Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #C.7
[Unpublished paper, May 1986]
[Preface, 2012] This paper was written in the latter days of the Cold War. Hence, it has a context that is quite different from our contemporary setting. As well, it focuses on the generation of just war thinkers that came of age in the midst of the nuclear arms race and Vietnam War—most of whom have passed from the scene (though Michael Walzer and James Turner Johnson are still active).
Also, the paper does not, of course, take into account the recent flurry of writing on the just war: see, for example: Daniel M. Bell, Jr., Just War as Christian Discipleship (Brazos, 2009); Mark Allman, Who Would Jesus Kill?(Anselm, 2008); W. Michael Slatterly, Jesus the Warrior? (Marquette University, 2007); A. James Reimer, Christians and War (Fortress, 2010); J. Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy, War, Peace, and Christianity (Crossway, 2010); and Andrew Fiala, The Just War Myth (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).
However, I believe the issues I address here are perennial issues and the perspective I offer remains relevant.
From the time of Augustine until now, the so-called “just war theory” has been the more-or-less official Christian doctrine regarding involvement in warfare. I say “more-or-less official” because the just war system does not begin as a system in the strong sense of a group of thoughts that hang together. It was never adopted by a church council. It was not until the Reformation in the sixteenth century that it is mentioned in church confessions, and then only in passing. This is to say that the “just war theory” was the norm in practice for the vast majority of Christians, the assumed position.
Ambrose, the late fourth century church leader, was the first to articulate a Christian “ethics of war”–before him it was always an ethic against war. He furnished two of the ingredients of the Christian theory of the just war: that the conduct of the war should be just and that monks and priests should abstain from fighting.
What Ambrose roughly sketched, his student Augustine amplified. However, he never systematized his thought on warfare. There was no debate among the church leaders of Augustine’s time about a coherent proposal for a Christian ethic of war that could be either accepted or rejected. Since this was the case, there was no official acceptance of criteria that could lead to a clear decision as to whether the war was justifiable or not.
Rather, what happened is that the events occurred, wars happened, and the church leaders followed along, responding in an ad hoc fashion. The acceptance of war and of the just war tradition simply happened. No individual or group of individuals ever directed it. There was no debate, no votes taken. Continue reading