Reader Mode Text to speech



There follows the fourth question, which is on war. This dispute is divided into three parts. For first it must be shown that war is sometimes lawful for Christians. Secondly, the causes of a just war must be explained. Thirdly, because of Luther, it will have to be proved that it is lawful for Christians to take up arms against the Turks.

But, that we may begin at the beginning, there was an old heresy of the Manichaeans, who asserted that war was of its very nature unlawful, and therefore they accused Moses, Josue, David, and other Fathers of the old dispensation, who waged war, of being wicked men, as St. Augustine states.’ Some have revived this heresy in our own time; and, first of all, Erasmus, in various places, but especially in his annotations, in a lengthy argument contends that war is one of the evils that were tolerated, and permitted by God to the ancient Jews, but forbidden to Christians both by Christ and by the Apostles.

Moreover, Cornelius Agrippa. in his book on the emptiness of human knowledge, asserts that the practice of carrying on war is forbidden by Christ. John Ferus says the same in his commentary on St. Matthew, “He who takes the sword shall perish with the sword.” The Anabaptists teach the same doctrine, as Melanchthon testifies. Alphonsus a Castro also attributes the same teaching to John Oecolampadius, under the heading war, which seems strange to me, since Zwingli, his colleague, approved of war to such an extent that he perished on the field of battle, and in like manner Calvin, and Melanchthon, and other heretics of this time, by word and by deed teach that war should be carried on.

But we, as the universal Church has always taught, both by word and by deed, say that war is not of its nature unlawful, and that it is lawful not only for Jews but also for Christians to carry on war, provided that those conditions of which we shall treat afterwards are fulfilled. This is proved by the testimony of the Scriptures, “These are the nations which the Lord left, that by them He might instruct Israel, and all that had not known the wars of the Chanaanites : That afterwards their children might learn to fight with their enemies, and to be trained up to war.”

These words certainly show not the permission, but the absolute Will of God. Likewise, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts: T have reckoned up all that Amalech hath done to Israel: how he opposed them in the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now therefore go, and smite Amalech, and utterly destroy all that he hath : spare him not, etc.’” Here also we see not a permission, but a command. And the Old Testament is filled with similar instances. Likewise, “And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them : Do violence to no man, neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.” The Anabaptists, according to Melanchthon, says that John permitted war to the Jews as imperfect men, but Christ taught far otherwise.

But on the contrary; for John was preparing the way of the Lord, therefore he should not have permitted that which Christ was soon to set aside; for neither could the Jews avail themselves of that concession, since Christ was to come in that same year and forbid war, as our opponents themselves contend ; and besides men might have thought that Christ and John did not agree together, which would have been most absurd.

Erasmus answers, on the contrary, that this command was given to the soldiers, not that, by keeping it, they might live well, but that they might live less evil lives, as Theophylactus would seem to explain.

But on the contrary ; for John had previously said : “Bring forth fruits worthy of penance,” and “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire.” Then the repentant publicans and soldiers asked what was this good fruit which they ought to bring forth; therefore, either John deceived them, or soldiers can be saved if they observe those commands which John laid upon them.

As to Theophylactus, I make two answers. First, that he did not say that war was evil, but merely that John was exhorting the multitude, which was free from sin. to good works, that is, to the sharing of their goods with others; but the publicans and the soldiers, who were incapable of this degree of perfection and could not do works of supererogation, he urged to abandon sin. For Theophylactus thought that for the man who had two coats to give one to him who had none was a work of counsel and of supererogation, otherwise he would not have called the people to whom he was speaking free from sin, nor would he have distinguished this act as good rather than evil ; for if it is a command not to keep two coats, to keep them is evil.

I say, secondly, that Theophylactus does not rightly interpret this passage for he calls those people free from sin fo whom John said, “Ye offspring of vipers,” and “Bring forth fruits worthy of penance.” And besides, to have two coats is to retain what is superfluous, as St Jerome says, but it is a sin to keep what is superfluous. Besides, Our Lord teaches that tribute should be paid to Caesar; but certainly tribute is not owed to kings unless they can pay soldiers to defend the State, which St. Paul explains, “For therefore,” says he, “also you pay tribute. For they are the ministers of God, serving unto this purpose,” namely, that they may put to death disturbers of the public peace, for he had previously said, “For he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath.”

Our proposition is proved secondly by the examples of the saints, who waged war; for if war were evil, certainly it would not have been waged by the saints. We read in the Old Testament that Abraham, Moses, Josue, Gideon, Samson, David, Josias, and the Maccabees waged war, thus earning great praise. In the New Testament, when the centurion said to Christ, “I have under me soldiers, and I say to this one. Go, and he goeth, etc.,” Our Lord praised his faith and did not command him to give up the military life. Moreover, Cornelius the centurion is called “a religious man and fearing God.” And so he even merited to see an angel, nor, afterwards, when he was being taught the way of salvation by St. Peter, was he told to desert the military life.

Then, as Tertullian teaches, where he narrates the great miracle worked by Christian soldiers when they were waging war in Germany under Marcus Aurelius, after the Ascension of Christ into heaven there were in military life some Christians holy and pleasing to God, even under pagan rulers; these men certainly would not have been fighting if it were evil, nor, if they had been fighting in this circumstance, would they have been so pleasing to God that they could work miracles. St. Basil also teaches in his sermon in honor of the forty martyr soldiers that there were many saints in the camps of pagan Emperors; and St. Gregory Nazianzen teaches the same towards the middle of his first sermon against Julian.

Finally, it is evident that war was waged by Constantine, Theodosius, Valentinian, Charlemagne, St. Louis, King of France, St. Maurice with his Theban legion, and by other very saintly Christians, whom the holy bishops never reproved ; nay, more, Theodosius asked the Abbot John for advice concerning the outcome of a war, as St. Augustine relates.

Our proposition is proved, thirdly, by the fact that God often aids just wars, which He certainly would not do if war were unlawful : for evils may be permitted, but aid may not also be given in carrying them out. It was said by Melchisidech to Abraham, when he had vanquished four kings with only 318 of his household: “Blessed be the most high God, by Whose protection the enemies are in thy hands.” In answer to the prayer of Moses, God gave the Jews the victory over Amalech. When Josue was fighting the sun stood still, and God rained great stones from the sky, and God slew more with hailstones than the sons of Israel slew with spears and swords. Angels in the likeness of horsemen fought for the Maccabees, and we read that God gives victory to those worthy of It not according to the might of their arms, but as is pleasing to Him.

Eusebius, in the life of Constantine, testifies that Constantine was victorious in war through the aid of God, through clearly proved miracles, and m his history, that St. John fought, and Theodoret testifies that St. Philip the Apostle fought openly with Theodosius against his enemies and Socrates writes that angels fought against the Saracens for Theodosius II. St. Augustine writes, that the army of Honorius by a Divine miracle won a wonderful victory over the Goths. Numberless similar examples could be brought forward.

Our proposition is proved, fourthly, from reason. Granted that it is lawful for the State to protect its citizens from disturbers of its peace from within, by executing them with various forms of torture, then this is also lawful when there is no other possible way of defending those same citizens from external enemies ; since, in order that the State may be preserved, it is necessary that all enemies, internal as well as external, may be kept off. And since this is the law of nature it is incredible that it should be set aside by the Gospel.

Lastly, our proposition is proved by the testimony of the Fathers. Tertullian says, “With you we are sailors, and soldiers, and farmers, and merchants.” St. Gregory Nazianzen, in his sermon on peace, says, “Granted that there should be a reason for both states, seeing that following the law and authority of God, war, clearly, may sometimes be undertaken, only, however, as long as you grant that we should be more disposed to peace, for this is higher and more Divine.”

St. John Chrysostom, in his sermon on the Gospel of the Marriage Feast, says among other things, “You adorn the military state, and you say, I cannot be devout. Was not that centurion a soldier, and yet his military life did him no harm?”

St. Ambrose says, “Not to fight is a neglect of duty, but to fight for the sake of plunder is a sin,” And he numbers among the virtues courage in war, and he proves by many examples that it was not lacking in us. Likewise, in the sermon on the death of Theodosius, he earnestly commends Theodosius for his prowess in war.

St. Augustine says, “For if Christian discipline condemned all war, to soldiers seeking salvation it would rather have been said in the Gospel that they should lay down their arms and give up the military life altogether; but the advice given is, trouble no man, make no false accusation, be content with your pay.” He commands that their pay should suffice, but does not forbid them to follow a military life. And. he says, “Do not think that no man who serves as a soldier can be pleasing to God, etc.”

St Gregory says, “In this life the Lord of victories makes Your Excellency as a shining light before your enemies in war, and so it is necessary for Your Excellency to oppose the enemies of the Church with all your powers of mind and body, etc.,” and. ‘‘If such great success in waging war had not come to Your Excellency as a reward of faith, through the grace of the Christian religion, there would be small reason for wonder, but when you have made provision for future victories (God granting) not by carnal wisdom, but rather by prayer, this becomes matter for surprise, that your glory comes not through earthly wisdom, but from the gift of God above.”

St. Gregory of Tours says, “Would, O kings, that you would fight battles as your fathers, that by your power you might curb the peoples included within your peace.”

St. Bernard says, “But, indeed, the soldiers of Christ fight without anxiety the battles of their Lord, fearing nothing, either sin because of the slaying of the enemy, or danger of being slain, seeing that death, whether endured or inflicted for Christ, both contains nothing wrong, and merits a high degree of glory.”

But, on the other hand, there are objections. First, from the Scriptures, and to begin, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And, “Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved … for it is written! Revenge is Mine, I will repay.”

I answer that the vengeance which public officers inflict is rightly called the vengeance of God. for they are the ministers of God, serving Him in this very matter. Hence St. Paul, after he had said, “Revenge is Mine. I will repay,” adds. “But if thou do that which is evil, fear; for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.

Then they add that passage from Isaias, “They shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war. These things are predicted of the Christian era.

I answer that in this passage is foretold only that perfect peace to come at the time when Christ was to be born, as St. Jerome explains, and we know that this prophecy was fulfilled in the reign of Augustus Caesar. For the word ultra does not mean forever, but for a long time. Besides, even if this prophecy had not been fulfilled, nothing could be concluded from that ; for Isaias does not forbid war, in case there is an enemy who troubles us, but he prophecies that there will be no enemies. Therefore, while there are enemies war may also be waged. For it can be said that it was predicted that the kingdom of Christ would be a peaceable kingdom, seeing that it is not of this world nor concerned with temporal affairs, and in this it is distinguished from the kingdom of the Jews, which was to be strengthened and preserved by war and slaughters.

Finally, they formulate an objection from those words, “If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other,” and, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” And, “Whosoever taketh the sword shall perish with the sword.” Words similar to these are found in St. Paul, “To no man rendering evil for evil,” “Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved, etc.”

I answer that, in times past, Julian the Apostate made the same objections against the Christians, as St. Gregory Nazianzen sets forth in the first sermon against Julian, toward the middle. But we say, first, that all these sayings, whether commands or counsels, were given to private individuals ; for neither Our Lord nor St. Paul ever commanded a judge not to punish a man who had done injury to another, but Our Lord commanded each to bear patiently his own injuries; but war pertains to public justice, not to private revenge; and just as the love of enemies, to which all are obliged, does not hinder a judge or an executioner from fulfilling his duties, so it does not hinder soldiers and commanders from fulfilling theirs.

I say, moreover, that even to private individuals these were sometimes commands, sometimes counsels; they are always commands as regards readiness of spirit, so that thus a man is prepared to turn the other cheek, and to offer his coat, to one who demands his cloak, rather than to offend God ; but we are commanded to fulfil it only in this case, when the necessity for God’s honor exacts it, otherwise it is only a counsel, and sometimes not even a counsel, as when from the fact that I turn the other cheek no good follows, but my enemy sins a second time.

Secondly, there may be offered in objection three decrees of the Church. The first, where most severe penances are laid upon those who resume the military life once they have renounced it.

The second is in a statement of St. Leo to Rusticus, and it is also contained in the Canon Contrarium on penance. “It is contrary to the laws of the Church,’’ says St. Leo, “to resume the secular military life after doing penance.” And below, “He is not free from the chains of the Devil, who wishes to bind himself to a secular military life.”

The third is in that canonical distinction of St. Gregory, Falsas, where he says that those who are engaged in a career which cannot be earned on without sin are not capable of penance unless they renounce that career, and St. Gregory gives a soldier as an example.

I answer to the first objection that it is a question of those who for confessing their faith were deprived of their military status by Diocletian or by Licinius, and who afterwards sought to regain their rank, being prepared to deny their faith.

To the second and third I say that it is a question of those who had committed many sins in the occasion of military life, and who were in need of penance. For those do evil if they return to military life, in which they have found by experience that they cannot live without sin, not from the badness of military life, but from their own wickedness, and then, indeed, they do wrong; particularly when commanded by the priest not to return to military life. And that those canons in reality do not absolutely forbid military life is clear from the end of the canon Falsas, where after it was said that those do wrong who return to military life after doing penance, it is added, except on the advice of Bishops zealous for the defense of justice.

Thirdly, many passages from the Fathers are offered in objection by Erasmus, to which we add two, one from Tertullian, the other from St. Jerome. In his book. On the Crown of a Soldier, beyond the middle, Tertullian asks whether the military life is becoming for a Christian, and he answers: “Are we to believe that it is lawful for a human bond to be added to the Divine, and to serve another lord after having served Christ? Will it be lawful to take up the sword after Our Lord has said that he who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall that son of peace, who cannot with propriety engage in a lawsuit, engage in battle?”

I answer that Tertullian does not condemn military life as evil in itself. This is evident, first, from the passages cited above.

Secondly, since in that book, On the Crown of a Soldier, he admits that those who were soldiers before baptism could remain soldiers even after baptism, and he teaches merely that he who is free should not adopt the military life after baptism: “Clearly, says he, if faith afterwards comes to those who have already entered upon a military career, their condition is different from that of those whom John admitted to baptism, as those most faithful centurions, one of whom Christ commends, and the other St. Peter instructs, when he had received the faith and been baptized, he should either have given up his military life immediately, as was done by many, or else he should have taken care in every way lest he commit any sin against God.”

Thirdly, it is clear, that the chief reasons which he gives why Christians should not follow a military career are on account of the danger of idolatry, since at that time nearly all the rulers were pagans. And so Tertullian judged war to be accidentally evil at that time: “Shall he keep watch,” asks he, “over the temples which he has renounced? And shall he dine in that place which is displeasing to St Paul? And shall he defend by night those demons whom he routed by exorcisms by day? And shall he also bear a standard opposed to that of Christ, etc.?” Besides, his other reasons offered above are only those of congruity, as is evident.

St. Jerome says, “Formerly it was said to warriors, Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty one; now it is said to Peter: Put up thy sword into the scabbard, etc.”

I answer that he means that in the Old Testament wars were commanded by God. and were necessary for taking possession of and holding the land of promise; in the New Testament not war, but rather peace, is commanded, since military force is not necessary for winning the kingdom of heaven; yet it does not follow that Christians, as citizens of a temporal state, cannot wage war against those from whom they have received an injury.

Besides these, Erasmus offers in objection some of the other Fathers, and especially Origen, who says that Christ ended all wars and, explaining that passage in Luke. “And he that hath not. let him sell his coat, and buy a sword.” He says that this passage is harmful to those who interpret it in a carnal sense, who truly think that a coat should be sold in order to buy a sword.”

I answer that in the preceding passage there is nothing in support of the position of Erasmus; for when Origen says that Christ ended all wars he does not mean that Christ forbade wars, but that His Providence brought universal peace to the world at the time of His birth; there is in this passage, on the other hand, that which contradicts Erasmus ; for Origen says that by the Providence of God it was brought about that when Christ came the whole Roman Empire was in a state of subjection, since, if there had been many kings, many wars would have been necessary by which some might repel the assaults of others.

In a later passage, also, nothing is said against war; for we do not acknowledge that the words of Our Lord are to be interpreted thus stupidly, that each one ought of necessity to sell his coat and buy a sword, but only that, according to that way of speaking. Our Lord wished to explain that at the time of His Passion the Apostles would be in such great trouble and difficulty as are those who sell their coat and buy a sword to defend themselves.

But what is to be argued here against war? For since Our Lord in this passage did not command the Apostles really to buy swords, is it to be inferred that He therefore forbade war? Origen likewise says that the statement that carnal wars should not be waged by Christians means that Christian warfare under Christ as leader is not a carnal strife against men, as was the fighting of the Jews under Josue, but a spiritual combat against the Demons, yet it does not follow from this that it is not lawful for Christians, as citizens of a political State, to wage war.

In the same manner are answered those objections which Erasmus proposes from St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, and Theophylactus, taken from the Catena of St. Thomas on Luke, for they teach merely that Our Lord did not command the Apostles really to buy swords.

Then he offers in objection St. Ambrose, who, explaining that passage, “And he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword,” says, “O Lord, why dost Thou command me to buy a sword, when Thou dost forbid me to kill? Why dost Thou command me to have what Thou dost forbid me to use? Unless, perchance, that provision may be had for defense, not that revenge is necessary; and that I may seem to have been ready, but unwilling to retaliate ; yet the law does not forbid one to strike, and hence, perchance, to Peter offering two swords Thou sayest: It is enough, as if it were lawful up to the promulgation of the Gospel, that under the old law there might be discernment of justice, but under the Gospel the perfection of virtue.”

I answer, first, that in this passage nothing is said concerning that war which is carried on by public authority, but it is a question of private defense or revenge. Second, I say that, according to the opinion of St. Ambrose, even private defense does not come under the prohibition of a command, but under the perfection of a counsel, as these words clearly show: “That under the old law there might be discernment of justice, but under the Gospel the perfection of virtue.”

Erasmus also offers in objection a passage from St. Augustine, who, he says, contradicts himself, and if he undertook the defense of war in one place, yet in another he wrote against war ; for he writes, “We should not pray that our enemies may die, but that they may be converted,” and he wrote many things against war, indeed, he begs this same Marcellinus to punish the heretical Donatists without bloodshed.

I answer that Erasmus seems to have thought he was talking to children; for what have these things to do with the question? For he condemns hatred of enemies, by reason of which some pray God for the death of their enemies. For who denies that it is wrong to hope for the death of an enemy because of desire for vengeance? Yet to hope for the death of an enemy and even to accomplish it according to the order of justice is not wrong, provided there be no hatred of the man, but only desire for justice and for the common welfare. Indeed, in his fifth epistle there is nothing against war, but rather much in favor of it, as we stated above, and I do not know what Erasmus was dreaming about. He begs the judge to spare the lives of those wretches who were being held captive, and who had confessed their guilt,” a plea which the Bishops were at times accustomed to make, but what has this to do with war? Or does any one who begs that a robber shall not be hung consequently forbid war?

Erasmus also offers in objection the example of St. Martin who as Sulpicius relates in his Life, said to the Emperor Julian: “Let him who is about to fight accept your bounty. I am a Christian; it is not lawful for me to fight.”

I answer that Erasmus does not recount the words of St Martin with sufficient accuracy, for the latter does not say, “I am a Christian ; It is not lawful for me to fight,” but, “Thus far I have fought for you, now permit me to do battle for God. I am a soldier of Christ; It is not lawful for me to fight,” by which words he did not mean that he was a Christian only, but also, by reason of his vow and resolution, a monk, which is the meaning of the words “permit me to do battle for God,” and, “I am a soldier of Christ.” Whence Sulpicius had written a short time previously that St Martin, after he had been baptized, still led a military life for two years, not because he did not desire to renounce the world at once, but because the tribune of the soldiers, whose tent-mate he was, had promised that when his term of office expired he also would say farewell to the world, that is, that he would become a monk with St. Martin. And so he asserted that war was forbidden not to the Christian, but to the monk, since he himself, as a Christian, had followed the military life for two years.

Finally, Erasmus urges this, that the arms of the Church are the sword of the Word of God, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the breast-plate of justice, and the javelins of prayer, as St. Paul teaches, and therefore Christians ought not to fight with a sword and with weapons.

I answer, first, that St. Paul is not describing war against men but against demons, as is clear from that very passage, “For our wrestling is not, etc.,” Second. I say that the principal arms of Christians are faith and prayer, but that arms of steel are not therefore unnecessary, for we read that through the prayer of Moses and the fighting of Josue the victory over Amalech was given by God to the Israelites. and we know that the Maccabees fought with both prayer and arms, and St. Augustine writes to Boniface, Take arms in your hands, let prayer assail the ears of God.” And to the same Boniface he writes, “Some by praying for you fight against invisible enemies, you labor for them by fighting against visible barbarians.

But, they say, war is opposed to peace, and peace is good and the effect of charity, therefore war is evil.

I answer that war is opposed to peace in this wise, that it may be also a means toward peace, but this is the difference between a just war and an unjust one, that an unjust war is opposed to a good peace and leads to an evil peace, and therefore such a war is harmful; but a just war is opposed to an evil peace and leads to a good peace, just as the wounds made by a surgeon are opposed to that evil and imperfect health which sick people have, but lead to good and perfect health as an end.