Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Aquinas' Moral Typology of Peace and War

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Aquinas' Moral Typology of Peace and War

Article excerpt

THOMAS AQUINAS' FAMOUS TREATMENT of just war (Summa Theologiae II-II, question 40) is set within a sequence of questions on theological charity. This placement has elicited two quite different assessments, one laudatory, the other critical. According to the first, this linkage with charity was intended to support a presumption against war, and in so doing Aquinas discreetly voiced an affinity with Christian pacifism. (1) According to the second, the exigencies of just war would have been better served had Aquinas discussed this topic in connection with the cardinal virtue of justice. (2) Arguing against both views, this article explores how the Dominican master articulated a distinctive moral vision whereby the maintenance of peace between independent nations was viewed as the horizon for just war.

I

Miller does not explicitly discuss what reasons might have led Aquinas to place his treatment of war" in the Summa section on theological charity. He does however maintain that Aquinas' overall strategy was to establish a tight connection between just war and the exigencies of Christian charity. Questioning the interpretation of James Turner Johnson, who takes justice to be "the horizon around which [Aquinas'] inquiry proceeded" (3) Miller counters that "the value of nonviolence, not the virtue of justice, generates the intellectual clearing within which [Aquinas] develops his inquiry." (4) The pacifist objections that figure at the head of question 40, article 1 are thus meant as reminders that, for Aquinas as read by Miller, just war must remain qualified "by considerations of charity," such that it will reflect "the commitments that ought to inform a Christian approach to war." (5)

Was it the aim of subordinating justice to the exigencies of charity that led Aquinas to examine the problem of just war within the Summa section on theological caritas, as Miller contends? The textual evidence in fact gives little support to this thesis. To the contrary, it was the dynamics of unjust war, rather than the exigencies of just war, that prompted Aquinas to take up the moral problem of war within the context of charity. In so doing his goal was to demonstrate how wrongful war, along with other conflict-causing vices such as discord and schism, stands opposed to the communion of charity. Of itself, this negative reason for including bellum among the sins against charity provides scant support for the claim that just war must in some special way (over and above what is required of any human act) be measured by the demands of Christian charity. Nor, for that matter, does this placement indicate that just war should itself be viewed positively as an act of charity, say to aid the innocent in their hour of need, if necessary by the sacrifice of one's own life. While neither implication is expressly excluded (charity as a principle of just-war restraint, or inversely a principle empowering the use of force to protect the innocent from harm), it must be emphasized that it was not just war, but rather its opposite, unjust war, that dictated the inclusion of the former within the treatise on charity. (6)

In fact there is every indication that when Aquinas initially formulated his design for this section of the Summa (at the beginning of II-II, question 29), he was not even thinking of just war. His goal was rather to elucidate how the "fruits of the Spirit," (7) with charity at their head, and including peace, are contravened by a set of conflict-causing vices. In the process of enumerating these sins, he eventually took up the problem of (wrongful) war, and then realized, somewhat belatedly, that this sin could not be discussed without offering some comment on its opposite, bellum iustum. This is borne out by a comparison with the sequence of prologues in the quaestiones on charity. In the first formulation, the prologue to question 34, Aquinas mentions only two sins in opposition to peace, namely discord and schism. …

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