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Nonviolent orthopraxis

Among Catholics eager to stop and prevent war, matters can quickly become theoretical. The church, after all, generally teaches some form of just war theory, which allows for the possibility that war might be necessary and even right under certain circumstances. But in my interview with Andrea Bartoli of the Catholic lay organization Sant’Egidio, published today at The Immanent Frame, he suggests that the theoretical question has gotten more attention than it deserves. The gospel preaches peacemaking, and Christians should be hearing—and acting on—that call first and foremost. Practice matters more than theories.

NS: Since Augustine, Catholic tradition has upheld just war theory. Does Sant’Egidio see itself, like the Catholic Worker movement in the United States, as a challenge to that tradition? Or does its approach to peacebuilding fit within the just war framework?

AB: Augustine discusses peace about 2,500 times and war a couple of dozen. Everybody discusses what Augustine said about just war, but they usually fail to recognize that he speaks about just peace much more. Sant’Egidio focuses on the parts of Augustine that focus on peace. War is a possibility. War is a human choice. But from our perspective, the Christian position cannot be but a peaceful one, both in terms of being peaceful ourselves and in terms of being peacemakers. We don’t begin with theories. We work for peace because, to the poor, war is the worst of all conditions—Andrea Riccardi called it “the mother of all poverty.” Rather than holding a theoretical argument in favor of, or against, war, we need to be bound to practice. We’re more concerned with orthopraxis than orthodoxy. We want to be orthodox, but we have an even greater desire to actually practice the gospel.

Read more about Sant’Egidio’s remarkable work in our  full interview at The Immanent Frame.