The Church’s Just War Theory
FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS
With recent conflict between Iraq sod the United States. the the of war, the use of chemical weapons, and the debate over the morality of the embargo imposed since Desert Storm, what moral teaching guides our thinking as Catholics concerning these issues?
Before addressing the particular issues of germ warfare or other weapons of mass destruction, or of the embargo, we must first review “just war theory.” At first hearing war seems antithetical to Christianity since the Fifth Commandment states, “Thou shalt not kill.”
However, the intent of the precept forbids the purposeful taking of human life (Catechism, #2307). Each person has a duty to preserve his life, and therefore has a right to legitimate self defense. Although an act of self-defense may have a two-fold effect — the preservation of the person’s life and the unfortunate taking of the aggressor’s life — the first effect is intended while the second is not.
In preserving its own life, a state — citizens and their governments — must strive to avoid war and settle disputes peacefully and justly. Nevertheless, “governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense. once all peace efforts have failed” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #79). Such a right does not entail a carte blanche permission for any and all acts of war. Just war theory establishes moral parameters for the declaration and waging of war.
St. Augustine (d. 430) was the originator of the just war theory, which St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) later adapted and explicated in his Summa Theologiae. St. Thomas maintained that a war may be waged justly under three conditions: First, the legitimate authority who has the duty of preserving the common good must declare the war. For instance, according to our Constitution, only Congress can legitimately declare a war. A private individual, no matter how much clout he may wield, does not have the right to commit a country to war. (Please note, we could easily get into those technical qualification of “police actions,” “conflicts, ” and “operations, ” but to the best of my knowledge, Congress has placed restrictions on these areas.)
Secondly, a just cause for war must exist. St. Augustine, quoted by St. Thomas, said, “A just war is apt to be described as bone that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for defusing to mace amends for the wrongs inflected by its subjects, or to reborn what it has seized unjustly.
Finally, St. Thomas said the warring party must have the right intention, “so that they intend the advancement of good or the avoidance of evil. ” St. Augustine noted, “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace or punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good. ” An evil intention, such as to destroy a race or to absorb another nation, can turn a legitimately declared war waged for just cause into a wrongful act.”
Source and full article here: http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0182.html