Si vis pacem, para bellum.
“If you want peace, prepare for war.” This terrifying statement from the 4th Century Roman writer Vegetius has become so much a part of the foreign policy of virtually every nation on earth that its validity is almost universally taken for granted. The fact that the author of De Re Militaria, Concerning Military Matters, identified himself as a Christian shows just how quickly Mars, the Roman god of war, reclaimed his spot from the Prince of Peace after the conversion of Constantine and the “Christianization” of the Roman Empire.
This phrase has taken on a number of forms throughout the centuries, but in our time the term “war” has been replaced with the word “justice.” On January 1, 1972, Pope Paul VI, in his World Day of Peace message, said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Several years earlier Martin Luther King, Jr., showed the necessity of the two-way link between peace and justice when he said, “There can be no justice without peace. And there can be no peace without justice.”
Sadly, the world still believes that justice can be achieved and peace can be maintained through war and violence. And yet, amidst this distorted vision of how to make the world a better place for our children and our children’s children, we have the Society of Jesus calling us - as the third Universal Apostolic Principle (UAP) states - “To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.”
The chasm between the present moment and “a hope-filled future” makes the achievement of this particular UAP a near impossibility. But that may be too optimistic. There is absolutely nothing in the history of politics, diplomacy, or military intervention that would give young people the hope that theirs will be a peaceful and just future.
For this UAP to have any chance of success the key terms - hope, peace, justice - must be redefined in light of theology rather than politics. The history of states, nations, and empires has shown that reliance on what passes for political wisdom is the quickest path to injustice, violence, and despair. Only through placing hope in Christ can people act justly and thus bring peace to our troubled world.
Jesus teaches that peace is not the same as a lack of war. In St. John's Last Supper Discourse Jesus distinguished political from theological peace when He said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” A truly hope-filled future is directly tied to convincing young people that the peace offered by Jesus is qualitatively different from a peace offered by any political party or secular movement.
Ignatius of Loyola knew better than most the difference between the peace offered by the world and that offered by Christ. He went from being a soldier in service to the King of Spain to one in service to the King of Kings. His “peace maker” went from being a sword to being the Gospel. This Ignatian Year not only marks the 500th Anniversary of Ignatius laying down his sword and picking up the Gospel, but it reminds us that the conversion of Inigo Lopez de Loyola brought him the peace of Christ - a peace that the world could never provide.
Given the chance, Ignatius would remind his descendants in the Society of Jesus - and anyone interested in offering real hope to young people - that the peace of Christ can only spring from victory in the war against the sin that resides in the self. He would say that rightly understood - meaning, filtered through the lens of the Gospel - Si vis pacem, para bellum is the battle cry of a hope-filled world. He would also warn us that only those who have waged war against their own sinfulness are worthy of bearing the responsibility of accompanying young people into the battle for true and lasting peace.