Historical perception must never be arbitrary and ill-informed; instead it must be loving suggest the political philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Multitude (2004). What is lacking for social change, they argue, is a socio-political concept of love relevant to history: "People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude..." (351)It is a given that how we act in the present will depend on how we perceive history. A fire that lights other fires will look to Peter Maurin who has said that our view of history must come from biblical history and church history. We cannot render our sense of history unto Caesar, at least if we are true to the ashes on our forehead. Four segments of history follow, ultimately pointing back to the need for a political concept of love when regarding history. The first two glimpses compare individuals, the martyr and the accommodator, while the latter two focus on the catholic community by considering the cases of Nicaragua and Northern Ireland. The survey begs the question how we situate our view of history today considering the threat of police violence to bulwark the NATO-G8.
1) One of many second century martyrs facing an imperial proconsul arrested for the crime of Atheism, since Rome correctly viewed the Christian as a dissenter of the pantheon of Roman gods. “But Polycarp said: ‘The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little; for you do not know the fire of the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.’”
2) The martyrdom of Polycarp is retold by Eusebius in his forth century History of the Church. Contrary to his own subjects of historical study, the accommodating bishop was instrumental in normalizing Christianity which thenceforth was defanged of its pacifism. “[T]he most important and reliable historian of the ancient church” according to Guy Schonfield, Eusebius was hardly a prophet for his contemporaries of the fourth century. Emperor Constantine once heralded him fit to be bishop of the whole world and in 325 at the Council of Nicea, over which the emperor himself presided, they sat side by side. It was to Eusebius that Constantine told the story of a heavenly vision prompting his conversion and it was from Eusebius that the earthly emperor received his baptism. History of the Church Introduction (13, 29)
The Case of Nicaragua: A Divided Church
3) The Sandanista revolution in Nicaragua surfaced a schism within Catholicism. Like Eusebius, bishops could apparently tolerate oppressive regimes which it viewed as more compatible to church interests. Meanwhile, a few priests held positions in the newly formed Sandanista government; this reflected the catholic culture of the revolutionaries. But it was anathema to the hierarchy which ordered the priests to desist from such political involvement. “Edgard Parrales, one of the targeted priests, recalled a conversation with the nuncio in 1981. The nuncio told Parrales that the Vatican was going to back the bishops ‘even if the bishops were wrong,’ according to Parrales. ‘Even if they go against the gospel and the truth?’ asked the priest. ‘In whatever circumstances,’ answered the nuncio.” From an interview with Joseph Mulligan, S.J. in July 1989 The Nicaraguan Church and the Revolution (171)
Northern Ireland: Religious War
4) As would be case in Nicaragua where the poor suffered oppression, the oppression of catholics in Northern Ireland was viewed as a political concern and wholly secular affair, not a religious matter. In 1972 over sixty catholics were killed by the Shankill butchers, a gang led by Lenny Murphy whose purpose was to terrify the catholic community in Belfast. Oliver Rafferty S.J. interprets the history as ‘a religious war’ explaining in Catholicism in Ulster: 1603-1983 : “To many ordinary catholics it seemed that the forces of the ‘protestant’ state and the British government were directed against them. Since internment was such a devastating weapon the opposition to it was equally vehement. After the initial violence, the protests continued and catholics took to the streets of Northern Ireland in unprecedented numbers calling for an end to this most draconian measure. The shooting dead of thirteen people at an anti-internment rally in Derry on 30 January 1972 (‘Bloody Sunday’) united the whole catholic population—bishops, clergy and laity—as never before since the start of the troubles. The sense of outrage over the deaths undoubtedly led to the fall of the Stormont parliament as the British government engaged in a damage limitation exercise to sustain its flagging international image.” (270)
In this brief survey we have seen two portraits of individuals, one a martyr for the faith and one an accommodator, and additionally looked at the case of both Nicaragua and Northern Ireland. Today each of us will wonder if we can defend our faith in the face of adversarial pressure. We will also have to find the skill to communicate that belief. I have referenced three church historians. The first was an accommodator. The second is a former prisoner of conscience for crossing the line at the School of the Americas. The third taught me a course of church history at Loyola University. Joe Mulligan reminds me of Polycarp for his witness of direct action and to me his example seems most authentic to the values he communicated as historian, principle among them saying yes to the poor in love, means a defiant no to their oppressors. Such integrity offers a point of aspiration for us. For example, we have begun to call this May a kairos moment for good reason; we observe God acting in history calling us out into the world for direct action and we believe that we exist to love and in loving we make our faith known. Hardt and Negri affirm the proportions of martyrdom that this love can take in necessity: "We need to recover today this material and political sense of love, a love as strong as death. This does not mean you cannot love your spouse, your mother, and your child. It only means that your love does not end there, that love serves as the basis for our political projects in common and the construction of a new society." (352) Finally, the answer to our quest for a historical perspective can be stated unequivocally as an act of liberation.