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Quotations about Liberty and Power

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As wars are being fought around us and in our name it is important that we be clear about the justness of these undertakings. The great Aristotelian philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas has three conditions which need to met before a war can be called “just”: does the prince who declares war have the correct authority to do so? does the war declaring nation have just cause to seek redress for an injury done to it? does the party declaring war have just intent in promoting good or avoiding evil? These are stringent conditions which have not been met very often, if ever, in the past. One recalls the long list of frivolous reasons for going to war which Thomas Gordon drew up.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

23 July, 2007

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St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the three conditions for a just war (1265-74)

Read the full quote in context here.

The great Aristotelian philosopher Thomas Aquinas discusses in the 2nd part of Summa Theologica the 3 conditions for a just war:

The first thing is the authority of the prince by whose command the war is to be waged. It does not belong to a private person to start a war, for he can prosecute his claim in the court of his superior. In like manner the mustering of the people, that has to be done in wars, does not belong to a private person. But since the care of the commonwealth is entrusted to princes, to them belongs the protection of the common weal of the city, kingdom, or province subject to them. And as they lawfully defend it with the material sword against inward disturbances by punishing male-factors, so it belongs to them also to protect the commonwealth from enemies without by the sword of war.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

OF WAR.

Article I.—Is it always a sin to go to war?

R. There are three requisites for a war to be just. The first thing is the authority of the prince by whose command the war is to be waged. It does not belong to a private person to start a war, for he can prosecute his claim in the court of his superior. In like manner the mustering of the people, that has to be done in wars, does not belong to a private person. But since the care of the commonwealth is entrusted to princes, to them belongs the protection of the common weal of the city, kingdom, or province subject to them. And as they lawfully defend it with the material sword against inward disturbances by punishing male-factors, so it belongs to them also to protect the commonwealth from enemies without by the sword of war. The second requisite is a just cause, so that they who are assailed should deserve to be assailed for some fault that they have committed. Hence Augustine says: “Just wars are usually defined as those which avenge injuries, in cases where a nation or city has to be chastised for having either neglected to punish the wicked doings of its people, or neglected to restore what has been wrongfully taken away.” The third thing requisite is a right intention of promoting good or avoiding evil. For Augustine says: “Eagerness to hurt, bloodthirsty desire of revenge, an untamed and unforgiving temper, ferocity in renewing the struggle, dust of empire,—these and the like excesses are justly blamed in war.”

§ 1. To the objection from the text that “all that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that “he takes the sword, who without either command or grant of any superior or lawful authority, arms himself to shed the blood of another.” But he who uses the sword by the authority of a prince or judge (if he is a private person), or out of zeal for justice, and by the authority of God (if he is a public person), does not take the sword of himself, but uses it as committed to him by another.

§ 2. To the objection from the text, “I say to you not to resist evil,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that such precepts are always to be observed “in readiness of heart,” so that a man be ever ready not to resist, if there be occasion for non-resistance. But sometimes he must take another course in view of the common good, or even in view of those with whom he fights. Hence Augustine says: “He is the better for being overcome, from whom the license of wrong-doing is snatched away: for there is no greater unhappiness than the happiness of sinners, the nourishment of an impunity which is only granted as a punishment, and the strengthening of that domestic foe, an evil will.”

[More works by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)]