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Just War Supported by Scriptures

Atila Sinke Guimarães

Last week I cited the main principles of Natural Law characteristic of a just war, and gave my opinion that they apply appropriately to this war, the war against terrorism. Included in this category was the war against the countries that most blatantly host terrorist groups, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The quoted doctrine of Fr. Luigi Taparelli could be reinforced with texts by St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, Victoria, St. Alphonse of Ligouri and many others. Since Taparelli summarizes well what the others sustain on this topic, it seemed more useful to move to a different front of Catholic thinking that supports just war.

Paul VI waiting to speak at the UN assembly

Paul VI waiting for permission to speak before the UN assembly

During and after Vatican II, high religious authorities took a position against war, any war, be it just or not. “Never again war! Never again war!” were the melodramatic exclamations of Paul VI when he visited the United Nations headquarters in New York.(1) From that time on what has come from the Holy See has been pacifist, i.e., unilaterally supporting peace, implying that this is what the authentic Catholic Magisterium has always taught. This implication is false. Let me start to refute it.
The Catholic Church upholds the advantages and glory of the good war. She does this when she explains the angelical battle that took place shortly after Creation and when she prophesizes the end of History. Also when she rules and judges the peoples and the nations during this earthly existence.

Was the first battle in Heaven an unjust war? No, it was not only a just war, but also a holy war. Quis ut Deus? were the indignant and glorious words of St. Michael, chief of the good Angels, words that became the expression of an ideal for the Militant Church in her fight against the partisans of Lucifer. Was God distressed over that first war? No. Far from that, He was extremely pleased, glorified, and for that reason He rewarded St. Michael, making him the highest Angel in the Celestial Choir.

How will the end of History be, the end of Creation? St. John in the Apocalypse prophetically depicts the triumph of Christ after the last battle that will take place between Our Lord and His enemies. Here is his magnificent description of Our Lord Jesus Christ as a warrior:
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him, was called Faithful and True, and with justice he judgeth and fighteth. And his eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head many diadems ….

“And he was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood: and his name is called, the Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth preceedeth a sharp two-edged sword: that with it he may strike the peoples. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh written: ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Apc 19: 11-16).
This final victory of Our Lord will close the Book of Life. So, the first act of the History of Creation was a revolt against God punished by an Angelical war. The last act of History will also be a war of punishment against the enemies of Christ, commanded by Our Lord Himself. Between these two actions at the beginning and end of Creation is an almost continuous arc formed by countless just or holy wars fought throughout History.

The Old Testament

In the Old Testament many passages present war as a good thing. Texts clearly approving war are quite numerous. (2) Countless times the inspired writers praised the valorous warfare waged by the just men and saints of the Old Testament. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Japheth, Gideon, Barac, David, the Machabees, and others are highly praised for their efforts and feats of war. (3)

Not only did God approve war, but often He was the one who commanded it to be made against the enemies of His people. (4) In this sense God gave this counsel to Joshua about the conquest of Hai:
“And the Lord said to Joshua: Fear not, nor be thou dismayed: take with thee all the multitude of fighting men, arise, and go up to the town of Hai: behold I have delivered into thy hand the king thereof, and the people, and the city, and the land. And thou shalt do to the city of Hai, and to the king thereof, as thou hast done to Jericho, and to the king thereof: but the spoils, and the cattle, you shall take for a prey to yourselves: lay an ambush for the city behind it.” (Jos 8: 1-2)
Sometimes He ordered a war just to punish an injury. (5) Other times He fought alongside the generals of His people and worked miracles to assure them the victory. (6) This is what happened in one of the battles of Judas Machabeus:
“But as soon as the sun was risen both sides joined battle: the one part having, with their valour, the Lord for a surety of victory and success: but the other side making their rage their leader in battle. But when they were in the heat of the engagement, there appeared to the enemies from heaven live men upon horses, comely with golden bridles, conducting the Jews:

“Two of them took Machabeus between them, and covered him on every side with their arms, and kept him safe; but cast darts and fireballs against the enemy, so that they fell down, being both confounded with blindness and filled with trouble. And there were slain twenty thousand five hundred, and six hundred horsemen” (2 Mac 10: 28-31)
Because of His constant action favoring war He was called Deus Sabaoth, God of Hosts, God of the Armies. (7)

 The New Testament

In the New Testament Our Lord Jesus Christ said this about Himself: “Do not think that I come to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword” (Matt 10:34; Luke 12:51). This self-portrait of Our Lord fits perfectly with the description St. John presented above.

Christ depicted as a warrior in the apocalypse

The Apocalpyse depicts Our Lord as a warrior in various places.   Above, He comes from the heavens to make war against His enemies, Cathedral of Anagni.   Below, carrying a sword in his mouth, in the Apocalypse window in Bourges Cathedral

Christ depicted with a sword in his mouth during the apocalypse
Jesus Christ also implicitly approved the just war as normal when He established this prudential norm for waging it:

“What king about to go to make war against another king, doth not first sit down and think, whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that with twenty thousand cometh against him?” (Luke 14: 31).

The deserved punishment and, consequently, the just war were also approved by St. Paul when he pointed to the sword of the just authority as a tool for the accomplishment of God’s will:

“For he [who holds the power] is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: For he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is minister of God: and avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil” (Rom 13: 4).

To be prepared for war was assumed by St. Paul as something normal when he criticized those who do not sound the alarm for it in a clear and unambiguous way:

“For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?” (1 Cor 14: 8).

Praising the faith of the heroes of the Old Testament, St. Paul pointed to them as models to be followed. One of the advantages given by the true Faith was to “become valiant in war, putting to flight the armies of foreigners” (Heb 11: 34).

These are just a few texts that sufficiently demonstrate not only God’s approval of a just war, but also how the Catholic Church must be a Militant Church to follow in the steps of her Founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Does this imply that the Church has no concern for maintaining peace? That is not the case at all. She is militant against evil in the spiritual sphere and preaches the right of the just war in the temporal sphere. At the same time, by means of skillful diplomacy or sage preaching, she tries to avoid wars as far as it is possible. When they are inevitable she brings the Catholic spirit to them. History had witnessed all kinds of charitable actions of the Holy Catholic Church during wars.

Because she is holy, one finds in her a perfect equilibrium between opposite virtues: Justice and mercy; fortitude and charity, courage and prudence. To be Catholic is not to unilaterally defend peace and become a pacifist, nor is to be unilaterally pro-war and became a warmonger. If one is fully Catholic he will know both the hour to wage war and the hour to preach peace. He will be a model of perfect wisdom and balance.

He will be a worthy disciple of the One who was called the Lamb of God, but also was known as the Lion of Judah.

1. Paul VI, Speech to United Nations Assembly, October 4, 1965, La Visita di Paolo VI alle Nazione Unite, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1966, p. 64.
2. Ex 17:11, 16; Num 21: 3; 25: 11; Deut 7: 1; 25: 17; Jud 3: 1-4; 10: 16; 1 Kings 15: 2-3; Jos 1: 6, 8, 10.
3. Gen 14:19-20; Jos 10: 11-13; 1 Kings 12: 11; Is 9: 4; Ps 82:12; Jud 5:1; 2 Mac 10:29, 31 etc.
4. Num 25: 16; Jud 4: 6-7 etc.
5. 2 Kings 10-11.
6. Gen 14: 19-20; Jos 10: 11-14; Jud 4: 15; 5: 20, 21; 2 Mac 10: 29, 31 etc.
7. Is 3: 1; 5: 7; 6: 3; 8: 13; 10: 33; Osee 12: 5; Amos 5: 14; Mich 4: 4 etc.

This argument is developed in Guimarães' book War, Just War

War, Just War

Blason de Charlemagne
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