By Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Metz
Special to GUIDON
This week’s reading comes from Matthew 5:38-48, where we find Christ’s teaching on the lex talionis, the ancient law principle often transliterated as the “law of retaliation.”
His famous response to the principle of “an eye for an eye” is to “turn the other cheek.” Christians have debated for millennia on how to interpret this passage, and some interpretations prove particularly troubling for a military audience.
Much of the modern debate about this passage hinges on whether or not Christ’s words are a call to comprehensive non-violence.
Scripture contains a rich tapestry of teachings on violence and warfare. Some believe war is inexcusable under any circumstance and cite today’s reading as their proof. Others believe wars may be prosecuted based on national interest and cite Romans 13 as their proof. Historically, the Church has articulated a mediating view in what has popularly become known as Just War Theory, the principle exponents of which were St. Augustine and St. Aquinas.
In short, Just War Theory attempts to harmonize the Biblical witness, arguing that war may only be sanctioned by a legitimate authority (a duly established government), for a just purpose (self-defense), with the ultimate aim of establishing a lasting peace.
None of this allows Christians to bypass the teachings of their Lord, for we indeed are called to, whenever possible, break the cycle of violence. However, as Soldiers of a duly established government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we are the duly designated guarantors of the peace in a dangerous world.
There is a well-known Latin phrase which encapsulates the tension inherent in both scripture and Just War Theory: “si vis pacem, para bellum” or “if you want peace, prepare for war.”
So, while we seek and pray for peace daily, we should also train daily as if we had to fight tonight.
(Editor’s note: Metz is the ethics instructor for the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School.)