Dorothy Day's Pacifism

Perhaps we are operating under different definitions of pacifism. If by “pacifism” you mean the attitude that war is evil and we should do everything we can to avoid it, I agree with that provided one thing is conceded: the use of arms to defend yourself against an unjust aggressor is legitimate when no other option is able to secure your rights.

I think the passages you quoted fit into that attitude, don’t you? But how do you explain passages like these:

“[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.” Revelation 19:11

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2:8

“[There is] a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:8

“But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” Luke 22:36

If just war is impossible, how do you reconcile these passages with the ones you quoted?

I like what she wrote in US Catholic Worker Newspaper in a
column in 1945! She was WELL AHEAD of her time.
She wrote against Social security then coming out in
Great Britain and called it compulsory
taxation for the poor and sop thrown to the proletariat!

Weller2 posted this link the other day and I saved it:

archive.lewrockwell.com/orig6/zabelka1.html

It’s a beautiful, poignant article, and well worth everyone’s time to read. One thing I know for certain is this, Dorothy Day would have been drawn to this article like a moth to a flame.

Dead on… Don’t forget turn the other cheek

Dorothy Day rejected the communism of her youth and adopted in its place a strong and unambiguous Christian Personalism of Emmanuel Mounier and the Christian Humanism of Jacques Maritain. The Catholic Worker communities of today still shine brightly with this personalism.

Charles White
On Christian Community and the Catholic Worker Movement

Dorothy Day is a modern Catholic hero, and an inspiration.

As far as the problem of pacifism, I think that it is quite possible to be a pacifist and be a Catholic. It of course depends on what one understands by the term “pacifism.” Just war theory is just that: a theory. It’s dimensions and criteria are validly debated and analyzed by all manner of philosophers and statesmen.

In this sense, I think it’s similar to the death penalty. The Church instructs us that there are times when the death penalty may be properly executed (no pun intended…well, yes, maybe it was). The Church also instructs us that a just war may be properly waged.

But when? Dorothy Day, like many of us in our view of capital punishment, seemed to accept that just war is possible…in theory. But in practice? Almost never.

Theologians have laid down conditions for a just war (Monsignor Barry O’Toole is writing on these conditions in the last eight issues), and many modern writers, clerical and lay, hold that these conditions are impossible of fulfillment in these present times of bombardment of civilians, open cities, the use of poison gas, etc. Fr. Stratmann, in his book, The Church and War, speaks of how “many fervent Catholics are awaiting a moral definition about war, for a decisive word as to its immorality…That the Church should forbid war belongs to those things of which our Lord says: ‘I have many things to say unto you but you cannot hear them now’.” And how agonizingly true is it when we consider the millions in Europe and China defending with their lives and at untold suffering, believing it the only way their country, their families, their institution and their Faith.

:shrug: Take it for what you will.

Christians are pacifists by definition. I don’t believe anyone who is not a pacifist has the right to call themselves Christian. The most they can claim is that they’re trying to be Christian. The Just War theory is the greatest failing of the Catholic Church, but thankfully not all Catholics subscribe to it. This is not an argument that is possible to win, however. Christianity is all about having a change of heart. This rebirth happens through prayer and grace, as well as through reflection upon Christ’s parables in the Gospels. An actual, true, real life Christian doesn’t slaughter his enemies, but instead returns good for evil.

Does that mean Jesus and St. Paul taught a false Christianity? Where are you getting your “true Christianity” from since Jesus and St. Paul were anti-pacifist?

“[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.” Revelation 19:11

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2:8

“[There is] a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:8

“But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” Luke 22:36

Are you saying that Jesus is the Prince of War? That would certainly contradict the truth, that Our Lord is the Prince of Peace! “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He said, “For they shall see God.” The Catechism tells us outright in 2308: “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” And then come the exceptions, basically, the theory of a just war. Focusing on the Scripture you quoted above would give the impression that ours is a blood-thirsty faith, when just the opposite is true. Certainly the verses you quoted apply to spiritual warfare, the battle of good versus evil which takes place within each one of us, and are not meant to justify unwarranted aggression against our fellow man.

The pacifism of Dorothy went above and beyond what the Church requires, but it is certainly allowed. Again, from the Catechism 2311: “Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms.” Dorothy Day followed her conscience, as allowed by the Church. You can disagree with her, but you cannot fault her for doing so.

Do you have a good reason for saying Christ wasn’t a pacifist?

I didn’t fault her, if you read earlier in this thread I defended her version of pacifism. But, if I understand the Church’s teaching correctly, there is also a heretical version of pacifism which says that it is never just to wage war. (Dorothy Day, from what I can see, never defended that idea of pacifism, but in fact taught against it.)

It appears to me from Scripture and Tradition that Jesus will wage war and slaughter His enemies, and St. Paul seems to say that the State may do so under the right conditions. Therefore, unless I’ve misunderstood something, it is a heresy to say that it is impossible to wage war justly. The Church has, I think, condemned the heresy of pacifism understood in the sense that the State has no right to armed defense. But it also defends pacifism understood as the belief that aggressive warfare is intrinsically evil.

Do you understand these matters differently, or does that about sum it up for you as well?

Yes: If I understand the Bible correctly, it teaches that He will wage war and slay His enemies, and He is literally the Author of a Book which, if I understand it correctly, says that waging war is sometimes okay, sometimes even a responsibility. That is anti-pacifist.

Also, it is my understanding that pacifism is a condemned heresy. Therefore, unless I’ve misunderstood the Church’s teachings, if Jesus was a pacifist, then He was a heretic.

We are perhaps like the blind men touching one part of the elephant and describing what we see. I see that peace is the greater good, and I am able to show how Our Lord and the Church supports this. You seem intent on making provision for war, and the Church does indeed make such an allowance. What Our Lord does at the end of the world does not seem to me to be an admonition we should (or could) follow. It is, I suppose, a matter of emphasis.

I wonder about your claim that pacifism is heresy. In the 1991 OSV Catholic Encyclopedia, Fr. Peter Stravinskas (and he is no liberal or heretic) defines pacifism as “A modern doctrine which holds that war in all of its forms is immoral and contrary to the standards of humanity and decency, and that it is also contrary to the dictates of the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:39. Pacifism rejects the claim that there can be a “just war,” particularly in modern times because of the destructiveness of modern weapons; it also rejects the possibility of there being a just war in these times. It holds war to be immoral because it cannot be conducted without an evil heart and will.” No mention of heresy, and Fr. Stravinskas is never coy about such things. Pacifism and the Just War Theory do indeed coexist, but pacifism is a legitimate option.

news.nationalpost.com/2014/08/13/pope-francis-signals-support-for-iraq-military-action-to-protect-christians-from-brutal-islamic-jihadists/

I think that is a pretty fair assessment, with one possible exception: I also think peace is a greater good than war, and I am confident that all just war theologians do the same.

What Our Lord does at the end of the world does not seem to me to be an admonition we should (or could) follow. It is, I suppose, a matter of emphasis.

Perhaps. I quoted it for several reasons. One is to show that Scripture uses the image of Jesus as a warrior, which doesn’t seem to fit with the image that pacifists have of Him.

Another reason I quoted it is because I think the warfare He wages in Revelation fits with the Crusading/Just War tradition: the Antichrist is persecuting the Church, and Jesus rides in with the host of heaven to liberate the Church. Thus, I think we can use those passages to illuminate the Just War doctrine.

Third, I think the Church has used the passages of Revelation in the past to call people to just war. I think first of the papal response to the persecution by Emperor Frederick II. The pope quoted the imagery of the Antichrist in a letter about the Emperor and then called a Crusade against him.

None of this seems to fit with pacifism.

I wonder about your claim that pacifism is heresy.

The Catechism says that the State sometimes has a responsibility to violate pacifist ideals:

CCC 2265 - “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.”

And: “The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.” (Same paragraph.)

Also: CCC 2310 - “Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.”

And: “Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.” (same paragraph)

All of these paragraphs seem to teach that there is at least sometimes a duty to use arms for the sake of legitimate defense. That seems to contradict pacifism. Therefore, if I’ve understood these things correctly, pacifism contradicts Church teaching, at least among pacifists who say that armed defense is unjust. I recognize that there are pacifists who don’t go that far, and I have no problem with them.

I think other Church documents contradict pacifism as well. The 9th through 14th Ecumenical Councils called for Crusades, for example. I can’t imagine a pacifist supporting a Crusade. The Bull Quia Maior, which proclaimed the Fifth Crusade, even told the kings of Europe: “[H]ow can a man be said to love his neighbor as himself, in obedience to God’s command, when, knowing that his brothers, who are Christians in faith and in name, are held in the hands of the perfidious Saracens in dire imprisonment and are weighed down by the yoke of most heavy slavery, he does not do something effective to liberate them, thereby transgressing the command of [the] natural law?]” source The Papal bull Exsurge Domine appears to condemn two pacifist principles in paragraphs 33 and 34: 33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

  1. To go to war against the Turks is to resist God who punishes our iniquities through them. Since these principles are condemned by Exsurge Domine, it seems to follow that the death penalty for heretics is, in at least some cases, not against the will of the Holy Spirit, and war against “the Turks” is, in at least some cases, not contrary to God.

All this leads me to conclude that Pacifism is contrary to the teaching of the Church, and that is why I think it is a heresy. (But not the pacifism of Dorothy Day. That made allowance for just wars at least in theory.)

**Pope Francis calls for urgent military action to stop the ‘systematic violence’ against minorities in Iraq
**

Pope Francis has backed international military intervention to protect Christians driven from their homes by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.

The pope, who is visiting Korea this week, has written to the United Nations in an ‘urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway’.

This marks a departure from last year when he spoke against intervention in Syria saying ‘You cannot end violence with violence’.

dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2725880/Pope-Francis-calls-urgent-military-action-stop-systematic-violence-against-minorities-Iraq.html#ixzz3AUAYP8FP

Well…so much for Pacifism. Let’s reinstate the Knights Templar and begin another Holy Crusade. :thumbsup:

I don’t think the latest calls for military action, which are by several Vatican officials and other high-ranking bishops, contradict the statement “You cannot end violence by violence.” I don’t think the use of force in defense of yourself or others always counts as violence. At least, I don’t think that’s the way the Church uses the word violence.

It seems to me that the crux of your argument (edited to save space), is that it would be wrong for me to insist that you must be a pacifist. In this case, I agree. However, it would be just as wrong for you to insist that I must not be a pacifist, or if I was, to label me a heretic, you not knowing the circumstances of my life (such as my level of responsibility for others), and for the clear reason that the Church makes provisions for pacifism (CCC # 2311).

Me or other people, especially those in positions of authority.

In this case, I agree. However, it would be just as wrong for you to insist that I must not be a pacifist, or if I was, to label me a heretic, you not knowing the circumstances of my life (such as my level of responsibility for others), and for the clear reason that the Church makes provisions for pacifism (CCC # 2311).

I can’t call you a heretic for having conscientious objections to any particular war, and I wouldn’t want to call you a heretic even if I could. But from the authorities I quoted earlier, it appears to me that if anyone says that any use of arms or force is inherently immoral, that kind of pacifism contradicts the Church’s teachings, and is therefore a heresy. Do you see why I come to that conclusion?

:slight_smile:

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