COMMENT

We go to the press in the wake of the enormous anti-war protest march in London, the Prime minister’s audience with Pope John Paul and on the eve of the long overdue Parliamentary debate. By the time this copy is in your hand we may be at war, though it seems more likely to be delayed until the weapons inspections report of mid-March.

In any event it may be no bad thing to remind ourselves of the classic Christian criteria for war. Unlike Islam, Christianity has no doctrine of holy war which must be waged against the infidel. Indeed there is amongst most modern Christians no enthusiasm for an enterprise which, even when conducted by men of conscience and for noble motives, will inevitably bring suffering. Nevertheless there are circumstances in which Christians will go to war and, indeed, have a moral duty to do so.

For a Christian to go to war he must have a just cause, legitimate authority and right intention.

In the case of Iraq the just cause is proposed as a pre-emptive strike against a regime believed to be concealing weapons of mass destruction and encouraging international terrorism. It is also indicted for the mass murder of its own citizens. (The last crime alone was considered sufficient casus belli for the superpowers to dismantle and bomb Yugoslavia with scarcely a protest from our citizens).

As for legitimate authority this is now widely considered to be the United Nations. While a UN resolution may be desirable it is not and cannot be necessary to the doctrine of a just war. Authority for action is located in the national body or government, those whose responsibility is for the common good and defence of those in their care.

Right intention must in the case of Iraq be the removal of weapons of mass destruction and the removal of the tyranny that has long subjected and impoverished her people.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays down these conditions when prayer and action and all efforts at peace have failed.

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor … must be lasting, grave and certain.

  2. All other means of putting an end to it have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.

  3. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evils to be eliminated.

  4. There must be serious prospect of success.

The Catechism acknowledges that, in the end, these decisions belong to ‘the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good’ – generally accepted to be our political leadership.

These are the classic grounds for Christians to decide for or against conflict and there is no doubt that the Christian community, as the community at large, is divided on the particular case of Iraq.

It is a foolish man who rushes to war but it is equally foolish to encourage evil for the sake of a false and temporary peace.

Something strange is happening to ecumenism – and it is hard to know whether the Council for Christian Unity of the General Synod has even noticed. Two recent developments – one in Scotland and one in Norway – have accentuated this climate of uncertainty.

Professor Ola Tjorhom’s is a name to conjure with in ecumenical circles. Together with our own dear Canon John Halliburton, and Dean John Arnold, late of Durham (whose praises are sung in the most recent edition of Unity Digest, the CCU’s in-house journal), he was a principal architect of the Porvoo Agreement. Tjorhom – a Professor at Stavangar and a Secretary at the Centre Ecumenique in Strasbourg – was from the Catholic wing of the Church of Norway. He had high hopes of the Porvoo process as one which would strengthen and extend the catholicity of that Church. But as his friends have long been predicting, he has recently become a Roman Catholic.

No man’s pilgrimage is entirely dependent on one event or group of events; but there can be no doubt that Ola Tjorhom’s was profoundly affected by what he saw as the ‘failure’ of the Porvoo Agreement. Northern Catholicism (the title of a book, but also the dream of many) proved not to be what the establishment of the Church of Norway was after. As this magazine had consistently predicted (and the Bishop of Bergen confirmed on a visit four years ago to Forward in Faith clergy in London) there was not – nor had their ever been – any intention to cease lay celebration or presbyteral ordination. A Catholic ecclesiology was simply regarded, in a thoroughly post-modern way, as a desirable ecumenical accessory – an elegant, but dispensable, bolt-on.

Porvoo, of course, was the first ecumenical outing of the New Church of England. It did not require (because the Church of England no longer required) mutual acceptance and interchangeability of orders. The Norwegian hierarchy merely smelled the wind and applied the same principle to other things.

Ecclesiological post-modernism is having another outing in current proposals to link various churches, including the Episcopal Church in Scotland.

SCIFU (The Scottish Church Initiative for Union) was summarized thus in a recent paper sent by Episcopal Church representatives on the SCIFU Group to members of the Scottish General Synod: ‘It is offered to the Church in Scotland as a possible means of bringing back together that which history rather than faith has divided, and which, if achieved, would enable Christians in Scotland to leave behind divisions of the past and find their true unity in Christ.’

‘which history rather than faith has divided’!

The scheme, on closer reading, proves to be an organizational fudge based on half-baked trinitarian theology, and post-modernist indifferentism. There are to be ‘bishops’ who are not bishops; ‘maxi-parishes’ which are not parishes, and a posture with regard to the deep theological divisions of Scottish history which borders on the puerile. At a time when theological division within the mainstream churches is deeper than it has been since the age of the great heresies – the last Primus of Scotland has doubted whether he is a Christian at all! – unity is being forged institutionally on the shifting sand of doctrinal indifferentism under the pressure of numerical decline.

If the Scottish Episcopal Church endorses these proposals, it will richly deserve the defections to Rome which will result. If the Church of England embraces the resulting confection as part of the Communion for the sake of its episcopal rump, we will know that – apart from the inflated rhetoric – the ecumenical game is up.

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Home Page