Is Just War Theory an Infallible Doctrine?


I struggle a lot with justifying “Just War Theory”. Is there anywhere where this is infallibly declared? I was listening to Catholic Answers and he said that it is and it is just the application of it that is debatable (see at 4:35). Is he correct or did he misspeak and it is actually a theory taught and generally accepted but not infallible?

Thank you.

Read the Catechism on Peace and Just War:



2302 By recalling the commandment, "You shall not kill,"94 our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.

Anger is a desire for revenge. “To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,” but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution "to correct vices and maintain justice."95 If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, "Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment."96

2303 Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."97

2304 Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is "the tranquillity of order."98 Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.99

2305 Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic "Prince of Peace."100 By the blood of his Cross, "in his own person he killed the hostility,"101 he reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. "He is our peace."102 He has declared: "Blessed are the peacemakers."103

2306 Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.104

Avoiding war

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.105

2308 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."106

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • 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 called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.107

2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way.108

2312 The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties."109

Is it your idea that there is no such thing as a just war?

Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

I don’t know if all four bullet points in n.2309 of the CCC are considered to have an application to faith or morals, or if they are simply conditions to be met for moral legitimacy.

I think the just war doctrine *is *surrounded by teachings regarding morals, such as n. 2302, 2303, 2307, 2308, 2313, 2314, and 2317 even though that one seems vague. From what I gather, those would be infallible teachings.

2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.

Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.

2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."110 A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.

2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations;111 it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.

2316 The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. The short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict among nations and compromise the international juridical order.

2317 Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war:

I doubt if it is infallible doctrine, it has after all taken multiple forms through the centuries. f That being said, it is a teaching of the magisterium of the Church, even if it is not infallible, we owe it our intellectual assent. This means, at a minimum, we must strive to come to an understanding of it, failing to come to an understanding and agreement of the teaching, we must accept it and keep quiet.

The problem with ‘just war’ in modern times is confusing to me, I have never heard the vatican disagree with ANY modern war, but the problem Im having, the reason Govts say publicly is usually not the real reason for going to war, like the wars in the middle east, they may claim its due to terrorism, but many people actually fighting those wars get to see the real reasons, oil, power, territory, etc, so how can that be justified?

Of course, in ancient times it was not like this, when war came, people knew what the reasons were, and eventually wars came to an end…the type of war fought today, an end will never come, and there is good reason for this, defense spending is a HUGE industry, and they have a big impact on war, they must keep this going to continue raking in the money.

So how can the average enlisted soldier be sure he is fighting a ‘just’ war when the reasons they are told are probably not the real reason?

Seems to me ‘just war’ is a just a big rubber stamp today, there is no way the church is ever going to come out and publicly say a war is unjust.

I understand your problem with respect to the average enlisted soldier. I have never understood to what level individuals are culpable for fighting in an unjust war.

As to it just being a rubber stamp, I think you overstate this.

I would argue against the vast majority of that, first off as speaking of today’s wars, I know we raked in billions of dollars from the afghan and Iraqi governments and took hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, wait what, we didn’t get anything out of those wars?

Oh so then we move to the military industrial complex which is controlling our government and making us fight in wars, but wait, wait, wait in the last 40 years we have been in 3 tiny wars where yes some people made a lot of money but then our military was gutted by the Clinton and Obama administrations? How does this make us under the thumb of those who use war for profiteering?

For a real answer to your question I’d say God probably looks at the individual Marine, sailor, soldier, etc… Do they believe it to be just? How do they conduct themselves during the war? For biblical evidence I give you 2 Mach, when God obviously has given the OK for a just war but then punishes some of the soldiers who are fighting in it for their actions.

It’s more on the individual level than on the national level, I would think. Please excuse the sarcasm up top, I just don’t buy into all that…

Thank you for all the replies. I already knew the Catechism talked some about this but I was asking about infallible doctrine and I’m not sure if the Catechism is referencing an infallible document or stating the general opinion of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

I think the issue of a solider’s responsibility for participating in a war or whether this or that war was just is a topic for another thread. The topic I wanted to discuss here is infallible Church teaching on the matter of war.

I’m going to have to do so me more research into and thinking about the quoted sections of the Catechism. The four conditions laid out were stricter than I thought and can only even be considered if there is no competent international authority, all peace efforts have failed, and it is a matter of self-defense. I’m interested to know if this matter meets the infallibility definition 1Lord1Faith quoted from Vatican II: “while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively.” Does anyone know? Also, is there any definition laid out by the Church which defines “self-defense”? It seems like “self- defense” and “just war” is often applied to the defense of others. Does the Church give justification for that sort of application?

One thing to keep in mind is that there ARE suchthings a JustWars.

GodHimself commanded war at several times, ergo, engagingin a war is*sometimes a good thing to do.

That fact is infallible, as it is a matter of direct revelation.

The application in a particular instance is not a matter of infallibility, but would be a matter
of prudential judgement.

But the doctrine itself, thatwars may be Just and good, is infallible, as it’s root is inGod’s own example.

With this and other moral teachings, when leaving the abstract for the concrete, the virtue of prudence determines the morality of the act.

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