On Catholics and Peace: After the Great War


Continuing on from my post on St. Augustine, we move forward in time to after the Great War, the war that was supposedly to end all wars.  After the violence in Europe, two groups in the United States arose and began to try and make the Church’s views on war and peace more public.  This was accomplished to varying degrees of success.

War has continued, despite the charter of the United Nations and development of just war theory.  However, there are more groups working towards the common goal of peace than at any other time in history.  Earlier, I stated that there is no set “peace doctrine” by the Catholic Church. This is because the Church has left the job up to Catholic lay ministries and various conferences of Bishops.  Some lay ministries focused on achieving peace came about after the end of the Great War and gained more influence after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The two most notable organizations were the Catholic Association for International Peace and the Catholic Worker Movement.  


The Catholic Association for International Peace

The Catholic Association for International Peace (CAIP) was formed in 1927 as the first American Catholic institution geared towards establishing peace.  It was founded by Rev. John A. Ryan at the Catholic University of America in the wake of debates over the League of Nations.  Rev. Ryan was a member of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, which sought to link Catholic values with domestic reforms on peace using international governmental organizations such as the League of Nations.

The CAIP followed in wake of the encyclical Pacem Dei Munus Pulcherrimum, in which Pope Benedict XV stated:

Things being thus restored, the order required by justice and charity re-established and the nations reconciled, it is much to be desired, Venerable Brethren, that all States, putting aside mutual suspicion, should unite in one league, or rather a sort of family of peoples, calculated both to maintain their own independence and safeguard the order of human society.

Already, the Church was taking a stand after the atrocities of the Great War.  The CAIP took Benedict XV’s message seriously and began to make argument, primarily to American Catholics, for the need for collective security.  Following the tone of Pope Benedict XV and then Pope Pius XII, the CAIP stressed the necessity for an organization such as the League of Nations, but cautioned that to obtain true peace, the organization would have to have social, moral, and economic priorities, as articulated in Catholic teaching of natural law.

The CAIP maintained a somewhat secularized stance.  It acknowledged that the Church must do and preach something about the issues at hand, but maintained that it was more important for International Governmental Organizations to take over and lead as opposed to a singular religion.  The CAIP understood that there was more than one way to achieve a goal that so many others had and that following one religion may seem like a partisan effort. They especially stood behind Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical which taught that everyone must unite in one family to prevent these atrocities.

The Catholic Worker Movement

1933 saw the creation of the Catholic Worker Movement, the other major Catholic organization working for international peace.  The Catholic Worker Movement (CWM) was more radical because it professed an ideology of pacifism. It remains the longest lived radical Catholic movement in American history to this day.  Unlike the CAIP, which was founded by a Catholic priest, the CWM was founded by Dorothy Day, under the influence and philosophy of Peter Maurin.  Also unlike the CAIP, the CWM did not seek a direct adherence to the Church’s doctrine and teaching.

Peter Maurin was a French philosopher whose main goal was to change the social order.  Dorothy Day had the passion to carry out Maurin’s ideas. Maurin believed that the Church should have a pivotal role in carrying out this change but thought that the Church had sold itself out to the establishment.  

Day was raised in a non-religious household and later became an advocate for social change.  She was arrested for picketing President Wilson’s White House for the right for women to vote and for protesting in New York, and she participated in a hunger strike while in prison.  She also frequented talks from “radicals” from the International Workers of the World.  She also celebrated the Russian Revolution in 1917 in Madison Square Garden in New York.   She was later received into the Church after marrying her husband.  It was at this time that she realized the connection between the social justice she was working for and the teachings of Jesus.

The CWM maintained that love was a commandment and poverty, chastity, and non-violence should be taken literally.  Similar to the early Christians, the Catholic Workers believed that by closely following of Christ’s teachings, they could bring about Jesus’ second coming quicker.  They were an eschatological organization.

The main difference between Day’s and Maurin’s philosophies was that Maurin’s writings closely resembled Marxism.  While Day rejected greediness and critiqued capitalism, she never called for the overthrow and the complete abolition of the capitalistic system.  Day also rejected the idea that the state was the source of community and rights.  

The CWM explicitly stated that they were non-violent and that violence for the sake of peace was unacceptable.  Both the CWM and the CAIP worked for the continuation of peace and acknowledged that the issue of war was not of violence or even of the basic morality of war but that the problem was rooted in modern social institutions.  Both agreed that the primary issue surrounding peace was the dignity of the human person and human rights.  However, the CAIP took a more secular approach by promoting organizations such as the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.  The CWM radicalized Christ’s teachings in the Gospels and used that as their protest. Thus, they are presented in contrasting light: secular and religious.  



Published by Matthew Handley

Matthew Handley is the Executive Director of EPIC Radio and is the general manager of its radio station in Wake Forest. He invites you to comment on his posts and to follow him on Twitter (@realHandlez).

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