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Home : Essays : Role of Christianity in Peace

The Role of Christianity for World Peace

Rev. R. Arulappa
Archbishop of Madras

Before going to the 'role', I feel it is necessary to get the exact meaning and import of the word 'peace', as well as what is meant by 'world peace'.

In the world today the word 'peace' seems to be used by the great leaders of the world in every other sense except in the one which it conveys primarily. It is most often used for a mere absence of war. More intriguing is the use of the word when one big power used it while piling up sophisticated war weapons including the nuclear, saying it is doing so in order to preserve peace in the world! What it really means is: I am obliged to do this (i.e. piling up of arms) in order to destroy any other power threatening to destroy mine! How such an attitude can be called 'peace' is not easy to understand. The ancient Romans had a sort of proverb which said: "If you want peace prepare for war!" which meant that unless one declares war and destroys the opposing nation or party there cannot be any peace! In this, one can easily see, there is nothing of peace at all. The world, it would seem, has not progressed very much from the times and situations in which the Romans lived!

There is another kind of war which is now and then called the war of nerves! It means that there may not be an impending clangour of arms or explosion of bombs, but a fear of it is wrecking the nerves of those concerned. Even if such a war of nerves were absent, it would still not be 'peace'. For peace is something for more positive: it is a positive presence of something not of this world, that has its origin in something heavenly; in other words, in God. Modern man, too proud in his scientific and technological achievements will only pooh-pooh such an idea viz., that real peace has its origin in God. But that is the truth, as I shall try to explain.

To begin with, 'peace' has been defined by men having a true perception of realities of life as: the tranquillity of order. It sounds strange and is likely to be looked upon as a play with words. But, if well understood, the phrase contains a great piece of wisdom, even humanly speaking. We need not go far to realise the wisdom contained in this definition. What is the biggest problem confronting our country today? or the world? It does not require extraordinary knowledge or political acumen to answer the question. Those responsible for the government are continually saying that the problem today is the law and order situation. For we see clearly that lawlessness and disorder immediately destroy even external peace and bring about disturbance of minds and hearts; in other words tranquillity is lost. We thus see tranquillity of order i.e., order bringing about a certain tranquillity of mind and heart is really the peace we all want.

Now, how is this order to be brought about? To this question give just the Christian point of view. It is Christian teaching that peace among persons, groups or nations is not possible without good will towards one another. And good will towards one another is not possible without acknowledging God as mankind's common father, and without living according to one's conscience and its dictates. Conscience is said be the voice of God speaking in silence, as it were, in the depth of one's heart. If this voice is not listened to, God is not listened to. If God is not listened to, He is dishonored. Man is placed on earth to honor and glorify God. This is exactly what heavenly beings announced on the day Christ was born: 6lory to God and Peace on Earth to men of good will. Men of good will can mean also people in whom God finds his pleasure. It is because these Conditions were not fulfilled i.e., because God was not honored and glorified, good will among men has not been achieved in a big way, and so peace on Earth became, and still is, almost an impossibility.

The 'peace' however, which was announced has to be properly understood. It is primarily peace of mind and heart: a state in which there is orderliness in one's relation to God, in the first place, and to others in the second place. This is what Christian teaching calls, Love of God and love of neighbour. Well ordered love for God above all things (for he deserves all love from his creatures) and love towards all men for God's sake is finally what makes for peace in the world. Man is naturally inclined to love himself; and so God commands man: Love your neighbour as you love yourself. This is called (in the Bible) the second Commandment, the first being, as said above, loving God above all. In these two commandments consists the whole happiness of man, which is only another way of saying 'peace on earth'. For there can be no happiness without peace.

This peace is really a gift of God. Christ says "My peace I give you" and added "not as the world gives." The world seems to know only one kind of peace, i.e. mere absence of war. Christ says that real peace is that which comes from God, and not from the world. This is peace of soul, peace of mind, peace of heart which surpasses all mere human endeavours and understanding.

It is only when such a peace reigns in the human heart, that there will be no room for coveting or selfish thinking etc. which are the final causes of wars and conflicts between peoples and nations. Here are a few lines from the Bible:

(James--4: 1-3) "What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."

What is meant by 'passions being at war in one's members'? It is another way of saying 'having no peace within one's own self, in one's heart'. Note how these words insist on asking God for what one really wants and not covet another man's goods. Note also the manner of asking God i.e., the manner of praying. If one prays wrongly i.e., not with sincerity, one's prayer cannot be answered; or if one uses the goods obtained in the wrong way, i.e. on satisfying lower passions and desires, there can be no blessing.

Asking God, then, with sincerity and using what one receives for doing good is the key to avoiding conflicts and tensions which may in the end lead to wars!

If then Christianity teaches all this, one may ask: Why it is that so many conflicts and wars have taken place or are even now taking place among the so called Christians or so called Christian nations? The word 'so called' answers the question. That is to say such Christians or Christian nations were not or are not genuinely Christians. Christian precepts are not easy to observe and among them true love of others is perhaps the most difficult. That is why Christ called his commandment to love one another as he himself loved mankind, a new one! How did Christ love mankind? Even unto death. To love another even unto death is no easy matter. It needs a tremendous spirit of goodness and love, a spirit of self-sacrifice even towards those who are not so lovable. All this makes the observance so difficult. But Christ did nor merely give the commandment, he showed it by the example of his life, by forgiving even his murderers. He did it by providing powerful help through what are called 'Sacraments'. It is because this spiritual power is not used properly that Christians are not always able to live up to the serious obligations of Christian commitment. Hence it is that peace between individuals, families, as well as nations is not realised.

Does this mean that Chiristianity is a failure? No, it is Christians who are a failure, if it all. A famous writer, G.K. Chesterton, said: "It is not that Christianity has failed, but it has never been really tried." i.e. its demands have not always been met.

It must, however, be admitted that though peace has not always been a reality between nations or groups, it cannot be said that it has been utterly lacking. Moreover, between smaller groups, like families as a whole and between individuals true peace has reigned and reigns even today, though rumors and fears of wars - even nuclear - are always heard all around. An impartial study of the history of the world will show that whatever peace there has been all these 20 centuries it has bean greatly due to the influence of Christian teaching on God and man - love of God and love of neighbour.

As far as the role which Christianity has played for the world peace, it would be too long to go through the whole history. The whole history of the Church is one continual effort to form the conscience of people, help them by her preaching and sacraments to establish peace in individual hearts, in families as well as in Nations. It is true that it has not succeeded a hundred percent but it has contributed its share which is certainly not negligible

If we speak of maintaining peace earth, by preventing wars, it is history for instance that Pope Pius X did everything possible to prevent World War I, but failed and actually died of a broken heart.

Pope Pius XI tried the same to prevent World War II but nations would not care. He died just as it broke out and Pius XII did everything possible at least to bring relief to the victims.

Coming to our own days more than any other Pope, Pope John Paul II is travelling the length and the breadth of the globe trying to bring a better understanding between nations etc. I shall end with a sentence from the editorial of the Indian Express (Feb. 11) referring to the recent visit of Pope John Paul II.

"The Pope spoke of the pluralism faiths and called for an inter-religious dialogue to build a better world free of nuclear danger, the arms race, poverty, ignorance, discrimination, persecution and suffering, ensuring development, dignity and justice for all."