When is War "Just?" Thoughts on "Just War"

April 7th, 2007 / 4 Comments

Just War has been a part of Christian thought since the time of St. Augustine. It concerns the conditions under which Christians can promote and/or participate in military force. The modern understanding of Just War, especially for the Catholic Church, can be traced back to the work of St Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas outlined 3 guidelines for determining whether war could be considered just.

  • The military response must be controlled by the state
  • The war must have a just cause such as protection or defense
  • The war must further good and reduce evil

Since the time of Aquinas, Catholic Church teaching has added two additional conditions to the criteria of just war

  • War must be a last resort
  • The use of force must be proportional

Whether war in Iraq satisfies the conditions of “Just War” is the critical question Christians have been trying to answer since 9-11.

Michael Novak, one of the countries leading neo-conservatives, shows why he believes the Iraq war satisfies Just War principles.
“Asymmetrical Warfare” & Just War: A moral obligation

Brian Stiltner, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University, offers his reasons for why he no longer believes war with Iraq is just.
Just war: Second thoughts on Iraq


  1. Do you believe the war in Iraq meets the criteria of Just War
  2. Have your views changed since the start of the war?
  3. How much of a role do you just war has played in public debate
  4. What significance does the contemporary Church have for the discussion and implementation of Just War

Comments (4)

  1. Jonathan / April 20, 2007 / http://jonlandrum.com

    1. Not anymore. At first, yes. We were defending ourselves from Osama. But now it’s turning into a machine. And actually, since you qualified “Iraq” only and not Afghanistan, the Iraq war was never, in my opinion, a Just War. But, I’m not the President or Prime Minister, and I’m not privvy to their information. I’m basing this on what I’ve seen and read in the media.
    2. Yes.
    3. Almost none. There are people trying to justify the war, but rarely do I hear of people saying the war is of God and that it is a just cause. Does that make sense? I hope it wasn’t self-defeating.
    4. Honestly, I don’t like war. I don’t think we should be at war. I also don’t think we can just leave. We’ve now made it necessary to stay at least for a while. I think the contemporary church should be advocating peace. I think we should be discussing and implementing methods of bringing peace. I think we should be rallying around ideas that could possibly cause peace. I do think war was necessary at first in order to keep al-Qa’ida from trying another 9-11, but I don’t think the current situation is right.

  2. 1. You may not want my opinion on this so you can figure out a way to delete it after you read it. This war, in Afghanistan and in Iraq were never about defense against evil. They were about imperialism to secure natural resources and influence in Nation states to fight the next world war. It sounds apocalyptic and it sort of is. If you research the history of our involvement in this region, (which I am trying to do at a feverish pace) you will find that we have created a lot of the “evil” that we face and effectively built the perfect enemy to engage in another open ended conflict. So no, this was never a “just war”.
    2. Big time yes. I used to be an outspoken advocate of Bush and his policies, and I was relieved when we finally did invade Iraq because I was afraid, I bought into the fear that was sold to us.
    3. It may not be the same language, but the debate is framed by the Republican Right as a battle between good and evil. We are good, they are evil. The must die so that Good can prevail. Isn’t this the basic idea of a “Just war”? Just this morning I was listening to Dr. Dobson rant and rave about how important it is that we fight these “evil islamofascists” and how the Democrats don’t believe in good and evil and that if we lose it will be their fault.
    4. In my opinion, the Church should not be an active participant in the discussions about how, when, where and who will fight wars. Christians do participate in government, because while our earthly bodies still tick, we are dual citizens of both Christ’s kingdom and our planet’s world society. But the Church itself should stay out of the discussion, and instead focus on promoting what Christ called it to, love, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and spreading the gospel. I don’t see how the Church can be a part of the discussion and still carry out its primary mission.

  3. Scott Lenger / May 16, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Hey Isaac,

    I don’t see how the Church can be a part of the discussion and still carry out its primary mission.


    Though I’d lean towards saying that the Church carrying out its primary mission IS a form of actively participating in the discussion, but certainly not in the form of democratic debate which is what I believe you’re referring to.

  4. Scott,
    In my opinion, the mission of the Church should be carried out on a personal level, between believers and unbelievers. Interjecting the Church into active participation in policy decisions, social movements (either pro or anti war, for example) and arenas of this nature tampers with the mission of the Church and ultimately leads it off course. In my opinion, the Church should be actively participating locally, not nationally.

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