The Origins of War

A Catholic Perspective

Matthew A. Shadle

"A helpful platform for further exploration of specifically Catholic perspectives on the origins of war."
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Debate rages within the Catholic Church about the ethics of war and peace, but the simple question of why wars begin is too often neglected. Catholics’ assumptions about the causes of conflict are almost always drawn uncritically from international relations theory—a field dominated by liberalism, realism, and Marxism—which is not always consistent with Catholic theology.

In The Origins of War, Matthew A. Shadle examines several sources to better understand why war happens. His retrieval of biblical literature and the teachings of figures from church tradition sets the course for the book. Shadle then explores the growing awareness of historical consciousness within the Catholic tradition—the way beliefs and actions are shaped by time, place, and culture. He examines the work of contemporary Catholic thinkers like Pope John Paul II, Jacques Maritain, John Courtney Murray, Dorothy Day, Brian Hehir, and George Weigel. In the constructive part of the book, Shadle analyzes the movement within international relations theory known as constructivism—which proposes that war is largely governed by a set of socially constructed and cultural influences. Constructivism, Shadle claims, presents a way of interpreting international politics that is highly amenable to a Catholic worldview and can provide a new direction for the Christian vocation of peacemaking.

Table of Contents



1. From the Bible to the Middle Ages

2. The Emergence of Modernity

3. Contemporary International Relations Theory

4. Constructivism

5. A Catholic Perspective on the Origins of War

6. Twentieth-Century Catholic Thinkers

7. The Twentieth-Century Popes and the Second Vatican Council

8. Pope John Paul II

9. Contemporary Catholics



"A helpful platform for further exploration of specifically Catholic perspectives on the origins of war."—Richard Steenvoorde, Studies in Christian Ethics

"Wars are so bloody, ubiquitous, numerous, so costly on every level that people the world over, must, at some point, be moved to explore the "why" of war, which is to say its origin. What a service Shadle has done to invite and encourage this reflection. May it prove so fruitful that humanity finally outlaws war."—National Catholic Reporter

"Shadles offers a new and potentially fruitful avenue for our understanding of war-and ultimately to the appreciation of a just peace. . . . The book may be recommended for programs in peace studies and graduate and seminary libraries."—Patrick Hayes, Catholic Library World

"Shadle’s study of the origins of war in Catholic thought is an important contribution to political theology and social ethics not only because it calls attention to a frequently overlooked aspect of the moral assessment of war but also because it provides a helpful introduction for theologians to contemporary theories of international relations."—Daniel Bell Jr., associate professor theological ethics, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, and author of Just War as Christian Discipleship

"Shadle masterfully addresses the question, 'Why war?' by gleaning the first fruits from two fields: international relations theory and theological ethics. In this he represents what’s best in the new generation of theological ethicists: the ability to place the social sciences in dialogue with Christian tradition in a way that is critical, creative, honest, and relevant to our time."—Mark J. Allman, associate professor of religious studies, Merrimack College, and author of Who Would Jesus Kill? War, Peace and the Christian Tradition

"With an impressive command of both the theological tradition and the relevant literature in contemporary international relations theory, Matthew Shadle offers a thoroughly theological account of the origins of war that constructively carves out a way forward beyond the liberal-conservative impasse among Catholic thinkers on the ethics of war today."—Tobias Winright, associate professor of theological ethics, Saint Louis University

"Shadle shows how ethical analyses of war in contemporary Catholicism will improve by attending to culture explicitly. This book stands apart from other recent books on Catholicism and war by engaging the modern theology of nature and grace as well as the international relations theory of constructivism. All those interested in the theology, ethics, philosophy, and politics of war and peace will find value in Shadle’s potent analysis."—Brian Stiltner, associate professor of religious studies, Sacred Heart University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Matthew A. Shadle is an assistant professor of moral theology at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

256 pp., 6 x 9

Mar 2011

256 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-735-1
Mar 2011

256 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-751-1
Mar 2011

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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