About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Monday, September 25, 2006

De Vita Humana

"Students, faculty protest weapons" declares the front-page headline of today's Heights, while inside, the Editorial Board proclaims that "Peaceful protest makes clear point." These reference, of course, what has become a tradition at Boston College: the protest of aerospace and military contractors like Raytheon and BAE Systems by the Global Justice Project at Boston College's annual Career Fair. This is the third year that the GJP has organized to protest the presence of such firms at Boston College, citing a conflict with the university's Jesuit mission of promoting peace and social justice. In 2004 and 2005, the protestors were met with resistance from the university. This year, the university allowed the protest to go forward owing to the presence among the protestors of several faculty and Jesuits.

Another "protest" that has become a regular part of Boston College life is the biweekly Boston College Pro-Life Prayer Vigil on the Dustbowl, which consists of several students praying a decade of the rosary in watch for the lives of the innocent unborn. Have these prayer vigils been covered by The Heights? No. Has the Editorial Board ever recognized these prayer vigils for being peaceful? No. Has the GJP ever recognized these prayer vigils as coinciding with the university's Jesut mission of promoting peace and social justice? No.

In fact, the GJP has long supported pro-choice movements on campus, like the Women's Health Initiative, a group not recognized by the university, that attempted to hold events promoting "dialogue" (to which pro-life representatives were not invited) last year. That the pro-choice stance is counter to the Catholic values of Boston College doesn't seem to have entered their logic patterns, though they were quick to denounce the bestowal of an honorary degree last May on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being counter to those same values.

Some of you may remember that I wrote an article in The Heights two years ago criticizing the first of these protests at the Career Fair. I have been recently reflecting, however, on the nature of the call to protect all human life. For me, that call the past few years has expressed itself in being Pro-Life, i.e. being against abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and infanticide. My socially just passions cried out for the innocent, born and unborn; for the infirm (and increasingly disrespected) elderly; and for the souls of men who had sinned, for though we may punish them on earth, the punishment of death is reserved to God.

But that passion has cried out for more. I distinctly remember sitting on the couch the summer before last watching the nightly news: the lead story was about the famine in Niger; it was followed by an Israeli soldier who blew himself up on a bus in Gaza; after the first commercial came the reports (daily then as now) of more deaths, both American and Iraqi, in Iraq. By the end of it, I was reduced to tears: what possible reason could we have to continue to inflict such violence against each other, or to neglect the poorest of the world?

Today, while praying before Mass, the thoughts began to coalesce in my mind and in my heart: if I am pro-life, then I am for all Life. As I cannot countenance the destruction of a life in the womb, neither can I countenance the taking of an innocent human life by other means, whether it be by neglect (e.g. most of Africa) or by "collateral damage" (e.g. the continual conflicts in the Middle East). Furthermore, I have a responsibility not only not to countenance it, but to actively oppose it.

Yet, I have started to feel that my responsibility goes even further. As I researched the origins of the First Crusade and of the idea of crusading this summer for my Mediaeval History course in Germany, I naturally had to read much concerning the development of the theories of "just" and "holy" war.

The theology of war has its origin in the works of St. Augustine. He enunciated three criteria that define a “just” war: auctoritas principi, i.e. that the warring party must have the authority to declare and carry out war; the causa iusta, i.e. that the war must have a just cause and be carried out to right an injustice; and the intentio recta, i.e. that one must carry out the war with a just intention so that there are no ulterior motives and there is no other way through which the injustice can be righted. It is important to note that the end goal of a just war should be the establishment of peace.

It is, however, equally important to note that, according to Augustine and almost every other Christian theologian into the 11th century, war only originates from evil and is itself always evil. Even when the war is just, it is yet a sin to kill somebody. Further still, many doubted even the idea of a just war; in the middle of the 11th century, Peter Cardinal Damiani said, “In no case should one arm himself for the defense of the Church; still less should one rage in war among men over worldly goods.”

Under the reform popes of the 11th century, this idea changed. When in 1053 Pope Leo IX led an army against the Normans in southern Italy, the idea first appeared that men could engage in combat in defense of the Church. Later, under Alexander II, several secular rulers fought under the vexillum sancti Petri, the banner of St. Peter, e.g. Duke William of Normandy in England in 1066. Yet, even though he fought under papal authority, after the battle, every one of William’s soldiers had to go to confession and receive absolution for the sin of murder.

Under Pope Gregory VII, however, appeared two evolutions in the theology of war without which the Crusades would not have been possible. First, Gregory morphed the meaning of the terms militia Christi, “the soldiery of Christ,” and milites Christi, “the soldiers of Christ.” These are ancient terms that appear at least as early as the letters of St. Paul, but previously they had always denoted the spiritual battle of the martyrs and monks: the exact opposite of worldly warfare. Now, however, Gregory spoke of a worldly aspect of the militia Christi: the defense of the Church through the now just arms of her secular faithful. Second, he began to speak of the so-called soldier-saints, e.g. St. Maurice, St. Sebastian, St. Gregory, or St. Martin, as no longer holy despite being warriors but as holy because they were warriors. Therefore, a man who receives absolution before battle, kills men during the battle in defense of the Church, and then dies himself, dies not a sinner but a martyr. Essentially, it was not longer a sin to kill enemies of the Church.

All of this is to say, then, that while doing this research, it occurred to me that maybe those early theologians were on to something. Maybe it is a sin to kill a man, even in a just war. Maybe the GJP people are right when they tell me that I always seem to speak the Ten Commandments but never the Beatitudes. Maybe I do need to wake up and listen to some of the words that Christ has taught us: "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God." "Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you." "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." Maybe I ought to have been there with them, silently kneeling and praying at the Career Fair. Maybe I should join them in November when they travel to Georgia to keep watch at the School of the Americas.

At the same time, I recognize that we live in a world full of evil men; I recognize that we are at this very moment locked in a battle with the forces of oppression and tyranny; I recognize that there are extremist Muslim terrorists who would rather destroy the world than let freedom and democracy flourish. I know that this battle will not be won by putting down our guns; I know that these men are so depraved that the language of peace and justice means nothing to them; I know that the call to spread peace in the world is now the call to stand and defend ourselves against the annihilating powers of extremism and terrorism.

But I pray nevertheless that the day may soon come when we will be delivered from these present evils; when we can put down our guns and embrace each other not as men divided by differences of race or creed but as men united in our common humanity; when the Peace of God will reign in our hearts, filled with love for that singly precious gift that He has given us: human life.

1 comment:

Fr. Dcn. John Woolley said...

I think it's a bad idea to use "pro-life" to include opposition to capital punishment (and maybe even the use of military force), for several reasons. For one thing, you weaken opposition to abortion by alienating or excluding (from the "pro-life" camp) the very great number of people who are opposed to abortion but somewhat favour capital punishment. For another, you leave us without a good positive-sounding word to use for opposition to abortion. And for another, you add to the general public confusion about Catholic doctrine on these issues. (The Church opposes abortion, of course, but leaves you perfectly free to believe in capital punishment.)

Then there's the point that to use force, even deadly force, in defense of the innocent may very well be a positive duty, an act of virtue, and not at all a sin. Christianity has always (rather hesitantly) allowed people to be pacifists, but I don't think you could say that pacifism has ever been really encouraged by the Church.