I should have written earlier to praise Greg Daly's The Church and the Rising, an anthology of articles published by The Irish Catholic.
It tells the story of the Church and the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin both looking at how the Rising was viewed at the time and reflecting on it a hundred years later.
Like any anthology, some bits are better than others, but anybody who isn't Irish will get something from this collection, even if it just a nuanced view of how the Church reacted to what would be the opening shots in what would soon be a war of independence.
At the end of the book are four reflections on the morality or justness of the Rising itself: two think it just, two unjust, and one of uses the theology of Just War to condemn it; (one of those thinking that the Rising was just rejects the application of Just War theology, and claims that there would need to be a theology of Just Rebellion if a specific theology needed to be applied: hmmm).
I'm not really that interested in the argument itself so much as in its retrospective application by the author of the article. I'm not aware that any of the priests (all of whom will have had a pretty rigid scholastic formation) who ministered in Dublin in Easter Week to the rebels ever questioned the justness of what was happening, in the same way as the Chaplains to the Forces didn't question the justness of the fighting on the Western Front. The author is reading history backwards, fitting a twenty-first century understanding of the doctrine of Just War as it has developed during the twentieth century to the Ireland of 1916: it won't do, just as the mawkishness which will in a couple of weeks accompany the 1 July commemorations of the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme won't do. You can't judge people's actions using a hindsight not available to them.
The rabbit hole I have ended up in isn't about Just War, though: it's about the development of doctrine. My exceptionally wise friend Anagnostis once said that it was wrong to think of the development of doctrine as resembling the development of an acorn into an oak: they are demonstrably different things; his analogy was the development of a photograph: the fine detail becomes clearer, but the picture doesn't change.
Attitudes towards warfare in western society changed dramatically in the latter part of the twentieth century. War, big-scale war, ended in the Holocaust and in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,and was replaced by more or less intense smaller scale conflicts. Otherwise normal people began to think that the invention of the United Nations had meant that war would be no more: at least, that any war not sanctioned by the United Nations would be illegal
And along the way Just War doctrine has been hijacked, so that it now is supposed to match the non-doctrinal, non-theological, modern understanding of where the end of the Second World War left the West.
We're Catholics: we don't believe that doctrine changes to suit the prevaling currents of secular opinion, whether it be Just War or the admittance of remarried divorced Catholic to Holy Communion. We have to understand how immutable doctrine applies to changed circumstances: for example, in what circumstances is it justifiable to target in a conflict a nerve-gas factory in the middle of a populated area (not the sort of thing St Thomas ever had to worry about); is the use of unmanned drones to kill an enemy leader an advance or a step backwards? But the potential for war to be just doesn't depend on political sensibilities in late twentieth century Europe and North America.
The saddest bit of the book isn't about 1916: it's about today and comes when a current Capuchin friar talks about the ministry of the Capuchins of 1916 to the men who were to be executed.
'The salvation of souls was the absolute number one priority for the friars, he explains, adding that Dublin's secular clergy would have had the same concerns and the same determination to being pastoral care and the Sacraments to the injured and dying.
"Columbus Murphy's memoir shows that first and foremost they were really pastors of souls" he says. "They really cared for the fellows' souls - they didn't want them to go to Hell. That was the kind of theology of the day: it was Heaven or Hell, or a long, long term in Purgatory, so they were really interested in saving these guys' souls, making sure that they died in the favour of God with forgiveness and the oil of anointing on their bodies."
Describing how the priests ministered not just to the rebels but to their families, he says that during the Rising, "the priests met great faith in people, and shared the belief that they were there to save souls but that in doing that, built into it was pastoral care". Nowadays pastoral care tends to entail a "listening ear" and "a shoulder to cry on", he says, but "a hundred years ago it was a bit more stoic than that".'
God grant me a priest who believes in the theology of 1916 - the theology of the ages - when I am dying. I'll even not complain if he is described as "stoic".
UPDATE: I provoked some discussion from some really well-informed people about Just War theology and insurrection/rebellion. You can read a summary of it here. Though it's not central to what I was on about above, one thing it's done for me is provide a more apposite example of when doctrine has to comprehend a new reality: in this case when both the governors and the governed accept that there has been a shift and that the governors can now only govern with the consent of the governed. It doesn't mean that doctrine has to change: it means that unchanging doctrine has to be applied in a new circumstance.