In this final installment of our meditations regarding the relationship between Christians and the employment of just force, I want to focus on the teachings of the Church and on her approach to war.  It is of cardinal importance that Catholics understand these teachings and are able to present them to the world with coherence and clarity.

It was Saint Augustine (354-430), in his monumental City of God, who first laid out the Catholic position regarding what has come to be known as “Just War.”  He recognized that in a world afflicted by original sin, and even among regenerated Christians, war was inevitable.  It will continue until the final consummation of the “vision of peace” at the end of time.  There was no question then of the possible abolition of war, for people were too sinful, and the devil still too active to prevent his operation in the world.  The Christian would be confronted with war.  Given this situation, how was he to act?

The morality of war is rooted in the axiomatic natural law of self-preservation.  Every living thing seeks its own preservation of life, and so it is built into human nature that we have a right to life, and a concomitant duty never to take anyone else’s life unjustly.  This right applies to communities as well, from families to nations.  Every legitimate society has the intrinsic right to self defense.  Therefore the Catholic doctrine of war is rooted in defense.  An offensive war is never justified by Catholic or natural law principles.  An individual has a right to proportionate self-defense (though it may be morally more praiseworthy to “turn the other cheek”).  A society has likewise a right to proportionate self-defense, but it does not have the opportunity to “turn the other cheek.”  It must act so as to preserve its existence for the sake of the innocent lives it serves to protect.

Given this right to self-defense, the society must have fulfilled several other obligations before it can enter into war.  The aggressor must have the capability and intention of either destroying or doing serious lasting harm to the community in question.  All recourse to possible peaceful outcomes must have been tried.  A society must have good hope of repelling the aggressor (this avoids the possibility of pointless social suicide).  The repelling of the aggressor must use proportionate force, and must not cause greater evils than those which are eliminated (These doctrines are covered in the Catechism, paragraph 2309).

The Church did not rest simply with the permission to engage in a just war though.  She continued to meditate on the proper means for engaging in such a conflict.  Indeed during the middle ages it came to be a commonplace that Christians should in no way fight against one another, for to slay a fellow Christian was likened to shedding the blood of Christ himself.  Throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, the Church extended its supervision to enforcing amity between Christians, culminating in the movements entitled the Peace of God and the Truce of God.  It was during this period that the final line of the Agnus Dei was changed to “Lamb of God, grant us peace.”

The Church, waxing in its authority during this time, began to prescribe regulations for the moral conduct of war.  Following Augustine, like a wise mother, she knew that warfare could not be excised from human hearts in this fallen world.  She therefore began to prescribe regulations to make it humane as possible.  To this end the Church developed the code of Chivalry.  This did not begin as regulations for the proper relations between the sexes, but rather as the moral code for a warrior aristocracy.  Foremost was a call to those who had responsibility for governing and war making that their power came with grave obligations: to protect those who were placed under their care.  The Church commanded the powerful to use their swords in the protection of the weak, such as the clergy who were forbidden to fight, the poor peasants who were exempted from war, and orphans, widows, and strangers.  No war was to be made against them, nor against the economic interests of society.  Military power was seen as service to the weak.  The Church also banned fighting on Sundays and feast days, as well as during Lent and Advent.  She banned weapons that were considered inhumane.  At length the power of the Church was so great that she was able to enforce peace within the Christian community.

It was the Church then, who made the first rules of warfare in all of human civilization.  The regulations that the Church laid down came to be accepted by most nations, and have become enshrined in the Geneva Conventions.  She forbade the execution and mistreatment of prisoners, she condemned indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians, and she was cautious over the deployment of newer and more deadly weapons.  The Church insisted that even though one engages in a just war, this does not mean that the moral law is suspended.  Indeed even a nation fighting a just war is capable of horrifically immoral attacks, that harm the innocent and which compromise human dignity.  Morality obtains even in times of war.

The Church then channeled these natural human impulses into a more productive direction.  She sent soldiers into war in order to defend the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, as well as the harassed pilgrims who were making their way to the Holy Land.  She authorized the creation of military orders, with a rule drawn up by St. Bernard of Clairvaux himself.  These were to be “fighting monks” who took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, whose holy work was not to be agricultural or producing manuscripts, but was rather to be the defenders of Christians against the depredations of the Islamic world.  Many of these continue today, such as the Sacred Military Order of Malta, which carries on its mission by providing battlefield hospitals throughout the world.

Christians must be mindful of their history, and recall with pride the great military heroes who permitted the continued existence of the Catholic Church and of western civilization itself.  These include the great crusaders such as Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond of Toulouse, and Richard the Lionheart.  They include the heroic defenses of the Knights of Rhodes and of Malta against Islamic onslaughts in the Mediterranean, and the achievements of Don Juan of Austria at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and the heroic charge of King Jan Sobieski of Poland at the Islamic siege of Vienna in 1683.

Catholics have fought with honor and dignity in many just wars, taking part in the defeat of the tyrant Napoleon, and disproportionately joining the American military in the two world wars.  Catholics from around the world rallied to the military defense of the Pope in the fall of Rome in 1870, with Blessed Pius IX ordering that they defend the city, and put up a token resistance to the advancing forces of revolutionary Italy.  Even today, while a guardian of peace, the Church recognizes the necessity of military action to protect the weak, and even Pope Francis on several occasions has spoken of support for military relief of the persecuted Middle East.

To support and participate in the military, and in the just and holy office of defending the weak, is deeply embedded in the history and theology of Christianity.  There is no title to societal pacifism for the followers of Christ.  This does not mean warmongering, for Christians are called as individuals and as a society to seek peace at all times.  But sometimes peace is only possible by the confrontation with an unjust aggressor, who is the enemy of peace as Augustine recognized over 1600 years ago.  To confront an unjust aggressor is to fulfill one’s duty as one who has care of a community.  It is a good act, a just act, and – if pursued with moral means – a holy act.  For those who fulfill their duties in this way can expect a recompense from the Lord, and be permitted to enter the “Heaven of Mars” so beautifully described by Dante in his Paradiso.

This is the sixth and final part Dr. Donald Prudlo’s series Catholics & the Use of Force. See the other installments below:

  1. Catholics & the Use of Force: Introduction
  2. Can We Reconcile the “God of Battles” & the “God of Peace” in the Old Testament?
  3. Force in the New Testament
  4. One Doctrine NOT Found in the Early Church: Pacifism
  5. Can Man Be Holy & Wage War?
  6. When Is War Just? 
  • Jeannon Kralj

    I think it is important that that Just War Theory be stated today. However, things are not as simple now that there are subversive elements who deliberately stir up unjust wars and now that there are nuclear bombs and every war is potentitally a mass killing event.

    I like the ideas of Catholic man, William Guy Carr, Canadian who wrote the following books.

    Red Fog Over America
    Satan Prince of This World
    The Money Power: Pawns in the Game and Empire of the City – Two Books in One
    by William Guy Carr, Edwin Charles Knuth, John-Paul Leonard
    Pawns in the Game: The International Conspiracy Exposed

    Here are some of his quotes on war today.

    “What I am about to say will sound strange coming from a man with a war record such as mine, but because
    wars and revolutions forced upon the masses (Goyim) are the means by which the Synagogue of Satan intend to
    make those they plot to subjugate destroy their own forms of governments and religion so they can be enslaved
    under a Luciferian dictatorship, obviously the only way to prevent them carrying out this diabolical plan through
    to its logical conclusion is to refuse to become involved in any more wars and revolutions under any
    circumstances. This would require individuals to practice passive resistance to authorities who would force them
    into war.
    I once held all conscientious objectors in contempt. I considered them cowards, traitors to their country,
    people who failed to appreciate the benefits citizenship gave them. But I realize now, after studying the
    Luciferian conspiracy from all angles what God really meant when He gave us the command “thou shalt not
    kill.” He didn’t qualify this command by saying killing on a mass scale, i.e., wars and revolutions, can be
    Weishaupt’s revised version of the Age Old Conspiracy says that wars and revolutions shall be forced on the
    Goyim, so that those who direct the conspiracy to usurp world domination shall “proceed towards their goal in
    peace.” They make us fight while they sit back and cheer us on from the sidelines. Then again Weishaupt said
    that those who direct the conspiracy shall arrange, makers, so that not even the nations who are victorious in a
    war shall benefit or annex additional territory. Can any informed person deny that this policy has not been
    followed to the letter in World Wars One and Two? But on the other hand, Communism has been built up in
    size and strength until it is equal in power to the rest of the world.
    It is true that in the revolutions fomented to put Communism where it stands today the masses (Goyim) were
    made to fight each other, but those to usurp power, like Lenin, never got involved in actual fighting except by
    accident. It is another strange fact that if top level agenteurs of the Synagogue of Satan got caught while
    engaged in subversion and/or fomenting revolutions they were never shot but invariably imprisoned only to be
    subsequently released so they could continue their subversive activities as I have proved in my previous books.
    I now believe God intended man to protect his own life against an aggressor; to protect his wife and family
    and his home, but I believe extending this principle or natural law to national and international levels was
    undoubtedly part and parcel of the Luciferian conspiracy. Soldiers and police were in the first instance
    supposed to preserve law and order and protect the weak from criminal elements who refused to accept the
    moral code and natural laws as adopted by civilized society. This is the reason ONLY the king and/or ruler was
    supposed to exercise force to maintain law and order. If he abused his rights the people could set things to right
    as was done by the Magna Carta, but under God’s law it was never intended they should destroy dynastic rule.
    The Protocols boast that by leading the Goyim into making this mistake they caused them to abandon their only
    protection against those who claim to deliver them from their old oppressions in order to lead them into the new
    subjection of a totalitarian dictatorship.
    I realize that the Illuminati will work to shoot those statements full of holes, but the fact remains that I can
    no longer find authority in the Scriptures, or by reasoning, to justifying allowing ourselves to be divided into
    opposing camps, then armed, and made to fight and kill each other in order to solve political, social, economic,
    or other problems which are no nearer solution now than they ever were. It just doesn’t make sense that
    Christians can be divided into opposing camps and made to kill each other off by the tens of millions without
    having the slightest personal animosity for one another.
    To return the passive resistance! Ghandi was doing a great job using this principle, so he was assassinated.
    What do we have in his place? A man who says he is neutral, but in reality helps the Synagogue of Satan
    maintain a “balance of power so that when the Goyim are thrown at each other’s throats again” in World War
    Three, the sides will be more or less equal and therefore able to fight a more prolonged and destructive war. It
    would seem to me that we could become heroes defending a principle, such as passive resistance, even if doing
    so caused us to suffer death at the hands of those who serve the Synagogue of Satan. It seems to me that it
    would be better to die expressing our Faith in God than in physical combat with others who are our spiritual
    brothers, and people who should be our friends. In support of the above statements of opinion I quote: 2 Kings
    7:4; Ps. 44:22; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4; Rom. 8:36; Jas. 5:6.

    Satan, Prince of This World
    Brought to you by Page 8
    Because lies and deceits are the stock-in-trade of those who direct the World Revolutionary Movement
    (W.R.M.) AT THE TOP, never, since history began to be recorded, has a grant been made by governments,
    educational institutions, so-called charitable foundations or other sources of wealth and power to enable
    historians to compile an accurate, documented history of the World Revolutionary Movement (W.R.M.).
    Unable to finance the help necessary to do a thoroughly satisfactory job (which would require at least ten more
    years of study and research) necessary to prove to the hilt the knowledge I have acquired trying to find the
    answer to the question, “Why is it that the Human Race cannot live in peace, and thus enjoy the blessings and
    bounties God has provided for our use and pleasure in such abundance?” I offer what evidence I have been able
    to obtain to prove that what we term W.R.M. is nothing more or less than the continuing Luciferian revolt
    against the RIGHT of God to exercise Supreme Authority over the Entire Universe.”

    P.S. I think you mentioned “Pope Francis” and that is bad. This is not the Pope and he is not Catholic. He is a modernist and a Marxist and he is working for the Synagogue of Satan

    Be not conformed to this evil world system. God bless us each and every one in the Name of the One Who is Truth.

  • Kevin S

    Such a thorough and interesting series. Dr. Prudlo has certainly presented a lot of detail and information. I’ve learned much in reading his six installments. It’s easy to see his expertise in medieval history and saints in the Christian tradition shine through in much of this work. However, particularly with this last article, he has moved us into modern times and the modern Church’s teaching and evolution of that teaching (the Doctrine of Just War). This is important because today we find ourselves facing the prospect of far more destruction at the hands armies than was ever historically possible. This, of course, moves us toward a need to ever more diligently stand by and employ the Doctrine of Just War and to commit to applying prayer, sensitivity, and discernment to any potential “just war”. At times within his series, Dr. Prudlo seems to glorify war and soldiers and calls us to have pride for Catholics who have waged war. Maybe a little more balance or nuance in this regard would have proved supportive. Too much of this type of “glory-pride” rhetoric without a connection to and sensitivity towards context can lead to myopic view and oversimplification of complex historical realities. This can create distorted mythical conceptions of war, even just war, whether in the past or yet to come.

    The Catechism lists four conditions which must all be met in order to go to (just) war: 1. The damage caused by the aggressor nation must be grave. 2. All efforts at peace must be shown unworkable. 3. A real prospect for success must exist. 4. “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.” (2309) Flowing from that is the condemnation by the Church of “total war”, which is war fought using all means available in order to win. Again this is condemned by the Church. An example of “total war” is the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” (Gaudium et Spes, 80)

    All of this to give some voice to the necessity for real sensitivity and discernment in both the entry into a just war and the execution of a just war. After all, war can be a heady prospect for men, filling too many eyes with images of pride and glory. In reality, war (even just war) is a horrific experience in which innocent lives are lost. And for all of us Catholic men it bears remembering what Pope Emeritus Benedict said in an interview with 30 Days (magazine) while he was a cardinal in 2003: ” [W]e must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still licit to allow that a just war might exist.”