A welcome little text slipped on to the Vatican’s faux-parchment website yesterday — the introduction to a new document by the International Theological Commission that declares, amidst a bevy of reflections on the nature of the Trinity, “the incitement of violence in the name of God as the greatest corruption of religion.” Far more than a negative statement, however, the text begins to articulate a thorough and positive vision for Christian doctrine as a nonviolent ethic:
As Catholic theologians, we then seek to illustrate, on the basis of the truth of Jesus Christ, the relationship between the revelation of God and a non-violent humanism.
The full text is only available in Italian for now, though an English version is forthcoming.
It’s of course nothing new to connect Christianity with nonviolence, or for Christians to denounce violence in the name of God. Recent popes have been persistent critics of war, though in many contexts Catholic leaders have exercised far more political energy in matters of sexual ethics while turning a blind eye to militarism in their midst. (The recent dismissal of WNV Board of Advisors member and peace activist Fr. John Dear from the Jesuit order is only one example.) This new document appears to be highly abstract in tone, and it remains to be seen whether it will affect the priorities of bishops. But it’s a new tool that peace advocates can use to call the Catholic leadership to task.
According to Fr. Drew Christiansen, a professor of ethics at Georgetown University and a veteran of international peace initiatives in the Church, this is a document to be taken seriously. “It does come out with the authorization of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith,” he says, referring to the Vatican’s theological gatekeeper, “and given the international composition of the committee, it may be regarded as a consensus among the world’s theologians.”
Christiansen also sees the document in light of recent statements by Pope Francis who, for instance, recently said that “faith and violence are incompatible.”
“With the increased attention Francis has given to the teaching of the whole Church and to the sensus fidei, I would say it is quite significant.”