Doctrine of the Two Swords
Turning to the Lord
The Resurrection and the Life
The Good Samaritan
The Holy Spirit
Stewards of the
Mysteries of God
The Wrath of the Lamb
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As we prepare to enter into the forty day period of Lent, our attention is drawn to the true nature of God. The Bible tells us that God is love. The beautiful hymn to divine love or charity, which St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, describes the fullness of God's nature as He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
Love is neither sentimental nor simplistic. It involves the fulfilling of our duty towards God and to mankind. It was in order to follow the divine command that Jesus entered into His three year ministry of suffering, rejection, persecution and death. It was in obedience to the Father that He walked the way of the Cross and showed to us the true meaning of divine love. In seeming contrast to the teaching in the New Testament about love, we know that Jesus spoke about "war and rumors of war". The terrible suffering which war brings to the world seems to contradict the words of St. John that God and love are one.
It is helpful at this time as we begin the penitential season of Lent to recognize the trauma of war through which our country and the world has passed during the 20th century. Many people ask the question, "If God is as He claims to be, and the Church presents Him, why does He let conflicts such as these happen?" The old argument of the atheist comes to the fore claiming that either God is impotent and cannot prevent such tragic events from taking place, or He is indifferent and does not care.
We Christians have been given the Word of God in the Bible enabling us to understand these deep mysteries. The truth lies in the revelation that God is love. God has created all things, including mankind, out of His great love. Like an earthly father, He looks down upon His creation with pride and joy and hope for its development. However, we and all of mankind have gone astray and followed the sinful inclinations of our hearts. We do not obey Him, nor do we acknowledge Him, and we tear and rend our fellows. Yet, God out of His divine forbearance allows this to happen. He has infinite patience. He is constantly hoping and waiting for mankind to turn back to Him. Just as a truly loving earthly father would do if his children had abandoned him and turned on one another, He longs, He hopes, He waits for them to recognize their erring ways and to repent.
However, God has not left us alone to our own proclivities. Through His prophets and saints and the great religious figures of the past, He has sent His law into the world. Finally, in the fullness of time, He sent His own son to reveal not just in words only, but in the actions of his life as well, the sacrificial love of God. What Jesus suffered and endured, beginning with his forty day fast in the wilderness and ending three years later with his death upon the Cross, is the revelation of how God takes in upon Himself mankind's sin, hostility, violence and anger, and constantly forgives. Through His resurrection, our Lord revealed the almighty presence of God standing there with His arms open, calling us back to Him. Through the suffering, pain and sorrow which is involved with doing our duty towards God and our fellow man, the true nature of God is revealed and His divine love becomes apparent
It has been the task of the Church ever since to preach that divine love. The gospel of love calls all mankind to turn to God, to accept Him and believe in Him, and to follow the example of Jesus Christ.
The Church can only work by persuasion, by attempting to reform and to reach the minds of men. However, that is not enough for this sinful world. If that were all there were, we would destroy ourselves. God in His mercy has also provided for the existence of another institution to keep the world from self-destruction until the work of preaching the gospel is concluded.
We see this truth expressed in the second book of Thessalonians by St. Paul, who speaks about the existence of lawless mankind and how God has provided a means of dealing with this problem. "The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it, will do so until he (the man of lawlessness) is out of the way." (2 Thessalonians 2:7 RSV) The restraint to evil and lawlessness, which God has provided, is government. Alongside the institution of the Church is the institution of government. It does not have to be a Christian government. Any lawful government is an institution of God to restrain lawless and evil mankind. Fuller teaching by St. Paul in this subject is found in the Book of Romans.
In Christian theology this teaching is called the doctrine of the two swords. It is grounded in the Bible and taught by all the major theologians up until the present time. Mankind is approached by God through the preaching and teaching of the Church in order to be persuaded to change voluntarily our ways and our minds. This is the sword of the Spirit wielded by the Church. If we do not respond, if we persist in lawlessness, the sword wielded by the government comes into our lives and we are forcibly restrained from our evil ways.
The responsibility to restrain evil is what gives the authority to the police, for instance, to use deadly force in the apprehension of criminals. It gives authority to the courts to incarcerate individuals who by their lawless lives are a threat to the community. It is the authority behind the use of the death penalty for those whom no amount of incarceration will restrain. It is the basis for the right of nations to engage in warfare to restrain evil and lawlessness on an international level.
Since neither the Church nor government is perfect, they both need to exist under the standard of performance that God has provided for them. The standard for the Church is the Word of God- the Bible. Whenever the Church departs from the Word of God it needs to be challenged and reformed according to the revelation that we have received.
The standard for government to follow is that of justice. Whenever a government departs from justice, it needs to be called to account and corrected. When it is functioning according to the standards of justice, it is truly the instrument of God to restrain the destructive nature of mankind in society and in the world at large.
There are times when nations must band together and wage war as a means to restrain the evil and destructive inclinations of a national force out of control. This was the justification behind the union of the allies in World War II. A nation led by a lawless man had gotten completely out of control and through its depredations against its neighbors had created a situation disrupting the peace of the whole world.
There were some at that time who could not accept the use of armed force to restrain this lawless man. They were called Christian pacifists and claimed to be following the teachings of the Bible. They did not understand the full teachings of the Bible. Pacifism is not taught by the Bible as a way that Christians are meant to live in the world. Pacifists were wrong then and they are wrong now.
In order to guide us, we can look to the Bible and Christian doctrine to learn what the standards are for what is called a just war. You may have heard on occasion both our President and our Secretary of State using the term-a just war. This term is not just plucked out of the air. It has a long history in Christian thinking and practice.
Growing out of St. Paul's statements, the doctrine of a just war was first developed by St. Augustine in the 5th century and later expanded by St. Thomas Aquinas. There are seven requirements for a just war. You will be able to see how each one of these requirements were paralleled by efforts undertaken by the Allied governments in the 20th century in their quest to bring the world back to a greater harmony and peace. First, the cause must be just. For instance, a war has a just cause if a nation responds to an attack. Self-defense is a just cause. Going to the aid of a weaker nation that has been wantonly attacked and destroyed is a just cause. Second, the war must be made by lawful authority. Lawful authority includes lawful governments and leagues of lawful governments. Third, the intention of the governments declaring war must be just. War cannot be a ruse for personal aggrandizement. Fourth, war must be the only possible means of securing justice. All other efforts must be tried-diplomatic, economic, and political-before war can be engaged in. Fifth, only right means must be used in the war. The Geneva and Hague Conventions are examples of the efforts to outlaw the use of certain weapons and certain practices during the war. Sixth, there must be reasonable hope of victory. To enter into war as an act of national suicide is not considered to be a proper course of action. Finally, the good to be achieved must outweigh the evil effects. A war that would totally decimate a large portion of the earth would not be a just war. A war conducted under controlled means after which a just and peaceful society may be restored is within the canons of a just war.
These seven requirements make up the standards of a just war. They grow out of 2,000 years of Christian tradition. Although war is a terrible thing, filled with pain and suffering and sorrow, it is at times a necessary means of fulfilling God's will. In the same way that the ministers of the Church who are preaching God's Word are the representatives of God in the bringing of the world to repentance and faith, those who serve in the governments of the world in the police forces, the judicial forces and the armed forces, are ministers of God in restraining evil and bringing about peace and justice. In so doing they are following the highest standards of love.
The handmaid of love is duty. Love is never expressed without in some way doing our duty. Love in one's family involves fulfilling our duty towards one's spouse and children. Love in our work involves, doing our duty towards our co-workers, our employer, and our employees. Love in governmental affairs, both nationally and internationally, consists primarily and completely in doing our duty. In so doing, we identify ourselves with our Lord Jesus Christ, who obeyed the commandment of His heavenly Father to bear the cross, to die and rise again so that all mankind might receive salvation.
The truest meaning of love which our Lord taught us is contained in His words, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 RSV) In the spirit of sacrificial love we pray for harmony and understanding among the nations of the world. We pray for God's protection of the members of our armed forces. We pray for our enemies that they my have repentance and better minds. And we pray for the coming of justice and peace to this troubled earth.
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