Praying for peace

The Russian armed forces’ invasion of the Donbas last February has ushered in a troubling global scenario which threatens nuclear conflagration. It therefore comes as no surprise that prayers for peace are being raised almost everywhere, from the pope down to parishes, groups and individuals. Of course, it is right to pray for peace. But with a few distinctions.

First, what is peace? Peace is not the absence of war. To cease fire or to lay down arms is not the same as attaining peace. Peace, St Augustine says in The City of God, is “the tranquility of order” (De civitate Dei, 19, 13). “Outside the realm of order, restlessness reigns; within order there is rest.” And since there is a threefold order in man — as to self, God and neighbour — it can be said that there are three forms of peace: inner peace, peace with God and peace with one’s neighbour.

In his Summa, St Thomas develops the Augustinian idea of peace. It is no coincidence that he deals with this in relation to the theological virtue par excellence — which is charity — of which peace is an effect. True peace exists where there is true love of God and neighbour, something which can only come about in the soul in a state of grace. He concludes by stating that “without sanctifying grace, peace is not real but merely apparent” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 29, a. 3, ad 1). 

The theologian Msgr Amato Masnovo (1880–1955) comments:

“From the thomistic thesis that makes charity the proper cause of peace, two consequences immediately arise. Since charity presupposes sanctifying grace, true peace presupposes charity, which presupposes sanctifying grace and therefore the absence of sin. So, where there is social fault, or perhaps more precisely and in more modern terms, where there is fault on the part of the public organisation known as the ‘state’, there cannot be true social peace.

“The second consequence of the thomistic thesis, which makes charity the proper cause of peace, is that peace is not the effect of justice. St Thomas explicitly states that justice is, in relation to peace, only a removens prohibens — that is to say, it removes the obstacles to peace and is therefore a condition of it, but nothing more.”

Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica, no. 4 (30 August 1918), pp. 356–357.

So individual peace is founded on charity, and only the soul in a state of grace, possessing charity, can really enjoy it. Collective peace is founded on the order established by God and can be enjoyed only by the state which, with its laws, promotes, or at least respects, this order.

Praying for peace therefore means praying for the order willed by God to be re-established in individuals and in society. Only in this way can true peace be achieved. No-one could be incapable of seeing that, for this reason, peace cannot be invoked with a rainbow flag in hand, because it is an emblem of incitement to moral disorder, which is the exact opposite of the order willed by God, from which alone comes peace. Nor can peace be invoked in misleading ecumenical and inter-religious meetings, which are an incitement to supernatural disorder, conveying the highly pernicious message that all religions are equal. Still less can one theorise a “universal brotherhood”, as indeterminate as it is chimerical, based on illusory and ephemeral social values, as if peace were the result of human agreements. These initiatives for peace go entirely against the natural and supernatural order established by God. 

There is the desire for peace, but no desire for the means of achieving peace. There are appeals to end the war, but the intention is not to remove its causes with a call to repentance and conversion, to public and private acts of penance and expiation, to due reparation for offences committed against God.

There is the desire for peace, but no desire that Christ, the Prince of peace, should reign over individuals and nations. As long as the cry, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk 19:14), which rang out in Jerusalem on Good Friday two thousand years ago, continues to echo, peace will remain a distant utopia, and prayers for peace may be a praiseworthy human initiative, but will certainly remain powerless to achieve it. The truly Catholic soul instead asks for the peace of Christ,  the peaceful King, the Prince of peace, and the only one who can give true peace based on charity and grace. To the blasphemous cry, “We will not have this man to reign over us”, the truly Catholic soul replies: “Adveniat regnum Christi, adveniat per Mariam.”