Quaker Theology - Issue #4 - Spring 2001

The North American Launch of the World Council of Churches’
Decade to Overcome Violence --Concluded

The Image of the Peaceable Kingdom

Friends have a long tradition of analysis of the roots of violence in human society, but among Friends, the "Peaceable Kingdom" as such exists primarily in the form of a highly poetic, non-analytical, non-literal image, either visual or verbal. At the North American launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence, participants received a copy of the version of this evocative image created by Quaker printmaker Fritz Eichenberg in 1950.

Eichenberg’s image draws directly on the Scriptural text where the Peaceable Kingdom also appears as an image:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots. . . .
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1, 6-9)

In the Eichenberg print, within a wooded landscape a bear and its young appear opposite an ox, on either side of a lion. In front, a wolf and a lamb and a leopard and a kid lie together. A small child plays while a serpent slithers beneath.

Images of the Peaceable Kingdom, in Scripture or in Eichenberg’s print, address themselves not to human ability to make firm commitments in obedience to a call from God and through engagement of human will, but to positive emotion. The image of the Peaceable Kingdom is compelling and appealing. It motivates by connecting with what it presupposes to be a longing of the human heart for the peace of the Holy Mountain. It is expected that a glimpse of this holy peace will inspire the viewer or the hearer to want and hope for more.

In a detail characteristic of Quaker depictions of the Peaceable Kingdom, Eichenberg’s image depicts the child’s hair cut in a short style typical of the twentieth century. The Peaceable Kingdom is now. The final fulfillment of all things in God’s reign of peace, justice and reconciliation is already breaking into our world. Already, the child who is called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" "has been born for us," has been "given to us." (Isaiah 9:6)

Images of the Peaceable Kingdom, whether verbal or visual, differ from the Family Covenant of Nonviolence and the Vow of Nonviolence in being poetic, non-literal, non-analytical and non-specific. Whatever real peace with real justice will look like in human life, it is unlikely to have much to do with real children playing with reptiles. The snakes in the images of the Peaceable Kingdom evoke the Genesis account of the fall of the created order and particularly God’s angry curse of the serpent in Genesis 3:14 and symbolically refer in a generalized way to a healing of all the evil that underlies and finds expression in violence.

The image of the Peaceable Kingdom serves to evoke a hope and concern that needs to be connected coherently with specific activities in specific situations in order to effect the overcoming of violence. The Baptist Peace Fellowship’s Family Covenant of Nonviolence and the Pax Christi Vow of Nonviolence name specific arenas where violence is fostered and occurs and offer specific goals toward the overcoming of violence. The Family Covenant expresses and engages a concern for the overcoming of violence through the use of the Biblical and traditional concept of covenant, while the Vow of Nonviolence expresses and engages the same concern through the Biblical and traditional concept of vow. The image of the Peaceable Kingdom, the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s Covenant and the Pax Christi vow can be seen as differing, but not mutually exclusive ways, to express and engage a concern for the overcoming of violence.

Into the Future

During the meeting at Nashville, peace-making and the overcoming of violence were seen as both shared goals in themselves and occasions to deepen an awareness of being a community of communities engaged together in common concerns. The seeing together and being together of worship, Bible study and exchange of information and resources at WCC meetings and other events is not an easy and shallow unity. It is aimed at respecting the uniqueness of each tradition, while reaching toward true community among differing communities.

The Nashville launch of the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence began the process of giving shape to the Decade in North America. Friends have an unusual opportunity in the Decade to reach out to other communities, sharing Quaker perspectives and Quaker experience in concern for peace, justice and reconciliation. Among the challenges for Friends of the Decade will certainly be the challenges of reconciliation among religious communities. Seeking to understand one another as we seek to work together for the overcoming of violence will require as much thoughtful, careful attention to the partners of the journey as concern for the goal.

Notes

 

 1. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/who/index-e.html, May 15, 2001.

2. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/who/mch-e.html#na, May 15, 2001.

3. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/dov/mandate.html, May 15, 2001.

4. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/dov/it3-e.html#dov. May 15, 2001.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/dov/01news-e.html;

8. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/pcn/index-e.html. May 15, 2001.

9. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/international/torture-e.html. May 15, 2001.

10. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/international/torture-e.html. May 15, 2001.

11. http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/international/torture-e.html. May 15, 2001.

12. For a more extensive but still brief overview see A. Yonick, "Covenant in the Bible," in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1967), 401-405.

13. See e.g. V. Ruland, "Covenant Theology" in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1967), 405 and the still classic Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: 1956) and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1953).

14. George Fox, Journal, ed. J. L. Nickalls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 65.

15. Available online at http://www.paxchristiusa.org/vow.htm. May 15, 2001.

16. See e.g. M. R. E. Masterman, "Vow in the Bible," in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, 755ff.

17. See e.g. P. F. Mulhern, "Vow, Practice and Theology of," in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, 756-8.

18. Ibid., 757.

                                                                                                                                        

 

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