War Doctrine and The Character of God

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As followers of the Lord Jesus, Christians have sought to follow the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) while living in the reality of a fallen world. Whereas many out of frustration or ignorance have compartmentalized the use of force from their faith, this is unnecessary, since there is a rich tradition of Christian thought on the subject. We will examine the just war concept from a historical philosophical perspective, focusing upon the teachings of Thomas Aquinas as found in his Summa Theologica. The goal of this paper is to explain this subject to someone unfamiliar with this subject. 1


The thesis of this paper is that the classical just war doctrine hammered out from Scripture by the early Fathers, organized by Thomas Aquinas and honed by the Reformers, offers a cogent answer to the question of whether violence can ever be virtuous, and stands opposed to liberal pacifism and the moral realist theories. Just war doctrine teaches that self-defense is rooted in the character of God, the God who hates evil and who restrains evildoers, often through the hands of His children.

The Subject

Until recently, traditional Christian teaching in all its major branches has held that violence can be worthy of Christian support when certain criteria are met (jus ad bellum). This theory is known as “just war” ethics. But with the rise of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, the just war tradition was challenged by liberal pacifism, which argued that the teachings of Christ absolutely forbade violence. Twentieth century neo-orthodox philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr (A.D. 1892-1971) sought a middle ground between the liberal pacifism and the realities of a fallen world. While agreeing with his liberal colleagues that al...

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...he virtuous use of force, out of love for Him, and love for our neighbor.

Works Cited

Paul Allen, “The Obama Niebuhr connection” The Toronto Star (14 June 2008).

Aquinas. The "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas Aquinas. [S.l.]: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1941.

Augustine and Philip Schaff. St. Augustine's The City of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

Ambrose. Writings of Saint Ambrose. Washington: Catholic University of America, 1954.

Clement, and William Wilson. The Writings of Clement of Alexandria. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1867.

Eusebius, and William John Ferrar. The Proof of the Gospel. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001.

Origenes, and Frederick Crombie. Origen Contra Celsum. Edinburgh: Clark, 1872.

“Obama's Favorite Theologian? A Short Course on Reinhold Niebuhr” Pew Research (26 June 2009).

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