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Catholic peace traditions


Catholic peace traditions begin with its biblical and classical origins to the current practice in the 21st century. Because of its long history and breadth of geographical and cultural diversity, this Catholic tradition encompasses many strains and influences of both religious and secular peacemaking and many aspects of Christian pacifism, just war and nonviolence.

Catholic tradition as a whole supports and favors peacemaking efforts. Peacemaking is an integral part of Catholic Social Teaching.

The history of peacemaking in the Catholic tradition reflects the religious meanings of peace, tied to positive virtues, such as love, and to the personal and social works of justice. The Greek word for peace is eirene; Roman pax, and in the Hebrew Bible, shalom.

For the earliest Romans, "pax" meant to live in a state of agreement, where discord and war were absent. In his Meditations, or To Himself, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius expresses peace as a state of unperturbed tranquility. The English word "peace" derives ultimately from its root, the Latin "pax".

Shalom (Hebrew: שלום‎‎) is the word for peace in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Hebrew: תנ"ך‎‎), and has other meanings also pertaining to well being, including use as a greeting.

The Greek meaning for peace, contained in the word eirene, evolved over the course of Greco-Roman civilization from such agricultural meanings as prosperity, fertility, and security of home contained in Hesiod’s Works and Days, to more internal meanings of peace formulated by the Stoics, such as Epictetus.

Eirene is the word that the New Testament generally uses for peace, one of the twenty words used by the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible used in the largely Greek-speaking Jewish communities throughout the Greco-Roman world. It is chiefly through the Septuagint’s use of Greek that the Greek word eirene became infused with all the religious imagery and richness of the word shalom in the Hebrew Bible that had evolved over the history of the Jewish people. Subsequently, the use of the Greek Bible as the basis for St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation into Latin then brought all the new meanings of eirene to the Latin word pax and transformed it from a term for an imposed order of the sword, the Pax Romana, into the chief image of peace for Western Christianity.



  • War must occur for a good and just purpose rather than the pursuit of wealth or power.
  • Just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
  • Peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.
  • Pope Nicholas I (858-67) against the backdrop of Carolingian conquest Nicholas penned what is both a “classic summary of Christian faith and discipline” and a harsh condemnation of war. In his Reply to the Inquiry of the Bulgars, written in 866, Nicholas condemns conversion by force, branding war as a diabolical fraud. While Nicholas concedes that war may be permissible in cases of inescapable necessity, in self-defense, he warns that “in itself it is the devil’s work.” He advises that deserters (c. 22) and those who refuse to obey orders to kill (c. 23) be treated leniently and gives Boris examples of numerous martyrs who fled in the face of violence. In response to Boris’ question as to how Christians are to prepare for war, Nicholas answered that one must employ all the Christian works of mercy that make peace, affirm life, and negate the motives for and works of war.
  • During the tenure of Pope Pius IX, Catholics and Protestants collaborated to found a school in Rome to study international law and train international mediators committed to conflict resolution.
  • In 1885 Pope Leo XIII was asked by Spain and Germany to mediate their territorial dispute in the South Pacific.
  • Pope Benedict XV left a legacy of lasting significance for the papacy and the church in the area of teaching and practice on war and peace. In condemning World War I as a whole without taking sides, the pope did not reason in terms of traditional church teaching about just and unjust wars. He was able to see that modern technology — especially the novelty of aerial bombardment — had made traditional moral calculations and distinctions between combatants and noncombatants increasingly meaningless. Pope Benedict’s influence on his successors is clear in Pope Pius XII’s attempts to use diplomacy to forestall World War II.
  • Pope John XXIII made Vatican diplomatic resources available in 1962 to the United States and Russia, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Over the course of two days, messages was sent between the White House and the Kremlin, with the Vatican serving as the intermediary. The pope’s “decisive intervention,” as the Associated Press later described it, helped avert nuclear war, in allowing Krushchev to save face and not look weak by being the reasonable leader who kept the peace by removing the missiles from Cuba.
  • Pope John Paul II launched the interreligious prayer for peace gatherings in Assisi in 1986.
  • On June 8, 2014 Pope Francis welcoming the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican for an evening of peace prayers just weeks after the last round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations collapsed.
  • Bainton, Roland H. Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace. New York: Abingdon, 1960.
  • Fahey, Joseph J., War and the Christian Conscience: Where Do You Stand? Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005.
  • Flinn, Frank K.; Melton, J. Gordon (2007). "pacifism". Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Infobase Publishing. pp. 491–492. ISBN . 
  • Klejment, Anne (1996). Roberts, Nancy L., ed. American Catholic pacifism: the influence of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN . 
  • McNeal, Patricia F. (1978). The American Catholic peace movement, 1928–1972. Classic Quilt Series. Arno Press. 
  • Merton, Thomas. The Nonviolent Alternative. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.
  • Musto, Ronald G (2010). "Catholic Peace Traditions.". In Young, Nigel J. The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace. 1. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Musto, Ronald G. Liberation Theologies: A Research Guide. New York: Garland, 1991.
  • O’Brien, David J. and Thomas A. Shannon, eds. Renewing the Earth: Catholic Documents on Peace, Justice and Liberation. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977
  • Pagden, Anthony. Vitoria: Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, 1991
  • Windley-Daoust, Jerry; Kilmartin, Lorraine; Navarro, Christine Schmertz; Hodapp, Kathleen Crawford; Wilt, Michael (2008). Living Justice and Peace: Catholic Social Teaching in Practice (2nd ed.). Saint Mary's Press. ISBN . 
  • Zahn, Gordon. War, Conscience and Dissent. New York: Hawthorne, 1967.
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