"True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandisement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, punishing those who do evil, and of supporting the good." (Saint Augustine)
It is unfortunate that Augustine is often too easily regarded as a theologian of war, when in reality he was much more a theologian of peace. Although Augustine was not unfamiliar with violence, he hated war.
He saw it as a consequence of the sinful human condition that prompted and then was used to justify many vices that it enabled to be unleashed: cruelty, hatred, greed, revenge, bloodlust, sexual licence, violence, theft, etc.
His writings do not glorify war, but mourned its cruelty.
In his Letter 229 he said that it was better to kill war with words than to kill human beings with the sword. Yet he said that war was sometimes an unfortunate duty, waged to restore peace (Letter 189.6, De civitate Dei 19.7) Augustine is credited with introducing criteria for a just war.
But it was the Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who systematically applied the views of Augustine and formulated them into specific criteria for military action.
Both Augustine and Aquinas rightly saw that this whole issue could not remove the clear biblical prohibition against an individual acting violently, even if in pursuit of eliminating a wrong. Augustine held that a private Christian could not kill even in self-defence, for that would express hatred.
However, a state has higher authority in their view, and if the response to evil and aggression met specific criteria, it would be deemed just, and the individual could participate.
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For further thought
Disclaimer: The following links are not all in agreement about the presumed position of Augustine position on what later was known as the Just War Theory, based on his writings.
Elements in the Just War Theory that are attributed to Augustine. By John Langan, S.J.. Eight principal conditions are the contribution of Augustine to what later became known as the just war theory:
(1) a punitive conception of war,
(2) assessment of the evil of war in terms of the moral evil of attitudes and desires,
(3) a search for authorization for the use of violence,
(4) a dualistic epistemology which gives priority to spiritual goods,
(5) interpretation of evangelical norms in terms of inner attitudes,
(6) passive attitude to authority and social change,
(7) use of Biblical texts to legitimate participation in war, and
(8) an analogical conception of peace.
It does not include noncombatant immunity or conscientious objection. A contemporary assessment of the elements is offered.
Is there ever a time for war? A "just war theory" influenced by the writings of Augustine continues to guide Western civilisation. The author is Robert L. Holmes, who was professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester and author of On War and Morality (Princeton, 1989).
There are more links on the next page.