- Thomas Aquinas on War and Peace by Gregory M. Reichberg
The author has spent the majority of his prolific scholarly life writing on the topics treated in this book: war and peace, just war tradition, and Aquinas. This book is a collection of his previously published essays—some considerably revised for this text—on classical just war theory. They offer a close reading of Aquinas's texts on warfare within the conversation that begins with Gratian and extends through Grotius.
The text's eleven chapters are divided into two parts. Chapters 1 through 5 examine topics related to Aquinas's decision to situate his principal account of just war within a section of the Summa theologiae devoted to vices against charity. Why did Aquinas choose to organize his treatise under this negative rubric? Why not follow the example of his predecessor Innocent IV and organize it within the positive framework of justifiable violence? Or why not treat just war within a section dedicated to the cardinal virtue of justice? The [End Page 142] author argues it is because Aquinas wanted to link just war with peace. In Aquinas's schema, peace is an effect of charity, and bellum (or unjust war) is a vice opposed to peace.
The author insists, however, that in linking war to charity, Aquinas did not mean that charity is the minimum condition necessary for temporal peace. The point may sound minor, but the author means for it to do considerable work in demonstrating a thesis that he states at the outset of his text formed the seed from which his book "germinated" (vii). The U.S. bishops in their 1983 pastoral letter on war and peace claim that "Catholic teaching begins in every case with a presumption against war and for peaceful settlement of disputes" (I, A, 1; emphasis added). The presumption claim was criticized by James Turner Johnson in the 1990s and later, prominently, by George Weigel in his defense of the 2003 Iraq War. Sympathetic to Johnson's criticism, the author argues that if charity is the bar that needs to be met to engage in licit acts of war, then pacifism would seem to hold a privileged place in Aquinas's account, which it does not. But if peace is the bar, and natural justice is adequate for establishing peace, and just war is a means for its establishment, then if any presumption is to be found in Aquinas, it should be for peace and not against war.
The second and third chapters continue this line of argument. The first examines Aquinas's introductory question in his famous article on war (STh IIII, q. 40, a. 1): whether it is always sinful to wage war. The second considers how the idea of just war squares with the "precepts of patience" taught by Jesus in the New Testament. Do we find in either any hint of disparagement against just war? The author argues that we do not. After all, Aquinas frames other discussions about an act's permissibility in the context of some particular sin but has no intention of establishing a presumption against the act in question, for example, his discussion of private property in the context of his treatment of theft. Moreover, Jesus's teaching on nonviolence (the "precepts of patience") has been interpreted in Catholic tradition, as it is in Aquinas, as binding on clerics in their service of the spiritual aims of the Church. But for civil authority, whose business it is to defend the temporal tranquility of the community, engaging in war in the fulfillment of its duties is sometimes morally required.
Chapters 4 and 5 consider the virtues Aquinas sees as necessary for commanders and soldiers respectively to prosecute a just war. The first he calls "military prudence" and the second "battlefield courage." By constituting virtuous military command as a species of prudence, Aquinas means clearly to say that generalship is not merely an art, but rather a moral virtue. As having an...