A Bit on Just War and Pope Francis

So the other day, the Pope had a chat with the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill. By way of background, you should know that Kirill is an absolute whored-out tool of the Putin regime. He is a former KGB agent worth a billion or so, mostly from worshipping his real god–Mammon–and profiting from alcohol and tobacco like the rest of the corrupt oligarchs in Putin’s circle. Think of his job as perfuming an endless stream of thirty pieces of blood-stained silver with incense and you will get his true function in the regime. He is a vile, dirty skank for nihilist power with snappy ecclesial attire. The rest of the Orthodox world sees him for the pig he is, but when you gotta deal with the Church in Russia, he’s the top dog and so there you are.

Among his many outrages as a servant of the devil, Kirill recently blessed an icon of the Theotokos and blasphemed the living God and his Mother by sending her off to go bless Putin’s entire act of mass murder in Ukraine. That there is some weapons-grade satanic mockery of the Prince of Peace.

That gives you enough background to go on to get to Pope Francis’ little confab with Kirill the other day concerning Russia’s evil aggression and, in particular, a remark Francis made in the course of his conversation with this horribly scandalous man. Here’s a quick summary of the conversation:

The Vatican statement, issued later, confirmed the call. But there was a significant difference in the language used in the two statements. The Moscow Patriarchate never used the word “war” in reference to Ukraine, whereas the Vatican quoted Pope Francis using the word several times.

“Pope Francis thanked the Patriarch for this encounter, which was motivated by the will to indicate, as shepherds of their people, a road to peace, to pray for the gift of peace, so that the fire may cease,” said the Vatican in their statement.

“The pope agreed with the Patriarch that ‘the church must never use the language of politics but the language of Jesus,’” the Vatican statement said. “We are shepherds of the same Holy People, who believe in God, in the Most Holy Trinity, in the Holy Mother of God: That is why we must unite together in the effort to help peace, to help those who suffer, to seek the ways of peace, to stop the fire.” According to the Vatican’s statement, “both church leaders underlined the exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiations between the two nations, because, the pope said, ‘The one who pays the bill for the war is the people, the Russian soldiers and the people who are bombed and die.’”

The pope reminded the patriarch that as pastors, “we have the duty to be close and to assist all those persons who suffer because of the war,” said the Vatican. “Once in our churches also there was talk of a holy war, a just war, but today one cannot speak this way. There has developed a Christian conscience of the importance of peace.”

Pope Francis agreed with the patriarch that “the churches are called to contribute to strengthening of peace and justice,” the Vatican added, quoting the pope, who said: “Wars are always unjust. For the one who pays is the people of God. Our hearts cannot help but cry in the face of the children, and the women killed, and all the victims of the war. War is never the way. The Spirit that unites us, calls us as pastors to help the people who suffer from the war.”

The highlighted remark has sent the Usual Suspects in Reactionary Francis-hating circles into a frenzy denouncing as the “heretic” pope for allegedly overturning the sacred and precious right to go to war that “Just War Doctrine” (handed to us personally by the apostle Paul or one of those guys) affords.

So, given that much Stupid fogging the air in the Reactionary sect’s never-ending war on Francis, I thought it would be good to talk about this latest dumb teapot tempest.

To begin with, Just War is not “apostolic tradition”. It is a series of prudential judgments, worked out by various Big Brains in the Church’s Tradition is response to what might today be called “environmental pressures” on the Church as she has walked through history.

The early Church was almost universally pacifist, for the very good reason that Christians saw no burning need to fight for society that enjoyed murdering them for sport. In addition, Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek and command to Peter to put up his sword hugely influenced early Christian practice. Peter’s core advice to the suffering Church is not “Stand your Ground” or “Blow their heads off if they persecute you” but “Be sure to die well.”:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous man is scarcely saved,
where will the impious and sinner appear?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:12-19).

As long as the Church was not the official cult of the House of Caesar, Christians had few qualms about avoiding the use of arms for the state. Indeed, some of the great early saints, like Martin of Tours, were perceived as great precisely because they renounced the use of arms just as some early saints renounced their earthly fortunes for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

But once the Roman state became Christian it became, both for good and for ill, a real question of whether a Christian ought to take up arms, not for his glory, but the protection of those innocents threatened by aggression toward the state that protected both the common good and the peace of the Church.

The Church has never really made peace with the compromises necessary to living in a world where Caesar both wants to be Christian (as some actually have) and wants to control the Church for his purposes. One of the outworkings of life lived in that real world tension created by human beings confronted with a gospel that demands “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” is the thing we call “just war theory”. And it first started to take shape some four or five centuries after the last apostle was dead and gone. It was and is a two-edged sword. It could empower the Church to make Emperor Theodosius do penance for massacring Thessalonians and to impose the Peace of God on warring princes. But it could also lead to Crusades and Inquisitions. It could inspire both the Battle Hymn of the Republic and War for States Rights (to hold slaves).

The point of just war theory is not and never has been to confer a “right”, much less a “blessing” on war. Rather, it is and always has been conceived of as a concession to human weakness and a mechanism for making it as hard as possible to go to war.

Its two parts address 1) whether there is just reason to go to war (ius ad bellum) and 2) assuming there is, whether the war is being prosecuted justly (ius in bello). If both are not are addressed completely in the affirmative, a war is not just.

So if you fight a war for just cause (They bombed Pearl Harbor!) but use unjust means to win it (“We will nuke every innocent man, women, and child in Hiroshima!”) it’s not a just war.

If you fight a pre-emptive war in Iraq because you think that someday the people you are slaughtering might be a threat? Unjust.

If you fight a war because you feel burdened with glorious purpose and born to rule a continent free of Native Americans? Unjust.

If you fight a war because Yankees are threatening your right to own people? Unjust.

You can fill in the blanks. And if your response to above is, “Well, damn! Then what war can be just?” you are getting the hand of things. The point is to make war damn near impossible.

The basic criteria of Just War are these:

CCC 2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

– all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

– there must be serious prospects of success;

– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

The point is simply this: War is not, in the Tradition, a prize you win and something you get to do if you can jimmy the criteria, tilt your head just so and squint so as to “fulfil just war criteria”. It is something you tragically, horribly, have to do sometimes in a fallen world full of Hitlers and Putins and Napoleons and Attilas and Caesars.

And the reason the restraints of the Tradition are so stringent is all too clear: we love war. There is a burning fever that accompanies it, a thrill of righteousness, a dark lust for blood when get to tell ourselves, “I’m not a violent man. But to stop these sons of bitches? Oh, I will take intense orgasmic pleasure in killing these bastards. And since nits make lice, I will have no problem killing their wives, their children, and their whole people too!”

This is what we do as a species. And we have done it again and again and again for 300,000 years. Just War theory is an attempt to put the brakes on that. It has always been, at best, only partly effective. But it’s one of the noblest quixotic attempts in human history. And not entirely a failure.

What it is not and never has been (except when satanically twisted) is a blessing on war. And such satanic twists are part of our history–including Catholic history. That is what Francis is addressing in the highlighted quote. And he is addressing it to one man in particular: the blaspheming Patriarch of Moscow invoking the blessing the Theotokos over Russian troops mass-murdering innocent civilians in Ukraine for the glory of a New Christian Russian Empire.

Francis not writing an encyclical here. He is addressing, in ordinary language, the absolute horseshit being offered by the Putin regime that his war is a “just war” defending Russia from Ukraine. It is doingg nothing of the kind and therefore is not ius ad bellum. And the means by which it is prosecuted–mass murder and terror aimed at civilians–is not ius in bello either. This is not hard to understand–except for Francis-hating Reactionaries perpetually trying to lie that Francis is “confusing” and “heretical”.

The Church, since the 20th century, has become extremely (and irrevocably) skeptical of the wisdom of continuing to hold to just war theory that was always, at most, a concession to human weakness. Pope Benedict XVI has publicly expressed his skepticism about whether it is even possible, given the mass lethality of modern weapons, to speak of there being such a thing as a just war anymore. He did not offer a verdict on that question. But the mere fact that he does not hesitate to voice it makes clear the direction in which the Church’s thought is tending to flow.

This does not, as any person with an ounce of brains and dram of charity in there hearts, mean that Francis condemns Ukraine’s fight against Putin the Wolf. But it does mean that the Church is pressing as hard as she can figure out how to obtain peace without the use of arms as soon as possible–and that this Pope, like his 20th century predecessors, has abandoned all trust in the notion of establishing the Kingdom by violence.

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15 Responses

  1. Mark, thanks this is interesting. I’ve recently wondered about this teaching.

    “Russian troops mass-murdering innocent civilians in Ukraine for the glory of a New Christian Russian Empire.”. This quote reminded me of Vigano’s March 6 letter, have you seen that? He now wonders if Providence will make Moscow the 3rd Rome. Integralist dreams. Ohh yes, if church and state power were once again wedded, I’m sure those (Vigano’s, I presume?) entrusted with the levers of power would definitely wield them in a just way……/sarc

      1. After Vigano and a few of the other usual suspects are done with reading ”Praedicate Evangelium” they will probably suffer a seizure.

      2. Hey Matt: I see you are right over at St. Ben’s. I’m not sure who you are or why you dislike me so much. Would you care to have lunch and you can talk to me about your concerns with me? I’m just up the road in Mountlake Terrace. Let me know.

      1. BTW Joel: did you go from a Christian/Evangelical upbringing through Orthodoxy and Catholicism, to end as an atheist, in the span of roughly 10 years? That’s what I gather from the bits and pieces I picked up.

      2. Heh. THE late teens, not MY late teens.

        Basically, I was Evangelical (of various denominations) for most of my life, but finally got frustrated with that movement and started attending a Greek Orthodox Church. This was when I was starting to seriously question my faith, and also happened to be when the child sex abuse scandal was rocking the Catholic Church, which is why I never tried a stint in that faith. Sorry.

        Orthodoxy was my last stop before heading out the door of Christendom entirely. How long my process of deconverting from Christianity actually took is hard to define. I’m not sure exactly when I stopped believing. It was probably *before* I ever set foot in Orthodoxy, but at that point I just hadn’t yet admitted it to myself.

        My impression today is that Orthodoxy is run by historians, Catholicism is run by lawyers, and Evangelicalism is run by salesmen. No offense intended, and YMMV.

        – joel

      3. @ Joel

        No offense taken. I think that most of us will agree with you historian/lawyer/salesman assessment, though we may emphasize the positive aspects of each approach as well.

  2. Something that US readers might not be aware of, Russian Orthodox Church has a very troubled past.
    It was always very tightly wedded to power. First it was the tsars. It didn’t use to be that way in Kievan (south) or Novgorod (north) Rus, where it was fairly independent of the throne.
    Muscovy tsars subjugated the patriarchy after it gained autocephaly.
    It had an uneasy relationship with the Soviet state, which allowed it to function, with one devilish twist. Insubordinate clergy was exiled, imprisoned or executed. Those who stayed made a deal with the devil. They literally bowed to the prince of darkness to get the kingdoms of the world.
    Soviets took it to a logical conclusion. Once they had priests working for them and preaching Marxism from the pulpit, they worked on the hierarchy. One condition they put was that the state had effectively the only say who is going to lead the Church.
    They took no chances. They wouldn’t draw from loyal priests, but seeded seminaries with secret KGB agents who had a career path laid out for them.
    What it means is that it will take a complete cut off from the state and a few generations for the Russian Orthodox Church to cleanse itself.

  3. Once again, a prophetic voice from genuine Russian Orthodoxy, Sister Vassa, New Yorker, noted liturgical scholar, public intellectual, and wit:

  4. It is right and just to condemn Russia’s aggression as unjust. It is even proper to question Zelenskyy’s motives and actions throughout the course of the war. The Catechism even cautions that the destructiveness of modern weapons makes it much harder for a war to avoid causing greater evils than it fights. To categorically deny the possibility of a just war, however, is heretical. We would have to repudiate Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David to say that war is always and everywhere unjust. Indeed, we would have to repudiate the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for it is written of Him, “In righteousness, He judges and makes war,” just as it was said of old, “YHWH is a warrior! YHWH is His Name!” Let every Christian carefully guard his tongue, lest by careless speaking, he blaspheme God or curse men created in His Image.

    1. In the context of the conversation with Patriarch Kirill, it is perfectly obvious that Francis is not “categorically denying the possibility of a just war”. If only his enemies, so eternally vigilant for any chance to condemn him, could respond to him with an ounce of chanty. And to call him a *blasphemer*? Why not try watching your own tongue, pal?

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