War is Hell, right? It would be safe to say that a majority of the world’s population would say so and thank God for it. However, in our sinful and broken world, war is unfortunately a common factor among all people. As Roman Catholics, we all understand peace is the higher road, so to speak, however does our solemn devotion to Christ and His Church rule out war completely? We all know there are many that claim Christ as their Lord and savior but many are also in the military. So how can this work? Is this hypocrisy to the commands of Our Lord or is there something we may have missed? In short, is there a such thing as a “Just War” according to the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Roman Catholic Church?

Believe it or not, there are quite a few sources on the subject. However, if we are wanting to hear the Apostolic, or rather, the teachings that were handed down from the Apostles, we need only ask the Doctors, Fathers, and Saints of the Church. For example, it was St. Augustine who was the founder of the “Just War Theory” in the Western tradition. In fact, in St. Augustine’s Contra Faustum Manichaeum,[1] “Augustine argues that Christians as part of government should not be ashamed to protect peace and punish wickedness.” St. Augustine is also quoted in Augustine: Political and Social Philosophy [2], “by divine edict, have no choice but to subject themselves to their political masters and [should] seek to ensure that they execute their war-fighting duty as justly as possible.” It was really a kind of guideline for when war can be justifiable against nations and it was among these guidelines that helped to clarify the proper conduct of war as opposed to genocide and outright tyranny. According to St. Augustine, two aspects of the Just War Theory had to be met, “the Right to go to war” and the “moral conduct of war”. In the moral right to go to war, there were also sub-category aspects that needed to be met. For example, there needed to be a just authority that legally deliberated on the matter through just and lawful means. Also there had to be a just cause as in the need to stop terrible genocide or the spread of other inhumane or otherwise destructive forces threatening to conquer all people. St. Augustine also argued there had to be a proper intention as well. A good example of proper intention to go to war is to simply stop the destructive force and thus bringing the war to an end. And finally, the need to go to war can also be decided as a last resort as every single option to avoid war has been exhausted but to no avail.

Let’s not also forget there is a moral conduct to uphold as well. According to the Just War Theory, the moral conduct of war is even a greater task than the act of going to war. For in deciding to go to war may be for all just reasons but in order that one may keep his soul free from an unjust participation in war, a soldier must be disciplined in proportionality, discrimination, and responsibility. Therefore a soldier should be trained to understand to use the proportional amount of force needed to correct the Just cause and limited by Just intention. In other words, the soldier must go into war remembering why he is going to war and how far he is to go. In all cases, the soldier is to remember that he is going to war to stop terrible evil and to attack only those that perpetuate the evil with the military force he finds himself against.. Thus, the soldier must also realize that once the threat is stopped, then the war is stopped and not to continue waging the war on a defeated people. Moreover, in matters of discrimination, it is NEVER acceptable to turn that corrective force against innocent civilians. The soldier must remind himself that he goes to war against military personnel and not the innocent civilians. As stated before, war is Hell in the sense that there may be unexpected consequences that stem from the act of war. So St. Augustine explained a criteria of how the nation that went to war is not responsible for said side effects if the following three conditions are met:

1. The sole purpose was to protect the common good for alleviating tyranny
2. That there was NO ill intentions meant in going to war ( for the simple joy of killing, etc.)
3. And that finally, the good of defeating said tyranny outweighs the damage done by the war.


1. Contra Faustum Manichaeum, “book 22 sections 69-76
2. Augustine: Political and Social Philosophy, §3-c “War and Peace – The Just War”