7. Conclusion

Having traced the development of the doctrine of just war from the Early Church to Vitoria it would seem that it is true to say that as a rule the just war theory developed in response to social and political conditions. However, it is only true to say this when one sees a development in the doctrine. There are many cases where the doctrine of just war was not developed, and did not take account of contemporary social and political conditions.

In examining the period of the Early Church it can be seen as the time of greatest growth and development in Christian history. It went from a small group of believers to the religion of the Empire in a relatively short space of time. In this development the gradual erosion of idealistic pacifism can be noted, first on the boundaries of the Empire where the precarious position of the borders seemed to legitmise war. Then came the instruction from the Church Fathers themselves that the role of the Christian was to pray for the Empire. It was only a short step from that position, with the help of the ‘conversion’ of Constantine to the legitimisation, and glorification, of war. The Church’s transition from a sect of no real importance in society to a central position in society is reflected perfectly in Christian attitudes to war. As the Church and its influence grew so did its acceptance of war.

With the glorification of war by Eusebius the Church’s position as dependent on the whim of the Emperor was fully reflected. The Emperor and the Empire were everything, they were instruments in the hands of God for the propagation of the faith;

“And then stretching out His right hand for requital of His enemies, he eliminated them with a single rod, avenging himself with heaven-sent blows.”[1]

By the time of Ambrose the Church’s position at the centre of society was far less precarious, the Church was no longer subject to the whim of the Empire. Ambrose could afford to see war as an instrument of justice but only when it met certain criteria. One could not imagine Eusebius rebuking the Emperor the way Ambrose rebuked Theosdosius following the massacre at Thessalonica. Indeed, the Church’s position at the centre of Roman society is thoroughly reflected in Ambrose’s writings on war. His major influence was the Roman writer, Cicero- he was able to fuse his thinking with Christian ethics to reconcile both traditions, and reflect the dual nature of Christian society- the religion of the Empire and the Church of Christ. His role, as was the Church’s, was to support the Empire but also to satisfy spiritual needs. he did this admirably in constructing a theory that seemed to adhere to Christian principles and satisfied the philosophical cravings of Rome.

Augustine had the same opinion on war as did his mentor, Ambrose. However, the major difference between his treatment of war and that of Ambrose is the systematic way in which Augustine undertook his task. With Ambrose one has to search his writings, for Augustine because he is responding to contemporary conditions (and more immediately the concerns of Faustus) one is able to see a more coherent structure. In many ways Augustine’s teatment of the just war is a replica of Ambrose’s. Where they differ, is that as war became more legitimate in Christian society a war of defence no longer needed any serious thought- it was almost automatically just- a reflection of the developed safe position of Christianity within society. The one major difference can be seen on the discussion of the clergy- it may have been an accepted fact that they did not participate, but the experiences of Augustine led him to the conclusion that the clergy could actively sanction warfare, as he himself did against the Donatists.

Up until the time of Vitoria we see no major developments in the doctrine of just war. It is in this period that the writings on the just war take no real notice of the changing social and political conditions. Aquinas, commonly regarded as a foremost authority on just war does little more than regurgitate the stated position of Augustine. In the area of the participation of the clergy, which could be seen as a response to conditions in society, he provides no new insight than that given by Ambrose, and alluded to by Augustine. The greatest reflection of society that can be seen in Aquinas’ writings is his use of the scholastic method. Thus, the doctrine of just war remains much as it was in the time of Ambrose and Augustine.

Vitoria kept this existing framework but developed it for his own time. The equality of the global society gave Christians more responsibility with regard to other races and religions. His recognition of a need for international law and arbitration laid groundwork for future achievements. Vitoria’s philosophy was able to give rise to a realism in the recognition of bilateral justice- this enabled him to lay that groiundwork for arbitration. For if each side felt themselves justified they could be more likely to be reasonable. He also placed a greater emphasis on the individual he addressed, for the first time, the question of an individual’s responsibility in the decision to fight in a just/unjust war. But such was the nature of society at that time that he was unable to develop this further, and fell back on the received tradition and political situation of obedience to the ruler. His major development of the doctrine, that of proportionality and the issue of non-combatants, was a direct response to the horrors, during his lifetime, inflicted by the conquistadors on the Native American Indians. As did Ambrose, one can see that with Vitoria his development of the doctrine of war developed as a direct response to political and social conditions.

The doctrine of just war within Christianity developed at a considerable rate during the time of the Early Church, Ambrose and Augustine. However, this framework remains intact throughout the history covered by this work. For so long social and political developments were ignored in favour of a reliance on tradition. Had the writers examined the history behind the construction of the doctrine of just war they would have realised it was incumbent on them to reinterpret it. Instead the writings of Ambrose (in the main through the medium of Augustine) survived to influence hundreds more years of Christian attitudes to war. The history of the doctrine of just war is one of reaction to social and political conditions with a yawning void in the middle, of approximately a thousand years.


[1]Eusebius cit. A. Kee Constantine versus Christ p122.

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