On Saturday night we watched the movie “The Mission” which is about a group of missionary Jesuit Priests in 18th Century South America. The territory they are serving in is about to be taken over by Portugal which would mean the native people they are ministering to, would likely become slaves. Towards the end of the story, some of the priests decide to defend these natives against the Portuguese, taking up arms and going to battle. By doing so they end up killing a number of men during those battles.
When I had done my previous Mitch Rapp/Assassin post I remember Aquinas writing about this type of situation. So, here’s what he has to say in his section of the Summa entitled “Whether it is Lawful for Clerics to Kill Evildoers?”
I answer that, It is unlawful for clerics to kill, for two reasons. First, because they are chosen for the ministry of the altar, whereon is represented the Passion of Christ slain Who, when He was struck did not strike (1 Pet. ii. 23). Therefore it becomes not clerics to strike or kill: for ministers should imitate their master, according to Ecclus. x. 2, As the judge of the people is himself, so also are his ministers. The other reason is because clerics are entrusted with the ministry of the New Law, wherein no punishment of death or of bodily maiming is appointed: wherefore they should abstain from such things in order that they may be fitting ministers of the New Testament. Q. 64, Art. 4, II-II
It would seem Aquinas believes that is unlawful for priests to kill even in the midst of righteous self defense as he uses the phrase “to strike or kill”. Priests are called to a higher degree of duty in imitation of Christ. I wasn’t able to find anything specific in the Catechism about this subject.
I had seen “The Mission” before about ten years ago and when I watched it again I didn’t enjoy as much as I did the first time. I’m guessing because the filmmaker made the priests out to be heroic in going to battle. However, my instinct would be that they would’ve been more heroic by staying obedient to their call as priests and resisting in a non-violent manner.