Monday, February 29, 2016

The Church on War and Peace

Like the previous post, this column originally appeared on the Truth & Charity Forum as part of their series on electoral issues.

The Catholic Church’s teachings regarding war and peace are challenging. While we happily affirm the general superiority of peace over war, violence has become so commonplace–abroad, on our streets, and in our entertainment–that it seems inevitable. We have accepted it as a problem to be managed and not an evil to abhor. But the Church calls us to a sharper moral awareness, one which actively strives for the good of peace, while permitting, in very limited circumstances, defensive warfare. Leaders and everyday citizens alike need to rediscover the mind of the Church in this matter.

The Good of Peace and the Evil of War

The Bible lavishly praises peace, which produces prosperity (Is 48:19, 54:13), takes away fear (Lev 26:6), and brings about joy (Pr. 12:20). The prophet Isaiah described Jesus as the Prince of Peace (9:5), a vision echoed by St. Paul (Eph 2:14-16). St. John Paul II explained that Christianity ushers in “a new model of the unity of the human race,… [a] supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons.” Inspired by the peace of Christ and the unity of the Trinity, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that “working for peace can never be separated from announcing the Gospel.”

Vatican II reminded us that “peace is not merely the absence of war,” as contemporary society often understands it, frequently maintained by nothing more than a balance of power. Rather, peace is the order of tranquility. Recent popes have made clear that peace is predicated on respect for human rights, pursuit of justice, and the fostering of “a true culture of peace.” But even justice is not sufficient. In our fallen world of sin and injury, “true and lasting peace is more a matter of love than of justice,” as Pope Pius XI reminded us in 1922.

Just as the Bible praises peace, it clearly teaches that violence is the fruit of sin, a rupturing of the harmony that God created (cf. Gen 1:4-31, 4:1-16). The Church forcefully teaches that “violence is evil…, that violence is unworthy of man.  Violence is a lie,” as John Paul II put it. “Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”  Thus, any recourse to violence–and the Church does permit such recourse, in limited circumstances–must be understood as part of a larger failure of morality and of statecraft.

Waging Just War

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that states which have been attacked by foreign aggressors have the right–indeed the duty–to defend their people, even to the point of waging war. Likewise, the Compendium, following the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, explains that “it is legitimate [for those being oppressed] to resist authority should it violate in a serious or repeated manner the essential principles of natural law.” Nevertheless, it goes on to explain, “There can be many different concrete ways this right [of resistance] may be exercised; there are also many different ends that may be pursued,” ranging from legal changes to revolution or revolt.

In order for war to be legitimate, the Catechism identifies several conditions which must be met:

The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain. Paul VI noted that recourse should only be made to arms when there is a “manifest, longstanding tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good.” Thus the Compendium specifically notes that “engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.”

All other means of putting an end to [the damage] must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. The Church encourages “general, balanced and controlled disarmament.” While this may, in the long term, reduce conflict, arms control negotiations are apt to prove fruitless in the face of imminent hostilities. But merely because this tool cannot solve all problems does not mean that it is useless or that Catholics can simply lay it aside. In the short term, states have other tools to be tried or considered before war; among these the Compendium makes particular mention of sanctions. States can also employ both traditional and public diplomacy, while individuals and groups can engage in passive resistance in the economic, cultural, and political realms.

There must be serious prospects of success. The Church frequently warns of the propensity for violence to beget additional violence. The Compendium describes war as “an adventure without return” that “creates new and still more complicated conflicts.” Thus, any recourse to arms must be supported by robust diplomacy and intelligence, to adequately understand the situation, coupled with vigorous efforts to contain the conflict and ultimately bring about peace.

The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The Church has long taught that a just cause (jus ad bellum) is insufficient to make a war just; it must be accompanied by just conduct (jus in bello). As the Second Vatican Council put it, “the mere fact that war has unhappily begun” does not “mean that all is fair between the warring parties.” The Catechism teaches that “non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely” and that soldiers are obligated to disobey orders to commit genocide or other crimes against humanity. “The violation of human dignity can never be justified by military necessity or political strategy,” John Paul warned.

In addition to just wars waged by states, the Compendium also teaches that “the international community as a whole has the moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those groups whose very survival is threatened or whose basic human rights are seriously violated. As members of an international community, States cannot remain indifferent.”  Should all other methods prove fruitless, John Paul noted that it is “legitimate and even obligatory” in such circumstances, “to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor.”  While such actions should be taken in accordance with international law, the Compendium clarifies that claims of national sovereignty alone do not suffice to prevent such international intervention.

Working for Peace

Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).  As the Compendium reminds us, “peace is built up day after day” and is the duty of everyone.  In the spirit of subsidiarity, peace should be “a value rooted deep within the heart of every person. In this way it can spread to families and to the different associations within society until the whole of the political community is involved.” Authentic development–which includes not only economic concerns but also political, cultural, and spiritual–is one of the primary means by which peace is promoted, removing many of the underlying causes of war.

While admitting the occasional permissibility of war, the Compendium teaches that “the contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule.” Such individuals might be clergy or laity, missionaries or diplomats, journalists or aid workers. When thinking about both our everyday engagement with the international community and our prosecution of war, we must not only allow a place for such voices, but even encourage them and incorporate them into broader policies, lest we risk forgetting that just war is an exception and not the Christian norm.

Ultimately, the Christian search for peace is not simply a diplomatic or humanitarian effort, though it includes these. Jesus tell us, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give” (Jn 14:27). We are reminded that “true peace is made possible only through forgiveness and reconciliation.”  This is something that requires supernatural grace. For man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (cf. Mt 19:26). This is our hope and our calling amidst a broken world.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Church on Politics: Solidarity and Subsidiarity

With a fever pitch of political debate swirling about the various primary races, I thought it was worth reposting here a column that I wrote for the Truth & Charity Forum last month, as part of their larger series on election issues.

Solidarity and Subsidiarity

Much of contemporary political discourse consists of a debate between two camps: those who argue, “We need to do something about…” and those who contend that, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to…” The Catholic Church teaches that each approach, by itself, is inadequate. Ideologies derived from such sentiments should not be the yardstick of Catholic political activity. Rather, the Church presents to us two principles – solidarity and subsidiarity – which, together, provide a balanced and holistic means of thinking about political and social topics.

Solidarity is not a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38). Nor is it simply interdependence, which is a circumstance in which we find ourselves, whether we like it or not (CSDC, 193). Rather, solidarity is an active concern for the good of society as a whole, as well as all of its individual members. Because all men are equal in “dignity and rights”, (CSDC, 192) all men have a legitimate claim on our concern.

In the life of Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, we have the ultimate model of solidarity: a God who stoops to become one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Heb 4:15). He “takes on the infirmities of his people, walks with them, saves them and makes them one” (CSDC, 423). Jesus teaches us not to lord over our neighbors, but to love them, for when we love our neighbors we love Him (Mt. 20:25, 25:40). In the light of Jesus’ concern for all humanity, we discover that society itself, “despite all its contradictions and ambiguities, can be rediscovered as a place of life and hope” (CSDC, 196). As Christians, we are called to embrace society.

But human society is a broken place. Solidarity requires that we overcome the “structures of sin” which divide society and replace them with new structures that embody a “firm and persevering determination to [seek]… the common good” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 36, 38). St. John Paul II warned that the path toward overcoming structures of sin “is long and complex, and what is more it is constantly threatened because of the intrinsic frailty of human resolutions and achievements, and because of the mutability of very unpredictable and external circumstances. Nevertheless, one must have the courage to set out on this path, and, where some steps have been taken or a part of the journey made, the courage to go on to the end” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38). The Church reminds us that we are “debtors of the society of which [we] have become part” (CSDC 195). Culture, scientific knowledge, and other goods – both material and immaterial – have been produced and shared with us by the rest of humanity, across generations and often across borders. Thus, solidarity is not an act of generosity on our part toward the less fortunate, but an act of justice.

Any Catholic thinking seriously about politics must bear in mind our fraternal concern for all mankind and the concrete ways in which it can be realized. The Church demands no less.

Complementing this teaching on solidarity is the doctrine of subsidiarity. Pius XI explained subsidiarity in this way: “It is an injustice,… a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do” (Quadragesimo Anno, 203). Or, as John Paul put it, “Needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need” (Centesimus Annus, 48).

The Church’s long-standing affirmation of subsidiarity is rooted in her concern for families and the various local associations which naturally arise in human society (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1882). Such relationships among individuals promote creativity, strengthen society, and are the basis on which higher forms of social activity are built (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 15; Centesimus Annus, 49). Thus, the Church clearly teaches that the state should not impinge upon the legitimate freedom and responsibility of smaller bodies (CSDC, 186). While still affirming the importance of solidarity and of state support to local institutions, John Paul cautioned that overly centralized social programs can become dominated by bureaucracy, rather than fraternal concern, and, like big business monopolies, sap individuals and local organizations of their energy (Centesimus Annus, 48). Even when the state must carry out functions which it alone can provide, these “must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary,” so that smaller associations are safeguarded (CSDC, 188).

Rather than simply offering a negative message – that the state should mind its own business – Christian subsidiarity should be understood as a call to strengthen and enliven local institutions, among them families, parishes, school boards, small business associations, artists guilds, charitable groups, and more. Such groups must be reminded that, though largely private in nature, they serve a broader function for the good of society (CSDC, 187). They are the primary means by which we fulfill our duties of solidarity. When parishes house the homeless, local businesses offer training to immigrants, or fraternal organizations raise money for their neighbors harmed by natural disasters, they are simultaneously living out both solidarity and subsidiarity.

This is the mindset of the Church. Though similar, at points, to some elements of contemporary political ideology, it is markedly different in its overall outlook, which is rooted in the dignity of individuals and our common good, which is ultimately found in God. Catholics voters, bombarded by increasingly shrill demands on their allegiances, would do well to take solidarity and subsidiarity to heart as they seek to provide faithful witness in the political and social sphere.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.

We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is 32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.

We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy.

Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).

The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.

We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another’s foundation” (Rm 15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32)!

Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Catholic Church

Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia

12 February 2016, Havana (Cuba)

Text courtesy of the Acton Institute's website.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Remembering Calvin Coolidge

Today is Presidents Day. Typically we remember Washington and Lincoln, doubtless two of our finest. Sometimes the likes of Jefferson, FDR, JFK, Reagan, or others get a passing mention as well. But today I'd like to recall one of my favorites among the more obscure presidents, Calvin Coolidge.

Born on Independence Day, 1872, Coolidge grew up on a farm in Vermont. His father was a farmer, storekeeper, and local politician. Young Calvin's mother died when he was twelve years old, the first of two untimely passings. He attended Amherst College and practiced law in Massachusetts. In 1905 he married a woman named Grace, a fellow Congregationalist and teacher at a school for the deaf. Together they had two sons, John and Calvin Jr.

Coolidge was famously quiet, occasionally grumpy, and quite frugal. But in spite of that - or maybe because of it? - he enjoyed growing success in the world of politics, normally the realm of the outgoing and flamboyant. After a spell as a successful lawyer, Coolidge was elected to the state House, then mayor, and then to the state Senate. Although Coolidge had some progressive leanings - supporting, for example, for women's suffrage, minimum wages, limited working hours, factory safety regulations and labor representation on corporate boards, and opposing child labor - he refused to follow Theodore Roosevelt out of the Republican Party in 1912. In 1914, Coolidge became president of the Massachusetts Senate. In his inaugural remarks he gave the following exhortation:
Do the day's work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don't be a stand-patter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don't be a demagogue. Don't hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don't expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don't hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation.
He subsequently became lieutenant governor and then governor of Massachusetts. He was propelled to national fame when the Boston Police went on strike. After local officials failed to deal with the situation and violence erupted in the city, Coolidge called out the National Guard and fired the striking policemen. When challenged by AFL leader Samuel Gompers on the matter, Coolidge publically denounced the "right" of those entrusted with public safety to go on strike. His reputation as a man of deliberate action landed him a place on Warren G. Harding's 1920 presidential ticket. When Harding died suddenly in 1923, Coolidge assumed the presidency, sworn in by his father, whom he was visiting in Vermont at the time. In 1924 he was elected president in his own right, with Charles Curtis, a Native American, as vice president.

Under President Coolidge, the federal government encouraged new technologies such as radios and aircraft, but the various forms of labor legislation that he had supported in Massachusetts, including as governor, he left to the states. Federal taxes were cut, spending was reduced, and the federal debt paid down. He opposed the Ku Klux Klan, supported the rights of African-Americans, and signed into law the Indian Citizen Act, which granted citizenship to all Native Americans, while allowing them to retain their reservations.

Coolidge's younger son, Calvin Jr., died in 1924, at the age of 16. The loss weighed heavily on him. Perhaps it played some role in his decision in 1928 not to run for president a second time.

Why do I find Coolidge an attractive figure? Although never poor, his origins were not exulted and he put in his time climbing the political ladder. He believed in limited government but also in helping the poor, defending the weak, and doing justice for all. He was a faithful husband to Grace, of whom he commented near their 25th anniversary, "for almost a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities and I have rejoiced in her graces." In mourning his mother and son, he shared the sorrows that punctuate all of our lives. And in his decision to step quietly down from office, he looked more like George Washington, who limited himself to two terms, than to the ever-running Roosevelts or the megalomaniacs of our own day. There is much to admire here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Raft of New Books on Special Operations Executive!

My modest little monograph, Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain's Special Operations Executive, will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press later this month. The work covers the first chapter, so to speak, of SOE's history, examining how Gubbins and a few of his protégés looked to Britain's history of small wars for lessons in establishing their own irregular capability.

I began this project eight years ago (though it morphed a bit along the way). I had no idea, at the time, that mine would be but one of a raft of new works to come out on SOE. As Eliot says, "there is no competition." So, please, feel free to buy them all (or ask your local library to do so)!

Stephen Hart and Chris Mann, World War II Secret Operations: Undercover Military Skills from the SOE, OSS and Maquis (Amber Books, October 2015)

Peter Jacobs, Setting France Ablaze: The SOE in France During WWII (Pen & Sword, November 2015)

Bernd Horn, A Most Ungentlemanly Way of War: The SOE and the Canadian Connection (Dundurn, January 2016)

Sue Elliott, I Heard My Country Calling: Elaine Madden, the Unsung Heroine of SOE (The History Press, January 2016)

Stewart Kent and Nick Nicholas, Agent Michael Trotobas and SOE in Northern France (Pen & Sword, February 2016)

Jean Claude Guiet, Dead on Time: The Memoir of an SOE and OSS Agent in Occupied France (The History Press, June 2016)

Brian Lett, SOE's Mastermind: The Authorised Biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins KCMG, DSO, MC (Pen & Sword, July 2016)