Friday, March 27, 2009

Aquinas and just war

Introducing a column about moral issues surrounding the war in Iraq, Keith Pavlischek cites just war theory:
Thomas Aquinas reflected on the question, “Whether it is always sinful to wage war?” in Summa Theologica Part II, Question 40. His short answer was “No.” A war would be just, he argued, if three conditions were met:
First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior....

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault....

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil....
When teaching the unit on theory in my high school International Relations class, I always included "just war theory" as one of the choices, along with pacifism and the "no rules apply" approach. The rules also include limits on what may be done during combat - even more difficult to apply in practice. Students, whether religious or not, generally agreed that moral limits of some sort were better than none. There were almost no consistent pacifists in the classes - although there were those who opposed every possible actual war.

Something like Aquinas' categories must be part of the thinking of any Christian who is not a pacifist — which would mean the vast majority of Christians.

First Things » Blog Archive » Thomas Ricks vs. Thomas Aquinas

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