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Just War Theory and Current Debates on It


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Landmark Vatican conference rejects just war theory, asks for encyclical on nonviolence

I didn't see any posts about Just War so i thought I'd create one, just wanted to share this article. Interested in thoughts here.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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The headlines that have been appearing in the news on this are misleading.  The conference (others of which have been held before) was held by "Pax Christi," a modern Christian pacifist organization.  They are arguing, the same as Christian pacifists have argued for thousands of years, that the Vatican ought to reject "just war" theory.  The Vatican itself has done nothing of the sort.

It's never going to happen.  "Just war" theory has been adopted by many of the church's best theologians for millennia.  If you read Thomas Aquinas, you will find that it was actually designed and advanced in order to prevent war.

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See also C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” 1940, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 1975:

pg. 63:
Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists.  In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not.  If not, you have done nothing.  If it is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbour who does not.  Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists.

pgs. 63-64:
To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made ...

pg. 64:
If am I am a Pacifist, I have Arthur and Aelfred, Elizabeth and Cromwell, Walpole and Burke, against me.  I have my university, my school, and my parents against me.  I have the literature of my country against me, and cannot even open my Beowulf, my Shakespeare, my Johnson, or my Wordsworth without being reproved ...

pgs. 64-65:
The sentence of general human authority is equally clear.  From the dawn of history down to the sinking of the Terris Bay, the world echoes with the praise of righteous war.  To be a Pacifist, I must part company with Homer and Virgil, with Plato and Aristotle, with Zarathustra and the Bhadavad-Gita, with Cicero and Montaigne, with Iceland and with Egypt.  From this point of view, I am almost tempted to reply to the Pacifist as Johnson replied to Goldsmith, “Nay Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have no more to say.”

pg. 66:
And when we turn to Christianity we find Pacifism based almost exclusively on certain of the sayings of Our Lord Himself.  If those sayings do not establish the Pacifist position, it is vain to try to base it on the general securus judicat of Christendom as a whole.  For when I seek guidance there, I find Authority on the whole against me.  Looking at the statement which is my immediate authority as an Anglican, the Thirty-Nine Articles, I find it laid down in black and white that “it is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons and serve in wars.”  Dissenters may not accept this; then I can refer them to the history of the Presbyterians, which is by no means Pacifist.  Papists may not accept this; then I can refer them to the ruling of Thomas Aquinas that “even as princes lawfully defend their land by the sword against disturbance from within, so it belongs to them to defend it by the sword from enemies without.”  Or if you demand patristic authority, I give you St. Augustine, “If Christian discipleship wholly reprobated war, then to those who sought the counsel of salvation in the Gospel this answer would have been given first, that they should throw away their arms and withdraw themselves altogether from being soldiers.”  But of checking individual voices, there would be no end.  All bodies that claim to be Churches - that is, who claim apostolic succession and acknowledge the Creeds - have constantly blessed what they regarded as righteous arms.  Doctors, bishops, and popes - including, I think, the present Pope [Pius XII] - have again and again discountenanced the Pacifist position.

pg. 69:
If Our Lord’s words are taken in the unqualified sense which the Pacifist demands, we shall then be forced to the conclusion that Christ’s true meaning, concealed from those who lived in the same time and spoke the same language, and whom He Himself chose to be His messengers to the world, as well as from all their successors, has at last been discovered in our own time.  I know there are people who will not find this sort of thing difficult to believe, just as there are people ready to maintain that the true meaning of Plato or Shakespeare, oddly concealed from their contemporaries and immediate successors, has preserved its virginity for the daring embraces of one or two modern professors.  But I cannot apply to divine matters a method of exegesis which I have already rejected with contempt in my profane studies.

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A response to Lewis you've probably already read but if not



Tbh I'm a semi pacifist, not a 100% one, and I think there are times for battle, such as Nat Turners rebellion, or many revolutions of the oppressed rising against the oppressor. I do not hate the violence that is a woman fighting off her rapist whatever it takes. These are things I cannot be pacifist on. But especially in the history of America you will find most wars as wars with shady reasons, creating power vaccuums, or protecting imperial or colonial interests, at the guise of helping others.

We go to war with Iraq, but ignore the many human rights violations of Saudi Arabia, etc.

In truth there are so few just wars and far too many empire advancing ones.

And I prefer the peaceful solutions to the war ones any day. But I think even most just war people do too. I'm not gonna lump those in with the rabid "carpet bomb them all" folks of the Far Right.

So I can both agree and disagree with both Lewis and Hauerwas here. I think I'd be more like Bonhoeffer.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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43 minutes ago, Justin Hanvey said:


And I prefer the peaceful solutions to the war ones any day. But I think even most just war people do too.


Indeed. Honestly, I thought one of the very definitions of just war was that it had to be a last, undesirable resort after all peaceful attempts at resolution had failed.


Also, I may be remembering wrong, but I think about ten or so years ago, Benedict XVI proposed the idea that in the 21st Century, there are enough ways to resolve conflicts successfully that don't involve war, that there can now be no such thing as a just war.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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  • 2 months later...

Anyone read Nigel Biggar's In Defence of War? That seems like the most significant book on Christianity and war in recent years (it's from 2013).

He finds no mercy

And he's lost in the crowd

With an armoured heart of metal

He finds he's running out of odd-numbered daisies

From which to pull the petals

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