Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Augustine on War and Military Service

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Augustine on War and Military Service

Article excerpt

Augustine on War and Military Service. By Phillip Wynn. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2013. Pp. x, 363. S49.00 paperback. ISBN 978-1-4514-6473-3.)

This book's title fails to indicate its full range, since Phillip Wynn has written an account of Christian attitudes to service of the state, and especially to military service, from the earliest Christian days down to St. Augustine, also adding some indication of how something more like a modern just-war theory came later to be attributed to Augustine himself. He distinguishes between the views of Christian rigorists, who objected to all state service, and accommodationists, who even before Constantine were willing to undertake both civil and military service, despite the warnings of such as Tertullian and Origen against Christians polluting themselves by the shedding of blood. In general, he makes a good case about just war-there is certainly no Augustinian "theory"-but he is inclined to overreach himself: a generously unambiguous distinction between Augustine's implicit and localized attitude, and the explicit and more generalized theories of later theologians and canonists, would have helped out. But Wynn is certainly right not only to point out that in late Latin the word militia applies to both civil and military service but also that the moral distinction between civil and military service might be less marked than is immediately apparent, since execution and torture were part of the civil code of justice as administered in Augustine's time by public officials, including bishops.

Wynn's strength lies in his placing Augustine within his historical and pastoral context, which reveals his concerns as very different from those of medieval just-war theorists. He hates war, as Wynn emphasizes, but finds it sometimes necessary; although virtually all wars will to a degree, in our fallen world, be unjust, some are less unjust than others. …

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