Why Peace Is Elusive

Back in the 50’s when television was free from the anti-religious cynicism of political correctness, David Niven put on a virtuoso performance for a television series called “Four Star Playhouse.”  In a program entitled, “The Answer,” he created a captivating scenario in which the world’s best minds were laboring at the United Nations to find a way to establish world peace before life on earth came to a bitter end. Would peace save the world?  Would it arrive soon enough to prevent a global catastrophe?  Will we even know in what peace consists?

The few people in the room listened to him with rapt attention.  Finally, the distinguished British actor delivered the “answer.”  It was, to everyone’s surprise, The Ten Commandments.  Yes, of course, the way to peace is to live a moral life as outlined in the Decalogue.  We do not need a collectivity of  Einsteins to figure that out.  The Commandments are for everyone and not restricted to Jews and Christians.  World peace demands a world philosophy.

David Niven, who also produced the program, probably did not realize that he was paraphrasing Saint Thomas Aquinas.  In his “Summa Theologica,” the Angelic Doctor states that, “true peace is only in good men and about good things” (II, 29, ad 3).  Human beings were in possession of the ‘answer’ all the time while blissfully ignoring it.

Small wonder that peace elusive.  It demands much from us.  It is not something that is out there, like an apple suspended on a branch.  “Just give peace a chance,” the inept advice of the Beatles, presumes that peace is an object.  We want peace but we do not seek it.  We want peace but refuse to pay the price.

AquInas’ understanding of peace is very much in accord with that of Saint Augustine‘s  which is peace as “the tranquility of order.”  The kind of order that the Bishop of Hippo had in mind is a series of steps leading to God.  When we make choices that are in keeping with the Ten Commandments, we will experience peace.  In the contemporary world, however, people tend to think that tranquility comes in a pill. Our material age distracts us from doing something on our own.  Peace, however, is not something that can be bought.

For Aquinas, perfect peace “consists in the perfect enjoyment of the sovereign good, and unites all one’s desires by giving them rest on one object.”  This is the peace one experiences in heaven.  Nonetheless we can experience imperfect peace here on earth, without expecting it to be perfect.  Something always intrudes:  the telephone or the doorbell rings, we remember an appointment, our back aches, the smoke alarm goes off, a dish falls to the floor, and so on.  Yet, we must continue to seek peace, no matter how imperfect it may be, doing God’s Will.  An imperfect peace is better than no peace at all.  And it is far better than suffering from anxiety or apprehension about nearly everything.

We say, “peace be with you,” at Mass.  This expression is another way of saying, “be good”.  Peace is very much like happiness.  It falls into place when we are doing something else.  Be good and good things will happen to you, including happiness and peace.

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College.  He is is the author of forty-two books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on amazon.com.  He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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