The Just War of Thomas Aquinas (and Pacifism Arguments)

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 by Gabriel Thy

September 11 , 2001

Some say the Bible is 100% clear. No killing. Period. There are no waivers, ifs, ands, or buts. No killing. They will tell us that Christ clearly and repeatedly told his followers to suffer the evils of others in this world, do not respond in kind, and receive glories in the next. The idea of ‘just war’ doesn’t fit in Christianity. It is pure spin, they say, to justify our evil deeds. Perhaps the “original” spin. And it has nefarious effects. For our enemies abroad don’t need to know much about Christianity to see the hypocrisy in “Christian Soldiers” that warmongers like Pat Buchanan refuse to see.

Might it be the case that those who call themselves Christian, and advocate that nations protect themselves in war, are besmirching Christ’s name? And at a personal level, we are respectfully asked, if one believes Christ is the only son of God, who does it make you if you are, at bottom, deciding you have greater wisdom than he on such fundamental matters? Perhaps mankind is perpetuating misery by delaying the second coming by resisting, and fighting against that evil which Christ has instructed He will return to defeat…

They will suggest that they would be deeply honored if their questions were to elicit deeply meditated thought on this dilemma, and not reflexive sound bytes about how we have all that figured out already. Love thine enemies, resist ye not evil. Turn the other cheek. Is that not plain enough?

Moshiach’s words, let’s be clear, were directed not to government, but to individuals. More could be said about that in terms of personal pacifism, when, where, and why, but it’s sufficient enough to capture the point to say “render unto Caesar…” where Caesar is not your adversary but your protectorate. The wholistic Bible’s view of nations and governments rests in Paul’s discussion in Romans chapter 13 (as much as we suspect with many that Paul bastardized many of Our Savior’s teachings). But in Romans, Paul says that God himself has given governments “the sword”, a metaphor for the power to police against the lawless and protect against its people’s mortal enemies.

The Bible does hold out the promise of a day when war is no more, but that day is not brought about through relenquishing the sword before the appointed time.
The Bible is full of references to and accounts of war. This is part and parcel of the human condition and of history on this earth. The Bible portrays this as a result of man’s fall into sin. The Bible does not uniformly condemn all acts of war, indeed it clearly views some as just and some as unjust. There are times when God commands his nation to engage in warfare and blesses them with victory. There are times when he commands them not to fight. What distinguishes the two is not a simplistic view that war itself is always wrong, but that the context of the nation and its surrounding nations determines whether a particular war is just. Sometimes God brings even brings vicious enemies on his own people as the ultimate judgment for their own wickedness. He does so after warning them through the prophets.

Yeshosha (Jesus) did not tell the Roman centurion to quit the army.

In the biblical view of life in a sinful world, reality is faced. There are violent and wicked enemies both within a country and in other countries. It is the duty of a father to protect his family against intruders, it is the duty of different levels of government to protect their peoples against criminals within and enemies without. When Yahweh blessed Israel through King David it was emphasized that success in these endeavors was a hallmark of a righteous king.

The way of the Bible is not pie-in-the-sky pacifism. It lives in the world of reality.
Lest references to Israel be misunderstood, the 14th Apostle, Paul of Tarsus, clearly taught that, since the coming of Moshiach and breaking out of the gospel from its national bounds into all the world, God’s people are not longer a nation but a church. The weapons of the church are far different than those were of the nation. Paul says they are spiritual, not implements of killing, and they are wielded by the preaching of the gospel to all nations. Still Paul does not use this fact to remove the national duties I previously mentioned that belong to ALL nations.

One further mention. The Bible does indeed parse the promise of a day when the need for war has been vanquished and is no more, but that day is not brought about through relinquishing the sword before the appointed time. It is not brought about by Christians misinterpreting their role in the world and using wordly implements to advance the gospel. It is clearly stated that this era of bliss and peace will be brought about by the direct intervention of God to destroy the wicked and set up his eternal kingdom where only righteousness dwells.

The way of the Bible is not pie-in-the-sky pacifism. It lives in the world of reality. Yeshosha predicted a time (after his death) when they WOULD need a sword. Of course he meant used within its proper bounds.

For those who enjoy the Wiki, here is a substantial list of war theorists.

The Indian epic, the Mahabharata, offers one of history’s first instances of a just war. In the prelude to this war, one of five ruling brothers asks if the suffering caused by war can ever be justified, and then a long discussion ensues between the siblings, establishing criteria like proportionality (chariots cannot attack cavalry, only other chariots, no attacking people in distress), just means (no poisoned or barbed arrows), just cause (no attacking out of rage), and fair treatment of captives and the wounded.

The concept of justification for war under certain conditions originates, or harkens in the Western world, at least to Cicero. However its importance is connected to Christian medieval theory beginning from Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas used the authority of Augustine‘s arguments in an attempt to define the conditions under which a war could be just:

  • First, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power.
  • Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
  • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.
  • The School of Salamanca
    Imanating from the Aquinas arguments came another more detailed the School of Salamanca, which expanded on out Thomistic understanding of natural law and just war. Given that war is one of the worst evils suffered by mankind, the adherents of the School reasoned that it ought to be resorted to only when it was necessary in order to prevent an even greater evil. A diplomatic agreement is preferable, even for the more powerful party, before a war is started. Examples of “just war” are:

  • In self-defense, as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success. If failure is a foregone conclusion, then it is just a wasteful spilling of blood.
  • Preventive war against a tyrant who is armed to attack.
  • War to punish a guilty enemy.
  • A war is not legitimate or illegitimate simply based on its original motivation. It must comply with a series of additional requirements…

  • It is necessary that the response be commensurate to the evil; use of more violence than is strictly necessary would constitute an unjust war.
  • Governing authorities declare war, but their decision is not sufficient cause to begin a war. If the people oppose a war, then it is illegitimate. The people have a right to depose a government that is waging, or is about to wage, an unjust war.
  • Once war has begun, there remain moral limits to action. For example, one may not attack innocents or kill hostages.
  • It is obligatory to take advantage of all options for dialogue and negotiations before undertaking a war; war is only legitimate as a last resort. Under this doctrine, expansionist wars, wars of pillage, wars to convert infidels or pagans, and wars for glory are all inherently unjust.
  • To be continued…




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    2 Responses to “The Just War of Thomas Aquinas (and Pacifism Arguments)”

    1. Much discussion of just war is based on the Old Testament which was written by man portraying a god with all the weaknesses of man (hate, vengence, jealousy, war, killing etc). Look around and observe just how perfect nature is. Could that be the product of some imperfect, petty god as described in the Old Testament. Christians would do much better to recognizing the Old Testament as a self serving history written by man to justify actions and guess about what they had no chance of understanding. Christians would do much better by living the example of Jesus. Just and unjust wars just ain’t part of it.

    2. Amen, brother! The “religious right” is so far intoxicated with this belief that the USA is some kind of “godly” or “chosen” nation, that it is hammered into our children from the time they are born. That is why it becomes so easy for us to follow such an interventionist foreign policy. It’s basically seen as us (God’s new favorite nation one earth) versus the evil-doers. It then becomes our godly duty to promote democracy around the world. Most of the churches that propogate this fairy tale have American flags in them, and there is this constant repetition of, “God bless America!” that has contaminated our society as a whole. Jesus never said, “God bless Rome!” This is a secular nation, and as such will face the same judgement as the rest of the world when the end times come.

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