A major commemoration taking place in Ireland this year is the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the ensuing War of Independence. This all led to the formation of the Irish Free State in 1921. The fact that the ‘Rising’ met hardly none of the Just War principles illustrates clearly that even in Church circles, war requires no real justification for it to be embarked upon. At best the Just War theory provides a fig leaf, a semblance of a justification for such endeavours.
It is important to realise that the Just War theory was never based on New Testament teaching. Instead it was based on the writings of the pre-Christian philosopher Cicero. But if we are Christians, why do we refuse to consider the morality of war-making with respect to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament? Why do we not consider the practice of the early Church prior to the fourth century when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire? This was a time when massive accommodations/compromises were required of the Church in order to fit-in with this civic role. (Tertullian’s dates are *160 +220AD)
The following is an editor’s letter I recently sent to the Irish Catholic on the matter that was not printed.
Dear Editor; The morality of the 1916 Rising is well summarised by Fr Séamus Murphy, SJ (IC 17/12/15 p25): “The Easter Rising passes none of the ‘just war’ criteria, it had a pagan love of war and blood-sacrifice, and it attacked important political common goods.”
When we evaluate the morality of war, why do we never refer to Jesus’ teachings? After all our primary belief is in Jesus’ divine authority as LORD; in Jesus as THE Way, as the Word of God and the supreme revealer of God and his truth.
The Sermon on the Mount is the core of Jesus’ teaching. He speaks clearly against violent opposition to an opponent/aggressor: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matt 5:38,39). He goes on to say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (v43-46).
Jesus practiced what he preached, even unto death. Before Pilate he said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (Jn 18:36). On the Cross he said: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
A leading Biblical scholar of the last century Fr John L McKenzie, SJ said: “If we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejects violence, we can know nothing of his person or message. It is the clearest of teachings.”
Fr Morty O’Shea, SOLT