War and Peace: A Fulton Sheen Anthology
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Edited by Al Smith.
Sophia Institute Press, 2022.
Paperback, 416 pages, $19.95
Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle.
War and Peace is a collection of three series of radio addresses given by the great Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on The Catholic Hour from 1941-43 as well as two other books: Philosophies at War (1943) and Seven Pillars of Peace (1944). Known as “America’s Bishop,” Sheen was considered the voice of the Catholic Church in America during the mid-20th century, and whenever he spoke, appeared on television, or wrote, many eyes and ears were turned toward him. Although a Catholic, Sheen’s greatest audience came primarily from Protestants and Jews, with Catholic listeners and viewers coming in at third place.
There are many key themes that Sheen takes up in these writings. One theme is his unequivocal condemnation of Nazism, Fascism, Totalitarianism, and most especially Communism. He reminded the American people that Communism is not an ally. Beyond its false promises of earthly utopia is an enemy just as dangerous as Nazism and Fascism, if not worse. Communism had been condemned numerous times by the Catholic Church in the past and was described as a “satanic scourge” by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris (1937). A large part of Sheen’s life was dedicated to fighting Communism and its influence in the United States. He helped convert many from Communism to the Catholic Faith, including Bella Dodd and Louis Budenz. Sheen even worked with the FBI to catch a well-known Communist spy. At one point, the Communist party even labeled Sheen as “Public Enemy No. 1” because of his outspoken disapproval of the party and its ideology.
Sheen’s personal political stance was neither left nor right. He preferred to focus on whether his political beliefs and views were bringing him closer to God or farther away from Him. The salvation of an individual’s soul interested him far more than political economy.
Another topic frequently discussed by Sheen is education. The Archbishop laments that modern education no longer teaches that there is a right or wrong. It simply says that good and evil are relative. This, of course, is not true. For Sheen, the Truth is not simply an objective idea, but rather a Person: Jesus Christ. Education is not merely about stuffing one’s mind with facts, algorithms, and equations but rather about learning the meaning of life and how to live it well. He ascribes modern youth’s revolt against the world to modern education’s relativistic view:
What is the use of living unless we know the purpose of being a man? It is not true, as is so often asserted, that modern youth is revolutionary because he has lacked sufficient economic advantage. Never in the history of the world did youth have so many advantages. The modern youth is revolutionary because he has no purpose in life and hence doubts the worthwhileness of living amidst plenty. Anything that loses its purpose becomes revolutionary. When a boiler loses its purpose it explodes; when man loses his purpose he revolts.
Sheen also emphasizes the need for sacrifice in America: “The preservation of America is conditioned upon discipline and self-sacrifice, but since these are inseparable from religion and morality, the future of America depends on Americans’ attitude toward God and the Cross of His Divine Son.” Assuring Americans that it is not only clerics who think this way, the Archbishop quotes numerous presidents of the United States who called for days of penance and fasting. But modern America has lost its sense of guilt for sin. As Sheen sees it, all war is in its essence a result of sins committed by individuals. As sins multiply without reparation, they eventually spill onto the global stage and explode into global wars.
When addressing the issue of freedom, Sheen notes that the common interpretation of the word is “one’s ability to do anything they wish to do.” Sheen writes that this is not true freedom but rather a pseudo-freedom. True freedom, according to Sheen, is the ability to do what one ought to do, not ability to do what one wants to do.
As a promoter of true freedom, the Archbishop illustrates the four steps that lead a nation to morph into a socialist state. First, the Catholic Church is replaced by the national churches. Second, the state separates ethics from politics and morality from economics. Third, the State completely destroys the Church. The final and most daunting of steps is what Sheen calls “Nazism,” where the Church is replaced by the State.
America and the world are breaking down, according to Sheen, primarily because the family, which is the sacred unit that makes up the body politic, is being broken down first. Sheen says that the most powerful force driving the breakdown of the family is divorce. Since the 1940s, the divorce rate has greatly increased. (Nowadays, there are many other contributors to the destruction of the family, such as abortion, cohabitation, and homosexual unions, to name a few.)
It is no surprise, then, that a healthy and vigorous family life is the first solution to many of the world’s and America’s problems. He writes, “It was a family in the beginning that drew a world of wise men and shepherds, Jews and Gentiles to the Secret of eternal peace. It will be through the family too that America will be reborn.” If the family is preserved and defended, then America too will stand strong amidst the hardships of the world; if not, then America will crumble and be destroyed.
Because of the primacy of the family, the Archbishop emphasizes that the state exists to serve the individual, not the other way around. Preceding the state in existence, human beings were created by God, who endowed them with the ingenuity to create a social system as an instrument of organized living. As a creature of God, man has an eternal destiny; the state, by contrast, has only a temporal one. Sheen notes that most totalitarian states begin by making people the servants of the state.
According to Catholic tradition, when Rome began persecuting Christians, St. Peter decided to leave the city. As he was walking along he saw Christ going toward Rome. He asked “Quo Vadis Domine?”—in English, “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus responded that He was going to Rome to be crucified again because Peter was running away. Peter immediately returned to Rome, was captured, and was crucified upside down because he thought himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ.
Sheen adapts this phrase to “Quo Vadis America?” This is the question Sheen posed to the American people back in the 1940s—yet it could be asked of the American people this very day. Where is America going? Is it turning toward God or away from Him? Sheen’s view is that if America chooses to turn away from God, there will be severe consequences—more dangerous wars, more destruction, more immorality.
War and Peace is a necessary addition to any American home. Sheen brings clarity to many of the problems that America has faced, is facing, and will continue to face in the future, because the true problems facing the nation are spiritual before they are political. Sheen is clear: if we are to heal the nation, we must first ask God to heal the soul.
Joseph Tuttle is the author of An Hour With Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (Liguori, 2021) and a contributing author and editor of Tolkien and Faith: Essays on Christian Truth in Middle Earth (Voyage Comics, 2021).
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