Tuesday, June 18, 2013


From the chapter entitled “BLESSED ARE THE MEEK”

"I would like to dip my pen in the tears and blood of all martyrs for peace, of all victims of violence and hatred, of all those who have confronted the sword of abused power with the weakness of their own flesh, after the shining example of the man who willed to offer himself as an unresisting lamb to the teeth of the wolves: Jesus.

First, then, a very brief preamble.

When God wanted to find images through which to convey something of himself to our minds and hearts, he chose two and two only: the dove and the lamb.

The dove indicates the vitality, the gentleness and the humility of Christ, the divine victim.

The man who prides himself on his shrewdness chooses instead the lion or some such animal, imagining, in his folly, that he will conquer the earth more quickly by the use of force and the abuse of power.

People have been trying to conquer the earth for many thousands of years and still no one has succeeded. The fact is that the lions, tigers or serpents emblazoned on the standards of the aggressor are confronted with other lions, other tigers, other serpents, all of whoch have the same significance and inevitably clash with the first. The story of what happens next is terribly simple and terribly monotonous: in the evening, when the battle is over, the two opposing armies lie in a lake of blood surrounded by heaps and ruins and incalculable evils.

There they rest a while, the worst of the wounds get bound up, the great fear is to some extent forgotten, the lion is sewn back in place on the standard with an even more ferocious grimace; then they begin all over again, thinking that this time things will go well and in the wake of victory will come true and lasting peace, our own peace. Tell me, is not the whole affair a tragic farce, to be explained by one single word: you are mad, all mad?

But then was this not the very conclusion Jesus himself came to as he was dying on the cross?

Was it not he who, at a time when people were not accustomed either to joke or to lie, said that ‘madman’ was the appropriate title for man? In fact, while he was dying a victim of man, he turned in his agony to his Father, and pronounced his own judgment on man: ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ And that is the true definition of the madman.

But do you imagine that man, who is thus defined by Jesus as ‘mad,’ accepts the description, believes that he is mad? On the contrary; if anything, he applies the term to those who go before him, to those who failed to assess accurately the forces involved in earlier wars, who committed this or that error; but himself, mad? Oh no! and he will actually prove to you that he is not.

Indeed, speaking of madmen, who is the arch-madman of them all? There he is: the arch-madman, Jesus Christ, who during his trial was dressed in a white garment and silenced with derisive and mocking words.

You, too, are mad, you who want to conquer through non-violence, to win the earth with meekness.

You are mad, you who dreamed of beating down swords into ploughshares and spears into sickles (Is 2:4).

You are mad, you who wish to turn the defenceless other cheek to the hatred of the enemy (Mt 5:39).

We are not mad like you, and there are some follies that we do not commit: we do not even think of them.

So runs the argument, and echoes of this tremendous dialectic ring in our ears every time people discuss the problem of how to achieve some social advance or liberate a people; how to realize man’s personal dignity or bring the human race a step nearer to the attainment of justice. And it is when one picks up this echo, deep as the heart of man, that once comes to realize just how irreconcilable are the two spirits that produce it: the spirit of the world and the spirit of Jesus.

Each calls the other mad and is answered in the same terms.

History has shown, and will go on showing to the end, which of the two is right; which of the two, the meek or the violent, will more truly possess the earth; which of the two is happier, the man who destroys his enemy or the one who lives with him under the same roof.

The incompatibility between the world and Christ is total, and I will certainly not be the one to persuade the lion that the lamb is right. I only want, and in all humility, to offer a helping hand to those who have not yet chosen between the two camps and the two systems; those who, as Christians, have savoured the beauty of the Gospel message, and suffer when they feel compelled to side with the others, simply because they have the impression that violence is more decisive, or worse still, as is frequently argued nowadays, that it features as in inevitable element in the process of history.

‘If we do not fight, if we do not make use of guerilla warfare we will achieve precisely nothing, and in any case we are not fighting for ourselves, but for the poor we wish to liberate.’

This is the dilemma, and on the walls of so many Christian homes hang the virile photographs of the prophets of a liberating hope more persuasive than the liberating hope of the Gospel.

It is not that I do not appreciate the way in which they have paid and continue to pay personally for their beliefs. They are worthy indeed to take their place at the workbench to inspire us, to help us with their courage and their strength of purpose.

This I accept, but knowing Jesus as I do, I wonder whether such men might not have achieved far more in the revolution for justice had they taken up the cause of meekness and non-violence.

You say that one cannot do this without arms, and I answer in the name of Jesus that this is not true, that one can do without them, and obtain greater results. This is why we can be helped by the witness of those two great prophets of non-violence: Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

They believed in the beatitude of meekness, not only for themselves, but for all; not only as a subject of meditation and chosen by individuals, but as a subject for meditation and chosen by entire peoples; not only as an instrument of individual peace, but as an instrument of universal liberation.

And yet how hard it is to believe in meekness!

In no other situation more than in this one do Jesus’s words apply: 'If your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move' (Mt 17:2)."

--Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

PAUL KLEE,  1924


  1. This is all your fault... I promised my wife I would not order any more books, and now I feel I have no choice but to order several by Carlo Carretto. I am in serious trouble. With each passage of his that you have shared, my resolve has weakened. Really, this is a wonderful and humbling passage. Thank you for sharing it. I will not defend myself from my wife's frustration with me, as she is right in saying I have many books that I haven't read (though I might try to transfer the blame somehow to you)... but I must read what else this man had to say.

    How courageous are those who truly aspire to meekness in a world full of lions!

  2. Hi Steve, Carlo has become a vital member of my Communion of Saints--I've posted on him before and am ever more interested. He tells it like it is without being aggressive or impatient or polarizing or divisive (all things I need to work on myself) and this passage on non-violence struck me the first time I read it several years ago, and even more so recently with the NSA, invasion of privacy being a particularly insidious and spiritually corrupting form of violence. The point, as Carretto makes clear, is that to live by violence is to live in bondage. To have violence/power as our credo means violence is our master. As followers of Christ, our eyes are on the hands of a different master...

    "And it is when one picks up this echo, deep as the heart of man, that once comes to realize just how irreconcilable are the two spirits that produce it: the spirit of the world and the spirit of Jesus."

    Anyway, Carretto's Letters from the Desert is a good place to start, not that I'm remotely an expert on him. Give my best to your wife!

  3. ...Everyone wants this war to end soon. We're all sick and tired of killing one another. Sometimes, I like awake at night just thinking about the people I've probably killed with my bombs, but then I say to myself, 'they're trying to get you too,' so I forget about it for awhile.
    —Carl Genian's letter to his mother dated November 14, 1944 written before his 48th mission [wikpedia]

  4. "Sufferings of the non-violent have been known to melt the stoniest hearts. I make bold to say that if the Jews can summon to their aid the soul power that comes only from non-violence, Herr Hitler will bow before the courage which he has never yet experienced in any large measure in his dealings with men, and which, when it is exhibited, he will own is infinitely superior to that shown by his best storm troopers. The exhibition of such courage is only possible for those who have a living faith in the God of Truth and Non-violence, i.e., Love."

    --Gandhi, 1938


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