What is the Catholic view of Pacifism?

What do Catholics think about pacifists? In The Church if the Brethren, in which I have been raised and my family has belonged to for generations, official church teaching is that the act of war is completely against the teachings of Christ, and is a sin. My grandpas served in alternative service rather tha than fight in Korea. In Sunday School we were taught about Brethren heroes, who refused to take up arms even under threat of torture or death. We also learned about those who were killed in the quest for peace, such as John Kline who crossed lines in the Civil War to work as a doctor for people on both sides, and was killed as a suspected spy. This position is very important to me. How do Catholics view this belief?

I don’t think there’s an official Catholic view of pacifism. This link might be helpful:


I would think many of the early martyrs were pacifists.

IIRC, the French Jesuits who worked among the Huron converted them so completely they became pacifists. Sadly, this left them without defense when the Iroqois went to war against them and they were wiped out.

For the first centuries of the Church, the overwhelmeing majority of Christians were pretty extreme in their rejection of violence. Pacifist isn’t really the right word. They did resist unjust oppression, but they resisted it only in non violent ways that offered the oppressors a chance for salvation.

This is a power theme in the Sermon on the Mount and is reflected in the Beatitudes.

As Catholics went from being a persecuted minority to being, say, the Roman empire - all without lifting a sword, the Church has to put some thought into licit defense. St. Augustine introduced the concept of Just War and civil defense in the 4th century. The Church has refined it considerably since, but both concepts have always been very narrow. Much narrower than many Catholics seem to believe. See the Universal Catechism for some excellent summaries (CCC 2309 for Just War, but the surrounding paragraphs for an indication of how many conditions must truly be met).

These narrow applications make perfect sense when you recognize that the Church teaches that the Beatitudes are a central component in Jesus’ earthly teachings and we still recognize Martyrdom as a form of “greatest love”.

I think it is reasonable for society to provide adequate laws to allow a true pacifist to serve in another capacity, such as providing medical care. Furthermore, non-pacifists ought to refuse to participate in many types of situations (unjust wars, battles, engagements, etc.) even if the law does not allow them to do so.

Would not an armed resistance to communism be considered a virtue? Is it better to allow a communist county to overrun another and wipe out all forms and expressions of the Catholic faith than to defend the Church, her ministers and her people?

I am reminded of a Polish priest who spoke about the Soviets in Belaruss who did not allow Mass to be said for 70 years. Is that preferable to standing up for defense of home, nation and Church?

The Brethren promote nonviolent resistance, like that of Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi. Have you heard the legend of the Danish King getting all of his country to wear the yellow Star of David when the Nazis took over, saving the country’s entire Jewish population? This story is not true, but it is a good illustration of the Brethren view of resistance. We would definantly resist an attempted communist take over, but in a way that would not threaten the lives of the communists, even if we ourselves might be injured or die in the process.

CCC 2243 puts serious constraints on armed resistance to political oppression and CCC 2309 places criteria on Just War. Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul both have given the opinion that neither standard can probably be licitly met in the modern world.

The problem is, if you have to reject the Beatitudes, central to Jesus’ teachings (CCC 1716-17) are you really defending the faith, or just using faith as a rationalization for our baser human instincts?


That is the Roman Catholic understanding of the Beatitudes as well. The Church teaches that nations have a right to armed defense because the alternative is less moral, but that is not true peace. True peace is the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4 (see Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church).

In such a situation, perhaps the correct course is to celebrate mass in violation of the law, and accept that they will find out eventually and kill you.

I don’t think the criteria for a just war seem very easy to meet. In the case of a complete genocide, then it would seem fairly easy, but it is not clear that this is so in the case of a government interfering with our religion.

Maybe BrethrenBoy might like to read some sections from the dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites, found here. There is a section starting at paragraph 145 about what is the same and different about the topic of peace. This is not an official Church teaching document, but it might be helpful. I think I correctly set the link to start at paragraph 145. The whole section keeps going until paragraph 189.

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