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Charity, War, and Peace in St. Thomas Aquinas

Charity, War, and Peace in St. Thomas Aquinas

By John Hittinger, Sacred Heart Seminary

Paper given at the 39th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2004)

Introduction: Thomas’s treatment of the problem of war in the Summa Theologiae is refreshingly simple. The so-called just war tradition which has developed over the centuries now boasts some 7-9 criteria which have come to serve as a moral checklist, or as dialectical grist for moralists and policy makers. Thomas provides a bare list of three criteria. And despite the enormous influence of the thought of Thomas Aquinas upon this tradition, very few people have stopped to ponder the significance of the placement of the question concerning war in the plan of the Summa as a whole. Thomas’ treatment of war is not under the section on natural law, nor under the virtue of justice. It is part of the treatise of charity. To my knowledge, Paul Ramsey is one of the few writers on just war who has taken this into account. And his assessment is radical but difficult to avoid — the just war theory of Augustine and Aquinas is derived from the parable of the good Samaritan and not as precept of “natural justice.” He means that the just war precepts were not simply derived from axioms of fundamental human goods, but rather discovered and elaborated in light of the grace of Christ and images of the good life. When read in its proper context, Thomas’s account of war loses its “checklist” mentality and provides some profound reflections upon political order and poignant insights about the “two cities” of our divided allegiance.

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