Title of this article is found in the prologue to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Two young people who love one another are caught up in the strife between their families, the Capulets and Montagues. These families represent the high level of civil conflict in the city of Verona. We can imagine that a war of words had become a civil war. The play opens with a sword fight in the streets of Verona between the retainers of the two families.
In the course of the play family members are killed. At the end of the play Romeo and Juliet too are dead as a result of the civil conflict. One can imagine that a war of words led to the bloody conflict. Civil blood had made civil hands unclean–hands that had wounded and slain.
It does not take a stretch of the imagination to envision such a thing happening within the American community. It did once in the nineteenth century when hundreds of thousands American died on Civil War battlefields. The prelude to the war was an intense word battle in the press, books, and debates. Abusive names and inaccurate description of opponents abounded. In 1856 Preston Brooks of North Carolina severely beat Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor. Violent rhetoric can lead to physical violence as most everybody knows.
The contemporary political rhetoric in Washington and around the country has reached a strident level. Last week’s exchange between Congress and the President on the subject of racism was futile and frivolous. Nothing was accomplished. Division was deepened; bad feeling was aggravated. The country did not at all benefit. The President and the two parties both are blameworthy.
Violent language can easily lead to violent action. Uncivil tongues eventually lead to the shedding of civil blood. All who are responsible for this rhetoric, whatever the level of complicity, have potentially made their hands unclean with the blood of citizens. Our politicians and media must take the primary blame.
The word civil refers to the community and also to proper conduct by word and action that helps the community thrive. Shakespeare’s use of the word in his prologue to Romeo and Juliet is a reference to the citizens of Verona.
We will continue to encourage a Christian apologetics that sets an example of civil speech while at the same time making a strong defense of our faith.
Michael G. Tavella
July 22, 2019
St. Mary Magdalene