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.
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.
The Catechism on the fifth commandment
"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.
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).
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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)
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
Recent papal pronouncements: From just war to humanitarian intervention
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
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.
"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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
- 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!
- 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"
- Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (=EV),
n. 55. Compare Catechism, nn. 2263-67.
- 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.
- 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.
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 . 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).
- 0rigins (24 January 1991): 527-31.
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.
- 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."
(21 February 1991): 625.
- "The Pope and the war," in The Tablet
(2 February 1991): 123.
- 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.
- On "total war" and the
logic of war, compare GS, n. 80.
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- See his 9 January 1995 address to Vatican
diplomats in Origins (19 January 1995): 520-22, at 520.
(21 January 1993): 545.
- 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.
- 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.
- Origins (22 September
1994): 264 65, at 264.
- See note 13 above.
- 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.
- "Negotiation, the Only Realistic Solution,"
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
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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.
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