Thursday, July 31, 2008

“Christ, Our Hope in the Face of Violence and Our Witness to Nonviolent Love”

I recently posted on the just war theory. While what I wrote in that post is true and accurate, it is not the whole story. As shall become clear in the coming posts, I believe the Church is moving away from a model of justified war and closer to its original position of non-violent loving resistance. What follows is a series of brief historical sketches on how the Church has viewed war. Much of this will be excerpts from a paper I wrote. Let me know your thoughts.


“In the preparation of the Catechism there were two problems: the death penalty and the just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans,” said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, in an interview with Vatican Radio in 2001. Later, in 2003, Cardinal Ratzinger questioned whether, in this day and age, “it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.’”1

In light of Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments we would like to consider the validity of the just war theory, as a response to a call placed by the Church: “The Magisterium condemns “the savagery of war” and asks that war be considered in a new way. In fact, “it is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of justice.”2

Our quest requires some valid solution to an apparent paradox and contradiction: The Catechism of the Catholic Church praises those who “bear witness to evangelical charity”5 while renouncing violence in defense of self and others, but it also describes the duty to defend others as grave and legitimate6 and lays out the requirements for a just war.7 Are these actually contradictory? While affirming the duty to defense and the possibility of a just war, the Church has been consistently critical of wars waged in the last twenty years such that some have described Pope John Paul II’s perspective on war to have been that of a practical pacifism. How are we to synthesize the duty to defend others, the teachings on just war, and the evangelical witness of Christian non-violence?8

In order to do this, we shall first return to Christ to consider warfare in light of his words, in light of his suffering, death, and resurrection, and in light of revelation of the kenotic love of the Father. We shall consider the witness of the earliest Christians, the thought of St. Augustine and the Just-war theory, while reflecting briefly upon the relationship between the Church and the state. We shall conclude our historical overview by listening attentively to the teachings of the popes of the 20th and 21st Centuries whose thoughts represent a development in the Just-War theory.9 Finally, we shall attempt to offer a preliminary conclusion to what this new way of war might look like and what demands it makes of the Christian living in the modern world, a world who hopes not in Christ, but in power.

Part 2 can be found here.

1 Antonella Palermo, “Cardinal Ratzinger, After the 9/11 Attacks: Interview with Vatican Radio from 2001,” Zenit, April 27, 2005.

2 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, (Rome: the Holy See, 2005), 497.

3 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, (Rome:the Holy See, 1965), 78.

4 In truth, this is not a new attitude at all, but a return to the attitude of Christ and the early Christians towards war. We may be able to see a development from then to now, but the basic attitude remains that of Christ.

5 Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 2306.

6 Ibid., 2264.

7 Ibid., 2309.

8 For our purposes violence refers to that use of force which is inconsistent with the dignity of the human person. War, as considered in the modern sense, is dependent upon violence. Subsequently we shall concern ourselves with the question of whether violence is a necessary and integral part of warfare.

9 Throughout, we are assuming a general familiarity with and tacit approval of just war theory. Therefore, our discussion will focus on Christian non-violence, referencing Church perspectives on just war when appropriate.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Being Catholic in America part VIII - Just War

"War is always a defeat for humanity" and is contrary to Jesus' call to be peacemakers. The Christian always mourns the destruction and death which accompanies war, but the Church has recognized that in some cases the secular world must resort to war. In order to evaluate the involvement of Christians in these regrettable situations to help guide her children, the Church teaches a Just-War Doctrine, which the delineates the preconditions necessary for a war to have a just cause and for the actually fighting to be waged in a just manner.

The Catechism describes the Just- War Doctrine here, see specifically, articles 2307- 2317.

A country can only be said to have a just cause for going to war if all of the following conditions are met:

1 - The war must be a war of defense and the response must be proportionate to the initial attack to which one is responding.

2 - War must ALWAYS be the last resort. ALL other "diplomatic" options must be exhausted.(when has this ever been the case?)

3 - The country must have high likelihood of success in war.

4 - The use of weapons must not cause more suffering/evil than refraining from war would have caused.

Furthermore a legitimate authority must make the decision to go to war and civilians and non combatants must not be harmed. By "legitimate authority" the Church does mean the head of a country or nation-state, but an international authority. In other words, President Bush is not the legitimate authority here, the UN is the legitimate authority.

With this information in mind we can evaluate the recent war policies of our country. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II have both condemned the Iraq war as being unjust. Why might that be?

Contrary to the misinformed opinion of some of people, Iraq had no role in the 9-11 attacks. In fact, for all his flaws, Saddam Hussein was an enemy of Al Qaeda, which had no presence in Iraq before the war. Therefore, our invasion was not a defensive response. We initiated the violence. Some will counter that the war is justified as pre-emptive strike against an imminent threat. However, Joseph Ratzinger has explained that the just war doctrine does NOT allow for a pre-emptive war. The Catechism does not allow for such a justification.

Furthermore, in attacking Iraq, President Bush ignored the recommendation of the legitimate authority, the UN, and hundreds of thousands of non-combatants have been injured in the war. The Archbishop of Baghdad has noted that daily life for the average Iraqi, specifically Iraqi Christians was safer, less chaotic, and more "normal" during the reign of Saddam Hussein than it is now. Despite the horrors and evils of the Hussein Regime, the argument could be made that the war and overthrowing the regime has produced more evils than leaving the regime in place.

Simply put, the Iraq war cannot be justified based on Catholic principles of peace and justice.

America's current policy of war does not support a consistent ethic of life which demands that we hold all life as sacred and priceless. Iraqi lives are just as important and sacred as American lives. We must remember that we are one Body in Christ, we are the Catholic (Universal) Church, not the American church.

IF we want to live out our universal call to holiness, if we want to be faithful Catholics in America we must not buy into this us (good guys) vs. them (bad guys) rhetoric. War is not the answer and is always a defeat for humanity. JP II taught "there can be no peace without mercy and forgiveness." War does not bring this. It only brings pain, death, suffering, hated, and a false,forced sense of closure. This is why the wars in the middle east, specifically between the Jews and Palestinians have continued and will continue. There can be no peace without mercy and forgiveness. We must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not bomb them to smithereens.

May God grant us the grace to be witnesses to faith, hope, and love, witnesses to the peace which only Christ can offer, in a society that puts its open in armed weaponry and the strength of men.