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Joachim Gnilka

Théologien catholique, Allemagne

In 1968, Heinrich Misalla wrote his dissertation at the university Münster/Germany about the subject: "God with us - The German Catholic war sermons 1914-1918". The title "God with us" already shows the direction. War was mainly seen as justified. They were sure to have God on their side. War was seen as punishment and a call for repentance, as education, as divine revelation, and so on. Soldiers were asked to fight courageously. However, we are not to give an unjust verdict. The tenor of the sermon corresponded to the general opinion.

This problem, which I mentioned and which is extremely difficult, poses the question: which responsibility do faithful Christians have in an era of violence. Even though this subject, on which we were asked to comment, does not show a way, which leads out of the dilemma, but it opens a perspective. It points to a concrete person. It is not a general political solution, but this perspective gives the individual person, who has to live in this scenario of violence, a concrete help and orientation. This is for the person who considers himself a Christian. This perspective points to the relationship of man with God. This means, it points to the dignity of mankind.

From a Christian, biblical point of view, the dignity of man is founded in the fact that man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1,26ff). "And God said; Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him". This passage from the Bible, which is most commented text of the Old Testament, has been interpreted in many ways in the exegesis. The passage would refer to the spiritual nature of man, his mental abilities, memoria, intellectus, amor, the consciousness of self, the immortal soul, etc. Today, the opinion is that the passage does not only refer to some part of man, but to man as a whole. Man was created by God as his counterpart, as his mandatary and representative. The inherent dignity is for every human being, no matter to which religion, nation, race, social class he belongs. This point of view does not solve the various political, economic and social problems. But it appeals in a tremendous way to the conscience and sharpens the awareness for the behavior towards other people especially in times of war. This point of view is even more essential nowadays where modern warfare destroys at the push of a button. The individual person, who suffers, who dies, is no longer in sight as it was in the duels in the middle ages. Only from a distance, on television, we see the pictures. The individual often terrible suffering should not only come in sight when it is happening, but already when it is prepared and planed. A human being with its dignity should also consider the dignity of the other, its opponent.

The dignity of man is also seen in other contexts with the relationship between a person and God. This refers to every person, even those who do not even know about it. What is the most important point in the life of a Christian? What really matters in life? When answering this question, Christians and Jews agree. A Jewish Rabbi living in Jesus' days was asked whether he would be able to explain the core, the essence, the quintessence of the Thora of Moses while standing on one leg. He replied: "The core is the commandment to love one's neighbor: "You must love your neighbor as yourself". As we know, Jesus said the same, but he correlated the love for the neighbor with the love for God. First, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart. Second and this is the same: You must love your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, the love for the neighbor is the love for God. Love for God without love for the neighbor is worthless. Love for the neighbor without love for God loses its inner glow. The commandment to love God is written in the Old Testament just as the commandment to love one's neighbor, however, in very different passages. Jesus united both commandments and declared them as the most inner core of moral doing. It is important that every person is our neighbor and as I mentioned before independent from his religion, nation, social position etc. In Jesus' days, it was fiercely discussed who was considered to be a neighbor. They were looking for a limit. Jesus answered the question, who is my neighbor, with the parable of the Good Samaritan. This means, my neighbor, the person next to me is precisely the person who I meet, who lies on my way and needs my help. Nobody else would help him, if I would not give him a hand.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus even intensified the commandment to love one's neighbor. In the Sermon on the Mount he gives the commandment to love the enemies (6th antithesis). "You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5,43f). The commandment to love the enemy is clearly an interpretation of the commandment to love one's neighbor (Dead sea scrolls - Qumran?). However, to hate the enemy seems to be a general feeling and behavior. Jesus lived up to this commandment when he prayed for his enemies on the cross: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23,34).

Thus we are getting back to the problem which I touched at the beginning of my speech. We have the Gospel, the good commandments of Jesus, his powerful word, which make sense to almost everybody, but who lives by that? Did we not live extremely against these commandments? How many wars did Christians wage against each other? The wars become worse and crueler every day thinking of the two World Wars in the past century. Pope Benedict (Prof. Josef Ratzinger) drew our attention to this dilemma with words that deeply touched our hearts when he preached in Advent in December 1964 in the cathedral of Münster. He even asked whether we could speed of a Christian era after the coming of Jesus 2000 years ago, since this era was filled with as many conflicts as the era before. He pleaded to say - and I would like to join his plea - that it is decisive whether something is happening with Christ or without or even against Christ. Only the concordance with Christ gives an era, an epoch, an individual life a Christian quality.