Are we really serious when we ask God to deliver us from war?

WILLIAM L. PORTIER

Perhaps our present disjunction between just-war and pacifist approaches to this issue reflects uncritically the sort of extrinsicist theology of nature and grace characteristic of the modern period.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) treats the fifth commandment in three sections. The third deals with safeguarding peace and avoiding war. This essay will propose a reading of Section III in light of recent papal pronouncements on the Gulf War and the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. After a brief summary of the Catechism's treatment of the fifth commandment, the body of the essay will treat recent papal statements. Following this review, the essay will conclude by considering how what might be called the "evangelical realism" of these statements helps to flesh out and enrich the necessarily general and schematic form of the Catechism's teaching.


I. The Catechism on the fifth commandment

  1. Summary "You shall not kill" (Ex 20:13; cf. Dt 5:17). The Catechism begins its three-part, thirteen-page discussion of the fifth commandment by citing consecutively from the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:21-22). The fifth commandment is treated under the headings of "Respect for Human Life," "Respect for the Dignity of Persons," and "Safeguarding Peace." The third section on "Safeguarding Peace" will occupy our attention in this essay.

    The first section on "Respect for Human Life" (CCC, nn. 2259-83) notes the Old Testament specification on the fifth commandment's prohibition against killing, "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous (Ex 23:7)." This is followed by an appeal to the teaching and even the example of Jesus who "did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath (Mt 26:52)."

    The treatment of war in the third section (CCC, nn. 2307-17) is based in part on the first section's emphasis on the right of self-defense. Following St. Thomas on the possible "double effect" of self-defense, the Catechism denies that "the legitimate defense of persons and societies" is "an exception to the prohibition against murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing" (CCC, n. 2263).

    Legitimate defense can be a "grave duty" (CCC, n. 2265). The death penalty is cited as a possible example of "rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm." The right of those holding authority "to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge" is affirmed "for analogous reasons." This analogy between the reasons justifying capital punishment and those justifying the use of military force against aggressors is based on a common appeal to the legitimacy of self defense by lawful governments.

    Section III of the Catechism on the fifth commandment takes its "Safeguarding Peace/Avoiding War" structure from Chapter V of Gaudium et Spes. It follows very closely the organization of paragraphs 78-81 of that document. Section III refers eight times to Gaudium et Spes and concludes with a powerful quote from n. 78.

    Section III's most noteworthy component is n. 2309. It sets out the "strict conditions" for what is called, in italics, "legitimate defense by military force." Paragraph 2309 is noteworthy in two respects. In view of Section III's close dependence on Gaudium et Spes, n. 2309 is a significant and substantive addition. Gaudium et Spes merely affirms the right of governments to self-defense (an affirmation the Catechism repeats in n. 2308) without enumerating the conditions. This addition might simply serve the Catechism's instructional purpose in the interests of completeness. Though it emphasizes the rigor with which the conditions must be applied, it could also signal a certain practical tension between Section I's emphasis on the legitimacy of self-defense and the concern of Gaudium et Spes Chapter V for the elimination of war.

    A second noteworthy feature of n. 2309 is that its "strict conditions" are not explained with reference to "just war," as one might expect. In fact, the Catechism never uses the word war for the armed defense whose legitimacy it recognizes. The word war is reserved for that from which the Catechism teaches us to pray for deliverance. The phrase just war does appear once in the text at the end of n. 2309. But it is set off in quotation marks in small print and seems to be part of a supplementary observation.1 Recent papal statements suggest that this usage of the word war may be significant.

  2. A development on the death penalty. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (March 1995), Pope John Paul II clarified and nuanced the Catechism's teaching on the death penalty. His discussion of the death penalty presumes "a true right to self defense."2 But "in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society," he explains the death penalty in a way that would limit its use more strictly than the Catechism appears to. The death penalty ought not be resorted to "except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society." Such cases, he goes on to note, have been rendered "very rare, if not practically non-existent" (EV, n. 56).

    Having said this, the pope reaffirms a principle, set forth in the Catechism (n. 2267), but which its teaching on the death penalty appears to have applied too loosely. It emphasizes the respect owed even to the lives of "criminals and unjust aggressors."

    If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. (EV, n. 56)

    Clearly in control of this discussion are considerations based on a theologically grounded sense of human dignity and an appeal to the "concrete conditions of the common good."3 Interestingly, there is no mention of calculations about-proportionate response to aggressors.

    At a 30 March 1995 news conference, marking the encyclical's publication, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger noted that the pope's "reservations about the death penalty are even stronger than those already present in the Catechism and are a real development." He went on to say that the pope's "important doctrinal progress" on the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae would necessitate a reformulation of what is written on it in the Catechism.4

  3. A comparable development in recent papal teaching on war? At this point, the question arises that will occupy the rest of this essay. Do recent papal pronouncements give any cause for considering the possibility of a development in the area of "legitimate defense by military force" comparable to the recent development in the area of the death penalty? Given the "analogous reasons" justifying both in legitimate self-defense, the principle set forth in n. 2267 and reaffirmed by the pope in Evangelium Vitae would seem to apply analogously to both cases. By his recent, more stringent application to the death penalty of the Catechism's principle on the need — for the sake of human dignity and the common good — to minimize bloodshed, the pope gives us cause to wonder whether the same principle requires us to be more concerned with minimizing bloodshed in the analogous case of "legitimate defense by military force."

    As noted above, the Catechism, with its analogy between the reasons justifying both capital punishment and defensive resort to arms, gives some cause for taking this question seriously. Despite its primary focus on abortion and euthanasia, Evangelium Vitae links opposition to the death penalty and war in a way that also encourages pursuit of this line of questioning. At the end of Chapter I, after having treated the "deepest roots of the struggle between the 'culture of life' and the 'culture of death"' (EV, n. 21), the pope is concerned to avoid "sterile discouragement" by drawing attention to "positive signs" in our present situation. Among these hopeful signs that foreshadow the ultimate victory of life over death is a growing opposition to war and capital punishment.

    Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but "non-violent" means to counter the armed aggressor. In the same perspective there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of "legitimate defense" on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform. (EV, n. 27, italics in original)

    Indeed, these views, here ascribed to public opinion, might be read as apt statements of the pope's own views on these questions. It remains briefly to survey his recent pronouncements on specific international situations in which he sought to offer moral guidance for practical judgments on how to safeguard peace and avoid war. The following exposition will focus primarily on the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus and various statements on the Gulf War and the more recent conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina.



II. Recent papal pronouncements: From just war to humanitarian intervention

  1. The Gulf War and Centesimus Annus, re-centering the discussion of contemporary war. Before and during the 1991 Gulf War, much to the consternation of policy makers and moral theologians on both the right and left in the U.S., Pope John Paul II was resolute in his refusal to be drawn into the widespread discussion of the just cause and conduct of what he referred to as the "so-called 'Gulf War."'5 Amid debate about whether the U.N. resort to arms in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait met the conditions for a just war, the pope, a near-solitary voice on the international scene, focused instead on the futility of such calculations in the face of modern weapons and the human suffering they cause.

    In widely publicized letters to Presidents Bush and Saddam Hussein on the eve of the war, the pope pleaded with them to recognize the futility of a recourse to war. It cannot be expected to solve international problems and can only be expected to create more suffering and injustice, the occasions for more war.6 Between 2 August 1990 and 4 March 1991, the pope spoke publicly on the Middle East crisis fifty-six times. Throughout the course of the war, President Bush continued to use just-war language to give moral legitimacy to both the cause and the conduct of the war.7 After the war began, U.S. media virtually ignored the pope's continuing pleas for peace. Their tone flew in the face of both prevailing American support for the war and the dispassionate style of just-war discussions of just cause and proportionate response.

    One of the pope's more dramatic pleas for peace came in the form of a prayer alluding to Pope Paul VI's speech at the U.N. in 1966. "Never again war," he prayed, "adventure without return, spiral of struggle and violence, never this war in the Persian Gulf . . . threat to your creatures in the sky, on earth and in the sea.... No war ever again." Commentators in the countries whose troops composed the U.N. forces were deeply uncomfortable with such dissident and unconventional language. One British correspondent and Vatican watcher suggested with no little exasperation that we interpret the designation of war as an "adventure without return" as "a haiku or prose poem."8 Most clung, with a bit of nervous relief perhaps, to one of the pope's most widely-reported remarks, made to youth on 17 February 1991 at St. Dorothy's Church in Rome. "We are not pacifists," he said, "we do not want peace at any price."9 The Tablet of London had earlier editorialized that one of the effects of the pope's strong language against the war might be "to shift Christian thought about war further towards pacifism."10

    Marking the one hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's ground-breaking encyclical on the laboring classes, Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II published Centesimus Annus on 1 May 1991. It was his ninth encyclical and third on the social question. In the U.S., discussion of Centesimus Annus treated it as having more to do with "economics" than "politics" and focused on interpreting the encyclical's openness to "free economy" (CA, n. 42). Against the background of their previous disagreements over the bishops' 1986 pastoral letter on the economy, neo-conservatives and liberals debated the degree of continuity between a "new capitalism" (CA, n. 40) envisioned by the pope and capitalism as practiced in the U.S.11

    Lost and ignored in this U.S. discussion was the significant contribution Centesimus Annus makes to questions about safeguarding peace and avoiding war. It gives more attention to issues of war and peace than any encyclical since Pacem in Terris (1963), revisiting the central themes of that document in a post-cold war setting. Issued within months of "the recent tragic war in the Persian Gulf" (CA, n. 52), Centesimus Annus includes what is arguably the strongest rejection of war ever to come from the papal magisterium.

    Pope John Paul II follows here the consistent linking in twentieth-century Catholic social teaching between international justice and the elimination of war (see, e.g., GS, n. 82). In the face of rising nationalism and emphasis on state sovereignty, he insists that the social question as international requires international solutions. In terms of human rights as a global issue, the international community's most pressing need is to "establish, as alternatives to war, effective means for the resolution of international conflict" (CA, n. 21). Justice requires a "true culture of peace" (CA, n. 51), and the end of war is its precondition.

    But Gaudium et Spes had said as much. A key move in Centesimus Annus establishes a new center for discussing the moral use of military force. This key move is the pope's striking refusal to discuss international conflict in a framework that distinguishes, as a matter of course, between "total war" and "limited war." Following almost immediately upon a "limited war," legitimated in part by appeals to just-war language, this encyclical knows no distinction between "total war"-solemnly condemned in Gaudium et Spes (n. 80)-and supposedly "limited wars."

    The discussion of war in Chapter II links "total war" and class warfare in the Marxist-Leninist sense. Their heinousness consists precisely in a complete lack of ethical restraint. Both involve:

    "attempts to impose the absolute domination of one's own side through the destruction of the other side's capacity to resist, using every possible means, not excluding the use of lies, terror tactics against citizens, and weapons of utter destruction.... (CA, n. 14)

    The pope calls for a repudiation of the "logic" that leads to war, "the idea that the effort to destroy the enemy, confrontation, and war itself are factors of progress and historical advancement" (CA, n. 18).12

    As long as we assume that, in addition to total and unrestrained war as denounced in this and many other Church documents, there is limited war, war within the bounds of ethical restraint, then none of what we find in the second chapter is very earthshaking. But precisely what is noteworthy here is that the pope makes no such distinction. Modern war shares the mind of total war. Not only do contemporary weapons and global interdependence make it "very difficult or practically impossible to limit the consequences of a conflict" (CA, n. 51), but the very "logic" that leads to war strains against such limits.

    In the context of papal pronouncements on the Gulf War and other conflicts, we can read Centesimus Annus as an attempt to reorient moral discourse about international conflict. The traditional right to self-defense is not abandoned, but what we have called "war" or "just war" is pushed to the edges of the moral conversation where it can survive only in the form of what the Catechism calls "legitimate defense by military force" (n. 2309).13 Because of the overriding concern to minimize blood-shed in legitimate defense (n. 2267), perhaps it is best not to think of or talk about such legitimate defense as war or even just war.

    Neither traditional pacifists nor proponents of just-war reasoning can clearly recognize their own assumptions in the pope's positions. Hence the scramble of both to make sense of his language during the Gulf War. What we find in Centesimus Annus is more than the mere "presumption against war" that liberal theologians and bishops have been accused of falsely attributing to St. Thomas.14 Without appealing to just-war conditions, the pope reasons in a general way that the cost of war in human suffering and cause for further conflict cries out for an alternative. As Chapter III of Centesimus Annus makes clear, however, such reasoning is never separated from a deep evangelical concern for the dignity and human rights of those who suffer from war.

    To the reasoned rejection of war in Chapter II and Chapter V, Chapter III makes explicit the appeal to the gospel and "Christ on the Cross" that gives this reasoning its evangelical urgency. The commandments and the beatitudes lie down together. Chapter III recalls the collective effervescence of freedom in eastern Europe in 1989. In the events of 1989, the pope finds witness, however fragile, to new possibilities for alternatives to war, for a true culture of peace. Communism collapsed and the post-war European order fell not by means of another war, but through peaceful protest and non-violent struggle. In Poland and other countries of eastern Europe, free people met the logic of total war and class struggle and overcame it.

    The events of 1989 are an example of the success of willingness to negotiate and of the Gospel spirit in the face of an adversary determined not to be bound by moral principles. These events are a warning to those who, in the name of political realism, wish to banish law and morality from the political arena. Undoubtedly, the struggle which led to the changes of 1989 called for clarity, moderation, suffering and sacrifice. In a certain sense, it was a struggle born of prayer, and it would have been unthinkable without immense trust in God, the Lord of history, who carries the human heart in his hands. It is by uniting his own suffering for the sake of truth and freedom to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross that man is able to accomplish the miracle of peace and is in a position to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil and the violence which, under the illusion of fighting evil, only makes it worse. (CA, n. 25)

    Perhaps this moving allusion to the religious foundation of Solidarity romanticizes its non-violence and overestimates the religious inspiration of the eastern European struggle for freedom.15 It would be difficult to say. As a statement of the Christian spirituality of non-violence, however, it serves as an eloquent invitation to personal and cultural transformation.

  2. Bosnia-Herzegovina and legitimate defense by military force. The outbreak of war among the former Yugoslavian states in 1992 dampened the hopes, raised by the revolution of 1989, for a new European order. As in the Gulf War, European Christians fought Muslims, Slavic Muslims this time, and Orthodox Serbs fought Catholic Croats. Again the pope's attention focused on the violated dignity of the ordinary people who suffer as a result of this war which he has consistently denounced as "barbarous" and likened to the "shipwreck of Europe."16 In January of each year since 1992, as he faced the prospect of another winter of suffering in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the pope's annual addresses to the diplomats attached to the Vatican provided a significant forum for his statements on the continuing war in Bosnia.

    In response to the pleas of those he has called the "martyred people of Bosnia," the pope has reminded the international community of its possible duty to disarm aggressors in this war. Nevertheless, he has consistently spoken, especially through prayer, in tones that hold together, in an evangelical embrace, justice and charity, the commandments and the beatitudes.

    In Assisi, on 9-10 January 1993, the pope sponsored an interfaith vigil for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Muslims and Christians came from all over Europe to fast and pray for peace. In his January 10 address to the Muslim delegates, the pope made explicit the setting's silent evocation of the example of St. Francis as a peacemaker. Preaching at Mass on the baptism of Jesus, he borrowed from the prayer of the Church, "Break down the walls of hatred ... Make level the paths to concord and peace." The pope told the peace pilgrims that, as Christ was among the crowds of sinners at the Jordan, he is among us now praying together with us for peace. "[I]n the tormented land of the peoples and nations of the Balkans, Christ is present among all those who suffer and are undergoing a senseless violation of their human rights."17

    In the January 9 interfaith meeting at Assisi, Jacub Selimoski, a Muslim leader from Sarajevo, described Bosnia-Herzegovina as "a country bathed with the blood of innocent creatures of God." "How," he asked, "can Europe allow an entire nation, a European nation, to disappear from its midst and how can it wash its hands of it with tranquillity and indifference?"18

    As if in response to such pleas against indifference to the human suffering in Bosnia, the pope, in his January 16 address to diplomats, raised the possibility of culpable indifference, on the part of governments and the international community, to a "duty to disarm the aggressor." Following this, in a March 25 Statement on the Balkans, the USCC Administrative Board urged U.S. government leaders to consider a limited use of force in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the kind of "humanitarian intervention" spoken of earlier by the pope.19

    Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has resolutely refused to acquiesce in war's inevitability.20 Part of the basis for this refusal lies in the fact that the Church has traditionally prayed, as in the Litany of the Saints, to be delivered from war. In September of 1994, he had planned to visit the besieged city of Sarajevo. The fighting's increased intensity prevented this journey. But on 8 September 1994, the homily he was to have preached there was broadcast to Sarajevo from Castel Gandolfo. This homily remains the pope's most powerful evangelical statement on the war in Bosnia. In it he weaves traditional prayers of the Church, the Our Father and Veni Creator Spiritus, into a deeply moving invocation of the power of the cross, an eloquent prayer for peace. "'Our Father,"' he began, "I, Bishop of Rome, the first Slav pope, kneel before you crying out: 'Deliver us-from plague, hunger and war!'"21



III. Reading the Catechism in light of the challenge of Pope John Paul II

The petition for deliverance from war offered by the pope in his homily for Sarajevo is taken from the Litany of the Saints. His turning to it as to an old friend in a needy time suffuses this ancient prayer with new life. The same petition appears in the Catechism (n. 2327). The powerful effect of the pope's appropriation of it suggests how his perspective might similarly enrich our reading of the Catechism's familiar-sounding teaching on the fifth commandment as it relates to peace and war.

After this brief review of papal pronouncements over the past five years on safeguarding peace and avoiding war, we return to the question posed above (I, 3): Do recent papal pronouncements give any cause for considering the possibility of a development in the area of "legitimate defense by military force" comparable to the recent development in the area of the death penalty? It seems reasonable to conclude that a development is indeed taking place in the area of "legitimate defense by military force," and that it is comparable to, if not as restrictive as, the recent development in the area of the death penalty.

The pope seems clearly, in the words of Bryan Hehir, to be tightening "the moral barriers against the use of force."22 If he has not abandoned "just-war" theory (as the Civilta editorial of 6 July 1991 urged), he has made the evaluation of its conditions sufficiently rigorous to move the use of military force close to the periphery of moral discussion. The consternation of both pacifists and proponents of just-war theory at the pope's recent statements might be a sign that he has begun to think with the "entirely new mind" urged in Gaudium et Spes (n. 80). Indeed, we could interpret recent papal pronouncements on international conflict as an ongoing attempt to carry forward the project outlined in Chapter V of Gaudium et Spes. While leaving the door open a crack for the serious possibility of "humanitarian intervention," the pope seems possessed at the same time of a profound evangelical skepticism about using military force as a means of securing justice. This holy skepticism is evident in both his opposition to the Gulf War and his extreme reluctance to urge international military intervention in Bosnia.

On the one hand, because of his insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense, the pope cannot be called a pacifist. (It might be difficult to construe every "legitimate defense by military force" as the kind of "police" action some pacifists would support.) On the other hand, he has drawn the restrictions on the use of military force with sufficient rigor that proponents of just-war theory, if they wish to take him seriously, must reexamine their assumptions and reorient their discussion about war. From the 1983 peace pastoral to the Gulf War and now Bosnia, debates among Catholics in the U.S. on war and peace issues have been often frustrated at an impasse between just war and pacifism. By his attempt to reason more evangelically about war, Pope John Paul II is challenging us to move beyond that impasse.

How might we read Section III of the Catechism on the fifth commandment in the light of this challenge? A first step would be to recognize the common context for both pope and Catechism in Chapter V of Gaudium et Spes. All three share the tension between work and prayer for the elimination of war and the possible need for self-defense in the face of the dangers of war. In his discussion of the right to self-defense, the pope notes that "the right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else's life are difficult to reconcile in practice" (EV, n. 55). Attention to recent papal statements might help us to navigate this tension as we find it in the Catechism. Their possible enrichment of the Catechism's teaching on legitimate defense by military force will be treated under three headings.

  1. An integral theology of nature and grace. Pope John Paul II sets his moral reflections within a rich theology of nature and grace. Such a theological perspective helps avoid misreadings of the Catechism's necessarily schematic juxtapositions of the beatitudes and the commandments in its treatment of "Life in Christ." When the section on the fifth commandment begins with consecutive citations from the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, for example, they cannot be related extrinsically as in the modern tendency to view charity as a kind of voluntary supplement to justice rather than its integral perfection.

    The pope's theological perspective is unified in a way that is closed to the Catechism as a compendium of Church teaching. The Catechism's treatment of the commandments, for example, begins with Jesus' encounter with the rich young man (Mt 19). The pope's extended meditation on this gospel story in Veritatis Splendor, however, offers a richer and more integral account of the relationship between the commandments and Jesus' counsel to perfection for the rich young man.

    Rather than "a minimum limit not to be gone beyond," the pope explains the commandments "as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey [later a "fragile journey" (n. 18)] toward perfection at the heart of which is love" (VS, n. 15). "Both the commandments and Jesus' invitation to the rich young man stand at the service of a single and indivisible charity, which spontaneously tends toward that perfection whose measure is God alone . . . " (VS, n. 18). Jesus, "the only Gospel" (EV, n. 80), becomes "a living and personal law who invites people to follow him" (VS, n. 15). In such a relentlessly christological perspective, the fifth commandment becomes "a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbor" (ibid.). This christological orientation avoids a modern rights-oriented insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense and shifts emphasis to the kind of concern to minimize bloodshed we find in n. 2267 of the Catechism and reaffirmed in Evangelium Vitae n. 56. This shift in emphasis is reflected in the strictures on the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae and also, as this essay argues, in recent papal statements on international conflict.

    Indeed, one might read these statements as the pope's attempt to restore the "single and indivisible charity" of Veritatis Splendor n. 18 to its rightful place in our reasoning about the use of military force. It could be argued that our present disjunction between just-war and pacifist approaches to this issue reflects uncritically the sort of extrinsicist theology of nature and grace characteristic of the modern period.23

  2. Evangelical realism. The pope's integral approach to the relationship between the commandments and the beatitudes results in a corresponding "evangelical realism" often lacking in dispassionate discussions of how to apply just-war conditions in specific situations, such as the Persian Gulf or Bosnia-Herzegovina. This "evangelical realism" challenges us to mean it truly when we pray to be delivered from war, or when we say that Jesus is suffering among the people in Bosnia or that, because he has come into the world, war is not inevitable.

    Such evangelical urgency has the power to reorient our experience of practical difficulties in reconciling Jesus' call to love of neighbor and the legitimate needs of self-defense. It means that certain evangelical aspects of the Catechism's treatment of safeguarding peace and avoiding war have to move closer to the center of debates about "legitimate defense by military force." These include: (a) the section on peace (nn. 2304-6), taken largely from Gaudium et Spes n. 78 and emphasizing that Christ is our peace through the cross; (b) the incorporation of the Church's traditional prayer for deliverance from war (nn. 230727); (c) the need, given "the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence" (n. 2306) and the "power of modern means of destruction" (n. 2309), for "rigorous consideration" before resorting to arms. If the pope has not said, "Just War No More!," he has come very close.

  3. International perspective. "This is the voice of one who has no interests nor political power, nor, even less, military force." Thus the pope described his perspective to the U.N. General Assembly in 1982.24 Most of us approach the Catechism on peace and war as citizens with much narrower national perspectives. Our governments tend to see military force as a potential policy instrument to be used in the national interest. The pope's international perspective helps to keep us honest by making it difficult to interpret what the Catechism teaches about peace and war in ways that are shaped primarily by our relative positions in a particular political culture. The pope's consistent and holy skepticism about achieving justice and peace through military force must give pause to anyone inclined to read Section III's evangelical aspects as pious additions to the true realism of self-defense.

The pope's holy skepticism about war will be as surprising to many Americans as his position on the death penalty. It is as deeply challenging to our culture as his opposition to abortion and euthanasia. In order to take the challenge of his evangelical realism seriously, we have to want to pray with the Church and truly mean it: "From disease, famine and war, O Lord, deliver us!"

**This article is dedicated to the memory of Rev. James M. Forker. Greatly would it have profited from the sort of conversation with him (less seemingly one-sided than now) I pray one day to resume in the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, may God be good to him and all of us!


Endnotes:

  1. At the end of n. 2309, this sentence appears in small print: "These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just-war' doctrine." The Catechism's Prologue explains that such small print is used to indicate "observations of an historical or apologetic nature, or supplementary doctrinal explanations" (n. 20).
  2. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (=EV), n. 55. Compare Catechism, nn. 2263-67.
  3. See Gaudium et Spes for a related reference to the "concrete conditions of the common good": "The common good of men is in its basic sense determined by the eternal law. Still the concrete demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes on. Hence peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly" (GS, n. 78).
  4. Catholic News Service (30 March 1995). Rather than as a "development" of a doctrine in any strict sense, perhaps it would be best to interpret the pope's recent strictures on the death penalty as reflecting practical judgments about the "concrete conditions of the common good" mentioned in n. 2267.
  5. In his 11 January 1992 address to diplomats attached to the Vatican, the pope said: "As you recall, the so-called 'Gulf War' broke out only a few days after our meeting on 12 January [1991]. Like every war, it left behind a sinister wake of dead and wounded, of devastation, hostility and still unresolved problems. The consequences of the conflict cannot be forgotten; even today the people of Iraq continue to suffer terribly. The Holy See has recalled, as you know, the ethical imperatives which must prevail in all circumstances: the sacredness of the human person, of whatever side; the force of law, the importance of dialogue and negotiation; respect for international agreements. These are the only 'weapons' which do honor to humanity, according to God's plan!" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition [15 January 1992]: 1-3).
  6. 0rigins (24 January 1991): 527-31.
  7. The most dramatic example of this came in the president's appearance before the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters on 28 January 1991. See Just War and the Gulf War, ed. James Turner Johnson and George Weigel (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1991), 141 46, and the reply that follows by Jim Wallis, Editor of Sojourners, 147-51.
  8. Peter Hebblethwaite, "Pope expands Gulf War debate beyond 'just war' jousting," National Catholic Reporter (31 January 1992): 10-11. Taking off from the address to the diplomats mentioned in note 5 above, Hebblethwaite emphasized that the pope's public posture during the Gulf War was designed to further long-range Vatican policy. Though this emphasis tends to obscure the religious dimension of the pope's posture, Hebblethwaite recognized that something new was going on here and tried seriously to make sense of it. For an earlier attempt, compare his "How to read the Pope," in The Tablet (23 February 1991), "Viewpoint."
  9. 0rigins (21 February 1991): 625.
  10. "The Pope and the war," in The Tablet (2 February 1991): 123.
  11. For the early discussion, see Richard John Neuhaus, "The Pope Affirms the 'New Capitalism,"' Wall Street Journal (2 May 1991): 1; George Weigel, "The New, New Things: Pope John Paul II on Human Freedom," American Purpose 5 (May-June, 1991): 33-40; Pat Windsor' "Neoconservatives capitalize on papal encyclical," National Catholic Reporter (17 May 1991): 3; Charles K. Wilber, "Argument that pope 'baptized' capitalism holds no water," National Catholic Reporter (17 June 1991): 8, 10.
  12. On "total war" and the logic of war, compare GS, n. 80.
  13. Commenting on Centesimus Annus, J. Bryan Hehir, chief architect of the U.S. Bishops' 1983 peace pastoral, concluded that "one surely comes away from the Gulf debate and this encyclical with a sense that the moral barriers against the use of force are now drawn more tightly by this pope. Where he is moving on this question is not yet clear but surely bears careful watching" (Commonweal [14 June 1991]: 394). A controversial editorial in La Civilta Cattolica, argued that, in the wake of the Gulf War, Centesimus Annus signalled a papal repudiation of "just-war" theory. Denying that "just-war" theory has ever been "officially" sanctioned by the Church's magisterium, the editorial consistently appeals to the example of the Gulf War to show that, because of the logic of modern warfare, "just-war" conditions are unattainable (452-53). Along with Pope Benedict XV's encyclical Pacem Dei Munus (1920), Pacem in Terris and Gaudium et Spes, it ranks Centesimus Annus as one of four "important documents" in which the Church has formally condemned war (454). To its repudiation of "just war," the editorial recognizes "the single exception of a war of pure defense against an aggression actually taking place" (453). See "Conscienza Crishana e Guerra Moderna," La Civilta Cattolica 142 (6 July 1991): 3-16. For an English translation, see "Modern War and Christian Conscience," Origins (19 December 1991): 450-55. Page numbers above are to this translation. For commentary, see John Langan, S.J., "The Just-War Theory After the Gulf War," Theological Studies (March, 1992): 95-110, esp. 100-103; William H. Shannon, "Christian Conscience and Modern Warfare," America (15 February 1992): 108-12; Patrick Jordan, "'Civilta' Has Spoken but It's Not the Last Word on War," Commonweal (31 January 1992): 5.
  14. See Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, "A Note on the Relation of Pacifism and Just-War Theory: Is There a Thomistic Convergence?," The Thomist 59 (April, 1995): 247-59.
  15. For an argument for the Church's role in the revolution of 1989, see George Weigel, The Final Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
  16. See his 9 January 1995 address to Vatican diplomats in Origins (19 January 1995): 520-22, at 520.
  17. 0rigins (21 January 1993): 545.
  18. Ibid.
  19. 0rigins (8 April 1993): 735. On the concept of "humanitarian intervention," see Kenneth R. Himes, "Just War, Pacifism and Humanitarian Intervention," America (14 August 1993): 10-15, 28-31.
  20. See Pope John Paul II, "Negotiation, the Only Realistic Solution to the Continuing Threat of War," to the U.N. General Assembly on 11 June 1982 (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1982), 5-6, reprint from L'Osservatore Romano. Compare the 1994 address to diplomats in Origins (3 February 1994): 582. For a survey of the pope's approach to war, see Brian M. Kane, "Persons and Princes (or Presidents): The Relationship Between Lethal Force and the Common Good According to Pope John Paul II," a paper presented at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the College Theology Society. I am grateful to Professor Kane (Allentown College) for providing me with a copy of his paper.
  21. Origins (22 September 1994): 264 65, at 264.
  22. See note 13 above.
  23. On the loss of charity in modern just-war reasoning, see Timothy N. Renick, "Charity Lost: The Secularization of the Principle of Double Effect in the Just-War Tradition," The Thomist 58 (July 1994): 441-62.
  24. "Negotiation, the Only Realistic Solution," 4.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

William L. Portier. "Are we really serious when we ask God to deliver us from war? The Catechism and the challenge of Pope John Paul II." Communio: International Catholic Review (Spring, 1996).

This article is reprinted with permission from Communio: International Catholic Review. Communio is published quarterly. Subscription cost is $32.00 per year. The journal comes in sturdy volumes that strives to provide long-term resources for reflection, renewal, and mission in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council as interpreted by the Pontificate of John Paul II. Communio welcomes questions about the journal — and invites you to become part of its ongoing work by subscribing, attending one of the Communio Study Circles, or sending a gift subscription to a friend. Visit their web site or write Communio, P.O. Box 4557, Washington, D.C. 20017-0557 for more information click here.

THE AUTHOR

Dr. William Portier, formerly the Henry J. Knott Professor of Theology, Mount Saint Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, holds the Mary Ann Spearin Chair in Catholic Theology at the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of: Tradition and Incarnation: Foundations of Christian Theology.

Copyright © 2005 Communio




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.