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Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic - The Soul as Ethical Substance
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Article Index
Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic
Self-formation and the Ethical Military Professional
Moving Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality
The Soul as Ethical Substance
A Christian Military Ethic
The Cost of Serving
Conclusion: Honoring God by Living Up to His Standards
All Pages

The soul as ethical substance

No Christian military ethic – or any other kind of ethic – can stand on its own, independent of the historical discourses that make up the tradition or traditions on which it draws. In this study of the limitations of codified morality in shaping the ethical military professional that means not merely importing Augustinian just war concepts into the present but acknowledging the biblical and other discourses that he draws upon. Augustine is nowhere solely concerned with ethical military conduct: his primary concern is with the formation of good Christians, who will share eternity with God in the Heavenly City.

The very existence of Christianity points to the limits of codified morality for the transforming of human behaviour. The Old Testament contains myriad ‘Thou shalt nots’; from God’s giving of the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus to the rules, laws and injunctions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. If the existence of religious rules was enough in itself to ensure individuals’ compliance with them, the repeated failure of the Israelites to maintain their covenant with God would not have resulted in the need for repeated renewal of that covenant. Ultimately, there would have been no need for the new covenant in Jesus Christ.19 The covenant between God and humankind moved from being rule-centric to Christ-centric, with Christians urged to live ‘holy and godly lives’.20

Augustine's Confessions, written in AD 397, captures his own wrestling with his inner self or, as he puts it, inner selves, in trying to live a holy and Godly life. He refers to the self that desires to obey God and the self that acts against that purity he claims to desire.  For Augustine, every individual has, if not complete freedom of thought and action, sufficient freedom and autonomy to work on herself, or himself, with the intention of imitating the behaviour of the Christ: God in human form.  Augustine's ideal subjectivity is a unified whole that reflects the perfection of Christ but, in his Confessions, he acknowledges that 'it was I, and it was my impiety that had divided me against myself'.21 In order to overcome this divided self – part good, part evil – evil actions had to be confessed (to God), 'that thou mightest heal my soul'.22

The soul, divinely created and imperishable, is the substance upon which any Christian ethic is based. In Psalm 23 King David acknowledged that God ‘restores my soul’23; later as he reflected upon human failings – his own and those of others – he captured his inner desire for communion with God with the words: ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name’.24 Jesus would warn his disciples: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’.25 It is the divinely created soul, which is imbued with a Christ-like capacity for goodness, upon which humans can construct their ethical conduct:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”26

For Augustine, the soul’s desire for God led to a desire for ethical conduct, while the fallen nature of humankind brought about separation from God: ‘For since the soul was created immortal and cannot by its nature be without life of some kind, its utmost death is alienation from the life of God in an eternity of punishment’.27 In addition, the act of confession became part of a process of self-policing and self-forming that would ultimately – in conjunction with Divine intervention – re-create the subject in the likeness of Christ.  Thomas Lynch sums up the relationship between self-knowing and transformation, Christ and confession, as follows: ‘For Augustine, the self is incomprehensible apart from a Christology affirming the role of Christ as exemplum and sacramentum.  In short, Christ is both the end and the means’.28 This reliance on Christ, enacted in self-policing through the act of confession, would continue, according to Augustine, when 'thou set a watch upon my mouth and a door around my lips that my heart might not incline to evil speech, to make excuse for sin with men that work iniquity'.29

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:17