What do Catholics believe about war and peace?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Monday 15, September 2014 | Category:   Doctrines & Beliefs,Mission & Evangelization,Church History

Pacem In Terris
Church teaching on international order was first comprehensively presented in 1963, with Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). It declares that peace can only be realized on earth if God's will regarding social obligations are established first. This document treats the imperative for observing human rights to food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care and other necessary services, linking these rights to duties. Pacem in Terris also obliges governments to serve the common good of their people, and asserts that nations have rights and duties that must be respected by other nations. Relationships among nations must operate in the spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and liberty.

Recognizing that problems between nations can surpass the ability of the nations in question to resolve them, Pacem in Terris calls for a collaborative worldwide authority to assist in finding effective solutions. The outline for peace on earth is therefore four-fold: between individuals, within nations, between nations, and across the planet altogether. Each has both rights and responsibilities to observe.

When war becomes a reality nonetheless, how are Catholics to respond? Until the time of Constantine in the 4th century, Christians did not take part in war. Origin took a dim few of soldiering and a brighter view of the contribution Christians made to society through prayer. Augustine introduced just war theory: that the use of force could be a legitimate response to evil if other means failed. In the Middle Ages, Franciscans and Protestant Waldenses started movements of nonparticipation in war craft. Later "peace churches" like Anabaptists, Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren emerged from these roots. When Pope Paul VI became the first pope to speak to the United Nations, his declaration—"No more war! War never again!"—reflected his experiences in the two devastating wars of Europe. It also reflected a growing emphasis in church teaching that the morality of war in the modern military age often nullifies the old criteria for just war, since the waging of such war creates as much evil as it seeks to curtail.

Church teaching since Vatican II doesn't forbid Catholics military involvement. It does praise all who renounce violent means. It recommends thoughtful consideration of just war principles in the decision to take up arms. Catholic organizations like Pax Christi are dedicated to the peaceful resolution of world conflicts. But the discernment of the individual remains an open question.

Scriptures: Hos 2:14-23Ps 85:10-11Isa 9:6; Lk 1:79; Matt 2:13-145:5-9Jn 14:27Eph 2:13-22

Books: After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice - Mark Allman and Tobias Winright (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010)

Christian Peace and Non-Violence: A Documentary History - Michael Long, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000)

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