396 • Part III. Christian Morality: The Faith Lived
the human race and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be
endured” (CCC, no. 2329, citing GS, no. 81 §3).
While every possible means must be taken to avoid war, there are
times when a use of force by competent authority may be justified to
correct a manifest injustice, especially to defend against a threat to one’s
homeland. The tradition of the Church going back to St. Augustine
(AD 354-430) has developed the conditions for war to be moral.
These are known as the just-war conditions. They are listed as follows
The strict conditions for
legitimate defense by military force
require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision
makes it subject to rigorous standards of moral legitimacy. At
one and the same time:
—the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or com-
munity of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
—all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown
to be impractical or ineffective;
—there must be serious prospects of success;
—the use of arms must not produce evils graver than the evil
to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction
weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called
the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for
moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those
who have responsibility for the common good. (CCC, no. 2309)
War may never be undertaken from a spirit of vengeance, but rather
from motives of self-defense and of establishing justice and right order.
The government has the right and duty to enlist citizens in defense of
the nation. Special provision should be made for those who refuse to
bear arms for reasons of conscience. These men and women should serve
their country in some other way.
The Church and human reason assert the permanent validity of
the moral law during armed conflict. Civilians, wounded soldiers, and