Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Hoc Signo Vinces

The Flight of the Turks, by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio, depicting the successful defense of Malta by the Knights of St. John (Hospitallers) against the Ottoman forces of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1565. Pictured in the center is Jean Parisot de la Valette, grandmaster of the order, who was triumphant despite his forces being outnumbered 5 to 1. If not for the successful defenses at Tours, and much later at Malta, Vienna, and Lepanto -- there would be no Christianity today.

Catholics cannot be pacifists
Just wars are possible – under strict conditions. But when those conditions apply, the church cannot stand aside

"The church is more aware now of its failure to speak out against immoral war-making. Fr George Zabelka, the Catholic air force chaplain who blessed the men who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, spent decades coming to terms with the fact he never preached against planes with the express purpose of killing hundreds and thousands of civilians. He later became a pacifist, believing that when Jesus disarmed Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was disarming all Christians for ever. "Those who have seen real war will bear me out," he said on the 40th anniversary of the bombings. "There is no way to conduct war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus ... The justification of war may be compatible with some religions and philosophies, but it is not compatible with the nonviolent teaching of Jesus."

"Catholics, from popes outwards, can never be pacifists. They know that sometimes you have to violate national sovereignty to rescue an enslaved people; that human rights have no borders, because they are universal and indivisible; and that if other means prove ineffective – as they often do against violent regimes – "it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor," as Pope John Paul II put it in 2000. You can only move the world to where it should be by taking into account the world as it is, by taking seriously a sinful world in which injustice and violence against the innocent continue. As long as there are tyrants at war with their own people, we must be willing to wage war in defence of the oppressed. And that means having a moral doctrine to guide us when we do, urging on us charity and justice – even in the horrendous and degrading circumstances of war."

~ Austen Ivereigh

Two interesting quotes from a great article in the Guardian. I'm reminded of the "Principle of Double Effect", taught to me by Joseph Lombardi, SJ at St. Joe's -- a theory first proposed by St. Thomas Aquinas, developed in the 16th century, and perhaps perfected by Jesuit theologian Jean Pierre Gury (1801-1866).

Principle Of Double Effect

A rule of conduct frequently used in moral theology to determine when a person may lawfully perform an action from which two effects will follow, one bad, and the other good.

Conditions. Theologians commonly teach that four conditions must be verified in order that a person may legitimately perform such an act.

1) The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.

2) The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may merely permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect, he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.

3) The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words, the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise, the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.

4) The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect. In forming this decision many factors must be weighed and compared, with care and prudence proportionate to the importance of the case. Thus, an effect that benefits or harms society generally has more weight than one that affects only an individual; an effect sure to occur deserves greater consideration than one that is only probable; an effect of a moral nature has greater importance than one that deals only with material things.

The dropping of the two atomic bombs did force the Japanese Empire to unconditionally surrender, thus saving approximately 4.5 million Japanese lives and in excess of 1.5 million American lives (Operation Downfall), although the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki inevitably fails #3. It might not have met the criteria but I know quite a few fellas, Mr. Cummings in Scranton -- a veteran of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, and my grandfather Fred DeMarco and Uncle Tom Feeney -- who both fought in Patton's 3rd Army, who were very happy that they wouldn't be redeployed (and maybe become three of those 1.5 million) in order to win the war in the Pacific.

"Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus." John 18:10

Perhaps he's right but I respectfully disagree with Fr Zebelka in regards to the incident with St. Peter in Gethsemane. Some say when Jesus disarmed Peter he disarmed Christianity. I've always wondered why a fisherman from Capernaum would be carrying a sword to begin with, and scripture reveals that it was HIS sword. I assume that Christ thought that the apostles had a right to defend themselves, and had they all been killed there would be no one to spread His Gospel, otherwise he would have told off St. Peter long before then, wouldn't He? I'm sure it wasn't the first time he was "carrying". Were the others? Was it on Christ's "to do" list -- got to tell these fisherman to get rid of swords, but I keep forgetting?

I don't believe that a just God would want Jews killed in Germany, campesinos in El Salvador, Tutsis in Rwanda, Catholics in East Timor, or Christians in Orissa. He wouldn't want someone to kill your wife while you made the sign of the cross and watched it happen. If war "is not compatible with the nonviolent teaching of Jesus", then how will we be judged if when we saw injustice... we did nothing. When we saw genocide perpetrated... we did nothing. When we saw an elderly neighbor being attacked... we did nothing. Is that Christian? What would Fr. Zabelka's answer have been to stop the Rape of Nanking, the horrors of Auschwitz, or how to stop South Korea from looking like North Korea -- an atheistic, communist dictatorship?

As Christians we will always prefer peace to war. But is it ever OK to wage war in defense of the oppressed? Ever?


  1. agree completely. iraq was unjust from the start, afgh was not. where afgh stands now in relation to just war theory is open for debate.

  2. 44,

    You must be some sort of radical fundamentalist!
    I love it, great post.