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.


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Anonymous said...

How do Christians like yourself conciliate your pacifist view of Jesus with an often war-friendly God of the Old Testament?

I have other questions, but I really need to let you make your full case before interjecting b/c you'll probably cover them. I only ask that one question b/c (unless I'm misreading) it appears to me that you will not be addressing that.

JB said...


First, thanks for reading and for interest. In my original paper I did not deal directly with the OT, mostly because of time and space limitations. Therefore I was not planning on addressing it here, and I have not properly researched it.
But, you are correct in pointing that there is a large ambiguity on the issue of war and peace in the Bible, and it ought to be addressed.
I do not have time to develop an adequate response now (if you would like something brief let me know), but I will research and develop a response and post it as a sort of epilogue if that is sufficient?

adam said...

Josh, I look forward to reading the rest. This is a nice mental wrapper. I wish I could synthesize words to my personal beliefs, but I do believe in the paradox of the current situation. I believe in just war, while embracing pacifism. WWII, for example, was certainly just, but at the same time, was not innocent. The problem with war, is that things need to be done that aren't in keeping with... what words am I looking for-- I have the thoughts but not the clarity--gah if only we had telepathy. Bad things were done on both sides, things we wish we could take back. But overall, it was just, at least the German front. The Japanese was a little different. Kuwait, and the first Persian Gulf was a just war. Other wars, not so much. By the same token, war should never be the answer, and peaceable approaches should be used. Using military action as a consequence is unjustifiable. As for OT/NT, well there are lots of modifications, but even looking at Revelations, there is a war there. Warfare will be with us always it seems. However, it seems how we respond to it, what we do in it, that's where we show our true character. How do we respond in these times of crisis? Is it with faith, love and compassion, or do we dance with the devil in order to win?

Anonymous said...

Address my question however you're inclined to. I will not be offended at all if you can't make the time to research and respond to it in your busy and increasingly busier life. It's just a question that's popped into my head before and re-popped upon reading your bloggings.

JB said...


I've posted a response. I hope it answers your question sufficiently. It's a good question, and one which I would still like to do more research upon. Please ask more as they come up.


I think that once I've finished, our points of view should be pretty similar.

Which wars were just or not can be debated by reasonable thinkers. Also we must distinguish between jus in bello (a just cause for war) and jus ad bello (carrying out the actions of war in a just manner).

Regarding the book of Revelation, that's a very interesting, mysterious and layered text. It is eschatalogical, but it is also very liturgical and nuptial. The war mentioned therein, in my interpretation, is more a spiritual/eschatalogical war than a advocation for any historical or human war.

Finally, dancing with the devil is always a loss. Hopefully some of your questions will be answered in the rest of the series.