On the 40th Anniversary of Pacem in Terris

Author: Fr Gino Concetti


Fr Gino Concetti

John XXIII’s ‘four pillars’ get a fifth: forgiveness

Even Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum— which is the Magna Carta of Christian social teaching and directly concerned millions of workers, pressed on the one hand by capitalism and on the other by Marxist socialism — did not obtain such wide acceptance as John XXIll's Pacem in Terris. The Pope promulgated it on 11 April 1963, while the spectre of another world war and the fear that nuclear weapons would be used was looming on the horizon. Fierce local conflicts, brutal and violent, were raging in some parts of the world.

Cardinal Maurice Roy — President of Iustitia et Pax— in his "Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of Pacem in Terris (7 April 1973), writes: "It is said that [Pacem in Terris] was, as it were, the testament of Pope John XXIII. This is doubly true. It was, in his own words, 'the Easter offering' of the living Pope. By Pentecost it was to be the last offering of the dying Pope".

Not only in the Christian world did it spark considerable enthusiasm: for the first time, a world programme for peace between peoples in truth, justice, freedom and solidarity was being spelled out, and the Successor of Peter was making himself its guarantor and spokesman.

In the Reflections citedabove, Cardinal Roy pointed out that concrete initiatives followed his words. "The text of Pacem in Terris was solemnly received from the hands of the Pope's Envoy by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Organization. Two years later, from 17 to 20 February 1965, in the context of the General Assembly in the same hall, an important symposium was held on the problems of world peace in the light of the teachings of John XXIII in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris.

"Lastly, many organisms, institutes, study centres and meetings for peace and development were born from the Encyclical, or took its name, and it came out in countless editions".

The Encyclical, it only in part — for the first time in recent history — was also published in the Soviet magazine Za Rubezan. This detail confirms that the good Pope, who is now beatified, had succeeded in penetrating the rigid Soviet world that was still so far from religious freedom and the Western form of democracy.

What innovation did John XXIII introduce to attract such a universal consensus? It is, of course, impossible to trace it back to his gentle, good and fatherly image. Nor is it conceivable that in comparison with the Magisterium of recent Supreme Pontiffs he could have made any radical innovations. All the 20th-century Pontiffs spoke of peace —

and at length — starting with Benedict XV and continuing with Pius XI to Pius XII, who was Pope during the bloodiest and most violent period of history due to the last World War.

The atmosphere of freedom, the leaven of which was especially alive in the hearts of the oppressed peoples, was doubtless a decisive and important factor. The Pope, however, was promoted to being both teacher and prophet of humanity, thirsting for peace. He identified the pillars on which to build it and the conditions to maintain it, without which no peace can exist nor any political system safeguard or promote it.

In indicating the relations between peoples and between nations, John XXIII decreed that they must be administered in "truth", "justice", "love" and "freedom". All four conditions must be scrupulously respected; if one is missing, none of the others can survive.

Truth implies the exclusion of falsehood, deceit, forms of selfishness and racism. It also requires that relations between political communities be "regulated in accordance with justice". This entails not only that "men recognize and observe their mutual rights", but also their respective "duties".

The Encyclical lists a series of fundamental rights of political communities, including the right to exist, to develop, to build one's own future, to autonomy and independence. Solidarity requires the collaboration of other States and of the international community with human assistance and the means to achieve the cultural, economic and medical development that distinguishes a modern democratic nation.

In his Message for World Day of Peace in January 2002, John Paul II added another "pillar": "forgiveness". This innovation, in comparison with the previous Magisterium, is the fruit of a consideration of the past: "My reasoned conviction, confirmed in turn by biblical revelation, is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness. The pillars of true peace are justice and that form of love which is forgiveness" (n. 2; ORE,19/26 December 2001, p.10).

If forgiveness, in the Old Testament, is only found in embryo, forgiveness in the New Testament is the urgent imperative of Jesus that cannot be deferred. If nations and political communities do not ensure that forgiveness prevails, they risk infecting future generations with hatred, revenge and retaliation. Forgiveness, at the political and social level, cannot be separated from justice and truth. St Augustine's motto, "peace is the work of justice", keeps its value, even if it is associated with forgiveness.

The Four Pillars from Pacem in Terris

1. "Peace on earth, which all men of every era have most eagerly yearned for, can be firmly established only if the order laid down by God be dutifully observed".

2. "The progress of learning and the inventions of technology clearly show that, both in living things and in the forces of nature, an astonishing order reigns, and they also bear witness to the greatness of man, who can understand that order and create suitable instruments to harness those forces of nature and use them to his benefit'.

3. "But the progress of science and the inventions of technology show above all the infinite greatness of God, who created the universe and man himself. He created all things out of nothing, pouring into them the abundance of his wisdom and goodness, so that the holy psalmist praises God in these words: 'O Lord our master, the majesty of your name fillsall the earth' (Ps 8:1)...".

4. "How strongly does the turmoil of individual men and peoples contrast with the perfect order of the universe! It is as if the relationships which bind them together could be controlled only by force".

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91. "Relations between nations are to be further regulated by justice. This implies, over and above recognition of their mutual rights, the fulfilment of their respective duties".

92. "Since nations have a right to exist, to develop themselves, to acquire a supply of the resources necessary for their development, to defend their good name and the honour due to them, it follows that they are likewise bound by the obligation of effectively guarding each of these rights and of avoiding those actions by which these rights can be jeopardized. As men in their private enterprises cannot pursue their own interests to the detriment of others, so too States cannot lawfully seek that developmentof their own resources which brings harm to other States and unjustly oppresses them. This statement of St Augustine seems to be very apt in this regard: 'What are kingdoms without justice but large bands of robbers?' (De Civitate Dei, Book. IV, ch. 4: PL, 41, 115; cf. Pius XII's Radio Message, Christmas Eve, 1939)".

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95. "...It must be made clear that justice is seriously violated by whatever is done to limit the strength and numerical increase of these lesser peoples; the injustice is even more serious if vicious attempts of this kind are aimed at the very extinction of these groups".

97. "It should be noted, however, that these minority groups... are often inclined to exalt beyond due measure anything proper to their own people, and to such a degree as to look down on things common to all mankind as if the welfare of the human family must yield to the good of their own ethnic group. Reason rather demands that these very people recognize also the advantages that accrue to them from their peculiar circumstances: for instance, no small contribution is made toward the development of their particular talents and spirit by their daily dealings with people who have grown up in a different culture, since from this association they can gradually make their own the excellence which belongs to the other ethnic group. But this will happen only if the minorities through association with the people who live around them make an effort to share in their customs and institutions. Such, however, will not be the case if they sow discord which causes great damage and hinders progress.

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112. "Justice, then, right reason and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demand that the arms race should cease; that the stockpiles which exist in various countries should be reduced equally and simultaneously by the parties concerned; that nuclear weapons should be banned; and finally, that all come to an agreement on a fitting programme of disarmament, employing mutualand effective controls. In the words of Pius XII, our Predecessor of happy memory: 'The calamity of a world war, with the economic and social ruin and the moral excesses and dissolution that accompany it, must not be permitted to envelop the human race for a third time (cf. Pius XII's Radio Message, Christmas Eve, 1941).

113. "All must realize that there is no hope of putting an end to the building up of armaments, nor of reducing the present stocks, nor, still less — and this is the main point — of abolishing them altogether, unless the process is complete and thorough and unless it proceeds from inner conviction: unless, that is, everyone sincerely cooperates to banish the fear and anxious expectation of war with which men are oppressed. If this is to come about, the fundamental principle on which our present peace depends must be replaced by another, which declares that the true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms but in mutual trust alone...".

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153. "It is our opinion, too, that the above-mentioned inconsistency between the religious faith in those who believe and their activities in the temporal sphere, results in great part from the lack of a solid Christian education. Indeed, it happens in many quarters and too often that there is no proportion between scientific training and religious instruction: the former continues and is extended until it reaches higher degrees, while the latter remains at elementary levels. It is indispensable, therefore, that in the training of youth, education should be complete and without interruption, namely, that in the minds of the young, religious values should be cultivated and the moral conscience refined in a manner to keep pace with the continuous and ever more abundant assimilation of scientific and technical knowledge. And it is indispensable, too, that they be instructed regarding the proper way to carry out their actual tasks" (cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra).

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163. "We must therefore consider this point most closely joined to the great tasks of magnanimous men, namely, to establish with truth, justice, charity, and liberty new methods of relationships in human society: the relations among individual citizens, among citizens and their own countries, among nations themselves, among individuals, families, intermediate associations and individual States on the one hand, and with the community of all mankind on the other. This is a most exalted task, for it is the task of bringing about true peace in the order established by God".

164. "These men, necessarily few in number, but deserving recognition for their contributions in the field of human relations.... And We are comforted by the hope that their number will increase, especially among those who believe. For it is an imperative of duty; it is a requirement of love. Every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a centre of love, a vivifying leaven amidst his fellowmen: and he will be this all the more perfectly the more closely he lives in communion with God and in the intimacy of his own soul".

165. "In fact, there can be no peace between men unless there is peace within each one of them, unless, that is, each one builds up within himself the order wished by God".  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 July 2003, page 4

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