Paul’s Perambulations

January 30, 2008

Unjust War and St. Augustine

Filed under: Peace,Religion — admin @ 11:34 pm

Most people associate Unjust War Theory with Aquinas, but Christian thinking on this issue originated much earlier with St. Augustine. The current Iraq War is clearly unjust according to principles espoused by Aquinas and other Unjust War theorists such as Grotius. But what would Augustine have to say today?  Although we cannot directly query him on the Iraq War today, his principles were meant to be timeless. When we see the vengence (e.g., execution of Saddam Hussein and threats of revenge on Osama Bin Laden) and lies (e.g., WMD) that characterize the current war, the war clearly does not represent a “benevolent severity” motivated by the “caritas” that Augustine requires. Nor was it ever declared by the proper authority, which is not a Bush “monarch” but our Constitution that requires that only Congress can declare war. All of the following text is taken directly from the references cited in parentheses: Augustine developed a theology of just war, that is, war that is acceptable under certain conditions. Firstly, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. Secondly, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Thirdly, love must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. (Wikipedia, St. Augustine, 2/16/08)

Augustine writes “No one indeed is fit to inflict punishment save the one who has first overcome hate in his heart. The love of enemies admits of no dispensation, but love does not exclude wars of mercy waged by the good.”  The distinctive points in Augustine’s theory were these: that love should be the motive in war, and that justice should lie on one side only. (pp 97-98 Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, 1960.)

In Augustine’s theory, three kinds of war were morally defensible: a defensive war against aggression, a war to gain just reparations for a previous wrong, and a war to recover stolen property. But historical circmustances alone did not create the conditions for a “just” war.  A properly constituted authority must decide that the resort to war is necessary.  (p 29 Weigel, Tranquillitas Ordinis, The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace, 1987.)

Augustine insists that soldiers should never fight for fame or glory, or with a spirit of vengence.  He admonishes soldiers and leaders always to keep faith with the enemy and show mercy to the vanquished. (p 47 Christopher, The Ethics of War and Peace, 1994.)

St. Augustine believed that one could be a Christian and kill one’s enemies because the destruction of the enemy’s body might actually benefit that person’s soul. In fact, he taught that only people who loved their enemy might kill their enemy: “No one indeed is fit to inflict punishment save the one who has first overcome hate in his heart.” “Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity…in order that peace may be obtained…As violence is used toward him who rebels and insists, so mercy is due to the vanquished or captive.”

While Augustine never systematically dealt with the issue of the morality of war, later thinkers gathered the following principles from his various letters and treatises:

1. The intention in going to war must be to restore peace.

2. Only a legitimate authority may declare war.

3. The conduct of the war must be just.

4. Monks and clerics may not engage in warfare.

( 2/16/08)

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