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Augustine on War and Military Service

By Phillip Wynn

Publication Year: 2013

Did our modern understanding of just war originate with Augustine? In this sweeping reevaluation of the evidence, Philip Wynn uncovers a nuanced story of Augustine’s thoughts on war and military service, and gives us a more complete and complex picture of this important topic. Wynn’s book reevaluates Augustine’s thought on war and challenges the common assumptions about Augustine and the doctrine of “just war”.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

With a work as broadly conceived as this, even the strictest detractors must, according to their measure of the material that should be in it but isn’t, occasionally make allowances for mortal ignorance, while conceding the merest possibility that any particular something they mastered with their mothers’ milk may be missing for lack of space, or relevance.
The best medicine I’ve known for...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-6

The early twenty-first century has witnessed a continued, heightened, and widespread interest in the idea of just war.1 This renewal of interest began early in the twentieth century prior to and especially after the First World War, after a centuries-long period when the idea was largely banished to the realm of moral theology.
As the idea of just war gained increased visibility in intellectual discourse, it...

Part I

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pp. 7-8

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1. The Modern Construction of an Augustinian Just War

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pp. 9-32

Although the assertion that it was St. Augustine who set out the foundational principles of Christian just war is only a century old, the beginning of the basis for that claim rests in the numerous citations from his works in the second part, causa 23 of Gratian’s Concordia Discordantium Canonum or Decretum (c. 1140).1 In response to the hypothetical there, which posits a defense led by...

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2. War and Military Service in Early Christianity, and the Constantinian Revolution

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pp. 33-72

The most meaningful general statement to be made about early Christian attitudes toward war and participation in it1 is that no such general statement can be meaningfully made.2 Such an observation is not merely the negativizing expression of a scholarly caveat, but the affirmative revelation of a fundamental characteristic of early Christian statements on the matter, a feature as much...

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3. Accommodating the State: Ambrose of Milan and Martin of Tours

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pp. 73-122

Periods of civil war have often in Roman history been fruitful in the production of historical works; one thinks of the writings of Caesar and Sallust under the Republic, and those of Tacitus for the Principate. The contenders for the purple seconded their arms with the weaponry of propaganda, which was often reflected in panegyric and in contemporary and later historiography. Just as...

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4. The Roman Just War and Early Christianity

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pp. 123-144

These lines from the last stanza of the American national anthem, penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814, illustrate strikingly the persistence across time and space in the Western world of the fundamental and interrelated elements of the just war concept of the ancient Romans, that a war fought for a just cause ensures divine support and consequently victory.1 This concept of divinely...

Part II

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pp. 145-146

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5. Interpreting Augustine

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pp. 147-154

In retrospect it is understandable that there would eventually emerge an interpretation of St. Augustine that would make him an authority on the Christian view of war. To begin with, more of his writings survive than is the case for any other Christian writer of the first millennium. In the small-print Migne edition of the Patrologia Latina, they fill fourteen quarto volumes. The...

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6. Augustine on Militia

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pp. 155-212

Like his Christian contemporaries who touched on similar matters, Augustine often framed his discussion of military service under the broader rubric of militia, service to the state. It is under this broader rubric that Augustine discussed issues of punishment and coercion, and especially the issue of capital punishment, the last being of particular relevance for our purposes as he is...

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7. Augustine on War

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pp. 213-264

While at Carthage in 419 for a council of African bishops, Augustine took advantage of the release from his onerous pastoral duties to write a work on certain interpretive cruces in the first seven books of the Bible, the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum.1 In commenting on the remark in Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites that “they who lived in Jericho waged war against you” (Josh. 24:11), Augustine...

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8. Final Victory and Perfect Peace

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pp. 265-296

We have seen how Augustine “baptized” the Roman just war, which in its Christian translation denoted God-authorized wars fought to further the ends of divine justice and providence, wars that were restricted in the main to those of the Old Testament. Augustine also transposed into a Christian key the Roman political terminology of pax and victoria. But even more so than in the case of...

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9. The Medieval Construction of Augustine as an Authority on War and Military Service

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pp. 297-320

In what is today north-central France, near the modern town of Fontenoy (Yonne), at mid-morning of 25 June 841 the forces of Charles the Bald and Louis the German, allies against their brother Lothar in a civil war for rule over the Frankish realm bequeathed to them by their father Louis the Pious, crested a rise that had for the last three days separated the two opposing armies. After...

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10. Conclusion

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pp. 321-336

Unlike some of his more rigorist contemporaries, and certainly unlike earlier African Christians such as Tertullian and Lactantius, Augustine did not regard with detestation militia, service to the state. Though state service had its pitfalls and was imbued with anxieties and perils, a Christian could conceivably hold state office and not by that alone incur mortal sin. For there was a societal order, and...


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pp. 337-348

Augustine's Texts Cited

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pp. 349-350

Index of Augustinian Citations

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pp. 351-354

General Index

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pp. 355-363

Back Cover

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p. 375-375

E-ISBN-13: 9781451469851
E-ISBN-10: 1451469853
Print-ISBN-13: 9781451464733
Print-ISBN-10: 1451464738

Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2013