Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Tony Magliano

8/28/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

Is there such a thing as a just war? Can the massive death and destruction of armed conflict ever be morally justified by followers of the Prince of Peace?

The horrors of war persist long after the shooting stops.

The horrors of war persist long after the shooting stops.


By Tony Magliano

Catholic Online (

8/28/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Jesus, peace, God of peace, war, just war theory, nonviolence, pacifist, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, Iraq, Gaza, Catholic Church, Christians, Christianity, early church, conscientious objection, Tony Magliano

For the first disciples of Christ the answer was a resounding "No!"

During the first 300 years of Christianity it was unthinkable for followers of the nonviolent Jesus to kill a human being. They took most seriously Jesus' command: "But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well. . Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

In his book, "Abortion & the Early Church," Michael J. Gorman cites an address of the famous church father Clement of Alexandria to wealthy Christians: "Contrary to the rest of men enlist for yourself an army without weapons, without war, without bloodshed, without wrath, without stain - pious old men, orphans dear to God, widows armed with gentleness, men adorned with love."

Gorman emphasizes that Clement's statement represents the entire body of Christian literature from the first three centuries by affirming Christian faithfulness to Christ's paramount teaching of love which completely rejects violence and bloodshed. 

But later St. Augustine in response to armed aggression against the innocent, set the Catholic Church on the road to the "just war" theory - quite likely borrowed from the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero - which would tragically lead most Christians  to almost entirely forget in practice the pacifist foundation laid by Jesus and the early church. 

In his book "Kill? For Peace?" the late peace activist and theologian Jesuit Father Richard McSorley wrote, "The theory [just-war] never worked in practice . there is no record of any nation ever using it. No nation today accepts it as national policy . it has become a theory used to justify every war that comes along . this theory is unrealistic and is today outmoded."

In their 1983 pastoral letter "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response" the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote that due to the destructive capability of modern technological warfare the just war theory principles of discrimination and proportionality have special significance.

Discrimination insists that civilians must be protected from the harmful actions of combatants. However, modern warfare kills, injures and displaces far more innocent civilians than combatants - just take Iraq and Gaza as sad typical examples.

And the principle of proportionality demands that the damage likely to be inflicted, and the costs of war, must be significantly less than the harm being done by the aggressor. Modern wars have consistently caused far more harm than good - again take Iraq and Gaza as current examples.

In the "Challenge of Peace" the U.S. bishops quoted St. Pope John Paul II: "Today, the scale and horror of modern warfare - whether nuclear or not - makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the tragic past, to history; it should find no place on humanity's agenda for the future."

The day after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ended, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI - then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - prophetically said, "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"

The Holy See's former permanent observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore said the Vatican attitude for centuries was, "War is inevitable, so let's put some strict conditions to limit its effects. In these last decades we have adopted a different perspective and we say peace is possible, so let's work tirelessly for peaceful solutions."

The questions of pacifism, the just war theory, and war itself are very personal for me. Over 33 years ago, I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector. While firing an M-16 at pop-up targets, I realized as a follower of the nonviolent Jesus I could not aim a weapon at another human being, pull the trigger, and kill him or her.

Within a prayerful, honest and respectful atmosphere, the Catholic Church and all Christian churches desperately need to seriously study, debate, dialogue and reevaluate the just war theory in light of the nonviolent Jesus, the early church's pacifist stance, the impossibility of satisfying all of the just war theory's principles, the immeasurable harm caused by war - including the vast resources wasted that should instead be used to help the world's poor - and the unhealthy nationalism and militarism adhered to by countless Christians.

Now to Pope Francis' recent quoted remarks -often taken out of context - during an airplane news conference in flight to Rome from his pastoral visit to South Korea.

While the pope said it was "licit' to stop an unjust aggressor, he qualified that statement by adding "I underscore the verb 'stop.' I'm not saying 'bomb' or 'make war,' just 'stop.'"

There are effective nonviolent ways to counter and even sometimes convert an aggressor: international targeted sanctions, a total arms embargo, non-cooperation with an occupying force, civil disobedience, coordinated underground activity, offering emergency asylum to all fleeing refugees, dialogue, negotiations, forgiveness, reconciliation, and of course prayer.

In a June 8, 2014 prayer for peace, Pope Francis prayed "Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!

"We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. . how much blood has been shed . our efforts have been in vain.

"Now, Lord, come to our aid . Give us the courage to say: 'Never again war' . Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace.

"Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be 'brother,' and our way of life will always be that of : Shalom, Peace, Salaam!"

And to that, let the people of God say Amen!

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, "Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century," has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at:


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Living Faith

Young girl blessed by Pope Francis during visit to U.S. believes the 'miracle has begun' Watch

Image of Julia Bruzzese was blessed by Pope Francis.


12-year-old Julia Bruzzese, who has been experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, suffered from sudden paralysis that doctors are still unable to explain. However, following a blessing from Pope Francis, the young girl seems to be healing. NEW YORK, NY (Catholic Online) ... continue reading

'God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone,' Pope Francis says of marriage Watch

Image of Pope Francis' comments were made during his Oct. 4 Mass marking the official opening of this year's Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis formally opened the synod of bishops Sunday, telling participants that the union between a man and woman is the foundation of God's plan for the family, and a solution to the many forms of loneliness in today's world. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - ... continue reading

FULL TEXT: Family synod prayer vigil, Pope Francis's full address Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Presiding over a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis led the beginning of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, at the Vatican. Drawing tens of thousands of the faithful, many were present in the Square since the afternoon for a ... continue reading

Vatican issues statement in regards to monsignor's declaration of homosexuality Watch

Image of


The director of the Holy See press office has issued a statement in response to Vatican official Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa's declaration in a recent interview that he is homosexual and has a boyfriend. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Msgr. Charamsa, 43, granted a ... continue reading

Guardian Angels are always by our sides, Pope Francis says Watch

Image of Pope Francis explained that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God could have left them to fend for themselves. Instead, as an act of love and mercy, the Lord sent with them an angel to guide and protect them.


Each of us has a Guardian Angel who, acting on behalf of God, advises us and protects us from evil, if we only listen to him, Pope Francis said during his homily at Mass on Friday. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "May we ask the Lord for the grace of this ... continue reading

Top 5 Bible verses to turn to when you're angry Watch

Image of What does the Bible have to say about anger?

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What makes you angry? Maybe you don't like the way your boss talks to you at work or your spouse spends too much money. What do you do when you feel anger coming on? Who do you turn to? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When we get angry we can say or do things we ... continue reading

Megachurch Pastor's new book tells people to 'get over themselves' Watch

Image of Pastor Kyle Idleman (YouTube).


Megachurch Pastor Kyle Idleman claims that to live life, "everyone simply needs to get over themselves" to truly "experience abundant life with Jesus," a theory he promotes in his new book The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins. LOS ... continue reading

Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux to be canonized by Pope Francis Watch

Image of The canonizations of the married couple will coincide with the Synod on the Family, to be held on Oct. 4-25.


Pope Francis approved, earlier this year, the decrees necessary for Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin - known for being the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux - to be declared saints. VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - The two blesseds will be the first couple ever to ... continue reading

Phoenix bishop encourages Catholic men to 'step into the breach' Watch

Image of Calling on all Christian men to take a stand in the Church's spiritual battle, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix asked men in his diocese to courageously pursue their vocations as friends, fathers, and spouses.


Calling on all Christian men to take a stand in the Church's spiritual battle, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix asked men in his diocese to courageously pursue their vocations as friends, fathers, and spouses. Phoenix, Ariz. (CNA/EWTN News) - "Men, do not ... continue reading

Interview with Archbishop Chaput puts U.S. papal visit in perspective Watch

Image of Archbishop Chaput offered his take on the historic papal trip, the challenges facing family in the U.S., and the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome.

By Michelle Bauman, CNA/EWTN News

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia hosted Pope Francis in his highly anticipated first visit to the United States. As the dust settled after the departure of nearly one million participants in the final Mass for the World Meeting of Families, CNA had the ... continue reading

All Living Faith News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jonah 3:1-10
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah a second ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 7-8
1 [Song of Ascents] From the depths I call to you, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 10:38-42
38 In the course of their journey he came to a ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 6th, 2015 Image

St. Bruno
October 6: Bruno was born in Cologne of the prominent Hartenfaust family. ... Read More