Aquinas on Battlefield Courage
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The Thomist 74 (2010): 337-68 AQUINAS ON BATTLEFIELD COURAGE GREGORY M. REICHBERG Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Oslo, Norway OVER THECOURSEofhiscareer, ThomasAquinaspaused only once to reflect on battlefield courage-question 123, article 5 of the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologiae : "Whether fortitude is properly about the dangers of death which arise in war."1 In light of his robust teaching on just war,2 one would have expected him to elaborate on the special nobility of the military profession, or to detail the moral challenges faced by its practitioners. Instead, the article explains how "death in war" is an analogous term that applies to soldiers certainly, but also to civic heroes and even to martyrs for the faith. The theme of martyrdom occupies central stage3 in Aquinas's overall discussion of courage. Some commentators have concluded that his main purpose in writing question 123 was to substitute the ancient Greco-Roman admiration for military heroism with a Christian focus on martyrdom.4 In what follows, 1 The theme of battlefield courage is however announced earlier in question 50 on prudence. Having noted that generalship requires a special form of prudence, Aquinas adds that those who do the actual fighting (rank-and-file soldiers) stand in need of fortitude (STh 11-11, q. 50, a. 4, ad 3). For a treatment of the former virtue, see Gregory M. Reichberg, "Thomas Aquinas on Military Prudence,"Journal ofMilitary Ethics 9 (2010): 261-74. 2 STh 11-11, q. 40, "De hello." See Gregory M. Reichberg, "Thomas Aquinas between Just War and Pacifism," Journal ofReligious Ethics 38 (2010): 219-41. 3 Among the acts of fortitude, martyrdom alone receives special treatment in a full quaestio (STh II-II, q. 124). 4 A particularly emphatic formulation of this reading has been advanced by Rebecca Konyndyk de Young, "Power Made Perfect in Weakness: Aquinas's Transformation of the Virtue of Courage," Medieval Philosophy and Theology 11(2003):147-80. To a lesser extent 337 338 GREGORY M. REICHBERG I argue that the substitution account is misleading. Despite Aquinas's obvious interest in highlighting martyrdom as the highest instantiation of fortitude, he does not discredit the value of battlefield courage within the Christian life of virtue. On the contrary, he elaborates a two-stage theory in which military heroism is put forward as the exemplar of acquired fortitude, while martyrdom is praised as the paradigm of infused fortitude. Having embraced the principle "grace perfects nature," Aquinas is attentive to the various relations that can exist between these two modalities-acquired and infused-of fortitude.5 On the one hand, the heroism of soldiers provides him with a natural basis for understanding the supernatural fortitude of holy martyrs. On the other hand, he recognizes how infused fortitude can find expression in military deeds, such that death on the battlefield will sometimes count as martyrdom. The argument will proceed in six stages. In a first section I examine why Aquinas brings the theme of martyrdom into his account of battlefield courage in question 123, article 5. To this end, a comparison with his earlier discussion of prudence6 will prove instructive. Whereas prudence is differentiated into five separate kinds, including a military kind, on the Aristotelian typology followed by Aquinas, courage is a unitary virtue. Unlike many contemporary Christian authors, who typically frame martyrdom as a category suigeneris that would stand wholly apart from the soldier's active engagement on the battlefield, Aquinas is intent on encompassing the two sorts of death within a single account.7 this viewpoint is briefly developed by Michel Labourdette, O.P., Force et temperance (IIa-IIae, 123-170) in Cours de theologie morale, Toulouse, annee scolaire 1961-62, unpublished manuscript. (Copies of Labourdette's typed course manuscript, which follows the order of the Secunda Pars, have circulated widely). Labourdette's treatment does have the merit of emphasizing the importance, in Aquinas's eyes, of acquired courage, while Konyndyk De Young's analysis is framed almost exclusively in terms of infused courage. 5 I thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this formulation. 6 In particular, STh 11-11, qq. 48 and. 50. 7 This is especially salient in STh 11-11, q. 124...


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