Non-resistance/violence and entering the Church


#1

Hello CAF.

The last barrier to my joining the Church (baptism is on Easter Vigil) is non-resistance to evil by force and if it is allowed or not allowed, it opens up many related issues for me but for this thread I only need this answer: can I live by this principle always as a Catholic or is there any situation where it would be a sin for me to not violate it?

It is based off of a certain reading of the command given in Matthew 5:38-42, which is interpreted as “Never resist evil by violence; never return violence for violence. If anyone strikes you, bear it; if anyone takes away what is yours, let him have it; if anyone makes you labor, do so; if anyone wants to have what you consider to be your own, give it up to him,” (from What I Believe by Leo Tolstoy). Whether this way of viewing it is correct or incorrect I am not interested in, yes I am aware of the “context,” the meanings given to it by some of the Fathers, later commentators, etc. I strive to live by this and the other five commands given in this chapter, and will continue to do so.

The reason why some Catholics have told me I will not be allowed to do this (others have said that I am allowed, and can view it this way, and live fine by it without sin) is because obviously it forbids self-defense, working for or in governments, calling the police, condemning on juries, voting, and all manner of violent things (including violent/injurious defense of others). Some say I can live like this, others say I can’t.

Am I bound to live differently at any point in my life under pain of sin, or can I enter without worrying about this?

Thank you for answering.


#2

This is not entirely correct.

It does not “forbid self-defense”. There are plenty of saints who defended themselves or others against violence. St. Francis de Sales fought off, with a sword, thugs who accosted him trying to get him to throw down his rosary. St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother rescued a young girl from a rapist by pulling a gun on the rapist and forcing him to let the girl go. In these situations, the saint determined self-defense or defense of others in an emergency was necessary. It’s not a case where the Catholic person sat down and plotted out a violent resistance or a revolt or something.

It does not forbid “working for or in governments” unless you yourself are directly involved in committing some kind of violence; even then, these involvements are sometimes rationalized by the “just war theory”. Many Catholics work for the US government in some administrative position; several Catholics sit or have sat on the Supreme Court bench (which is “working for the government”, they’re on the government payroll) and millions of Catholics fought for the country in WWI, WWII, and other conflicts. Catholic chaplains who were on the government payroll also went to war to provide sacraments and spiritual counseling.

It does not forbid “calling the police”. I’m not even sure where you’d get that idea. Calling the police is a normal, reasonable thing to do in order to keep the social order. Not to mention that many of the police officers in USA have always been Catholics, including a couple in my own family.

“Condemning on juries”: while it’s questionable whether a Catholic could vote to impose the death penalty, most countries no longer have a death penalty, and even in USA many states don’t have a death penalty, and furthermore if you stated during jury selection in a capital case that your religious beliefs would keep you from being able to vote for death penalty under any circumstances you would be excused from serving on the jury because the lawyers wouldn’t want you on it. There are also Catholics who believe in good conscience that the death penalty is just and might choose to be on such a jury.
In a non-capital case, then voting for a conviction or imprisonment is fine for a Catholic and is what a responsible Catholic citizen might do if he feels the person is guilty and/or a danger to society.

Forbids “voting”? Huh? Unless you’re voting for a genocidal maniac or for a party that wants to destroy the Church, voting is fine and you’re expected to vote for candidates who will do the most to promote a just society.

Now if you want to skip doing all these things, that would be your choice, although not calling the police when you see a crime happening would seem to be a very imprudent act.

But Catholics are certainly allowed to do these things.
So you can choose what you want to do in each situation.


#3

Depending on the situation, such as a time of war or if we or our loved ones are physically attacked, we Catholics have the legitimate option of choosing violence or not. Catholicism allows for self defense, even reacting to violence with violence, but also allows for and venerates nonviolence. Think of Dorothy Day, a modern pacifist and candidate for sainthood. One book you might like on the subject is Renouncing Violence by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB (Liturgical Press 2018). Also, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2302 to 2317, in particular 2306:

“Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.”


#4

Right. I should have said in my post (which is constrained by character limits) that there are also many saints who chose to practice non-violence in all aspects of their life. Even the saints who would resort to defense in an extreme situation such as what I listed, generally tried to live non-violently. Violence is always understood as an extreme response and often it is for the defense of another innocent victim, or for the defense of the Church itself or the Blessed Sacrament, rather than for the defense of the self.

It’s interesting that when beatifying or canonizing martyrs from conflicts such as the Cristero War, where the enemy was trying to wipe out the church and many clergy were killed, then taking up arms in self-defense tends to count against the person’s canonization. The priests who get canonized tend to be the ones who went to their deaths peacefully and forgiving their enemies.


#5

Yes, the issue of violence versus nonviolence need not be a stumbling block when considering entering the Church. This is yet another one of those cases where we have considerable latitude, and I am grateful for that. Peace is always the goal, but we rightly honor and acknowledge the need for police and military, for example, and a Catholic can chose that way with a clear conscience. Conversely, no one should be shamed for espousing nonviolence, though it is in no way an absolute demand. Unfortunately, it can be yet another polarizing issue for some of us, but it needn’t be.


#6

Please sit down with your pastor about this. Because these “some Catholics” have filled your head with nonsense.

You can also read the Catechism on legitinate defense, just war, and responsible citizenship.


#7

One could live non-violently as a Catholic except when action would be required to defend someone for whom they were responsible. Self-defense is permitted, but, for example, a father should defend a family member from a violent attack.

Not responding with violence when the attack is against oneself is totally permitted and considered heroic virtue: above and beyond the call of duty.


#8

Not necessarily. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang saw his whole family martyred, including his children and grandchildren. He asked to go last so he could encourage them all to stay true to the faith while they were killed. He was martyred last as he requested.


#9

It sounds like that was a case in which violent resistance would have been futile, though. It’s not like he by himself could have fought off dozens of armed men. (Also, after reading his story, what an inspirational man. Thanks for clueing me in to him.)

If we imagine a case in which a parent has a meaningful chance to protect their child, it’s hard for me to say they don’t have an obligation to try even at the risk of their own life. I don’t mean to sound like an Internet Tough Guy, but I would fight a bear without hesitation if I thought I could buy my wife and daughter thirty seconds to get away.


#10

I think it would be a father’s natural impulse to fight to save his family. And that would be fine if he did. God would most certainly understand it.

However, my point was just that the father does not always have the duty, obligation, “should” etc to fight to the death to save his loved ones if he thinks it would be futile or there is some other situation where he feels he should not do it. For example, if the father has been seriously committed to non-violence his entire life, practiced it in many situations, tried to raise his kids with that value, and they bring in his family and are going to kill them in front of him just to make him abandon his core value, and he refuses to abandon it, then has he violated some Catholic duty? Probably not, though he may have to live with horrible guilt.


#11

Catechism

2320 The murder of a human being is gravely contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the Creator.

2321 The prohibition of murder does not abrogate the right to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. Legitimate defense is a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm


#12

I’ve always thought of Matthew 5:38-42 completely differently. I always thought of it as “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “Don’t be bothered by the microaggressions”. I’d welcome other opinions though.

Jesus doesn’t say that. In my version he says “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;”. I don’t take this to mean that you allow yourself to be seriously injured. A slap on the face stings for a few seconds.

Again Jesus doesn’t say that. In my version “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well”. He says give a few pieces of clothing freely, but not everything you have.

I have that Jesus says “if anyone forces you go one mile, go also the second mile”. A mile or two is an good walk, and I need the exercise. He doesn’t say to be abused by your employers.

Btw, I love Leo Tolstoy’s work. Leo was a brave soldier in his day, and a great writer. He had the luxury of his interpretation in his old age. Nobody was going to mess with Leo Tolstoy. If Leo was not going to defend himself, it didn’t matter. Thousands would come to his defense.


#13

Martyrdom would be different, for one thing, there’s a good chance that what one had to do would be to fight against a large group, which would be hopeless.

But if one saw a random man attack one’s very pregnant wife for no particular reason, or to rob her, yeah, I think her husband would be obligated to protect her, even if that included violence.

St Thoma Aquinas talks about it.


#14

When you evaluate situations like just war morally, you have to start with the good that is the end of the evaluation. What is that?
The sanctity of human life.
Is my act of self defense ordered to that good?

And this is can be a very hard thing to determine. But keep the good in mind always.
Self defense is not a personal prerogative, it should reaffirm the value of human life.


#15

The definition of violence is physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill.

Defence of self or others need not involve violence, by that definition, even when the aggressor is hurt or killed. The intention is not to hurt the aggressor, only to do what is necessary to protect self or others.

OP, I think you should meet with your priest to discuss the Catholic understanding of those scripture passages you cited. In my opinion most people struggle with tendency towards too much resistance, however too little resistance is just the other side of the coin.

I don’t see this (non-resistance) at all as an impediment to entering the Catholic Church. We are all working out our salvation, perfecting our understanding, trying to live better, love better. Welcome to the journey.


#16

Thank you all for answering this, especially the catechism references and so on. As it seems I can enter the Church with this, I will. Thank you again.


#17

Welcome Home!


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