The link with Constantine’s empire resulted in contradictory loyalties. Many Christians retreated to the desert; most shelved the Sermon on the Mount and served Caesar. Augustine employed Cicero and contemporary philosophy to fashion norms for just war and war conduct, expanded and refined by Aquinas and Spanish scholastics: Force may be necessary for “the tranquility of order.”
Save for large medieval peace marches, the post-Reformation peace churches, and Catholic Worker movement pacifism, Gospel nonviolence disappeared. Just war norms were ignored more often than respected, i.e., the Crusades and World War I. Yet, in 1957 Pope Pius XII said that Catholics could not be conscientious objectors. But many Christians remained uncomfortable killing those they supposedly loved.
Europe’s post-World War II recognition of the futility of war, John XXIII’s challenge of modern warfare, Vatican II’s embrace of primacy of conscience, and wide disapproval of the Vietnam carnage all challenged war as a means of conflict resolution. John Paul II embraced just war but never found one he could approve. Nowadays, wars have deceitful justifications and predominantly civilian casualties.
Dan Berrigan, who burned draft records to protest the Vietnam intervention and engaged in numerous acts of resistance to war leading to jail time and who died Saturday, argued that the Gospel calls us to be faithful, however remote the prospect of results. The U.S. Bishops’ 1985 pastoral, “The Challenge of Peace,” rejected nuclear weapons and legitimized Gospel nonviolence as an alternative theology to just war theory.
Read Slavick’s whole commentary.