By Robert Hugh Benson
Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.--MATT. V. 9.
Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace but the sword.--MATT. X. 34.
We have considered how the key to the Paradoxes of the Gospel and the key to the Paradoxes of Catholicism is one and the same—that the Life that produces them is at once Divine and Human. Let us go on to consider how this resolves those of Catholicism, especially those charged against us by our adversaries.
For we live in a day when Catholicism is no longer considered by intelligent men to be too evidently absurd to be argued with. Definite reasons are given by those who stand outside our borders for the attitude they maintain; definite accusations are made which must either be allowed or refuted.
Now those who stand without the walls of the City of Peace know nothing, it is true, of the life that its citizens lead within, nothing of the harmony and consolation that Catholicism alone can give. Yet of certain points, it may be, in the large outlines of that city against the sky, of the place it occupies in the world, of its wide effect upon human life in general, it may very well be that these detached observers may know more than the devout who dwell at peace within. Let us, then, consider their reflections not necessarily as wholly false; it may be that they have caught glimpses which we have missed and relations which either we take too much for granted or have failed altogether to see. It may be that these accusations will turn out to be our credentials in disguise.
I. Every world-religion, we are told, worthy of the name has as its principal object and its chief claim to consideration its establishing or its fostering of peace among men. Supremely this was so in the first days of Christianity. It was this that its great prophet predicted of its work when its Divine Founder should come on earth. Nature shall recover its lost harmony and the dissensions of men shall cease when He, the Prince of Peace, shall approach. The very beasts shall lie down together in amity, the lion and the lamb and the leopard and the kid. Further, it was the Message of Peace that the angels proclaimed over His cradle in Bethlehem; it was the Gift of Peace which He Himself promised to His disciples; it was the Peace of God which passeth knowledge to which the great Apostle commended his converts. This then, we are told, is of the very essence of Christianity; this is the supreme benediction on the peacemakers that they shall be called the children of God.
Yet, when we turn to Catholicism, we are bidden to see in it not a gatherer but a scatterer, not the daughter of peace but the mother of disunion. Is there a single tormented country in Europe to-day, it is rhetorically demanded, that does not owe at least part of its misery to the claims of Catholicism? What is it but Catholicism that lies at the heart of the divided allegiance of France, of the miseries of Portugal, and of the dissensions of Italy? Look back through history and you will find the same tale everywhere. What was it that disturbed the politics of England so often from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, and tore her in two in the sixteenth, but the determined resistance of an adolescent nation to the tyranny of Rome? What lay behind the religious wars of Europe, behind the fires of Smithfield, the rack of Elizabeth, and the blood of St. Bartholomew’s Day but this intolerant and intolerable religion which would come to no terms even with the most reasonable of its adversaries? It is impossible, of course, altogether to apportion blame, to say that in each several instance it was the Catholic that was the aggressor; but at least it is true to say that it was Catholic principles that were the occasion and Catholic claims the unhappy cause of all this incalculable flood of human misery.
How singularly unlike, then, we are told, is this religion of dissension to the religion of Jesus Christ, of all these dogmatic and disciplinary claims and assertions to the meekness of the Poor Man of Nazareth! If true Christianity is anywhere in the world to-day it is not among such as these that it lies hid; rather it must be sought among the gentle humanitarians of our own and every country—men who strive for peace at all cost, men whose principal virtues are those of toleration and charity, men who, if any, have earned the beatitude of being called the children of God.
II. We turn to the Life of Jesus Christ from the Life of Catholicism, and at first indeed it does seem as if the contrast were justified. We cannot deny our critic’s charges; every one of his historical assertions is true: it is indeed true that Catholicism has been the occasion of more bloodshedding than has any of the ambitions or jealousies of man.
And it is, further, true that Jesus Christ pronounced this benediction; that He bade His followers seek after peace, and that He commended them, in the very climax of His exaltation, to the Peace which He alone could bestow.
Yet, when we look closer, the case is not so simple. For, first, what was, as a matter of fact, the direct immediate effect of the Life and Personality of Jesus Christ upon the society in which He lived but this very dissension, this very bloodshedding and misery that are charged against His Church? It was precisely on this account that He was given into the hands of Pilate. He stirreth up the people. He makes Himself a King. He is a contentious demagogue, a disloyal citizen, a danger to the Roman Peace.
And indeed there seem to have been excuses for these charges. It was not the language of a modern “humanitarian,” of the modern tolerant “Christian,” that fell from the Divine Lips of Jesus Christ. Go and tell that fox, He cries of the ruler of His people. O you whited sepulchres full of dead men’s bones! You vipers! You hypocrites! This is the language He uses to the representatives of Israel’s religion. Is this the kind of talk that we hear from modern leaders of religious thought? Would such language as this be tolerated for a moment from the humanitarian Christian pulpits of to-day? Is it possible to imagine more inflammatory speech, more “unchristian sentiments,” as they would be called to-day, than those words uttered by none other but the Divine Founder of Christianity? What of that amazing scene when He threw the furniture about the temple courts?
And as for the effect of such words and methods, our Lord Himself is quite explicit. “Make no mistake,” He cries to the modern humanitarian who claims alone to represent Him. “Make no mistake. I am not come to bring peace at any price; there are worse things than war and bloodshed. I am come to bring not peace but a sword. I am come to divide families, not to unite them; to rend kingdoms, not to knit them up; I am come to set mother against daughter and daughter against mother; I am come not to establish universal toleration, but universal Truth.”
What, then, is the reconciliation of the Paradox? In what sense can it be possible that the effect of the Personality of the Prince of Peace, and therefore the effect of His Church, in spite of their claims to be the friends of peace, should be not peace, but the sword?
III. Now (1) the Catholic Church is a Human Society. She is constituted, that is to say, of human beings; she depends, humanly speaking, upon human circumstances; she can be assaulted, weakened, and disarmed by human enemies. She dwells in the midst of human society, and it is with human society that she has to deal.
Now if she were not human—if she were merely a Divine Society, a far-off city in the heavens, a future distant ideal to which human society is approximating, there would be no conflict at all. She would never meet in a face-to-face shock the passions and antagonisms of men; she could suppress, now and again, her Counsels of Perfection, her calls to a higher life, if it were not that these are vital and present principles which she is bound to propagate among men.
And again, if she were merely human, there would be no conflict. If she were merely ascended from below, merely the result of the finest religious thought of the world, the high-water mark of spiritual attainment, again she could compromise, could suppress, could be silent.
But she is both human and divine, and therefore her warfare is certain and inevitable. For she dwells in the midst of the kingdoms of this world, and these are constituted, at any rate at the present day, on wholly human bases. Statesmen and kings, at the present day, do not found their policies upon supernatural considerations; their object is to govern their subjects, to promote the peace and union of their subjects, to make war, if need be, on behalf of the peace of their subjects, wholly on natural grounds. Commerce, finance, agriculture, education in the things of this world, science, art, exploration—human activities generally—these, in their purely natural aspect, are the objects of nearly all modern statesmanship. Our rulers are professedly, in their public capacity, neither for religion nor against it; religion is a private matter for the individual, and governments stand aside—or at any rate profess to do so.
And it is in this kind of world, in this fashion of human society, that the Catholic Church, in virtue of her humanity, is bound to dwell. She too is a kingdom, though not of this world, yet in it.
(2) For she is also Divine. Her message contains, that is to say, a number of supernatural principles revealed to her by God; she is supernaturally constituted; she rests on a supernatural basis; she is not organized as if this world were all. On the contrary she puts the kingdom of God definitely first and the kingdoms of the world definitely second; the Peace of God first and the harmony of men second.
Therefore she is bound, when her supernatural principles clash with human natural principles, to be the occasion of disunion. Her marriage laws, as a single example, are at conflict with the marriage laws of the majority of modern States. It is of no use to tell her to modify these principles; it would be to tell her to cease to be supernatural, to cease to be herself. How can she modify what she believes to be her Divine Message?
Again, since she is organized on a supernatural basis, there are supernatural elements in her own constitution which she can no more modify than her dogmas. Recently, in France, she was offered the kingdom of this world if she would do so; it was proposed to her that she actually retain her own wealth, her churches and her houses, and yield up her principle of spiritual appeal to the Vicar of Christ. If she had been but human, how evident would have been her duty! How inevitable that she should modify her constitution in accordance with human ideas and preserve her property intact! And how entirely impossible such a bargain must be for a Society that is divine as well as human!
Take courage then! We desire peace above all things—that is to say, the Peace of God, not that peace which the world, since it can give it, can also take away; not that peace which depends on the harmony of nature with nature, but of nature with grace.
Yet, so long as the world is divided in allegiance; so long as the world, or a country, or a family, or even an individual soul bases itself upon natural principles divorced from divine, so long to that world, that country, that family, and that human heart will the supernatural religion of Catholicism bring not peace, but a sword. And it will do so to the end, up to the final world-shattering catastrophe of Armageddon itself.
“I come,” cries the Rider on the White Horse, “to bring Peace indeed, but a peace of which the world cannot even dream; a peace built upon the eternal foundations of God Himself, not upon the shifting sands of human agreement. And until that Vision dawns there must be war; until God’s Peace descends indeed and is accepted, till then My Garments must be splashed in blood and from My Mouth comes forth not peace, but a two-edged sword.”