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Peace with the Wolf of Gubbio

Seeking ways out of violence seems an urgent task of Christians..The time when churches blessed weapons must finally belong to the past..Why did Francis of Assisi say "Brother Wolf"? He did this on account of the base acts of this fellow-creature. St. Francis saw what made the wolf dangerous and wicked in himself..Can we say "Brother Terrorist"? We can say this because we are not free ourselves of the sin of allowing or practicing the most extreme violence when the situation demands it. War is completely boundless in its cruelty. From German.
Peace with the Wolf of Gubbio

By J. H. Eschenburg

[This article originally published in: CuS (Christians and Socialists) 3-4/2002 is translated from the Germanh on the World Wide Web,  http://www.brsd.de/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=15.]

On Current Challenges of Christians

Can we make peace with our enemies, the terrorists?

"To see the universal spirit of truth penetrating all things, one must love the least creature as oneself. Everyone who strives for that universal spirit of truth cannot withdraw from all areas of worldly life. My devotion to truth drives me into the field of politics. Whoever argues religion has nothing to do with politics doesn't know the meaning of religion."
M.K. Gandhi, Autobiography (1925)

The following ideas are not new. They take up and develop current discussions in the Christian churches and the dramatic political events at the beginning of the new millennium.

The story of the wolf of Gubbio is one of the best-known legends around Francis of Assisi whom many declared the "man of the second millennium". A wolf wreaked havoc with its tricks, tore sheep to pieces and even killed people near a little town in Umbrien. The wolf escaped all attempts of being hunted and killed. Francis of Assisi didn't join the general cry "Kill the wolf". Francis encountered the wolf without weapons, called him "Brother Wolf", tamed him and gave him a feeding place. The enemy became a friend. When the wolf died years later, the people mourned the wolf. This may not be merely a na´ve legend.

Peace, Justice and Reconciliation

September 11, 2001 was a warning. What drives people to sacrifice their lives in such atrocities? Unfortunately our reaction was not a deep shock over how this could happen. The reaction to the extreme violence was the call for even more violence. The West unanimously condemned the atrocity and then acted according to the same pattern. Afghanistan's bombardment followed the destruction of the Twin Towers. Justice ("infinite justice") was emphasized. However only our right to live in peace was underlined, not the right of thousands of dead and hundreds of thousands of expelled Afghans. Many of us including most of our politicians regarded this as right. We deeply believe in the necessity of defending our security and our economic advantages with force of arms. We only condemn violence when violence threatens to be directed against us and against our interests.

I believe we Christians cannot live with such a contradiction without becoming untrustworthy before ourselves, before our children and before all people. When we use the legitimate demand not to use force and to respect and protect life as a reproach against possible adversaries without making it into a guiding principle for our own political conduct, when we are ready to accept thousands of dead civilians in very remote countries for the supposed preservation of our security, the appeal to morality decays to an instrument for maintaining power. Only proving oneself as the stronger in the violent conflict is crucial. This has nothing to do with Jesus' message ("love your enemy, do good to those who curse you and repay evil with good").

Alternatives were shown in the September 2000 treatise "Just Peace" of German catholic bishops: violence prevention and civil means instead of military means, reconciliation work instead of violence. A series of initiatives sought to practically implement these innovations, for example civil peace service going back to a proposal of the Evangelical church of Berlin and Brandenburg. A world without conflicts is not conceivable. A world where the struggle around just goals doesn't threaten the rights, dignity and existence of other people and where justice doesn't only mean self-righteousness is conceivable.

Jesus' way is incompatible with the way of violence. Seeking "ways out of violence" is an urgent task of Christians at the beginning of this millennium. The time when churches blessed weapons must finally belong to the past. The Christian churches must speak out against the threatened attack on Iraq because such an attack is deeply immoral and against God's command, not for practical reasons as dangerous or as an excessive demand on politics and the military.

Why did Francis of Assisi say "Brother Wolf"? He did this on account of the base acts of this fellow-creature. St. Francis saw what made the wolf dangerous and "wicked" in himself. This knowledge was the presupposition for the peace treaty. Can we say "Brother Terrorist"? We can say this because we are not free ourselves of the sin of allowing or practicing the most extreme violence when "the situation demands it". We don't say this to trivialize or even justify the dreadful acts.

War is boundless in its cruelty. The aerosol bombs in Afghanistan that suffocate all life in a wide circumference are only one of many recent examples. When the Pershing missiles were stationed near us at the beginning of the 80s, most of us were ready to use the missiles in case of an attack to indiscriminately kill hundreds of thousands of people. The sense of justice and injustice endured personally or as a group drives people to such atrocities. As one consequence, we must learn to see the world with the eyes of our enemies and include their perspective on justice and dignity in our thought and conduct. This doesn't mean self-abandonment but the common patient search for a state of peace in which everyone can live.

Other Religions

The relations of the religions are closely connected with the first question. Pope John Paul set a sign with representatives of all religions with the peace prayer in Assisi. When religion is understood as a system of eternal truths, real tolerance is not possible. Whoever doesn't believe exactly in these truths errs or goes astray. But when religion is a way for gaining truth and life, then other ways to the same goal are possible. Persons who go other ways can make us richer and open up new directions even of our own religion. The difference of the other can be a joy rather than a burden.

The common roots of Christian churches with Judaism were recognized after the Second World War. The largest non-Christian religious community in Germany today is Islam. Shouldn't we Christians give as much attention and respect to Islam as to Judaism? Common roots are abundant. For example, Jesus has a surprisingly important role in the Koran. The great earnestness with which many Muslims live their faith can help us Christians in our own faith. In an address at the 2002 Augsburg peace festival, the Wurzburg bishop Prof. Scheele mentioned the example of Charles de Foucault who gained a deep understanding of prayer through the prayers of Muslims.

Christians can contribute to bridging oppositions in view of developments today. Practical steps could be contacts between members of different religious communities, common study of the scriptures and common worship services, for example peace prayers. On the plane of the churches, the "Week of Brotherliness" could be extended to Islam. Marriages of persons of different religions could be reconsidered. How should the Christian churches regard marriages not executed according to Christian rite? How should married Christian partners face non-Christian religious communities?

We should not only work for a new openness toward Judaism and Islam. "Ecumene" includes the whole "inhabited earth" with all other religious communities, communities that are also described as sects. I don't think we have the right to despise the religiosity of any person. His dignity demands that we respect his faith and try6 to understand it as much as possible. We could learn a more friendly relation with the rest of creation from religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that are far removed from us.

Respecting Creation

Taken literally, the legend of the wolf of Gubbio shows us a different association with animals than the conventional association. For Francis, the wolf was not simply a danger to be removed but a subject, a self, God's creature. The peace treaty was only possible because he thoroughly recognized this wild relative of our domestic dog. He saw the hunger and loneliness of this animal, a male wolf who ended up far from other wolves and near human settlements. The peace treaty fulfilled both needs, the need for food and the need for nearness.

The year 2001 brought other horrors alongside September 11: mad cow disease and hoof and mouth disease. Across the European Union, tens of thousands of mostly healthy6 animals were killed to prevent expansion of the plague. This was not always the practice. In the 50s, people related differently to the plague and attempted to restore diseased animals. These events showed the relation of our society to our fellow-creatures.

These fellow-creatures are subjects with their own rights and needs and not only objects of economic interest dealt with as one pleases. For too long, conservation or environmental protection was seen only from a technical vantage point. To survive, we may not completely destroy our natural resources. Animals as subjects do not occur in this view. Acceptance of animal protection as a state goal in the German constitution and future prohibition of the worst excesses in enclosing laying hens are small advances.

We Christians are called to clarify our relations to creation, particularly to the animals most closely related to us and to take the necessary steps. Discord with other persons and discord with nature are closely connected. Why should we treat our human enemies differently than annoying domestic animals? When we kill them, we are rid of them!

"Make the earth subject!" People act like every other species and struggle with nature and rivals for living space. In the meantime the earth is completely settled by people so no niche of evasion is left. The means of struggle have become so effective that they threaten all life on earth. The world wars of the 20th century and the increasing environmental disasters already demonstrated this. Nevertheless our models of conduct toward nature and toward rival groups have not changed since the Stone Age.

On this background, could the demands of the Sermon on the Mount be simply inevitable for further life on earth and neither utopian nor realistic? The world waits for Christians to finally take seriously the promises and exactions heard a 100 times of being salt of the earth and light of the world and living and acting according to Jesus' message instead of saying and doing what everyone says and does?

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