An analysis of jus ad bellum in twentieth-century papal just war thought

Brian M Kane, Marquette University


We have become particularly adept at killing people in the twentieth century. Weapons have become ever more destructive, and we seem to have an increased willingness to use them. From World War I until the more recent conflict in Kuwait, it seems as though warfare has become one of the hallmarks of the twentieth century. The moral question of modern war is whether it can ever be justified. Since the sixteenth century, moralists have invoked a set of criteria, jus ad bellum, which assesses the morality of intiating war. This dissertation focuses upon the twentieth century papal analysis of jus ad bellum. The morality of war is, for these popes, best understood within the context of a social theology. War, as one action of a state, cannot be understood apart from a consideration of the foundation and ends of human community. Such a vision requires not only a proper concept of the human person, and his or her relationship to God, but also an appreciation for the role of government in realizing the ends of human community. The twentieth century popes have concentrated upon two criteria of the jus ad bellum: just cause and legitimate authority. In the category of just cause, the popes argue that self-defense, in strictly limited circumstances, is the only possible just cause for war. In this context, they also express grave doubts concerning the proportionality of modern weapons. In terms of legitimate authority, they argue that the decision to wage war is justified only in terms of the role of the state in the realization of the common good. At its best, they argue, war will preserve a just society, but will not create it. It is the conclusion of this dissertation that the twentieth century popes believe that warfare, although regrettable, is sometimes necessary to defend one's nation against aggression. While condemning the social conditions which lead to warfare, they believe that one may not absolutely proscribe its use. At the same time, they insist that states have an obligation to create a community in which the recourse to war is more and more unlikely.

Recommended Citation

Kane, Brian M, "An analysis of jus ad bellum in twentieth-century papal just war thought" (1994). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9517930.