Holy Spirit Activism

Home » Peace & Politics » Early Christian Pacifism

Early Christian Pacifism

Join the Jesus revolution! Write your email adress to follow this blog and get updates about new posts via email.

Archive

Networks

Church Fathers

Church Fathers

Christianity is a pacifist religion. Most of the early church fathers wrote that Christians should not kill or join the military, and the idea of “just wars” first developed in the late fourth century, after Constantine’s reforms. The ante-Nicaene church was to a large extent a non-violent church. This was clearly shown already in 1919 when John Cadoux pubished his book The Early Christian Attitude to War, which is now available online. The research has been updated with Ron Sider’s book The Early Church on Killing, which was published last year. But only by looking at quotes from early church fathers, we see that these saints were far from the war-waging right-wing Christians that unfortunately are quite influential in the public debate today:

Justin Martyr wrote in 160 AD:
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.” (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4)

Tatian (dead c. 185), Justin’s disciple, wrote:
“I do not wish to be king, I don’t want to be rich, I reject military service. I hate adultery”(The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Vol. II, reprint 1979, p. 69)

Athenagoras (133-190) wrote:
“What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? ‘I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust . . . Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? . . . With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbours as themselves . . . We . . . cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly.” (Legatio 11, 34-35 (Athens, 175))

Minucius Felix wrote in the late second or the early third century: “It is not right for us either to see or hear of a man being slain; and so careful are we (to abstain) from human blood, that we do not even touch the blood of eatable animals in (our) food. . . . Even though we refuse your official honours and purple, yet we do not consist of the lowest dregs of the population.” (Minuc xxx. 6, xxxi. 6)

Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-202) wrote:
“But the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these [nations] did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, [that is], into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek.” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, reprinted 1977, p. 512)

(Pseudo-)Hippolytos wrote in c. 200:
“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, for he has despised God.” (The Apostolic Tradition 16:17-19)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) wrote:
“If a loud trumpet summons soldiers to war, shall not Christ with a strain of peace issued to the ends of the earth gather up his soldiers of peace? By his own blood and by his word he has assembled an army which sheds no blood in order to give them the Kingdom of Heaven. The trumpet of Christ is his Gospel. He has sounded it and we have heard it. Let us then put on the armour of peace. … The Church is an army of peace which sheds no blood.” (Protrepticus XI, 116)

Tertullian (160-220) wrote:
“To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. … Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? … Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, their case is different, as in the instance of those whom John used to receive for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions, I mean the centurion whom Christ approves, and the centurion whom Peter instructs; 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 it, which has been the course with many; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service; or, last of all, for God the fate must be endured which a citizen-faith has been no less ready to accept. Neither does military service hold out escape from punishment of sins, or exemption from martyrdom.” (De Corona Militis 11)

About 240, Origen wrote:
“You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers.” (Against Celsus VIII.7.3) “if all the Romans… embrace the Christian faith, they will, when theypray, overcome their enemies; or rather, they will not war at all, being guarded by that divine power which promised to save five entire cities for the sake of fifty just persons.” (Against Celsus VIII.70). “And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them.” (Against Celsus VIII.73)

Cyprian (200-258) wrote:
“The world is soaked with mutual blood. When individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state. Impunity is acquired for crimes not by reason of innocence but by the magnitude of the cruelty.” (To Donatus, chapter 6)

Lactantius (260-339) wrote:
“It is not virtue either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances. What are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? — that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues, — all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence. How can a man be just who injures, hates, despoils and puts to death? Yet they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away.” (The Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 6) [Lactantius was the tutor of the son of St Constantine the Great.]

Didaskalia, a syric Church order from around 300 A.D., forbids the receipt of monetary help for the church from “any of the magistrates of the Roman Empire, who are polluted by war.” (Didask. IV vi. 4)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) wrote:
“ ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ Who are these? Those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed.” (The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, Ancient Christian Writers series, Newman Press)

Finally, the fantastic preacher John Chrysostom (347-407) said:
“That they may now understand that this is a new kind of warfare and not the usual custom of joining in battle, when He sent them with nothing He said: And so, marching on, show forth the meekness of lambs, although you are to go to wolves… for so will I best show my power, when the wolves are conquered by the lambs.
… For certainly it is a greater work and much more marvellous to change the minds of opponents and to bring about a change of soul than to kill them… We ought to be ashamed, therefore, who act far differently when as wolves we rush upon our adversaries. For as long as we are lambs we conquer; even when a thousand wolves stand about, we overcome and are victors. But if we act like wolves we are conquered, for then the aid of the Good Shepherd departs from us, for He does not foster wolves but sheep.” (Epistle Matt. Hom 34, n.1)

For more peaceful saints and their writings, check out the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, they have a lot of quotes. Or read Cadoux’ excellent book.

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Rick Blaine says:

    Hello, Micael! Mike Morrell asked me to contact you because he really appreciates your blog and thinks you’d be an excellent candidate for his Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it’s free to join. Sign up here, if you’d like: http://thespeakeasy.info

  2. […] military I feel bad about my military service since doing early church research. It seems it is not compatible with being a true Christian. I know some early Christians started out in the Roman military but most seemed to imitate Christ and die as martyrs. Examples: Early Christian Pacifism | Holy Spirit Activism […]

  3. […] (Mt 5:38-39) Jesus told us to not judge, to love our enemies and to forgive, which is why the early church was pacifist. When emperors Constantine and Theodosius married the chruch with the state and violent theology […]

  4. […] a shift in Catholic thinking concerning peace and justice. More and more Christians discover that the early church was pacifist. The first theologian arguing for just wars was Augustine in the fourth century, who built his […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

A Living Alternative

God vs Inequality

Goodreads

Facebook Page

%d bloggers like this: