Editor’s Note: This article is a translation of a column that originally appeared on El Heraldo de Mexico on March 21, 2022. 

The Roman Flavius Vegetius composed a work called “Epitoma rei militaris” around the year 390. In it, the phrase “if you really want peace, prepare for war” is found. In the classic treatises on military technique, war is usually seen as a tool for obtaining peace. The arguments behind this logic are many, however, one stands out: the human condition is violent, wars are a “necessary evil” and are carried out to rebuild a certain lost order, to restore “justice,” to build a state of peace supposedly better than the previous one.

This apparent “political realism” is infected with a perverse anthropology: the human being is a permanent Cain, persistently engaged in fratricide. This anthropology, rather than realistic, is pessimistic. It easily traps peace processes and the search for agreement.

Paul VI, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, thought and acted based on a radically different principle: 

In the reprehensible hypothesis that Peace were thought of in unnatural separation from its relationship with Life, Peace could be imposed as the sad triumph of death. […]  The key to truth in the matter can be found only by recognizing the primacy of Life as a value and as a condition for Peace. The formula is: ” If you want Peace, defend Life”. Life is the crown of Peace. If we base the logic of our activity on the sacredness of Life, war is virtually disqualified as a normal and habitual means of asserting rights and so of ensuring Peace. Peace is but the incontestable ascendancy of right and, in the final analysis, the joyful celebration of Life.

Message for 10th World Day of Peace, January 1, 1977

Indeed, peace is built by animating the culture of life, that is, the set of conditions necessary for all human life to be recognized with equal dignity, and safeguarded by the categorical imperative: “you shall not kill.” Today, Pope Francis continues on this same path: “War is never the way.”

The culture of death and throwaway culture is not born by spontaneous generation. Violent people divide, mistrust, and spread suspicion. At a minimum, they sow the seeds of destruction that they later reap. They despise all who do not share their convictions. Seated on a pedestal of moral superiority, they look at others with disdain, and at the slightest opportunity, they play dirty. They don’t know how to think except within the logic of power. They are creepy and end up declaring the obsolescence of dialogue in order to present themselves as “victims” who “were forced” to wage war. The culture of death, in this way, nests in the darkest corners of the personality. It nests and becomes a spiral, mimetic dynamism: “You attack me, well, I do more.”

René Girard has acutely discovered that human beings tend to violent “mimesis,” that is, to imitate the conflict that affects them. Only Jesus Christ can break the spiral of violence. He does not sacrifice anything or anyone. He sacrifices himself, sympathizes with the weak, and offers the aggressor a path of restoration. This is what allows us to get out of the spiral of violence. This is the Christian hypothesis, that at the present moment, we need to risk.

Image: Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

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Rodrigo Guerra López is the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Originally from Mexico City, he graduated in philosophy from the Free Popular University of the State of Puebla, Mexico; he was then awarded a higher degree in university humanism from the Ibero-American University, Mexico, and a doctorate in philosophy from the International Academy of Philosophy of the Principality of Liechtenstein.

He has held the role of academic coordinator of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute in Mexico City and has served as professor of metaphysics, bioethics, and philosophy of law at the PanAmerican University, Mexico. In 2013 he held the Karol Wojtyla Memorial Lectures at the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.

From 2004 to 2007 he directed the Observatorio Socio Pastoral of the Latin American Episcopal Council. In 2008 he founded the Centro de Investigación Social Avanzada (CISAV), of which he is professor-researcher of the Division of Philosophy and member of the Consejo de Gobierno.

He is a member of the theological commission of the Latin American Episcopal Council and of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and is the author of numerous publications in the field of anthropology, bioethics, and social philosophy.

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