As we have seen, since the dawn of time men have been fighting wars, talking, writing, and singing about their wars, and talking and dreaming about peace. On the one hand we glorify war, build monuments to battles, and honour our warriors. On the other hand we long for and pray for peace. Is there a contradiction between the way we long for the tranquility and security of peace and the way we honour our society’s warriors in our culture?
This question has been around for a long time. The ongoing discussion of war and peace has taken place across the boundaries of several different branches of human thought. One of those is ethics. Ethics, a word derived from the Greek word for habit or custom, is the branch of human thought that pertains to the division of human behaviour into the categories of right and wrong and human character traits into the corresponding categories of virtues and vices. The question of whether or not our desire for peace contradicts the glory we attach to war points to the basic question of the ethics of war and peace – is war right or wrong?
There are three possible ethical positions with regards to war. The first is that war is always right. The second is that war is always wrong. The third is that war is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. All views ever expressed about the ethics of war have been variations of one or the other of these positions.
The position that war is always right would appear to contradict the idea that peace is good and desirable. At the very least the two ideas would be extremely difficult to reconcile with one another. This position is a hypothetically possible answer to the question. It has not played a significant role in the actual ethical discussion of war and peace, and so we will not concern ourselves with it.
That is not the case with the position that war is always wrong. That position is held by a large number of people, such as those who believe in non-resistance for religious or philosophical reasons and progressives who believe they can establish a permanent and universal peace on earth through politics and diplomacy. Those who hold to this position, ordinarily frown upon the way the traditional culture celebrates past victories in war, and honours warriors who have fought and/or laid down their lives for us. If they are progressives who believe that war can be eliminated they may see these elements of our culture as roadblocks standing between them and their goals.
It is the third position, in which war can be either right or wrong depending upon the circumstances, that has been the mainstream traditional position in the Western world. It should therefore come as no surprise that this position is the one which is most easy to reconcile with both our traditional longing and praying for peace and our tradition of lauding and honouring acts of bravery and heroism in war.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Stoic philosopher, orator, and Roman statesman from the last days of the Republic in the first Century BC, is often quoted as having said “the most unjust peace is preferable to the most just war”. In fact he expressed this sentiment more than once. (1) While this is a favourite quotation of those who are opposed to any and all wars, the Roman senator was in fact one of the most important pre-Christian thinkers in the just war tradition. In 44 BC, the last year of his life, Cicero wrote one of his most important works, De Officiis or On Duties. In the first book of this treatise addressed to his son, in the context of explaining that men have just obligations even to those who have wronged him, he addressed the subject of just war. Disagreements, he argued, can be settled in one of two ways – discussion or force, and since human beings, not being mere brutes, are capable of discourse, we are to resort to war, only when discussion has failed us. The only acceptable reason for going to war, he states, is “sine inuria in pace vivatur”, i.e., that we might live in peace, without harm. (2)
This idea, that peace is the only acceptable reason for war, can be interpreted and applied in a number of ways. Cicero lived in a time when his city, Rome, had succeeded in conquering the Mediterranean world and, having become an imperial power, was in the process of converting its republican political structure into an imperial political structure. Livy’s account of the history of Rome depicts Rome’s gradual conquest of her neighbours as an ongoing series of battles against troublemakers bent on disturbing the peace of Rome. Cicero wrote De Officiis in the year of Julius Caesar’s assassination. A little under two decades later, Caesar’s nephew Octavian because the emperor of Rome marking the dawn of two centuries of relatively tranquil Roman order. The wars of the Roman republic could be interpreted as the necessary historical means to the end of the Pax Romana. Throughout history numerous world powers have looked to Rome as an example and sought peace through war by means of conquest.
It is unlikely that this is what Cicero had in mind, even though he does immediately go on to discuss Rome’s treatment of the peoples she conquered. Cicero was an opponent of the transformation of Rome from a republican to an imperial structure, which had placed him in opposition to Caesar and would lead to his being proscribed by the Second Triumvirate and put to death on the orders of Marc Antony. It makes more sense to interpret his statement that peace is the only acceptable reason for war as further commentary on what he had just been saying about how disputes should only be settled by force when discussion is no longer an option. Diplomacy requires the cooperation of both sides in order to work. Sometimes one of the sides cannot or will not be reasoned with. By saying that war is only morally acceptable in these circumstances and that the only acceptable motivation for going to war in these circumstances is that we might live in peace after, Cicero is seeking to place limitations on when and how war is conducted. This is the purpose of the classical concept of just war.
The classical concept of just war is an ancient element of the traditional Western dialogue about war and peace. It is not the only component of that dialogue however, neither is it the oldest component, nor is it the only element to discuss war in terms of justice. To understand the classical concept of just war we need to distinguish it from both the official justification for war and war criticism. These two elements of the dialogue are, of course, opposed to each other and the classical concept of just war differs from both, although it also has similarities with both.
The official justification for war is the oldest element of the dialogue about war and peace. This is true not only of the Western dialogue but of parallel conversations in non-Western traditions as well. Today we have a technical term for this element. That term is propaganda.(3)
When the leaders of one society wish to go to war with the leaders of another society they cite grievances against that other society. This is true today and it has been true for as long as wars have been fought. The purpose of this is to unite their society in support of the war effort. The grievances may be legitimate and serious or they may be fabricated and petty. They might be the actual cause of the war, i.e., the reasons that convinced the leadership of the society to go to war. They might be just an excuse, a pretext given for a war motivated by other, presumably less noble, causes. Late in the second millennium BC, the Mycenaean-led Achaean alliance sailed across the Aegean sea, lay siege to Troy, then captured, looted, and burned the city, putting its men to the sword, taking its women for concubines and its children for slaves. This event, confirmed as having taken place by archaeologists in the 19th Century, became the subject matter of Greek myths, legends, poems, and plays. The legends record the justification Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, gave for this war. Paris, prince of Troy had stolen Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon. Whether or not this was the actual justification given at the time for the war its inclusion in the legends demonstrates that even in ancient times, governments felt they needed to give reasons for wars. If the abduction of Helen was the actual grievance cited as the casus belli at the time it was almost certainly just an excuse for a war that was actually motivated by a desire to plunder Ilium. (4) Note that the “wrath of Achilles” which is the subject matter of Homer’s Iliad was caused by Achilles’ feeling that he had not received his fair share of the spoils of war and the honour due him, which erupted into a quarrel between him and Agamemnon over their captured concubines.
Both the official justifications of war and the classical concept of just war identify circumstances in which war is considered to be just. Propaganda, however, starts with a specific war that has already been decided upon and offers reasons why it is just, with the purpose of facilitating the act of war, whereas the classical concept of just war proposes general conditions under which war would be acceptable, which specific wars are supposed to meet in order to be considered just, with the purpose of setting limits upon war. The similarities between the two exist on the surface, whereas the differences in terms of fundamental purpose are much deeper.
If the purpose of the official justification for war is to generate support within a society for its war effort and its political leadership in a time of war, the purpose of war criticism is the exact opposite, to call into question the wisdom and rightness of the decisions of a society’s leaders in wartime, including perhaps, the decision to go to war itself. War criticism is not the same thing as pacifism, although a war critic might be a pacifist. Pacifism, rejects all war as a matter of principle. War criticism, like propaganda, begins with and pertains to particular wars.
The greatest poet-playwrights of ancient Athens wrote in the fifth Century BC. The earliest of these, the tragedian Aeschylus, died before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war (5). The rest lived and wrote during that thirty year conflict between Athens and Sparta. The youngest of the tragedians, Euripides, was much more of an innovator than the traditionalists Aeschylus or Sophocles. While they used their plays to convey ancient moral truths, Euripides used his as vehicles for commentary on the events of his own day, especially the war. Some of that commentary is very critical of how the leadership of Athens was conducting the war. The Troades, for example, commiserates with the women of Troy in their plight after the Greek victory. It came out in 415 BC and is believed to have been a negative commentary on the way Athens treated the people of Melos following their conquest of the island earlier that year. (6) Euripides’s criticism of the Athenian leaders, however, was subtle and moderate compared to that of Aristophanes, the comic playwright. He mercilessly lampooned the war and its leaders in several of his plays. Of his surviving works, the oldest is The Acharnians, written in the early years of the war. The hero of this play is a private citizen named Dicaeopolis who wants an end to the war. He goes to the Athenian assembly, but finds that body to be hopelessly incompetent and uninterested in peace. After ridiculing the buffoons who are wasting Athens’ time and money he sends Amphitheus, who claims to be descended from the gods, to make a private peace treaty between himself and Sparta. Amphitheus succeeds, but incurs upon himself and Dicaeopolis the wrath of the veterans of Acharnae, who are represented by the chorus. In a speech to the chorus, who are eventually won over to his side, Dicaeopolis defends his opposition to the war on the grounds that it had been started for bad reasons (7) and continued for the sole purpose of lining people’s pockets. These have been the primary accusations of war critics ever since.
War criticism of this nature is similar to the official justification for war in that both concern themselves with specific wars, rather than the question of the rightness or wrongness of war in general. In this similarity, war criticism and propaganda both differ from just war theory and pacifism, which are themselves similar in that they address the rightness or wrongness of war in general, albeit from opposite standpoints just as war criticism and propaganda look at specific wars from opposing points of view.
The traditional discussion of justice in relationship to war and peace has largely consisted of these four elements, one of which, pacifism, is a version of the second possible position on the justness of war, i.e., that it is always wrong, the other three of which are versions of the third position, that war is sometimes right, and sometimes wrong. (8) The just war element is, is the philosophical, ethical and sometimes theological discussion of two basic questions. The first of these is: Under what circumstances is it right for us to go to war? The second question is: What is the right manner of conducting a war?
That there was a right and a wrong time to go to war, and a right and a wrong way to conduct war, was recognized before philosophers began their enquiry into the justice of war. (9) The war criticism of Euripides and Aristophanes points to such an earlier understanding, and the roots of the philosophical discussion can be traced back to the same era. Socrates was a contemporary of both Euripides and Aristophanes. We only know about him through the writings of others, including the derogatory portrait of him in Aristophanes’ The Clouds, (10) but mostly through the dialogues of Plato in which he appears as the chief character, and often the voice of Plato himself. The Peloponnesian War forms the background setting for many of these dialogues. There is a subtext about the war that runs throughout Plato’s dialogues, in which leading figures of the war appear as characters. According to the Symposium, Socrates himself fought in the Peloponnesian War and was honoured for bravery. In one of Plato’s earliest dialogues, the Laches, one of the dialogues in which Plato is widely thought to have presented the actual Socrates rather than to have merely used him as the voice of his own ideas, Socrates discusses the nature of courage and the necessity of military training. Plato does not discuss the subject of justice in war very often. He does, however, present ideas that would influence later just war theorists such as Cicero.
Plato’s best known work is The Republic in which Socrates, invited to the house of Polemarchus, enters into a debate with several of the people present, including Plato’s older brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus about the nature of justice. Much of the discussion involves the hypothetical construction of an ideal city-state, governed by philosopher-kings whose government is enforced by a guardian class. In the fifth book of The Republic, Socrates is asked to describe the guardian class in detail. In his response he says a number of things which pertain to war. He says that the children of the guardians should be apprenticed in the art of war by being made observers of wars, that guardians who behave bravely in war should be rewarded, and that those who behave cowardly should be removed from the guardian class. Finally, he draws a distinction between “discord” and “war”. The difference is that the former is a conflict between Greeks, the latter a conflict between Greeks and non-Greeks. Socrates says that there ought to be a set of rules governing discord – Greeks should not enslave other Greeks, the corpses of Greek enemies slain in battle should not be despoiled, Greek territory should not be destroyed nor Greek houses burned. These rules apply only to discord between Greeks, and not to war against non-Greek barbarians.
This is a sort of limited just war theory. It only addresses the jus in bello side of the theory, the question of how to fight justly in war, and the proposed rules apply only to internecine battles among the Greeks.
In Plato’s final dialogue, The Laws, the Athenian stranger, who may or may not have been Socrates, discusses the actual laws and constitutions of Crete and Sparta with Cleinias and Megillus. As we have seen (11), at the very beginning of dialogue the Athenian stranger challenged the idea, put forward by Cleinias that the purpose behind the laws requiring certain disciplines, such as the wearing of arms, was to prepare the city-state for war. Demonstrating the peace is preferable to war, the Athenian stranger declared that no one is “a sound legislator who orders peace for the sake of war, and not war for the sake of peace.”
This idea, that a state, even in the time of war, should be organized for peace, rather than the other way around, would seem to be reflected in Cicero’s declaration that the only acceptable motivation for war is peace. Cicero was certainly aware of Plato’s statement – his own treatise De Legibus, written about five to six years before his De Officiis, was modelled after Plato’s The Laws. This idea then, should be understood as the first, basic principle of the just war concept, a concept that Cicero developed much further.
After stating that to live in peace unharmed is the only acceptable reason for war, a jus ad bellum principle, he proceeds within the same sentence to give a jus in bello principle. It is similar to what Plato had Socrates’ say in the fifth book of The Republic, except that the distinction Cicero makes, is not between Greeks and non-Greeks, but rather between those who were “crudeles in bello” – “cruel in war” and those who were not. The latter should be spared, upon victory, Cicero wrote, but not the former. He illustrated by pointing to Roman history. Earlier generations of Romans had admitted the Tusculuns, Aequians, etc., to Roman citizenship after defeating them, but, at the end of the third Punic war had razed Carthage to the ground.
Cicero goes on to enumerate several other principles of just war – that protection should be given to those laying down their arms and surrendering, that war is not just unless there has been a formal declaration of war after the other side has been given a warning and the opportunity to settle the grievance peacefully, that a man should not fight in the war unless he is a soldier, legally bound by an oath of loyalty, and that wars fought for supremacy and glory rather for survival, while having to meet all these other standards in order to be just, must also be fought with less bitterness. (12)
This was the fullest pre-Christian expression of the concept of just war to be formulated in the Western tradition.
The largest part of the discussion of just war has been carried out by theologians within the Christian tradition. Not everyone in the Christian tradition has believed in the just war concept – pacifism in various forms has also had a strong voice within Christianity. In War and Peace Part Three, we will address the question of whether the authoritative Scriptures of the Christian tradition, and particularly the teachings of Jesus Christ, support the just war concept or non-resistance/pacifism. We will conclude this essay by looking at the concept of just war as it has appeared in the Christian theology and ethics of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Augustine was born in Numidia in 354 A.D. His mother was a Christian, his father was not. Sent to study at the University of Carthage, he rejected the faith of his mother. He moved to Milan to take up the position of professor of rhetoric, and there converted to Christianity, being baptized by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. He returned to Africa, where he was ordained a priest, and made the bishop of Hippo (13).
It was during St. Augustine’s lifetime that Rome was sacked by the Visigoths. This occurred in 410 AD. Two years later, St. Augustine wrote a letter to St. Marcellinus of Carthage in response to some questions the latter had passed on to him. The second question concerned the statements from the Sermon on the Mount about not returning evil for evil, and turning the other cheek. The idea was circulating, based upon these statements, that Christian teaching and practice was not consistent with the duties of a citizen of Rome. Several ideas of this sort were going around at the time, because many were blaming Christianity for the fall of Rome, saying that it was divine punishment on Rome for abandoning the Roman gods for Christianity. Eventually, St. Augustine would respond to those accusations in his treatise De Civitas Dei. In response to this specific question, he pointed out that the men who brought Rome to its position of greatness, were attributed with practicing the very thing Jesus’ commanded. He points to Cicero’s praise of Caesar, for example, as one who was prone to forget nothing except the wrongs done him. This, St. Augustine said, not remembering wrongs done, pardoning rather than seeking revenge, is what Jesus meant by not returning evil for evil. In this context, St. Augustine writes that a commonwealth that practices Christianity, will conduct its wars in such a way, that both sides will be able to enjoy peace and justice after the war has concluded. If the Christian religion condemned all wars, he went on to write, soldiers would be commanded to abandon their profession, when instead they are commanded to be content with their wages. (14)
In another letter, written six years later to Count Boniface, the Roman governor of Africa, St. Augustine pointed to King David, the centurion who came to Jesus and Cornelius in the Book of Acts as examples of military men who had God’s favour, and again mentioned that John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers who came to him for baptism to abandon their profession. He told Boniface that he should consider his physical strength a gift from God and that he should make peace his objective, waging war only when necessary, in order that peace may be restored. (15)
In these letters, we see that some of the qualifications that were identified by Cicero as to what makes a war just have been reasserted by St. Augustine, namely that peace must be the ultimate objective of war, that war is to be fought only when necessary. We also see the bishop of Hippo’s concern with demonstrating that Christianity does not make a person a bad citizen, that civil duty is compatible with Christianity and even required by the faith, and that military service is not forbidden by the Christian faith. These are ideas that keep popping up throughout his writings.
One of his most well known passages on just war is found in his De Civitas Dei. In the seventeenth chapter of the nineteenth book, building upon his argument in the previous chapter, he described the entire world as being the third circle of human society, after the home or family, and city or state. In the world, differences of tongue divide men, but imperial powers impose their language upon the peoples they conquer. This creates unity, but at a terrible cost. Wars are full of slaughter and bloodshed. Imperial conquest of the world would not lessen the horrors of war, because the civil wars bound to break out in so large of an empire, would be even more terrible than imperial wars. Here, he described the attitude of the wise man who wages just wars. Such a man laments the necessity of just wars, he wrote, because they are the only wars he fights, and if they were not just out of necessity, he would not fight them and therefore would not fight any at all. He wages just wars, because of the injustice of the other side, which would be a cause for lamentation even if it did not result in a war.
If we took this chapter in isolation from the rest of De Civitas Dei, it could be interpreted as saying that only defensive wars are just wars. This is not what St. Augustine meant. Earlier, in his account of the history of Rome, he, like Cicero, had counted as just wars, the wars by which Rome had conquered her neighbours. Livy’s history depicts these wars as a long string of responses to provocative action on the part of these neighbours but they were not defensive wars in the sense of responses to invasions that threatened their existence and territorial integrity. Later theologians and other just war theorists, have taken the basic principle St. Augustine has expressed here, that to be just a war must be a necessary response to wicked acts on the part of the other side, to argue, as St. Augustine did not, that only defensive wars can be just.
He does, however, give other qualifications as when a war is just. His Contra Faustum was written as a rebuttal of a book written by a leader of the Manicheans, a sect he had been involved with before his conversion to Christianity. In the twenty-second book he states that war contains many evils – lust for bloodshed, vengeful cruelty, ferocious hatred, etc., but that it is in order to punish such things that good men fight just wars. Their justice in doing so, he goes on to explain, depends upon the cause for which they are fighting, and their authority for doing so. Rulers have the authority to wage war according to the natural order, and if they abuse that authority, a soldier fighting under their orders is not personally culpable for fighting in a war lacking a just cause. (16) St. Augustine made these points as supporting arguments for the argument that if human rulers have the lawful authority to conduct wars, then laws conducted under the authority of God must be that much more just, which was a response to Faustus’ claim that the writers of the Old Testament libeled God by depicting Him as commanding the wars of Moses.
The idea that rulers have the authority to wage war, also contains a limitation upon when war can rightly be conducted. If the lawfully constituted rulers of a society have the authority to wage war on its behalf, this implies that other people do not have that authority, and St. Augustine stated this outright in the same book, a few paragraphs earlier. (17) This principle of just war theory could be implied from what Cicero had written in De Officiis, about the need for a formal declaration of war. St. Thomas Aquinas, would make it the first and most important principle, of his just war theory.
St. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian, Dominican priest in the 13th Century. He was a philosopher, one of the Scholastics, as well as a theologian. His most important work, was his Summa Theologica, a massive work of systematic Christian thought. It consists of a series of topics, in which he first presents a question, then a series of objections to his own position, after which he rebuts the objections and presents arguments for his own position. It is organized into three large parts, the first of which deals with theology, the second of which deals with ethics. The second part is itself divided into two parts, the first of which discusses broad ethical principles, the second of which deals with specific moral questions. The fortieth topic, in the second part of the second part, is the topic of war. The first of four articles that appear under this head answers the question whether or not it is always a sin to fight a war. He answers the question in the negative, stating that war is just if it meets three conditions. The first of these is that to be just, a war must be declared by a legitimate ruler, the second is that a just war must have a just cause, and the third is that the intentions of those fighting the war must be good.
Apart from the Scriptures themselves, St. Augustine is the main source St. Thomas Aquinas relied upon in arguing his case for just war. After his initial listing of objections to his position, he quotes St. Augustine’s argument, from the letter to St. Marcellinus referred to above, about how John the Baptist told the soldiers who came to him for baptism, to be content with their pay rather than to abandon their position. When he presents his three conditions for just war, he quotes from Contra Faustum to support his argument that a just war must be conducted by legitimate authorities and his argument that those conducting a just war must have the right intentions, and he also quotes from other Augustinian works. In his specific replies to each of the four objections, he quotes St. Augustine in all but the fourth. The concept of just war he presents in his Summa is essentially Augustinian.
That, of course, does not make it right. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas saw the just war concept as serving the cause of peace, by placing limits on when war can be rightly conducted. Pacifists see the just war concept as justifying that which is morally unjustifiable, and if the pacifist also has anarchistic leanings, he will probably see it as bolstering what he considers to be the unjust regime of the state. Do the Scriptures support the Augustinian/Thomistic concept of just war, which has been the mainstream in Western Christian thought, or do they support a version of the doctrine of non-resistance/pacifism? That is the question we will consider in the third and final part of War and Peace.
(1) It can be found in at least two places in his letters: Epistularum ad Atticum 7.14.3, and Epistularum ad Familiares 6.6.6. The Latin wording is slightly different in each letter, but both contain the meaning expressed in the English quotation.
(2) Cicero, De Officiis, 1.11.34-35.
(3) The term propaganda is also often used for many examples of what I have here called “war criticism.” Nevertheless, it is more often used for arguments put forth by a government to defend its position, and when we apply it to arguments made by opponents and critics of government it is to say that these arguments are similar in style to those put out by the government.
(4) On the other hand, Menelaus is supposed to have held his throne by virtue of his marriage to Helen who had been the daughter of Tyndareus, the previous king of Sparta. In which case, her having run off with or been abducted by Paris, would have been more than just a case of cuckoldry and a personal insult to Menelaus, but threatened the legitimacy of his rule as well.
(5) He had fought, however, in the Greco-Persian wars, including the Battles of Marathon and Salamis. His play The Persians celebrates the Greek victory by depicting the arrival at Susa of the news of Xerxes’ defeat at Salamis. Needless to say, this is not a work of war criticism.
(6) Thucydides records this incident in the fifth book of his History of the Peloponnesian War. His account includes the famous Melian Dialogue, in which, after the Athenians under the leadership of Cleomedes and Tisias, sailed against the island of Melos, with 38 ships, 3000 hoplites, and 320 archers, their generals were invited to dialogue with the representatives of Melos, a Spartan colony that had remained neutral until this incident. The Athenians demanded the surrender of Melos and the Melians attempted to argue against the Athenian demand on the basis of justice. This points to an understanding of rightness and wrongness in war, before the question was taken up by dramatists and philosophers. The Athenians refused to accept these arguments, or subsequent arguments that it was in their own self-interest not to persist with their demands. They insisted that they would look weak if they abandoned their demands, while the Melians insisted that it would dishonourable on their part to surrender without a fight. Ultimately the Athenians destroyed Melos, but this marked a turning point in the war that led to their own final defeat at the hands of Sparta.
(7) Specifically, he claims that the Megarian Decree of 432 BC, banning Megara from trade with the Delian League, was Pericles’ heavy-handed response to the kidnapping of prostitutes from a brothel run by Pericles’ lover Aspasia, itself a Megaran response to the kidnapping of a Megaran prostitute by some Athenian lowlifes.
(8) Although pacifists are war critics in a general sense, war critics in the sense in which I have been using the term are not pacifists. Aristophanes, for example, did not view the Greek resistance to the Persian invasion in the same way he regarded the Peloponnesian War.
(9) See Note 6 above.
(10) Aristophanes’ portrayal of Socrates, was that of a deceitful sophist and trickster, who thought up clever ways of making weaker arguments defeat stronger arguments. Although Plato, in Apologia, suggests that Aristophanes’ The Clouds was partly responsible for the unpopularity that led to Socrates’ trial and death, in Symposium he portrays the two as being on good terms at a drinking party.
(11) In Part One.
(12) De Officiis, 1.11.35-3 and 1.12.38.
(13) Now Annaba, Algeria.
(14) St. Augustine, Epp. 138.2.12-15.
(15) St. Augustine, Epp. 189.4-6.
(16) St. Augustine, Contra Faustum, 22.74-75
(17) Ibid., 22.70.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Thursday, October 18, 2012
War is an act which comes naturally to man. We have fought wars since the dawn of time and will do so to the very end. It is in our blood, irresistibly calling us to take up arms and do battle with one another.
For as long as men have fought wars, men have talked about wars. Every nation that has recorded its history has given a prominent place in that history to the battles it has fought and won. The gallantry of soldiers has long been the subject matter of poets and songwriters. Centuries before Herodotus and Thucydides wrote their historical accounts of the Greco-Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, Homer had immortalized the heroes of the Trojan War in his epic poem The Illiad. The Hebrew Scriptures are also full of accounts of war: the book of Joshua tells of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites after their wandering in the wilderness, the subsequent historical books tell of the wars the Israelites fought, first under the leadership of judges, then of their kings, against the invading forces of surrounding nations, and finally of how the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylon invaded and conquered the divided kingdom. When the book of Exodus tells of God’s miraculous intervention to rescue the Israelites from the pursuing armies of a vengeful Pharaoh, Israel’s response of praise to God is in the form of the song of Moses, which lauds Him as a military hero:
I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. (Exodus 15:1-3, the song continues to verse 19)
What was true of ancient civilizations has been true of every society and every civilization since. Accounts of war continue to occupy a large amount of space in our history books. In the early 20th Century, the first World War inspired the verse of soldier-poets such as the British Rupert Brooke and our own Canadian John McCrae. If less poetry has been written about subsequent wars this is not because we have lost our fascination with war. It is because creative minds now tend to express that fascination through newer media.
War, however, has not been the only topic on the minds, tongues, and pens of our historians, poets, and other writers from time immemorial. For as long as men have been fighting wars, and thinking and talking about the wars we fight, we have also been thinking and talking about peace.
Plato’s last dialogue was The Laws, written around 360 BC. (1) In this dialogue an Athenian stranger joins a Cretan named Cleinias, and a Lacedaemonian named Megillus, on a pilgrimage from the Cretan capital of Knossos to the cave of Zeus. The Athenian stranger is unnamed but he behaves the way Socrates does in Plato’s other dialogues. (2) The dialogue begins with him asking the other two whether their laws are said to have been authored by a god or a man. After hearing their answer he proposes that they spend their journey informing him about their laws and political institutions. They agree to this, and the first question the Athenian stranger puts to them is “why the law has ordained that you shall have common meals and gymnastic exercises, and wear arms.” Cleinias answers that the reason is obvious, that “these regulations have been made with a view to war.” The Cretan legislator, he explains, believes that “in reality every city is in a natural state of war with every other, not indeed proclaimed by heralds, but everlasting” and for that reason “all institutions, private as well as public, were arranged by him with a view to war.” Needless to say, his Spartan companion agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment.
The Athenian stranger, however, proceeds to interrogate his companions further. After establishing that there is a struggle between the good and the bad, not just between cities, but families, individuals, and even within the individual himself, the Athenian stranger asks Cleinias:
Now, which would be the better judge-one who destroyed the bad and appointed the good to govern themselves; or one who, while allowing the good to govern, let the bad live, and made them voluntarily submit? Or third, I suppose, in the scale of excellence might be placed a judge, who, finding the family distracted, not only did not destroy any one, but reconciled them to one another for ever after, and gave them laws which they mutually observed, and was able to keep them friends.
The answer, he receives, is that “The last would be by far the best sort of judge and legislator.” The Athenian stranger then points out that the goal of laws, established by this sort of governor, would be the opposite of war. From here he proceeds to ask a series of questions that culminate in the declaration that:
[W]ar, whether external or civil, is not the best, and the need of either is to be deprecated; but peace with one another, and good will, are best. Nor is the victory of the state over itself to be regarded as a really good thing, but as a necessity; a man might as well say that the body was in the best state when sick and purged by medicine, forgetting that there is also a state of the body which needs no purge. And in like manner no one can be a true statesman, whether he aims at the happiness of the individual or state, who looks only, or first of all, to external warfare; nor will he ever be a sound legislator who orders peace for the sake of war, and not war for the sake of peace.
In the first century BC, Rome, which had become the ruler of the Mediterranean world with its final triumphs over Carthage and Macedon in the second century BC, saw its generals fight a series of civil wars for control of the republic and its empire. Alliances were formed and broken, and it ultimately culminated in the rise of Octavian to the imperial throne in 27 BC. He set about to bring order and peace to the Roman Empire. Upon his return to Rome after consolidating his rule, the Ara Pacis Augustae – Altar of the Augustan Peace – was commissioned, built and consecrated. The Pax Romana had begun. It would last for two centuries.
What Augustus Caesar had accomplished in the Pax Romana, was more or less what Plato had been talking about in his Laws – the civil organization of a society – or in this case a world empire - including its martial institutions and activities, towards the end of peace. As an example of this kind of politically constructed peace, the Pax Romana was exemplary and it has inspired numerous imitations since. It could not and did not last forever, however. The Hebrew prophets, envisioned a different sort of peace.
The prophetic writings within the Hebrew Scriptures contain rebukes of idolatry and wickedness in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, warnings of the divine judgement that would befall these kingdoms in the form of the invading Assyrians and Babylonians, and promises of restoration both immediate, under Cyrus and the Persians, and ultimate, with the coming of the Messiah, establishment of the New Covenant, and the kingdom of God on earth. These promises include a vision of future peace. The prophet Isaiah, for example, proclaimed that in the last days all the peoples of the world would come to the Lord’s house, to learn of His ways and be judged by Him, and said that:
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)
Isaiah calls the Messiah the Prince of Peace (9:6) and in another famous passage describes the peace of His reign as extending even to the animal kingdom:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (11:6-9)
This vision of peace is eschatological, i.e., it describes events that are to be directly accomplished by God Himself, in a future beyond the history of this present world. The Scriptures, Hebrew and Christian, also contain warnings about attempts to counterfeit God’s eschatological peace by human means within history (Daniel 8:25, 1 Thess. 5:3). Nevertheless, in the Psalms, the sacred song book of Jews and Christians alike, we are told to seek and pursue peace (34:14) and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (122:6). The Psalmist expresses his faith that the Lord will bless His people with peace (29:11) and that the end of the perfect man is peace (37:37).
With the Hebrew Scriptures, which became the Old Testament, Christianity inherited both the vision of an eschatological peace to be established by God in His eternal kingdom, and the exhortations to pursue peace in this world. Peace is also a theme of the Christian Scriptures.
In St. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, after the angelic herald announces the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds, the angel host proclaim the glory of God by saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (2:14) In the Beatitudes, the blessings which begin Jesus’ most famous Sermon, He proclaimed a blessing upon “the peacemakers”, saying that they shall be called the “children of God” (Matthew 5:9). St. John records how Jesus, speaking to His Apostles at the Last Supper, said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”. (14:27). St. Paul, wrote to the church in Rome that the Kingdom of God is “not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (14:17) and that they therefore ought to “follow after the things which make for peace” (14:19). To the church in Ephesus, he described the unity of Jew and Gentile in the church, as a peace established by Christ (2:14-15, cf. Col. 1:20) and he wrote to the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 13:11) that they ought to live in peace.
It is customary for Jews to greet each other with the blessing “Shalom Aleichem” which means “peace to you”. (3) This is an ancient tradition, with roots in the Hebrew Scriptures, which was well established by the first century AD. Jesus Himself uses it (Lk. 24:36, Jn. 20:19, 21, 26), along with a similar blessing “go in peace” at the departing of ways. It can be found opening or closing almost every New Testament epistle, usually with grace and in some cases mercy and or love, added to the blessing, and it is part of Jesus’ salutation to the churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation. The liturgical salutation Pax Vobis (4) and the Kiss of Peace or Sharing of the Peace in the Eucharist are Christian variations of this Jewish custom.
The hope of peace has other Christian liturgical expressions as well. Within the Anglican tradition, for example, the Collect of the Day is followed by a Collect for Peace in the order of both Morning and Evening Prayer. The Mattins Collect for Peace is:
O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of our adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (5)
The Collect for Peace in Evensong is:
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
It should be obvious, from the examples given of the ways in which peace has been talked about in the Jewish and Christian tradition, and even the examples from Plato and Roman history, that peace is more than just “the absence of war”. War and peace are the opposites of each other but there are different ways in which things can be opposites. Male and female are opposites in a complementary way that differs from the way east and west are opposites. Both of these differ from how light and darkness are opposites. We tend to think of war and peace as having the same relationship with each other as light and darkness have, and it is easier to explain peace by referring to war than it is to explain war by referring to peace. Nevertheless, as we have seen peace has traditionally been spoken of as a positive good, towards the achievement of which a state ought to order its laws and institutions, which we ought in goodwill to wish towards our fellow man, and which will be ultimately established by God in the next world. All of this suggests that it would be more appropriate to think of peace as something substantial and not just a term invented to denote the absence of something else.
The words that are traditionally used for peace would also suggest this. In both Hebrew and Latin, the word used for such an agreement is also used to refer to a general state of wellbeing. Both the Hebrew and the Latin words for peace have a double meaning. They can refer to an agreement of friendship between two peoples, a covenant or a treaty. They can also refer to a state of health, soundness, wellbeing, tranquility, or calmness. The English word peace has both of these meanings as well. This points to a widely recognized relationship between harmonious agreement among people and internal wellbeing and health.
There are those who detect a contradiction in the ongoing discussion of war and peace. We say that peace is something which is good and desirable, we express our goodwill towards others by wishing it upon them, we pray for it and look to God to bestow it upon us in His eternal kingdom. We also erect monuments to warriors, sing the praises of feats of bravery in war, and regularly honour those have fought our country’s wars for us. Does the way we talk about war contradict the way we talk about peace?
We will consider that question in War and Peace: Part Two, in which we will take a look at other parts of the traditional discussion of war and peace, in particular the dialogue about the justness of war.
(1) Quotations from Plato’s The Laws are taken from the Benjamin Jowett translation. All quotations come from Book One of the dialogue.
(2) Socrates was, of course, an Athenian.
(3) The customary response is to invert the two words and say “Aleichem Shalom”.
(4) The literal way of saying “Shalom Aleichem” in Latin. Pax Vobiscum is also used, in which the meaning is slightly altered to “peace be with you”.
(5) Both Collects are taken from the 1962 Canadian edition of the Book of Common Prayer.