Private Judgment on Participation
SIR, May I ask Fr, Victor White some questions on his very interesting " Minimum Catholic position " ?
1 How is the Cethotic to decide that any method of warfare involves the slaying directa intentione of noncombatants? No British Government will avow it.
2 Is the response of the Catholic to a legitimate command of the King to bear arms to depend On his private Judgment of the political issues concerned?
It le the duty of a Christian to hate evil and to abstain from hatred of the sinner affected by obedience to the call to arms? Experience does not support the notion that hatred is more prevalent among soldiers than among civilians.
4 Can this question of war be isolated from the general obligation to obey the law? If my taxes are expended partly on " birth-control " instruction must I copy the Nonconformist passive resisters?
The second of these questions is, in my View, the really vital one for the Catholic laity and the one on which it would seem desirable that we should have authoritative guidance. I share Fr. Victor's belief that a European war at present would " extend atheistic Communism in the event either of victory or defeat." Probably my political opinions are not very different from his. But these are matters of private judgment. The Prime Minister recently announced that in the event of war there would be general conscription and few people can ever have doubted this. Would I, if I were of military age and fitness—would my sons who are—be justified in disobeying the law on this ground?
Unless I have mis-read him Priimmer holds that in a conscript country it is not for the soldier or those in subordinate positions to judge of the justice or otherwise of the war.
" Est enim prorsus impossible," writes the Dominican theologian, " pro homine privato cognoscere omnia motive quae sic dictam Diplomatiam nationalem ad bellum incohandum induxerunt. Praeterea milites lam non aunt liberi ad pugnandum aut non pugnandum." (Manuals Theologiae Moralis, Tom. II, p. 123.) [For it is absolutely impossible for the ordinary man to know all the motives which have led the so-called national diplomacy to begin war. Besides soldiers are not free to light or not to fight.]
REGINALD J. DINGLE.
44, Parliament Hill Mansions, N.W.5.
Where the Authority Lies
SIR,—If Father Victor White's letter under the above heading in your issue of May 12 had been written by a layman It would have received no comment from me : a layman is free to air his views in any paper that will print them; but, in this country, so great is the respect paid to the priesthood that many of your less well informed readers may attribute to Father White's opinions an authority which they lack and which indeed I am sure he would not claim for them.
We priests do not constitute the Ecclesia docens, and a priest has no more right than a layman to speak on a doubtful matter in the name of the Church or to lay down the law to his fellow Catholics as to what they should or should not hold.
Our bishops are our leaders and our law-givers and our spokesmen. It is for them, not for us, to speak to and for the Catholic community and to present an ultimatum or a threat to the Government if such should ever be necessary : they would have warned us already if the present preparations for the possibility of war involved anything that is In conflict with the law of God which alone could absolve us from the duty of obedience which we owe to the lawful Government of our country.
The loyalty of English Catholics is proverbial : the King is as sure of the loyalty of his English Catholic subjects In 1939 as his father was sure in 1914.
FRANCIS DEVAS, S.J.
[The editorial comment on Fr. White's letter seems to us to allow substantially for Fr. Devas's objections. It was there stated—and we are sure that Fr. White would agree—that decision can only be made by the Bishops and that it es the duty of others not to hinder any such decisions by authoritatively worded pronouncements which have no authority except the conscience of whoever writes them. But Yr. Devas's letter, taken literally, would merely make it impossible for any Catholic writer to discuss any political or social problem of importance Pine nowadays the great majority of such problems contain moral implications that may be the subject of later authoritative decieion.—
The Benefit of the Doubt
SIR,—The problem of participation in a war must be troubling many Catholics at the present time. Thus, although I did not agree with his conclusions, I was grateful for and interested in Fr. Victor White's letter on the subject.
Whether we fight or submit, the Ultimate result will probably be evil. If we fight there will come upon us all the evils known and unknown of modern warfare. If we submit, and submit, be It noted, to a pagan invader, active participation in our religion would undoubtedly be taken from us, and our children reared in the racial " credo." Our fathers fought for their religion, and ignoring for a moment the other principles involved, that alone should be enough for many of us.
Finally. I would call Fr. White's attention to Mr Francis McDermott's article in this month's issue of Blarkfriars. The author points out that although we should be justified in fighting a just war, in these days of involved foreign politics, propaganda and Press distortions, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to review the justice of one's
cause in an impartial light. Surely, then, it is better, as Mr McDermott says, that " the benefit of a Catholic's doubt should be given to his country and fellow citizens. His uncertainty means that his country may be right, and therefore in refusing to fight he assumes the responsibility of weakening a possible just cause and of creating more injustice instead of less by his abstention. Refusal to fight involves complete readiness to submit. Surely then, it is a defensible course only when one is morally certain that injustice is ' sale done."
And how often nowadays can one be sure of that absolute moral certainty?
Dying for our Country
SI11,—Regarding the letter of Fr. 'Victor White; although I would not dream of attempting to controvert the five moral propositions that constitute a modern war to be unjuet, I would raise the point whether in Christian charity I can allow my non-Catholic or even heathen neighbour to be murdered by the aggressor even though the neighbour and his like have been guilty of a considerable amount of provocation. Can I turn my back on my neighbour struggling for his life and the life of his women and children with a " thank God I am not as he is "? No, I do think I am bound in Christian charity (even to the extent of fighting by his side) to aid him; as long as the aggressor continues to attack our territory or the territory we are pledged to defend. But my assistance to my neighbour must stop short of killing the defenceless women and children of the enemy, invasion of the enemy territory to take permanent possession of it, and the killing of defenceless prisoners.
A Catholic who takes part in war with the above limitations offers his life for his neighbour; dies for him just as if he endeavoured to save his neighbour from fire, flood, shipwreck or any other eatastrophe; each of which can be brought about by man's wickedness or folly.
We are bound to deplore war, to fight against it in every moral manner; but if our neighbours, the mass of the people in each and every country, are forcibly thrust into it by their rulers, we cannot do better than die in charity for those who are our fellow countrymen.
C. E. &TON.
SIR,—In your excellent leading article On Catholics and war in last Friday's issue of the CATHOLIC HERALD you say that " pacifism is not the solution."
Actually " pacifism " is not the merely negative attitude of refusing to take part in war because it is sinful; though even that, by depriving governments of the cannon-fodder that enables them to keep up an otherwise indefensible statue quo, might drive them to seek that justice whose fruit is peace.
Pacifism is the seeking of peace by peaceful means; pacifism seeks to remove the jealousies, inequalities, social miseries and political rivalries that carry in them the seeds of war. It is truly constructive, and concerned with building up a wise social order. It Cannot employ the method of war which intensifies all the evils, the hatred, the falsehood, the oppression and cruelty it has tried to remove.
And if, in spite of all their efforts—or more likely, because of the incompleteness of their efforts—the foolish gain the upper hand and war does break out, the pacifists are still not defeated, for they will be the oases of sanity, charity and truth in a world that has been driven to madness, hatred and falsehood; and they will be ready to build up again on the ruins when the conflict is over.
We all know that war solves nothing, but it does seem to me that in time of peace or war, pacifism is the only solution.
PETRONELLA OUWERKERK. Carshalton, Surrey.