This past Christmas I received a special book from my brother, The Political Writings of St. Augustine. This was the perfect gift since Augustine merges two things that I am passionate about, politics and religion.
As a practicing Catholic I struggle with the whole notion of war. Many Christians whom I admire say that war is evil no matter what. But I do not agree with that position simply because throughout history that has not been the case. One just needs look at the history of World War II to see the legitimacy of war. War might be evil, but I firmly believe that it is necessary at times to protect the common good.
"When war is undertaken in obedience to God, who would rebuke, or humble, or crush the pride of man, it must be allowed to be a righteous war...Augustine is making a point here: That sometimes war is something that must be done in obedience to God. Augustine is not saying that all war is evil and that a Christian shouldn't participate in it. He is saying instead that war is an inevitable part of the human condition. The key distinction being that God doesn't want war but God will use it as a means to rid human evil. Augustine clarifies his statement further:
"At the same time it remains true, that whatever is good is so by divine blessing, and whatever is bad is so by divine judgment."He also adds,
"For God is not the author, but he is the controller of sin; so that sinful actions, which are sinful because they are against nature, are judged and controlled and assigned their proper place and condition in order that they may not bring discord and disgrace on universal nature."Augustine also makes the point that being a soldier is not against the will of God. He cleverly gives three examples: 1) the centurion (a Roman soldier)who asks Jesus to heal his servant 2) Jesus saying "render unto Caesar that what is Caesar's." and 3) when John the Baptist tells a soldier, "to be content with his wages." In all three examples, Augustine is pointing out that if God were really against being a soldier Jesus and John the baptist would have chastised them, but they don't. Instead God is more focused on the interior disposition of a person than their occupation.
Augustine makes a clear contrast about what is evil in war; his answer might surprise you as he writes,
"What is evil in war? Is it the death of some who will die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling. The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars..."When I read the first part I was taken aback. Simply not wanting to die is not grounds enough for being against war. In part this may make sense to a believer because a believer feels that everything in human existence, including war is in God's mysterious providence.
Augustine in his "just war" theory is saying that all wars need to be just. What makes a just war? I believe like Augustine that a just war is one where its chief end is to root out a grave evil, which is greater than the good that is being disrupted, in order to restore order and peace for the common good.