“Peace especially attracts the Spirit of God, for peace is the mother of love and the hallmark of sanctity.”[i]
So said Alcuin of York. Although he lived and died over 1,200 years ago he remains one of the greatest Christian scholars this country has ever produced, and even though he is not so well remembered today, his influence upon the church in Europe was profound and long-lasting.
He goes on –
“Peace is the health of a people… Peace protects everyone because it is ever rooted in God. A person who remains in holy peace abides with the saints of God.
And then he says this: “Peace is a terror to its enemies.”[ii]
These are strong words. In many respects it seems contradictory to speak of peace as terrifying. However, those of us who have given time and energy to making peace, know that it strikes fear in the powerful and the proud because it points towards a new place of justice and well-being, where, in the words of the psalmist, righteousness and peace kiss each other (Psalm 85.10). It is the place says the prophet Zechariah where we “love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8.19). These three always go together: peace; justice; truth.
This is why there can be no peace without justice; and there can be no justice without truth. Therefore to seek this vision of peace, a peace that is beyond the usual compromises that pass for peace but are actually little more than a temporary ceasefire and do nothing to dismantle the apparatus of war and the fortunes and misery which are made on the back of them, is to bear witness to this new world order where fortunes and positions, the things that made them and the arms that protect them, have to be given up. Yes, if you make your living from conflict, or at least don’t do too much to disturb the trench warfare of envy and avarice which fuel conflict, then peace is frightening.
This is why, I suppose, Alcuin also calls peace “the mother of love.” We might think it the other way round. If we love each other, we shall have peace. But it doesn’t always work that way, because if there is no truth and there is no justice and there is no peace, love will very likely be strangled at birth and replaced by bitterness, resentment, and its most dangerous child of all, the desire for vengeance at any cost, that is the very thing that ends up building walls and trenches and weapons of war.
To make the act of will which lays aside force and aggression, and is determined to find a way of reconciliation – truth and justice - creates the fertile ground where love can flourish. In this way, peace is the health of the people. Peace is our greatest hope for protection – mostly from ourselves. Peace is to be close to God and close to the saints of God, and as Jesus says, to make peace is to be child of God (see Matthew 5.9).
Cycles of violence, and the empires they build, the fortunes they accrue, and the powerful positions they perpetuate, still mean that there is not much peace in the world. We remember the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, they led to a war ending, but at what cost to our humanity? And what have they done to a world which now has the capacity for tens of thousands of Hiroshimas? And too many countries unwilling to even reconsider their nuclear capability? And others wanting to join the top table of mass destruction capability?
Until we embrace a bigger vision of peace that is something beyond the silence when the guns have finished firing, and is the painful embrace of reconciled enemies beginning to work together as friends and neighbours; and until we shape the household of the world into a place where turning the other cheek and turning swords into ploughshares is the disciplined expectation of hearts and lives schooled in the way of Christ, the Prince of Peace, warfare, violence and conflict will never be far away.
These evils, the tempting snare of getting dominion over my neighbour, always simmer in the human heart. Christ offers a different picture of what our humanity could be. May his peace, therefore, dwell in our hearts and shape our wills. Then peace will be the mother of love, and its astonishing, even terrifying, vision of love will cast out the works of darkness.
This text is the ninth of a series of blog posts highlighting different reflections and experiences of those who are calling for an end to nuclear weapons. Learn more:
"75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: has your country ratified the UN treaty?", by Jennifer Philpot-Nissen (15 June 2020)
"Kiritimati and the Bomb: A Tale of Two Churches", by Becky Alexis-Martin (6 July 2020)
"Recollections of an ecumenical pilgrimage to Japan, for the 70th anniversary of atomic bombing (2015)", by Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (15 July 2020)
"Japan’s churches urge nuclear-free world", by Rev. Renta Nishihara (20 July 2020)
"Nuclear weapons are no good for the Pacific—and no good for the world", by Rev. James Bhagwan (27 July 2020)
"Open wounds: French nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa, Ma’ohi Nui 1966-1996", by Francois Pihaatae (3 August 2020)
"Practicing the interfaith discipline of hope", by Emily Welty (10 August 2020)
"Are we our sisters' keepers? When it comes to atom bombs the world is saying 'yes'", by Jonathan Frerichs (17 August 2020)
[i] Douglas Dales, A Mind Intent on God; The Prayers and Spiritual Writings of Alcuin: An anthology, Canterbury Press, 2004, Pg.23
[ii] Ibid. Pg. 23