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In Memory of Gordon Zahn

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Gordon Zahn: pacifist, professor, author and longtime contributor to Commonweal. His practical and theological contributions to issues of conscience, war, peace, and social justice in the Catholic tradition remain relevant even years after his death. In honor of Zahn’s legacy and in memory of his death, take a moment to read his very first piece for us, "The Private Conscience and Legitimate Authority" (March 1962), in which he argues for a middle ground between collective German national guilt and the flawed understanding that an individual’s “virtuous obedience” to authority is sufficient for absolving all moral culpability. His middle ground argument is based on the dignity of the human person:

We should develop a greater measure of respect for the human person and affirm that, with the help of divine graces available to him, he can be capable of recognizing the difference between right and wrong and should be encouraged and inspired by his spiritual leaders to manifest these capabilities and graces in his social behavior.

Read the whole article here. If you’re not familiar with Zahn's contributions and life, be sure to read Michael W. Hovey’s 2008 farewell essay, "A Man of Peace."

About the Author

Ellen B. Koneck runs Special Projects at Commonweal and teaches in the Catholic Studies department at Sacred Heart University. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Thank you for this post. Zahn's article is fascinating.

Indeed, there are people who find themselves bound by an oath beyond what they were ready to commit to and end up going down a road that they would have never chosen if they had known where it was headed.

Once when I was a child my music teacher asked me to promise to practice plaing the piano every day that week. I hesitated, thinking about everything that could possible happen and make me unable to fulfill such a promise - the piano might get stolen, I might die, there might be an earthquake, etc. Finally I answered her insistent demand by: "No one can predict the future". That did not go over well!


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