The just war theory is a thought pattern and a set of moral rules of conduct defining under what condition the war is a morally acceptable action. The theory mainly considers preventive war and pays little attention to the proof of casus belli.
The first questions of this theory were set by Cicero (De Officiis 1.11.33 to 1.13.41).
He was followed by such Catholic writers as St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, and Francisco Suárez his disciple.
Thomas Aquinas requires three conditions:
- auctoritas principis : war can be only started by public authority or else it is a crime. The auctoritas principis opposes the individual decision called persona privata;
- justa causa : just cause, it is this latter concept which gives more room for interpretation;
- intentio recta: the intention must not be tainted by hidden causes, but only has as a goal the triumph of the common good.
At the end of the twelfth century, Johannes Faventinus combines the idea of just war to defend patria with the ratio (or “reason of state”). It is also legitimate to defend the Church (the status Ecclesiae) in the case of a crusade against the infidel or against a Hohenstaufen.
Francisco Vitoria provided all the main themes of the School of Salamanca: that the war is one of the worst evils and one cannot resorted to it in order to avoid a greater evil. The preventive war against a tyrant capable of attacking was a part of examples recognized by this school. However, all forms of dialogue should be used first and war can be triggered as a last resort.
From this point, the key question was whether there are legal means avoiding the use of force.
It is not surprising to find many Christians in the origins of the problem of conscience posed by the need to intervene: Ignatius spoke of magis about questioning the decision maker, since going to war is a very decision having heavy consequences for a Christian bound by the fifth commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”).
The Christian, by faith, knows the fear of whether he acts in accordance with the commandment.
Ambroise in De Officiis I, 29 stated that there were two ways to sin against justice:
“[…] One is to commit a wrongful act, the other is not to rescue the victim of an unjust aggressor.”
In the field of criminal law, this notion is reflected in the penalties relating to failure to assist a person in danger.
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