The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Early Christian Attitudes Toward War

I made a few inchoate remarks about how seeing Aslan kill the White Witch stirred up some latent pacifism in me and the desire to revisit some passages I recalled hazily. I've pasted the passages below. I think reflecting on these passages can play a useful role in the combination of ressourcement and aggiornamento typified by the theological method of John Paul the Great and particularly illustrated by his attitude toward war and the death penalty. (Please don't flame me, because I'm not a pure pacifist. I just think Just War Doctrine needs some retooling (both restricting and losening by the way).)


"We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies." Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.176.

"We used to be filled with war, mutual slaughter, and every kind of wickedness. However, now all of us have, throughout the whole earth, changed our warlike weapons. We have changed our swords into plowshares, and our spears into farming implements." Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.254.

"I do not wish to be a king. I am not anxious to be rich. I decline military command". Tatian (c. 160, E), 2.69.

"These people [i.e. the Christians] formed their swords and war-lances into plowshares...so now they are unaccustomed to fighting. When they are struck, they offer also the other cheek." Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.512.

"The one instrument of peace is what we employ: the Word alone. We no longer use the ancient psaltery, trumpet, tembrel, and flute. For those who are expert in ware and are scorners of the fear of God were accustomed to make use of them." Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.246.

"Let our seals be either a dove, a fish, or a ship....We are not to draw an outline of ... a sword or a bow, since we follow peace." Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.286.

"We do not train our women like Amazons to manliness in war, for we wish even the men to be peaceable." Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.420.

"God puts His prohibition on every sort of man-killing by that one inclusive commandment: 'You shall not kill.'" Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.80.

"'Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will no more learn to fight.' Who else, therefore, does this prophecy apply to, other than us?" Tertullian (c. 197, W) 3.154.

"Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith...A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters--God and Caesar....How will a Christian man participate in war?...The Lord...in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." Tertullian (c. 200, W), 3.73.

"Of course, if faith comes later and finds someone already occupied with military service, their case is different....Yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of the military office, which ahs been the course of many--or else all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God. And such quibbling is not allowed even outside of military service. Tertullian (c. 211, W), 3.100.

"I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians....Is it lawful for a man to come to be pledged to another master after Christ has become his Master?... Is it lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword will perish by the sword? Will the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?" Tertullian (c. 211, W), 3.100.

"Christ nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, no matter how wicked. For He did not consider it to be in accord with His laws to allow the killing of any individual whomever....For their laws do not allow them on any occasion to resist their persecutors, even when it was t heir fate to be slain as sheep." Origen (c. 248, E), 4.467.

"For we no longer take up 'sword against nation,' nor do we 'learn war any more.' That is because we have become children of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader." Origen (c. 248, E), 4.558.

"In the next place, Celsus urges us 'to help the king with all our might, to labor with him in the maintenance of justice, and to fight for him. Or if he demands it, to fight under him or lead an army along with him.' To this our answer is that we do give help to kings when needed. But this is, so to speak, a divine help, 'putting on the whole armor of God.' And we do this in obedience to the commandment of the apostle....So the more anyone excels in godliness, the more effective the help is that he renders to kings. This is a greater help than what is given by soldiers who go forth to fight and kill as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who demand us to bear arms for the commonwealth and to slay men, we reply: 'Do not those who are priests at certain shrines...keep their hands free from blood, so that they may offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods with unstained hands that are free from human blood? Even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If, then, that is a praiseworthy custom, how much more so that--when others are engaged in battle--Christians engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure.

"Our prayers defeat all demons who stir up war....Accordingly, in this way, we are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them.....So none fight better for the king than we do. Indeed we do not fight under him even if he demands it. Yet, we fight on his behalf, forming a special army--an army of godliness--by offering our prayers to God. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.667.

"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate who wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If an applicant or a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected." recorded by Hyppolytus.

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