The heretical rejection of Just War Doctrine

The doctrine of just war is not merely a theory. It is not properly called “just war theory”, but “just war doctrine”, just as it is phrased in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Catechism of the Catholic Church on “just war doctrine”:

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war. [104]

2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” [105]

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: – the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; – all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; – there must be serious prospects of success; – the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. the power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace. [106]

2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way. [107]

2312 The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. “The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.” [108]

2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.

2314 “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” [109] A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes.

2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. the arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; [110] it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.

2316 The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. the short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict among nations and compromise the international juridical order.

2317 Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war:

Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” [111]

And since the CCC quotes the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, we should take a look at that document also:

Gaudium et Spes: “On the subject of war, quite a large number of nations have subscribed to international agreements aimed at making military activity and its consequences less inhuman. Their stipulations deal with such matters as the treatment of wounded soldiers and prisoners. Agreements of this sort must be honored. Indeed they should be improved upon so that the frightfulness of war can be better and more workably held in check. All men, especially government officials and experts in these matters, are bound to do everything they can to effect these improvements. Moreover, it seems right that laws make humane provisions for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way.

“Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted. State authorities and others who share public responsibility have the duty to conduct such grave matters soberly and to protect the welfare of the people entrusted to their care. But it is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else again to seek the subjugation of other nations. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties.

“Those too who devote themselves to the military service of their country should regard themselves as the agents of security and freedom of peoples. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace.” [Gaudium et Spes 79]

As is clear from the above extensive quotes, a nation has a right to use violence to defends itself and its people. As Christians, certainly we wish for a world without war. But we know that the world is filled to the brim with innumerable very grave sins. And that is the cause of every war. For if no one committed mortal sin, or if at least those who sinned gravely also repented promptly, there would be no war. Sin is the cause of every war. For in order to have a nation use violence justly to defend itself, there must be some other nation or group which is making a gravely unjust attack on that nation or its people.

The above teaching falls under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. For the Church has always taught, based on Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, that violence is just in self-defense and in defense of the community and the nation. Therefore, whosoever rejects this teaching commits the sin of heresy.

Recently, at a Vatican conference on non-violence and peace, a nominally Catholic organization, called Pax Christi International, issued a statement proposing that the Church reject just war, and teach a pacifist non-violent doctrine in its place. The final document of the conference is titled “An appeal to the Catholic Church to recommit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence”, and it includes these assertions:

Clearly, the Word of God, the witness of Jesus, should never be used to justify violence, injustice or war. We confess that the people of God have betrayed this central message of the Gospel many times, participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation, and discrimination.

We believe that there is no “just war”. Too often the “just war theory” has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a “just war” is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.

We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence…. we call on the Church we love to … no longer use or teach “just war theory”….

The above public statement essentially calls for the Church to reject the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that nations may justly defend themselves against unjust aggressors. But the Church is the servant of Divine Revelation, not its master. She cannot change the true teachings of Tradition and Scripture, which include the understanding that violence can be moral: by individuals in self-defense, by police officers in defense of the community, and by soldiers in defense of the nation.

The statement speaks as if the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels is consistent with a rejection of just war; it is not. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he does not say, “give up being soldiers”, but rather: “You should strike no one, and you should not make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” (Lk 3:14).

When Jesus told the parable of the man who journeyed to a far away nation to become king, and then return, He was speaking about himself. And what happens when the king returns, and he confronts those who did not want him to be king? Jesus, as the returning king in the parable, says: “Yet truly, as for those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and put them to death before me.” (Lk 19:27).

When Saint Paul is accused before the Roman leaders of serious crimes, he says that he would not object to being given the death penalty, if only he were guilty of a serious crime:

{25:10} But Paul said: “I stand in Caesar’s tribunal, which is where I ought to be judged. I have done no harm to the Jews, as you well know.
{25:11} For if I have harmed them, or if I have done anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying. But if there is nothing to these things about which they accuse me, no one is able to deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

So we see from these examples that using violence is not necessarily wrong. A soldier who is a devout Christian need not leave the military. The death penalty can be moral, as a sentence against those who have committed very grave crimes. And so, those who claim that the Church should renounce all violence, or all killing, are not taking that idea from the Gospel, nor from the Bible.

Consider also that God ordered the Israelites to go to war against the seven tribes who occupied the Promised Land before them. But if all war were unjust, then God, who is just by His very Nature, would have been ordering an injustice. Since God cannot contradict or deny Himself, we must conclude that not all wars are unjust.

The above quoted statement by Pax Christi International is a blatant rejection of Church teaching, especially the assertion: “We believe that there is no ‘just war’.” And their claim that they are simply presenting to the Church a better understanding of the Gospel than that possessed by the Church for the last 2000 years is arrogant and absurd. No conference and no private organization has the role to teach and correct the Magisterium. And anyone who claims to be Catholic, is not a faithful Catholic, if they openly reject definitive Church teaching on any topic.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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