Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"[I]mpossible for a Catholic to be a Conscientious Objector ..."?

On December 9, Gordon Zahn--an alumnus of the institution at which four (!) MOJ bloggers teach--died.  "After World War II ended, Gordon enrolled at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., where his pacifism provoked arguments with monks who had served as military chaplains and with veterans among the students. Transferring after his freshman year, he graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Is it mere coincidence that his alma mater now harbors one of the best programs in peace and conflict studies in the United States?"

Gordon Zahn, a Catholic pacifist, is one of the most influential Catholics of the 20th century.  Unlike Zahn, most of us are not pacifists.  Nonetheless, each of us have reason to be grateful to Zahn.

This is from a piece on Zahn in the December 21st issue of NCR:

“My subject is war -- and the immorality of war.”

Gordon Zahn wrote that, with acknowledgement that he was paraphrasing “the great war poet Wilfred Owen,” in the forward to a 1967 book, War, Conscience and Dissent.

Although other writers are better known, Zahn is among the most important figures in Catholic social thought in recent history. And for most of his life, his subject was war and the immorality of war. Two early books, German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars: A Study in Social Control (1962) and In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter (1964), confirm his place among major influences, including Dorothy Day, Michael Harrington and Thomas Merton. In a preface to the 1969 paperback edition of German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars, Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote, “In the formation of our will to resist legitimized murder, Gordon Zahn’s book had a major influence.”

Had it not been for him, we might never have known about Franz Jägerstätter, a martyr to his faith for refusing to participate in Hitler’s war. Jägerstätter was beatified in a ceremony in Linz, Austria, in October (NCR, Nov. 9). Without Zahn’s work, one can hardly imagine the publication of the American bishops, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response” in 1983. There, for the first time in Catholic history, nonviolence received equal billing with the just war tradition. The pastoral letter’s foundation, acknowledged in its footnotes, was the scholarship and research by Zahn.

Other writings important to many of us are his characteristically thoughtful 50-page introduction to Thomas Merton’s The Nonviolent Alternative (1974), a major text in the history of nonviolence ...

To read the rest of this tribute to Zahn, click here.

[Thanks to Larry Joseph of St. John's University School of Law, poet extraordinaire, for calling this piece to my attention.]


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