Stain Augustine and the Just War Tradition Ch#3 Part 2

Stain Augustine and the Just War Tradition

Still, people seek peace to the extent possible, and there to organize themselves into states and pass laws, and maintain vigilance, and even fights wars, all in an effort to deter or restrain the inevitable effects of human cupalites. Without states, there would be Hobbesian chaos.

Hence Christ’s admonition to his followers to “render onto Caesar those things which are Caesar’s,” and John the Baptist’s charge to the Roman soldiers to “be content with your wages and do harm to no man.” Augustine concludes:

The natural order which seeks the peace of mankind ordains that the monarch should have the power of undertaking war if he thinks it advisable, and that the soldiers should perform their military duties in behalf of the peace and safety of the community.

Up to this point Augustine deviates little from the classical views on state authority he inherits from Cicero, although his explanations for them are entirely his own because they are framed in the context of Christianity. In his discussion of the just causes for war, however, he modifies Cicero’s definition of a Just War (one fought for safety or honor) to reflect his religious beliefs concerning good and evil in the world, and he adds to those wars that are to be considered just those which are ordained by God.

Just wars are usually defined as those which avenge injuries, when the nation or city against which warlike action is to be directed has neglected either to punish wrongs committed by its own citizens or to restore what has been unjustly taken by it. Further, that kind of war is undoubtedly just which God Himself ordains.

We noted previously that Augustine viewed war as a means whereby God could both punish man for his sins and/or grant him absolution. The consequences of this reasoning become apparent in the following passage:

War begun at God’s command is certainly waged justly in order to frighten or break down or subjugate human pride: it is not waged for human cupidity, it cannot be contrary to the incorruptible God or His saints: who are also pleased by the exercise of patience, the humblingof the proud, the bearing of paternal discipline. Nor has anyone power over soldiers except from the command or permission of God.

This account of war as an instrument of God is a key area where Augustine breaks dramatically with his Greek and Roman predecessors. Whereas the Roman tradition held that “no war is Just unless it is entered upon after an official demand for satisfaction has been submitted or warning has been given and a formal declaration made, “28 this could no longer be operative in Augustine’s notion of righteous wars fought at the behest of God.

And because one of the duties of rulers is to carry out God’s will, the wars they initiate become, ipso facto, God’s wars. Wars, then, are not formally or objectively just, as they were under the Roman system, but become just based on the command of the ruler. Examples of this reasoning can be found in recent Middle East and Eastern European wars fought at the command of rulers alleging to be intermediaries for divine will. Frederick Russell provides an illuminating analysis of further consequences of this innovation.

[Augustine’s] just war was thus total and unlimited in its licit use of violence, for it not only avenged the violation of existing legal rights but also avenged the moral order injured by the sins of the guilty party regardless of injuries done to the just party acting as a defender of that order. As sins as well as crimes, seen in the context of a broadened concept of justice whereby not only illegal but immoral or sacrilegious acts were punishable, the transgressions were both at crime against the law and a sin against righteousness.

Beginning with Augustine, war (as well as the violence of the magistrate) became more than just a legal remedy for injustice: it became a moral imperative-and even more significant, it could be fought for the benefit of the vanquished.

For the person from who is taken away the freedom which he abuses in doing wrong is vanquished with benefit to himself: since nothing is more truly a misfortune than that good fortune of offenders, by which pernicious impunity is maintained, and the evil disposition, like an enemy within the man, is strengthened…. and in mercy.

If such a thing is possible, even wars might be waged by the good, in order that, by bringing under the yoke the unbridled lusts of men. Those vices might be abolished which ought, under a just government, to be either extirpated or suppressed.

Later writers will attempt to replace this view of righteous war with an objective legal notion of bellum justum, founded on the Roman tradition, but only after many jihads are fought by Christians in the name of righteousness.

Like: Christianity and the Just War Tradition

Human Beings as Moral Agents


We have explained humanity’s concupiscence as a consequence of Original Sin. If man (humanity) is destined to sin and suffer until his redemption is complete (as signified by the Last Judgment), then can he still be held accountable (either to God or to his fellows) for his sinning, given this inevitable predisposition to sin? Moreover, given that God has foreknowledge of every thought and act that man will ever consider or perform how can it be said that man has any free will at all? And if man has no free will, how can he be culpable for his misdeeds?

Augustine responds to these questions by distinguishing what is foreseen from what is necessary, and concludes: “It is manifest that our wills by which we live uprightly or wickedly are not under a necessity; for we do many things which, if we were not willing, we should certainly not do.” It is our will, he argues, that God foresees,

[And] it is not the case that because God foreknew what would be in the power of our wills, there is for that reason nothing in the power of our wills…. For a man does not sin because God foreknew that he would sin? Nay, it cannot be doubted but that it is the man himself who sins when he does sin, because God, whose foreknowledge is infallible, foreknew not that fate, or fortune, or something else would sin, but that the man himself would sin, whom if he will not, sins not.

And because people do not know whether or not they are saved, or that they will persist in salvation until death, they have no choice but to judiciously exercise their free will in order to minimize their sinning.

The crucial point here is not that people can altogether avoid sinning, but that they can endeavor to avoid (or minimize) sinning- and herein are individuals judged by God. Thus, it is what one wills or intends, rather than one’s actions themselves, which have normative worth. And in fact, we find that Augustine’s psychology completely subordinates actions to intentions.

This focus on inward dispositions is Augustine’s way of reconciling the requirement for man to strive to maintain his purity for divine judgment with the pragmatic need to live and effect justice in the sin-ridden, temporal world.

In response to a letter from Marceline’s, which maintained that certain Christian principles were incompatible with the rights and duties of citizens-namely: “Recompense to no man evil for evil,” and “Whosoever shall smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever will compel thee to go a mile with him, go with him twain”-Augustine responds:

These precepts pertain rather to the inward disposition of the heart than to the actions which are done in the sight of men, requiring us. in the inmost heart, to cherish patience along with benevolence, but in the outward action to do that which seems most likely to benefit those whose good we ought to seek…and the benevolence which pre- vents the recompensing of evil for evil must be always fully cherished in the disposition. At the same time, many things must be done in correcting with a certain benevolent severity.

Consider, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10): Imagine that the Samaritan had happened on the victim while the robbery and the beating were in progress. Wouldn’t the principles of charity and brotherly love mandate that one stop the evil deed, even if it meant harming the perpetrators of the injustice?

Augustine would surely answer in the affirmative because such action would be motivated by carttas. For Augustine, Christ’s statement “Blessed are the peacemakers” does not refer to a passive inactivity, but to an active process.

Moreover, for Augustine, the need for social order is so great that its requirements often override individual rights. He believes that when the values one cherishes come into conflict, a good citizen has no choice but to act virtuously and attempt to effect justice in accordance with one’s abilities and duties. Often this entails committing acts that might otherwise be deemed evil, but which, in certain circumstances and depending on the disposition of one’s heart, might be morally obligatory. This is nicely illustrated in the following passage where he discusses a judge who must torture an accused man in order to ascertain his guilt or innocence:

What shall I say of these judgments which men pronounce on men, and which are necessary in communities, whatever outward peace they enjoy? Melancholy and lamentable judgments they are, since the judges are men who cannot discern the consciousness of those at their bar, and are therefore frequently compelled to put innocent wit- nesses to the torture to ascertain the truth.

And what is still more unendurable-a thing, indeed, to be bewailed, and, if that were possible, watered with fountains of tears-is this, that when the judge puts the accused to the question, that he may not unwittingly put an innocent man to death, the result of this lamentable ignorance is that this very person, whom he tortured that he might not condemn him if innocent, is condemned to death both tortured and innocent…. for [he might declare that he has committed the crime which in fact he has not.

And consequently, he [the judge] has both tortured an innocent man to discover his innocence, and has put him to death without discovering it. If such darkness shrouds social life, will a wise judge take his seat on the bench or no? Beyond question he will. For human society, which he thinks it a wickedness to abandon, constrains him and compels him to this duty…. These numerous and important evils he does not consider sins; for the wise judge does these things, not with any intention of doing harm, but because human society claims him as a judge.

This is not an application of some type of utilitarianism where certain lesser evils are obligatory in order to maximize aggregate utility. In Augustine’s formulation the obligatory action (or rule) might result in less utility than alternatives, as it does in the above example of torturing an innocent person; but “it is impossible for a man’s acts to be evil, when his thoughts are good.”

Thus does Augustine recognize that there are exceptions “made by the divine authority to its own law,” including the prohibition against the taking of human life, and that exceptions may either be derived from a special commission granted for a limited time, or based on a just law that applies generally. Concerning those exceptions that apply generally, Augustine cites the magistrate who, like a father toward his son, must behave with benevolent severity. “Whoever lives according to God…ought to cherish toward evil men a perfect hatred. [so that he] hates the vice and loves the man.”

Concerning those exceptions to divine law that are based on a special commission, Augustine cites the example of a soldier who is himself “but a sword in the hand of him [the ruler] who uses it, [and] is not himself responsible for the death he deals.” And not only does the soldier carry out his orders with impunity, but he is obligated to obey those orders.

“The soldier who has slain a man in obedience to the authority under which he is lawfully commissioned is not accused of murder by any law of his state; nay, if he has not slain him, then he is accused of treason.” And in fact, instances of men inflicting harm on others in the line of duty may even be considered a form of charity because man as a social animal is not disposed to harm his fellow human beings. Of course, soldiers who kill out of hatred for the enemy or a lust for violence are answerable to God for these “inner dispositions.”

Augustine also makes it clear that a soldier is not guilty of wrongdoing when acting under orders and is still bound to obey, even in those cases where the war itself is an unjust one.

Julian was an infidel Emperor, an apostate, a wicked man, an idolater: Christian soldiers served an infidel Emperor…. If he called upon them at any time to worship idols, to offer incense, they preferred God to him: but whenever he commanded them to deploy into line, to march against this or that nation, they at once obeyed. They distinguished their everlasting from their temporal master: yet they were, for the sake of their everlasting Master, submissive to their temporal master.

Here Augustine restricts the responsibility for jus ad bellum to the political arena, thereby setting the stage for the modern tradition of limiting the soldier’s moral culpability to the battlefield itself.

While Augustine recognizes exceptions to the divine law against taking another’s life, he accepts Cicero’s arguments against private killing, and also Ambrose’s prohibition against killing in self-defense.

As to killing others in order to defend one’s own life, I do not approve of this, unless one happen to be a soldier…acting in defense of others according to the commission lawfully given him.

Augustine can make this distinction between the defense of others and self-defense because he, like Ambrose, believes that the defense of others is a charitable or altruistic act, whereas self- defense is a selfish one. The former could be done with “love in one’s heart,” while the latter would be motivated either by hatred or by self-love. This prohibition against self-defense will be reversed in the thirteenth century by St. Thomas Aquinas, who, otherwise, adopts Augustine’s view on justum bellum with little change.

There is little that is new or profound in Augustine’s views on man’s social nature and his duties as a citizen; most of what he asserts Politics, or Cicero’s De Officits and De Re Publica. The significance losophy and the Christian religion, Nevertheless. Augustine can of his work lies in the synthesis achieved between this classical phis rightly be called the father of the modern Just War Tradition because it is his synthesis that is picked up and developed by later writers such as Gratian and Aquinas.

While Augustine supposes that there may be divinely ordained wars, he retains the Roman Just War principles: There must be a just cause; wars must be declared and carried out by proper authority; and the final objective must always be peace. Moreover, Augustine insists that soldiers should never fight for fame or glory, or with a spirit of vengeance.

He admonishes soldiers and leaders always to keep faith with the enemy and show mercy to the vanquished. And finally, he establishes war as a purposeful, public act, with prescribed moral limits, which, though itself abominable, occasionally becomes necessary for the sake of peace and justice.

The premises that are central to Augustine’s argument can Just as easily be stated sans theism: (1) Man is by his very nature a social being:social groups must have some means of ensuring order and keeping the peace; social groups require a hierarchical structure, etc. Where the Greek and Roman tradition advocated equality for citizens, Augustine sought to extend it to mankind. Clearly Augustine, like Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, places squarely on the shoulders of civil government the responsibility to maintain order, effect justice, and seek peace.

What is different-and a dramatic difference it is-is the tint of good and evil with which Augustine imbues all justice and injustice in the world. His understanding of political institutions as instruments of mankind’s redemption in God’s divine design colors political actions with a kind of indeterminate hallowness. His blurring of the distinction between good and evil on one hand and the legal and the unlawful on the other leads him to accept war and violence as legitimate means of attacking subjective assessments of evil.

His subordination of actions to intentions opens the door to even the most heinous acts done for a “good purpose.” The moral law as determined by the Church became the law of the land. What had been restrained by objective criteria under pagan rule now became subject to ideological zealotry and Crusade.

Topics for Further Discussion


1. All historical events, according to Augustine, including wars, are part of God’s divine plan whereby mankind moves through time toward redemption. If true, this seems to make jus ad bellum considerations moot, For consider: If God has already determined which wars will be fought (and which side will prevail), what is the point of any nation conducting jus ad bellum deliberations to determine whether or not to resort to arms? How might Augustine respond to this objection? Do you find this response persuasive?

2. Augustine argues that certain social roles require persons filling them to act with “benevolent severity” toward others. Such behavior is permissible (and sometimes obligatory), he argues, because one’s intentions actions. determine the moral worth of actions rather than the consequences of said

(a) Certain philosophers (notably John Stuart Mill) have objected that Augustine’s position confuses the rightness of actions with the character of the agent performing the actions. The moral worth of actions, they argue, is determined by their consequences; the moral character of agents objection? Do you find this response persuasive? is determined by their intentions. How might Augustine respond to this

(b) Augustine discusses “benevolent severity” in terms of social roles. Do you believe that a person’s professional competence in a particular role can be relevant to the moral worth of his or her actions? In other words, can persons be morally blameworthy for a lack of competence? Do regard thar do tradespersons? Why or why not? Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, military officers-differ in this

3. One consequence of Augustine’s influence is that wars are often viewed as battles of good against evil. How might such a perception affect one side’s adherence to jus in bello rules? Should the relative rightness of one’s cause affect whether or not the jus in bello rules are followed?

4. Augustine argues that soldiers (and all mankind) must carry out the commands of their lawfully appointed leaders, and that subordinates superiors. Do you agree with this view? Why or why not? Are not responsible for any wrongs they commit at the command of their

5. Augustine argues that while it is permissible (or obligatory) to defend other innocent persons against unjust predation, self-defense is position? Develop at least one objection to it.

Read More: Stain Augustine and the Just War Tradition Ch#3 Part 1

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