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War, truth and Christianity

  • 21 July 2022
Pope Francis recognised that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was ‘perhaps somehow provoked’ and said he was warned before the war that Nato was ‘barking at the gates of Russia’. In an interview with the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica the Pope condemned the ‘ferocity and cruelty of the Russian troops’ but warned against a fairy tale perception of the conflict as good versus evil.

‘We need to move away from the usual Little Red Riding Hood pattern, in that Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad one,’ he said. ‘Something global is emerging and the elements are very much entwined.’ The Pope showed a balance and insight that is not seen in Western media.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-428ce) wrote at a time when the Roman Empire was collapsing, and he saw the Church as the new ‘City of God’ which would replace the secular and declining empire. Augustine addressed two issues relating to warfare: when wars should be fought (Jus ad Bello) and how wars should be fought (Jus in Bellum).  He argued that war is permissible if: 1) It is authorised by a proper authority. 2) If the war is just and 3) If the aim of the war is to bring peace. St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) was later to add two more conditions: 4) If there must be a reasonable chance of success and 5) If there is a right intention.

There are two major problems with these criteria. Firstly how does one decide what is just and secondly the issue of right intention. ‘The proper authority’ has been generally recognised as the government of a sovereign state although some have argued that, today, only the U.N. should be the proper authority. This, however, is unrealistic as each of the five permanent members of the Security Council can exercise a veto thus effectively emasculating the UN’s role except in relatively minor conflicts. The second issue is to work out the real intention of any war – behind the political rhetoric and this is far from easy. When Tony Blair decided to support the United States in the invasion of Iraq, what was the real reason? It is almost impossible to be sure.

'Ordinary Russians are persuaded of the rightness of the conflict by the government with its security apparatus, the power of the media (with dissenting voices being suppressed) and the power of the