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6 page summary of “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops” please include at least 5 quotes then explain and give commentary.

The Challenge of Peace:
God’s Promise and Our Response

A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace
by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops

May 3, 1983


The Second Vatican Council opened its evaluation of modern warfare with the statement: “The whole human race
faces a moment of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity.” We agree with the council’s assessment; the crisis
of the moment is embodied in the threat which nuclear weapons pose for the world and much that we hold dear in the
world. We have seen and felt the effects of the crisis of the nuclear age in the lives of people we serve. Nuclear
weaponry has drastically changed the nature of warfare, and the arms race poses a threat to human life and human
civilization which is without precedent.

We write this letter from the perspective of Catholic faith. Faith does not insulate us from the daily challenges of life
but intensifies our desire to address them precisely in light of the gospel which has come to us in the person of the
risen Christ. Through the resources of faith and reason we desire in this letter to provide hope for people in our day
and direction toward a world freed of the nuclear threat.

As Catholic bishops we write this letter as an exercise of our teaching ministry. The Catholic tradition on war and
peace is a long and complex one; it stretches from the Sermon on the Mount to the statements of Pope John Paul II.
We wish to explore and explain the resources of the moral-religious teaching and to apply it to specific questions of
our day. In doing this we realize, and we want readers of this letter to recognize, that not all statements in this letter
have the same moral authority. At times we state universally binding moral principles found in the teachings of the
Church; at other times the pastoral letter makes specific applications, observations and recommendations which
allow for diversity of opinion on the part of those who assess the factual data of situations differently. However, we
expect Catholics to give our moral judgments serious consideration when they are forming their own views on specific

The experience of preparing this letter has manifested to us the range of strongly held opinion in the Catholic
community on questions of fact and judgment concerning issues of war and peace. We urge mutual respect among
individuals and groups in the Church as this letter is analyzed and discussed. Obviously, as bishops, we believe that
such differences should be expressed within the framework of Catholic moral teaching. We need in the Church not
only conviction and commitment but also civility and charity.

While this letter is addressed principally to the Catholic community, we want it to make a contribution to the wider
public debate in our country on the dangers and dilemmas of the nuclear age. Our contribution will not be primarily
technical or political, but we are convinced that there is no satisfactory answer to the human problems of the nuclear
age which fails to consider the moral and religious dimensions of the questions we face.

Although we speak in our own name, as Catholic bishops of the Church in the United States, we have been
conscious in the preparation of this letter of the consequences our teaching will have not only for the United States
but for other nations as well. One important expression of this awareness has been the consultation we have had, by
correspondence and in an important meeting at the Vatican (January 18-19, 1983), with representatives of European
bishops’ conferences. This consultation with bishops of other countries, and, of course, with the Holy See, has been
very helpful to us.

Catholic teaching has always understood peace in positive terms. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “Peace is not
just the absence of war. . . . Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.”
(Coventry, England, 1982) Peace is the fruit of order. Order in human society must be shaped on the basis of respect
for the transcendence of God and the unique dignity of each person, understood in terms of freedom, justice, truth
and love. To avoid war in our day we must be intent on building peace in an increasingly interdependent world. In
Part III of this letter we set forth a positive vision of peace and the demands such a vision makes on diplomacy,
national policy, and personal choices.

While pursuing peace incessantly, it is also necessary to limit the use of force in a world comprised of nation states,
faced with common problems but devoid of an adequate international political authority. Keeping the peace in the
nuclear age is a moral and political imperative. In Parts I and II of this letter we set forth both the principles of Catholic
teaching on war and a series of judgments, based on these principles, about concrete policies. In making these
judgments we speak as moral teachers, not as technical experts.

I. Some Principles, Norms and Premises of Catholic Teaching

A. On War

1. Catholic teaching begins in every case with a presumption against war and for peaceful settlement of
disputes. In exceptional cases, determined by the moral principles of the just-war tradition, some uses of
force are permitted.

2. Every nation has a right and duty to defend itself against unjust aggression.
3. Offensive war of any kind is not morally justifiable.
4. It is never permitted to direct nuclear or conventional weapons to “the indiscriminate destruction of whole

cities or vast areas with their populations. . . .” (Pastoral Constitution, #80.) The intentional killing of innocent
civilians or non-combatants is always wrong.

5. Even defensive response to unjust attack can cause destruction which violates the principle of
proportionality, going far beyond the limits of legitimate defense. This judgment is particularly important
when assessing planned use of nuclear weapons. No defensive strategy, nuclear or conventional, which
exceeds the limits of proportionality is morally permissible.

B. On Deterrence

1. “In current conditions ‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the
way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless, in order to
ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with this minimum which is always susceptible to the
real danger of explosion.” (Pope John Paul II, Message to U.N. Special Session on Disarmament, #8, June

2. No use of nuclear weapons which would violate the principles of discrimination or proportionality may be
intended in a strategy of deterrence. The moral demands of Catholic teaching require resolute willingness
not to intend or to do moral evil even to save our own lives or the lives of those we love.

3. Deterrence is not an adequate strategy as a long-term basis for peace; it is a transitional strategy justifiable
only in conjunction with resolute determination to pursue arms control and disarmament. We are convinced
that “the fundamental principle on which our present peace depends must be replaced by another, which
declares the true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms but in mutual trust alone”. (Pope
John XIII, Peace on Earth, #113.)

C. The Arms Race and Disarmament

1. The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race; it is to be condemned as a danger, an act of
aggression against the poor, and a folly which does not provide the security it promises. (Cf: Pastoral
Constitution, #81; Statement of the Holy See to the United Nations, 1976).

2. Negotiations must be pursued in every reasonable form possible; they should be governed by the “demand
that the arms race should cease; that the stockpiles which exist in various countries should be reduced
equally and simultaneously by the parties concerned; that nuclear weapons should be banned; and that a
general agreement should eventually be reached about progressive disarmament and an effective method
of control.” (Pope John XXIII, Peace on Earth, #112.)

D. On Personal Conscience

1. Military Service: “All those who enter the military service in loyalty to their country should look upon
themselves as the custodians of the security and freedom of their fellow countrymen; and when they carry
out their duty properly, they are contributing to the maintenance of peace.” (Pastoral Constitution, #79.)

2. Conscientious Objection: “Moreover, it seems just that laws should make humane provisions for the case
of conscientious objectors who refuse to carry arms, provided they accept some other form of community
service.” (Pastoral Constitution, #79.)

3. Non-violence: “In this same spirit we cannot but express our admiration for all who forego the use of
violence to vindicate their rights and resort to other means of defense which are available to weaker parties,
provided it can be done without harm to the rights and duties of others and of the community.” (Pastoral
Constitution, #78.)

4. Citizens and Conscience: “Once again we deem it opportune to remind our children of their duty to take an
active part in public life, and to contributed towards the attainment of the common good of the entire human
family as well as that of their own political community. . . . In other words, it is necessary that human beings,
in the intimacy of their own consciences, should so live and act in their temporal lives as to create a
synthesis between scientific, technical and professional elements on the one hand, and spiritual values on
the other.” (Pope John XIII, Peace on Earth, #146, 150.)

II. Moral Principles and Policy Choices

As bishops in the United States, assessing the concrete circumstances of our society, we have made a number of
observations and recommendations in the process of applying moral principles to specific policy choices.

A. On the Use of Nuclear Weapons

1. Counter Population Use: Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instruments of mass
slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying population centers or other predominantly civilian targets.
Retaliatory action which would indiscriminately and disproportionately take many wholly innocent lives, lives
of people who are in no way responsible for reckless actions of their government, must also be condemned.

2. The Initiation of Nuclear War: We do not perceive any situation in which the deliberate initiation of nuclear
war, on however restricted a scale, can be morally justified. Non-nuclear attacks by another state must be
resisted by other than nuclear means. Therefore, a serious moral obligation exists to develop non-nuclear
defensive strategies as rapidly as possible. In this letter we urge NATO to move rapidly toward the adoption
of a “no first use” policy, but we recognize this will take time to implement and will require the development
of an adequate alternative defense posture.

3. Limited Nuclear War: Our examination of the various arguments on this question makes us highly skeptical
about the real meaning of “limited.” One of the criteria of the just-war teaching is that there must be a
reasonable hope of success in bringing about justice and peace. We must ask whether such a reasonable
hope can exist once nuclear weapons have been exchanged. The burden of proof remains on those who
assert that meaningful limitation is possible. In our view the first imperative is to prevent any use of nuclear
weapons and we hope that leaders will resist the notion that nuclear conflict can be limited, contained or
won in any traditional sense.

B. On Deterrence

In concert with the evaluation provided by Pope John Paul II, we have arrived at a strictly conditional moral
acceptance of deterrence. In this letter we have outlined criteria and recommendations which indicate the meaning of
conditional acceptance of deterrence policy. We cannot consider such a policy adequate as a long-term basis for

C. On Promoting Peace

1. We support immediate, bilateral verifiable agreements to halt the testing, production and deployment of new
nuclear weapons systems. This recommendation is not to be identified with any specific political initiative.

2. We support efforts to achieve deep cuts in the arsenals of both superpowers; efforts should concentrate first
on systems which threaten the retaliatory forces of either major power.

3. We support early and successful conclusion of negotiations of a comprehensive test ban treaty.
4. We urge new efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world, and to control the conventional

arms race, particularly the conventional arms trade.
5. We support, in an increasingly interdependent word, political and economic policies designed to protect

human dignity and to promote the human rights of every person, especially the least among us. In this
regard, we call for the establishment of some form of global authority adequate to the needs of the
international common good.

This letter includes many judgments from the perspective of ethics, politics and strategy needed to speak concretely
and correctly to the “moment of supreme crisis” identified by Vatican II. We stress again that readers should be

aware, as we have been, of the distinction between our statement of moral principles and of official Church teaching
and our application of these to concrete issues. We urge that special care be taken not to use passages our of
context; neither should brief portions of this document be cited to support positions it does not intend to convey or
which are not truly in accord with the spirit of its teaching.

In concluding this summary we respond to two key questions often asked about this pastoral letter:
Why do we address these matters fraught with such complexity, controversy and passion? We speak as pastors, not
politicians. We are teachers, not technicians. We cannot avoid our responsibility to lift up the moral dimensions of the
choices before our world and nation. The nuclear age is an era of moral as well as physical danger. We are the first
generation since Genesis with the power to threaten the created order. We cannot remain silent in the face of such
danger. Why do we address these issues? We are simply trying to live up to the call of Jesus to be peacemakers in
our own time and situation.

What are we saying? Fundamentally, we are saying that the decisions about nuclear weapons are among the most
pressing moral questions of our age. While these decisions have obvious military and political aspects, they involve
fundamental moral choices. In simple terms, we are saying that good ends (defending one’s country, protecting
freedom, etc.) cannot justify immoral means (the use of weapons which kill indiscriminately and threaten whole
societies). We fear that our world and nation are headed in the wrong direction. More weapons with greater
destructive potential are produced every day. More and more nations are seeking to become nuclear powers. In our
quest for more and more security we fear we are actually becoming less and less secure.

In the words of the Holy Father, we need a “moral about-face.” The whole world must summon the moral courage
and technical means to say no to nuclear conflict; no to weapons of mass destruction; no to an arms race which robs
the poor and the vulnerable; and no to the moral danger of a nuclear age which places before humankind
indefensible choices of constant terror or surrender. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement
of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. The
content and context of our peacemaking is set not by some political agenda or ideological program, but by the
teaching of his Church.

Ultimately, this letter is intended as an expression of Christian faith, affirming the confidence we have that the risen
Lord remains with us precisely in moment of crisis. It is our belief in his presence and power among us which sustain
us in confronting the awesome challenge of the nuclear age. We speak from faith to provide hope for all who
recognize the challenge and are working to confront it with the resources of faith and reason.

To approach the nuclear age in faith is to recognize our absolute need for prayer: we urge and invite all to unceasing
prayer for peace with justice for all people. In a spirit of prayerful hope we present this message of peace.


1. “The whole human race faces a moment of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity.” Thus the Second

Vatican Council opened its treatment of modern warfare.[1] Since the council, the dynamic of the nuclear arms race

has intensified. Apprehension about nuclear war is almost tangible and visible today. As Pope John Paul II said in his

message to the United Nations concerning disarmament: “Currently, the fear and preoccupation of so many groups in

various parts of the world reveals that people are more frightened about what would happen if irresponsible parties

unleash some nuclear war.”[2]

2. As bishops and pastors ministering in one of the major nuclear nations, we have encountered this terror in the

minds and hearts of our people – indeed, we share it. We write this letter because we agree that the world is at a

moment of crisis, the effects of which are evident in people’s lives. It is not our intent to play on fears, however, but to

speak words of hope and encouragement in time of fear. Faith does not insulate us from the challenges of life; rather,

it intensifies our desire to help solve them precisely in light of the good news which has come to us in the person of

Jesus, the Lord of history. From the resources of our faith, we wish to provide hope and strength to all who seek a

world free of the nuclear threat. Hope sustains one’s capacity to live with danger without being overwhelmed by it;

hope is the will to struggle against obstacles even when they appear insuperable. Ultimately our hope rests in the

God who gave us life, sustains the world by his power, and has called us to revere the lives of every person and all


3. The crisis of which we speak arises from this fact: nuclear war threatens the existence of our planet; this is a more

menacing threat than any the world has known. it is neither tolerable nor necessary that human beings live under this

threat. But removing it will require a major effort of intelligence, courage, and faith. As Pope John Paul II said at

Hiroshima: “From now on it is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can


4. As Americans, citizens of the nation which was first to produce atomic weapons, which has been the only one to

use them and which today is one of the handful of nations capable of decisively influencing the course of the nuclear

age, we have grave human, moral and political responsibilities to see that a “conscious choice” is made to save

humanity. This letter is therefore both an invitation and a challenge to Catholics in the United States to join with

others in shaping the conscious choices and deliberate policies required in this “moment of supreme crisis.”

I. Peace in the Modern World: Religious Perspectives And Principles

5. The global threat of nuclear war is a central concern of the universal Church, as the words and deeds of recent

popes and the Second Vatican Council vividly demonstrate. In this pastoral letter we speak as bishops of the

universal Church, heirs of the religious and moral teaching on modern warfare of the last four decades. We also

speak as bishops of the Church in the United States, who have both the obligation and the opportunity to share and

interpret the moral and religious wisdom of the Catholic tradition by applying it to the problems of war and peace


6. The nuclear threat transcends religious, cultural, and national boundaries. To confront its danger requires all the

resources reason and faith can muster. This letter is a contribution to a wider common effort, meant to call Catholics

and all members of our political community to dialogue and specific decisions about this awesome question.

7. The Catholic tradition on war and peace is a long and complex one, reaching from the Sermon on the Mount to the

statements of Pope John Paul II. Its development cannot be sketched in a straight line and it seldom gives a simple

answer to complex questions. It speaks through many voices and has produced multiple forms of religious witness.

As we locate ourselves in this tradition, seeking to draw from it and to develop it, the document which provides

profound inspiration and guidance for us is the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II,

for it is based on doctrinal principles and addresses the relationship of the Church to the world with respect to the

most urgent issues of our day.[4]

8. A rule of interpretation crucial for the Pastoral Constitution is equally important for this pastoral letter although the

authority inherent in these two documents is quite distinct. Both documents use principles of Catholic moral teaching

and apply them to specific contemporary issues. The bishops at Vatican II opened the Pastoral Constitution with the

following guideline on how to relate principles to concrete issues:

In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the enveloping

context of man’s existence, and on man’s relations to his fellow men. In Part II, the Church gives

closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is

given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency

in our day. As a result, in Part II the subject matter which is viewed in the light of doctrinal principles

is made up of diverse elements. Some elements have a permanent value; others, only a transitory

one. Consequently, the constitution must be interpreted according to the general norms of

theological interpretation. Interpreters must bear in mind – especially in Part II – the changeable

circumstances which the subject matter, by its very nature, involves. [5]

9. In this pastoral letter, too, we address many concrete questions concerning the arms race, contemporary warfare,

weapons systems, and negotiating strategies. We do not intend that our treatment of each of these issues carry the

same moral authority as our statement of universal moral principles and formal Church teaching. Indeed, we stress

here at the beginning that not every statement in this letter has the same moral authority. At times we reassert

universally binding moral principles (e.g., non-combatant immunity and proportionality). At still other times we reaffirm

statements of recent popes and the teaching of Vatican II. Again, at other times we apply moral principles to specific


10. When making applications of these principles, we realize – and we wish readers to recognize – that prudential

judgments are involved based on specific circumstances which can change or which can be interpreted differently by

people of good will (e.g., the treatment of “no first use”). However, the moral judgments that we make in specific

cases, while not binding in conscience, are to be given serious attention and consideration by Catholics as they

determine whether their moral judgments are consistent with the Gospel.

11. We shall do our best to indicate, stylistically and substantively, whenever we make such applications. We believe

such specific judgments are an important part of this letter, but they should be interpreted in light of another passage

from the Pastoral Constitution:

Often enough the Christian view of things will itself suggest some specific solution in certain

circumstances. Yet it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some

of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intention of their

proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many

people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is

allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church’s authority for his opinion. They

should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity

and caring above all for the common good. [6]

12. This passage acknowledges that, on some complex social questions, the Church expects a certain diversity of

views even though all hold the same universal moral principles. The experience of preparing this pastoral letter has

shown us the range of strongly held opinion in the Catholic community on questions of war and peace. Obviously, as

bishops we believe that such differences should be expressed within the framework of Catholic moral teaching. We

urge mutual respect among different groups in the Church as they analyze this letter and the issues it addresses. Not

only conviction and commitment are needed in the Church, but also civility and charity.

13. The Pastoral Constitution calls us to bring the light of the gospel to bear upon “the signs of the times.” Three

signs of the times have particularly influenced the writing of this letter. The first, to quote Pope John Paul II at the

United Nations, is that “the world wants peace, the world needs peace.”[7] The second is the judgment of Vatican II

about the arms race: “The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it inflicts upon the

poor is more than can be endured.”[8] The third is the way in which the unique dangers and dynamics of the nuclear

arms race present qualitatively new problems which must be addressed by fresh applications of traditional moral

principles. In light of these three characteristics, we wish to examine Catholic teaching on peace and war.

14. The Catholic social tradition, as exemplified in the Pastoral Constitution and recent papal teachings, is a mix of

biblical, theological, and philosophical elements which are brought to bear upon the concrete problems of the day.

The biblical vision of the world, created and sustained by God, scarred by sin, redeemed in Christ and destined for

the kingdom, is at the heart of our religious heritage. This vision requires elaboration, explanation, and application in

each age; the important task of theology is to penetrate ever more adequately the nature of the biblical vision of

peace and relate it to a world not yet at peace. Consequently, the teaching about peace examines both how to

construct a more peaceful world and how to assess the phenomenon of war.

15. At the center of the Church’s teaching on peace and at the center of all Catholic social teaching are the

transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God’s

presence in the world; all of the Church’s work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote

the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God’s creative work and

the meaning of Christ’s redemptive ministry. Christians approach the problem of war and peace with fear and

reverence. God is the Lord of life, and so each human life is sacred; modern warfare threatens the obliteration of

human life on a previously unimaginable scale. The sense of awe and “fear of the Lord” which former generations felt

in approaching these issues weighs upon us with new urgency. In the words of the Pastoral Constitution:

Men of this generation should realize that they will have to render an account of their warlike

behavior; the destiny of generations to come depends largely on the decisions they make today. [9]

16. Catholic teaching on peace and war has had two purposes: to help Catholics form their consciences and to

contribute to the public policy debate about the morality of war. These two purposes have led Catholic teaching to

address two distinct but overlapping audiences. The first is the Catholic faithful, formed by the premises of the gospel

and the principles of Catholic moral teaching. The second is the wider civil community, a more pluralistic audience, in

which our brothers and sisters with whom we share the name Christian, Jews, Moslems, other religious communities,

and all people of good will also make up our polity. Since Catholic teaching has traditionally sought to address both

audiences, we intend to speak to both in this letter, recognizing that Catholics are also members of the wider political


17. The conviction, rooted in Catholic ecclesiology, that both the community of the faithful and the civil community

should be addressed on peace and war has produced two complementary but distinct styles of teaching. The

religious community shares a specific perspective of faith and can be called to live out its implications. The wider civil

community, although it does not share the same vision of faith, is equally bound by certain key moral principles. For

all men and women find in the depth of their consciences a law written on the human heart by God.[10] From this law

reason draws moral norms. These norms do not exhaust the gospel vision, but they speak to critical questions

affecting the welfare of the human community, the role of states in international relations, and the limits of acceptable

action by individuals and nations on issues of war and peace.

18. Examples of these two styles can be found in recent Catholic teaching. At times the emphasis is upon the

problems and requirements for a just public policy (e.g., Pope John Paul II at the U.N. Special Session 1982); at other

times the emphasis is on the specific role Christians should play (e.g., Pope John Paul II at Coventry, England,

1982). The same difference of emphasis and orientation can be found in Pope John XXIII’s Peace on Earth and

Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution.

19. As bishops we believe that the nature of Catholic moral teaching, the principles of Catholic ecclesiology, and the

demands of our pastoral ministry require that this letter speak both to Catholics in a specific way and to the wider

political community regarding public policy. Neither audience and neither mode of address can be neglected when

the issue has the cosmic dimensions of the nuclear arms race.

20. We propose, therefore, to discuss both the religious vision of peace among peoples and nations and the

problems associated with realizing this vision in a world of sovereign states, devoid of any central authority and

divided by ideology