Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-sh8wx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-22T15:11:13.875Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

19 - Conscience and the Roman Catholic “Just War” Tradition

from Part III - Applied Topics in Law and Conscience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2021

Jeffrey B. Hammond
Faulkner University
Helen M. Alvare
George Mason University, Virginia
Get access


Joseph Capizzi lays out Catholic just war theory and its tie to the Church’s teaching on conscience. The scriptural context for just war teaching is Jesus’ discourse in John 14, in which he promises to give peace, but not as world gives. The world’s peace is often tainted with the temptation to sacrifice neighbors and innocents. War can be an expression of conscience, but only if ordered toward peace, guided by morality, and open always to the conversion of self and neighbor. The just war approach excludes objectives such as vengeance. It prohibits direct harm to noncombatants. Both sides in a conflict are potential members of the community for whom peace is a goal. As against any duty of military service, US law currently protects the conscience of conscientious objectors (COs) who oppose all wars on the basis of religion or nonreligious morals. It does not, however, protect “selective conscientious objectors” (SCOs), those who oppose only unjust wars. Finally, consistent application of conscience protection instructs that soldiers with moral agency as rational beings with a conscience, should refuse to follow orders against their conscience and the moral law.

Christianity and the Laws of Conscience
An Introduction
, pp. 375 - 394
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Recommended Reading

Anscombe, G. E. M.Mr. Truman’s Degree.” In Collected Philosophical Papers, vol. 3, Ethics, Religion and Politics, 5171. Minneapolis, mn: University of Minnesota Press, 1981.Google Scholar
Augustine, . The City of God against the Pagans, translated and edited by Dyson, R. W.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Google Scholar
Capizzi, Joseph E. Politics, Justice, and War: Christian Governance and the Ethics of Warfare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437 (1971).Google Scholar
Greenawalt, Kent. “All or Nothing at All: The Defeat of Selective Conscientious Objection.” The Supreme Court Review (1971): 31–94.Google Scholar
Johnson, James Turner. Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War. Princeton, nj: Princeton University Press, 1981.Google Scholar
Murray, John Courtney SJ.Remarks on the Moral Problem of War.” Theological Studies 20, no. 1 (1959): 4061.Google Scholar
National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (1983). Scholar
Negre v. Larsen, 394 U.S. 968 (1969).Google Scholar
O’Donovan, Oliver. Just War Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Google Scholar
Pope John, XXIII. Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), encyclical letter (1963).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ramsey, Paul. “The Uses of Power.” In The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility, 318. Lanham, md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.Google Scholar
Solis, Gary D. The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
United States v. McFadden, 309 F. Supp. 502, 506 (1970).Google Scholar
Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. New York, ny: Basic Books, 2015.Google Scholar
Zahn, Gordon. In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter. New York, ny: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats