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60Listening to Pacifistshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2002/08/listening-to-pacifists
Thu, 01 Aug 2002 00:00:00 -0400 In the
editorial In a Time of War (December 2001), the Editors argued that pacifists have no legitimate part in the discussion about whether the U.S. is engaging in a just war against terrorism. It seemed frivolous to the Editors that people who believe war is ruled out in principle, as pacifists do, still want a say in how it is conducted. Pacifist theologian Stanley Hauerwas took exception to that claim and many others made by the Editors (Correspondence, February 2002). Of course, that a pacifist would want to discuss any war at all may seem strange, but many pacifists believe that they have a useful contribution to make to just war thinking despite their opposition to all war in principle, and many American church leaders”especially in the Catholic Church and Protestant mainline denominations”have sought to exercise a pacifist or neo-pacifist influence.
Pacifism comes in many shapes and forms, but I am primarily concerned with the sort of pacifism espoused by John Howard Yoder and Hauerwas: the pacifism of the Messianic Community. Messianic pacifism is so pervasive today because it builds on the liberal-humanistic pacifism that is already widespread. However, unlike liberal-humanistic pacifism, messianic pacifism offers no strategy for making the world more peaceful; instead, as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, such pacifists cannot imagine being other than nonviolent. Messianic pacifists thus cannot imagine using force against a nation no matter what that nation has done, is doing, or will do to another nation.
There are two ways for Christians to look at the just war doctrine. One is to treat just war as a limited exception to general pacifism, which would allow the pacifist a meaningful voice, since the pacifist represents the authentically Christian way of life from which we make an exception in deciding to fight a war. This way of looking at the just war doctrine was unheard of before the twentieth century. The second way for believers to conceive of just war is to view it as an attempt to control the way wars are entered into and fought based on the sad fact that Christians are always going to have to use violence. Such a view of war hearkens back to Ambroses idea that Christians are responsible to their neighbors and therefore must be willing to use force to protect them. If we hold this view, then pacifists are going to have a hard time convincing traditional just war defenders that they have anything meaningful to say about just war.
Christian pacifists, of course, think that just war theory developed precisely because early Christians had to figure out a way to harmonize their nonviolent assumptions with the desire to aid their neighbors with acts of force. This is factually wrong. Pacifists cannot point to a single Church Father who helped develop the Christian just war doctrine out of nonviolent assumptions. On the contrary, just war theory arose out of assumptions of justice and the virtue of charity. Assumptions of nonviolence had nothing to do with the genesis of Christian just war theory.
The main obstacle for Christian pacifists who wish to contribute something uniquely pacifist to just war thinking is that it is hard to find a complementary relationship between classical Christian just war theory and pacifism apart from the insistence by both that we never do evil that good might come. In other words, just warriors and pacifists are one in denying that we should ever get our hands dirty in a just cause. But the complementary relationship ends here. Just warriors hold that we can use force justly and well in a good cause and that such acts bear no stain of evil. Pacifists, on the other hand, hold that there is something inherently wrong in using force. For pacifists, this is enough to preclude any act of force, but for the pacifist-influenced, this only means that such evil acts (sometimes called prima facie evils) have to pass a test (the just war criteria) that will tell them if they are permissible.
Classical just war advocates (those who rely upon the tradition as formulated by the likes of Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin) deny that the just war criteria allow us to do evil”even prima facie evil”that good might come. They hold in fact that the just war criteria rule out evil altogether and help us determine when we must refrain from certain proposed acts of force. Just warriors refuse to restrain evil with evil. If we cannot prevent an evil without doing evil ourselves, then we throw ourselves on Gods mercy and trust in His will for us, even if it means dying; for such dying is a noble death, and noble dying always beats ignoble living.
The idea that Christians ought to play the lesser-evil game is the product of Christian Realism. Reinhold Niebuhr is the most famous and compelling of the Christian realists and is often referred to as the father of the movement. Christian messianic pacifists such as Yoder and Hauerwas have rightly attacked Niebuhr for transforming Jesus teaching into an otherworldly ethic. By contrast, the sort of theology we see at work in figures such as Aquinas and Calvin insists that Jesus ethic be harmonized with Gods this-worldly ethic as revealed in the Old Testament. Those adhering to classical just war doctrine should, I suggest, make common cause with Hauerwas and Yoder in rejecting Niebuhrs position. But they part company on how to remedy the mistake.
Oddly enough, it is usually Christian pacifists, and not those influenced by such traditional just war thinkers as Aquinas and Calvin, who approach just war thinking through Niebuhr. It is easy to see why: Christian pacifists and Niebuhr look at Jesus in the same way. For both, Jesus provides an ethical standard that Christians cannot follow while remaining responsible citizens (with responsible meaning involvement with acts of force). Certainly if we follow pacifists and Niebuhr, then we ought to wring our hands every time we use force, for we have done something evil (even if necessary).
But as I have argued above, just warriors do not play the dirty-hands game of morality that Christian pacifists suggest Christians ought to play (and must play) if they are going to commit themselves to practices such as fighting wars. In sharp contrast, according to Aquinas and Calvin, when Christians commit themselves to a just war they do so not out of sin but out of justice and charity. When soldiers kill justly, they may feel sorrow for the fact that they must kill in order to bring justice, but they will not be doing anything evil when they kill justly in a just cause, for they know that God has called fallen human beings to establish justice in this way when no other way is possible.
Roman Catholic theologian Charles Curran, in
Directions of Catholic Social Ethics
, nevertheless insists that pacifism and just war are distinct but interdependent methods of evaluating warfare, with each contributing to the full moral vision we need in pursuit of human peace. Again, from the just warriors point of view, this is simply wrong. Pacifism considers all bloodshed as evil, while just warriors consider just bloodshed to be good and unjust bloodshed to be evil. The two are at fundamental moral odds. This does not mean that a pacifist cannot think about just war nor that a just warrior cannot think about pacifism. It only means that each must suspend his moral vision of the world in order to think like the other.
The general inability of pacifists to suspend their moral vision of the world when they get involved in just war debates usually leads them to make some remarkably bad criticisms of just war thinking. One thinks particularly of the common pacifist charge that just war doctrine is ahistorical, as well as the assertion that the show of patriotism following the recent terrorist attacks reveals that Americans (and American Christians) get their moral purpose from war.
To take the first of these, the ahistorical nature of just war doctrine is not necessarily a bad thing. The Decalogue, for example, is Gods moral law for all people at all times, and that can hardly be thought of as a handicap. Just war as a Christian practice has certain permanent elements that define it as a practice, and these elements hold for all people, at all times, and in all places. We call these defining elements the
ius ad bellum
(proper authority, right intent, just cause). Yet Christians admit that the just war doctrine possesses certain culture-dependent elements that demand a great deal of leeway in interpretation and practice in order to make room for virtuous acts in war”acts in which virtue is tied to a particular place, a particular people, and a particular time. We call these partly culture-dependent elements the
ius in bello
(discrimination and proportion). To a certain degree, restrictions on combat behavior are universal as well. We may never target innocent people directly, nor may we act in such a way that we expect more evil than good to come from our acts. But what counts as innocence in war, just as what counts as a proportionate act, will tend to vary from place to place and from time to time.
Pacifists also complain that a citizenry educated into thinking that wars may be just will acquire its moral sustenance from war. The recent show of national solidarity in our efforts to root out terrorists in Afghanistan is said to be proof of this phenomenon. I cannot speak for the nation, but it should be obvious that Christians, at least those shaped by classical Christian morality, do not rely on war for a sense of moral purpose and destiny. Instead, Christians rely on the risen Christ, who gives them their history, their moral purpose, and their destiny. Such Christians insist that just use of force is compatible with Gods kingdom in this world, and in fact, is demanded by the work of the risen Christ. Christians tutored by the likes of Aquinas and Calvin do not think that Jesus command to take up your cross and follow me means that you must become a pacifist. Rather, they interpret these words to mean that we ought to give up our own safety in order to help those who need our help. Thus war, far from being motivated by a desire to be rid of God, can be, for just warriors, engaged in out of a desire to please God. Just war, far from being a way to claim for ourselves the power to determine our own meaning and destiny, is an act of willing obedience to give up ones own comfortable, peaceful, and protected way of existence in order to play our part in following Christ and replicating Gods moral order for earthly life after the fall. Hence, participating in just war is a manifestation of the love of God and neighbor. It, in some carefully defined circumstances, is what Christians do out of loving obedience to God.
Nevertheless, Christian pacifists may yet have something meaningful to contribute to Christian just war thinking, primarily when they point out how hard it is for the just warrior to sustain the presumption in favor of losing rather than doing injustice. As the late Paul Ramsey so often pointed out, Americans have a hard time fighting limited wars. When we think our cause just, our instinct is to obliterate the enemy. As Hauerwas notes, the habits of a people require great drafts of courage and sacrificý not unlike that of nonviolence in order to conduct a justifiable war. Exactly. And this brings us back to that small space pacifists and just war defenders share. Pacifists and just war defenders agree that it is better to die than to do evil. This is a point largely lost among modern just war defenders. (Its absence is especially noticeable in Michael Walzers ethic of supreme emergency, which allows a nation, if threatened with total defeat, to do any evil believed necessary in order to preserve itself.) A crusade mentality and the kind of fighting that goes with it are disturbingly common in the history of American wars. Certainly this was true for the two World Wars, and, to a lesser degree, for the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
Americans, we must say, and say gladly, have been demonstrating much better combat behavior of late. The Gulf War and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan have shown that American soldiers are quite capable of fighting justly (i.e., with discrimination and proportion). Nevertheless, we must caution that what was on display in the Gulf War and Afghanistan may be less a show of virtue than technological and tactical prowess. Our technological superiority in particular has allowed us to overwhelm our enemies in the recent past. Will we be able to demonstrate the same level of self-control when we meet a more formidable foe? This is a question we need to ask. For if President Bush is serious in pursuing terrorists into whatever countries they may hide, we may very well find ourselves in a much more difficult fight before too long. And it takes a lot of blood (along with sweat and tears) to defeat a formidable foe.
Christian pacifists, then, are right to remind Christian just war advocates that Christian just war demands definite, limited goals and a limited, controlled use of force. President Bush tells us that the U.S. is going to aim at destroying every terrorist group of global reach. Does he really mean that the U.S. is going to use military force against every significant terrorist group, no matter how marginal their danger to us, and no matter where they are found? President Bush may simply be preparing American citizens for a lengthy struggle by employing dramatic rhetoric. One can only hope, and pray, that this is so. For actual war planning, if it is to be just, must have limited aims. President Bush owes it to the American people to spell out those aims as soon as possible and to the fullest possible degree.
Unlimited war has, in the past, led to unlimited, uncontrolled uses of force. Christians cannot say yes to that kind of fighting. What if we reach a time when we have to make a choice between terminating a war and resorting to combat practices that are out of bounds according to just war doctrine, such as intentionally targeting the innocent in order to get to the guilty or using disproportionate force? Surely all Christian just war defenders, at least those who pay any attention to traditional just war doctrine, will say that we must accept defeat, at least for the moment, rather than prosecute a war unjustly. If the just war doctrine is to possess any sort of integrity, it must be able to say no to some wars and no to some actions in war. This is how the Church maintains its independence from the state even in those times that the Church says yes to wars.
The Church can do even better than say no to some wars and some acts in war; it can demand penance from its members who participate in unjust wars or do unjust things in war. Penance is the practice that enables the Church to show the world that it takes just war-making seriously. Aquinas and Calvin insist that, at the very least, the Eucharist be withheld from anyone suspected of unjust acts. Thus any ecclesiastical official (bishop, priest, or pastor) who knows or has good reason to believe that someone under his care has done injustice in war should withhold the Eucharist until either the suspicions are allayed or penance imposed. Notorious offenders should of course have to undergo public penance, since the Church must show itself to be a place where sin is not taken lightly. Protestants especially should be wary of ignoring penance as some sort of strange Roman rite that they rightly did away with during the Reformation. Calvin was adamant that Christians do penance for unjust acts, as was the Puritan Richard Baxter. Thus penance in wartime serves two purposes: it protects the integrity of the Church (and thus Christ) and restores the soldier and political leader to the body of Christ. Such ecclesial practices should allay any fears that the Church cannot maintain its independence while saying yes to particular conflicts.
Darrell Cole is Assistant Professor of Religion at Drew University.
Mon, 01 Oct 2001 00:00:00 -0400 Fighting, killing, making war. Human beings have been doing it almost from the very beginning and show no signs of an inclination to cease and desist. Many claim that the Christian tradition is ambivalent when it comes to prosecuting wars, even in a just cause—and this, so it is alleged, because the founder of Christianity rejected all use of force. Jesus of course did acknowledge that the authority to use force came from his Father (John 19:11), but it must be admitted that, unlike the founder of Islam, the founder of Christianity did not use a sword.
For a variety of reasons (mainly focusing on the idea that Jesus’ rejection of force was meant to be unique to him rather than emulated by his followers), Jesus’ refusal of the sword did not keep Christians from employing it in increasing numbers, beginning sometime around the end of the second century. Nor did Jesus’ refusal prevent some early Church Fathers from defending the use of force. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Ambrose, and Augustine, to name just four, defended the just use of force unequivocally. Their various “defenses”—especially Augustine’s—were the genesis of the Christian Just War doctrine, a doctrine which insists that war can be the sort of thing Christians ought to support. None of these early Christian approaches to war treated it as a necessary evil. Each held that the person who used just force was acting in a way consonant with God’s wishes and was, though in a way less praiseworthy than bishops and clerics, following Christ. The just soldier’s acts in war were thus thought to be positively good acts—acts that would shape him into the kind of person fit for beatitude with God. But this moral approach to war is not much favored today. Few of our contemporaries wish to claim that God elevates soldiers through their virtuous acts on the battlefield. The idea strikes many of us as morally grotesque.
There are two main reasons why many Christians today wish to disown the tradition’s acceptance of warfare as a potential good. They derive from strains of thought that have seeped into the Christian conscience and inform many modern Christian attitudes toward war. First, there is the influence of Christian pacifism. The complaint from this quarter is that one cannot follow Jesus—and thus cannot be a Christian in the fullest sense (if in any sense at all)—unless one rejects all recourse to the use of force. Christians on this view should follow the lead of the early Church, which, we are told, rejected the use of force, at least until the “Constantinian Fall” that supposedly ushered in the age of Christian imperialism. The second reason many contemporary Christians have rejected recourse to violence is that liberal-humanist ideas have convinced them that war is something inhuman, unreasoned, and unpurposeful. It is thus also something inherently ignoble, unworthy of human nature, and out of step with contemporary mores and the direction of history.
This new view of war is all around us. The recent controversy over Senator Bob Kerrey’s activities in Vietnam is a good example. Senator Kerrey received the Bronze Star for actions that have come under scrutiny of late. Apparently Senator Kerrey, while on active service in Vietnam, led a raid in which many civilians were killed. Kerrey insists that the attack on civilians was unintentional and I have no reason to dispute him. In any event, Kerrey received a medal for his work. He also received the Medal of Honor for a different action. Kerrey has stated that he deserves neither. Perhaps he is right, but he does not stop at that. He maintains that medals are given out in war in order to “clean the war up”—to make us feel good about something we should never feel good about. Kerrey’s comments are typical of the modern ethos of war: war may be necessary, but it is inherently base and vile, and it taints everything it touches. The medals, Kerrey suggests, are one way we hide this unpleasant reality from ourselves.
The modern ethos of war was first articulated by Erasmus, who argued at length that war was unnatural and unfitting for human beings, and that even just wars are morally unacceptable. But this ethos really began to gain ground during the Enlightenment, when philosophers began to argue in earnest that warfare was unworthy of civilization and even antithetical to good government. Add to these arguments the impersonal nature of mechanized warfare, the terrible, brutal nature of World War I trench warfare, the use of saturation bombing during World War II, and the debacle of the Vietnam conflict, and the result is a virtual consensus that war cannot possibly be a noble activity, much less an activity in conformity with following Christ. Indeed, the inglorious nature of modern combat led Protestant theologian Karl Barth to comment with approval that warfare had finally been “stripped of the veneer” of glory and nobility in which it had been cloaked in premodern times.
In his great
, Barth treated war as an
something, therefore, that is barely human and surely not anything that could be called noble or virtuous. Nor is this sort of thinking confined to Protestants. Catholic moral theologian Charles Curran, for example, once worried in a debate with Paul Ramsey—a noted champion of the Christian Just War doctrine—that Ramsey did not take seriously enough the fact that war must be an
. Curran feared that Ramsey thought war a reasonable form of human activity (which he did). The worry for Curran—as it is for many like-minded thinkers–is that we might be more likely to fight a war if we believe war can be reasonable. Curran also worried that Ramsey did not understand the realities of war because he did not spend a lot of time discussing the “horrors of war.” “One can read all his [Ramsey’s] writings on war,” Curran wrote, “without having any impression of the horrors involved in modern warfare.” Curran finds the horrors of war to be the most important thing, ethically speaking, about them.
On one level, Curran is, of course, on the right track. War is not to be entered into lightly—especially modern war with its propensity for disproportionate measures in combat. Nor is it a bad thing to want nations to refrain from going to war with little provocation, as, for instance, certain Italian city-states were wont to do in the sixteenth century. On another level, however, Curran is misguided. There is no reason to assume, for example, that simply because we believe that war can be a purposeful and reasoned activity that we will be inclined to engage in it too easily. In fact, defenders of Christian Just War doctrine typically argue that we ought to be reluctant to fight wars that lack sufficient moral and rational justification. Defenders of the Just War tradition regret that they live in a world where they have to kill human beings in order to restrain evil; that is to say, they regret the Fall. But they find it to be even more regretful for Christians to stand idly by while people are being abused and killed unjustly.
Despite the dominant view of war as something inherently ignoble and incompatible with Christian living, most Christians still approve of wars from time to time, deeming them “necessary evils.” This is not necessarily a contradiction, though it is a paradox. Popular opinion on the matter tells us that resorting to force in certain situations is “necessary” to save the lives of victims of injustice (including ourselves). Yet such actions are also held to be “evil” because warlike acts are “inhuman” and do not follow the model of Christian living found in the life of Jesus.
One way of describing this kind of moral thinking is to call it “dirty hands” morality. The thought here is that we cannot both follow Jesus in living nonviolently
be “responsible” citizens at the same time, so we go ahead and behave “responsibly” (i.e., we use force), but we admit that in doing so we get our hands dirty, which calls for repentance. There is no such thing, in this view, as a warlike act that does not demand repentance. So, we commit sinful acts when we use force, even when it is employed for the sake of just ends. Thus warfare is viewed not as a possible positive good but as a necessary evil that taints all who touch it.
There is an additional reason why the bulk of the Christian laity accepts the modern ethos of war: their leaders have bought into it. We see evidence of both pacifism and liberal humanism influencing official Church documents on war in the twentieth century, both Protestant and Catholic. A typical example is the World Council of Churches’ 1958 document “Christians and the Prevention of War in the Atomic Age.” The WCC rejects war as a potential good and renounces all war as incompatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, a particular war may be a “necessary evil””necessary either to protect some good or, best of all, to banish war altogether. But such a “necessary” war will not be a “just” war. When we say that we will allow an evil deed (such as fighting a war) in order to end a greater evil (such as the murderous policies of a tyrannical government), the former is not transformed into an act of justice. It is certainly a permissible act, but it is not a just one. On this view, then, there can be no “just” wars.
More recent examples of this thinking can be found in the pastoral letters on war offered by U.S. bishops, both Catholic and Methodist (
The Challenge of Peace
In Defense of Creation
, respectively). In both pastorals, the bishops assume that just war theory and pacifism share equal status in the tradition and that pacifism ought to inform just war thinking. Indeed, the bishops would agree with Christian pacifist Stanley Hauerwas, who has written that “Christians created just war reflection because of their nonviolent convictions” (a cursory glance at the Church Fathers mentioned above belies this claim). The trouble is that the bishops, like Hauerwas, cannot figure out a way to make the military profession compatible with the life of Christ. Is it any wonder, then, that the laity have so much trouble trying to follow the teaching of the bishops? This has not always been the case. The tradition, both Catholic and Protestant, possesses figures who have taught a very different approach to the morality of warfare.
When Thomas Aquinas discusses just war in the
(II-II.40), he does not do so in the section on justice, but rather in the section on charity—specifically, the love of God. He makes it clear that war is not a vice that is opposed to the love of God. On the contrary, war-making, when just, can be a form of love. Of course, war is always contrary to peace, but this is sometimes desirable, since peace is not always a just order that deserves to be preserved. Nazi Germany, for example, provided peace and order for most of those in conquered countries who were willing to accept Nazi rule. But no one wishes to argue that the peace provided by Nazis is the sort of peace we ought to preserve. War, for Aquinas, can be a means to a just peace as well as a means to destroy an unjust peace (such as one established by Nazis). We keep a just peace and fight just wars because these are acts of charity. Just soldiering, in other words, is something Christians ought to do out of love for God and neighbor, and thus it is the most “human” thing we can do in certain circumstances.
But if Aquinas believes that fighting a just war justly is a meritorious act, he also diverges from the modern presumption against the use of force that can be found in many recent moral approaches to war. Stanley Hauerwas, for example, has argued that Christian just war advocates and pacifists share a presumption against acts of force and that this presumption actually generates the just war criteria (the aforementioned bishops seem to be in full accord with him on this). Such a presumption cannot be found in Aquinas, nor can it be found in Calvin (nor, we might add, in Ambrose, Augustine, or Luther). A few quotations will suffice to prove the point. When Aquinas discusses the New Law and its relationship to the Old Law, he says “the intention of the [Old] Law was that retaliation should be sought out of the love of justice . . . and this remains still in the New Law.” Moreover, in his discussion of Paul’s advice to the Romans concerning the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7), Aquinas insists that it is not merely allowable but positively “meritorious for princes to exercise vindication of justice with zeal against evil people.” We also find Aquinas arguing that it is both “praiseworthy and advantageous” for someone in proper authority to kill a person dangerous to the community. When we look at these claims, surely we must say that the presumption is not against force but against injustice. More importantly, on this view, charity does not merely allow for violent action, but even demands it in certain circumstances.
Calvin, too, looks at the soldier as an agent of God’s love. As he argues: “Paul meant to refer the precept of respecting power of magistrates to the law of love.” The soldier is thus as much an agent of God’s love as he is of God’s wrath, for the two characteristics are harmonious in God. Calvin argues in this way because he holds that to soldier justly—to restrain evil out of love for neighbor—is a God-like act. It is God-like because God restrains evil out of love for His creatures. None of this is to say that we fully imitate God or Christ when we use force justly, for the just soldier’s acts can never be redemptive acts—acts that have a saving quality for those who are targets of the acts of force (except, of course, in the sense that the just soldier “saves” the unjust neighbor from more unjust acts). Yet the just soldier who cultivates the military virtues in such a way as to harness and direct them toward his final end—beatitude with God—may nevertheless be said to be one who, as the Reformers liked to say, follows Christ at a distance.
The military virtues looked upon so fondly by Aquinas and Calvin are greatly frowned upon today. Few think of soldiering as an honorable and noble occupation—not even the U.S. Army, or so it seems. Indeed, one would never guess from today’s recruiting commercials that the whole point of being in the military is to use—or believably be prepared to use—lethal force as effectively as possible. Catchy slogans (“Be All You Can Be” and “An Army of One”) promise the development of abilities that become useful only
a person’s time in the military is over. The prospective soldier’s opportunity to serve his country is downplayed, presumably because the military does not want to remind people that military service can involve fighting, dying, and killing for one’s country. It is as if the Armed Forces are ashamed to admit that they are in the business of using—or threatening to use—lethal force. Senator Kerrey surely captured this aspect of military service when he remarked that he was sent to Vietnam “not to hand out leaflets” but “to kill people.”
How can we follow Christ—even at a distance—while fighting and killing? Calvin gives us an indication by pointing out that Christ’s pacific nature (his willingness to suffer violence at the hands of Jewish and Roman authorities) is grounded in the priestly office of reconciliation and intercession that is reserved for him alone. Christ’s pacific nature is thus inextricably tied to his role as redeemer and cannot be intended as a model for Christian behavior. No Christian can or should try to act as a redeemer, but all can and should follow Christ in obeying the commands of the Father. And the Father commands the just use of force.
Calvin is not alone in this way of thinking. Aquinas, for example, distinguished between those who follow the “counsels of perfection”—bishops and clerics—and those who do not. According to Aquinas, bishops and clerics cannot be soldiers because these occupations cannot “be fittingly exercised at the same time.” Aquinas offers two reasons why. First, warlike pursuits keep clergy from their proper duties. In other words, their participation is unlawful, not because war is evil, but because warlike pursuits prevent them from doing their jobs. Second, it is “unbecoming” for those who give the Eucharist to shed blood, even if they do so without sin (i.e., in a just war). Unlike Calvin, then, Aquinas finds the duties of clergy to be more meritorious than the duties of soldiers. However, this does not mean that, in Aquinas’ view, the soldier’s duties have no merit. Rather, he employs an analogy to make quite the opposite point: it is meritorious to marry but better still to remain a virgin and thus dedicate yourself wholly to spiritual concerns. Likewise, it is meritorious to fight just wars and restrain evil as a soldier, but more meritorious still to serve as a bishop who provides the Eucharist to the faithful.
Clergy nevertheless ought to offer spiritual help to the military. Aquinas insists that “among the faithful carnal wars should be considered as having for their end the divine spiritual good to which clerics are deputed. Wherefore it is the duty of clerics to dispose and counsel other men to engage in just wars.” Aquinas also approves of prayers that ask God to inflict temporal ills on enemies and insists that it is the duty of clerics to urge and counsel others to engage in just wars. He even argues that it would be acceptable to found a religious order for the purpose of soldiering. Such an order could not be established for any worldly purpose, but would instead have to fight for the defense of divine worship, as well as to ensure public safety and protect the poor and oppressed. Aquinas clearly does not seek to keep those who follow the “counsels of perfection” from involvement in military matters, but rather makes it a duty for them to participate in just war-making.
As noted above, many of our contemporaries worry that viewing warfare as a positive good will incline us to fight wars. But this is simply not the case. The tradition has always demanded that the criteria known as the
jus ad bellum
be met before Christians can give consent to a proposed war. Aquinas writes of three such requirements: right authority, just cause, and right intention. A lawful sovereign fits the bill for the first. As for the second and third, he quotes lists from Augustine on sufficient provocations for waging a just war: avenging wrongs, punishing a nation, and restoring what has been unjustly seized are included as just causes, while securing peace, punishing evildoers, and uplifting the good are said to be signs of right intention. These sensible criteria regarding when to fight remain useful for Christians in any era.
The issue of
we fight is another matter. Aquinas himself offers little guidance regarding the proper rules for fighting (called
jus in bello
). Nevertheless, we can extrapolate a handful of guidelines from his writings. For one thing, we can presume that we should fight with the right intention, that is, we must intend to punish not just anyone, but only evildoers. Likewise, we should do our best to see that our use of force does not detract from our duty to uphold the good. Of course, the ability to target only those who deserve to be punished, no less than the capacity to formulate plans of action that will issue in more good than evil, must be cultivated. Thus, for Aquinas, right conduct in war is dependent upon the virtues of soldiers and the commanders who lead them.
Unlike Aquinas, Calvin has little to say about the requirements for a just war, but he does insist that the lawful sovereign has a duty to take up arms to defend the commonwealth against those who attack it (
IV.20). Calvin also insists that wars should not be waged in anger, nor in order to vent passions on others. It is a sign that we have fallen short of beatitude when our passions lead us to use force unjustly. This is why Calvin argues that princes should go to war only when driven to it by necessity and out of concern for the public good. Lastly, because soldiering is conceived as an office of love, Calvin rejects outright mercenary soldiering (a popular profession among the Swiss of Calvin’s time), since it encourages soldiers to fight merely out of love of money and not out of love for their neighbors. For Calvin, soldiering loses its Christian function and legitimacy when it becomes a commodity.
The moral approach to war in Aquinas and Calvin is refreshing for those familiar with modern Christian approaches to warfare—approaches which, more often than not, do little to help Christians understand why they should be prepared to participate in or support war of any kind. Aquinas and Calvin, in contrast, teach Christian soldiers why they need to participate in and support just wars. From the divine point of view, God desires to restrain evil among His creatures. And in using human beings to do so, God actually elevates the restrainers (if they are just soldiers who fight for love of God and neighbor) to a closer relationship with Him through their acts of force. In other words, just soldiers fight on the path of sanctification in preparation for beatitude with God. From the human point of view, the virtue of charity (the love of God) drives just soldiers to do all they can to restrain evil—to see that justice is done—and this sometimes means using force.
This strikes a discordant note among many. How, we are asked, can an act of force be loving? The short answer is that force becomes an act of love when it seeks to resemble God’s use of force. In practice this means, among other things, that acts of force must never involve intrinsic evil (such as intentionally killing innocent people, for instance).
The most noteworthy aspect of the moral approach to warfare in Aquinas and Calvin is that it teaches—contrary to today’s prevailing views—that a failure to engage in a just war is a failure of virtue, a failure to act well. An odd corollary of this conclusion is that it is a greater evil for Christians to fail to wage a just war than it is for unbelievers. When an unbeliever fails to go to war, the cause may be a lack of courage, prudence, or justice. He may be a coward or simply indifferent to evil. These are failures of natural moral virtue. When Christians (at least in the tradition of Aquinas and Calvin) fail to engage in just war, it may involve all of these natural failures as well, but it will also, and more significantly, involve a failure of charity. The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence, Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war do a vicious thing: they fail to show love toward their neighbor as well as toward God.
Darrell Cole, a new contributor, is a Visiting Instructor in Religion at the College of William and Mary.