Love, Law and War

Salvete, omnes!

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we are told, among other things, that love is patient and kind, and that it bears and endures all things.

How are we, then, to reconcile love, which the Christian is, as I understand it, to practice at all times, with the practices engaged in in both the operations of civil law and of waging war?

IIf love is (always?) patient, then, ought we not to go to war as quickly as we do and have done in the past with our enemies? Some would argue, however, that q quick response to enemy aggression acts not only as a swift penalty but also as a deterrent of future agrgression against our state and that it also acts to ensure greater protection of our citizens. (I think many other nation-states throughout history have seen it in this way.) Even with all that said, though, is such swift response not permitted by Christian/Catholic teaching? Furthermore, in law, should we be less swift to implement certain legal penalties with criminals than we are? Still here, similar arguments to those I just cited in the case of swift action to war might be sighted in this case as well. Still, does Christian teaching urges us on to greater patience in executing legal punishment?

And, what of kindness? By their very nature, punishments both in law and war, I suppose, would not be considered “kind”. But, aren’t they meant to be forceful, again, as a just punishment as well as deterrent? How, then, are we to reconcile Christian teaching on love with such punishments?

Love endures all things. Does not this mean that it endures all evils? If this is the case, then, why do we punish them with both legal and military means?

Love bears all things. Does this not mean that love bears all evils? If love bears all evils, does this not mean that we should be willing to bear all evils, including crimes and even wars against us, passively?

On its surface, all this seems absurd, as our cultures for thousands of years have all been steeped in the traditions of both civil law and in war. Indeed, as I understand it, the Church teaches that war is in some circumstances justified and that it is a loving response in the sense that it protects those whom we care about from harm. As far as civil law, I would assume that the Church also officially supports this, though I haven’t read so much in detail on the subject. With these things in mind, then, how do we reconcile these teachings with the above Corinthians passage?


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Was this passage, as advocates of war have claimed for others, referring only to personal relationships rather than official ones such as in law and war? If so, can we support this with any sound arguments either of our own or from the Church? Any official/infallible Churhc teaching that addresses the issues raised from this verse or in this post generally? Any patristic commentaries? Any good pieces written by theologians? Any good modern Catholic commentaries on these verses that refer specifically to the issues I raised?

I assumed in my first post that the Church, as I understand it, does take an official position that war is justified in some situations. Given the presence of this verse and verses like it, am I wrong to make this assertion? Has the Church or has She not come to an official understanding of a “just war”? Has it come to one that is beyond debate because of some infallible declaration? I mean, at least its practice, at least throughout most centuries, seems to advocate for the rightness of war in some cases.

Also, the same questions go for the application of law.

If you believe in war under certain circumstances and in the application of legal punishment, how to you square it with the above passage?

Well, There are a couple of questions with your assertions.

  1. You use the royal “we” but it is unclear who “we” is. Are you talking about the US? Iran? China? Or the Holy Roman Empire, or Cherokee nation? For the sake of argument I assume you mean the US. In which case it is notable that the US is not a Catholic government. Nor are Catholics a majority. Just war doctrine is hard to apply when the entity involved is not Catholic in nature. Many nations, some Christian some Catholic some Islamic, Some Buhddist go to war. And War is not even a votable issue. So individually we don’t have a lot of say about when our country chooses to defend. War is indeed part of the story of humankind from creation to salvation. War has touched even heaven itself.

Could you clarify your point further?

Hi Miss Misty,
Interesting questions! I would say that part of teh answer is found in the definition of love as beinv willing the good fir another. It might not *please *my child when I mete out punishment, but it is good for him.

And there is also the question if what the good for another is, and for Catholics, that is of course attaining Heaven. Having laws and keeping others from doing bad things has a two-fold effect in thsi area: 1. people are helped by laws to be good or limited in the bad they do, and 2. others are rotected from having wrongs done to them which might cause them to stumble in their faith in one way or another.

The nust war theiry we use today is based on St Thomas Aquinas’s, so it is definitely a Catholic idea, altho not dogma, just what we still consider ti be goos guidance in the area, and in other areas as well.

This is all well and good, but, again, how do we deal with what is in this particular verse? If we believe that war is justified under certain circumstances, for instance, how do we reconcile these verses with our beliefs?

In the case of civil law, Paul does say that thsoe in authority do not wield the sword in vain implying that they have the right to use it or at least to punish evildoers, as he indeed says. Again, though, how to we reconcile the teaching here with the teaching in the above verse?

We can’t just supply other teaching as a response to problematic passages without dealing with the problematic passages directly.

As far as just war theory, the word that is used to describe it is, indeed, “theory”, and you yourself stated that it is not dogma. So, then, the Catholic Church neither endorses nor decries the use of war? Or, do you mean that today’s theory of when war is justified and when it is not is not considered dogma but that the use of war generally is something that is officially approved?

Looking back on the answers to my above question, I still don’t think it has entirely been fleshed out…

Again, if love “endures” and “bears all things”, should not the one who loves “bear” and “endure” with passivity/submission all evils done to him without any response, including a response of war or of legal justice?

A previous poster stated that our ultimate goal is getting to heaven. However (and, forgive me if this is perhaps bordering on heresy as I don’t do so intentionally), I’ve always seen heaven as more a reward for good here on earth rather than as the ultimate end-all and be-all. After all, the reason that God hates sin is, as I understand it, that it works against the good of those sinned against.

So, I’ve always seen both law and war as remedying evils done to others through various sinful actions. To me, this sounds great, again, until we consider the passage with which I began this discussion that seems to suggest that we should “bear” and “endure” all things, including evils done against us rather than responding to them or having others respond to them on our behalf through military or legal means.

Am I, perhaps, misunderstanding the notions of “bear” and “endure” here? Might “enduring all things” here mean staying strong under them and not giving way and might “bearing all things” mean, in a way, “putting up with” or “tolerating” offenses (maybe more of a personal nature) done to you without resorting out of pride, hatred or personal offense to negative reactions against a person? The first proposed understanding of “enduring all things”, though, would seem to be too narrowly applied specifically to bearing such things as persecutions and not falling away for the love of God whereas here, Paul seems to be speaking of love in a fr more general way. Still, if valid, these two understandings of the phrases “bearing” and “enduring” may still justify the use of war under certain circumstances as they do not preclude a just response to injustices done. I guess the ral question here comes down to precisely what “bearing all things” and “enduring all things” means here. If you believe that war is sometimes justified (however and whenever you might think this), what do you understand Paul to mean when he says that love “bears” and “endures all things”? Are the understandings I articulated above of the meanings of “bearing” and “enduring” all things valid in your eyes? Why or why not?

I have also suggested that perhaps a more personal sense is meant in our problematic passage. However, isn’t the line between personal and collective/political rather a fine one? Why would we even need to make such distinctions? I mean, if we are personally not to respond to evils done to us, as this passage could be argued to suggest, than why are we justified in responding to more societal/collective/political/military evils committed against us and our society? After all, isn’t the basis for a society its people? So, is there even a distinction to be made? If so, why?

I am still, BTW, looking for answers regarding a number of the questions I posted in previous posts including whether the Church officially (infallibly?) endorses the use of war under certain circumstances, even if the nature of what these circumstances should be is still under debate (just war “theory”).

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