|Fr. McGuckin, Norris J. Chumley, during filming of Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer|
Friday, November 11, 2011
Post #68 - What's Just about It?
It should be noted that there is a sizable and respectable thread of Christian thought which considers no war “just.” Fr. John McGuckin is professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Byzantine History at Columbia University, both in New York City. An essay of his which appeared as a chapter in The Church’s Witness to Peace, edited by Fr. K Kyriakose, illuminated this thinking [these are excerpts from his essay]:
Eastern Christianity simply does not approach the issue from the perspective of “Just War,” and endorses no formal doctrine advocating the possibility of a “Just War.”…Its approach is…more complex and nuanced...
Christian reflection in the eastern Church has, I would suggest, been more careful than the West [meaning here primarily Roman Catholic], to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church’s place within history and on the world-stage, and has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of War…because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels.
[It has been] argued that the Church progressively relaxed its earliest blanket hostility to bloodshed and the military profession in general…And yet, no Eastern Christian attitudes to war…have ever borne much relation to classic Hellenistic and Roman war theory…
Origen [of Alexandria]…was pacifist in his attitudes to war and world powers, and was sternly against the notion of the Church advocating its transmission and spread by force of arms.
Basil of Caesarea was a younger contemporary of Eusebius…he emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian movement…eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.
All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here [in Basil] stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the kathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.
[Such church fathers as Basil] offer, instead of an elegant theory, a poor threadbare suggestion of old saints: that War is never justified or justifiable, but is de facto a sign and witness of evil and sin.
When it falls across the threshold of the Church in an unavoidable way, it sometimes becomes our duty (so the old canons say) to take up arms; though when that is the case is to be determined in trepidation by the elect who understand the value of peace and reconciliation, not in self-glorifying battle cries from the voices of the bloodthirsty and foolish. But in no case is the shedding of blood, even against a manifestly wicked foe, ever a “Just Violence.”
The eastern canons…retain that primitive force of Christian experience on that front. It may be the “Violence of the Just” but in that case the hostility will necessarily be ended with the minimal expenditure of force, and be marked in retrospect by the last act of the “violent Just” which will be repentance that finally resolves the untenable paradox. Ambivalent and “occasional” such a theory of War might be: but if it had been followed with fidelity the Church’s hands might have been cleaner than they have been across many centuries; and it might yet do a service on the wider front in helping Western Christianity to dismantle its own “economic” structures of war theory which are so patently in need of radical re-thinking. Perhaps the place to begin, as is usually the case, is here and now: with “Christian America” at the dawn of a new millennium, in which we seem to have learned nothing at all from generations of bitter experience of hostility: except the hubris that international conflicts can be undertaken “safely” now that other super-powers are currently out of commission. Such is the wisdom of the most powerful nation on earth, currently in an illegal state of war which it wishes to disguise even from itself, even as the American military deaths this month exceeded 1000, with a pervasive silence all that it has to offer in relation to all figures of the deaths of those who were not American troops. Such is the wisdom under a leadership that is itself apparently eager to line up for a “righteous struggle” with the “forces of evil,” which so many others in the world outside, have seen as more in the line of a determined dominance of Islamic sensibilities by Super-Power secularism of the crassest order. In such a strange new millennium, perhaps the wisdom of the need to be tentative, finds a new power and authority.