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The Catholic Guide to Self Defense

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Imagine you are looking for a parking spot at the mall on a busy weekend. You finally find someone pulling out of a spot, and once it is empty, you pull into it. But because there is a lot of traffic, you didn’t see another driver who had been waiting for the same spot for 5 minutes. You took the other driver’s spot and didn’t know it.

As you and your family leave the car, the driver jumps out of the car enraged and screaming obscenities. He is well built and looks like he could do some serious damage. You try to calm him down and explain that you didn’t see him, but it isn’t working. Finally, he pulls a knife and begins brandishing it aggressively while moving closer to you. Your family is terrified. What do you do?

Is self defense ever justified?

Hopefully the above situation never happens to you, but these and similar scenarios do happen all the time. As Catholic men, are we justified in defending ourselves and our families? Or should we meekly turn the other cheek, come what may?

The short answer is yes, self defense is justified. The Doctors of the Church and the Magisterium have made it clear that self-defense is not only a right, but in some cases, a duty. In the Catechism, the guidelines for when exactly self-defense is legitimate are presented. Let’s take a look at what it has to say.

First, the Catechism makes clear that killing a human being is always a grave issue, and it should never be taken lightly. Obviously, we should not be trigger happy vigilantes killing anyone who gives us a dirty look (2261-2262). But then, the Catechism goes on to explain that the fundamental principle of morality is love and preservation of one’s self (2264).

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life.

In other words, loving one’s neighbor means nothing if you don’t first love yourself in a rightly ordered way. After all, Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The instinct of self-preservation is based on the fact that life is a good given to us by God. We have an intrinsic and fundamental right to live. Therefore, we also have a right to defend ourselves.

But what about defending others? Do we have a right to do that, too? Absolutely. In fact, defending the innocent is not only a right, it is a duty. We have the ability to lay down our own life for a greater good (as Jesus and the martyrs of the Church did), but we never have the right to lay down the lives of others. I can surrender my own life, but I can never surrender your life for you. The Catechism makes this clear (2265):

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

While this paragraph specifically refers to the defense of the civil community, it also applies to the family. If someone is presenting a clear danger to the lives of your wife and children, you have the right and duty to do whatever is necessary to render them harmless— even if it means killing them. And that leads me to my next point.

Lethal Force

Now that we have established that self-defense is indeed justified, the question of lethal force arises. Can we justifiably ever kill an aggressor? There are certainly a number of good Catholics with a pacifist bent that would say no— it is never justifiable. Despite the feelings of these well meaning Catholics, however, the answer given by the Church is yes, lethal force can be justified.

But before we examine what justifies killing another human being, let me first say that the Church is and always has been the defender of common sense. The Church defends sanity in an age that has gone insane, and this sanity applies to every area of life, including self defense. What do I mean? Well, I am a former member of the Colorado Rangers, a state-wide auxiliary law enforcement agency, and I received much of the same training mandated for police officers. What amazes me is how similar the standards for using lethal force presented to law enforcement officers are to those presented in the Catechism. You can trust the wisdom of the Church, folks.

The Catechism spells out that lethal force can be justified if one is left with no other choice. Killing should be a last resort, however, after everything else has been tried. Here’s what the Catechism, citing St. Thomas Aquinas says (2264):

Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

St. Thomas, quoted by the Catechism, is basically saying, Don’t shoot someone for stealing your wallet. That is more than necessary violence. But if someone has pulled a knife on you and they by all appearances seem ready to use it, then you can respond in kind. Responding to force with like force is moderation in self-defense.

The idea of moderation in the use of force is very similar to the “use of force continuum” used by law enforcement officers. While the details of this continuum are beyond the scope of this post, it boils down to the maxim: Don’t shoot someone unless you have no other choice. If your life— or the life of someone else—is in imminent danger, you have the right to use lethal force. If there is any possibility of anything else working (verbal commands, physical combat, pepper spray, etc.), you have an obligation to try that first.

Conclusion

The guiding principles laid out by the Church can be summarized as follows:

  • We have a legitimate right to self defense based on rightly ordered self love
  • We have a duty to protect those in our care, such as our families
  •  Force should be used in moderation. Force should be met with like force.
  • The taking of a human life in self defense should be a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted

Self defense can be a tricky issue, especially when lethal force is involved. Life and death situations involve split second decisions that can leave someone dead and alter the course of your life. Never, ever, should a human life be taken in a careless fashion.

I will conclude with a quote from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, on the tension between respect for human life, obedience to the 5th commandment, and self defense. It summarizes the issue perfectly.

There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God’s Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect one’s own life and the duty not to harm someone else’s life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself ” (Mk 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself. Moreover, “legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State”. [The quotation is from # 2265 in the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.] Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.

What are your thoughts on self defense? Would you know how to defend yourself or your family if you had to?

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Sam Guzman

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68 People Replies to “The Catholic Guide to Self Defense”

  1. Mykal Banta

    With respect, I disagree (in part). I do not disagree in that the CCC is clear, and the article is accurate in defining cases of self defense to be an exception to the 6th commandment or the general Catholic believe of the wrongness of killing. but I am saying it would be wrong for me, personally, to kill anyone for any reason. At all. Even in defense of my life. Be like Christ. We are called to be saints. I cannot, in my heart, ever imagine Jesus Christ would kill another to defend his life. Thus, I cannot.

    1. David

      Friend, the Ten Commandments are moral laws pertaining to charity. They do not have exceptions. The sixth commandment does not prohibit killing at all. It prohibits murder. I’ll leave you to ferret out the distinction.

      There are some in this world who have care over another life or many lives. Knowing the principles of self defense and even combat can become a duty to these when there are imminent threats of death or grievous harm. And in some of these cases, the only natural means available to stop the threat (words or flight having failed), will be our own bodies and what is at hand. In such a case, that person’s duty in relation to state of life would be the protection of those under his care, would it not? What would Jesus have them do?

      And who is it Jesus tells us to fear? Him who can kill the body and cast the soul into hell… and that would be Him, our Lord Jesus, the Final Judge, who will kill all who wish to be killed, even in their eternal existence. Jesus is truly the Ultimate Executioner, of more souls, willingly prostrate at the chopping block, than any earthly killer.

      And He kills when one sets his or her will eternally against Him, because this act is one of murder… and *infinite* act of murder. It effects, in intent, at least, what it never can in reality, which is to kill God, to destroy Him and make Him no longer a factor in one’s life. Like an insect that we are annoyed by and thus destroy, so would be done with God by many of us who prefer our wills to His.

      But when we have undeniable and morally binding obligations to protect the well being of others (as in the case of a father with wife and children), failure to use force when it is the only option available would seem to be a dereliction of duty. It would seem to reveal a gross dereliction of duty, namely learning some means to protect ones family, which should seem to be an obvious facet of the obligations parents have to their children. And God who knew from all eternity that He will be a killer of many of his created beings, and was evidently comfortable enough with the idea to let it happen that way (on account of the fact that humanity would be denied the greatest possible good without the chance to stumble and fail). His killing is just and good.

      So if it should happen that the life of someone under *your* care is under imminent threat of ending (you do *not* know what will be the eternal resting place of this soul about to be yanked unprepared form the world), are you really going to do nothing, or (if it is the only option left, words and flight being impossible, and with only seconds to act) will you apply *as much force as is required to stop the threat* with the intention to stop the threat, and not to kill? It is the second option that is morally just. Prayer is good, during the process, of course, but only in the same manner as it is during work, or anything else, in the sense that we should always be praying. We cannot just do nothing and expect God to do all the heavy lifting for us. In the case of the just and obligatory act of defense of those in our care, the very act of using force itself can be a prayer, as it is a task performed according with the duty of state in life. If the person you stopped dies, so long as you ceased your application of force the moment you believed the threat was over, you are morally justified, but you will never be the same person again (PTSD).

      Disclaimer: This is all in general, and of course there are times when using force is not the right answer, or the only answer, but we cannot assume it will never be a necessary and appropriate response, and naively live out or lives without any kind of learning or training to that end, lest we fail in our duty and someone we care for winds up dead and worse, in hell, by the agency of a sinner, whose life we misguidedly placed before those under our care.

      Recommended reading: Nononsenseselfdefense.com – further disclaimer: this site occasionally uses foul language, read with discretion. It is as comprehensive and convenient a resource as I have found on the matter, and quickly dispels common self defense myths like “I need to learn martial arts or be athletic to be safe”.

      Finally, if it were you “personally” who were under threat, and only you, and you do not have anyone on earth depending on you, then sure, there might not be sin in allowing yourself to be killed through passivity, as did our Lord, and it might even be the most meritorious thing you’ve ever done. All assuming you are a baptized person, of properly Catholic belief, and with the corresponding life of virtue… which I doubt there are eight left in the world who fit the bill, frankly. May God help us to be such and be saved, Amen.

  2. Max Birmingham

    What if a priest rapes your child. Do you have the right of self defence?

    1. David

      I see nobody has tackled your question. Perhaps because it is too vaguely worded. Anyone has the right to stop an attack that is grave in nature (threatening imminent and grievous bodily harm or death, and yes, of course rape counts as grievous bodily harm) regardless of who the perpetrator is.

  3. The way I understand it: If you defend yourself and the ones around you from situations and people who mean harm means that you are enforcing your God-given right to protect what you hold dear. Simple as that.

  4. Rebecca

    In like 22, Jesus is not giving permission to use violence in response to aggression. This is NOT acceptance of weapons use in self defense.

    1. David

      Dear Rebecca, you have actually not provided any support for your position. Perhaps you would like to brush up on your understanding of murder. Here is St. Thomas for you:

      http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article7

  5. David

    BC, your post was great, but one issue: “Just as not telling the truth to someone who does not have the right to the truth is NOT lying”. Redirecting and misdirecting while not speaking propositions known to be factually untrue is not lying. Speaking anything known to be false is lying. Augustine, Aquinas.

  6. redemption

    Could/Should the members of a parish now be protectorates of their priests/nuns, in the aftermath of the French priest being killed while celebrating the Holy Mass by jihadists???

  7. benjamin

    i think we need to ask whether it is right for a good Christian to fold his hands and watch injustice perpetrated? I don’t think so bcos life is the highest gift, it is sacred which is to be preserved from harm and destruction from its natural beginning to its natural end. The aggressor’s determination to take an innocent life is the highest injustice and therefore should be stopped. That is simply what self-defence is. We may recommend prayer to which i agree 100%. However, prayer without action is questionable. Am I dismissing pacifism? No, it’s there in the bible but not radical pacifism (peace at all cost). The use of physical/lethal force must be the last resort in self-defence. if a man/woman can save his/her life by flight, escape or hiding, that is ok. But where the only option is the use of physical force to save one’s life, so be it. Jesus’ parents used the escape option to save him from Herod by taking him to Egypt (Matt 2). Jesus himself escaped severally from being killed before his time. Paul and Peter accepted escape to preserve their lives. Jesus told the disciples to sell their cloaks and get a sword (Lk 22:36). Many have said this is figurative. But Peter told him they had two, meaning they were carrying swords with Jesus’ knowledge and he didn’t condemn it or ordered them to throw them away (at least this isn’t figurative). When Peter stroke the servant, Jesus did not order him to throw the sword away (at least this wasn’t figurative). It was obviously the wrong time to use the sword. My conclusion: the bible teaches non violence and the use of physical force in defending life and property. The Christian should know when to apply which.

  8. Gerry Smy

    You could of course, apologise to the gentleman (ugly though his intentions may seem), then let him know you will vacate the space and allow him to park. It isn’t going to take as long as having a battle over it. Then ask yourself, is that what Jesus would have done, and you will find that you will feel very comfortable with his reply.

    1. David

      To respond with that level of violence indicates something far beyond a five minute wait for a parking spot. A reaction like that indicates someone who has snapped and is prepared to use violence at the drop of a hat. People can be beyond negotiation, and sometimes all they want is a victim, to make themselves feel better, or who knows why. But they sometimes just want to hurt someone. Don’t be that victim by assuming everyone is reasonable or that you know their motives.

  9. Just came across this blog…..

    As a Catholic Police Officer (in Wisconsin too) this post is excellent! I’ve thought a lot about this issue myself and even started a small blog solely to deal with issues that relate Catholicism and Law Enforcement. I think the most comprehensive post I wrote about it is in regards to some things Fr. Stewart Swetland stated on his radio show lately: http://thebluecrucifix.blogspot.com/2015/12/open-letter-to-msgr-swetland-about-gun.html

    I want to address one thing: are we required to “try everything” if there is a “chance” of it working. I think that is the only – very minor – misstep in the article. Both in Law Enforcement and in Self Defense there is the principle of “preclusion.” In the Wisconsin Use of Force system, if an action would not have a reasonable chance of success, we don’t have to try it, we can skip it. So, for example, if we arrive at the scene of Columbine, we don’t have to first turn on our lights (presence) then try yelling, “put down the gun!” (dialog), then try “blanketing the arm” (Passive control measures) then try Baton, Pepper spray, Taser, and 40 mm (Intermediate Weapons) all before we get to use our gun. Yes, each one of those MIGHT work, but the chances are so low as to be not reasonable. So as our guidelines for the use of Deadly Force states, “all other options being tried and found ineffective OR precluded…”

    Finally, if I could briefly address some of the Biblical aspects of Self-Defense. There are several encounters with soldiers in the New Testament. None of the teachers (John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, Peter etc) tell them to stop their profession. If the profession was inherently evil, these teachers – especially the Son of God – would be obliged to tell them to stop, as Jesus did to the woman caught in adultery.

    Also, Jesus advocates – on the literal level – to buy weaponry (Lk 22:36). Jesus does imply the limit on amount (“[Two] is enough.”) and when to use it (Jesus tells Peter to put the sword “away” not “down”.) But as with many things, Jesus doesn’t explicitly address Self-Defense. HOWEVER He did leave a Church to make these sorts of decisions about things He didn’t explicitly address (Mt. 18:15-18; Acts 15). His Church has decided that Self-Defense, up to and including the lethal blow, is not only morally ok, it is a “grave duty” for some.

    Let us not be confused. Just as not telling the truth to someone who does not have the right to the truth is NOT lying, neither is Just Defense or Just War, violence. It is the opposite of violence; it is Peace Making. When the wolf comes knocking hard at your door, or your children’s school’s door, you better pray that a Righteous Defender is there and is allowed the tools to make a reasonable defense of you and your children… that they MAKE PEACE. Just sucking up a bullet is not making peace, it’s allowing evil to succeed.

    /Soapboxoff
    God Bless,
    Poor Knight for Christ and His Church, aka, the Blue Crucifix

  10. Milan

    If these pacifists, so called Catholics (Protestants really, who could recite all their favorite verses including their numbers, but have not real understanding of it ) would be correct in their assumptions, the Christianity would seize to exist right there in the Dark Ages. Called Dark due to the fact that way too many upset over success of our civilization Barbarians practiced sport of raping and pillaging. Luckily our ancestors had a very good grip on the teachings of Jesus Christ and so we did survive, by beating the savages instead of giving them coat, shirt and socks too, and good part of them converting to Christianity. That “beating” actually vent a long way to adjust their faulty opinions such as Teutonic Knight beating regularly those pesky savages Vikings till they got the point and joined the civilization, rather successfully I might say.
    The point is really; to understand The New testament one has to understand the Old one, and on top of it look at it through the eyes of a Jew of 2 – 3000 years ago. The modern mindset (supported by a general gross miss-education on the subject of history) just would not do.

  11. A Sinner

    As to the “real” meaning of “turn the other cheek” I think the context makes it clear:

    “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.…

  12. stevenr.f.

    I will never, ever hesitate to employ whatever force necessary to neutralize an aggressor. Period. The Church is blessedly clear, it is Churchmen theologian hobbyists who muddy waters.

  13. Milan

    Jesus said himself that he did not bring peace, he brought the sword. This soviet indoctrinated so called Pacifist Catholics are seriously delusional. If we would not fight continually for our survival, and yes Kill those aggressors, the Western Civilization would never get a chance to exist and those delusional pacifists of course would be the first to perish. The Mongol did not care for their “feelings”.
    On the theme of; “Thou shall not kill” is just a peculiarity of primitive language as English truly is, and also possibly the nefarious intent in the modernist translations. It is easier to conquer/ control people who believe such non-sense. The Original meaning always was: “Thou shall not Murder”.
    There is a huge difference between “Kill” and “Murder”. “Killing” is in many instances justifiable and downright demanded from the righteous…kill in defense of your family, etc., Murder ….never! By the way, how do you get your steak? You have to Kill the poor bovine first.

    Deus Vult

  14. Luis Juarez

    Great article! I never really saw the need for self defense until I was robbed at gun point at a previous job. I’ve been in a dilemma on this issue for a while, wondering whether me carrying a glock 19 would be reconcilable with my faith and the people around me, especially my parents, sisters, catechists, and friends. This article certainly helps a lot! I wish to keep seeking guidence from my parish priest, parents, catechists and from God of course through prayer and listening to the word during mass and other endevours. Thanks for the insights!

  15. Just came across a link to this post in the comments section of The Truth About Guns in a discussion there of the situation in Michigan with a priest offering CCW courses and the bishop quashing that. Great and helpful post. I am trained as a sociologist of religion and have studied the church, and am now studying gun culture, so will be studying this post more closely, and following the blog as well.

  16. Joe Rodriguez

    I just found this sight and really enjoyed your post. I viewed this topic from many perspectives; as a Catholic man, father, husband and police officer. My only concern is “responding to force with like force.” Someone may interpret that to mean, if one is attacked with a knife one should respond as well with a knife. That is a dangerous mindset and my get someone killed. A person should respond with appropriate “superior” force. The goal is to stop the aggression as quickly as possible, not drag the altercation out. But as you stated this is beyond the scope of this post. Great job.

  17. Sam, may I ask your opinion regarding forceful defensive actions for babies about to be aborted.

    Such a baby may not be one’s own or even known to you. The mother may be just a.n.other woman, not a family member.

    A Prayer is a fine action but neither the mother nor the abortionist may take any notice. Banners and pamphlets outside an abortuary offering assistance, advice and encouragement to do the Good thing may be ignored or discounted.

    Indeed in some places one may not be allowed (on pain of heavy fines and jail) to be anywhere near an abortuary.

    So what ‘force’ is appropriate to save the life of the baby?

  18. Andrée

    I’m trying to come to terms with this question myself. I believe in self defence, and would loathe to take a life- even if necessary… but I continually see the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and cannot seem to add words to it such as “unless”. Please help me to understand how self defence can be valid in view of the 10 commandments…

  19. I beleive that walking away from confrontation isn’t quite enough. In other words, just walking away can leave a man feeling cowardly in thinking that he should have been more of a man. Of course, it is always best to walk away from physical confrontation. But walking away with your confidence in tact can oftentimes be difficult. I have lost count of the times men have said to me that they have been left full of self-doubt and self-reproach in thinking that they were a coward.

    On this note, I would strongly recommend Judo to anybody who beleives they would be afraid in a confrontational situation.

    I am a Catholic man who took up the sport of judo at the age of forty. Today thirteen years on I still practise on the mat twice a week. At the age of 53 I still enter judo competions from time to time too. 🙂

    Judo will give anybody a humble confidence in their ability to walk away from conflict that will leave their self-esteem in tact. And should it become absolutely impossible to walk away from conflict then your practise sessions on the mat will work wonders without you even having to think about what to do. Judo is the ‘gentle way’. It is more than just a sport. It is a way of keeping fit and enjoying ‘fighting’ without willfully hurting your opponent.

    Any man who might have the self-doubt that I speak of would find in judo a great way to live a more peaceful life .

    Vince 🙂

  20. Interesting read! Did you know that the world’s oldest surviving sword fighting manual was written around 1300 by Catholic monks? It’s called Royal Armories ms. I.33 and details the basic elements of sword and buckler fighting. A priest and assistant are illustrated in the drawings, followed by a woman called Walpurgis who may have been a local noble. At the time sword and buckler was a common means of personal defense and a backup military weapon set. Something akin to a handgun now. They are shown practicing in good cheer, but there’s no doubt the system was not a form of sport fencing.

  21. This is a great post you have here. I am not a man of faith, but I can’t help but notice (even from my own experience) that a lot of Catholics are infected with a very unhealthy pacifism. Unhealthy meaning that in encourages bullies to go on with their actions and discourages common people from defending themselves. If the Church wants people to respect it, it must be brave, powerful and manly, and never fall for the false pacifism of today’s progressives.

    I enjoy your motivational pictures a lot, keep up the good work!

  22. It should be remembered that in the Garden when Jesus was arrested, the Apostles with him were armed. Thay carried ‘side-arms’. Swords/knives. His admonishment when an arrester had his ear cut off was because it interfered with his Manifest Destiny.

  23. Wonderful article! I really enjoy the replies!

  24. Vincent

    I think it is also worth pointing out that Jesus used the whip of cords to drive out the animals, not the people. The Greek is actually pretty clear on this although it isn’t clear in every English translation. (The NIV and NRSV get it right; the NAB is a little ambiguous.)

    The broader point though is that Jesus rejected violence at every opportunity. Besides the obvious “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, etc. statements, Jesus’ whole ministry was based around a rejection of violence. The expectation at the time was that the messiah would be a military hero like David who would use the sword to free the Jews from their oppressors. Jesus’ rejection of this role was a continual point of confusion for his disciples who continued to carry swords, rebuked him for saying he would suffer, requested seats of honor in his coming royal court, etc.. Notice though their complete embrace of Jesus’ nonviolent path following the resurrection and Pentecost. There is not a hint of violence or of carrying weapons after that point. Instead we see Paul admonishing the Ephesians to take up spiritual weapons to advanace “The Gospel of Peace” because “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (see Eph 6:10-17). Suddenly they were unafraid to take up their crosses as Jesus had commanded.

    The question of defending those entrusted to one’s care is not a simple question. But I don’t think we get to resolve it by saying we get to ignore what Jesus taught and practiced because Christian authors writing hundreds of years later thought differently. Remember that Thomas Aquinas also advocated the death penalty for heretics. While the Aneglic Doctor has much to offer, we should never let the Summa Theologica trump the commandments fo Jesus.

    1. jpaYMCA

      Unfortunately one finds a confused notion of the “Imitation of Christ” in almost all pacifists’ ruminations: Our Lord did not “advocate violence”…in regard to His mission – His Divine Mission, for which He (GOD from GOD) became man – because it did not serve the purpose for which he had come. We are not the God-Man, Jesus Christ. One could even be confused by the popular term “alter Christus”, used to relate the office of the priest to that of Christ Himself: while priests are CONFIGURED to Christ, they are not Jesus. There are some distinctions to make.

      If one is Catholic, he can’t ignore the Church’s history and even statements from the Catechism which are based on Scripture and Tradition.

  25. peekrood

    While I agree with the article in principle, I have a bone to pick in terms of emphasis. There is nary a mention of “turn the other cheek” or “those who live by the sword” and other such non-violent messages of Jesus. The first response of the Christian should be non-violent options. Christians should be very reluctant to use force. In the early Church especially, pacifism was the norm. Think of all the saints who forswore military service after their conversion (Martin of Tours, Ignatius Loyola). Aquinas compared war to doing surgery with a spoon: it’s never going to turn out well, even if sometimes it might be better than not doing the surgery.

    And please do not tell me that Jesus cleansing the temple justifies the use of violence. He was protecting no one by his actions (which flies in the face of this the basic argument of this article). No one was in danger and the people selling things were selling things for people to sacrifice in the temple (a requirement in 1st century Judaism). Jesus wasn’t mad that they were selling things. Jesus was performing a sign-act (as many of the prophet’s did) symbolizing his message that the temple was no longer the center for the worship of the Lord, now HE was. Which is why he talks about himself being the temple that he will destroy and rebuild. The “den of thieves” refers not to the money changers but to the corrupt Sadducees (who were appointed by the Romans. Also, it’s why he references Jeremiah (who also preached against the defilement and corruption of the temple).

  26. Terri

    Excellent article. It is an issue that I have had many conflicting thoughts about, and this helped to clear it up.

  27. Greg Morrison

    Another great article. As a practicing Catholic and a lifelong boxing fan, I have been interested in the issues surrounding morality and violence from a young age.
    I would like to query one point – the notion that ‘force should be met with like force’ in a moral act of self defense: Surely the purpose of self defense is success, not equality of opportunity – hence it would be perfectly moral to wield a baseball bat against a burglar who attacks you with just his fists, or a firearm against someone bearing a knife or a knuckleduster. The point is that Justice and Innocence have the ‘Right’ to win the situation, and surely the principle point is that justice prevails, not that it is a ‘fair fight’ in terms of force (Policemen do not carry batons or firearms in order to defend themselves with equality, but in order to enforce justice successfully – to win. They are not bound by the Queensbury Rules).
    I have long felt that this is the real meaning of Christ’s command to turn the other cheek – not that striking is in itself wrong but that striking unnecessarily is wrong. i.e. don’t strike back unless you have to… but when you do have to – hit hard and hit to win. Someone in an argument with a friend who is suddenly struck across the face through loss of temper (but this lapse does not continue into a full assault), is constrained by the Gospel from taking vengeance in angry violence. He must turn the other cheek. The same man confronted in the street by a robber with a knife is perfectly justified in putting a firearm against the robbers head and blowing his sorry life out, without undue hesitation.
    Unless of course he feels that there is genuine opportunity for him to use the mere threat of the gun, or talk-down the criminal, etc etc. However, these opportunities rely more on the individual character of the victim than they do on the justice of the situation.
    Best wishes from the UK.

    1. Greg,

      Thank you for your thoughts. To respond to your points, it really depends on what you mean by “win” the situation.

      In the scenario where the burglar attacks you with his fists, yes, you might be within your bounds to fight back with a baseball bat. However, the principle that would apply in that situation is “stop the threat.” In other words, do what it takes to disable the aggressor to the point where he no longer presents a danger—that is the definition of “winning” in my book. But that doesn’t necessarily mean killing him.

      If the robber is knocked unconscious by a blow from your baseball bat, you should stop your attack. To continue beating him until he is dead is not self-defense, it is murder.

      The point is, you don’t necessarily have to have equal weapons, just equal force. Don’t meet non-lethal force with lethal force.

      It all comes down to imminent, right-this-second danger. Do you truly believe you are going to die or be seriously maimed if you do not immediately respond with lethal force? Then you can use lethal force, regardless of whether or not your attacker is using brass knuckles, a knife, or anything else.

      I hope that makes sense!

      Sam

  28. henry

    Great post!

    Otherwise, it is sometimes difficult to think in these kind of situation.
    You sometimes don’t know whether you are going to be killed or not.

    It may be better to wound the bad guy.

    1. RT

      “It may be better to wound the bad guy.”
      Forgive me if this is not where you are coming from and this post is superfluous, but this is where the continuum of force comes in. The goal is not to kill the aggressor, per se, but to stop the threat. You shouldn’t use a gun when pepper spray or de-escalation would suffice, for example, but at the same time once the situation calls for something more potent, use that method in such a way that ensures the greatest probability of survival (your survival, that is). If you are calm enough or have the time to confidently attempt a shot at a leg or arm (quite a bit more difficult to hit than the upper torso, and not necessarily with any difference in potential lethality) that’s a sign that shooting at all is not called for.

  29. Beverly

    One only becomes a martyr if killed for the faith, not because someone is going to kill you for a parking spot!

  30. Jonathan Chamblee

    While a student getting my degree in Theology, I was also studying Martial Arts. I had some friends challenge me on this saying that Jesus said to turn the other cheek. My challenge back was the the Swiss Guards that protect the Pope also study Martial Arts.

    When I mentioned turning the cheek to one of my professors, he gave asked me if someone attacked my wife, would I turn her cheek, or would I protect her?

    Additionally, I was told by a friend that when he visited the Vatican, he noticed the Vatican being protected by armed guards. They carry those weapons in case they would need to use one.

    1. Milan

      Yes, the classic liberal lefty misconception what that “turning of other cheek” actually means. Sadly even many priests have no clue. Again it applies only to some situations, certainly not the one when you are seriously physically attacked and your well being is in danger. It is basically simple belittling of your attacker from the position of power of the righteous (attack does not have to be physical).To understand it one has to understand the Jewish customs of the Jesus’s times. Slapping the face in disagreement was fairly common that time with open right hand, to slap the other cheek required then other hand and was insulting to the attacker. Basically by turning other cheek, you told attacker that he is a simpleton who is not capable to recognize the truth you presented, and although he hit you, you are still on the top of the things, and he just belittled himself as uncivilized moron.

      Deus Vult,

      Milan

    2. montjoie1095

      Jesus started Jew-Jitsu. LIttle known fact.

  31. RT

    I’m so glad to see this issue covered from a Catholic perspective! The idea that it is our duty as men to protect those who may be weaker than us (especially women and children) seems to be increasingly unpopular these days, but it really is true.

    While it is a major part of it, being willing and able to take extreme measures is not the only part of defense. Mindset and habits play a part in your preparedness and may hopefully even help you avoid dire situations. There’s far more to consider than I can write here, but I highly encourage everyone to look at articles/books/Youtube videos/etc. that discuss these types of self-defense/concealed carry habits and mindset.

  32. Jesus said “resist not evil, but if a man striketh you upon the right cheek turn unto him your left.” He when He sent the disciples out to preach the Word forbade them from going armed. When Peter attempted to defend HIm from the High Priest’s men, He said, “All they who take up the sword shall die by the sword.” Jesus never advocated violence, even in self-defense. As Christians, we should be guided by His instructions, not by human reasonings.

    1. He never forbid self defense either. The die by the sword phrase is more like if you live a violent life or use violence unessecarily and unjustliy you will die violently, and that is not the same as banning the use of legitimate self defense. You are yourself using human reasoning when you draw your conclusions as to what Jesus said means. Being violent in general (living by the sword and killing people unjustly) is not the same as occasionally using violence to defend yourself or your loved ones.

      1. Rebecca

        If you are a 2nd amendment advocate, you live by the sword. You don’t have to be a violent person to live by the sword, you just have to beleive it’s your right to own and USE one. My faith is in God and God alone. No guns are necessary.

    2. Milan

      Picking on the certain passages and willfully omitting other. God help us with Christians like you, we can just lie down and pretend to be dead. Islam is not going to stop just because you have superior philosophy…..although you evidently do not understand it. When Peter try to defend Jesus he basically interfered with the Jesus’s destiny and ultimately with the destiny of all Apostles. That was commanded by God for the clear purpose…..guess what that was. So it might come to you as a surprise but Jesus was definitely not the pacifist hippie the “new” Church describes him to be. You could start with his words; “and make no mistake I did not bring the peace, I brought the sword”. My guess only; do you also subscribe to the idiocy of being “Non-judgmental” (?) the favorite of the Church of Nice crowd.

      1. Rebecca

        And what is the most powerful sword a Christian can weild? I’ll give you a clue, it’s not made of steel!!! The sword which Jesus brought was the word of God. “The word of God is sharper than a double edged sword” Hebrews 4:12. This is the sword which Christ brought and this is the sword he was speaking of in Luke 22. The diciples didn’t understand that (and obviously, neither do you) THAT is why Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and that is why Jesus followed with “he who lives by the sword (the kind brought by Peter) will die by the sword” Matthew 26:52. Any other interpretation is competitive antithetical to the overall gospel message of Jesus Christ!!! NONE of the first Christians interpreted luke 22:36 to mean consent to use weapons. 100’s of thousands of Christians died for the faith rather than take up arms in self defense. There are no examples of them taking up arms.

    3. Keenan Frey Thompson

      Yes, Jesus Christ did say, “but if a man striketh you upon the right cheek turn unto him your left”, but these words have been misinterpreted by today’s teachings. In the time of Jesus, when a Hebrew man was enraged, he did not strike with a closed fist, but with the backside of his RIGHT hand. So if a man struck your right cheek, with the back of his right hand, you turn your other cheek towards him, thus disarming him OR removing the possibility for your fellow man to sin again.

      1. Rebecca

        *eyes rolling* Now I’ve heard everything!!!

    4. RT

      “And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” Luke 22:36

      “Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”–John 18:10-11

      In this case, it simply wasn’t the right time or place to act out in defense. It was the appointed time for Christ to redeem us by his sacrifice; He intended to allow the guards to take Him. There’s really no way to compare that to the situations any of us may face that necessitate the defense of ourselves or other innocents.

      1. Rebecca

        To believe that Luke 22:36 is permission to use weapons in self defense or in response to aggression is to ignore the ENTIRETY of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

    5. Out of curiosity, Mr. Wilson, how do you reconcile what you have written with what Paul wrote in Romans: ‘For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil’ (Romans 13:4).

      Second, I would point out that Christ’s instruction to turn one’s cheek was not an instruction to submit to an oppressor. Indeed, an understanding of Semitic culture would lead one to understand that Christ was instructing his disciples to stand firm in their faith and challenge those who would oppose them.

      Pax!

      In Christ,
      JT

    6. Not to play tit for tat here, but how would you deal with the Jesus who cleansed the temple of money changers? If you read the gospel accounts closely you will see that Jesus observes what is going on in the temple; takes a piece of cord, braids it into a whip, and then drives them out. That is a violent act. An act which was completely premeditated and enacted out of righteous anger. I don’t really think you can spin that passage any other way.

      1. Rebecca

        Jesus is God. He can do that. We are not God. I don’t personally believe I have the authority to deal with others in that manner. Just because jesus did something, or even the diciples, that doesn’t mean we are being given permission to do the same.

  33. Stephen W

    Thank you for a good post. I’m a convert to Catholicism from a very conservative Mennonite group (think Amish with cars) that holds as one of it pillars of faith the idea of “non-resistance”, the teaching that we should “resist not evil”. I’ve struggled with this issue since converting and this post to really help clear thing up for me. Thanks for what you do and Gad bless your efforts.

  34. William Russell

    Great article. Although you mention in passing under the defense-of-others portion, I am still left wondering about whether the martyrs may have had a duty to defend themselves. The man in the parking lot is not too different from a Roman soldier.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Love the blog.

    – Will Russell Catholic University, Columbus School of Law JD Candidate 2016

    1. Milan

      Gentlemen,
      I think you are “guilty” of very common mistake, you do focus on the individual tree and cannot see the forest. The scenario was about one angry man against other. That is not the scenario most Saints were made. They were against the “system” the state or any other Mob, which already had a physical upper hand over them. And so the only defense possible was on the philosophical level; to stand by the principles of truth. Any physical resistance was basically meaningless. Starting with Jesus himself to …let say St. Thomas Moore. When it comes to any individual (the presented case), or even group (Crusades defending the existence and preservation of the Christian world) the physical fight, the resistance is mandatory. You do not go voluntarily into submission to barbarians like it is happening presently with the new Islamic conquest. By the way; the only reason why Islam is on the rise is because it is us who lost the ability to defend ourselves due to the imbecilic conditioning by our ruling class, and Muslims are only banking on it. In other words the history is repeating as it always did with Islam every roughly 400 years. Yup…..we are right on time.

      Deus Vult
      Milan

    2. “not too different” is still different. The martyrs were accused of being Christian and found guilty. A Roman soldier was an officer of the law. The martyr’s submission to the law was giving witness to Christ. The law may have been unjust, but their submission to it was not.

      Their is also the point that the duty is to render the aggressor incapable of doing further harm. I doubt that the martyr’s had the ability to render the aggressor (i.e. the empire) incapable of harm, even if they tried to defend their lives from the officers of the law who executed them.

    3. Johann Ploschnitznig

      Dear William Russell,

      To answer your question on the martyrs having an obligation to defend themselves: no, they are under no such obligation. Nobody has an obligation to defend themselves insofar as the defence is purely defence of oneself; self-defence becomes a duty when one ‘is responsible for the lives of others’ (CCC 2265). The martyrs are under no obligation to defend their lives; in many regards, they are better for sacrificing them for two reasons. First, they attain salvation. Second, they allow their persecutors the opportunity to repent before their own deaths, which is surely more desirable an outcome.

      I would recommend checking out St. Augustine’s ‘On Free Choice of the Will’ if you have the time.

      In Christ,
      JT

    4. Sometimes martyrdom is the most effective tactic in support of the greater war effort. For example, I don’t think Dr. King’s efforts would have been nearly as effective if his followers had exercised their rights to self-defense during their clashes with police. For all we know the martyrs were following God’s plan for their lives when they went to their deaths. Make no mistake, we are at war with Satan, and we must all fulfill our individual missions in support of the battle.

  35. Raul

    Wow! I’ve been struggling with this issue for a long time. Thank you for clearing it up. GB

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  37. Reblogged this on homesteaddad and commented:
    Great post on the morality of self defense.


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