Justification for a Just War

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

While the mainstream news agencies are busy covering Black Friday nonsense, smaller news and blog sites have recently reported on comments made by Catholic Cardinal Gainfranco Ravasi, President of the Vatican Council for Culture.  In referring to the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, he said, “I think of the ‘massacre of the innocents.’ Children are dying in Gaza, their mothers’ shouts is a perennial cry, a universal cry.”

In response to this comment, Israel National News stated, “The Catholic Church high official equated Israel’s operation in Gaza against terror groups with the New Testament story of Herod’s slaughter of Jewish babies in his effort to kill Jesus.”

Whether or not this quote was taken out of context and the Cardinal was merely lamenting the destruction of life is not known. However, it doesn’t even matter because his comments are in step with virtually every mainstream media outlet in this country that label Israel as the aggressor in the conflict.

To know the true reality of the situation is to see that calling Israel the aggressor in this conflict is a fallacy.  According to Catholic teaching, the killing of innocent life is unforgiveable. However, Catholic teaching also states that there are instances where waging war is a just and necessary option.

I want to make clear that I myself am not a war hawk. I am not cheering for Israel to invade and kill her enemies or put Israeli soldiers in harm’s way.  What I want to demonstrate is that according to the Cardinal’s own faith, Israel has a definitive right to defend herself against aggressive attacks.

The full explanation of Just War Theory can be found here.

St. Thomas Aquinas provided the basic tenants of a Just War based on three things:

1)      War must be waged by a lawful public authority in defense of the common good

2)      War must be waged for a good cause

3)      War must be waged with the right intention-not vengefully nor to inflict harm

There are also two methods of waging war: defensive and offensive. Defensive is defending against a direct attack. In this instance, no special moral justification is needed in taking up arms to defend one’s country.  Offensive war, on the other hand, has to be justified.  The conditions for this state of war are these:

1)      A just cause, to correct a wrong to a nation

2)      All other means of defending a nation’s rights have been ineffective

3)      There is a good possibility for success

4)      The good that will be achieved by waging war must outweigh harm caused

5)      War is the last resort

A war is not justified if it is waged in order to gain new territory, increase wealth, subjugate peoples, or expand spheres of influence.

A war is justified in response to an affront to the right of a nation to merely exist, or a threat to its self-preservation, property, or freedom in its own borders.

I’m not going to illustrate all the failed peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors throughout the decades, or the state of the daily, constant threat that we all know Israel lives under. Let’s just say this, Hamas is clearly an illegitimate aggressor that is constantly threatening and attacking a legitimate nation. This legitimate nation of Israel is exercising its right to existence and self-preservation.

The Cardinal would do well to examine Just War Theory as laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas and decide for himself whether it applies in this conflict.  I believe it does.