"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Spiritual Means of Warfare

In the last post, we considered the basics of how Christians should carry out their battle to be the arms of Christ in remaking the world. In this post, I'd like to consider why the tactics of nonviolence, as pioneered by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, are those that accord most deeply with the Christian spirit.

We begin by trying to understand the meaning of courage in the Christian tradition. Courage is one of the four cardinal virtues which defines how to build ourselves into the image of Christ to which we are called. When we think of courage in the modern context, we normally conjure up images of fearlessness in battle, but this does not form the essence of this virtue according to traditional teachings. According to these teachings, for instance as found in Thomas Aquinas, there are two kinds of courage: "...the courage that attacks and the courage that endures, the force of coercion or aggression and the force of patience, the force that inflicts suffering on others and the force that endures suffering inflicted on oneself." - Jacques Maritain, "Freedom in the Modern World". Maritain's analysis reveals that the essential act of this virtue is found in the inner force that endures suffering inflicted on oneself, not its power of attack. The current manufacturers of consent dramatize the attack aspect of courage in order to draw us into wars by appealing to our love for this virtue. But this aspect is not the essential part of courage, but only a superficial manifestation of it.

The essence of courage is described as, "...courage in endurance [which] corresponds to the principal act of the virtue of fortitude and is characteristic of the 'bravest of the brave.' Such endurance derives its strength from something that possesses the greatest power of resistance in the world of nature, from the paradox of a nothing which is also a universe, the invisible power of human personality." - Jacques Maritain, "Freedom in the Modern World". This endurance of suffering displays the power of the human person, rather than the energies of the material and quantitative world, on which virtually all political emphasis is placed. In other words, while corporate media propaganda exclusively emphasizes our power of attack, indulging in a pornography of weapons systems, the real core of courage lies in the capacity of endurance which reflects the spiritual power of the human person. Warfare always tends to "purely technical principles unfettered by any consideration either divine or human", while "means of endurance tend to find their fullest expression in the sovereign freedom of a soul that is exalted above the terrors of nature and of death and enveloped in the sacred fire of Uncreated Holiness, so that these means tend of themselves to follow the moral rules of reason and of love. Love is the animating principle of the spiritual means of warfare; their power is verily the power of love. Merely human love and even misguided love is able to overcome obstacles of the most difficult kind. Shall not the power of these means be still more mighty if the love that governs their action is essentially sane, spiritual, noble, rid of all egoism and base passion; if its source and its end be Truth; if its name be Charity?" - Jacques Maritain, "Freedom in the Modern World".

This constitutes the essential definition of Christian nonviolence. We resist evil with every ounce of force and courage that we are capable of, but we resist evil (the meaning of fortitude or courage) with the means of endurance, rather than the means of attack. The force of coercion and aggression stirs the sufferer of aggression to react with the same means, provoking the endless cycle of retribution which is so familiar in current Iraq. On the other hand, "The force of voluntary suffering and of patience, the force of endurance, tends to annihilate the evil by accepting and dissolving it in love, absorbing its sorrow in the soul in the shape of resignation. There it stays, and goes no further. And thus the force that strikes and is necessary and, if it be just, stops the expansion of evil and limits and contracts but is unable to extinguish it, has in its own nature less strength and perfection than the force that endures and that, in the case where it is informed by Charity, is of its own strength capable of extinguishing as it arises the evil that free agents unnecessarily introduce into the world. It is evidently of its own nature a more effective instrument of redemption."

So by absorbing the sorrow of violence into our own souls we become effective instruments of redemption, receiving into our own bodies the marks of violence, thereby extinguishing the evils of war. The symbol of this force that endures is the cross, and this type of courage is exemplified in the highest degree in the martyrs, such as Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, who endured beheading rather than serve those who waged war unjustly.

In our next blog posting, we will take up the question of what the body of this Christian resistance might look like.

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