What is peace? We might look to the Gospel of Luke, since it mentions peace more than any other Gospel. Recall the Canticle of Zechariah: “Through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1: 78-79)
True Savior, False Savior
Immediately after this testimony we hear about the political atmosphere in the whole world, where Caesar Augustus sent out a decree to the whole world, for the first enrollment (Luke 2:1). For the Romans, Augustus’ birth was celebrated as the beginning of peace for the world. The disparity between Zechariah’s notion of peace and Augustus’ enrollment is important. Pope Benedict XVI says, “The Roman Senate had already awarded him the title Augustus…meaning worthy of adoration.” Thus we set up a type of juxtaposition between the true God and a political god. The attitude towards Augustus was that he was born for the purpose of bringing peace to the world. The enrollment establishes what he accomplished in this regard – that a type of legal system was imposed and applied to the whole known world, whereby all were counted amongst his flock. As a result of this oppression, no one was at war with each other.
A Definition of Inner-Peace
Thus we arrive at an important distinction, the difference between the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, and the political peace of Caesar. The Angels announcing the coming of Christ give us an indication, however, how the peace of Christ will be vastly different. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased’” (Luke 2: 13-14). Here we discover a type of condition on the peace God extends to the world; it is to those whom he is well-pleased with. In the Gloria, we often sing “Peace to people of good-will” as a sufficient interpretation of those ‘whom He is pleased’ with. Thus, we have set before us an empire who proclaims a savior who has conquered nation with oppressive hosts of violent warriors and a God who also has an army (hosts) but of angels whose aim is to proclaim peace to those who are seeking to be in a right-relationship with God.
Having stated all of this, we have set the stage for some very important reflections on what constitutes peace. We have peace between nations, world peace, interior-peace, and finally false-peace. Turning to St. Thomas Aquinas, we can discover some wisdom that aids us in distinguishing between false-peace and genuine peace. “Peace denotes union not only of the…rational appetite, or of the animal appetite, in both of which consent may be found, but also of the natural appetite” (Summa Theologica, II, II, Q29, A2). St. Thomas, here, is speaking about the interior reality of peace which is situated in His Summa around the subject of the virtue of charity. In part of his definition he expresses the importance of union, which we will now reflect on. Applying his concept of inner-peace to communities, we might say that we are appealing to the appetites or needs of each nation. Therefore peace between nations would be embodied if the needs of each nation are being sought but in a manner that was united in the common-good. Peace between nations could not be understood as the mere absence of war, for one can avoid war while still not being in a union with one another.
The difference between Concord and Peace
The Church, called to be the mystical body of Christ, likewise should be in union with Her own members. St. Paul says: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11). Concord, here, speaks of a necessary dimension to peace when such peace exists between persons. Concord can often be confused with peace, yet it is possible to have agreement and the absence of peace. Nonetheless, concord is necessary for a genuine peace, whereby there is unity. But unity in what? We all know it is possible to be united in error, united in malice, united in disunifying spiritual attitudes. St. Thomas puts it as such: “For concord…is between one man and another, in so far as the wills of various hearts agree together in consenting to the same thing” (Summa Theologica II, II, Q29 A1). And so St. Paul lists concord as a type of agreement, but adds peace to an additional reality worth seeking for our communities. So if concord is not the same as peace, then what is it?
Calmness vs. Interior-Peace
Some may think that peace is merely a “feeling” or an affectively experienced reality. We might call it “calmness.” Calmness typically is a physiological experience, where sighs deeper than words are expressed, and a type of relaxation overtakes our body and mind. Calmness however is not true peace, because calmness can be generated through drugs, addictive behaviours, and so forth. Calmness is likewise felt when one justifies his own sin, and finds a community that enables such a false narrative. Thus, some sinners will say, “I’m at peace with my decision.” But this is false peace. Calmness, though a good, is ordered properly when it is a side-effect to having real peace, not the illusion of peace.
The Promise of Peace and the Reality of Peace
Let’s return to Aquinas’ notion of inner-peace; he speaks about three appetites within man being united. Here, Aquinas is asserting a type of inner-harmony, where our appetites are not at war with ourselves (i.e. the flesh vs the spirit). The natural appetite is that orientation within ourselves, which is unconscious – such as our body working automatically, even as we sleep – towards good health. The sensitive (or animal) appetite has to do with our passions (desires and emotions). And the intellectual appetite or sometimes “spiritual appetite,” is our will, whereby we seek union with the Logos through knowledge and love.
Christ recognizes that the will is ultimately to be ordered toward Him – the Word Made Flesh. Thus, for those who are of “good-will,” our promise from God is the gift of peace. In this sense, God wants all of those crying out for God, yearning for Him, to know that His gift of peace is ours. Here we arrive at the consoling message of “promised peace.” It is not the same thing as peace-itself. The promise of peace may bring upon us some calm, and even a degree of interior peace. However, the promise of peace indicates that it is something in the future, ahead of us, and not yet perfectly received.
Seeking Perfect Peace
If peace is the union of all man’s own appetites, it means that our natural appetite, our sensitive appetite, and our will must all be in union with each other. Knowing that man is fallen, it becomes apparent that in this life, perfect peace will not arrive. Obtaining one’s vocation, achieving a good career, obtaining some material thing – none of these will secure perfect-peace. That is a false-promise from our world, and amounts to a carrot-stick approach. Rather, there is work to do – and that work is work of aligning our appetites to each other – it is interior-work. This is both the work of grace and our own cooperative efforts – but God asks us to have our will oriented toward perfect union with Him, and all peace shall follow it.
Consider then the Church’s teaching around the work that accomplishes this task: it is virtue. Virtue brings about the union of our will, our knowledge, and our passions. So that while we choose to know what is true and good, we will then do that good, and experience pleasure in doing it. This is the promise of virtue, and it is the realization of that inner peace of conscience God wants for our soul. This is the place where our soul begins to find moments of rest, moments of peace. Yet, it will not entirely be experienced until we are united to God in heaven, where perfect health, perfect delight, and union with God will be experienced. Our entire self will become whole.
What is the bottom line? The bottom line is that we need to go deep; we need to not only be comforted by the promise of peace, but do the work necessary to cooperate with God’s gift to build that peace up within ourselves and from ourselves, within His Church. That concord we seek ought to be first a concord with God, lest it turn into some other type of despotism or have a mission different from His. In all, we must seek to avoid those false types of peace that only offer us an illusion of calm, or oppress others by fear, exclusion and violence. As Aquinas suggests, peace is the fruit of charity, and charity is a virtue, a habit, a disposition of will. Let us, my children, place our hand on the plough and not look back, as by God’s grace we generate peace to people of good-will.