The Christian Soldier

In an important respect, to ask whether soldiering and Christianity are compatible is to ignore nineteen hundred years of history that indicates that they are. Authentic church teachings has supported the doctrine of restraint in war and not pacifism.

Throughout its history, the teaching church has always held that there are circumstances in which the state may rightly engage in war, but that all wars, even those fought for the most just of causes, must be conducted according to limiting principles. Furthermore the church has always taught that, while the state is morally obligated to make “humane provisions” for exemption from military service of those who conscientiously object to it, it can properly require its citizens to serve in time of war.

This teaching of the church seems to mean that while pacifism can be a position held by individuals, while there are those who are truly convinced that all wars, or particular wars, are unjust, and while it may be granted that a conflict may arise between government policy and individual conscience, nonetheless pacifism cannot be the policy of a nation, the responsibility of which is to protect the lives and rights of its citizens. There must be a distinction between personal responsibility and the responsibilities of a state. Can we honestly expect a statesman, burdened with the responsibility for the security of his nation to turn it over to oppressors on the basis of Christian principles? And if the true Christian teaching is that the state can legitimately go to war on occasion, then there can logically be no contradiction between Christianity and soldiering.

While there is no logical contradiction between Christianity and soldiering, there are still restrictions on the Christian soldier’s conduct in war. St. Augustine, in seeking to show that a Christian was not prohibited from military service, that there was nothing in the New Testament to contradict one’s civic duties, that there was no conflict, in general, between the obligations of citizenship in the City of God and in the earthly city, provides the best outline of those restrictions: “Yet the natural order which seeks the peace of mankind, ordains that a monarch should have the power of undertaking war if he thinks it advisable, and that the soldiers should perform their military duties in behalf of the peace and safety of the community” (Contra Faustum, XXII, 75).

“Peace should be the object of your desire, war should be waged only as a necessity and waged only that God may by it deliver man from the necessity and preserve them in peace…. War is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantage of peace” (Letters, CLXXXIX, 4).

Therefore war is properly fought according to constraints. As the soldier fights to defend the helpless, he may not himself menace the innocent.

These restraints translate into the principles of jus in bello, proportion and discrimination. The Christian soldier is required to use only the force necessary to achieve his legitimate military objective, and he is required to spare non-combatants from harm, insofar as it is within his power. As anyone who has been in combat knows, perfect adherence to the principles of proportion and discrimination are difficult, given what Clausewitz called the “fog of war.” But this difficulty in no way relieves the soldier from the requirement of moral reasoning, and from the requirement to make the most moral decision he can under the circumstances.

Let no pacifist claim Moral superiority over the Christian soldier. The former acts for his own benefit in accordance with an inflexible moral rule, regardless of its practical outcome. The latter reasons as best he can under the most confusing and difficult of circumstances and acts on behalf of his fellow citizen. He is a guardian, and the guardian has no right to turn away in resignation when those in his care are about to be killed or sold into slavery, apologizing that he rejects all forms of violence, and that all he can do, therefore, is to watch with regret the murder of his charge, sadly making the sign of the cross.


  • Mackubin T. Owens

    Mackubin Owens was senior legislative assistant to Sen. Robert Kasten, Jr.

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

With so much happening in the Church right now, we are hard at work drawing out the battle plans so we can keep the faithful informed—but we need to know who we have on our side. Do you stand with Crisis Magazine?

Support the Spring Crisis Campaign today to help us meet our crucial $100,000 goal. All monthly gifts count x 12!

Share to...