The hour has struck for our “conversion,” for personal transformation, for interior renewal. We must get used to thinking of man in a new way; and in a new way also of men’s life in common; with a new manner, too, of conceiving the paths of history and the destiny of the world, according to the words of Saint Paul: “You must be clothed in the new self, which is created in God’s image, justified and sanctified through the truth” (Ephesians IV, 23).
The hour has struck for a halt, a moment of recollection, of reflection, almost of prayer; a moment to think anew of our common origin, our history, our common destiny.
Today as never before, in our era so marked by human progress, there is need for an appeal to the moral conscience of man. For the danger comes not from progress nor from science; indeed, if properly utilized, these could rather resolve many of the grave problems which assail mankind.
In a word, then, the edifices of modern civilization must be built upon spiritual principles which alone can not only support it but even illuminate and animate it.
We believe, as you know, that these indispensable principles of superior wisdom must be founded upon faith in God.… To us, in any case, and to all those who accept the ineffable revelation which Christ has given us of Him, He is the living God, the Father of all men.
The Pope who uttered this eloquent appeal for transcendent justice and moral renewal at the United Nations General Assembly had spanned a greater distance than that of his one-day flight from Rome. As all are aware who have stepped from a medieval city to a modern metropolis, he has markedly moved away from predecessors who once made all European states west of Russia feel the sway of papal power. If the conception of the world as a single empire-church remains Rome’s fundamental policy, Paul VI had no spectacular show of world power to exhibit at the U. N. “You have before you,” he asserted, “a humble man … and among you all, representatives of sovereign states, the least invested if you wish to think of him thus, with a minuscule … temporal sovereignty.”
Gone are the days when Henry IV was forced to beg for mercy from the pope while shivering in the cold with bare head and feet. Gone also are the days when King John of England was deposed by the pope and received his kingdom again only after signing a document “freely” offering and granting “to God and the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the holy Roman Church, our mother, and to our Lord the Pope Innocent and his Catholic successors, the whole realm of England and the whole realm of Ireland … for the remission of our sins.” In a time of Communist-vs.-free world tension, resurgence of non-Christian religions, exploding world population, and pervasive secularism, when Christians of all affiliations have increasingly recognized themselves as a minority, Paul VI wisely cast himself in the role of persuader rather than compeller.
President Johnson conferred with the Pope in New York. In a precedent that may prove controversial, the platform of the United Nations was turned over to a world religious figure; Pope Paul was welcomed by Assembly President Amintore Fanfani of Italy, who kissed the Pope’s ring in an act of public obeisance. Television and radio networks allotted preferential time and treatment, and the day’s activities were carried on a public service basis from the moment of the Pope’s arrival through the Yankee Stadium mass.
The papal plea for peace in a world on the brink of atomic war, for international understanding in a time of global rivalry, and for a new era of world brotherhood included little that had not been heard before. But much that Paul said needed to be said again, emphatically, and with all possible urgency. And it will stand repetition by many others until words have become deeds and hope has become reality.
Every civilized human heart could applaud the plea for universal peace. Only the barbarous want war. But no biblically literate Protestant could give more than lip service to John F. Kennedy’s aphorism quoted by the Pope, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” This is still God’s world. God is still its true Sovereign, and Scripture does not sanction the notion that he may permit all mankind to be wiped out in an atomic holocaust.
The Pope’s advocacy of the laying down of arms leads to a problem. While he rightly said that “as long as man remains that weak, changeable, and even wicked being that he often shows himself to be, defensive arms will, unfortunately, be necessary,” neither he nor any of us knows of a time when men have been other than weak, changeable, and wicked, nor do we anticipate a time when all men will be righteous. Therefore, the problem persists of how a peaceful world is to be maintained by wicked men. To be sure, in his closing moments Pope Paul called for a world built upon spiritual principles. But the record of the United Nations is such that its principles are repeatedly accommodated until it has become more a showplace of strength than a temple of justice. Thus one must look with skepticism on the statement, “Is there anyone who does not see the necessity of coming thus progressively to the establishment of a world authority, able to act efficaciously on the juridical and political level?” In response to the Pope’s proposal favoring a world political authority, a multitude of thoughtful people still say No. For such an authority may betoken the closing days of this age even more than the wickedness and injustice of the present hour.
When the Pope spoke of his own humility and of his minute temporal sovereignty, a great number of non-Catholics could not but have questions. Many still think that if one were pope, his first spiritual duty would be to cease being pope, if that office implies being Christ’s vicegerent and spokesman for the whole Church. The Pope also preserved the fable of political sovereignty so boldly expounded by some of his predecessors. Yet Jesus himself, whose vicar Paul VI asserts he is, made no claim to any political sovereignty but said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The claim of the Roman pontiff to unique political and spiritual sovereignty is not reconcilable with the New Testament.
The Pope’s plea for the repudiation of war through disarmament also needs to be read in the context of the New Testament and especially of the words of Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. Whether or not we are living in what Scripture calls “the last days,” this is, as even leading scientists have observed, an apocalyptic age. Granting the sincerity and good will of the supreme pontiff of the Roman church, parts of his message sound strange when read in the light of Christ’s description of the end of the age in his eschatological discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. All Christians should agree about the need for personal transformation and renewal. But underlying the Pope’s plea for peace through disarmament there seems to be the concept that final and enduring peace will come through human agencies, such as the United Nations, which in its aspect of brotherly cooperation he called “the world’s greatest hope.”
Scripture speaks differently. It holds forth as the world’s greatest hope Jesus Christ, who is sovereign over all churches, all nations, and all men; who said he would return not to a world where men have made peace but to a world in tribulation; and who promised through his own reappearing the realization of that most often repeated prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” To say this is not to urge the least slackening of human effort toward what the Book of Common Prayer calls “peace in our time.” But it is to place humanity with its sin and failure at the feet of the only true hope of the world, Christ the coming King.
We Americans with our traditional hospitality have welcomed Pope Paul with his urgent words in behalf of peace. Would that all those who have accorded him such deep respect might echo in their hearts the welcoming prayer that closes the Bible, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
The Hayneville Verdict
To accept as just the acquittal of Thomas L. Coleman in his trial for manslaughter at Hayneville, Alabama, requires a gigantic suspension of disbelief that few Americans can muster. In principle United States Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach was right in pointing out that such a verdict is the price to be paid for the jury system. Yet to make no other comment is too facile a dismissal of an agonizing situation. This latest addition to the depressing list of civil rights slayings for which no judicial penalty has been paid entails a terrible hazard. It may seem futile to voice a protest at the inadequacy of the charge against the killer of Jonathan Daniels and his acquittal after a trial in which testimony characterized by the Assistant Attorney General of Alabama as “perjured” was accepted by the jurors. But such things must be protested, lest we become accustomed to condoning murder.
God’s law that declares “Thou shalt not kill” cannot be set aside in favor of any unwritten law of local mores. Perversion of justice is the ultimate lawlessness. This is what the verdict from the Hayneville courtroom is saying to us, and the national conscience has reason to be troubled.
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