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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Augustine’s war thought: a critical reinterpretation Oakes, John Stephen


Augustine's views on war have deeply influenced subsequent war thought, and scholars have agreed that his purported definition of a "just war" ethic was basic to mediaeval and later just war traditions in the West. Drawing on selected passages in the Augustinian corpus, historians and theologians have often argued that Augustine was among the first to espouse a cogent just war "doctrine," which can be reconstructed by a simple process of induction. Many have seen this as part of a more general position that he consistently advocated over more than 40 years of philosophical and theological writing. However, relevant primary source materials do not justify such conclusions. In fact, a close examination of key texts shows that Augustine never fully expounded his war thought in a single systematic statement, but that it emerged in a variety of settings which helped shape its form and content over time. There is clear evidence that he changed his views on war, as he moved from more private, abstract, and militaristic persuasions to more public, concrete, but pacific concerns between 388 and 429 AD. Thus a more flexible, organic interpretation of Augustine's war thought, which makes greater allowance for contextual considerations, should replace previous "doctrinal" understandings.

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