Merton on Peace: Spirituality & Practice of Nonviolence

Facing our spiritual and moral crisis, Thomas Merton sought authentic spiritual roots for a Christian spirituality of nonviolence.  He found them in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel:
“The chief place in which this new mode of life is set forth in detail is the Sermon on the Mount." (Blessed are the Meek: the Christian Roots of Nonviolence)
“The Beatitudes indeed convey a profound existential understanding of the dynamic of the Kingdom of God—a dynamic made clear in the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast.  This is the dynamism of patient and secret growth, in belief that out of the smallest, weakest, and most insignificant seed the greatest tree will come. This is not merely a matter of blind and arbitrary faith. The early history of the Church, the record of the apostles and martyrs remains to testify to this inherent and mysterious dynamism of the ecclesial ‘event’ in the world of history and time  Christian nonviolence is rooted in this consciousness of faith.”  (Blessed are the Meet: the Christian Roots of Nonviolence).                                
He was profoundly challenged by some acts of resistance to the Vietnam war which he felt went too far in the wrong direction away from this alternative vision of the Beatitudes.  In particular he was shaken when Roger Laporte, a former Cistertian novice, poured gasoline to burn himself in front of the US mission to the UN.  No doubt this led to some deep prayer and soul searching.  What resulted were 7 conditions that Merton felt were required for honesty in the practice of Christian Nonviolence:
  1. “Nonviolence must be aimed above all at the transformation of the present state of the world . . .”
  2. For Christians in powerful nations, nonviolent resistance “will have to be clearly not for [themselves] but for others, that is the poor and underprivileged.”
  3. Given the threat of nuclear war, “above all nonviolence must avoid a facile and fanatical self-righteousness and refrain from being satisfied with dramatic self-justifying gestures.”
  4. “[T]he Christian humility of nonviolent action must establish itself in the minds and memories of [the] modern [human person] not only as conceivable and possible, but as a desirable alternative.”
  5. “The absolute refusal of evil or suspect means is a necessary element in the witness of nonviolence.”
  6. “This mission of Christian humility in social life is not merely to edify, but to keep minds open to many alternatives.”
  7. “Christian hope and Christian humility are inseparable.  The quality of nonviolence is decided largely by the purity of the Christian hope behind it.”
    (Blessed are the Meek: The Christian Roots of Nonviolence)
[This is the fourth post in a series.  Click on these links for the firstsecond and third posts.]

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