War’s Legitimate Purpose is Peace in Justice
What Popes, Saints, Doctors and Theologians Think Regarding the Lawfulness of War
The pugnacious and warlike manifestation of the medieval spirit, as well as the militant character of the Church, may amaze the radicals of contemporary pacifism, absolutely intolerant of any and every type of war, for to their ears the expressions “holy war” and “just war” sound radically contradictory.
It will not be superfluous to place at their disposition various texts of Roman Pontiffs and leading Catholic thinkers, so that they may see that no such contradiction exists.
1. War’s Legitimate Purpose is Peace in JusticeAccording to the entry “Paix et Guerre” in the Dictionnaire Apologétique de la Foi Catholique, the teaching of Saint Augustine regarding peace and war can be condensed into four topics.
First of all, there are wars that are just. These are the wars that attempt to repress a censurable enterprise on the part of an adversary.
But war should be considered an extreme remedy to which one resorts only after having ascertained the evident impossibility of otherwise safeguarding the legitimate right. Even if just, war in fact causes so many and such terrible sufferings—mala tam magna, tam horrenda, tam saeva—that one can only resign oneself to it through an imperious duty.
The legitimate goal of war is not precisely the victory, with all the satisfactions this entails. Rather, it is peace in justice, the durable reestablishment of a public order in which each thing would be restored to its rightful place….
Finally, the sufferings of war constitute one of the punishments for sin on this earth. Even when defeat humiliates those who believed themselves in the right, this painful test must be seen as the design of God for punishing and purifying the people of faults for which they must admit their guilt. (Yves de la Brière [Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne Editeur, 1926], Vol. 3, col. 1260.
Popes and Councils Confirm the Doctrine of Saint Thomas on War
2. Popes and Councils Confirm the Doctrine of Saint Thomas on War
According to the entry “Paix et Guerre” in the Dictionnaire Apologétique de la Foi Catholique, Saint Thomas Aquinas “sets forth the three conditions that legitimize in conscience the use of armed force.”1. When the war is brought on not by simple individuals or through some secondary authority,…but always through the authority that exercises the highest power in the State;
2. When the war is motivated by a just cause; that is to say, when the adversary is fought because of a proportionate offense that he really committed….
3. When the war is conducted with a right intention; that is to say, in faithfully making every effort to promote good and to avoid evil in all ways possible….
This doctrine of Saint Thomas is indirectly but strikingly confirmed in the papal Bulls, in the conciliar decrees of the Middle Ages concerning the “peace of God” and later the “truce of God,” just as in the peaceful and arbitrated settlement of conflicts between kingdoms. These documents, in their concordance, interpret the authentic thought of the Church and the general spirit of its teachings on the subject of moral questions concerning the right of peace and war…. The practice of popes and councils corroborates and accredits the teachings of the Doctors [on the subject], whose three fundamental principles Saint Thomas puts into relief. (cols. 1261-1262.)