Could war ever be just in the eyes of the Catholic Church?


Analysis: While Christianity praises peace and rejects all forms of violence, the Catholic Church admits that war can sometimes be justified

There is no doubt that wars since ancient times have been horrible events with countless unpleasant consequences. Of course, the Christian position on the matter could not be more different, for Christianity is totally pacifist and despises all forms of violence, considering all human life as sacred.

Read it Old Testamentthe truth is that one cannot identify any specific teaching against war, like even the infamous command “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) of the Decalogue could not be taken as such. In contrast, war seems to be even acceptable in the Old Testament because it is mentioned several times and the truth is that Hebrew history contains a long list of wars that either led to the destruction of Israel because he lost his faith, either were carried out with the help of God Himself.

However, Jesuswho, without abolishing it, renewed the Law, urged people to love everyone, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and praised peace many times. In the Sermon on the Mountfor example, he preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9), while after his resurrection he repeatedly greeted his followers using the phrase “Peace be with you” (John 20:19-26). To finish, Apostle Paulfollowing the teaching of Jesus, repeatedly urged people to live in peace, such as his exhortation to the Romans, “if it be possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with all” (Romans 12:18) .

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From the International Committee of the Red Cross, what is the difference between Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello in terms of law?

On this basis one could say that, for Christianity, war is a sin that should never be committed and that there could never be a justified war. Catholic Churchhowever, based on the “just war” theory, accepts war conflicts if certain conditions are met. The essential position of the theory was stated by the document of the Second Vatican Council Gaudium et Spes, which states that, according to certain criteria, governments cannot be denied the right of self-defence.

just war theory, therefore, in its essence, means that a war could be justified whether it is defensive or preventive but, over the centuries, its criteria have been further developed. These criteria are divided into two main categories: Jus ad Bellum, (the right to wage war), the criteria for waging a just war, and Jus in Bello, (good conduct in times of war), the criteria that refer how war should be fought. Let’s look at the conditions that belong to each of these categories.

Jus ad bellum has seven conditions. They are: 1. Just cause, according to which war should be waged only for serious reasons, such as the protection of innocent lives or the preservation of basic human rights, 2. Legal authority, which means that war should not be waged by individuals or private individuals. groups, but only by specific state orders, 3. Good intentions, which means that the war must be aimed at the pursuit of peace and reconciliation, 4. The probability of success, which requires careful calculations so that the recourse irrational force or hopeless resistance is prevented, 5. Last resort, whereby before war all peaceful alternatives must first be exhausted, 6. Proportionality, i.e. the expected benefit of war must be proportionate to the damage caused and the costs incurred by it, and 7. Comparative justice, which asks which party in a dispute has sufficient “right” and whether values, rights and justice should justify killing the other.

If not one or more, but all of these conditions are met, then going to war is acceptable.

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Extract from the RTÉ archives, discussing the Church and modern society during the third session of the Second Vatican Council (first broadcast September 25, 1964)

As for the criteria for the ethical conduct of war, for the Catholic Church there are two. The first is discrimination, where the indiscriminate attack on combatants and civilians is seen as unjust. Only the killing of military targets is right, while innocent people can never be targeted directly and intentionally. Finally, the power used must be proportionate to the damage caused and the possible good that may result from it. In other words, no one should cause death, if the aim of the war can be achieved by a simple wound. This is the Proportionality condition in Jus in Bello. If these two aforementioned criteria are met, the war is fought with justice.

The great historian of ancient Greece Heraclitus once said that war is the father of all things and the truth is that this idea is widely accepted and supported by many historians until today. However, what Christianity must answer is that the father of all things is the God of peace. And precisely because the Christian God is the God of peace, then war, murder and violence in all its forms are rejected, while peace is praised and honored. However, if the aforementioned conditions are met, the moral obstacles are circumvented and the Catholic Church could justify its participation in a conflict of war.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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