son’s body, we acknowledge the ubiquitous mercy of God and His insisting love for His creation.

I think of these things every time I reach for the blessed water in our fridge. But there’s a great deal more than just happy memories in that jar. It holds for me, as a recent convert to Orthodoxy, a new understanding of the mercy of God and His manifestation in all the created universe.

Theophany is the commemoration of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer in the Jordan River, when it was first publicly revealed that this was the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate Word. The feast’s significance and grandeur surpass that of Christmas, which is difficult for many Western Christians to comprehend. This is understandable, since the Feast of Holy Theophany has been celebrated in the East since the fourth century. It came later in the West. The Roman Church at that time grouped Christ’s baptism together with the adoration of the Magi and the wedding at Cana, all on one day, but in the end the Magi won out. In some Western European countries, 6 January is still celebrated as Three Kings’ Day.

Why is Theophany so important? Why is Jesus’ baptism a greater revelation than the celebration of His birth? What does Theophany teach us about the Christian life, and what graces does it impart? What, indeed, does it mean when we take water that has been blessed at this great feast and use it as a means of healing?

As with many great milestones marking the way through the Liturgical year, this feast can be understood on several levels. First, we learn something about the nature of the Incarnation: Jesus is both humiliated and glorified. In submitting to baptism over John’s protests and on our behalf, Jesus shows Himself to be a Man among men, one of us. And through His humility He is glorified before everyone, He is manifested as the Son of God. Theophany teaches us that the way of humility is the way of glory. Father Lev Gillet, in his commentary on Theophany, has written: “If I desire Christ to be manifested in me, in my life, this cannot come about except through embracing Him Who is also God, King, and Conqueror.” We as Christians, as Christ-bearers, are called to reflect this same humility.

This moment is all the more profound because it reveals to humankind the Holy Trinity: both the Father, whose words of approval and love can be heard, and the Spirit descending in the form of a dove, confirm and witness Christ’s glory. In fact, the event of Theophany is such a brilliant revelation that the early Church called it “The Feast of Lights.” In the words of the Troparion for Theophany, “When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.” Human knowledge of the Trinity, the basis of Christian belief, the mystery of God as three dynamic Persons bound together in love, was born on this day.

Theophany is also a time for renewing our own baptisms. We know that immersion in the waters of baptism means death to our old, sinful nature; reappearance from the waters means new life in Christ. Bishop Kallistos Ware writes that Jesus’ baptism was accomplished on our behalf; we are the ones who are cleansed in the Jordan. When we stand together to be sprinkled at the Blessing of the Waters, we can pray that God will enliven the grace given to us at the moment of our baptisms.

The actual blessing of the waters is the act which might give most new Orthodox, especially those from Protestant backgrounds like myself, some difficulty. And it is the aspect of the Theophany that I had to grasp most carefully before I filled my Heinz jar with water last January. What makes this water “special?” Will it really heal people? Doesn’t this smack of magic, of relic worship?

First of all, writes Bishop Kallistos, it isn’t the priest who effects the blessing of the waters, it is Christ Himself. “It is Christ Who has blessed the waters once for all at His baptism in the Jordan: the liturgical ceremony of blessing is simply an extension of Christ’s original act.” Water itself is at once a most ordinary and most mysterious substance. All life depends on water. Where there is water, there is life. Water is God’s precious gift to us, hence it is a means of communion with Him. As Orthodox we believe that the Fall involved all of creation, not just human beings. Cut off from God, men and women had to struggle to survive in the fallen world. What once had been a Paradise became a hostile environment. But when Christ, the new Adam, condescended to become one of us, when He submitted to baptism in the Jordan, bearing our sins and seeking cleansing on our behalf, the waters were blessed by this presence.

Father Alexander Schmemann has written that in baptism, water is “the sign and presence of the world itself.” Thus, all of fallen creation was renewed and restored when Christ was baptized. When we are present at the Great Blessing of the Waters during the Theophany Liturgy, we witness this endless act of Christ blessing the waters and transforming them in the words of Bishop Kallistos, into “an organ of healing and grace.” The world of matter becomes a means of communion with God.

Father Alexander Schmemann writes, “The blessing of water signifies the return or redemption of matter to this essential meaning. By accepting the baptism of John, Christ sanctified the water — made it the water of purification and reconciliation with God.”

Father Alexander goes on further to say that all the world exists as an “epiphany” of God. All the created world is sacrament. “We need water and oil, bread and wine in order to be in communion with God and to know Him.” So the little jar of blessed water in our fridge contains a bit of this grace-filled universe; it is a sign of God’s infinite mercy and love; it is a lesson that God’s intention is a world of unity, love, humility, and healing.

In his essay on “Worship in a Secular Age,” Father Alexander explains that it is at this point that Orthodox and Western theology differ significantly. Most of us raised in Western Christian denominations understand that there is a “secular” world of ordinary matter and a “sacred” world of spiritual things. But the Good News of the Resurrection is a message of unity and universal blessing, not of duality. “The Holy Spirit makes ‘all things new’ and not ‘new things’.” Father Alexander explains that this dualistic understanding of the universe has effectively cut off “religion” from the rest of the world and has been the source of countless difficulties. In his book, For the Life of the World, he writes:

“To bless water, make it ‘holy water,’ may have two entirely different meanings. It may mean, on the one hand, the transformation of something profane, and thus religiously void or neutral, into something sacred, in which case the main religious meaning of ‘holy water’ is precisely that it is no longer ‘mere’ water, and in fact opposed to it — as the sacred is to the profane. Here the act of blessing reveals nothing about water, and thus about the matter or world, but on the contrary makes them irrelevant to the new function of water as ‘holy water.’ … On the other hand, the same act of blessing may mean the revelation of the true ‘nature’ and ‘destiny’ of water, and thus of the world -it may be the epiphany and the fulfillment of their ‘sacramentality.’ By being restored through the blessing to its proper function, the ‘holy water’ is revealed as the true, full, adequate water, and matter becomes again means of communion with and knowledge of God.”

So the water in our Heinz jar is “special” because it represents the whole of the redeemed universe. When we anoint our children with it or drink a bit of it at times of pain or stress, we involve ourselves in communion with God Whose love for us is boundless.

This has profound significance for us. When we acknowledge that the water blessed at Theophany is holy, we must acknowledge that all water everywhere is destined for holiness. For people in Orthodox countries, this way of thinking is nothing new. For instance, it is not uncommon for Eastern Europeans to pick up a piece of bread that has fallen on the ground, kiss it, and eat it. A friend of ours, Franciscan nun Rosemary Lynch, tells the story of a Russian couple who had migrated to the United States and were sent to Las Vegas, where Rosemary works helping refugees settle into American life. The wife finally found a job as a bus person in a casino, cleaning off the restaurant tables of uneaten food and dirty dishes. One day she called Rosemary in tears and told her she could no longer keep her job. Why not? “Because they make me throw away the body of Jesus,” the Russian woman sobbed. Every time she had to throw out uneaten bread from the tables, she felt herself committing an act of sacrilege. (Sister Rosemary found the woman another job.)

Another story my husband heard from Father Timothy Shaidarov at the Pokrovsky Monastery in Kiev about a woman who walked to a monastery in Ukraine to fetch some water from a healing spring for a Jewish friend with an eye disease. “But it was a hot day,” said Father Timothy. “On the way back the woman became so thirsty she drank the water she was carrying and then put water from the tap into the bottle when she got home. She gave this water to her sick neighbor. The neighbor believed it came from the special spring and her eyes were healed.”

How differently we would live our lives if we could do it with this sense of Theophany. How differently we would face the enormous environmental problems today. How careful we would be with the material things of the earth. How our sense of beauty would change, our sense of wealth. For the Christian, writes Bishop Kallistos, nothing is trivial. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is superfluous. Everything contains within it the capacity to glorify God and to be a bridge to Him for us. Everything is Theophany.

[published in “One Church,”  journal of  Parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the United States, vol. XLV, No. 1, 1991]

* * *

Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins

St Nicholas book coverby Jim Forest
Illustrator: Vladislav Andrejev

The figure of Saint Nicholas stands apart from nearly every other Christian saint  his fame spread across empires and generations to make him one of the most recognizable Christian saints in history. But the popular perception of Saint Nicholas today diverges greatly from his original veneration as a compassionate almsgiver, defender of the poor and rescuer of the defenseless. Saint Nicholas has been reduced to the pop culture figure of Santa Claus, a jolly old man who brings presents to good little boys and girls. This book introduces its readers to the authentic Nicholas.

* * *

text from the book’s first few pages:

Once upon a time there was a boy named Nicholas. Today we call him Saint Nicholas, but when he was growing up everyone called him Nick.

Nick lived in a town called Patara where ships came and went every day. You should have seen them! They were made of brightly painted wood with tall masts that seemed to touch the sky and had sails of every color.

The men who made up the crews had an endless supply of tales to tell of their close encounters with fabulous creatures, from sea monsters big as islands to mermaids whose voices could pull a sailor beneath the waves.

The sailors also filled Nick’s imagination with visions of distant ports and great cities — Alexandria, Antioch, Sidon, Tripoli, Carthage, Rome, Syracuse, Ravenna…. Such beautiful names, so many places, all so far away, but at the same time as close as any ship floating in Patara’s harbor.

It was Nick’s dream to become a sailor and travel to all the far-away ports that were beyond the horizon yet shared the same sea in which he and his friends so often swam. In the meantime, he asked every sailor he met, “Where have you been? What was it like?”

Nick’s uncle was an important man in Patara — the bishop — but for Nick he was also both father and mother as Nick’s own parents had died early in his life. It was his uncle who had taught him to read and write…

* * *

Saint Nicholas was born in Patara about 270 years after Christ’s birth and died not far away, in the port city of Myra, on the 6th of December in the year 343. Both Patara and Myra are on the southern coast of what is today Turkey. In Nicholas’s time, the region was part of the Greek-speaking world known as Lycia. Nicholas’s parents died in an epidemic when their son was still a child. Nicholas’s uncle, also named Nicholas, was Patara’s bishop. It was he who took charge of his nephew’s upbringing and education.

As no biography of Nicholas was written until centuries after he died, much of Nicholas’s life is known more from legend than from contemporary sources. What is certain is that he became Bishop of Myra and that, after his death, he was recognized as a saint. Thousands of churches have been named in his memory. He is seen as a model of gift giving and also of pastoral care.

The most popular story about him — the one told in this book — concerns his secret help to a family that had no dowry for their three daughters.

* * *

Well-told story of St Nicholas and the dowry gold seamlessly includes some background and Jesus’ teachings. It is beautifully illustrated with rich, full-color Byzantine-style iconographic art. A short accessible section at the end fills out more detail about St. Nicholas for those who want to know more. — Carol Myers

* * *

Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and associate editor of its journal and website, In Communion. He is a recipient of the Peacemaker Award from Notre Dame University’s Institute for International Peace Studies, a prolific writer of inspirational, historical, and biographical books, and is also the author of two other children’s books available from St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: St George and the Dragon and Silent as a Stone.

Vladislav Andrejev was born in St Petersburg, Russia and received a formal education in fine art book illustration. His search for deeper meaning in art led him to study icon painting. Andrejev is an accomplished iconographer, teacher of iconography, and illustrator of award-winning books manifesting his unique continuation of the ancient Byzantine-Russian tradition. He is also illustrator of St George and the Dragon.

St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $20
http://www.svspress.com/saint-nicholas-and-the-nine-gold-coins/

from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Saint-Nicholas-Nine-Gold-Coins/dp/0881415111/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430733450&sr=8-1&keywords=Saint+Nicholas+and+the+Nine+Gold+Coins

St Nicholas & The Nine Gold Coins
click to enlarge

 

A few memories of Lucy Forest

Lucy and Dad at the circus with Wendy, Thomas and Dan (Alkmaar, 1985)
Lucy and Dad at the circus with Wendy, Thomas and Dan (Alkmaar, 1985)

[to be read at the memorial service in Santa Rosa 15 March 2015]

Nancy: Lucy was the last of the elders in our family, the last of her generation. All the rest are gone. And what an elder she was! No one will take her place. Strong and feisty, yet kind and generous, she’s a model for all of us — and especially for women. One tough cookie, and she always managed to look good.

Jim: I first met Lucy in 1969, the year she married my father. In fact I was the best man at their wedding. Theirs was a friendship that maintained its original intensity to the very end. While they were quite capable of disagreement, it was a real partnership full of care for the other. I recall when dad was close to death in 1990, receiving home hospice care, his telling me in a whisper that he was dying but instructing me not to tell Lucy as he didn’t want to upset her. Of course she knew.

Those who were close to Lucy will remember her for all sorts of things: peace campaigner, affordable housing activist, advocate for the elderly, foe of racism and just about any problem in the world that made people enemies of each other. A hurricane wind blew inside of Lucy obliging her to do whatever she could to make the world a more caring, less fearful place. We all know this. But not so many people can remember being her house guest. I recall the couch that unfolded to become a bed in their small living room at Santa Rosa Commons, the housing cooperative she and my father cofounded. It wasn’t a folding bed I would recommend. In fact it was proof of the existence of purgatory. My back still has some dents that I acquired from using it. Even so it was good being their guest.

One of the best aspects was listening to their conversations in their adjacent bedroom. I wasn’t an intentional eavesdropper but in those close quarters it was simply impossible not to overhear. I got to witness their custom of reading aloud to each other from a book before turning out the light. On one occasion, it must have been in 1988, it happened they were in the middle of one of my books, Pilgrim to the Russian Church, a diary-like account of Orthodox religious life in what was still Soviet Russia. They would read a few paragraphs and then pause to discuss the text — a two-person book club. The single sentence I remember best was “Isn’t that amazing?” They seemed to takes turns saying it. I came to realize that a big part of the glue in their remarkable marriage was their endless curiosity and their shared capacity to be amazed. (Their custom of reading aloud to each other rubbed off on us — we’ve been doing it for many years.)

Nancy: Lucy and Jim Senior came to stay in our house in Alkmaar in 1985. Jim and I were going to Israel for three months and we took two of our children with us. While in Holland, Lucy spent much of her time researching the Dutch infrastructure, especially water management, housing and health care. She found out things we never knew, things we completely took for granted. Even today I guess Lucy discovered more about the Dutch social infrastructure than we’ve ever found out on our own. And she and Jim took the rest of the kids, Daniel, Wendy and Thomas, to the local circus! We have a copy of a wonderful photo that was taken by a local journalist and was featured in the city newspaper – Grandma and Grandpa enjoying the circus with their grandkids. The line-up is as follows: Wendy, then Lucy, then Thomas, then Jim Senior, then Dan. There’s a story there: Jim and Lucy obviously placing themselves strategically between each kid to keep them from fighting. I think it worked. The photo shows Lucy and Jim clapping and smiling broadly.

Jim: Lucy could take some very surprising stands. Beth Forest told us that when my mother Marguerite came to San Francisco and met Lucy for the first time, she and Lucy got along like a house on fire. Lucy liked Marguerite, a fellow campaigner, so much that she scolded Dad for leaving her!

Nancy
: By the way, Lucy was a very good cook. One thing that has entered our family vocabulary is a particularly scrumptious recipe we learned from Lucy, which we have always called Grandma Lucy Chicken. It’s a dish with African plus Latin American roots. Jim had been visiting Lucy and Jim Senior in Santa Rosa and Lucy cooked it for him, and Jim like it so much he asked for the recipe. We’ve made it dozens of times, and the kids still ask for it. We’ve brought along some copies for anyone who wants one.

Jim: A final thought: In one of Jim Henson’s movies, “The Dark Crystal,” a babushka-type lady, old as the hills, asks the film’s hero what has become of a certain wizard. She is told the wizard died. “Then he could be anywhere,” she says, looking around in every direction. I have that feeling about Lucy. She could be anywhere.

* * *

Grandma Lucy Chicken

1 package chicken parts
3 T butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can (16 oz.) tomatoes, undrained
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 cup pitted dried prunes
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
3 green-tipped bananas, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

In large frying pan, melt butter. Add chicken, 4 pieces at a time, and cook, turning, until brown on all sides. Remove chicken to platter. In frying pan, add onion and garlic and sauté 1 min. Add wine, tomatoes with liquid, bouillon cube, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt and prunes. Bring to a boil; return chicken to frying pan. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 45 min. or until chicken is fork tender. Remove chicken to serving dish. Remove and discard bay leaf; add mashed bananas and banana chunks to frying pan. Cook, stirring frequently, about 2 min. Spoon sauce over chicken. Serves 6.

* * *

Champion of the have-nots, Lucy Forest dies at age 94

By Chris Smith

The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) / February 12, 2015, 9:05PM

Lucy Forest was a compact woman with a tiny apartment and a great, steely determination to do whatever she could to resolve or prevent injustice, war and other distortions of humanity.

A revered elder among Sonoma County’s left-of-center activists, Forest wielded her intellect and collaborative skills to build consensus to act against homelessness, neglect of the elderly, abuse of workers, discrimination and militarism. She co-founded the county’s Peace and Justice Center and also Santa Rosa Creek Commons, a housing cooperative in Santa Rosa.

She told of feeling fortunate to be alive and present for the celebration of her life that friends and family put on at the Commons last May. Some of the people closest to her also were with her when she died Friday at the age of 94.

Son John Cushing of Carpinteria said his mother’s life was so full and accomplished that it is hard for him to wrap his arms around all that she had done. But he said why she did most of it is simple:

“She cared about people.”

Forest’s stepdaughter, Tamara Kushner of Solana Beach, said there was no lightning-bolt moment that transformed her into a fighter for social justice. “It was that, early on, she saw the difference between the haves and the have-nots, and she decided to improve the conditions of the have-nots.”

In 1999, then-Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Democrat-Petaluma), doubly honored Forest by presenting peacemaker awards to both her and internationally renowned anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott of Australia.

In the latter part of her life, Forest remained focused on national and global issues while digging deeply into concerns of the elderly. As a leader of the former Gray Panthers and author of the former “On the Plus Side” column in The Press Democrat, she informed and advocated for seniors in areas such as housing, health care and continuing education.

Her rich, long life encompassed a startling diversity of work — the nearly lifelong peace activist was involved for a time in a secret rocket project at Caltech — international travel and three marriages.

She felt she at last got marriage right when she and longtime family friend and fellow widower and activist Jim Forest tied the knot in 1969. They made a dynamic duo, certainly in the area of affordable housing advocacy, until he died in 1990.

Four years later, Lucy Forest was present when the Burbank Housing Development Corp. dubbed a 48-unit low-income apartment complex in Windsor “Forest Winds.”

“He’d be absolutely ecstatic,” his widow said at the time. “It represents everything he believed in and worked for.”

The former Lucy Benner was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1920. She wrote in a series of recollections of her life that her family lived in a house so big “my mother even had a room for her canaries.”

But the house had to be sold after her father, Fernando Benner, died when she was 8 years old. “It changed everything,” she wrote.

She was sent to a convent school, then moved on to a Catholic high school. She enrolled at New York University, but, she wrote, “I was just overwhelmed by the size and the crowds. I had never seen anything like it. So I decided to go to secretarial school to have a skill.”

In 1939, “on a dare,” the nearly 19-year-old Lucy Benner applied for work at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. She wrote that she was hired and assigned to the Beech-Nut gum and baby food booth.

“When the fair started, we were the first place they organized, and we had to join the union. The start of a long history of working to support workers’ rights.”

From that first job, she went on to work for a New York magazine, What’s New, and a short time later moved cross-country to Los Angeles for a job with a commercial film production.

There she met a Caltech biologist, John Cushing. They married in 1942, not long after the U.S. entered World War II. The couple started a family and moved to Baltimore, then to Santa Barbara.

The future Lucy Forest discovered the Experiment in International Living, and she volunteered to place American students with families abroad. She wrote in the review of her life, “This was the start of what I’ve been doing ever since — working for peace and justice.”

After she divorced from John Cushing in 1963, she left Southern California for San Francisco, working first for Planned Parenthood and then the San Francisco Council for Civic Unity. Subsequently, she did campaign work for the late State Sen. Nick Petris and the Upward Bound program at UC San Francisco.

She and Jim Forest married in 1969. Eight years later, they left San Francisco for Santa Rosa upon hearing that some people there were keen to create a co-op housing project. They spent years helping to plan, obtain approval for and build Santa Rosa Creek Commons, and in 1982 they moved into one of the new units.

After the death of Jim Forest nearly 25 years ago, his widow relocated into a smaller space at the Commons. Longtime friend Andrea Learned said, “Remarkably, she lived in the fewest square feet of anyone I know.

“While Lucy didn’t take up a lot of square footage,” Learned added, “She was a force to be reckoned with.”

Preceded in death by a daughter, stepdaughter and stepson, Forest is survived by her son in Carpinteria, her stepdaughter in Solana Beach, stepson Jim Forest Jr. of Holland, 16 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren.

* * *

Christianity and the Challenge of Peacemaking

introduction to an anthology of Christian texts on war and peace, I Christiani di Fonte alla Guerra, published by Qiqajon, the press of Bose monastery

Cain & AbelBy Jim Forest

The story of the first murder — the prototype of all war — is told in the Book of Genesis. It concerns Cain, the first-born child of Adam and Eve, attacking and killing his brother Abel:

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out into the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:8)

It is a scene depicted in countless works of art — without resistance a Christ-like Abel, often shown kneeling in prayer, awaits Cain’s deadly blow. This biblical moment anticipates Christ’s voluntary death on the cross.

The first homicide was a micro-war: only one combatant, one weapon and one victim, yet, given how small was the family of Adam and Eve, with Abel’s death a large segment of the human race was destroyed.

In the ages that have followed, the Cains have greatly multiplied while the Abels — those who refuse to kill — are the exceptions, unless one counts (no governments bothers) all the defenseless bystanders who fall under the broad, clinical heading of “collateral damage.” In fact far more non-combatants die in war than soldiers.

The motive of the very first war was Cain’s envy of Abel. How many subsequent wars have had their deepest roots in envious motivations: we want what you have — your land, your water, your wealth, your resources.

No one in history has challenged war, small and large, root and branch, more than Jesus Christ. In the portrait drawn by the four Gospel authors, we see that he kills no one and threatens no one’s life. One of the most startling elements of Jesus’ teaching is his emphasis on love. Far from blessing enmity, Christ called on his followers to love their enemies and to pray for them. Showing love of enemies in practice, we see his readiness to heal the servant of a Roman centurion, an officer of an unwelcome and oppressive army of occupation. In cleansing the temple of money-changers, Christ uses a weapon that could bruise but not wound — the only life endangered by his action was his own. In a situation where execution was the penalty prescribed by law, he shames a crowd of would-be executioners of an adulterous woman into letting their intended victim survive unharmed. His final miracle before his own execution is to heal the wound of a man Peter had injured in his attempt to defend his master from an enemy; at the same time we hear Jesus reprimanding Peter for his violent attack on the man: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” At no point during his arrest or the suffering that followed do we see Jesus offering any form of resistance. Indeed we find no instance in the Gospel of Jesus killing anyone or authorizing his followers to commit an act of homicide. Jesus waved no flags — he was not a zealot. Though the word “nationalism” had not yet been invented, no one could describe him as a nationalist. In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus saying, “I have come to give life and to give it more abundantly.” Describing the Last Judgment, he declares, “What you have done to the least person, you have done to me.” Encapsulating the Gospel in eight Beatitudes, in the seventh he proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

As we consider the Christian vocation of peacemaking, it is helpful to see the ways peacemaking has been lived and written about by those who have gone before us. Such an anthology as the one you hold in your hands is intended to contribute to the restoration of Christian memory. Reading the oldest texts in this collection, it may come as a shock for many readers to discover how much has been forgotten or buried in footnotes, including key elements of teaching by church councils and revered pastors that was normative in the early Church.

Searching the calendar of saints, among the countless martyrs of the early centuries we sometimes find Christian soldiers — men baptized while in the army — who were executed for refusing to or take part in battle as well as conscripts refusing to take the military oath. Today they would be called conscientious objectors.

For example, there is Maximilian of Numidia, a 21-year-old North African, who was being drafted into military service but refused to take the oath. Arrested in the year 295, he declared to Dion, the proconsul who tried him, “I cannot fight for this world…. I tell you, I am a Christian.” The proconsul pointed out that there were Christians serving in the Roman army. St Maximilian replied, “That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve.” For his refusal, Maximilian was beheaded. He was immediately recognized by the Church as a martyr and saint. The trial transcript is preserved in the Roman Martyrology.

There is also the case of a recently-baptized centurion, St Marcellus. In the year 298, Marcellus’s unit in northern Africa was celebrating the emperor’s birthday with a party. To the astonishment of his fellows, Marcellus rose before the banqueters and denounced such parties as heathen. Then, casting off his military insignia, he cried out, “I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors and I scorn to worship your gods of wood and stone, which are deaf and dumb idols.” Marcellus was at once arrested for breach of discipline. At his trial, the record of which has been preserved by the Church, Marcellus readily admitted what he had said and done. It was not only, one notices, due to his being required to worship pagan gods, a defining moment for many martyrs. Marcellus’s motive for objection was, he declared, that “it is not right for a Christian man, who serves the Lord Christ, to serve in the armies of the world.” Because of his stand, he was beheaded. It is recorded that he died in great peace of mind, asking God to bless the judge who had condemned him.

Not all who took such stands paid for it with their lives. One such exception, Martin of Tours, is counted among the great missionary saints of the early Church. St Martin is most often represented in religious art as a young man wearing Roman military attire and seated upon a horse while using his sword to divide his cloak, giving half of it to a freezing beggar. In a life-changing vision that night, he recognized the beggar as none other than Jesus Christ.

Martin was born about the year 336 in Sabaria, Asia Minor. He was a member of the elite imperial guard serving with the emperor. While an officer, he became a catechumen. His crisis in military service occurred due to a barbarian invasion of Gaul, or France, as we know it today. Called to appear before Julian Caesar (better remembered as Julian the Apostate) to receive a war-bounty on the eve of battle, he declined to accept it, saying to Caesar: “Up to now I have served you as a soldier. Now permit me to serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others. They are going to fight, but I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” Not surprisingly, the emperor accused Martin of cowardice. Martin replied that, in the name of Christ, he was prepared to face the enemy alone and unarmed. Instead he was thrown into prison. As it happened, there was a sudden end to the hostilities in Gaul. The emperor, who may have regarded the enemy’s withdrawal as a divine act, chose not to punish Martin but instead ordered his discharge. Remaining in Gaul, Martin was welcomed by the bishop at Poitiers, St Hilary, who not long afterward ordained Martin a deacon, later a priest. When St Hilary died, Martin was chosen as his successor. He brought many people to baptism and also was an effective opponent of the Arian heresy.

The witness of such saints is in harmony with the catechetical teaching of the Church at that time.

For example, the Apostolic Canons attributed to St Hippolytus, a Roman text dated between 170 and 236, state that renunciation of killing is a precondition of baptism. Here are several of the relevant canons:

Concerning the magistrate and the soldier: they are not to kill anyone, even if they receive the order…. Whoever has authority and does not do the righteousness of the Gospel is to be excluded and is not to pray with the bishop.

A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the order, nor shall he take the oath. If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.

A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the [eucharistic] mysteries, unless he is purified by punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.” (Canons XII-XVI)

In brief, the Church was willing to baptize soldiers so long as they promised not to engage in war or acts of deadly violence. This was a difficult but not impossible condition, as in many situations of service the soldier was fulfilling either a noncombatant role or the role of what today would be regarded as a policeman.

In the first half of the third century, Christians were sharply criticized for their attitude toward military service by the pagan scholar Celsus: “If all men were to do as you,” wrote Celsus, “there would be nothing to prevent the Emperor from being left in utter solitude, and with the desertion of his forces, the Empire would fall into the hands of the most lawless barbarians.”

Defending Christian practice, a theologian of the Church in Alexandria, Origen, replied to Celsus:

Christians have been taught not to defend themselves against their enemies; and because they have kept the laws that command gentleness and love of man, they have received from God that which they would not have achieved if they were permitted to make war, though they might have been quite able to do so. (Contra Celsum 3, 8 )

The Christian refusal of military service, Origen argued, did not indicate indifference to social responsibility, but rather the higher duty to engage in effective spiritual combat with the forces of evil that lead to war. He wrote:

The more devout the individual, the more effective he is in helping the Emperor, more so than the soldiers who go into the lines and kill all the enemy troops they can … The greatest warfare, in other words, is not with human enemies but with those spiritual forces which make men into enemies.

In the same period St Justin Martyr expressed himself in similar terms:

We who were filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed our weapons of war … swords into plows and spears into pruning hooks.” (Trypho 110)

Elsewhere he wrote:

We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies but, that we may not lie or deceive our judges, we gladly die confessing Christ. (I Apol. 39)

Around the year 177, St Athenagoras of Athens also stressed nonresistance to evil:

For we have been taught not to strike back at someone who beats us nor to go to court with those who rob and plunder us. Not only that: we have even been taught to turn our head and offer the other side when men ill use us and strike us on the jaw and to give also our cloak should they snatch our tunic. [A Plea for Christians]

Another of the Christian voices coming down to us from the early generations of believers is that of Clement of Alexandria. At the end of the second century, or early in the third, Clement described the Church as “an army which sheds no blood.” (Protrepticus 11,116) “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You not kill. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Protrepticus 10) “In peace, not in war, we are trained,” he declared in another essay. (Paedogogus 1,12)

Even in the Emperor Constantine’s time, one finds within the Church a profoundly critical attitude regarding military service. At the First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicea near Constantinople in the year 325, with the emperor attending, one of the canons issued by the bishops declared:

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military belts, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, so that some have regained their military stations; let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. [Hearers and prostrators were categories of penitents who can be present, like catechumens, for the Liturgy of the Word, but were barred from participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy.] But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretense, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favorably concerning them. (Canon XII)

Throughout his reign as emperor, Constantine, though himself baptized only on his deathbed, favored, protected and endowed the Christian Church. During his reign, and still more in the post-Constantinian world, attitudes regarding Christian engagement in the government, including the military, gradually began to shift. No longer regarded by the state as an enemy, the Church came to be seen — and began to see itself — as the Christian emperor’s partner. Having become an object of imperial protection, with Church membership a plus rather than a minus for those seeking advancement, the changes in attitude that followed must have been distressing to those who remained committed to earlier models of behavior. As the scholar and biblical translator St Jerome (347-420) observed, “When the Church came to the princes of the world, she grew in power and wealth but diminished in virtue.” The rapid expansion of monasticism in remote desert regions in the fourth century is often seen as a flight from a Christianized Caesar. As Thomas Merton wrote in Wisdom of the Desert, “The fact that the emperor was now Christian and thus that the ‘world’ was coming to know the Cross as a sign of temporal power only strengthened [the monks] in their resolve [to flee].”

Late in the fourth and early fifth centuries, the foundations were laid by St Augustine and others (drawing on such classical authors as Cicero and Virgil) of what eventually became known as the Just War Doctrine. While rejecting personal self-defense, Augustine argued that it would be sinful to respond to grave wrongs done to others with passivity, so long as a military response was authorized by a legitimate authority. As he wrote in The City of God: “They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” Yet Augustine, in the same book, also saw the damage war does to those who kill: “Let everyone who reflects with pain upon such great evils, horrors and cruelty [that are the consequence of war] acknowledge that this is misery. And if anyone either endures them or thinks of them without anguish of soul, his condition is still more miserable; for he thinks himself happy only because he has lost all human feeling.” [XIX,7]

Over the centuries, the Just War Doctrine evolved until it reached its most developed form in the Middle Ages. Under its terms, a defensive war could be considered just, and Christians participate in it without sin, if it met certain criteria: the war must be declared by the legitimate authority; it must be fought for a just cause and with a just intention, not simply to satisfy national pride or for economic or territorial gain; just means must be employed; the right to life of the innocent and noncombatants must be respected; the war must have a reasonable chance of success; there must be a reasonable expectation that the good results of the war will outweigh the evils caused by it; war must be the last resort; and the burden of guilt must be clearly on one side.

The Just War Doctrine is chiefly associated with Western Christianity. In his essay “No Just War in the Fathers,” Fr Stanley Harakas, for many years Professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Massachusetts, described his search through Greek patristic sources and Byzantine military manuals for texts concerning war. He reported:

[In my study] I found an amazing consistency in the almost totally negative moral assessment of war coupled with an admission that war may be necessary under certain circumstances to protect the innocent and to limit even greater evils. In this framework, war may be an unavoidable alternative, but it nevertheless remains an evil. Virtually absent in the tradition is any mention of a “just” war, much less a “good” war. The tradition also precludes the possibility of a crusade. For the Eastern Orthodox tradition … war can be seen only as a “necessary evil,” with all the difficulty and imprecision such a designation carries. [“No Just War in the Fathers,” full text on the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship: www.incommunion.org/2005/08/02/no-just-war-in-the-fathers/]

Over the centuries countless wars have been fought which failed to meet the standards of the Just War Doctrine, yet who can recall the bishops of any nation declaring a war fought by their compatriots as being unjust and warning Christians in their pastoral care that participation in a particular war was sinful?

Fr Harakas identified what he referred to as the “stratification of pacifism” in the Church: “The discipline of not killing others under any circumstances that had applied in earlier times to all baptized Christians eventually came to be required only of those serving at the altar.” To this day canons of the Orthodox Church bar priests, deacons and monks from the sanctuary if they have killed anyone for any reason, including accidental manslaughter. Some priests and deacons practice the asceticism of not driving a car precisely because of the danger of their accidentally killing someone. (On the other hand, many clerics, though themselves barred from warfare, have used their voices to encourage others to take part in war, thus vicariously shedding blood by word rather than action.)

While the Just War Doctrine has failed to prevent war, other ancient Christian initiatives can claim a degree of limited success in the course of several centuries. What came to be called the Peace of God (Pax Dei) was a European movement that applied spiritual sanctions to limit the violence of private war in feudal society. It began in the tenth century and survived and evolved in various forms until at least the thirteenth century.

First named the Lex Innocentium (the Law of Innocents), it was promulgated at a gathering of rulers and clerics meeting at the Abbey of Birr in Ireland in 697. The law also came to be known as the Cáin Adomnán (the Law of Adomnán), bearing the name of its chief advocate, Adomnán, the ninth abbot of Iona, one of the principal centers of Celtic monasticism.

Adomnán’s initiative was one of the first systematic attempts to lessen the savagery of warfare among Christians. In it Adomnán gave expression, in the context of the Gaelic legal tradition, to a wider Christian movement to restrain violence. Kings of Ireland and northern Britain were made the laws’ guarantors.

The main focus of the laws that were agreed on was the protection of non-combatants in warfare. One law required, for example, that “whoever slays a woman … his right hand and his left foot shall be cut off before death, and then he shall die.” The laws provided sanctions against the killing of children, clerics, clerical students and peasants living on clerical lands. Rape was forbidden. Bystanders who did nothing to prevent a war crime were as liable as the perpetrator. Fines were set for violations. “Stewards of the Law” collected the fine and paid it to the victim or next of kin. [Adomnán’s Law of the Innocents – Cáin Adomnáin: A seventh-century law for the protection of non-combatants, translated by Gilbert Márkus. Kilmartin, Argyll: Kilmartin House Museum, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9533674-3-6; also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%A1in_Adomn%C3%A1in]

The Pax Dei initiative spread to the south of France. At a church synod, children as well as merchants and their goods were added to the early protections. Warriors were barred from beating the defenseless and invading churches or burning houses. The powerful Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy took up promotion of the Pax Dei. Cluny, independent of any secular authority, was subject only to the pope. Many Cluniac monks came from powerful families, the knightly class, whose violence they were trying to stop. The Pax Dei phenomenon became one of the first popular religious movements of the Middle Ages.

During the eleventh century, the movement spread to the north of France where the nobility sponsored peace assemblies in Flanders, Burgundy, Champagne, Normandy and Berry. Oaths to keep the peace were taken by many by nobles and spread to the towns and villages where heads of households, meeting communally, made solemn vows to uphold the peace.

A parallel movement, the Treuga Dei (the Truce of God), had its origin in Normandy in the city of Caen. It sought cessation of battles on Sundays, major feast days and during the fasting periods leading up to the most important feast days on the church calendar — Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost. This prohibition was subsequently extended to specific days of the week — Thursday, in honor of the Ascension, and Friday, the day of the Passion. By the middle of the twelfth century the number of proscribed days was extended until fighting was licit only on eighty days of the year.

The Truce of God spread from France to Italy and Germany. A church council held in 1179 extended the institution to the whole Church. “De treugis servandis,” on the observation of the Truce of God, was added to canon law by Pope Gregory IX.

St Francis of Assisi can be seen as perhaps the most radical and influential medieval advocate of peace. Thanks to Francis, there was a period in the thirteenth century when many thousands of lay Christians took vows not to take part in war and were, remarkably, given papal support. Francis founded a “third order” for lay people whose rule called on members to become unarmed peacemakers:

They are to be reconciled with their neighbors and [are] to restore what belongs to others…. They are not to take up deadly weapons, or bear them about, against anybody…. They are to refrain from formal oaths [which might bind them to military service]…. They are to perform the works of mercy: visiting and caring for the sick, burying the dead, and caring for the poor…. They should seek the reconciliation of enemies, both among their members and among non-members.

The rule was approved by Pope Innocent III in 1201 and reconfirmed by Pope Nicholas IV eight decades later. [Nova Vita di San Francesco by Arnaldo Fortini, Assisi: Tipografia Porziincola, 1959; also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Order_of_Saint_Francis.]

If notable efforts were being made to restrain warriors from killing each other in Christian countries, war against Moslems was a different matter. In 1095 Pope Urban II proclaimed the first Crusade with the goal of gaining Christian control of the holy places in and near Jerusalem.

While no exact transcription survives of the speech delivered by Urban at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095, the chronicler Robert the Monk attributed the following to the pope: “This land which you inhabit … is too confining for your large population … and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you [Christians of Europe] murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from the wicked [Moslem] race, and subject it to yourselves … God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.” [http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/Medieval%20Papacy/UrbanSpeech.htm] According to Robert, the whole assembly responded, “It is the will of God! It is the will of God!” — words that became the Crusaders’ chant.

Another participant in the Council, Fulcher of Chartres, recorded that Pope Urban promised pardon for anyone who died while a Crusader: “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”

Pope Urban added, Fulcher reports: “Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. Let those who for a long time, have been robbers, now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Urban_II]

As inevitably happens in war, many were killed who were not the declared target. The preaching of the First Crusade unleashed a wave of Christian fury that resulted in the massacre of Jews as well as attacks on “schismatic” Orthodox Christians of the East.

When the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, no inhabitant of the city was spared — men, women and children were hacked to pieces until, the chronicle says, the Crusaders’ horses waded in blood. But their victory proved temporary.

Following the First Crusade there was an intermittent two-century struggle for control of the Holy Land, with six more major crusades. The conflict ended in failure with the fall of the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land at Acre in 1292.

St Francis of Assisi was also a Crusader, but one refusing armor, sword or the will to kill. Among the most well-attested stories in Francis’s life is his meeting in 1219 with one of the Crusaders’ chief opponents, Sultan Malik-al-Kamil. It was the time of the Fifth Crusade, shortly after a Crusader victory at the Egyptian port city of Damietta (modern Dumyat) on the Nile Delta. Francis sought the blessing of the Cardinal who was chaplain to the Crusader forces to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan. The cardinal told him that the Moslems understood only weapons and that the one useful thing a Christian could do was to kill them. At last the cardinal stood aside, certain that Francis and Illuminato, the brother traveling with him, were being led to die as martyrs. The two left the Crusader encampment singing the psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

Soldiers of the sultan’s army captured the pair, beat them, then brought them before Sultan Malik-al-Kamil, who asked if they wished to become Moslems. Saying yes would save their lives. Francis replied that they had come to seek his conversion; if they failed in their effort, then let them be beheaded. According to legend, Francis offered to enter a furnace to demonstrate the truth of Christ’s Gospel; whether or not he made such a proposal, going unarmed into the enemy’s stronghold was analogous to leaping into a fire.

For a month Francis and the sultan met daily. Though neither converted the other, the sultan had such warmth for his guests that not only did he spare their lives but he gave them a passport allowing them to visit Christian holy places under Moslem control and presented Francis with a beautifully carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint kept in the Basilica of Assisi. It is recorded that “the two [Francis and Malik-al-Kamil] parted as brothers.”

What a different history we would look back upon if Moslems had encountered Christians who did not slaughter their enemies. While Christians in the first three centuries shocked the ancient world by their refusal to kill, by the thirteenth century Francis was a voice crying in the wilderness: Christianity in the West was preaching the holiness of war.

Crusades fought against Moslems at the east end of the Mediterranean evolved into crusades against Christians regarded as heretics in Europe; among others there was the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) and the Aragonese Crusade (1284-1291).

The spectacle of Christian killing Christian reached its nadir during the Reformation, the grimmest event of which was the “Thirty Years’ War” — in fact a series of wars fought in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648 — was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest, causing the desolation of entire regions and significantly decreasing the population.

The scholar and biblical translator Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was one of the prominent Christians associated with the Reformation who refused to sanction schism or to bless bloodshed in the name of Christ. Through letters and his published works Erasmus tirelessly strove to calm martial passions and to prevent war. “There is nothing more wicked, more disastrous, more widely destructive [than war],” he wrote, “nothing more deeply tenacious or more loathsome.” He saw the great skeleton of Death itself striding triumphantly at the end of all military parades and expeditions. [Adages of Erasmus: IV 1 I]

In The Complaint of Peace (Querela Pacis), Erasmus envisioned Peace herself rising before an audience to protest the abuse of her name, praised by one and all in words, yet how few live peaceful lives. “Without me,” she points out, “there is no growth, no safety for life, nothing pure or holy, nothing agreeable,” while war is “a vast ocean of all the evils combined, harmful to everything in the universe.” He points out that war is unknown among wild beasts. “Only men, who above all other species should agree with one another and who need mutual understanding most of all, fail to be united in mutual love … not even brought to their senses by the awareness of the many evils resulting from war.” [Erasmus of Christendom, Roland Bainton, London: Collins, 1969; pp 154-8; The Erasmus Reader, University of Toronto Press, 1980, p 288]

Erasmus saw how nationalism, one of the driving forces of the Reformation, was taking precedence over the baptismal bonds that unite all believers:

The populace is now incited to war by insinuations and propaganda, by claims that the Englishman is the natural enemy of the Frenchman and the like…. How can anything so frivolous as a name outweigh the ties of nature and the bonds of Christianity? The Rhine separates the French from the German but it cannot divide the Christian from the Christian. The Pyrenees lie between the French and the Spaniards but cannot break the indissoluble bond of the communion of the Church…. In the midst of the non-Christian world Christians are set as a city on a hill to give light, but how will they move the heathen to embrace the faith when they so contend among themselves? If we would bring the Turks to Christianity we must first be Christians…. How impious are those who think blessedness can be attained by war, seeing that blessedness consists of the ineffable communion of souls.

Erasmus’s pacific voice had little impact on the major parties in the Reformation conflict. His refusal to leave the Catholic Church was bitterly criticized by Martin Luther and, after his death, his writings were put on the Index of Prohibited Books by the Catholic Church. Yet doubtless the voice of Erasmus and others of similar convictions played a role in the formation of smaller Christian movements which emerged from the Reformation and came to be known as “peace churches,” in modern times notably represented by the Church of the Brethren, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Mennonites.

Four centuries have passed since the Reformation, each and every generation living in wartime. All the while, until the mid-twentieth century, no notable change occurred in church teaching regarding war, whether among Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. But in recent decades, confronted with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, Christians have been forced to think again about war. In no segment of Christianity has this been more evident than in the Catholic Church, beginning during the years 1958 to 1963 when John XXIII was pope.

The publication of papal encyclicals is normally of interest only to Roman Catholics. Secular journalists as well as those in other churches pay little attention. But Pope John XXIII’s encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), issued in 1963, was a dramatic exception. Its release was front-page news around the world. Many newspapers published extensive excerpts and some published the full text. Pope John was widely recognized as having provided a bill of rights and obligations for the human race.

Such an unprecedented reception was due in part to Pacem in Terris being the first encyclical addressed not only to Catholics but to “all people of good will.” Here was a pope who, in the last months of his life, made an appeal for peace and did so at a time when millions of people were aware that they would more likely die of nuclear war than of illness or old age. It is fair to say that Pacem in Terris helped prevent a cataclysmic third world war.

The primary human right, wrote Pope John, the right without which no other right has any meaning, is the right to life. As no human activity so undermines the right to life as war, peacemaking is among the very highest and most urgent human callings. More than ever we can appreciate Christ saying “Blessed are the peacemakers … they shall be called children of God.”

One of the encyclical’s major themes was the role of conscience. “The world’s Creator,” John declared in the opening section, “has stamped man’s inmost being with an order revealed to man by his conscience; and his conscience insists on his preserving it.” Quoting from St Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he added, “Human beings ‘show the work of the law written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness to them.’” (Romans 2:15)

The pope went on to declare that conscience could not be coerced either in religious matters or in the relationship of the person to the state. “Hence,” he wrote, “a regime which governs solely or mainly by means of threats and intimidation or promises of reward, provides men with no effective incentive to work for the common good.”

“Authority,” John continued, “is before all else a moral force. For this reason the appeal of rulers should be to the individual conscience, to the duty which every man has of voluntarily contributing to the common good. But since all men are equal in natural dignity, no one has the capacity to force internal compliance on another. Only God can do that, for He alone scrutinizes and judges the secret counsels of the heart. Hence, representatives of the State have no power to bind men in conscience, unless their own authority is tied to God’s authority, and is a participant in it.” [48, 49]

In case the reader missed the implications, Pope John pointed out that laws which violate the moral order have no legitimacy and do not merit obedience: “Governmental authority … is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since ‘it is right to obey God rather than men.’ … A law which is at variance with reason is to that extent unjust and has no longer the rationale of law. It is rather an act of violence.… Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force.” [51, 61]

The time is urgent, John noted. All of us are living “in the grip of constant fear … afraid that at any moment the impending storm may break upon them with horrific violence. And they have good reasons for their fear, for there is certainly no lack of … weapons [of mass destruction]. While it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that [nuclear] war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance.” [111]

Pope John gave particular attention to dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction, declaring that, in this context, it is absurd to regard war as just: “People nowadays are becoming more and more convinced that any disputes which may arise between nations must be resolved by negotiation and agreement, and not by recourse to arms…. This conviction owes its origin chiefly to the terrifying destructive force of modern weapons. It arises from fear of the ghastly and catastrophic consequences of their use. Thus, in this age of ours which prides itself on atomic power, it is irrational to believe that war is still an apt means of vindicating violated rights.” [italics added]

Pacem in Terris was not only an urgent appeal to governments to work toward nuclear disarmament but to individuals to disobey orders which would make them accomplices to so great a sin as wars in which the innocent are the principal victims.

It was also Pope John who launched the Second Vatican Council. He did so in the hope that such a work of renewal would, as he put it, “restore the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth.”

The fourth and last session of the Council in 1965, which John did not live to see, took up the challenge of Pacem in Terris, developing and expanding many of its themes in Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), the words with which The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in Modern World begins. Its publication on the 7th of December 1965 by Pope Paul VI was the Council’s final action. No other conciliar document had gone through so many stages before reaching its final form.

One of the significant achievements of the Council is the definition of conscience contained in Gaudium et Spes:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution of the numerous problems which arise in the lives of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from individual ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares little for truth and goodness, or for conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (section 16)

It follows, the text continues, that conscientious objection to participation in war ought to be universally recognized: “It seems right that laws make humane provision for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way.” (79.2)

The treatment of conscience marked a major turning point in Catholic teaching. Even during World War II, Catholics in every country had been told to obey their rulers and h had been assured, were they made party to a sin by their obedience, that blame would lie with the rulers rather than with their subjects.

Gaudium et Spes also contained a solemn condemnation, one of the few expressed in texts issued by the Second Vatican Council: “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”

Those who renounce violence altogether, seeking a more just and compassionate society by nonviolent means, were praised: “We cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or to the community itself.”

Those who, in the name of obedience, obey commands which condemn the innocent and defenseless to death were described as “criminal” while the courage of those who disobey commands to participate in genocidal actions were described as meriting “supreme commendation.”

If the Council did not succeed in restoring “the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth,” as Pope John had dared to hope, Gaudium et Spes was a major achievement not only for Catholic teaching but a giant step forward for Christianity as a whole.

Though the saints of the early Church would still be shocked at the spectacle of Christians promoting and fighting wars, perhaps they would be consoled to see that fewer and fewer Christians see war as either good or just while more and more Christians are searching avidly for nonviolent approaches to injustice and conflict. They would also be consoled to see how many war-eligible Christians are refusing to kill or to advocate war.

The pacific words of many Church Fathers are being heard again, such as these from St John Chrysostom:

It is certainly a finer and more wonderful thing to change the mind of enemies to another way of thinking than to kill them…. The mystery [of the Eucharist] requires that we should be innocent not only of violence but of all enmity, however slight, for it is the mystery of peace. [Homilies on Matthew, XXXIII, translation by Donald Attwater in his book St. John Chrysostom: Pastor and Preacher; London: Havrill Press, 1959, p 72]

(27 January 2015)

* * *
Jim Forest is International Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include “Praying With Icons”, “Ladder of the Beatitudes”, “Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness”, and “Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment”.
* * *

Jim Forest – [email protected]
www.jimandnancyforest.com

* * *

Thomas Merton and the Catholic Worker: Ten Years After

drawing of Thomas Merton done for The Catholic Worker by Fritz Eichenberg
drawing of Thomas Merton done for The Catholic Worker by Fritz Eichenberg

By Jim Forest

[published in the December 1978 issue of The Catholic Worker]

The Catholic Worker, if not exactly respectable today, was even less so two decades ago, when Thomas Merton’s correspondence with Dorothy Day was beginning. It was before Popes John XXIII and Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, when few Catholics had heard of pacifism or conscientious objection and that had thought that these had something to do with being a Quaker. One didn’t have to search far to find priests that regarded the Catholic Worker’s ideas on war and peace as mildly heretical. The Catholic Worker struck many as unfathomably bizarre — a paradox as odd as any G.K. Chesterton had imagined. Capping the Catholic Worker’s public image at the time were the annual rituals of arrest, when Dorothy would be seen in news photographs in front of city hall instead of taking shelter in the subways during a dress rehearsal for nuclear war. The Cardinal put up with the Catholic Worker, it was generally assumed, ignoring its peculiar opinions in admiration for the free soup and hospitality it offered the down-and-out.

At that time, the idea that Thomas Merton, one of the most well-known and respected writers in the Catholic Church, would be writing Dorothy respectful, appreciative letters—not only about the hospitality of the Catholic Worker but about its protest activities—would have struck many people as wildly improbable.

It was at Christmas time, 1960 that I remember a group of us at the CW sitting at the large dining room table of the Peter Maurin Farm in rural Staten Island, that beautiful place that has since disappeared under the march of suburban housing. The air smelled of tea and the bread Dean Mowrer had baked earlier in the day.

Dorothy was reading aloud from various letters received, something she often did, always adding her own commentary, which could be devastatingly funny affectionate, but grumpy if the letter were too complimentary.

‘Here is one from Thomas Merton,’ she said, opening and envelope from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

The name was enough to lower the tea cups and open the ears to maximum width.

‘Again, I am touched by your witness for peace,’ the letter began. ‘You are right in going at it along the lines of satyagraha.’

We knew enough of Gandhi to recognize the rarely heard word. Often translated as nonviolence, it meant a way of action rooted in the force of truth alone.

‘I see no other way,’ he went on, ‘though of course the angles of the problem are not all clear. I am certainly with you in taking some kind of stand and acting accordingly. Nowadays, it is no longer a question of who is right but who is at least not a criminal, if any of us can say that anymore. So don’t worry about whether or not in every point you are right according to everybody’s book: you are right before God as far as you can go and you are fighting for a truth that is clear enough. What more can anybody do?’

His letters came fairly often. At times there were packages as well. At times there were packages as well—clothes contributed by a monk taking first vows, some Trappist cheese, even a side of smoked bacon one Christmas. (The bacon came with a card in Merton’s hand—‘From Uncle Louie and the Boys.’ In his monastic community, Merton was Fr. Louis. The ‘boys’ were the novices under his charge).

Rereading his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, one realizes Merton’s interest in the Worker’s peace work had deep roots in his earlier life. Much of his childhood had been in France and England, where the scars of the First World War were fresh. On one holiday, hiking along the Rhine Valley in Germany, he had nearly been run down by a car full of young Nazis, scattering leaflets in favor of Hitler’s election. He saw no point in imitating the Nazis in order to defeat them. After his conversion to Catholicism, he was one of the rare Catholics to register as a conscientious objector. Though he was willing to be a battlefield medic, the army (to his relief) wouldn’t have him, with or without guns, with or without a conscience: he didn’t have enough teeth.

His first public statement on Christian responsibility regarding war appeared in the October 1961 Catholic Worker. Entitled ‘The Root of War is Fear,’ the bulk of it was a chapter for New Seeds of Contemplation, a book he was preparing for publication. But a long prefsce was written especially for The Catholic Worker. There was no logical reason for the utter devastation of nuclear war, he argued, yet the world was plunging mindlessly in that direction, and doing so in the name of peace. ‘It is true war madness, an illness of the mind and spirit that is spreading with a furious and subtle contagion over all the world.’ So bad was the situation that many Americans were building ‘bomb shelters where, in case of nuclear war, they will simply bake slowly, instead of burning quickly…’

What is the Christian responsibility in the midst of such insanity? ‘Is he simply to fold his hands and resign himself for the worst, accepting it as the inescapable will of God and preparing himself to enter heaven with a sigh of relief… Or, worse still, should he take a hard-headed and practical attitude and join in the madness of the war-makers, calculating how by ‘first strike,’ the glorious Christian west can eliminate atheistic communism and user in the millennium?’

But what then to do?

Here followed as firm a statement of Christian duty as one can find anywhere in Merton’s published writing:

“The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive, with all his power and intelligence, with all his faith, his hope in Christ, and love for god and man, to do the one ask God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war… It is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, for which the Church itself is not bully able to see clear and decisive solutions. Yet she must lead the way of nonviolent settlement of difficulties and toward the gradual abolition of war as the way of settling international or civil disputes. Christian must become active in every possible way, mobilize all their resources for the fight against war. First of all, there is much to be studied, much to be learned. Peace is to be preached, nonviolence is to be explained as a practical method, and not left to be mocked as an outlet for crackpots who want to make a show of themselves. Prayer and sacrifices must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons, they must be used with deliberate aim; not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and war.’

Disarmament of nations requires a foundation of personal disarmament. ‘This implies,’ he went on, ‘that we are also willing to sacrifice and refrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people.’

He was urgent but not at all optimistic about what could be accomplished. ‘We may never succeed, but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident. It is the great Christian task of our time. Everything else is secondary…’

Following his own advice in the years that followed, Merton maintained a very busy correspondence with various persons and many groups working against war: Catholic Peace Fellowship, Pax (now Pax Christi) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He offered his counsel, his writings, his prayers and occasionally, his hospitality.

Much of his correspondence had a critical edge. His thought obviously challenged generals, but he could trouble his fellow pacifists equally well.

Among the main tendencies in the peace movement in the mid-sixties was ‘politicization.’ Political ‘analysis’ blossomed in pacifist circles much as they did in the Left. Plain words, like ‘suffering’ were replaced with such abstract words like ‘oppression.’ Increasingly, the universe was viewed through class and economic lenses. Pacifists seemed increasingly embarrassed not to be in possession of the annual reports of the multinational corporations. To offer the Sermon on the Mount as one’s political point of departure seemed, to a growing number of pacifists, like confessing to imbecility. The process deeply disturbed Merton, who recognized in it not only a decisive step away from pacifism but away from religious faith and the turning of human beings into ideological decimals.

Repeatedly he sought to reinforce a different spirit among pacifist groups with which he corresponded. As he expressed it on one letter:

‘The whole problem is inner change… an application of spiritual forces and not the use merely of political pressure. We all have the great need for purity of soul, that is, the deep need to possess in us the Holy Spirit, to be possessed by Him. This has to take precedence over everything else. If He lives and works in us, then our activity will be true and our witness with generate love of truth, even that we may be persecuted and beaten down in apparent incomprehension.’

Another letter emphasized what he called the ‘human dimension’:

‘The basic problem is not political, it is a-political and human. One of the most important things to do is keep cutting deliberately through political lines and barriers and emphasizing the fact that these are largely fabrications and that there is another dimension, a genuine reality, totally opposed to the fictions of politics: the human dimensions which politics pretend to arrogate entirely to themselves. This is the necessary first step along the long way toward the perhaps impossible task of purifying humanizing and somehow illuminating politics themselves.’

This required of pacifist groups a radical non-alignment with power blocs of both right and left: a manifestly non-political witness: non-aligned, non-labeled, fighting for the reality of man and his rights and needs in the nuclear world in some numbers against all alignments.’

Hence the importance of those who side with none of the forces of killing to maintain their independence and could not be absorbed in united-front coalition campaigns in which the protesters are not so much against war as against one side in the war. It reminded Merton of his experiences with the Left while a student at Columbia, which he was briefly a member of the Community Party, with the secret party name Frank Swift. “The primary duty of all honest movements,’ he counseled, ‘is to protect themselves from being swallowed up by any sea monster that happens along. Once the swallowing has taken place, rigidity replaces truth and there is no more possibility of dialogue: the old lines are hardened and the weapons slide into position for the kill once more.’

Another aspect of peace activity that disturbed him was a pacifist minority identity that expressed itself in various forms of self-righteousness, infecting protest so that it only drives opponents further apart. A deep longing for transformation, of oneself as well as others needed to animate activities for peace, and that required a genuine respect and sympathy with those whom protest located on ‘the other side.’ We must, he wrote the Catholic Worker, ‘always direction our action toward opening people’s eyes to the truth, and if they are blinded, we must try to be sure we did nothing specifically to blind them. Yet there is that danger: the danger one observes subtly in tight groups like families and monastic communities, where the martyr for the right sometimes thrives on making his persecutors terribly and visibly wrong, to see refuge in the wrong, to seek refuge in violence.’

Without compassion, protest tends simply to play on the guilt of one’s opponents. “There is,’ Merton wrote, ‘no finer torment.’

Merton’s difficulties with the peace groups he belonged to came to a crisis point for him late in 1965, when the intensity of the peace movement, reflecting the escalation of the war, began to acquire what Merton saw as an ominous spirit of irrationality.

While not holding the Catholic Worker or the Catholic Peace Fellowship responsible, Merton felt obliged to end his public identification with peace groups that he felt were creating a climate of protest which led in what seemed to be a desperate direction. He sensed, he wrote, ‘something demonic at work,’ not only in the war-making society but in movements of protest as well.

‘The spirit of this country at the present moment is to me terribly disturbing… It is not quite like Nazi Germany, certainly not like Soviet Russia, it is like nothing on earth I ever heard of before. The whole atmosphere is crazy, not even the peace movement, everybody. There is in it such an air of absurdity and moral voice, even where conscience and morality are invoked (as they are by everybody). The joint is going into a slow frenzy. The country is nuts.’

Merton’s vulnerability had been heightened by his recent move into a hermitage on the monastery property where he was a newcomer to a more intense solitude than had been possible before. Though more hidden from the world than previously, he felt his connections in every direction more intensely than ever.

Within a month, after much correspondence with several friends, he changed his mind, even going so far as to issue though the Catholic Peace Fellowship a public statement about the permission he had received to live as a hermit and his decision, nonetheless, to remain a Catholic Peace Fellowship sponsor. He wanted to continue to support groups ‘striving to spread the teachings of the Gospel and the Church on war, peace and the brotherhood of man.’ His public association did not mean, however, that he approved of everything individual members of such peace groups might undertake on their own responsibility. ‘I personally believe,’ he wrote ‘that what we need most today is patient, constructive and pastoral work rather than acts of defiance which antagonize the average person without enlightening him.’

Merton reached his position with considerable care, though often with false starts. He listened with close attention to what friends had to say, and was quite capable of changing his mind. But he would allow no one else to do his thinking for him. Thus it continually alarmed him to see mob mentality building up even in groups that were protesting the government’s mob mentality. One’s convictions, so often, were nothing more than absorbing unexamined the opinions of peers Even those in peace groups, he pointed out, very often had n real anchoring point for their spiritual or intellectual lives, no senses of the need carefully to establish the foundations of one’s life.

His own values, as he made clear in action as well as word, were formed in the Catholic Church and his monastic vocation. He became less and less parochial with the passage of years but never because of the erosion of his primary religious commitments.

He believed strongly in the disciplines of religious life, in a rather unfashionable way. For more than a year, for example, beginning in the spring of 1962, he was ordered not to write on war-peace issues—a decision he accepted, though with quite audible protest. He said the order was arbitrary, uncomprehending, discouraging, insensitive, disreputable and absurd—but that to disobey would only be taken with his community ‘as a witness against the peace movement’ confirming others in ‘their prejudices and self-complacency.’ It would be nice to ‘blast off’ about it but ‘I am not merely looking for opportunities to blast off.’ He pointed out he had chosen to live in a religious community where one voluntarily accepted limitations: ‘I may or may not agree with the ostensible reasons why the limitations are imposed, but I accept limits out of the love for God Who is using these things to attain ends which I myself cannot at the moment see or comprehend… I find no contradiction between love and obedience, and as a matter of fact it is the only sure way of transcending the limits and arbitrariness of ill-advised commands.’

The point of view seemed medieval to many others, for whom the right of disobedience towards civil authorities easily poured into the religious sphere as well. At the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day had long expressed similar commitments in obedience within the Church, as strongly as she opposed blind obedience to the state. In this regard, ‘more radical’ (as we imagined) younger staff members took noisy exception.

Merton’s point, and Dorothy’s too, was that it wasn’t enough to be right about one’s opinions. One had to live them out in a way that opened others to them—even if that meant shutting up for a time. Nonviolence was something more than a new technology (although bloodless) for clubbing people over the head.

The silenced Merton wasn’t, however, altogether silent. His peace writings, in mimeographed form, flowed freely via The Catholic Worker, Catholic Peace Fellowship and other similar channels. It was a bit like the Soviet literary underground.

He continued to publish as well, but under invented names. He signed one article in The Catholic Worker with the by-line Benedict Monk. That was rather a thin disguise. A letter in Jubilee bore the signature Marco J. Frisbee. For anyone familiar with Merton’s particular sense of humor, that was a giveaway as well.

As things worked out, what Merton had been stopped from saying was taken up by Pope John XXIII and later the Second Vatican Council. ‘Pacem in Terris,’ published by Pope John in 1963, offered the first clear papal support to conscientious objection. A just war, the Holy Father stated, was no longer possible: ‘In this age of ours that takes pride in nuclear weapons, it is irrational to argue that war can any longer be a fit instrument of justice.’ The encyclical listed and discussed fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life.

It is possible that Merton’s writings had a direct influence on Pope John’s thinking. Certainly Pope John held Merton in high esteem—so much so that after his election as Pope, he sent Merton one of the vestments—his priestly stole [now o display at the Thomas Merton Cnter in Louisville]. (In 1966, Pope Paul made a similar gesture of appreciation to Merton, entrusting small bronze cross to [Merton’s monastic secretary] Brother Patrick Hart for personal delivery to Merton in Kentucky. A formal written blessing to ‘Thomas Merton, Hermit’ hung in his hermitage inside the closet door as Merton would have it—the hideout in his hideout).

It is important to remember, of course, that he was, in his last years, still Thomas Merton, Monk, not Thomas Merton, would-be Catholic Worker, or Thomas Merton, would-be Buddhist Zen Master, or any of the things people sometimes try to make of him to bring him closer to their own ideas.

What is remarkable to those who haven’t lived the monastic life and imagine it as a situation cutting off the monk from reality and ‘the world’ is the discovery, in a monk’s life made public through writing, of how intensely his vocation joined him to may efforts outside themonastery, especially responses to human suffering. Thus Merton’s long association with the Catholic Worker movement and his personal sense of identification with others, especially the poor. As he commented in a letter about the slow processing by Trappist censors of an article he had written for The Catholic Worker, ‘This is the kind of thing one has to be patient with. It is wearying, of course. However, it is all I can offer (in sharing the lot of the poor). A poor man has to sit and wait and wait and wait, in clinics, in offices, in places where you sign papers, in police stations, etc. And he has nothing to say about it. At least there is an element of prayer for me, too.’

At the center of his spirituality was his hope in God, whom he spoke of at times as ‘Mercy within Mercy within Mercy.’ The hope required patience and poverty of spirit, not a frantic and optimistic expectation of what one was bound to accomplish. As he put this in one of his most helpful letters, written to me in 1966, two years before his death:

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work that you [in the Catholic Worker and Catholic Peace Fellowship] have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that the work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps the opposite of what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be done through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic.

The big results are not in your hands or mine but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them, but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction which may be denied us and which, after all, is not all that important…

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God Who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.

* * *

[A more detailed study of themes in this article appears in essays by Jim Forest and Gordon Zahn contained in Thomas Merton: Prophet in the Belly of a Paradox, Paulist Press, Gerald Twomey, editor].

Remembering Jean Forest

Jean serving soup at the Catholic Worker in 1961
Jean serving soup at the Catholic Worker in 1961

[the three eulogies given at the memorial service 17 January 2015 follow, plus an obituary]

By Jim Forest

I met Jean at the Catholic Worker in the spring of 1961. I had no premonition at the time that I was meeting someone I would marry the following year and who was to be the mother my first child, Benedict. While our marriage wasn’t a success — we were together less than four years — our friendship survived and flourished, lasting fifty-three years. My work took me to Holland in 1977 and there I have remained, but whenever my travels brought me to New Jersey, I visited her, most recently in the hospital here in Hoboken just weeks before her death.

We had both been drawn to the Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Manhattan, then located at 175 Chrystie Street, below Second Avenue and just east of the Bowery. The leader of the community was Dorothy Day, now widely regarded as a saint but in those days seen more as a troublemaker who made headlines less for welcoming the indigent than for such acts of civil disobedience as refusing to take shelter during civil defense exercises.

Small as the Catholic Worker staff was, it was large enough to have its divisions. Jean, a rising poet, was part of a more literary circle that included several of the people who were inventing what was to become The Sixties, while I was more drawn to the theological/church-related issues that were an aspect of the Catholic Worker.

Life within the Catholic Worker community was not without tension. I recall one evening Jean giving me a poem in which she described me as “healthy” — in the context of the poem the word “healthy” really meaning too healthy. Jean, though only sixteen months my senior, made me feel quite young, naïve and embarrassingly innocent. For my part, I was impressed by her forthright, unjudgmental manner, her sense of humor, her laughter, her care with words, her vigorous poetry

Our lives overlapped and friendship gradually took root. We both were involved in the day-to-day work of the Catholic Worker, activities that included going to wholesale markets to beg food, helping cook and serve meals, wash dishes, and assist with the two clothing rooms. There were occasional smaller and larger social gatherings in the evenings at which both of us were often present. At one of these I got drunk for the first time in my life — I couldn’t tell you for sure, but perhaps Jean was one of those who helped navigate me back to my one-room apartment, a $25-a-month-cold-water flat on Spring Street.

Jean was a person of exceptional compassion. Let me read you a short article Jean wrote for The Catholic Worker that reveals her respect for the down-and-out and also reveals Jean’s character and her talent as a writer. It’s about Josephine, family name unknown, one of the homeless women in whom Jean took a special interest:

The first time I came across Josephine at the Catholic Worker was during one of her appearances at a Friday night meeting. She was wearing a low-cut, yellow evening dress which she told us she wore especially for weekends. I couldn’t believe my eyes — she looked like a grotesque, aged Ophelia or a caricature of a fairy queen. She was eventually shuffled from the meeting after causing some disturbance. Our next encounter was in the clothing room where I distributed clothes. Each week she would appear with a different and imaginative tale of what happened to the clothes we had given her the previous week. Very often, it was the tale of some interesting thief she had “entrusted” them with. It didn’t matter for I could never refuse her. I found, quite to my amazement, that I really liked and enjoyed her stories.

One can get “impersonal” to the people one serves. It’s the easiest way out on the nerves. Josephine never allowed anyone to treat her “impersonally.” With her it wasn’t “business” or a “hand-out”; it was a person-to-person encounter. She worked on you until you had to respond positively or negatively. When she asked you for a bandage (she was usually bruised either from falls or beatings), you knew better than to procrastinate for a minute. Her needs were immediate and she’d tolerate no delay. Not that she was a nag. It was never that way because of her fantastic sense of humor. Fantastic, in the face of living on the streets (she preferred their freedom and excitement). She was an alcoholic with an ailing liver, always bruised and abused, begging for the next meal and drink. How did she escape despair? The answer may be in the mystery of her humor. When feeling especially exuberant she serenaded the kitchen and office with her most prized possession, a harmonica. The Bowery was a way of life which she accepted and, you might say, made the most of. She would tell a variety of stories of how she got here. She claimed to have become an alcoholic while a nurse. She said she had a husband somewhere and a child. She could have been any age from fifty to eighty.

Jospehine’s last years were spent as music-maker and clown — harming no one and bringing laughter to some. She died in the hospital ward of the poor. It was a hard life which she managed to transcend—as though by magic.

And there that sketch ends. Josephine would have been pleased to be so affectionately remembered and so vividly described.

Despite being part of the Catholic Worker and close to Dorothy Day, Jean had a shaky relationship with the Catholic Church. However the thread of connection with Christianity never broke. It’s truly appropriate that she received Last Rites before her death and that this celebration of her life takes place in a Hoboken parish named in honor of All Saints. For years she had a close relationship with a Benedictine monastery, Regina Laudis in Connecticut. In fact in Christmas 1962 it seemed for a few hours that Ben had decided to be born there — thus the name we chose for him: Benedict. In one period of her life she was on the staff of Trinity Church, Wall Street. Later on Jean was closely associated with Emmaus House, a house of hospitality and social action center that was in those days located in East Harlem.

Jean - Mother's Day 2012
Jean – Mother’s Day 2012

I can think of no event in her life that pleased Jean more than becoming the grandmother first of Zackary and then of Kara. Her grandmotherly years were perhaps her happiest. It was at that stage of her life that the motherhood side of Jean fully kicked in. To play an active role as grandmother, she frequently traveled to Red Bank. She took enormous pride in what Ben was doing with his life, as a journalist, environmental activist, computer doctor, and now president of Red Bank’s Board of Education. She was in awe of Amy’s work and achievements as director of the New Jersey’s Clean Water Action.

One of the great hopes I had for Jean, indeed I still have it, was that her work as a poet might be better known. Perhaps those of us who knew her and have copies of some of her poems might share what we have with each other and publish them as a booklet. I was fortunate to find one of them just a few days ago. It was written during the period we lived on Staten Island, where Ben was born, and was published soon afterward in Liberation magazine. The title is “Staten Island Ferry — Spring.” Let me read it to you:

You could almost believe on a day like this
a gift from God
here, now
why we were born
here, now
the deck, the rail, the movement
surrounded by sheer blue

the city it comes
now the gift

the city becoming
all clear geometry
all clear the odor of green
the slight wind
the gift

never mind
what will happen in the city
never mind
what can happen
the great farewell
ugly lives unclean in oppression
never knowing the whole man
cracked in the geometry

now beautiful and lunging
toward the docks
becoming bigger
and the docks slamming the bulk
the old wood
screaming and splintering

now is the gift.

jean textJust six more words. I found these yesterday while looking through Jean’s notebooks:

“When all else fails, try gratitude.”

* * *

Reflection for Jean

by Carolyn Zablotny

Jean was the first friend I ever made in New York City where, fresh out of college, I arrived in 1970 to join that “radical Christian community” in East Harlem called Emmaus House. I don’t know when we first christened each other “best friend” but that’s what we became — and remained all these years.

Her loss is the great unimaginable. No one, certainly not me, anticipated it. And over Christmas — of all times! For no one loved Christmas more than Jean. It was a time in which she could totally indulge her natural generosity. I remember her parties in Hoboken where you would literally have to wade your way through her apartment, ankle-deep in presents. I remember how Kara was the designated elf who would have to set packages aflight, tossing them into outstretched hands, delivery by ground not an option. Remember?

Years earlier, I remember Chrismasses when we were roommates, sharing the top floor of an old brownstone in East Harlem. Space just at regular times of the year was more than tight. But at Christmas — and with Jean who only knew how to give gifts in multiples — we were particularly challenged. We solved it by transforming the ironing board, always open in the kitchen, into a kind of “holiday platform” from which to display — and exchange — our gifts, all carefully wrapped, ribboned and bowed. Over the ritual of coffee — endless coffee — we’d squeeze by the kitchen sink and gently lift off one package after another, sliding backward to the little kitchen table we had managed to shoehorn in, and proceed to open. Seeming hours vanished as we went back and forth, oohing and aahing with delight. If it doesn’t exactly evoke images of a Norman Rockwell Christmas, let me assure you: we wouldn’t have changed any of it.

And then there was that one infamous Christmas back in Hoboken when Jean tasked me with finding a replacement baby Jesus for her Nativity set. Somehow the original occupant was lost. Setting out on this sacred mission, I quickly learned that Nativities do not come in parts: it’s all or nothing. I decided my only option, in true 60’s fashion, was to “liberate” a baby Jesus.

I arrived triumphant on Jean’s doorstep. She swung the door wide open — as she always did -and I announced “Jean, I’ve brought the baby Jesus!” A shadow darkened her previously animated face, her hand shot up over her mouth. “Did I forget to tell you that I found it?” But then, in an almost immediate recovery, she adeptly took my illicit offering and placed it delicately in the crib stating, “How marvelous. Now we have a male baby Jesus…and a female baby Jesus.”

Not surprisingly, Jean was drawn to the “dialogue” of Gestalt therapy. She had a genius for recognizing and appreciating the contradictory impulses racing through each of us: selfish/self-less; creative/destructive; self-aggrandizing/humble. She had an acute ear for a false note: her honesty and directness could be daunting. But she always held a mirror up to herself first, owning courageously where she saw herself broken and striving arduously towards wholeness…which some call holiness.

Jean actually became a very skilled Gestalt therapist; I think it was the pinnacle of her many accomplishments. I remember her graduation from the Gestalt Institute and how she recalled her working class roots in Brooklyn. Her father, a member of the famous Fighting 69th, slept on firescapes as a boy growing up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen; her mother knew firsthand the sufferings of the Great Depression. She proudly called them “survivors” for whom the insights borne of therapy were an unaffordable luxury.

I’d like to suggest — I know this is risky — that no matter how much Jean loved Hoboken — and she did — and no matter how much she had the sophistication of a Manhattanite — and she had — that she was always at heart a working class girl from Brooklyn.

She couldn’t afford college so she went to a better university: the Catholic Worker. She cut quite an image, I’m told, working on the soupline, inadvertently spicing it with ashes dropping from her ever dangling cigarette. When I met her at Emmaus House, a kind of spiritual stepchild of the Catholic Worker, and learned that she had been at the REAL TRUE Worker, I was awed. In my Midwest, deadly earnest way, I beseeched her to tell me everything, everything!, she knew about the Worker’s pacifism, personalism, decentralism, anarchism. The list went on. Clearly but kindly amused, she waved me off. “I didn’t know anything about all those “ism’s” — I just liked the men on the line.”

But she tutored me in other things I needed to learn about, as least as much as all those “isms.” Like the Zen awareness that life was too serious to be taken so seriously. And most important perhaps, how to dance. We’d subway down into Yorkville, only a few stops but a world away from East Harlem, get money from the wall — her expression for newly introduced ATM’s, we half thought/hoped it was someone else’s money — and following one strobe light to the next, we’d hit every disco. Ever the student, it turned out I was a fast learner. But then all I really had to do was watch how Jean could move: effortlessly, gracefully, freely. Transcendence in motion!

It wasn’t, however, transcendence that Jean experienced a few years later when she was studying for the Episcopalian priesthood, newly opened to women. When asked by the ordination committee what was her understanding of God, she responded that, for her, God was community. I still contend that a more theologically orthodox response would have yielded a different outcome. When her candidacy was rejected, I consoled her by reminding her that the Franciscans had rejected Thomas Merton.

Ordination or not, Jean continued in her ministry to community — whether to workers on Wall Street, single women, poor women needing jobs, people with AIDS, victims of injustice in northern Ireland, and always, people suffering with mental illness. She became a full ledged member of my immediate family, and I was honored to become part of hers. When my brother who has struggled heroically for years with mental illness was consigned to a group home in Cleveland, my elderly mother now unable to care for him, Jean would send him little notes with a twenty dollar bill crumpled inside it. “Have a little fun,” she’d write. And she’d never make mention of it. I’d learn of it only from him. My friend Jean, the good Samaritan.

In these last months, I’ve begun to think that her lament – I want to go home – painful as it was to hear, may have been her last gift. She held that mirror up to herself once again — and by extension, to us. For who of has not wanted to go home? And who of us has not known the long loneliness? As Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day wrote, “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Besides being an artful poet, Jean was an artful letter writer. I found this little note, saved among many others. It was sent to me, now living in Massachusetts, for a Christmas not long ago. Very Jean: a romantic little Victorian sleigh ride scene, with women warmed by white muffs. She wrote, “Thanks for the ride. It goes on, God knows where. As the friendship.”

But Jeannie, Jeannie! How are we to go on now? How am I?

Oh, I know, I know. I will embrace you — and place onto the ironing board of my memory, spread across a lifetime of friendship, your many gifts: your humor, your passion, your sentiment, your fierce loyalty, your flamboyance, your playful whimsy, your astute judgment, your love of beauty, your intense pleasure over a good book, your capacity for fun, your uncanny ability to see through to the heart of the matter, and, always, your generosity.

And when I need one, I will squeeze by the world, and pick it up — and hold it up to the light. And I will marvel…that I ever, ever had a friend like you.

* * *

Remembering My Mom

Jean Forest & BenI am Benedict, Jean’s son. Great seeing everyone. I know Rev. Danny is going to mention this later but please stay here after the service and join us for coffee, desserts and lunch. Please also remember to sign-in and leave your phone and email. I do not have contact information on everyone.

The last six months were hard ones. In July, my mother Jean took a fall in her apartment — multiple-fracture shoulder break. It took months and a lot of physical therapy to recover. During the process, the nurses discovered a cancerous growth. Mom was told it had to be removed. It was explained that there were risks with removal, but there was a reasonable chance the procedure would be successful. Mom was afraid. We both discussed it. In the end she decided some chance is better than no chance.

Complications from the procedure led to her passing on December 22.

Mom had been pretty much lived at Hoboken University Hospital and the Harbor View Nursing in Jersey City since the end of July though she did manage to get home for two difficult weeks. I wish I could say she did not suffer. In fact she hated being in these facilities. Of great help were the visitors and phone calls from family and friends. Thank you, with an extra special mention to Rev. Danny Lennox here at All Saints.

Whenever I saw my mother of late, her number one question the minute I walked in was always “When am I going home.”

What my mom really wanted was her life back — to be that Hoboken woman about town. Getting her hair done. Walking at the waterfront. Visiting her grandchildren. Talking politics.

One of my favorite recent days with her was a quick get-away from the nursing home to Coach House Restaurant in Union City, her absolute favorite diner. She struggled to get in and out, but she loved every moment we were there. It was there that we took the selfie together that you see as part of the slideshow. She spoke about her life. “Back then (the sixties),” she said, “there were fewer options for woman. I was not encouraged to go to college. In many ways, I wish I had been starting out today, but that is not the way life works as you know.”

In the hospital, mom and I talked about a lot of things. What we would do when she got back home, like getting her on the internet. She’d always asked about the grandkids. Also my wife: “How is Amy?” And there were always current events — she watched CNN from bed and I usually brought in her The New York Times and The Hoboken Reporter. She was furious when she was missing family events. On one recent day — it was at a point when she was not able to get out of her bed — she got very excited when I read her a report about the thawing of relations between us and Cuba. “That is long overdue.”

We even spoke a few times about her runs for office, the first being her “Kitchen Campaign” run out of apartment. (Some of those flyers are on display in the back.) I so loved campaigning with her as part of Hoboken United. My wife Amy plus Zack joined in. Let me tell you there nothing like campaigning with a baby grandson. It was fun. Wow! The overall campaign was remarkably successful though my mom missed getting elected by 100 votes. I got to know a lot of the nooks and crannies of this town. Mom made friends and also enemies. Politics it a rough game here — I recall nearly getting into a massive brawl in mid-town! “You! Go back to Jersey City. We don’t want you paid campaign stooges here!” The guy and others yelled and started to push me and other Hoboken United campaigners.

“Actually I am Jean Forest’s son!”

“Oh. Jean Forest son. Ok then.” And they us alone.

Many of my mom’s friends are here today with us. I know she loved being a part of city politics. She would rather have won of course, but she was very happy with the overall outcome. She always spoke of Bernie, David, Tony, Angelo, Maurice and her manager Shelly. And of course the other man in her life, Governor Jim McGreevey. I do not know how they first connected but she put everything she had into supporting him. I had no idea who he was when she first introduced him to me. “He’s the mayor of Woodbridge.” I think I responded with; “Mom, I think you like it that he has an Irish name.”

On one visit she asked me what I thought happens when we die.

“Mom, I don’t know. I hope it’s not nothing.”

“I am not sure either. I fear this may be it,” she said.

“Mom, my hope is that it’s a big endless party and we get to hangout with everyone at their prime. Love to see grandpa tap-dancing.”

“Agreed. Me too.”

She had told me earlier that her father — John Morton — had won a tap-dancing contest in New York City back when he was a young man.

My mom felt she had not been a good mother. She brought it up a few times: “Ben, I am so sorry I was not a better mom. I hope you can forgive me. I do love you.”

“Mom, it’s fine, no need to ask to be forgiven. I’m 51 now and have no reason to lie. I’m going to tell from my heart how I feel. I never had a day when I felt unloved. I had an amazing childhood — I dare say better than most. Believe me — I know what a blessing that is. I got to see other parts of the world. People still don’t believe me when I say I got to know Thich Nhat Hanh. I got to know and live with our amazing family. You have been an advocate, ally and advisor my whole life. You have been a wonderful grandma. We may not have had the so-called conventional family thing, but I love you too and I am honored to be your son.”

* * *

Jean Forest, an Activist’s Life

A memorial service for Jean Forest (nee Morton) will take place on Saturday, January 17 at 11 AM at All Saints Episcopal Church, 707 Washington Street, Hoboken. She passed away surrounded by her family on December 22 at the Hoboken University Medical Center at the age of 75. Jean was born and raised in Brooklyn, lived in Manhattan and Staten Island for some years, and finally moved to Hoboken in 1980.

Jean spent her life fighting for social justice and a more compassionate society. She started her career in 1961 on the Catholic Worker staff in Manhattan. She worked closely with its founder and social activist Dorothy Day who is now being considered for sainthood. She later worked for the Community Service Society of Greater NY, the City of New York’s Office for Non-Traditional Employment for Woman and the North Hudson County of Regional Mayors Project Reach Out fighting the AIDS crisis. After many years as a patient advocate at the Greystone Psychiatric facility in Morris County NJ, she retired in 2009. In 2005, she received the Professional Recognition Award from the New Jersey Coalition of Mental Health Consumer Organizations.

In the mid-90s, she volunteered tirelessly for the Voice of the Innocent and Lawyers Alliance project seeking to reverse convictions of those wrongfully incarcerated in Northern Ireland. On several occasions, she was part of a U.S. delegation of “trial witnesses” in Ireland. Jean ran for Hoboken City Council twice, was active in the Democratic Party and was involved in many local community projects and causes.

She was a poet, an avid reader, moviegoer and shopper. In her 20’s and 30’s, she acted in small NY theater companies and won an award as best actress in an “off-off-off” Broadway play. During retirement she travelled to China and Alaska, but her favorite destination remained Ireland. She had a passion for socializing and loved throwing a party. Her ideal night was hanging out with family and friends at a fine restaurant.

“Like Dorothy Day,” she once remarked, “I wanted the abundant life, and wanted it for others too.”

Jean was a dedicated grandmother to her two grandchildren, Zackary (16) and Kara Forest (14). She is survived by her son Benedict J. Forest and his wife Amy Goldsmith of Red Bank NJ, as well as her sister Mary Corchia, nieces Anna and Vanessa Corchia, all of Far Rockaway NY, nephews George Jr. of Brooklyn NY and Victor Corchia of Virginia, and best friend Carolyn Zablotny of Mill River MA and former husband Jim Forest of Alkmaar, The Netherlands.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to: Hoboken Homeless Shelter at 300 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030. Tel. 201-656-5069. http://hobokenshelter.org

— Ben Forest

* * *

Christianity and the Challenge of Peacemaking

Cain & AbelIntroduction to a forthcoming anthology of Christian texts of war and peace to be published by Bose monastery in Italy

By Jim Forest

The story of the first murder — the prototype of all war — is told in the Book of Genesis. It concerns Cain, the first-born child of Adam and Eve, attacking and killing his brother Abel:

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out into the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:8)

It is a scene depicted in countless works of art — without resistance a Christ-like Abel, often shown kneeling in prayer, awaits Cain’s deadly blow. This biblical moment anticipates Christ’s voluntary death on the cross.

The first homicide was a micro-war: only one combatant, one weapon and one victim, yet, given how small was the family of Adam and Eve, with Abel’s death a large segment of the human race was destroyed.

In the ages that have followed, the Cains have greatly multiplied while the Abels — those who refuse to kill — are the exceptions, unless one counts (no government bothers) all the defenseless bystanders who fall under the broad, clinical heading of “collateral damage.” In fact far more non-combatants die in war than soldiers.

The motive of the very first war was Cain’s envy of Abel. How many subsequent wars have had their deepest roots in envious motivations: we want what you have — your land, your water, your wealth, your resources.

No one in history has challenged war, small and large, root and branch, more than Jesus Christ. In the portrait drawn by the four Gospel authors, we see that he kills no one and threatens no one’s life. One of the most startling elements of Jesus’ teaching is his emphasis on love. Far from blessing enmity, Christ calls on his followers to love their enemies and to pray for them. Showing love of enemies in practice, we see his readiness to heal the servant of a Roman centurion, an officer of an unwelcome and oppressive army of occupation. In cleansing the temple of money-changers, Christ uses a weapon that could bruise but not wound — the only life endangered by his action was his own. In a situation where execution was the penalty prescribed by law, he shames a crowd of would-be executioners of an adulterous woman into letting their intended victim survive unharmed. His final miracle before his own execution is to heal the wound of a man Peter injured in his attempt to defend his master from an enemy; at the same time we hear Jesus reprimanding Peter for his violent attack on the man: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” At no point during his arrest or the suffering that followed do we see Jesus offering any form of resistance. Indeed we find no instance in the Gospel of Jesus killing anyone or authorizing his followers to commit an act of homicide. Jesus waved no flags — he was not a zealot. Though the word “nationalism” had not yet been invented, no one could describe him as a nationalist. In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus saying, “I have come to give life and to give it more abundantly.” Describing the Last Judgment, he declares, “What you have done to the least person, you have done to me.” Encapsulating the Gospel in eight Beatitudes, in the seventh he proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

As we consider the Christian vocation of peacemaking, it is helpful to see the ways peacemaking has been lived and written about by those who have gone before us. Such an anthology as the one you hold in your hands is intended to contribute to the restoration of Christian memory. Reading the oldest texts in this collection, it may come as a shock for many readers to discover how much has been forgotten or buried in footnotes, including key elements of teaching by church councils and revered pastors that was normative in the early Church.

Searching the calendar of saints, among the countless martyrs of the early centuries we sometimes find Christian soldiers — men baptized while in the army — who were executed for refusing to or take part in battle as well as conscripts refusing to take the military oath. Today they would be called conscientious objectors.

For example, there is Maximilian of Numidia, a 21-year-old North African, who was being drafted into military service but refused to take the oath. Arrested in the year 295, he declared to Dion, the proconsul who tried him, “I cannot fight for this world…. I tell you, I am a Christian.” The proconsul pointed out that there were Christians serving in the Roman army. St Maximilian replied, “That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve.” For his refusal, Maximilian was beheaded. He was immediately recognized by the Church as a martyr and saint. The trial transcript is preserved in the Roman Martyrology.

There is also the case of a recently-baptized centurion, St Marcellus. In the year 298, Marcellus’s unit in northern Africa was celebrating the emperor’s birthday with a party. To the astonishment of his fellows, Marcellus rose before the banqueters and denounced such parties as heathen. Then, casting off his military insignia, he cried out, “I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors and I scorn to worship your gods of wood and stone, which are deaf and dumb idols.” Marcellus was at once arrested for breach of discipline. At his trial, the record of which has been preserved by the Church, Marcellus readily admitted what he had said and done. It was not only, one notices, due to his being required to worship pagan gods, a defining moment for many martyrs. Marcellus’s motive for objection was, he declared, that “it is not right for a Christian man, who serves the Lord Christ, to serve in the armies of the world.” Because of his stand, he was beheaded. It is recorded that he died in great peace of mind, asking God to bless the judge who had condemned him.

Not all who took such stands paid for it with their lives. One such exception, Martin of Tours, is counted among the great missionary saints of the early Church. St Martin is most often represented in religious art as a young man wearing Roman military attire and seated upon a horse while using his sword to divide his cloak, giving half of it to a freezing beggar. In a life-changing vision that night, he recognized the beggar as none other than Jesus Christ.

Martin was born about the year 336 in Sabaria, Asia Minor. He was a member of the elite imperial guard serving with the emperor. While an officer, he became a catechumen. His crisis in military service occurred due to a barbarian invasion of Gaul, or France, as we know it today. Called to appear before Julian Caesar (better remembered as Julian the Apostate) to receive a war-bounty on the eve of battle, he declined to accept it, saying to Caesar: “Up to now I have served you as a soldier. Now permit me to serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others. They are going to fight, but I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” Not surprisingly, the emperor accused Martin of cowardice. Martin replied that, in the name of Christ, he was prepared to face the enemy alone and unarmed. Instead he was thrown into prison. As it happened, there was a sudden end to the hostilities in Gaul. The emperor, who may have regarded the enemy’s withdrawal as a divine act, chose not to punish Martin but instead ordered his discharge. Remaining in Gaul, Martin was welcomed by the bishop at Poitiers, St Hilary, who not long afterward ordained Martin a deacon, later a priest. When St Hilary died, Martin was chosen as his successor. He brought many people to baptism and also was an effective opponent of the Arian heresy.

The witness of such saints is in harmony with the catechetical teaching of the Church at that time.

For example, the Apostolic Canons attributed to St Hippolytus, a Roman text dated between 170 and 236, state that renunciation of killing is a precondition of baptism. Here are several of the relevant canons:

Concerning the magistrate and the soldier: they are not to kill anyone, even if they receive the order…. Whoever has authority and does not do the righteousness of the Gospel is to be excluded and is not to pray with the bishop.

A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the order, nor shall he take the oath. If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.

A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the [eucharistic] mysteries, unless he is purified by punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.” (Canons XII-XVI)

In brief, the Church was willing to baptize soldiers so long as they promised not to engage in war or acts of deadly violence. This was a difficult but not impossible condition, as in many situations of service the soldier was fulfilling either a noncombatant role or the role of what today would be regarded as a policeman.

In the first half of the third century, Christians were sharply criticized for their attitude toward military service by the pagan scholar Celsus: “If all men were to do as you,” wrote Celsus, “there would be nothing to prevent the Emperor from being left in utter solitude, and with the desertion of his forces, the Empire would fall into the hands of the most lawless barbarians.”

Defending Christian practice, a theologian of the Church in Alexandria, Origen, replied to Celsus:

Christians have been taught not to defend themselves against their enemies; and because they have kept the laws that command gentleness and love of man, they have received from God that which they would not have achieved if they were permitted to make war, though they might have been quite able to do so. (Contra Celsum 3,8)

The Christian refusal of military service, Origen argued, did not indicate indifference to social responsibility, but rather the higher duty to engage in effective spiritual combat with the forces of evil that lead to war. He wrote:

The more devout the individual, the more effective he is in helping the Emperor, more so than the soldiers who go into the lines and kill all the enemy troops they can … The greatest warfare, in other words, is not with human enemies but with those spiritual forces which make men into enemies.

In the same period St Justin Martyr expressed himself in similar terms:

We who were filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed our weapons of war … swords into plows and spears into pruning hooks.” (Trypho 110)

Elsewhere he wrote:

We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies but, that we may not lie or deceive our judges, we gladly die confessing Christ. (I Apol. 39)

Around the year 177, St Athenagoras of Athens also stressed nonresistance to evil:

For we have been taught not to strike back at someone who beats us nor to go to court with those who rob and plunder us. Not only that: we have even been taught to turn our head and offer the other side when men ill use us and strike us on the jaw and to give also our cloak should they snatch our tunic. [A Plea for Christians]

Another of the Christian voices coming down to us from the early generations of believers is that of Clement of Alexandria. At the end of the second century, or early in the third, Clement described the Church as “an army which sheds no blood.” (Protrepticus 11,116) “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You not kill. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Protrepticus 10) “In peace, not in war, we are trained,” he declared in another essay. (Paedogogus 1,12)

Even in the Emperor Constantine’s time, one finds within the Church a profoundly critical attitude regarding military service. At the First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicea near Constantinople in the year 325, with the emperor attending, one of the canons issued by the bishops declared:

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military belts, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, so that some have regained their military stations; let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. [Hearers and prostrators were categories of penitents who can be present, like catechumens, for the Liturgy of the Word, but were barred from participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy.] But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretense, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favorably concerning them. (Canon XII)

Throughout his reign as emperor, Constantine, though himself baptized only on his deathbed, favored, protected and endowed the Christian Church. During his reign, and still more in the post-Constantinian world, attitudes regarding Christian engagement in the government, including the military, gradually began to shift. No longer regarded by the state as an enemy, the Church came to be seen — and began to see itself — as the Christian emperor’s partner. Having become an object of imperial protection, with Church membership a plus rather than a minus for those seeking advancement, the changes in attitude that followed must have been distressing to those who remained committed to earlier models of behavior. As the scholar and biblical translator St Jerome (347-420) observed, “When the Church came to the princes of the world, she grew in power and wealth but diminished in virtue.” The rapid expansion of monasticism in remote desert regions in the fourth century is often seen as a flight from a Christianized Caesar. As Thomas Merton wrote in Wisdom of the Desert, “The fact that the emperor was now Christian and thus that the ‘world’ was coming to know the Cross as a sign of temporal power only strengthened [the monks] in their resolve [to flee].”

Late in the fourth and early fifth centuries, the foundations were laid by St Augustine and others (drawing on such classical authors as Cicero and Virgil) of what eventually became known as the Just War Doctrine. While rejecting personal self-defense, Augustine argued that it would be sinful to respond to grave wrongs done to others with passivity, so long as a military response was authorized by a legitimate authority. As he wrote in The City of God: “They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” Yet Augustine, in the same book, also saw the damage war does to those who kill: “Let everyone who reflects with pain upon such great evils, horrors and cruelty [that are the consequence of war] acknowledge that this is misery. And if anyone either endures them or thinks of them without anguish of soul, his condition is still more miserable; for he thinks himself happy only because he has lost all human feeling.” [XIX,7]

Over the centuries, the Just War Doctrine evolved until it reached its most developed form in the Middle Ages. Under its terms, a defensive war could be considered just, and Christians participate in it without sin, if it met certain criteria: the war must be declared by the legitimate authority; it must be fought for a just cause and with a just intention, not simply to satisfy national pride or for economic or territorial gain; just means must be employed; the right to life of the innocent and noncombatants must be respected; the war must have a reasonable chance of success; there must be a reasonable expectation that the good results of the war will outweigh the evils caused by it; war must be the last resort; and the burden of guilt must be clearly on one side.

The Just War Doctrine is chiefly associated with Western Christianity. In his essay “No Just War in the Fathers,” Fr Stanley Harakas, for many years Professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Massachusetts, described his search through Greek patristic sources and Byzantine military manuals for texts concerning war. He reported:

[In my study] I found an amazing consistency in the almost totally negative moral assessment of war coupled with an admission that war may be necessary under certain circumstances to protect the innocent and to limit even greater evils. In this framework, war may be an unavoidable alternative, but it nevertheless remains an evil. Virtually absent in the tradition is any mention of a “just” war, much less a “good” war. The tradition also precludes the possibility of a crusade. For the Eastern Orthodox tradition … war can be seen only as a “necessary evil,” with all the difficulty and imprecision such a designation carries. [“No Just War in the Fathers,” full text on the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship — www.incommunion.org; search “Harakas”.]

Over the centuries countless wars have been fought which failed to meet the standards of the Just War Doctrine, yet who can recall the bishops of any nation declaring a war fought by their compatriots as being unjust and warning Christians in their pastoral care that participation in a particular war was sinful?

Fr Harakas identified what he referred to as the “stratification of pacifism” in the Church: “The discipline of not killing others under any circumstances that had applied in earlier times to all baptized Christians eventually came to be required only of those serving at the altar.” To this day canons of the Orthodox Church bar priests, deacons and monks from the sanctuary if they have killed anyone for any reason, including accidental manslaughter. Some priests and deacons practice the asceticism of not driving a car precisely because of the danger of their accidentally killing someone. (On the other hand, many clerics, though themselves barred from warfare, have used their voices to encourage others to take part in war, thus vicariously shedding blood by word rather than action.)

While the Just War Doctrine has failed to prevent war, other ancient Christian initiatives can claim a degree of limited success in the course of several centuries. What came to be called the Peace of God (Pax Dei) was a European movement that applied spiritual sanctions to limit the violence of private war in feudal society. It began in the tenth century and survived and evolved in various forms until at least the thirteenth century.

First named the Lex Innocentium (the Law of Innocents), it was promulgated at a gathering of rulers and clerics meeting at the Abbey of Birr in Ireland in 697. The law also came to be known as the Cáin Adomnán, bearing the name of its chief advocate, Adomnán, the ninth abbot of Iona, one of the principal centers of Celtic monasticism.

Adomnán’s initiative was one of the first systematic attempts to lessen the savagery of warfare among Christians. In it Adomnán gave expression, in the context of the Gaelic legal tradition, to a wider Christian movement to restrain violence. Kings of Ireland and northern Britain were made the laws’ guarantors.

The main focus of the laws that were agreed on was the protection of non-combatants in warfare. One law required, for example, that “whoever slays a woman … his right hand and his left foot shall be cut off before death, and then he shall die.” The laws provided sanctions against the killing of children, clerics, clerical students and peasants living on clerical lands. Rape was forbidden. Bystanders who did nothing to prevent a war crime were as liable as the perpetrator. Fines were set for violations. “Stewards of the Law” collected the fine and paid it to the victim or next of kin.

The Pax Dei initiative spread to the south of France. At a church synod, children as well as merchants and their goods were added to the early protections. Warriors were barred from beating the defenseless and invading churches or burning houses. The powerful Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy took up promotion of the Pax Dei. Cluny, independent of any secular authority, was subject only to the pope. Many Cluniac monks came from powerful families, the knightly class, whose violence they were trying to stop. The Pax Dei phenomenon became one of the first popular religious movements of the Middle Ages.

During the eleventh century, the movement spread to the north of France where the nobility sponsored peace assemblies in Flanders, Burgundy, Champagne, Normandy and Berry. Oaths to keep the peace were taken by many by nobles and spread to the towns and villages where heads of households, meeting communally, made solemn vows to uphold the peace.

A parallel movement, the Treuga Dei (the Truce of God), had its origin in Normandy in the city of Caen. It sought cessation of battles on Sundays, major feast days and during the fasting periods leading up to the most important feast days on the church calendar — Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost. This prohibition was subsequently extended to specific days of the week — Thursday, in honor of the Ascension, and Friday, the day of the Passion. By the middle of the twelfth century the number of proscribed days was extended until fighting was licit only on eighty days of the year.

The Truce of God spread from France to Italy and Germany. A church council held in 1179 extended the institution to the whole Church. “De treugis servandis,” on the observation of the Truce of God, was added to canon law by Pope Gregory IX.

St Francis of Assisi can be seen as perhaps the most radical and influential medieval advocate of peace. Thanks to Francis, there was a period in the thirteenth century when many thousands of lay Christians took vows not to take part in war and were, remarkably, given papal support. Francis founded a “third order” for lay people whose rule called on members to become unarmed peacemakers: “They are to be reconciled with their neighbors and [are] to restore what belongs to others…. They are not to take up deadly weapons, or bear them about, against anybody…. They are to refrain from formal oaths [which might bind them to military service]…. They are to perform the works of mercy: visiting and caring for the sick, burying the dead, and caring for the poor…. They should seek the reconciliation of enemies, both among their members and among non-members.” The rule was approved by Pope Innocent III in 1201 and reconfirmed by Pope Nicholas IV eight decades later.

If notable efforts were being made to restrain warriors from killing each other in Christian countries, war against Moslems was a different matter. In 1095 Pope Urban proclaimed the first Crusade with the goal of gaining Christian control of the holy places in and near Jerusalem.

While no exact transcription survives of the speech delivered by Urban at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095, the chronicler Robert the Monk attributed the following to the pope: “This land which you inhabit … is too confining for your large population … and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you [Christians of Europe] murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from the wicked [Moslem] race, and subject it to yourselves … God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.” According to Robert, the whole assembly responded, “It is the will of God! It is the will of God!” — words that became the Crusaders’ chant.

Another participant in the Council, Fulcher of Chartres, recorded that Pope Urban promised pardon for anyone who died while a Crusader: “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”

Pope Urban added, Fulcher reports: “Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. Let those who for a long time, have been robbers, now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor.”

As inevitably happens in war, many were killed who were not the declared target. The preaching of the First Crusade unleashed a wave of Christian fury that resulted in the massacre of Jews as well as attacks on “schismatic” Orthodox Christians of the East.

When the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, no inhabitant of the city was spared — men, women and children were hacked to pieces until, the chronicle says, the Crusaders’ horses waded in blood. But their victory proved temporary.

Following the First Crusade there was an intermittent two-century struggle for control of the Holy Land, with six more major crusades. The conflict ended in failure with the fall of the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land at Acre in 1292.

St Francis of Assisi was also a Crusader, but one refusing armor, sword or the will to kill. Among the most well-attested stories in Francis’s life is his meeting in 1219 with one of the Crusaders’ chief opponents, Sultan Malik-al-Kamil. It was the time of the Fifth Crusade, shortly after a Crusader victory at the Egyptian port city of Damietta (modern Dumyat) on the Nile Delta. Francis sought the blessing of the Cardinal who was chaplain to the Crusader forces to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan. The cardinal told him that the Moslems understood only weapons and that the one useful thing a Christian could do was to kill them. At last the cardinal stood aside, certain that Francis and Illuminato, the brother traveling with him, were being led to die as martyrs. The two left the Crusader encampment singing the psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

Soldiers of the sultan’s army captured the pair, beat them, then brought them before Sultan Malik-al-Kamil, who asked if they wished to become Moslems. Saying yes would save their lives. Francis replied that they had come to seek his conversion; if they failed in their effort, then let them be beheaded. According to legend, Francis offered to enter a furnace to demonstrate the truth of Christ’s Gospel; whether or not he made such a proposal, going unarmed into the enemy’s stronghold was analogous to leaping into a fire.

For a month Francis and the sultan met daily. Though neither converted the other, the sultan had such warmth for his guests that not only did he spare their lives but he gave them a passport allowing them to visit Christian holy places under Moslem control and presented Francis with a beautifully carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint kept in the Basilica of Assisi. It is recorded that “the two [Francis and Malik-al-Kamil] parted as brothers.”

What a different history we would look back upon if Moslems had encountered Christians who did not slaughter their enemies. While Christians in the first three centuries shocked the ancient world by their refusal to kill, by the thirteenth century Francis was a voice crying in the wilderness: Christianity in the West was preaching the holiness of war.

Crusades fought against Moslems at the east end of the Mediterranean evolved into crusades against Christians regarded as heretics in Europe; among others there was the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) and the Aragonese Crusade (1284-1291).

The spectacle of Christian killing Christian reached its nadir during the Reformation, the grimmest event of which was the “Thirty Years’ War” — in fact a series of wars fought in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648 — was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest, causing the desolation of entire regions and significantly decreasing the population.

The scholar and biblical translator Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was one of the prominent Christians associated with the Reformation who refused to sanction schism or to bless bloodshed in the name of Christ. Through letters and his published works Erasmus tirelessly strove to calm martial passions and to prevent war. “There is nothing more wicked, more disastrous, more widely destructive [than war],” he wrote, “nothing more deeply tenacious or more loathsome.” He saw the great skeleton of Death itself striding triumphantly at the end of all military parades and expeditions.

In The Complaint of Peace (Querela Pacis), Erasmus envisioned Peace herself rising before an audience to protest the abuse of her name, praised by one and all in words, yet how few live peaceful lives. “Without me,” she points out, “there is no growth, no safety for life, nothing pure or holy, nothing agreeable,” while war is “a vast ocean of all the evils combined, harmful to everything in the universe.” He points out that war is unknown among wild beasts. “Only men, who above all other species should agree with one another and who need mutual understanding most of all, fail to be united in mutual love … not even brought to their senses by the awareness of the many evils resulting from war.”

Erasmus saw how nationalism, one of the driving forces of the Reformation, was taking precedence over the baptismal bonds that unite all believers: “The populace is now incited to war by insinuations and propaganda, by claims that the Englishman is the natural enemy of the Frenchman and the like…. How can anything so frivolous as a name outweigh the ties of nature and the bonds of Christianity? The Rhine separates the French from the German but it cannot divide the Christian from the Christian. The Pyrenees lie between the French and the Spaniards but cannot break the indissoluble bond of the communion of the Church…. In the midst of the non-Christian world Christians are set as a city on a hill to give light, but how will they move the heathen to embrace the faith when they so contend among themselves? If we would bring the Turks to Christianity we must first be Christians…. How impious are those who think blessedness can be attained by war, seeing that blessedness consists of the ineffable communion of souls.”

Erasmus’s pacific voice had little impact on the major parties in the Reformation conflict. His refusal to leave the Catholic Church was bitterly criticized by Martin Luther and, after his death, his writings were put on the Index of Prohibited Books by the Catholic Church. Yet doubtless the voice of Erasmus and others of similar convictions played a role in the formation of smaller Christian movements which emerged from the Reformation and came to be known as “peace churches,” in modern times notably represented by the Church of the Brethren, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Mennonites.

Four centuries have passed since the Reformation, each and every generation living in wartime. All the while, until the mid-twentieth century, no notable change occurred in church teaching regarding war, whether among Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. But in recent decades, confronted with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, Christians have been forced to think again about war. In no segment of Christianity has this been more evident than in the Catholic Church, beginning during the years 1958 to 1963 when John XXIII was pope.

The publication of papal encyclicals is normally of interest only to Roman Catholics. Secular journalists as well as those in other churches pay little attention. But Pope John XXIII’s encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), issued in 1963, was a dramatic exception. Its release was front-page news around the world. Many newspapers published extensive excerpts and some published the full text. Pope John was widely recognized as having provided a bill of rights and obligations for the human race.

Such an unprecedented reception was due in part to Pacem in Terris being the first encyclical addressed not only to Catholics but to “all people of good will.” Here was a pope who, in the last months of his life, made an appeal for peace and did so at a time when millions of people were aware that they would more likely die of nuclear war than of illness or old age. It is fair to say that Pacem in Terris helped prevent a cataclysmic third world war.

The primary human right, wrote Pope John, the right without which no other right has any meaning, is the right to life. As no human activity so undermines the right to life as war, peacemaking is among the very highest and most urgent human callings. More than ever we can appreciate Christ saying “Blessed are the peacemakers … they shall be called children of God.”

One of the encyclical’s major themes was the role of conscience. “The world’s Creator,” John declared in the opening section, “has stamped man’s inmost being with an order revealed to man by his conscience; and his conscience insists on his preserving it.” Quoting from St Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he added, “Human beings ‘show the work of the law written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness to them.’” (Romans 2:15)

The pope went on to declare that conscience could not be coerced either in religious matters or in the relationship of the person to the state. “Hence,” he wrote, “a regime which governs solely or mainly by means of threats and intimidation or promises of reward, provides men with no effective incentive to work for the common good.”

“Authority,” John continued, “is before all else a moral force. For this reason the appeal of rulers should be to the individual conscience, to the duty which every man has of voluntarily contributing to the common good. But since all men are equal in natural dignity, no one has the capacity to force internal compliance on another. Only God can do that, for He alone scrutinizes and judges the secret counsels of the heart. Hence, representatives of the State have no power to bind men in conscience, unless their own authority is tied to God’s authority, and is a participatnt in it.” [48, 49]

In case the reader missed the implications, Pope John pointed out that laws which violate the moral order have no legitimacy and do not merit obedience: “Governmental authority … is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since ‘it is right to obey God rather than men.’ … A law which is at variance with reason is to that extent unjust and has no longer the rationale of law. It is rather an act of violence.… Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force.” [51, 61]

The time is urgent, John noted. All of us are living “in the grip of constant fear … afraid that at any moment the impending storm may break upon them with horrific violence. And they have good reasons for their fear, for there is certainly no lack of … weapons [of mass destruction]. While it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that [nuclear] war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance.” [111]

Pope John gave particular attention to dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction, declaring that, in this context, it is absurd to regard war as just: “People nowadays are becoming more and more convinced that any disputes which may arise between nations must be resolved by negotiation and agreement, and not by recourse to arms…. This conviction owes its origin chiefly to the terrifying destructive force of modern weapons. It arises from fear of the ghastly and catastrophic consequences of their use. Thus, in this age of ours which prides itself on atomic power, it is irrational to believe that war is still an apt means of vindicating violated rights.” [italics added]

Pacem in Terris was not only an urgent appeal to governments to work toward nuclear disarmament but to individuals to disobey orders which would make them accomplices to so great a sin as wars in which the innocent are the principal victims.

It was also Pope John who launched the Second Vatican Council. He did so in the hope that such a work of renewal would, as he put it, “restore the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth.”

The fourth and last session of the Council in 1965, which John did not live to see, took up the challenge of Pacem in Terris, developing and expanding many of its themes in Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), the words with which The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in Modern World begins. Its publication on the 7th of December 1965 by Pope Paul VI was the Council’s final action. No other conciliar document had gone through so many stages before reaching its final form.

One of the significant achievements of the Council is the definition of conscience contained in Gaudium et Spes:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution of the numerous problems which arise in the lives of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from individual ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares little for truth and goodness, or for conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (section 16)

It follows, the text continues, that conscientious objection to participation in war ought to be universally recognized: “It seems right that laws make humane provision for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way.” (79.2)

The treatment of conscience marked a major turning point in Catholic teaching. Even during World War II, Catholics in every country had been told to obey their rulers and h had been assured, were they made party to a sin by their obedience, that blame would lie with the rulers rather than with their subjects.

Gaudium et Spes also contained a solemn condemnation, one of the few expressed in texts issued by the Second Vatican Council: “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”

Those who renounce violence altogether, seeking a more just and compassionate society by nonviolent means, were praised: “We cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or to the community itself.”

Those who, in the name of obedience, obey commands which condemn the innocent and defenseless to death were described as “criminal” while the courage of those who disobey commands to participate in genocidal actions were described as meriting “supreme commendation.”

If the Council did not succeed in restoring “the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth,” as Pope John had dared to hope, Gaudium et Spes was a major achievement not only for Catholic teaching but a giant step forward for Christianity as a whole.

Though the saints of the early Church would still be shocked at the spectacle of Christians promoting and fighting wars, perhaps they would be consoled to see that fewer and fewer Christians see war as either good or just while more and more Christians are searching avidly for nonviolent approaches to injustice and conflict. They would also be consoled to see how many war-eligible Christians are refusing to kill or to advocate war.

The pacific words of many saints and Church Fathers are being heard again, such as these from St John Chrysostom:

It is certainly a finer and more wonderful thing to change the mind of enemies to another way of thinking than to kill them…. The mystery [of the Eucharist] requires that we should be innocent not only of violence but of all enmity, however slight, for it is the mystery of peace.

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Jim Forest is International Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include “Praying With Icons”, “Ladder of the Beatitudes”, “Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness”, and “Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment”.

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text as of 2 January 2015

Jim Forest – [email protected]
www.jimandnancyforest.com