Just War Theory


Read on National Catholic Register about the conventional meeting between Pax Christi and Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. It seems that a proposal is being submitted to the Pope to no longer allow Just-War Theory to be taught in the Church. How can this be? If it was true once, how can it be untrue now? If the world no longer meets the criteria to engage in what was once viewed as Just-War, that does not mean the entire theory itself is thrown out. As the writer below indicates, Pope Francis even allowed the possibility of resorting to violence to combat ISIS. How can our current Pope even say such a thing if Just-War is no longer a valid teaching in the Church?

Based on this part;

Too often, they allege, the “just war theory” has been used to endorse, rather than to prevent or limit military action.

Err I am hoping/guessing the whole thing is going to be an emphasis issue and not a doctrine issue. Perhaps to say that they don’t want to encourage it? Considering a full repeal if you will, would negate the justification for police and self defense etc…

Besides this is a proposal. I jumped into being Catholic because I believe there is substantial evidence of divine guidance and anything that ignores all logic has never made it to doctrine no matter the support from any number of people. The truth of the Just War Theory can’t go away, because I am here now and don’t feel like going away :slight_smile:

Because it is a meaningless statement to declare a war “unjust.” Was it unjust of Germany to invade Poland in 1939? Certainly, but the war was still fought even though intellectuals sat around debating if the actions of the war met the criteria to be declared “unjust.”

The acts of ISIS are certainly unjust but what does that do or prove? How does declaring their actions to be “unjust” do anything to stop them?

I’ve always thought that the discussion of a war being just or unjust was the same as arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Ultimately, it is just an exercise in discussion and accomplishes nothing in reality. In todays’ world, discussion of world events and military actions are far more about politics and not religion.

The Church’s Just War Theory was well meaning, but useless. Emphasizing peace instead of war, will be more effective. :thumbsup:

I thought the just/unjust was meant for faithful catholics as a guide for action?

I don’t think it would be simply erased. Instead, it would be rewritten to better stress what is needed in making decisions about war in the modern world. This might even include remove the name Just War Theory. The same concepts would be there, but they might call it something like the “right of nations to defend themselves”. That focuses the discussion on self-defense rather than war.

It is meant to be an aid to world leaders in deciding to go to war or not, and to the public who vote for those leaders. Of course, there are few, if any Catholic world leaders these days, but the Church will always try to guide the world whether it listens or not.

We still need to be able to call a war unjust though.


A guide of action for what?

BTW, the Church does not have a list of just/unjust wars and I have never heard her in recent years make a proclamation of so-and-so is an unjust war.

The only people who obsess over the subject are the same people who obsess whether every utterance from the pope’s mouth is infallible or not. I can promise you that those in the Church are not concerned with such trivialities.


During the Persian Gulf wars the Church stayed away from the politics of the action by saying that the respective governments of the coalition forces had far more knowledge about the situation than we do, and so left the issue to them.

How does declaring a war to be “unjust” change anything?

Well, if a war is declared ‘unjust’, then I believe all the killing that goes on, would not be justified in Gods eyes, therefore, the soldiers and those ordering would be responsible for those sins, if the cause for going to war is found to be just though, any killing done is not sinful for the individual.

The problem as I see it, we really have no way of knowing for sure the true reasons why our leaders go to war in the first place, what they tell us on the news may not be the real reason behind the invasion, and if they are trying to deceive us, more than likely they have told the low level soldiers the same lie, so even they would not be sure if the war was just or not.

I wondered about this, when I heard from a friend in the Marines who had been to Afghanistan, he said once the new arrivals get used to being there, they can easily see the real reasons why they were sent! regarding Afghanistan, some wondered why the US military had armed guards watching over the huge poppie fields and heroin processing facilities to ensure operations continue…??

Wrong. A soldier who kills during war time in an effort to protect his life or the life of others is not responsible for any sin, regardless as to whether or not a war has been declared to be “unjust,” which is something that the Church doesn’t even do.

God knows the details better than we do. He doesn’t need to be told if a war is just or unjust in order to judge souls.

Oh, so a friend of yours told you that the US military is protecting poppie fields and processing facilities to “ensure operations continue?”

My little nephew told me that a shark bit him on the leg. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean that it is true.


You are right, God does not need to determine if they are just or not, but we do, you are also right about killing to protect ones own life or someone elses like, those cases would not be sinful at all, but it situations where any type of violence is initiated (and the war is not just=not meeting the conditions laid out), like a surprise attack, strike from a drone, etc I do believe those would be sinful.

You cannot simply say that a surprise attack is unjust, therefore it is sinful. As in all things, the totality of the situation has to be taken into account.

I don’t think anyone would say that it was “unjust” (:rolleyes:) of Russia to defend herself when Germany invaded in 1941 but the actions committed by the Russian army against the Germans and anyone that they even thought may have given any kind of help to them was atrocious and beyond the mark. Even though their defense was just, their actions during the conflict were certainly unjust. So again, what it the point or purpose in declaring an action to be “unjust?”

I see what you are saying but I have a hypothetical scenario for you…

Remember the ISIS guy that was beheading people? Back when this was going on, I remember hearing many people (many christians at my parish too), how much they wish someone would kill this guy, people would desire very violent things to be done to him as retribution for what he had doing.

Is this kind of thing sinful? Wishing violence upon someone because of things they have done? I mean, yes, ISIS is a threat, but lets be honest, he is somewhere in the middle east, so hes not that much of a threat to the family living next house down in the US somewhere, so Im not sure killing him or others like him, would be considered ‘just’, in regards to people living in the US anyway.

Strangely though, all these people that are wishing violent deaths on ISIS members are the same people who condemn those radical right wing extremists that kill abortion doctors…??..so Im not sure what they are thinking? lol

The just war theory is a theological theory, much like limbo. If I understand things correctly, it has never been established as a divine truth by the Church.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’m wondering which parts need to be revised.

*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.

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.”

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 modern 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.

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.

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.”

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.” 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; 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:

Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” *

Just to correct the wording:

It’s the just war doctrine, not the* just war theory*.

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