I was asked in email what I thought of the use of St. Augustine’s Letter 229 in the section on war in the new encyclical, risibly entitled in Italian Fratelli tutti.
The encyclical says that wars are bad. I think we can agree. He therefore concludes that nothing justifies any way. I don’t think we can agree. Let’s see some of this. My emphases:
258. War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses, and even resorting to the manipulation of information. In recent decades, every single war has been ostensibly “justified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain “rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy” have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even “preventive” attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”. We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war!
Firstly, I don’t think war is “easily chosen”. And the point about manipulation of information is probably a shot at these USA for Iraq.
“In recent decades…”
How many decades? Sorry, but the history of war goes back more that “recent decades”.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force” …
In other words… war?
“… new technologies…”
There is a good point here. New technologies do change the impact of war. The Roman pike, English longbow, repeating rifle each in their turn changed the impact of war. But then came airplanes and bombs, nuclear weapons, etc. Biological weapons were used in ancient times, but with today’s open and swift travel, and the possibility of engineering weapons, the impact is quantitatively so much greater now that it is a qualitative shift. However, the fact that, for example, the Chinese might be ready to unleash some biological weapon on the rest of the world could be argued as a darn good reason to act so as to prevent the attack.
“…never has humanity had such power over itself…”
Now that we live in a time when the Gospel has, in fact, been in some way brought to the whole world and we have the ability to communicate to the entire globe instantly, and we have the ability to destroy life as we know it on this planet… when will the Restrainer stop restraining?
We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war!
This is not good. “… probably… very difficult…” As clear as mud. This hedging within the statement leaves the door open to the possibility of “just war”.
Footnote 242… this is where we find the quote of Augustine of Hippo.
 Saint Augustine, who forged a concept of “just war” that we no longer uphold in our own day, also said that “it is a higher glory still to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war” (Epistola 229, 2: PL 33, 1020)
The quote says that we “no longer uphold” the concept of the “just war”. That’s patently false. This note is added to a patently hedged sentence (“… probably… very difficult…”) and it contradicts what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in that same paragraph!
By the way, if Francis thinks that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is wrong, he should change it, like he did with the bit about capital punishment. But THAT was a train wreck as well. Things are not true because they are included in the Catechism. Things are true because they can be demonstrated to be true by the force of the argument and the foundations on which they rest. I digress.
Back to Augustine.
What Francis did NOT quote from Augustine’s ep. 229 is the very NEXT SENTENCE:
“it is a higher glory still to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war. After all, even those who fight, if they are good, undoubtedly seek peace, but they still do so by means of bloodshed.“
Augustine’s fuller thought about war and seeking peace was perhaps more complex than Francis wanted it to be. So, … just leave that last part out!