45 Years of Christian Non-Violence

In this 1970 issue of the student paper at Notre Dame, Scholastic, there is a story about The Program for the Study and Practice of the Nonviolent Resolution of Human Conflict followed by a page of 200 names, names of students who were signing off on the following statement: “Believing that the United States is waging an unjust war in Viet Nam, if ordered for induction, we the undersigned will refuse. We will not serve in the military as long as the war in Viet Nam continues.” The story is about the controversial actions of hundreds of students who had matriculated in the Program and the discomfort and agitation their activities were causing among some on campus.

The original founder and director of this program was Charles McCarthy, and the first visiting professor of the program was James Douglass. (You can read Fr. McCarthy’s writing on LRC here and find a podcast with Douglass here.) The article reads: “The nonviolence program raises a much larger question for Notre Dame: is the traditional institution able or willing to accept the revolutionary character of the nonviolent program? How will the alumni respond to a philosophy that severely challenged the mythical tradition of the Notre Dame man?”

When some of the students from the program were expelled for protesting the presence on the Notre Dame Campus of DOW Chemical and the CIA, McCarthy resigned in solidarity with them, giving up a prestigious teaching position because he believed the students were right and the administration was wrong. James Douglass was not invited back. The Program continued at Notre Dame, but after that first year, they were no longer allowed to select their own visiting professors.

Anyone who has attended a Notre Dame football game in the post-9-11 era knows that the culture of Notre Dame has not changed much, but the conflict was just a symbol of a problem that is much bigger than that university, one that goes back much further than the 1960s: “Why isn’t the traditional institution of the Christian church able or willing to accept the revolutionary character of Jesus, specifically his Way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies?”

It is an uncomfortable question that most Christian churches prefer to sweep under the rug, but Charles McCarthy never stopped asking this question so fundamental to the Christian faith, to the chagrin of many, and for over 40 years he has been a voice crying out in the wilderness, denouncing “Constantinian Christianity” through his lectures and conferences and in his provocative writings such as: Christian Just War Theory: The Logic of Deceit;  All Things Flee Thee For Thou Fleest Me: A Cry to the Churches and Their Leaders to Return to the Nonviolent Jesus and His Nonviolent Way;  August 9;  and The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love.

He was ordained Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy on August 9, 1981, a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine-Melkite) of the Catholic Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. He became very interested in Edith Stein, a brilliant Jewish philosopher who was killed at Auschwitz after she converted to Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun, and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She had died on the same day he was ordained and she had written in her final work that she wanted to give her life in atonement for world peace. Fr. McCarthy named one of his daughters Teresa Benedicta after her. When his daughter was very young, she accidentally swallowed a lethal dose of Tylenol. They took her to the hospital and the doctors thought she would die. The family started a prayer tree to Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and the girl was inexplicably healed. The Catholic Church deemed this healing a miracle; it was the second miracle needed to make Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Fr. McCarthy was a co-concelebrant at the Canonization Mass of St. Edith Stein with Pope John Paul II on October 11, 1998.

Fr. McCarthy writes: “If as we Christians believe, God is ‘Father Almighty’ who acts purposefully and meaningfully, then what are we to discern from the fact that God chose to grant the miracle for the canonization of the most famous Jewish convert to Christianity in the Twentieth Century by way of a Melkite Church that is predominantly an Arab Church? What are we to discern from the fact that He granted this miracle to the child of a married Melkite priest in America with ten children? Finally, what is God trying to say to us by the fact that this miracle was granted through the daughter of a Catholic priest who is internationally known for his lifelong work of trying to communicate to the Christian Churches Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant—that Jesus’ Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies cannot be bracketed out of an authentic proclamation of the Gospel because it is the only way to peace—temporally and eternally? What does this Divine choice of persons, place and time mean in light of the historical fact that Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, after the most serious discernment and with the full knowledge and consent of her Carmelite superiors, chose on Passion Sunday, 1939, to formally and freely offer herself to God, ‘as a sacrifice of atonement for true peace?’ God accepted this offering on August 9, 1942. Was this day of death accidental or providential? Does it have meaning or is it meaningless?”

Fr. McCarthy still travels the country teaching, lecturing, and asking questions that make Christians repent, in the sense of the Greek word “metanoia,” which means “changing one’s mind.”

Fr. George B. Zabelka, who acted as the Catholic Chaplain to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Crews, said, “Fr. McCarthy’s retreat was the turning point in my conversion to Christian Nonviolence.”

Lowell O. Erdahl, Lutheran Bishop Emeritus of Saint Paul Area Synod, Minnesota has said: “Of those who have challenged military service from a Christian perspective, the most emphatic to my knowledge are Leo Tolstoy and Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy.”

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient from Northern Ireland has said:

“Fr. McCarthy’s retreat is a remarkable contribution to furthering the understanding of Christian Nonviolence—so urgent a need for Christians today. Clergy and laity owe it to themselves, to the Church, to the world and to God to take time to prayerfully ponder what is said here.” 

Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn, said: “Fr. McCarthy is the most powerful voice for nonviolence in the world today.”

Whether he is invited to be the keynote speaker for the 25th anniversary memorial of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, or whether he is invited to speak to a small group of 50 at a local church, Fr. McCarthy will be there. He will show up and do what he has always done: preach the Good News.

His attitude toward the Catholic Church reminds me very much of Socrates’ attitude toward the state. Plato writes the following lines by Socrates in The Apology: “…the state is like a big thoroughbred horse, so big that he is a bit slow and heavy, and wants a gadfly to wake him up. I think the god put me on the state something like that, to wake you up and persuade you and reproach you every one, as I keep settling on you everywhere all day long. Such another will not easily be found by you, gentlemen…” Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is a blessing and gadfly for the big, slow, heavy Catholic Church –such another will not easily be found!

Fr. McCarthy will be presenting a one-day conference called “Gospel Nonviolence: The Great Failure, The Only Hope” at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs, in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 2.


9: 00-10:15 Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius; nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
10:15-10:45 Break
10:45- 12:00 Nonviolent Agapé: The Only Door that Opens unto Heaven
12:00- 1:15 Lunch
1:15-2: 15 To Trust or Not to Trust, That Is the Question
2:15-2:40 Break
2:40- 3:40 Q&A and Discussion
3:40- 4:00 Break
4:00-5:00 Mary Magdalene
Join us for an unforgettable day!
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