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The Pilgrim Church & Ummat al-Islam

TWO VISIONS OF PEACE & COMMUNITY

By Heather M. Erb | November 2013
Heather M. Erb is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. She has extensive teaching experience in philosophy and religious studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels at several universities, including Fordham, Penn State, University of Toronto, and St. Francis University. Her articles have appeared in such periodicals as Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and Verbum (Hungary), and in Catholic University of America Press, Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and American Maritain Association collections.

The notion of war, like that of community, requires as its context a doctrine of peace. Although found in many forms, in the individual person this doctrine has been viewed in classical Christian thought as a certain interior serenity secured by the virtues and self-discipline, which radiates the love of God to one’s neighbor. The social or secular peace of the world is seen as an incomplete imitation of a third kind of peace — namely, celestial peace, the peace of Heaven where souls enjoy full communion with God. Despite Christianity’s traditional focus on the attainment of spiritual peace and the heavenly concord present in the Godhead itself, as early as the time of Constantine onward earthly political peace has also been seen as a legitimate natural arrangement with its own principles, grounded in the intrinsic good of human nature.

For Christian thinkers from St. Augustine onward, peace is viewed as the “tranquility of order” (tranquilitas ordinis) across the divisions of being itself — viz., within the person (body and soul, and among the soul’s divisions), the family, society, the cosmos, the Church, and among the blessed in Heaven. The main sources from which the various senses of Christian peace have emerged are (1) the patristic/Augustinian idea of inner harmony, (2) the classical idea of cosmic concord as universal order guided by Providence (e.g., Boethius), and (3) the biblically inspired monastic concept of rest as union with God through contemplation. By the Middle Ages the ideal of monastic peace reflected man’s intense yearning for eternal repose in God, culminating in the feast of the heavenly city.

From the perspective of Christian traditions of peace, war is seen as the confusion and disruption of order, an extension of the internal disorder within the human soul, created by false loves such as the lust for power, greed, and fame. The “eternal Sabbath” rest subsists in our true homeland, forming the horizon of imperfect earthly peace.

In Islam, peace (salaam) is also a reflection of right order, and is embodied in the transcultural Islamic term of community, Umma, derived from Umm, meaning “mother.” Umma is understood as extending beyond a geographical territory to designate unity in faith and creed. In this way, membership in the Muslim community of belief and practice is seen to establish harmonious order of the community of Allah, in a spiritual continuity across cultural and political domains. The adoption of Islamic law as the source of enlightenment and guidance reflects the ideal for implementing Umma and for transforming hearts to universal obedience and brotherhood. Sakinah (“tranquility,” “peace”) is a more spiritual concept, referring to the peace of God sent to the hearts of Muslims (Qur’an 48.4) and to interior spiritual illumination in Sufi mysticism, but not — as in Catholic mysticism — to the indwelling of the Divine Presence.

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