For example, what does a concealed carry weapon (CCW) mean for a priest versus for a layperson?
Some people will bring up a document of the USCCB which mentions handguns in a footnote and then claim that “the Church” forbids them. The implication is that pretty much no one should have a hand gun. I don’t find that convincing. The USCCB doesn’t have the authority to tell me what I can have for breakfast, much less how I might defend my person or an innocent bystander. Some people will bring up the 1917 Code which said that priests should not bear arms. Fine. The 1983 Code does not say that. However, the tradition continues for military chaplains. For example, since all Marines are by definition “riflemen”, though not all are combat infantry, Catholics chaplains are not in the Marine Corps. Marines chaplains come from the Navy. Marines are part of the Department of the Navy (the “Men’s Department” as Marines will remind us. ‘rah!) Also, the 1917 Code was issued after WWI when clergy were pressed into military service even as infantry. So, I agree that priests are not to serve as priest/infantry, etc. That doesn’t say much to me about priests, bishops, and a CCW. Some people want to interpret the 1983 Code’s stricture that clerics should avoid things that are not in keeping with the clerical character in light of the 1917 Code’s prohibition against bearing arms. I am not convinced that that is a good argument.
I am trying to get my head around this working especially from my background in Patristics. I am not done yet, but I have found a few interesting points.
First, let’s look at Luke 22, just as the Lord is concluding the Last Supper and about to head off to the next phase of His Passion in the garden.
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.” 35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors'; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” 39 And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.
Review. Satan is in the midst of this situation. Peter boasts that he will heroically go with the Lord. The Lord warns Peter. The Lord instructs the Apostles to sell their clothing to buy swords. Apparently they already have a couple. Were they concealing them even from the Lord? Probably not. The Lord says, that’s enough (ikanón estin), probably indicating that two swords are enough for the moment or for his immediate purposes. Also, it seems Jesus was not just being enigmatic. Faced with Apostles with actual swords, He seems satisfied.
Furthermore, in the Gospel of John, after the unfortunate incident with the ear, Christ does not tell Peter to throw the sword away. How many times have we heard on Good Friday the Lord tell Peter “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11) That could just mean, “don’t use it”, but it doesn’t mean “get rid of it”. The Lord had told the Apostles to buy swords. Thus, to have swords. And, given that the Lord knew they were going to be hitting the road to fulfill His command to “teach all nations and baptize them”, were they to do teach and baptize while armed? Hard to say. But we probably shouldn’t say “Absolutely not!”
I guess another question to ask would be, in Roman occupied territory, could inhabitants own swords? Could Roman citizens? Was Christ telling the Apostles to do something illegal? I suspect not. Render under Caesar, etc. But let that pass.
Granting that Pope Benedict isn’t a Father of the Church, he is steeped in the Fathers. In explaining this scene in his second part of Jesus of Nazareth (on the period the Lord’s life from the entrance into Jerusalem to His resurrection), Benedict offers that Peter has to learn that his own wrong-headed heroism leads to his denial of the Lord. Peter must learn to put aside worldly heroism and learn the humility of the disciple. Benedict concludes that the exchange between Peter and the Lord his rushing in with the sword in the garden -and his subsequent betrayal when he again rushes in to the courtyard to be nearby is about “not telling God what to do, but learning to accept him as he reveals himself to us; not seeking to exalt ourselves to God’s level, but in humble service letting ourselves be slowly refashioned into God’s true image.”
Peter, thinking in human terms, was about to interfere with God’s plan. So, in the garden, the Lord utters to Peter those famous words: “they that take the sword (labóntes máxairan) shall perish with the sword”.
So, Christ instructed the Apostles to buy swords, even at the cost of their own clothing.
Then Christ tells the chief of his Apostles not to use the sword he has, even in a moment when Peter seems to be defending Him.
Quaeritur: Was Peter defending the Lord, for the Lord’s sake, or was he doing something with the sword for his own sake?
Peter seems to try to defend not just a loved one, such as a child, spouse, friend or stranger, but one who is man and God. If betrayal of God is worse than betrayal of a human being, then the defense of God is even more compelling than defense of a human being (including oneself). On the other hand, God’s ways are not our ways (cf Isaiah 55). Christ tells Peter not to use the sword He told Peter to buy. But then the Lord says in the Matthew account of the same moment, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (22:53). Peter has zeal, a strong arm, and a sword. Christ has the entire arsenal of the angelic realm, in addition to His divinity. Moreover, the Passion was not comparable to any other moment in human history. Peter was not using the sword properly, that is, he was not aligning his motives to God’s plans. The Apostles had, after all, been warned by Christ that He was to suffer.
I suspect that the lesson of the sword in the garden has to do with Peter, first, striking in anger, more even from a spirit of revenge than a desire to defend. Also, Peter was applying earth-bound motives to a situation imbued with divine purpose unlike any other in human history.
Turning to the Fathers, I looked into what St. Ambrose says in his Commentary on Luke about the swords. Among the Fathers we have commentaries on Luke by Ambrose, of course, homilies by Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede and some homiletic fragments in catenae. I have Ambrose handy.
Keeping in mind that the Bishop of Milan focuses on revenge and contrasts revenge with “defense… defensio“, Ambrose starts out with a question: “Cur haberi praecipis quem vetas promi?”
Why do you who forbid me to wield a sword now command me to buy one? [Ambrose is clearly preaching a sermon. He is speaking to Christ as if he were Peter… and probably as himself as well.] Why do you command me to have what you forbid me to draw? Perhaps He may command this so that a defense may be prepared, not as necessary revenge, but that you may be seen to have been able to be avenged but to be unwilling to take revenge (Nisi forte ut sit parata defensio, non ultio necessaria, ut videare potuisse vindicari, sed noluisse). [There is a distinction to be made between “ready defense” and “necessary vengence”.] The law does not forbid me to strike back. [In worldly terms, would have blamed Him?] You say to Peter when he offers two swords, “It is enough,” as if it were permitted even to the Gospel, so that there might be knowledge of just conduct in the Law, [e.g., lex talionis] but perfection of goodness in the Gospel (ut sit in lege aequitatis eruditio, in evangelio bonitas perfectio). This seems wicked to many, [to contradict the Law] but the Lord is not wicked, he who when He could take revenge chose (instead) to be sacrificed. [Now Ambrose does what Ambrose often does… he gets all allegorical on us….] There is also a spiritual sword, so that you may sell your inheritance and purchase the Word (cf Ephesians 6:11), which clothes the innermost parts of the mind. There is also the sword of suffering, so that you may law aside the body…. The disciples may have offered two swords: one of the New and one of the Old Testament, with which we are armed against the deceits of the devil. The the Lord says, “It is enough”, as if nothing is lacking to him who the teaching of each Testament has strengthened.” (Commentary on Luke 10:53-55)
In 10, 52, Ambrose also notes that the Passion of the Lord has not its equal (Passio Domini aemulos habet, pares non habet).
Review: Ambrose says that the Lord could have fought back, but that He wanted to be sacrificed. But he also makes a distinction about “defense” and “revenge”. Also, he acknowledges that, by the Law, one can use force – for revenge – immediately and licitly, but adds that choosing not to is a more perfect way of acting.
Again, the situation in the garden is unlike any other situation any of us will face. Some may face echoes of the Passion, as do actual martyrs, but the Lord’s Passion is qualitatively different from what we experience. So, what might apply to Peter putting up his sword in this instance might not apply to Peter in some other situation.
All my Augustine is packed away in boxes at the moment, but I suspect that he, in using this passage from Luke, will explain not using the sword as meaning something about human weakness in the face of divine will.
So, I am in the process of working through some of the issues.
The combox is open but moderated. I probably won’t let many comments through, but I will look at them, if they are pertinent and substantive.