The war in Ukraine drags on and its effects are being felt worldwide. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is pleading with the western countries, NATO, and especially the United States to supply him with the weapons, which are available, to fight the Russian army on an equal footing. President Biden has steadfastly refused to provide the powerful weapons Ukraine needs out of FEAR of escalation and FEAR of Vladimir Putin. As in 2 Timothy 1:7; "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." Being a “devout Catholic”, President Biden is not placing his trust in God and standing up to a godless dictator. If he is worried about starting a world war, and making political decision, he is ignoring a long time Catholic teaching on the “Just War”.
Moral theologians define war as “a contention carried on by force of arms between sovereign states or communities having in this regard the right of states.” St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) provided the basics of what is today’s Catholic teaching concerning warfare. That the concept of this state of violent conflict may be more clarified in one’s mind, the African doctor first contrasts “warfare” with “peace,” defining the latter as “the tranquility of order.” Peace is the unity of wills rather than a harmony of opinion. He demonstrated from Holy Scripture that Christ did not condemn war. Further, in the Old Testament certain wars were commanded by and directed by God Himself. Ecclesiastes 3:3 states plainly that there is “a time to kill.” The primary point was that peace was the goal, even if there was no other means to achieve it but by force of arms. J. Langan writes;
“St, Augustine’s just war theory involves eight principal elements 1) a punitive conception of war 2) assessment of the evil of war in terms of the moral evil of attitudes and desires 3) a search for authorization for the use of violence 4) a dualistic epistemology which gives priority to spiritual goods 5) interpretation of evangelical norms in terms of inner attitudes 6) passive attitude to authority and social change 7) use of Biblical texts to legitimate participation in war and 8) an analogical conception of peace. It does not include non-combatant immunity or conscientious objection.”
In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas provided the three minimum conditions for a war to be considered “just”:
· It must be waged by lawful public authority in defense of the common good;
· It must be waged for a just cause;
· It must be waged with the right intention — not vengefully nor to inflict harm.
St. Thomas added that it is not lawful for bishops or clerics to fight in a war; they may participate, but in a capacity which is consonant with their orders, such as ministering to the spiritual and medicinal needs of the soldiers. It is not right that the same hands that are consecrated to shed Christ’s blood should shed the blood of men. When safeguarding the common welfare, it is lawful to conduct a just war even on Sundays and holy days. Ambushes are allowed since they are not wrong in themselves.
Following St. Thomas, further refinements were made of his basic tenets. Despite development, St. Thomas’s ideas remain the foundation for the discussion of a just war. This has been evident in the current debate, within Catholic circles, and in the United States. The Catechism, articles 2308- 2309, holds; ALL CITIZENS AND ALL GOVERNMENTS ARE OBLIGED TO WORK FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF WAR. HOWEVER, AS LONG AS THE DANGER OF WAR PERSISTS AND THERE IS NO INTERNATIONAL AUTHORITY WITH THE NECESSARY COMPETENCE AND POWER, GOVERNMENTS CANNOT BE DENIED THE RIGHT OF LAWFUL SELF-DEFENSE, ONCE ALL PEACE EFFORTS HAVE FAILED. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; There must be serious prospects of success; The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is still called the “Just War” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good. Just war theory traditionally has been formulated as a set of moral principles that act as conditions that need to be met in order for the decisions entailed in launching and prosecuting wars to uphold the requisites of justice. The most important is that wars be waged to correct some manifest injustice; this is referred to as the principle of just cause. Others include that war must be the best available remedy for correcting the injustice, and therefore solutions short of war should be employed if possible.
Russia, unprovoked, attacked Ukraine. The orders of Vladimir Putin have plunged the world in a crisis, of food and energy. For the West, led by the United States, to engage the Russian army seems to be supported by this long-standing doctrine. Admittedly, some pastoral groups of Catholicism have argued that this doctrine has been rendered obsolete by modern warfare. This may be true, in some cases, but Putin is launching a war that is characteristic of preceding generations. Philosophically, he set the terms so he must be met on those same terms. President Biden has no reason to hold back the needed weapons as, according to the “just war” doctrine of the Catholic Church, engagement is morally called for and correct. He is the leader of the free world, let us pray he finds the courage to act for the “common good.