Volume > Issue > Briefly: July-August 1992

July-August 1992

Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism, and the Just War Tradition

By Richard B. Miller

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Pages: 288

Price: $17.95

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

Pages: 177

Price: $19.95

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

Pages: 190

Price: $16.95

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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