Nelson was first and foremost a man of action. He was also a man of peace. He himself said as much in his maiden speech in the House of Lords. “/ have seen much of the miseries of war,” he said, “and therefore, from my inmost soul I am a man of peace.” But he went on to qualify this. “But for that peace I would not sacrifice one jot of England’s honour.”
I have been deeply concerned, especially in recent years, at a tendency — apparently a growing tendency — to think that it is somehow immoral to stand positively for our freedoms to the point, if need be, of upholding them with armed force. Of course nobody wants war — particularly those who, like Nelson “have seen much of the miseries of it,” and any Christian must hope and pray that aggression can be put down by peaceful and diplomatic means. But our Lord never taught that one must tum the other cheek if, by doing so, one avoids the blow and allows it to land on somebody else; quite the opposite. He said “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
The question I want to address today is whether it can ever be right for a Christian to go to war. It is not a question which can be left to the serviceman or the politician. In a democracy, it is one which must be faced fairly and squarely by the electorate: by all of us. The views of Pope Pius XII
I am a Catholic, and what I shall be saying is based on Catholic teaching; but I hope you will not find that objectionable. Every Christian denomination is doing its best to interpret how Our Lord taught and to live by His teachings.
You might be excused, from what some Catholic leaders said during the Falklands crisis, for thinking that Catholics believe that war is never morally justified. Let me read you what Pope Pius XII said about it in his Christmas broadcast to the world in 1956 when the threat of Soviet aggression against Europe was particularly grave.
A good course of action can never be had by mere sentiment. [Might that not have been Nelson speaking?]
Present day conditions, which fmd no counterparts in the past, should be clear to everyone. There is no longer room for doubt concerning the aims and methods which rely on tanks when they crash over borders, sowing death in order to force a civilian people into a way of life they explicitly detest; when, destroying as it were, the stages of possible negotiation, the threat is made of using atomic weapons to gain certain demands, be they justified or not.
It is clear that in the present circumstances, a situation may arise in a nation wherein, after every effort to avoid war has been exhausted in vain, war –for effective self-defence and with the hope of a favourable outcome against unjust attack — could not be considered unlawful.
If therefore a body representative of the people, and a government — both having been chosen by free elections — in a moment of extreme danger decide by legitimate instruments of internal and external policy on defensive precautions, and cany out the plans they consider necessary, they do not act immorally; so that a Catholic citizen cannot invoke his own conscience in order to refuse to serve and fulfil those duties the law imposes. On this matter we feel we are in complete harmony with our predecessors.
There are several points in that statement which I would like, with diffidence, to underline. First, Pope Pius emphasized and re-emphasized that war could not be contemplated until every effort to avoid it had been exhausted. But he did not teach that it was immoral under every circumstance. And he left the decision, on whether war was necessary ‘to avoid a civilian people being forced into a way of life they explicitly detest’, to the freely elected government of that people. He also said that, in the circumstances he was describing, democratically elected governments do not act immorally if they carry out the plans they consider necessary. Please note that very carefully. One might have been excused for thinking during the Falklands conflict that the degree of force to be used was a matter for the political commentator to decide, or the retired Admiral, or the Bishops, or anybody. But in the mind of Pius Xl1 it is a decision to be exercised by ‘a body representative of the people, and a government — both having been chosen by free election -‘.
And did you note that the Pope taught that a Catholic citizen ‘cannot invoke his own conscience in order to refuse to serve and fulfil those duties the law imposes’? If the law allows, as ours does, for conscientious objection, fair enough; but there is no doubt in my mind that Pius XII was teaching that if a man or woman wishes to have the benefits of a free society he or she should be prepared to stand for that society. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council
The Council was directed towards the maintenance of peace by peaceful methods; and again and again it urged world disarmament. But it had its feet firmly on the ground and faced the facts with the same realism as Pope Pius XII had faced them. “War”, it taught, “has not been eradicated from human affairs. So long as the danger of it persists and we have no international authority equipped with adequate force, it may not be possible to deny governments the right of legitimate self-defence, given that they have exhausted every peaceful means of settlement.”
What did the Council have to say about the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of today? Again I quote: “Those who are serving their country in the armed forces should regard themselves as servants of the peoples’ security and liberty. While they are ful[zlling this duty, they are genuinely contributing to the establishment of peace.” Not, I think you will agree, a quotation one hears very often nowadays.
As for disarmament, we all must work to achieve dirarmament; to see, moreover, that this dirarmament proceeds not unilaterally but by equal stages and by agreement and protected by adequate guarantees. In coming out so firmly against unilateral disarmament, the Church was showing deep strategic as well as spiritual wisdom. Unilateralism creates international imbalances, both of capability and of resolution. Both are profoundly dangerous in that they tempt aggression.
These quotations will have shown you why I, as a Catholic serviceman, have never had a single qualm of conscience about being in the Navy. I hope too that they may have helped any of you who may be uncertain as to the moralities of war. to clarify your own minds on those vital issues.
Christ himself said very little about the sort of things I have been discussing. Render unto Caesar has perhaps some bearing. Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword is another text used most frequently in a strictly pacifiSt context. But I have read the four Gospel accounts of His arrest in the Garden. the occasion on which Our Lord used that phrase, very carefully indeed in the course of preparing this address, and have had some surprising thoughts about it.
According to Matthew: Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Luke puts it this way: His followers, seeing what was happening, said “Lord, shall we use our swords?” and one of them struck out at the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.
A most remarkable thought — new to me and perhaps new to you — which came to me while I was thinking on this address. There is absolutely no doubt that the Disciples of the Prince of Peace were armed. Listen to St Matthew: At that, one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it. Jesus d~dn’t say “Throw that thing away.” He said “Put your sword back.” And just listen to what St Luke wrote: His followers, seeing what was happening said (and note the plural) “Lord, shall we use our swords?” Surely if the bearing of arms had been immoral in itself, Jesus would have told them to throw them away when first they became His disciples. But he quite apparently hadn’t.