Signs of the Times: From Just War to Just Peace

by Jane Deren, Education for Justice

The early Church understood Jesus’ call to redemptive suffering and rejected the concept of redemptive violence, which only destroys. On the cross, Jesus showed his followers “how to hold the pain and let it transform us, rather than pass it on to others around us,” a tenet of nonviolence. But the pacifism of these early Christians was challenged as they became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Church’s Just War doctrine was first proposed by St. Augustine in the 4th century who sought to reconcile nonviolence with empire building. The Just War doctrine was fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 14th century and was used for centuries.

But in light of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII and afterwards, the Church has been re-examining this doctrine: civilian deaths and vast devastation have become too commonplace in modern conflicts and warfare. The belief that modern weapons of war and the threat of nuclear mass destruction make all violent conflicts unjust is reflected in Pope St. John Paul II’s declaration during the Iraq War that “war is always a defeat for humanity,” and that “violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man.” He proclaimed that “only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united global society.” In declaring “May people learn to fight for justice without violence,” John Paul was affirming the beliefs of his predecessors Blessed Pope Paul VI, who taught that “peace is the only true direction of human progress,” and Pope St. John XXIII, who realized authentic development which supported the human dignity of all members of the human community could only be realized in a peaceful world.

Just Peace

Pope Francis has continued developing the concept of a just peace in his writings. In his January 2017 World Day of Peace message Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace, he makes clear that “violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering…” Francis laments because vast amounts of resources are being diverted to military ends and away from human needs, especially of those suffering at the margins; he calls again for disarmament and abolition of nuclear weapons and the rejection of fear as the basis of co-existence…

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