The Way of Peace, by Pope John XXIII, 10 September 1961

Pope John XXII, 1959Venerable Brethren, beloved sons! The Apostle Peter in his speech to those who were come together in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius declared that all the nations of the earth without distinction were henceforth invited to pay heed to the universal Fatherhood of God. And he summed up this heavenly doctrine in words of peace: annuntians pacem per Iesum Christum. This same message is the very beat of Our heart, the heart of a father and of a bishop of the Holy Church. It comes more anxiously to Our lips whenever clouds seem to be gathering darkly on the horizon.

Other Popes And Peace

We have before Us the memory of the popes who most closely preceded Us and their outspoken manifestations of solicitude and anxious appeals, which have become part of history. From the exhortation of Pius X a few days before his saintly death, when the first European conflagration was imminent, to the encyclical of Benedict XV, “Pacem, Dei munus pulcherrimum,” “Peace, the most beautiful gift of God,”; from the warning call of Pius XI, which looked to true peace “non tam tabulis inscriptam, quam in animis consignatam,” to that fervent last appeal of Pius XII on August 24, 1939: “It is by the power of sound reason, not by force of arms, that justice makes its way,” – we have a whole series of pleas, sometimes deeply sorrowful and moving, always paternal, calling upon the whole world to guard against the danger while there is yet time, and assuring the nations that whereas everything is lost, and lost to everyone, through war, nothing will be lost through peace.

The Responsibility Of Rulers

We make this appeal Our own, extending it once more to those who bear on their consciences the gravest weight of public, recognized responsibility. The Church by her very nature cannot remain indifferent to human suffering, even were it no more than anxiety and worry. And this is why We call upon the rulers of nations to face squarely the tremendous responsibilities they bear before the tribunal of history, and, what is more, before the judgment seat of God; this is why We entreat them not to fall victims to false, deceptive pressures. It is indeed upon wise men that the issue depends: that force shall not prevail, but right, through free and sincere negotiations; that truth and justice shall be affirmed through the safeguarding of the essential liberties and invincible values of every nation and every human person.

A Sacred Warning

Without exaggerating the importance of what has so far had only the appearance?though We must say the very irresponsible and tragically deplorable appearance?of a threat of war, as reported in the sources of daily public information, it is quite natural that We should make Our own the anxious solicitude of Our predecessors and express it through a sacred warning to all Our children, as We feel it Our right and duty to name them, believers in God and in His Christ, and unbelievers as well, for all men belong to God and to Christ by right of origin and of redemption.

Warnings From Saints Peter And Paul

Those two pillars of the Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, give us the warning. The former gives it in his repeated affirmation of peace in Christ, the Son of God; the latter, the Doctor of the Gentiles, gives it in a very detailed statement of counsels and instructions which are timely and appropriate for all who now hold or will hold any post of responsibility in the history of the human race.

The Words Of Saint Paul

“Brethren, draw your strength from the Lord, from that mastery which His power supplies . . . it is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists. We have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours.” As one with the wisdom and the fullness of fatherhood of the humble successor of Saint Peter and as custodian of the deposit of doctrine?which remains forever the great divine Book, open to all men of all nations?and consequently as the keeper of Christ’s Gospel, We deem it opportune to offer some personal, concrete reflections on those matters in today’s world which are causing uncertainty and fear. Following the counsel of Saint Paul in regard to the attitude to be taken towards the evil spirits in an order higher than ours, we should note his interesting description of the good fighter poised to meet the assault of his adversary: “In omnibus perfecti stare” – your loins girt with truth, the breastplate of justice fitted on, and your feet shod in readiness to publish the gospel of peace, evangelium pacis. With all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fire-tipped arrows of your wicked enemy; make the helmet of salvation your own, and the sword of the spirit, God’s word.”

The Christian Attitude

All these are spiritual weapons described in figures of speech by means of which, beloved brethren and children, you can see what can and ought to be the attitude of a good Christian in the face of any event, at any time and under any circumstances. What comes from the evil one and from unbridled natural inclinations is a war of the spirit; but always war; and always the hideous fire that can penetrate and overcome everything. Thus, through the guidance of the Apostle of the Gentiles, we are led to the clearest and most solid foundation upon which must be based the attitude of the Christian spirit in the face of anything providence may dispose or permit. Between two words, war or peace, are entwined the anguish and the hopes of the world, the anxieties and the joy of individuals and of society.

The Horrors Of War

Anyone who remembers the history of the not too distant past, a past recorded in books as an epoch of misfortune, and who still has a vivid recollection of the blood stained half-century between 1914 and the present, and who remembers the sufferings of our peoples and our lands?although there were peaceful interludes between one tribulation and the next?trembles at the thought of what can happen to each one of us and to the whole world. Every war brings upheaval and destruction to individuals, to peoples, to entire regions. What could happen today?considering the frightful effects of new weapons of destruction and ruin which human ingenuity continues to multiply, to everyone’s loss? In Our youth We were always deeply moved by the ancient cry of despair of Desiderius, the King of the Lombards, which he uttered when the army of Charlemagne first appeared on the Alps: he tore his hair and cried out, “O ferrum, heu ferrum.” What then should be said of the modern instruments of war derived from the secrets of nature and capable of unleashing unheard-of energy to wreak havoc and destruction? Thanks be to God, We are persuaded that up to now there is no serious threat of war, immediate or remote. In making this reference of Our own to a subject that the press of all nations is discussing, We mean nothing more than to seize yet another opportunity of appealing with confidence to the calm, sure wisdom of the statesmen and men of government in every country who preside over the direction of public affairs.

The Weapon Of Prayer

It is true that at the end of his letter to the Ephesians, written in a prison in Rome where he was chained to a Roman soldier guarding him, the Apostle Paul took his inspiration from military weapons to teach Christians the arms necessary to defend against and overcome spiritual enemies; not surprisingly, at the end of the list of weapons he stresses prayer as the most effective of them all. Listen to his words: “Galeam salutis adsumite et gladium spiritus, quod est verbum Dei; per omnem orationem et obsecrationem orantes omni tempore in spiritu et in ipso vigilantes in omni instantia et obsecratione pro omnibus sanctis.” “Use every kind of prayer and supplication, pray at all times in the Holy Spirit; keep awake to that end with all perseverance; offer your supplication for all the saints.” With this earnest invitation the Doctor of the Gentiles brings us to the particular reason why we are united here today in spirit in a gathering that a mere hint has been sufficient to bring about and that has resulted in a great uplifting of spirit towards order and peace. The children of the Catholic Church well know this aspiration and this invocation. In days of sorrow universal prayer to Almighty God, Creator of the universe, to His Son Jesus Christ, made man for man’s salvation, and to the Holy Spirit, Lord and lifegiver, has brought from heaven and upon earth wonderful answers, which are recorded as happy and glorious pages in the history of mankind and of individual nations. We must open our hearts and empty them of the malice with which at times the spirit of error and evil seeks to infect them, and thus purified, we must lift them up confident of receiving heaven’s blessing as also prosperity in the things of this earth.

Assemblies For Peace

Venerable brothers and beloved children, our simple and spontaneous meeting together in spirit today could well be?who knows? ?the first of a series of assemblies of peace, not marred by pointless clamoring but gladdened by a heartfelt sentiment of elevation and peace, an assurance of the tranquillity and nobility of life in the happiness of Christian society, which is, in Christ, divine brotherhood and a foretaste of the joys of heaven. Reflect that the Catholic Church, scattered throughout a world that is today, alas, troubled and divided, is preparing for a universal gathering?the ecumenical council?which is aimed at the promotion of that true brotherhood of nations which exalts Christ Jesus, the glorious and immortal King of ages and of peoples, light of the world, and the way, the truth, and the life.

An Invitation To Prayer

This afternoon, during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the blood of Jesus Christ has come down upon us, upon our lives, upon our souls. By it we are sanctified and redeemed and lifted up with joy. We have prayed together and in so doing we have felt great joy in our hearts. Let us continue to pray in this way, as Saint Paul invites us to do at the end of his touching letter. Let us pray with one another and for one another, and for all the scattered creatures of God who make up the Holy Church and the human family, which is also all His own. We would extend our most urgent invitation to prayer to priests, to consecrated souls, to young children, and to the suffering. Let us all together beg the Father of Light and of Grace to enlighten the minds and move the wills of those who hold the chief responsibility for the life or death of peoples. Let us pray for the peoples themselves that they may not allow themselves to be dazzled by exacerbated nationalism and destructive rivalry, and that, as We so earnestly exhorted in our encyclical “Mater et Magistra,” the relationships in the life of human society may be reintegrated in truth, in justice and in love. Let us all pray that by means of the penetration of the Christian spirit morality may prevail: the vigorous strength of Christian families, the source of noble power and dignity and of blessed and joyful well-being. Ever and always let us pray for the peace of Christ here below, among all men of good will: ut cunctae familiae gentium, peccati vulnere disgregatae, suavissimo subdantur Christi imperio.

An Appeal To Mary

And finally we turn to you, O Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother also. How can we, with trembling hearts, apply ourselves to this greatest problem of life or death, which overshadows all mankind, without confiding ourselves to your intercession to preserve us a periculis cunctis? This is your hour, O Mary! Blessed Jesus entrusted us to you in the supreme moment of His bloody sacrifice. We are certain of your intervention. On September 8th the Church celebrated the anniversary of your most happy birth, saluting you as the beginning of the salvation of the world and the heavenly promise of an increase of peace. Yes, yes, for this we supplicate you, O our most sweet mother, O Queen of the World! Of victorious war or of a conquered people there is no need, but of a renewed and more robust state of safety, of fruitful and serene peace. Of this there is need, and for this we cry out in a loud voice: salutis exordium et pads incrementum. Amen. Amen.