Thomas Merton wrote a monograph on war and peace that he never saw published. In 2004 it was finally published, edited by the well-known Merton bibliographer Patricia Burton. I think that his words of wisdom ring true today as surely as they did when he penned them many decades ago. While these words were written to express increasing concern about how Christians are to respond to the nuclear crisis of the day, perhaps there is some wisdom to be gleaned for our own time.

Yet never was opposition to war more urgent and more necessary than now. Never was religious protest so badly needed. Embarrassed silence, despondent passivity, or crusading beligerence seem to be the most widespread “Christian” response to the H-bomb. True, there has been some theological and ethical debate. This debate has been characterized above all by a seemingly inordinate hesitation to characterize the uninhibited use of nuclear weapons as immoral. Of course the bomb has been condemned without equivocation by the “peace churches” (Quakers, Mennonites, etc.) But the general tendency of Protestant and Catholic theologians has been to reconsile nuclear war with the traditional “just war” theory.

In other words the discussion has not been so much a protest against nuclear war, still less a positive search for peaceful solutions to the problem of nuclear dterrence and ever increasing Cold War obsessions, but rather an attempt to justify, at least under some limited form, this new kind of war which is tacitly recognized as an imminent possibility. In other words, theological thought has tended more and more to accept nuclear war, considering a lesser evil than Communist domination, and looking for some practicable way to make use of the lesser evil in order to avoid the greater.

To read the full text check out Peace in the Post-Christian Era (Orbis, 2004).

Photo: Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University


  1. Br. Dan,

    Great post! Like you, I am a huge fan of Merton and Francis. Not just their writings, but their living of the Gospel. I also grew up deeply inspired by John Paul II. As I read your post, I was reminded of these words from Gaudium et Spes, which ring out as a clear imperative against the use of nuclear weaponry:
    “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.”
    I know that there is a lot in the Roman Catholic Catechism and Guadiem et Spes that you do not agree with pertaining to the use of force, but these powerful words from VII provide a position where all Catholics can agree. Peace and All Good!

  2. Dan, I have just posted a personal reflection on non-violence on my blog– Thanks for your great input on the very important topic of non-violence. Your brother, John Anglin, OFM

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