Our Lord said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” What is this peace that Christ gives us, which the world cannot offer?
If we were to ask the people of today what they most desire for themselves and for the world, the majority would certainly answer: peace! St. Augustine described peace as “a good so great, that even in this earthly and mortal life there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such zest, or find to be more thoroughly gratifying.”1
Especially in the last century, the desire for peace has intensified, showing itself in different forms.
A good desired, but not obtained
The two world wars deeply scarred humanity with their violence and destruction. As if they were not enough, after the end of the worst one in 1945, Soviet communism continued to terrorize many of the Slavic and Eastern peoples, and the world witnessed new confrontations, especially in Asia and Africa.
In the period that became known as the Cold War, despite the apparent absence of a formal confrontation, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an arms race that pointed, sooner or later, to a nuclear conflict of tragic proportions. Something similar happened at the threshold of the third millennium, with the emergence of large-scale terrorism.
It is not surprising, then, that the ideal of peace should emerge as an objective to be reached by men tired of blood, death and destruction. What response could the world offer to such calamities? Treaties, agreements between States and meetings among the greatest world powers, with the commitment to preserve peace, have been and continue to be made.
In addition to an encouraging promise, these efforts brought with them a crucial question: would they achieve the expected results? Or did they only amount to grasping at a chimera? Not long after the beginning of these events, people like the renowned Dominican theologian Fr. Victorino Rodríguez already offered a negative response: “The UN was established to guarantee peace among nations. The year 1986 was declared as the International Year of Peace. However, the desired peace has not been achieved; neither the messianic peace in which the Gospel germinated, nor the Octavian peace in which Law developed – not even when the deterrent power of nuclear defence seemed sufficient to stop men from making or promoting war.”2
The world’s interest in peace even gave it new meanings, far removed from the true one. In the 1960s, for example, the hippie movement resounded with its best-known catchphrase: “peace and love”. Skilfully manipulated, this slogan convinced people that its realization consisted in the mere absence of war and in the complete satisfaction of carnal pleasures.
Faced with this scenario, we should ask ourselves: In the final analysis, what is true harmony? How can we attain it? God Our Lord has said: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27). What is this peace which Christ gives us, and which the world cannot offer?
Peace, tranquillity and order
St. Augustine defines peace as “the tranquillity of order.”3 These two elements are closely linked – indeed, so closely linked as to be practically inseparable. If dissociated, they tend to become a caricature of themselves.
Order is the right disposition of things according to their nature and their end. We find an image of this principle in the rich and complex organization of the human body. In it, each system has a purpose, according to the organs of which they are composed; these, in turn, depend on the proper functioning of the tissues and cells. We can say, therefore, that the human body is orderly because its parts have a function and purpose which contribute to the good of the whole.
Order must favour the tranquil freedom of the parts. For example, in a nation where citizens are constantly watched and where the law is enforced under the shadow of fear, the order that is achieved is violent and therefore unstable. It does not generate peace, because it lacks tranquillity.
True tranquillity can be defined as the quietude and calm that comes with contentedness with one’s situation, not out of indolence, self-indulgence or stagnation, but because one fulfils one’s purpose in it. This is what the intelligence experiences when it knows the truth, the will when it possesses the good, or a child when in the arms of its mother, because it “knows” that its needs will be met in her care.
In order to constitute genuine peace, tranquillity must come from true order. It was not without reason that St. Augustine defined peace as the tranquillity of order. Failing this, tranquillity is sought for its own sake, and tranquillity in disorder4 is then found. This is a spurious security, a deceptive tranquillity, the false peace of which the Scriptures speak: that of stubborn sinners who no longer feel the sting of remorse (cf. Ps 73:4-9) and exclaim “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14). It is this illusory peace that reigns, for example, in a family in which parents give in to every whim of their child with the lying pretext that in this way they can “have a little peace”5 or, in the eloquent example given by Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, the pseudo-peace of the swamp where, in the apparent stillness of the stagnant and putrid water, all kinds of deleterious organisms proliferate.
True peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit
Authentic – and therefore Christian – peace can only be understood in the light of divine Revelation. The Holy Church has always recalled the existence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned by St. Paul in the Letter to the Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
Endowing the baptized soul with the infused virtues and supernatural gifts, God expects of it works worthy of Heaven, which are possible only with the aid of the Paraclete. To the extent that the baptized person allows himself to be moulded by Him, “then man’s operation is said to be the fruit of the Holy Spirit.”6
Theology uses this term by analogy with nature. Just as the fruit of a tree is its best and most pleasing product, in the same way the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the human act that proceeds from divine influence and brings with it a certain delight.7
Among these fruits, the Apostle lists peace, but preceded by charity and joy. What is the reason behind this sequence?
The fruits from which peace proceeds
Charity is the most important of the virtues and the first of the fruits, the “source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.”8 Far from being a mere sentiment, it implies the ordering of man towards God in an attitude of filial submission and docile obedience, as Our Lord teaches us: “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments” (Jn 14:15).
Charity is succeeded by joy because, according to the Angelic Doctor, it is proper to the latter to be “caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved exists and endures in it.”9 Now, St. John says in his first epistle: “he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (4:16). Through charity, the Lord makes Himself present in the one who loves Him and thus gives him possession of the greatest of goods. Spiritual joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, arises naturally from love for God.
We will only attain perfect joy in Heaven, where “there will be full enjoyment of God, wherein man will obtain whatever he had desired, even with regard to other goods.”10 Nevertheless, in this life the happiness that comes from the Holy Spirit gives the baptized a prelude to eternal joy. And when joy is full – to the extent possible on this earth – then peace is obtained, for two reasons.
Only in God does the human heart find repose
First, because peace presupposes “the repose of the will in the stable possession of the good which is desired.”11 For he who is dissatisfied with the object of his enjoyment is not completely happy, and from this dissatisfaction comes interior anxiety. It is natural to man to have desires, and in this life we will never be free of them. Daily experience shows that man is never satisfied with what he has, whether in terms of money, physical health or pleasure. This situation places him in a dilemma: to strive continually to obtain more and more earthly goods, in the illusion of finding what he seeks, or to love the only Being – eternal and infinitely good – capable of fully satisfying all his desires.
This truth is expressed in the words of St. Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”12 Isaiah exhorted his followers in this regard, saying: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me” (Is 55:2-3).
“Let nothing trouble your hearts”
Moreover, the peace that flows from charity and joy demands “the absence of agitation,”13 for we cannot properly enjoy a good if disturbances of internal or external origin trouble us.
Man’s life on earth, we all know, is a constant struggle, and the main battle takes place within us. The passions make war on us, and often we do not do the good we desire, but the evil to which we feel drawn. On the other hand, within the tabernacle of our souls, God makes Himself present through grace and warns us through the voice of conscience. The laws of the spirit and of the flesh clash with one another on this battlefield that is ourselves.
To this combat are added illnesses, adversities, misunderstandings and dangers of all kinds. As a consequence, those feelings which are so common to men when they do not react well to misfortune easily arise within us: fatigue, weariness, discouragement, tedium, depression and restlessness…
But a soul entirely open to the action of the Holy Spirit has other dispositions. Those who love God alone ate not troubled by anything because, like St. Paul, they regard everything as rubbish in comparison with the supreme good of gaining Christ and being found in Him (cf. Phil 3:8-9). In the same vein, the Psalmist sings: “Great peace have those who love thy Law; nothing can make them stumble.” (119:1). Nothing can disturb the security of those who know they are with the Almighty: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31).
An impossible objective without divine grace
The baptized, having been placed within the supernatural order, elevated to participation in the divine nature and made temples of the Most Holy Trinity, must live according to the demands of this condition, which is impossible without the grace of God.
Inner order, for a baptized person, means leading an upright and coherent life through frequent reception of the Sacraments, prayer and good works. When man sins and loses sanctifying grace, he prepares a bad end for himself, different from that for which God destined him. It is obvious that on this path he will not find peace, but frustration and remorse.
Whence the Angelic Doctor concludes that “without sanctifying grace, peace is not real but merely apparent,”14 since grace brings friendship with God.
The heart of the wicked and the peace of the righteous
Scripture illustrates this truth well, showing that there is no peace for those who are outside the grace of God and violate His Commandments.
The prophet Isaiah eloquently describes the confusion of those who despise the Lord: “the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters toss up mire and dirt” (57:20). The wicked, because they make themselves enemies of the Creator, cannot enjoy true peace. Their thoughts are like “the tossing sea” in which treachery, error and infamy are devised. And in their hearts, stained by the malice of their crimes, are “mire and dirt”. The Lord of hosts Himself is categorical in stating that “there is no peace for the wicked” (Is 48:22).
The just, in contrast, enjoy true peace even in the midst of torments and difficulties. This is a cause of grief and envy for their enemies, who cannot comprehend how they enjoy such tranquillity. “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace” (Wis 3:1-3).
Christ, Author of peace
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace” (Is 52:7), Isaiah exclaimed in wonder, centuries before the Word became incarnate. And St. Jerome, commenting on this passage, explains: “Our peace is He Himself, who through the Blood of His Cross has pacified everything in Heaven and on earth.”15
Our Lord is the true Author of peace because, as the Catechism states, “By the Blood of His Cross, ‘in His own person He killed the hostility,’ He reconciled men with God and made His Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God.”16
Finally, He has obtained for us peace with God, paying the debt that weighed against us, as St. Paul exclaims: “Justified by faith, we have peace with God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rom 5:1-2).
If you want peace, prepare for war!
It is curious but inevitable that, having set out to deal with peace, we end up turning to the idea of war. Two adversaries struggle for hegemony in the heart of man: on the one hand, Our Lord Jesus Christ proposes the one true peace; on the other, the world, with its lies and illusions, aims at his perdition by presenting a caricature of it.
However, these contenders differ not only in the gift they offer, but also in the means they employ to achieve their intent. What path does the devil suggest for obtaining world peace? And what ways does Christ offer us? These are questions that we will answer in a future article. ◊
1 ST. AUGUSTINE. De civitate Dei. L.XIX, c.11.
2 RODRÍGUEZ, OP, Victorino. Teologia de la paz. Madrid: Aguirre, 1988, p.9.
3 ST. AUGUSTINE, op. cit., c.13, n.1.
4 As Étienne Gilson well explains, “the peace that societies want, no matter what peace, is in fact mere tranquillity, maintained at any price, no matter the foundations upon which it rests” (GILSON, Étienne. Introdução ao estudo de Santo Agostinho. São Paulo: Paulus, 2006, p.329).
5 Cf. RIAUD, Alexis. A ação do Espírito Santo nas almas. Lisboa: Rei dos Livros; Prumo, 1995, p.128.
6 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Summa Theologiæ. I-II, q.70, a.1.
7 Cf. LEGUEU, Stanislas. Le Saint Esprit. Angers: P. Desnoes, 1905, p.133.
8 CCC 1827.
9 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, op. cit., II-II, q.28, a.1.
10 Idem, a.3.
11 RIAUD, op. cit., p.129.
12 ST. AUGUSTINE. Confessionum. L.I, c.1, n.1.
13 RIAUD, op. cit., p.129.
14 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, op. cit., II-II, q.29, a.3, ad 1.
15 ST. JEROME. Comentário a Isaías. L.XIV, c.52, v.7-8.
16 CCC 2305.