Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism, and the Just War Tradition
By Richard B. Miller
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Review Author: Michael W. Hovey
One of the many “collateral effects” of the Persian Gulf War has been a revived debate between pacifists and just war proponents over the merits of their respective positions. This debate will be greatly enriched by Richard Miller’s timely book. Miller takes as his starting point the insight that both pacifist and just war vocabularies begin with a shared presumption against the use of force. He then explores the implications of this “duty of nonmaleficence” — or “intolerance of cruelty and harm, voicing compassion for those who suffer” — and attempts to press the two traditions into a long overdue dialogue with each other.
Miller’s greatest gift to the reader is his even-handed approach. He exposes the problems in each position, always with an eye toward encouraging conversation between partisans.
Miller searchingly examines Augustinian and Thomistic thought on violence and war. He explores the effect of these classical sources on the Catholic tradition as it has developed in the 20th century, especially since Vatican II. How do the demands of Augustine’s tranquillitas ordinis come to bear on those who endure repressive regimes? How does Thomas’s caution about insurrection — based on his hesitation to rupture the bonds of philia (kinship or civic fellowship) — support the pacifist embrace of a “global village” and consequent refusal to kill one’s “kin”?
The vocabulary of the just war tradition, while at times maddeningly elastic, has at least been codified through the efforts of people such as Aquinas, Vitoria, and the U.S. Catholic bishops. Miller correctly notes that the pacifist position has not enjoyed such codification. To his credit, the author proposes to remedy this by “mapping” the contours of Catholic pacifism.
Miller introduces a grid of elements to be used in understanding the moral framework of different expressions of pacifism (e.g., absolute/relative, sectarian/transformationist). He then creates three typologies: rights-based pacifism; eschatological pacifism; and iconoclastic pacifism. In each case the views of well-known proponents are examined and critiqued. The iconoclastic Berrigan brothers come under especially close scrutiny, due to their lack of a “positive vision to replace the America they denounced in quasi-revolutionary terms.”
In an effort to provide a framework for a Catholic tradition of pacifism, Miller links pacifism with civil disobedience. This is the weakest part of the book: One need not “do C.D.” to be a pacifist. The articulation of a Catholic tradition of pacifism remains a worthy, but unfinished, task.
Although recent events have made the issue of the morality of nuclear deterrence (about which just war thinkers themselves disagree) seem dated, Miller’s masterful analysis of Paul Ramsey’s writings and the claims of others who provide a “strictly limited moral acceptance” of nuclear deterrence is most worthwhile. With the imagined precision of a “smart bomb,” Miller locates the inconsistencies in the arguments of David Hollenbach, Michael Walzer, and others, and leaves them, if not in tatters, then with bigger holes than before.
Miller’s book does not answer every question about pacifism and the just war tradition, but it does help raise the right questions.
Catholic Bishops in American Politics
By Timothy A. Byrnes
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Review Author: Aaron W. Godfrey
This compact work explores the changing role of the Catholic bishops in American politics and the bishops’ mixed impact on the Catholic electorate. As Catholics in the last generation have become more prosperous and better educated, the political influence of the hierarchy has become more limited, except perhaps on the abortion issue.
Many lay Catholic prolifers, however, have chosen to ignore the Seamless Garment (consistent ethic of life) propounded by Cardinal Bernardin and most of the bishops. In recent years the bishops’ pastoral letters have raised basic moral issues: The Challenge of Peace seriously questioned U.S. defense policy, and Economic Justice for All urged a “fundamental option for the poor.” Both have largely been ignored by politically conservative Catholics, and both caused great anxiety in the White House. Unfortunately, in the minds of most Americans, the hierarchy is still identified with a single political issue rather than the entire range of prolife concerns.
Byrnes succinctly outlines the historical relationship between the bishops and American politics. For example, response to the nativist riots against Catholics in the 1840s made it expedient for the bishops to become politically protective of their flock. Consequently, for many generations great care was taken that Catholics be closely identified with patriotic causes. As a result, until recently they seemed almost unqualified in their support of American wars and foreign policies.
Of great interest is the author’s outline of the conflict between Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York and Fr. Edward McGlynn, who was a supporter of Henry George in his campaign to become Mayor of New York. George advocated a single real estate tax, which the Archbishop interpreted as socialism, which in the late 19th century seemed opposed to Church teaching. After he tried unsuccessfully to silence McGlynn, Corrigan excommunicated him; but after an appeal, the priest was reinstated by Rome. Nevertheless, the whole affair caused Protestant Americans to worry about Church interference in partisan politics and government, a concern which still surfaces periodically. This concern, of course, was a major factor in the 1928 election, which Al Smith, a Catholic, lost. It was also an issue in the 1960 election of John Kennedy. Vatican II’s welcome “Declaration on Religious Freedom” has surely helped clarify the theological dimension of the ongoing debate.
Byrnes’s book, though slender, is well researched and helps to sort out many of the apparent ambiguities in the political involvement of the hierarchy and in the response of the laity.
The Three Greatest Prayers: Commentaries on the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles' Creed
By St. Thomas Aquinas
Publisher: Sophia Institute Press
Review Author: Paul F. Ford
In the Rule of St. Benedict, “To desire heaven with all the passion of the spirit” is an “instrument of good work.” The “Father of the Monks” gives 72 such “tools” to be borrowed, daily and one at a time, from the monastic tool crib; each is to be returned at night burnished bright from use throughout the day. Of all the tools I used as a Benedictine, this is the one still in best repair.
I first discovered how Benedictine St. Thomas Aquinas is when, in 1978, I was praying the Office of Readings for Saturday in the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time and read his sermon-conference on Article Twelve of the Apostles’ Creed, “Life everlasting. Amen.” I was overwhelmed with Thomas’s desire for heaven and his vision of everlasting life.
That day I set out in search of an edition of these conferences and found the 1956 Newman Press edition of Dominican Fr. Laurence Shapcote’s 1937 translation of which the book under review here is mostly a reprint. I photocopied that edition and made immediate use of it as a catechism in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in my parish. It has been a success with every group in which I have ever used it.
This should be no surprise because Thomas preached these 12 sermons to ordinary people, and ordinary people respond instinctively to the truths behind Chesterton’s analogy of the Creed as a key, the key “that could unlock the prison of the whole world; and let in the white light of liberty.” Reading Thomas on the Creed gives me that exhilaration of delight for having found, among all the keys I carry, the key of life.
I own a shelf full of catechisms, books on the Creed, and introductions to Catholic Christianity, but this is the best loved. It is so clear, so passionate, and so rooted in Scripture. Especially in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, Thomas makes it clear how much we owe to that other passionate preacher, Augustine, and his teaching on prayer. Thomas writes that “prayer is the interpreter of desire” and the “unfolding of one’s will before God.” In the Summa Thomas discusses devotion before he discusses prayer because, according to the tradition he received from Augustine, devotion is prior to prayer, either personal or liturgical. In order to have something to pray about, one must first discover and/or kindle desire by devotion.
How happy I am to welcome this new edition! Thomas’s conferences on the Creed, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary have been carefully edited to highlight the outline within the text itself, because it is clear from the history of these three texts that they are generous outlines and not the full texts themselves.
If you are a catechist, religion teacher, or priest, this book will give you much help as you prepare to hand on the key of life. (And I can stop photocopying this text and put a real book into the hands of my catechumens and students.)
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