Just War, Royal Conscience and the Crisis of Theological Counsel in the Early Seventeenth Century

in Journal of Early Modern History
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This article explores how scholastic just war theories and concepts of theological counsel became increasingly problematic in the run-up to the Thirty Years War. It identifies increasing conceptual difficulties due to probabilism, religiously inspired contemporary warfare, and skeptical readings of the Old Testament. Such theoretical problems were exacerbated in the context of the struggle for European hegemony with French pamphleteers starting to ridicule theological discourse in order to denounce Spanish dominance, in particular during the Valtelline crisis. Scholastic just war traditions were so fundamentally discredited that the former royal confessor Caussin was eventually forced to abandon them. Instead he tried to recover theological authority and to safeguard the essence of scholastic just war teachings through a pacified reading of the Old Testament. Though ultimately unsuccessful, his adaptations bear witness to profound changes in the appreciation of the scholastic heritage as well as in the decline of moral theology for political decision-making.

Journal of Early Modern History

Contacts, Comparisons, Contrasts. Early Modernity Viewed from a World-Historical Perspective




See Anthony Pagden, “Dispossessing the Barbarian: The Language of Spanish Thomism and the Debate over the Property Rights of the American Indians,” in The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe, ed. Anthony Pagden (Cambridge, 1987), 79-98, here 98. This is mostly seen as an effect of the growing influence of Grotius’s “secular” concepts which were, however, highly indebted to Thomism, see John Bossy, “Practices of Satisfaction, 1215-1700,” in Retribution, Repentance, and Reconciliation: Papers Read at the 2002 Summer Meeting and the 2003 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. Kate Cooper and Jeremy Gregory (Woodbridge, 2004), 106-118.


Francisco de Vitoria, “On the American Indians,” in Political Writings, ed. Antony Pagden and Jeremy Lawrence (Cambridge, 1991), 231-292 and 293-328 (“On the Law of War”). See also Carla Forti, “Der ‘gerechte Krieg’ in der neuen Welt: die Rezeption der spanischen Debatte in Italien,” in Die Neue Welt im Bewußtsein der Italiener und Deutschen des 16. Jahrhunderts, ed. Adriano Prosperi and Wolfgang Reinhard (Berlin, 1993), 215-238.


Vitoria, “On the Law of War,” 2.1, § 20 and 2.4, § 32. See Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace, 31-34.


Vitoria, “On the Law of War,” 2.3 § 27-31, quotation § 30. On the importance of ius possidentis, see Rudolf Schüßler, Moral im Zweifel, Band I: Die scholastische Theorie des Entscheidens unter moralischer Unsicherheit (Paderborn, 2003), 105-106.


See Pärtel Piirimäe, “Just War in Theory and Practice: The Legitimation of Swedish Intervention in the Thirty Years War,” The Historical Journal 43, no. 3 (2002): 499-523.


See Pagden, “Dispossessing the Barbarian,” 82-83.


Suárez, “De Charitate,” in Opus de Triplici Virtute, disp. xiii (De Bello), sect. V (1), 456.


[Fancan], Le miroir, 21. On Coton and Arnoux as confessors, see Georges Minois, Le confesseur du roi. Les directeurs de conscience sous la monarchie française (Paris, 1988), 341-359.


Vitoria, “On the Law of War,” 2.2 §22-26, 307-309; Suárez, “De Charitate,” sect. vi (8), 458. Vitoria, however, maintained that some wars were so manifestly unjust that subjects must refuse to serve in them. Suárez denied this, but agreed that unjust war compromised the ruler’s conscience.


They target Vitoria, “On the Law of War,” 2.2-3, § 27-30, 309-11; Molina, De Iustitia et Iure, vol. I, Tract. ii, disp. 103, 426-28.


See Church, Richelieu, 146, 169.


See Caroline Maillet-Rao, “Mathieu de Morgues and Michel de Marillac: The Dévots and Absolutism,” French History 25, no. 3 (2011): 279-297.


As also in Bireley, The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War, 185-190. On the problem of the authorship of the Mémoires, see Church, Richelieu, 472-475.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome second, 3, 11.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome second, 508.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome second, 510-11.


See Reinhardt, “Spin Doctor of Conscience,” 569-71.


See David El Kenz, “Die mediale Inszenierung der Hugenotten-Massaker zur Zeit der Religionskriege: Theologie oder Politik?,” in Bilder des Schreckens: Die mediale Inszenierung von Massakern seit dem 16. Jahrhundert, ed. Christine Vogel (Frankfurt a.M., 2006), 51-73. Concerning the difficulties of interpreting the significance of violence for Biblical prophecy, see Aesthetics of Violence in the Prophets, ed. Chris Franke and Julia M. O’Brien (New York, 2010).


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome V, 615-616.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome V, 622.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome V, 625, 629.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome V, 627-628.


See Raymond Westbrook, “Elisha’s True Prophecy in 2 Kings 3,” Journal of Biblical Literature 124, no. 3 (2005): 530-532.


Caussin, La Cour Sainte, Tome V, 628-629.


See Poumarède, “Justifier l’injustifiable,” 217-246.


Caussin, The Angel of Peace, 69.


Caussin, The Angel of Peace, 84. That justice of war and taxation were interconnected was no novelty and Caussin had reflected on this extensively during his exile. See Archives Françaises de la Compagnie de Jésus, Dossier Caussin I, f. 365-371.


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