Christian Pacifists: Origen


Intro

So far all of the authors we have encountered have emphasized the nonviolent teachings of the New Testament, particularly those of Jesus. They were convinced that followers of Jesus could not harm others (and they speak as though their contemporary Christians did well in following that path). However, there has not been a huge attempt to reconcile the violence of the Old Testament with the peaceful calling they speak of. Tertullian did some when he addressed Marcion, but it is Origen, as far I as know, who is the first to thoroughly tackle this problem.

Origen has been controversial from his own time all the way up through to today. Here is not the place to discuss these controversies, but it must be addressed in some form so the reader understands the relevance of including him in this series. How is including Origen in this series any different than someone such as Marcion, who is considered an ‘arch-heretic’?

Origen was widely read throughout the days of the early church, even centuries after his death. He led a powerfully pious life and was probably the most prolific writer in all of ancient times. His greatest accomplishment was the Hexapla: a critical edition of the Hebrew scriptures with a Hebrew translation and five different Greek translations side by side for easy comparisons. He also wrote hundreds of homilies on almost every book of the Bible. Near the end of his life, his patron Ambrose requested that he write a response to a treatise written by a pagan named Celsus about a hundred years earlier. The treatise by Celsus, called The True Word was a scathing attack on Christianity. Origen countered each point one at a time. For many, it was this work that brought Christianity from a folk religion to an authentic philosophy. Due to Celsus’ attack on Christians’ refusal to partake in the state, particularly the army, many of the quotes given in this post will reference Against Celsus.

Origen is sometimes considered the first major Christian theologian and has influenced every Christian theologian who has come after him at least in some way, and was seen as a “bastion of Orthodoxy” for centuries after his death. So why was he never considered a saint?1 Why are some of views considered heretical? Well, it’s hard to say exactly. Many of the heretical views come from his followers, such as overemphasizing subordinationist views so much that they deny the trinity. There is controversy over what exactly was deemed heretical in Origen (and which of that was actually his teaching), but it basically comes down to his belief in the pre-existence of souls and a certain type of universalism. Since neither of those has any bearing on our subject, you can rest easy as we take a very brief look at the most brilliant theologians of the early church.


Biblical Hermeneutic

Origen read everything through the lens of a crucified Christ. He appealed to scripture for everything that he wrote. However, he believed that there were different levels of scripture.

He saw three levels, or layers, of scripture though he often didn’t distinguish much between the deeper two. The outermost layer was the literal meaning. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll get the moral meaning. The core of the scriptures were in the spiritual understandings of them. He likened these three levels to a wedding. The literal meaning is the actual wedding reception. The moral or emotional level was the form of a union of Christ within the church. The spiritual was the image of the soul’s union with the Logos. He did not explain each meaning for every passage, sometimes only one or two meanings were brought out. One of his supports for this method was Paul’s declaration that the “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).

Origen did not see violence as being compatible with Christians, yet he held all of the scriptures as “inspired by the Holy Spirit”2. How did he approach the violent portions of the Old Testament then? He did not throw out the old violent scriptures like Marcion did, but instead let “Jesus read it” to him.<sup3

Joshua, Chapter 9

 For we who are of the catholic (universal) Church do not reject the Law of Moses, but we accept it if Jesus reads it to us. For thus we shall be able to understand the Law correctly, if Jesus reads it to us.”

The literal reading of the scriptures was often not be be followed. It was the spiritual that followers of Jesus were supposed to take to heart.


Spiritual battles

Appealing to several verses in the New Testament, Origen makes it clear that we are not to follow suit in the wars waged in the Old Testament. We are not to harm anyone, not even for vengeance. What else would we expect from followers of Jesus who said that he was leaving his peace with us?

Joshua 15

Unless those physical wars bore the figure of spiritual wars, I do not think the books of Jewish history would ever have been handed down by the apostles to the disciples of Christ, who came to teach peace, so that they could be read in the churches. For what good was that description of wars to those to whom Jesus says, “My peace I give to you; my peace I leave to you” (John 14:27), and to whom it is commanded and said through the Apostle, “Not avenging your own selves” (Rom. 12:19), and, “Rather, you receive injury,” and, “You suffer offense” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:7)? In short, knowing that now we do not have to wage physical wars, but that the struggles of the soul have to be exerted against spiritual adversaries, the Apostle, just as a military leader, gives an order to the soldiers of Christ, saying, “Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm against the cunning devices of the Devil” (Eph. 6:11). And in order for us to have examples of these spiritual wars from deeds of old, he wanted those narratives of exploits to be recited to us in church.

Joshua, Chapter 14

So what are we to do with these numerous passages of war we find in the Old Testament then? We are to see them as describing spiritual wars. This is not to say that they did not actually happen, but that Christians are not to follow suit.

When that Israel that is is according to the flesh read these same Scriptures before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, they understood nothing in them except wars and the shedding of blood… But after the presence of my Lord Jesus Christ poured the peaceful light of knowledge into human hearts, since, according to the Apostle, he himself is “our peace,” (Eph. 2:14) he teaches us peace from this very reading of wars. For peace is returned to the soul if its own enemies – sins and vices- are expelled from it. Therefore… when we indeed read these things, we also equip ourselves and are roused for battle, but against those enemies that “proceed from our heart”.


Views on (Physical) War

Origen believed that the wars were necessary for Israel, but never for a Christian.4

The following passage shows the classic brilliance of Origen. He finds meaning in every word and phrasing of scripture. So he doesn’t just say that all Christians were disarmed with Peter, but that we are to remain armed, just in a very different way.

Commentary on Matthew 26:52

Soon Jesus said to him who had used the sword and cut off the right ear of that servant, “put up your sword into its place”—not “take away your sword”; there is therefore a place for a sword from which it is not lawful for anyone to take it who does not wish to perish, especially by the sword. For Jesus wishes his disciples to be “pacific,” that putting down this warlike sword they should take up another pacific sword, which Scriptures call “the sword of the spirit.” (Eph. 6:17) In a similar way he says, “all who take the sword shall perish by the sword,”(Matt. 26:52) that is, all who are not pacific but inciters of wars, shall perish in that very war which they stir up. . . . But taking simply what He says, “those who take the sword shall perish by the sword,” we should beware lest because of warfare or the vindication of our rights or for any occasion we should take out the sword, for no such occasion is allowed by this evangelical teaching, which commands us to fulfill what is written, “with those who hated me I was pacific.” If therefore with those that hate peace we must be pacific, we must use the sword against no-one.

Against Celsus 3.7

The following passage shows that the Christians up to Origen’s time had not rebelled nor even acted in a way in which “savors” rebellion. Also note that he acknowledges that the Jews before Christ were permitted to fight and kill.

Neither Celsus nor they who think with him are able to point out any act on the part of Christians which savors of rebellion. And yet, if a revolt had led to the formation of the Christian commonwealth, so that it derived its existence in this way from that of the Jews, who were permitted to take up arms in defense of the members of their families, and to slay their enemies..

He continues with an explanation that Christians are forbidden “to offer violence to anyone”. What’s particularly interesting here is that he sees more than just teaching and example from Jesus. For him, Jesus ushered in a new age. Jesus’ laws came “from a divine source” and had Jesus or his followers achieved the numbers they had by Origen’s time by a violent rebellion, they would not have had the “exceedingly mild character” that they did. For Origen, Jesus’ entire nonviolent defeat of the forces of evil was setting the path for how his followers should live.

..the Christian Lawgiver would not have altogether forbidden the putting of people to death; and yet He nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever. Nor would the Christians, had they owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not to allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors.


Views on Kings and Rulers

In The True Word, Celsus argued that if everyone was to reject military service like the Christians did, then the empire would fall to the barbarians. Origen’s reply to this is in Against Celsus book 8, chapters 65-75. He starts off by explaining that Christians “despise ingratiating ourselves with kings or any other men, not only if their favour is to be won by murders, licentiousness, or deeds of cruelty, but even if it involves impiety towards God, or any servile expressions of flattery and obsequiousness” (ch. 65). However, he continues on to say that “whilst we do nothing which is contrary to the law and word of God, we are not so mad as to ‘stir up against us the wrath of kings and princes, which will bring upon us sufferings and tortures, or even death.” He supports this decision by referencing Romans 13:1-2. He explains further that Christians refuse to “swear by the fortune of the King” because that would either be swearing by nothing itself (if the term fortune is nothing but an empty saying) or by demons. According to Origen, Christians would sooner die than to swear by demons.

In claiming that barbarians would conquer Rome if everyone became a Christian, Celsus scoffed at the idea that God would save them and he used the Jews’ current subjection to the Romans as proof. Origen confirmed that he did believe God would protect them. “But if all the Romans.. embraced the Christian faith, they will, when they pray, overcome their enemies; They will not war at all, being guided by that divine power which promised to save five entire cities for the sake of fifty just persons.”  God would do this, he continues, because “people of God are assuredly the salt of the earth; they preserve the order of the world.” (ch. 70)

He explains this further in chapter 69:

We say that “if two” of us “shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of the Father”[Matt. 18:19] of the just, “which is in heaven;” for God rejoices in the agreement of rational beings, and turns away from discord. And what are we to expect, if not only a very few agree, as at present, but the whole of the empire of Rome? For they will pray to the Word, who of old said to the Hebrews, when they were pursued by the Egyptians, “The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace;”[Exod. 14:14] and if they all unite in prayer with one accord, they will be able to put to flight far more enemies than those who were discomfited by the prayer of Moses when he cried to the Lord, and of those who prayed with him.

So what about Celsus’ claim that God never protected the Jewish people? Origen claims that it was not due to God, but to the people not obeying God. If the Romans were to all obey God, which was essentially the claim, then God would protect them and they would not need to war(69). He also claimed:

Against Celsus 8.68

In these circumstances the king will not “be left in utter solitude and desertion,” neither will “the affairs of the world fall into the hands of the most impious and wild barbarians.” For if, in the words of Celsus, “they do as I do,” then it is evident that even the barbarians, when they yield obedience to the word of God, will become most obedient to the law, and most humane; and every form of worship will be destroyed except the religion of Christ, which will alone prevail. And indeed it will one day triumph, as its principles take possession of the minds of people more and more each day.

When criticized for not helping the King and empire maintain it’s safety and power, Origen simply claimed that Christians did support the King, and more effectively than soldiers. To Origen, Christians were priests to the one true God, “keeping their hands pure” to ensure God’s favor and support. So whereas a few centuries later fighting was seen as a way to enforce the favor of God, Origen taught that restraint from fighting was the way to do it. (ch. 73)

..We do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;”[1 Tim. 2:1-2] and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers… 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… 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. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army–an army of piety–by offering our prayers to God.


Conclusion

Commentary on John: 20.292

And if the only way one becomes a son of the Father who is in heaven is by loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute one, it is clear that no one hears the words of God because he is of God by nature, but because he has received power to become a child of God and has made proper use of this power, and because he has loved his enemies and prayed for those who abuse him, and has become a son of the Father who is in heaven.



Verses

Exodus 14:14; Psalm 101:8; Matthew 5:39, 44-45, 10:29-30, 18:19 (Masses of Christians praying together is effective), 26:52;Luke 14:34-35, 24:27, 44-45; John 14:27, 16:33; Romans 12:19; 1 Corinthians 6:7; 2 Corinthians 3:6 (Used to interpret violent passages of the OT); Ephesians 2:14, 6:11; Philippians 4:13; 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (We should support Kings by prayer)

Notes

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origen#Influence_on_the_later_church

2 On First Principles, Book I Chapter 3

3 Luke 24:27, 44-45

4 Against Celsus, Book VII, Chapter 26

Further Reading

Early Christian Writings

Homilies on Joshua

Article on Origen’s Allegorical Method

On First Principles: 4.18; Homilies on Joshua: In particular 14, 15; Commentary on Matthew: Commentary on 26:52; Against Celsus: 1.1, 2.3, 3.7,3.8, 4.82, 4.83, 4.9, 5.33, 7.18-20, 7.22, 7.26, 7.58, 7.59. 7.61, 8.35, 8.55, 8.65-75; Commentary on John: 20.290, 20.292

More in the Series

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Spreading the Gospel in Light of the Crucifixion

I’m going to start with a lengthy quote from John Cecil Cadoux’s The Early Christian Attitude to War p. 63. I apologize for it’s length but it’s so well written I felt I needed to include it nearly in full (emphasis mine).

..Was he not in any case [when tempted in the desert] invested by God with supreme authority over men, and was it not his life’s work to bring in the Kingdom as speedily as possible? Assuming that the use of military force did not appear to him to be in itself illegitimate, why should he not have used it? Had he not the most righteous of causes? Would not the enterprise have proved in his hands a complete success? Would he not have ruled the world much better than Tiberius was doing? … But on the assumption that he regarded the use of violence and injury as a method that was in itself contrary to the Will of God, which contained among its prime enactments the laws of love and gentleness, his attitude to the suggestion of world-empire becomes easily intelligible. Other incidents bear out this conclusion. He refuses to be taken and made a king by the Galileans : he does not stir a finger to compel Antipas to release the Baptist or to punish him for the Baptist’s death or to prevent or avenge any other of the many misdeeds of “that she-fox.” He was not anxious to exact from Pilatus a penalty for the death of those Galileans whose blood the governor had mingled with their sacrifices. He made no attempt to constrain men to do good or desist from evil by the application of physical force or the infliction of physical injuries. He did not go beyond a very occasional use of his personal ascendancy in order to put a stop to proceedings that appeared to him unseemly. He pronounces a blessing on peace-makers as the children of God and on the gentle as the inheritors of the earth. He laments the ignorance of Jerusalem as to ‘the (things that make) for peace.’ He demands the forgiveness of all injuries as the condition of receiving the divine pardon for oneself. His own conduct on the last day of his life is the best comment on all this teaching. He does not try to escape, he offers no resistance to the cruelties and indignities inflicted upon him, and forbids his followers to strike a blow on his behalf. He addresses mild remonstrances to the traitor and to his captors, and at the moment of crucifixion prays to God to pardon his enemies : “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

I thought this was a powerful example of how Jesus, despite being able to use violence to further his agenda, refused. He lived in a critical time when the Jews were under Roman rule and his purposes are certainly more important than ours, and yet he apparently didn’t think using violence was necessary nor would it hurry along his message. This reminded me of something Origen wrote in Against Celsus 3.7

[If he had begun his ministry with a violent revolt, he could have allowed his followers to take up arms in defense and kill their enemies] and yet He nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever. Nor would the Christians, had they owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not to allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors.

For Origen, Jesus’ refusal to begin his revolution violently was a condemnation of his followers to continue it violently. Though we have no records of Jesus bringing up our nuanced scenarios to justify violence, whether it be defending ourselves, defending the innocent or obeying the ruling powers, Jesus lived through all of those scenarios and yet never once did he engage in or promote violence.

He could have invoked a rebellion against the Romans as the Jews did before and after him, surely God could win it for the underdogs as is shown repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, but he did not. Instead he warned that ‘those who live by the sword, die by the sword’. He could have led a rebellion against the slavery that was destroying people’s lives around him, saved John the Baptist’s life, fought against those dehumanized through the painful execution of crucifixion (we know he had thousands of followers listening to him at least twice) but he never did. He could have become ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth, and yet he rejected the offer. He could have defended himself against the soldiers who were to crucify him, and yet he remained silent. I think it’s important to note that his followers did the same in the coming years.

The world he lived in was less different to ours than we sometimes realize. The Jews were not living in a peaceful little enclave where Jesus was able to give only nice, peaceful advice without threat from the outside world. He lived in a violent world within a small group of people who were occupied by a violent government. He led a peaceful life among violent people. His entire ministry came to a head at his crucifixion where he refused to strike back, refused to hurl threats or insults and instead begged for them to be forgiven. His refusal to begin his revolution with violence but instead with love and forgiveness is a powerful statement as to how he wanted the movement to spread throughout and shape the world.

Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Path – A Review

Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Path

This book runs just under 100 pages, but it packs quite a punch. It’s written by an ex-marine gone pacifist, but it is very clear from the very start that the way of pacifism is not the mark of only true Christians. As he says, “Pacifism, or any other fruit of the Narrow Way, is not a precondition for salvation, but Christ’s followers should desire to bear as much fruit for our Lord as is made possible by His power.” He knows many who are not pacifists yet love God and follow him in many ways. They may be mistaken here, he believes, but that is no call to belittle their faith or salvation in God.

Starting off I’ll make it clear what the purpose of this book is as I see it. It’s a concise book with a testimony and some powerful words to chew on. It is not nor does it claim to be an extensive refutation of Christian violence, but simply to offer some wise words. Don’t think that I mean this book doesn’t offer much fruit, certainly it does, but one needs to realize just what is trying to be accomplished in these 100 pages.

The first chapter is his testimony. I enjoyed it. It tells of a bit of his upbringing and how his attitudes towards war and killing began to slowly crumble as he served in the army. The most interesting part was how he quotes from a speech he gave as a marine in favor of the Vietnam War and contrasts it point by point with his views now. It was the second and third chapters that really shined in my opinion though.

The second chapter discussed some of the convincing words he found in the New Testament, particularly those of Jesus. These words seemed to be the ones which burned most in his heart as he turned away from violence as an option. None of it is particularly revolutionary, though Snow’s writing really shines through here as he illuminates the text in a very vivid way. He strongly emphasizes our need to follow Jesus as close as we can in every way. “With our hand in His, we grow and mature as daily we learn the lessons of love.” Engaging in violence is turning away from the given example of Jesus to do things our own way even if just for a bit.

The third chapter was one of my favorites. It discussed violence in the Old Testament. It is in no way trying to tackle that entire issue – if you want a book that does that then check out Greg Boyd’s 1400 page tome Crucifixion of a Warrior God – but it definitely offers food for thought that would be good at planting a seed in a field of doubt. Some look through the Old Testament and think there is no possible way to reconcile those scriptures with a nonviolent God. While this chapter probably won’t entirely convince you that a nonviolent reading is the most accurate (and if it does, you need to dig deeper), it will surely show you that perhaps it’s possible. His method is to a take a few of the bigger scenarios and point out where we can see God’s nonviolent nature burning through the murk. He discusses how God’s promise to give the promised land to Moses was thwarted by Moses and Joshua themselves as they feared the occupying forces and took to arms. He discusses how David, the warrior after God’s own heart, was forbidden by God to build His temple not because of adultery or cold blooded murder or polygamy, but because he was a warrior with blood on his hands And he discusses how Elijah, despite being the catalyst to end the three year drought, was on the run from Jezebel and wishing for death because of his violent act of killing pagan worshippers. We get a glimpse of how God wanted to work when Elisha feeds and cares for the enemy in 2 Kings 6-7. Instead of attacking the enemy, Elisha shows love and God scares away the army without having to use violence. When the Israelite’s trust God, they do not need to fight. When they put fear ahead of God, they live, and die, by the sword.

The last two chapters were more practical in nature. I found the second half of chapter five especially encouraging. Snow has such a gracious tone towards those who don’t agree with his views, yet he never steps down from his convictions even for a moment.

I was honestly surprised at how much I loved this book. It was simple, but offered so many gems along the way. The only reason I cannot give this five stars is because the editing was quite bad. There were many typos. Mostly easily understood ones like writing ‘and’ for ‘an’, but there were a few that made me stumble for a bit. But at this price, I can’t say it should deter anyone too much.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free for reviewing purposes. This fact had absolutely no influence on my opinion of the book nor this review.

Christian Pacifists: Tertullian


Born in Carthage to pagan parents, Septimius Tertullianus (Tertullian) was extremely well educated. He was a prolithic writer and probably wrote more extensively on war than any other Christian writer during the first three centuries. He went to Rome to study when he was about twenty years old. That is where his interest in Christianity began. Sometime after moving back to Carthage he converted to Christianity because he “was impressed by certain Christian attitudes and beliefs: the courage and determination of martyrs, moral rigorism, and an uncompromising belief in one God.“1 He didn’t write write or preach in order to contemplate and further understand the mysteries of God. He didn’t write to encourage or edify his community. He “preached, interpreted Scripture and wrote in order to argue. He was a pugilist with a pen.”2 All of his writings were on the subjects of controversy or points of dispute. He wrote with wit and sarcasm and rarely held a punch (well, verbally at least). Despite his abrasive writing style and controversial obsessions, he taught of a tender love that did not retaliate, but loved its enemies through to the end.


Christ’s Example:

All of Tertullian’s arguments regarding violence ultimately come down to looking at Jesus. It was Jesus who taught love of enemies over hating them and it was Jesus who lived that out perfectly. This Christocentric view led him to read some of the Old Testament metaphorically, in particular the violent portions.

On Patience, Chapter 3

This is from a short treaty on Patience. It is quite short and beautiful. Due to their violent oppression, the early Christians, who believed they were never to retaliate, gave patience great importance. To Tertullian, God himself was an example of patience. But is the patience shown by God unattainable by us lowly creatures? No, says Tertullian, because of the example we gain through Christ.

The third chapter of his treaty on patience is particularly powerful for me and I was very tempted to just quote it all here. It is a short walkthrough of Jesus’ humble life. Note how Jesus never retaliates. The bit with Malchus is interesting too for Tertullian believed that Jesus’ disarming of Peter was the disarming of every Christian.

He yielded to His ensnarers. This were a small matter, if He had not had in His company even His own betrayer, and steadfastly abstained from pointing him out. Moreover, while He is being betrayed, while He is being led up “as a sheep for a victim,” (for “so He no more opens His mouth than a lamb under the power of the shearer,”)[Isaiah 53.7]He to whom, had He willed it, legions of angels would at one word have presented themselves from the heavens, approved not the avenging sword of even one disciple. The patience of the Lord was wounded in (the wound of) Malchus3 [John 18:10-11; Luke 22-49-51]. And so, too, He cursed for the time to come the works of the sword; and, by the restoration of health, made satisfaction to him whom Himself had not hurt, through Patience, the mother of Mercy.

On Idolatry, Chapter 18

If, also, He exercised no right of power even over His own followers, to whom He discharged menial ministry; if, in short, though conscious of His own kingdom, He shrank back from being made a king, He in the fullest manner gave His own an example for turning coldly from all the pride and garb, as well of dignity as of power. For if they were to be used, who would rather have used them than the Son of God?… Therefore what He was unwilling to accept, He has rejected; what He rejected, He has condemned; what He condemned, He has counted as part of the devil’s pomp. For He would not have condemned things, except such as were not His; but things which are not God’s, can be no other’s but the devil’s.


On War

On Idolatry, Chapter 19

Tertullian had just discussed the inappropriateness of a Christian being in the army due to the sacrifices required (See part one of the series for more details). Now he turns the discussion to whether or not even the lower ranked soldiers need keep away from the military. His answer is a clear no. First of all, one cannot serve both God and Caesar. Secondly, no Christians may arm themselves after Jesus disarmed Peter.

[Now let’s discuss] whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith… to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters–God and Caesar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? [Matt 26:52; 2 Cor 10:4; John 18:36] For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.

Against Marcion Book III, Chapter 14

In arguing against Marcion’s claim that the God of the Old Testament and the one Jesus spoke of were different (evil and good respectively), Tertullian seeks to find the nonviolent Christ spoken of in the old scriptures. He does so by claiming that the violent passages in which he sees the Divine Word being spoken of are merely figurative.

This interpretation of ours will derive confirmation, when, on your supposing that Christ is in any passage called a warrior, from the mention of certain arms and expressions of that sort, you weigh well the analogy of their other meanings, and draw your conclusions accordingly. “Gird on Thy sword,” says David, “upon Thy thigh.” [Psalm 45:3] But what do you read about Christ just before? “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured forth upon Thy lips.” [Psalm 45:2] It amuses me to imagine that blandishments of fair beauty and graceful lips are ascribed to one who had to gird on His sword for war! So likewise, when it is added, “Ride on prosperously in Thy majesty,” the reason is subjoined: “Because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness.” [Psalm 45:4] But who shall produce these results with the sword, and not their opposites rather–deceit, and harshness, and injury–which, it must be confessed, are the proper business of battles?…

He then goes on to describe how Revelations 1:16 describes the Divine Word figuratively as a sword and quotes Ephesians 6:14-17 to show more metaphorical usages of the military. After establishing that there are times in which the scriptures use figurative language when talking about violence he continues.

Thus is the Creator’s Christ mighty in war, and a bearer of arms; thus also does He now take the spoils, not of Samaria alone, but of all nations. Acknowledge, then, that His spoils are figurative, since you have learned that His arms are allegorical. Since, therefore, both the Lord speaks and His apostle writes such things in a figurative style, we are not rash in using His interpretations, the records of which even our adversaries admit; and thus in so far will it be Isaiah’s Christ who has come, in as far as He was not a warrior, because it is not of such a character that He is described by Isaiah.


Praying for Leaders

Though vehemently against war, Tertullian claimed that Christians still prayed for the emperor. This next passage comes right after a few chapters of him discrediting the efficacy of making sacrifices to the emperor. He contrasts the sacrifices offered by the Romans with the Christian who prays. The former are all useless and, to make matters worse, they are offered by those with “a polluted conscience”. The Christian, however, “has claims upon God’s gifts” due to their suffering for Him, thus becoming sacrifices themselves. He concludes with the haunting words “The very posture of the Christian at prayer is preparation for any punishment.”

Thither we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed; finally, without a monitor, because it is from the heart we supplicate. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish. These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer despatched from the chaste body, an unstained soul, a sanctified spirit, not the few grains of incense a farthing buys–tears of an Arabian tree,–not a few drops of wine,–not the blood of some worthless ox to which death is a relief, and, in addition to other offensive things, a polluted conscience, so that one wonders, when your victims are examined by these vile priests, why the examination is not rather of the sacrificers than the sacrifices. With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us,–the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment. Let this, good rulers, be your work: wring from us the soul, beseeching God on the emperor’s behalf. Upon the truth of God, and devotion to His name, put the brand of crime.


Loving our Enemies

Apology, Chapter 37

If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands? … But away with the idea of a sect divine avenging itself by human fires, or shrinking from the sufferings in which it is tried.. You prefer to hold us enemies, as indeed we are, yet not of man, but rather of his error.

Apology, Chapter 46

The Christian, even when he is condemned, gives thanks. If the comparison be made in regard to trustworthiness, Anaxagoras denied the deposit of his enemies: the Christian is noted for his fidelity even among those who are not of his religion. If the matter of sincerity is to be brought to trial, Aristotle basely thrust his friend Hermias from his place: the Christian does no harm even to his foe.

Patience, Chapter 8

We who carry about our very soul, our very body, exposed in this world to injury from all, and exhibit patience under that injury; shall we be hurt at the loss of less important things? Far from a servant of Christ be such a defilement as that the patience which has been prepared for greater temptations should forsake him in frivolous ones. If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the monition of the Lord is at hand: “To him,” He saith, “who smiteth thee on the face, turn the other cheek likewise.” Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience.


Vengeance is God’s

In chapter 8 of his treatise On Patience, as we have just read, he encourages us to ‘turn the other cheek’ in order to let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience. He then proceeds to explain that all those who hurt others will be hurt even worse by the Lord. Thus, according to Tertullian, we should not try to take revenge ourselves, but let God have his revenge. In Chapter 10 of the same treatise he explains that the only difference between a provoker and a provoked is that one did the evil first and the other second. He explains:

Yet each stands impeached of hurting a man in the eye of the Lord, who both prohibits and condemns every wickedness… And the precept is absolute, that evil is not to be repaid with evil. Like deed involves like merit. How shall we observe that principle, if in our loathing we shall not loathe revenge?


On the Law

In the following passage, Tertullian explains that before Christ, the law was “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. Jesus, in his coming, “united the grace of faith with patience”, thus prohibiting anger in favor of meekness.

Patience, Chapter 6

For men were of old wont to require “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” and to repay with usury “evil with evil; ” for, as yet, patience was not on earth, because faith was not either. Of course, meantime, impatience used to enjoy the opportunities which the law gave. That was easy, while the Lord and Master of patience was absent. But after He has supervened, and has united the grace of faith with patience, now it is no longer lawful to assail even with word, nor to say “fool” even, without “danger of the judgment.” Anger has been prohibited, our spirits retained, the petulance of the hand checked, the poison of the tongue extracted. The law has found more than it has lost, while Christ says, “Love your personal enemies, and bless your cursers, and pray for your persecutors, that ye may be sons of your heavenly Father.” Do you see whom patience gains for us as a Father? In this principal precept the universal discipline of patience is succinctly comprised, since evil-doing is not conceded even when it is deserved.


On Martyrdom

Apology, Chapter 50

In that case, you say, why do you complain of our persecutions? You ought rather to be grateful to us for giving you the sufferings you want. Well, it is quite true that it is our desire to suffer, but it is in the way that the soldier longs for war. No one indeed suffers willingly, since suffering necessarily implies fear and danger. Yet the man who objected to the conflict, both fights with all his strength, and when victorious, he rejoices in the battle, because he reaps from it glory and spoil. It is our battle to be summoned to your tribunals that there, under fear of execution, we may battle for the truth. But the day is won when the object of the struggle is gained. This victory of ours gives us the glory of pleasing God, and the spoil of life eternal. But we are overcome. Yes, when we have obtained our wishes. Therefore we conquer in dying; we go forth victorious at the very time we are subdued.



Verses

Deuteronomy 32:35; Isaiah 2:2-4, 52:7(Romans 10:15), 53:7, 66:5; Zechariah 7:10, 8:17; Matthew 5:44(Luke 6:27-29), 5:39, 6:24(Luke 16:13), 26:52; Luke 6:31; John 18:10-11(Luke 22:49-51); Romans 12:17; Ephesians 6:14-17; 1 Timothy 2:1

Notes

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tertullian

https://www.amazon.com/Tertullian-Early-Church-Fathers-Geoffrey/dp/0415282314

3 The one whose ear was cut off by Peter

Further Reading

Tertullian’s Writings

http://www.tertullian.org/

Apology Chapters 30, 31, 37, 42, 50; Of PatienceAn Answer to the Jews Chapter 3 ; The Shows Chapters 2, 16; On Idolatry Chapters 17-19; Against Marcion Book 3 Chapter 14, 21, 22, Book 4 Chapter 16, Book 5 Chapter 18; The Crown Everything, but especially 1-4, 11; To Scapula

Christian Pacifists: Clement of Alexandria


When going through who to include in this series, I had to decide what learning about Clement of Alexandria would benefit the reader. This is not a series on history nor am I trying to help build a pacifistic Christian stance by simply writing about every Christian pacifist in order to prove it’s worth through sheer numbers. I want Christians to understand arguments for a Christ based pacifism as well as give practical advice on how to live out the life of peace. It is this latter concern which led me to include Clement of Alexandria. Many of the early Christians wrote in order to defend their views against non-Christians. As a result, much of these early writings contain similar arguments, using the Bible to explain Christian beliefs (this is why I didn’t include Iranaeous. He didn’t present anything new for us to learn that Justin Martyr hadn’t already).

Clement, though, wrote for a different purpose and most of his passages we will look at are more pastoral in nature. So hopefully this post is more instructional and inspirational rather than just proving and defending.

Everything we will cover is from his great trilogy. The first book, Protrepticus (Exhortations), was written to Greeks in an effort to convert them to Christianity. The second book, Paedagogus (The Instructor), demonstrates how Jesus is our teacher and discusses how we can and should follow him. The last book called the Stromata (Miscellanies) is, as the name suggests, a collection of various and often unrelated thoughts.


Beliefs

Clement believed that Christ was the perfect realization of God’s likeness while we were merely made in his image. (The Instructor 1.12) Jesus is rationality (the Word, Logos) and sinfulness is irrationality. Thus, according Clement, we need to dwell on Christ and strive to imitate him in order to rid ourselves of our irrational nature and find salvation.

Christians are repeatedly encouraged to continually “contemplate the Divine”, that is Christ, who is “reproving evil, exposing the causes of evil affections, and striking at the roots of irrational lusts, pointing out what we ought to abstain from, and supplying all the antidotes of salvation to those who are diseased.” (The Educator 1.12). We are to view Christ as our teacher, our commander and our Lord. It is him whom we follow, not earthly rulers.

 

The Instructor Book II, Chapter 4

In the first paragraph below he explains that humans are made for peace and so, unlike others, Christians do not use instruments of war but of peace. That instrument of peace is the Word. The second paragraph tells us how we ‘use’ this instrument of peace: Intimacy with God expressed in thanksgiving and the chanting of psalms. We are to be sure to retire for bed with songs of praise on our lips. I actually prefer a different translation for that last section: Finally, before partaking of sleep, it is a sacred duty to give thanks to God, having enjoyed His grace and love, and so go straight to sleep. ‘And confess to Him in songs of the lips,’ he says, ‘because in His command all His good pleasure is done, and there is no deficiency in His salvation.’

In reality, man is an instrument made for peace, but these other things, if anyone concerns himself overmuch with them, become instruments of conflict, for they either enkindle desires or inflame the passions. The Etruscans, for example, use the trumpet for war; the Arcadians, the horn; the Sicels, the flute; the Cretans, the lyre; the Lacedemonians, the pipe; the Thracians, the bugle; the Egyptians, the drum; and the Arabs, the cymbal. But as for us, we make use of one instrument alone: only the Word of peace, by whom we pay homage to God, no longer with ancient harp or trumpet or drum or flute which those trained for war employ…

For, if ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God’, and after that, ‘thy neighbor’, then intimacy with God must come first, and be expressed in thanksgiving and chanting of psalms. Only then are we free to show sociability toward our neighbor in a respectful comradeship. ‘Let the word of the Lord dwell in you abundantly’, the Apostle says… Again, it is a holy duty to give thanks to God for the favors and the love we have received from Him, before we fall asleep. ‘Give praise to Him with canticles of your lips,’ Scripture says, ‘because at His command, every favor is shown, and there is no diminishing of His salvation.” [Sirach. 39:20-23]

 

Exhortation, Chapter 10

A quick glance at the following quote may seem that Clement is clearly saying that one should obey their commander if enrolled in the army. But a closer look makes it clear for at least two reasons that he is in fact referring to Jesus as their commander whom they must obey.

  1. While the first two career examples (farming and sailing) are mentioned as though anyone could be one, the example of the soldier begins with “Has knowledge taken hold of you while engaged in military service?” This seems to imply, strongly to me, that he assumed a Christian would not become a soldier, but that perhaps one may become a Christian who was already in the service.
  2. The structure seems to support following the orders of Jesus (and not an earthly commander). “If you are a farmer, then farm, but do so with God. Are you a sailor? Then sail, but sail with God. Have you become a Christian while being a soldier? Then follow your commander.” If he were to mean ‘earthly commander’, then does the soldier not need follow God like the farmer and sailor? It seems so following this interpretation. It makes more sense if he were to continue the trend and command the soldier to follow God (whom he compares to a commander in The Instructor 1.7). This also fits in perfectly with the rest of the passage which discusses following Jesus, including explicit mentions of loving your neighbor as yourself and turning the other cheek as we see in the second paragraph I quoted.

For man has been otherwise constituted by nature, so as to have fellowship with God. As, then, we do not compel the horse to plough, or the bull to hunt, but set each animal to that for which it is by nature fitted; so, placing our finger on what is man’s peculiar and distinguishing characteristic above other creatures, we invite him… for the contemplation of heaven, and… to the knowledge of God, counselling him to furnish himself with… piety. Practise husbandry, we say, if you are a husbandman; but while you till your fields, know God. Sail the sea, you who are devoted to navigation, yet call the whilst on the heavenly Pilot. Has knowledge taken hold of you while engaged in military service? Listen to the commander, who orders what is right…

Let, then, the Athenian follow the laws of Solon, and the Argive those of Phoroneus, and the Spartan those of Lycurgus: but if thou enrol thyself as one of God’s people, heaven is thy country, God thy lawgiver. And what are the laws? “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not seduce boys; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” And the complements of these are those laws of reason and words of sanctity which are inscribed on men’s hearts: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; to him who strikes thee on the cheek, present also the other;” “thou shalt not lust, for by lust alone thou hast committed adultery.”

What a beautiful passage indeed. We are not to recede from the world, but to practice our work in the continuing knowledge of God. However, we are not citizens of any earthly kingdom nor should we follow their rules, but of the heavenly one of which we should follow the rules. While earthly kingdoms may demand hating common enemies and killing them, the Kingdom of Heaven demands one to refrain from killing and violence and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The next chapter ends with this passage:

He who obeys Him has the advantage in all things, follows God, obeys the Father, knows Him through wandering, loves God, loves his neighbour, fulfills the commandment, seeks the prize, claims the promise. But it has been God’s fixed and constant purpose to save the flock of men: for this end the good God sent the good Shepherd… The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects the soldiers, and proclaims war. And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? Well, by His blood, and by the word, He has gathered the bloodless host of peace, and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven. The trumpet of Christ is His Gospel. He hath blown it, and we have heard. “Let us array ourselves in the armour of peace, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and taking the shield of faith, and binding our brows with the helmet, of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” let us sharpen [Ephesians 6:14-17]. So the apostle in the spirit of peace commands.

 

The Instructor Book I, Chapter 18

In this passage Clement assures us that the life God demands, lofty as it may be, is not too lofty. Through him we are able to obtain the character of a true follower of God.

Having now accomplished those things, it were a fitting sequel that our instructor Jesus should draw for us the model of the true life, and train humanity in Christ… He enjoins His commands, and at the same time gives them such a character that they may be accomplished… For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained. War needs great preparation, and luxury craves profusion; but peace and love, simple and quiet sisters, require no arms nor excessive preparation. The Word is their sustenance.

 

Miscellanies Book II, Chapter 18

We’ll end with a passage wherein Clement briefly discusses how even in the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to love and care for everyone.

Now love is conceived in many ways, in the form of meekness, of mildness, of patience, of liberality, of freedom from envy, of absence of hatred, of forgetfulness of injuries. In all it is incapable of being divided or distinguished: its nature is to communicate. Again, it is said, “If you see the beast of your relatives, or friends, or, in general, of anybody you know, wandering in the wilderness, take it back and restore it; and if the owner be far away, keep it among your own till he return, and restore it.” [quoted from Philo with slight alterations giving the sense of Ex. 23:4] It teaches a natural communication, that what is found is to be regarded as a deposit, and that we are not to bear malice to an enemy. “The command of the Lord being a fountain of life” truly, “causeth to turn away from the snare of death.”[Prov. 14:27] And what? Does it not command us “to love strangers not only as friends and relatives, but as ourselves, both in body and soul?” [Lev. 19:33-34, Deut. 10:19] Nay more, it honoured the nations, and bears no grudge against those who have done ill. Accordingly it is expressly said, “Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, for thou wast a sojourner in Egypt;” [Deut. 23:7] designating by the term Egyptian either one of that race, or any one in the world. And enemies, although drawn up before the walls attempting to take the city, are not to be regarded as enemies till they are by the voice of the herald summoned to peace. [Deut. 20:10]


Summary

In summary, Clement saw Jesus as ultimate Reason. We were designed for peace and he alone is the way to peace. He is of the same essence of God and we must follow him the very best that we can. If we are constantly dwelling on him and attempting to imitate him, how can we harm others? If he taught love of neighbors and turning the other cheek, if he refused to retaliate and forgave his murderers in the very act, then how could we do anything else?



Scriptural Basis

Matthew 22:37-40/Luke 10:27; Matthew 5:43-48/Luke 6:27-31

Clement believed that we should follow Christ and imitate him the best we can. These verses are often used to show how Jesus acted (and therefore how we should act).

Ephesians 6:14-17

He often contrasts how the earthly kingdoms do things, through violence, and how the Kingdom of God does things, through peace. This passage is used to show how, instead of swords and armor, we use righteousness, faith, salvation and the Spirit to fight instead of physical violent weapons.

Leviticus 19:33–34; Deuteronomy 10:19, 20:10, 23:7

These passages are used to show that even to the Israelites God commanded them to take care of the foreigner and find peace even among strangers.

Further Reading

Clement’s Writings (In particular Exhortation Chapter 10; Paedagogus (The Instructor) Book I, Chapters 12,18; Book II Chapters 4, 18; Stromata (Miscellanies) Book II, Chapter 18

Christian Pacifists: Justin Martyr


Life:

Justin Martyr was born in Samaria to a pagan family. He searched for truth in different philosophies, but none satisfied him until he began to study Platonism. It was here that he first found a philosophy that seemed to speak truth to him. However, he eventually met an old Syrian Christian who convinced him of that Christianity contained the ultimate truth.

From that point on, he devoted his life to the study and defense of the Christian religion as a legitimate (in fact, the ultimate) and rational philosophy. Starting his own school in Rome and proclaiming that this relatively new and superstitious sect was the truest philosophy ruffled some feathers. Supposedly a debate with the cynic philosopher Crescens led to a trial by Junius Rusticus, a teacher of Marcus Aurelius and urban prefect at the time. Losing the trial, Justin and six of his companions were beheaded, thus earning him the title of martyr.

The Prefect Rusticus says: Approach and sacrifice, all of you, to the gods. Justin says: No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety. The Prefect Rusticus says: If you do not obey, you will be tortured without mercy. Justin replies: That is our desire, to be tortured for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and so to be saved, for that will give us salvation and firm confidence at the more terrible universal tribunal of Our Lord and Saviour. And all the martyrs said: Do as you wish; for we are Christians, and we do not sacrifice to idols. The Prefect Rusticus read the sentence: Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws. The holy martyrs glorifying God betook themselves to the customary place, where they were beheaded and consummated their martyrdom confessing their Saviour. 1

Before even looking at his writings, I think it’s important to look at his life. His execution could have been prevented by simply making sacrifices, but he stayed true all the way through to the end. Not only that, he has the haunting response to the threat of execution: That is our desire, to be tortured for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and so to be saved, for that will give us salvation and firm confidence at the more terrible universal tribunal of Our Lord and Saviour. The martyrs have no fear or anger. They saw it as an honor, even as purifying, to die for Christ. They truly believed and lived out the last beatitude (Matthew 5:10-12). This is evidence of Justin practicing what he preached too, for he wrote about the non-earthly Kingdom of God in his First Apology, chapter 11:

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose… that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God… though [we] know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain… But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.

Here he makes it clear that it is not human kingdoms which we follow, but Christ himself.

Writings

First Apology

Chapter 14:

We who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live comfortably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all.

Chapter 15:

For Christ called not the just nor the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious, and the unjust; His words being, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” For the heavenly Father desires rather the repentance than the punishment of the sinner. And of our love to all, He taught thus: “If ye love them that love you, what new thing do ye? for even fornicators do this. But I say unto you, Pray for your enemies, and love them that hate you, and bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” [Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14]

Chapter 16:

And concerning our being patient of injuries, and ready to serve all, and free from anger, this is what He said: “To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak or coat, forbid not. And whosoever shall be angry, is in danger of the fire. And every one that compelleth thee to go with him a mile, follow him two. And let your good works shine before men, that they, seeing them, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” [Matt. 5:22, 39-41] For we ought not to strive; neither has He desired us to be imitators of wicked men, but He has exhorted us to lead all men, by patience and gentleness, from shame and the love of evil. And this indeed is proved in the case of many who once were of your way of thinking, but have changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by the constancy which they have witnessed in their neighbours’ lives, or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow-travellers when defrauded, or by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business.

 

Scriptural Basis

 

Isaiah 2:3-4; Micah 4:1-4

If you’re reading carefully, you’ll notice a trend: Justin keeps talking about the changed life of Christian converts. Obviously in the originally writing he speaks of more than just the aspects pertaining to violence, but you get a sense that he’s commenting on how before people are violent, impatient, hateful and ready to destroy one another, but after following Christ they become peaceful, patient and loving, even towards enemies.

Justin often described this change as a fulfillment of Isaiah 2:3-4 and Micah 4:1-4 (the swords into plowshares passages). To Justin, the future had come! Christians were living by the law and Word of God and peace was being established. He often explicitly references one of those passages in his arguments.

Dialogue with Trypho

Here is one passage as an example of how he uses the Christian community’s behavior as fulfilling the prophesies in Isaiah/Micah.

Chapter 110:

And when I had finished these words (Micah 4:14), I continued: “Now I am aware that your teachers (Jewish teachers), sirs, admit the whole of the words of this passage to refer to Christ; and I am likewise aware that they maintain He has not yet come… O unreasoning men! [Can you not see that we] Christians.. having learned the true worship of God from the law… who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,–our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,–and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified[?]

 

Matthew 5:22, 44-45

Justin seems to use the Isaiah and Micah prophesies to prove they are living in true communion with the Word, and the Sermon on the Mount as to why Christians are behaving so peacefully. It’s not really worth quoting because he literally just explains that they behave in certain ways because Jesus told them to, but the relevant passages are as follows:

First Apology 15 and 16 (as I quoted earlier), Dialogue with Trypho 85, 96

 

Matthew 22:17-21

This is a bit different, but I felt it important to add. In at least one place (First Apology, 17), Justin quotes Jesus saying “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. He makes it clear that, while they give all of their worship to God and only God, they are not looking to overthrow the empire. In fact, he says that they pray for the “kingly power… to possess also sound judgement.”

Notes

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08580c.htm

Further reading

Justin’s Writings (In particular First Apology 14-16, 39; Dialogue with Trypho 85, 96, 110)

 

I am very heavily indebted to Ronald J. Snider’s Early Church on Killing. He has made finding the relevant passages very convenient. I imagine I will be referring to his book in every post made about the early Church.

Christian Pacifists: Introduction

Note: I started a series on Christian pacifists throughout the ages on Reddit (r/Christianpacifism). Because I started on there, I will keep posting there as well, but I’m going to C&P each post for this blog because linking to the Reddit is tedious.

Introduction



First a quick rundown of what exactly I aim this series to be. When I first became convinced that Christianity teaches pacifism, I looked for resources from other Christians in history. One thing that I saw quite frequently was the claim that Christianity was a completely peaceful religion which rejected war entirely during the first several hundred years of its existence. Rarely did I ever see any evidence or sources for the claims though. Occasionally people would quote someone or even makes big collections of anti-violence quotes from the church fathers.. but again, no sources or context.

I decided to dig a bit deeper. I read a few books and am slowly working my way through the original writings of these influential Christians now. I am making this series as a simple resource for others to learn about the actual thoughts and arguments used from pacifist Christians throughout history as well as give sources so others know where they can learn more.

The aim of this work is not to give all the gritty theology and details of each Christian, but enough of their life and historical setting that we can put their teachings on peace in the correct context, to quote some of their actual arguments for peace, to point out some resources for further study and to list the verses they often quote. It is my hope that this helps the pacifist Christian community become more literate in its history and capable of defending its views.

I am an amateur and am relatively new at this research, so please let me know of any errors I make along the way so we stay on the path to truth.


Rome

It all started with a priestess, Rhea Silvia, daughter of a former king of Alba who had been displaced by his brother. As a vestal virgin, she had taken a vow of chastity in order to study how to correctly observe state rituals. She gave birth to twins, however, after she was visited and impregnated by Mars, the god of war. The boys, Romulus and Remus, were hunted down by their great-uncle to ensure they would never steal the throne from him. It was in hiding that they were kept alive by a she-wolf. Eventually they were adopted by a shepherd and reentered human society. They later learned of their true identities and helped overthrow their great-uncle and reinstate their grandfather to the throne.

Afterwards, the two set off to start their own city. After a disagreement over which hill to build their city, they asked the gods. Romulus won divine approval, but not Remus’. Eventually the dispute between the two reached a peak and Romulus killed Remus, his own brother. Thus, the city of Rome was built.

Though obviously a myth, it shows how Rome was thought to have been started through religion and the meddling of the gods (the god of war no less), rivalries and betrayal, and murder. This is the world that early Christianity grew up in. Society was at the mercy of the warlike gods and maintained through murderous and brutal politics.

At the time of Jesus’ death, Julius Caesar was ruler. He had instated what was known as Pax Romana (literally Roman peace). After what was centuries of war, Rome finally had a time of peace, though peace means different things to different people. For the Romans, it meant victory; The enemies were squashed and the Romans “piously followed a leader”. 1 How was this peace maintained? Fear. Although the Romans did allow a great deal of freedom, religious freedom for example, if one were deemed an enemy of the state, pain and death awaited.

We’ll get into this a bit more when we talk about the martyr tradition within the early church, but Rome was very good at propagating fear to keep everyone in line. Crucifixions, often given to rebels, were done not only to inflict great pain upon the victim and thus ‘convince’ others not to rebel, but the bodies were displayed along the roads leading into Rome so no one would ever forget what happened to Rome’s enemies. Executions, especially later on, were filled with theatrical pomp and a propaganda filled message of Rome always destroys its enemies. This is (perhaps surprisingly) shown well in the movie The Gladiator when the gladiators are forced to dress up as Rome’s enemies while others, well armed of course, represented Roman soldiers. It was all overhanded propaganda to keep people in line.

Now I did mention religious freedom, so how does this all tie in with Christianity? We can get a clue from the Roman magistrate, Pliny the Younger. But first a word about Roman religion. In ancient Rome, religion was not at all concerned about truth, but with fulfilling certain practices and rituals. In fact, there are stories of confused and even somewhat distraught leaders in the army towards certain Christians under their command who refused to sacrifice to the gods. They stressed to the protester that they need not believe in the Roman gods nor to disbelieve in the Christian god, but must simply follow through with the ritual. Belief had nothing to do with it. However, the religious rituals were deeply important to Rome and its army and were believed to be the reason for its success. So it was better to kill a few Christian dissenters who refused to sacrifice to the gods than to damn the entire army and empire through apathy towards the gods.

Which brings us back to Pliny. Christians were not systematically persecuted (not at this time anyway), but were dealt with on a case by case basis. Christians refused to sacrifice to the emperor, instead holding sacramental ceremonies to their own Lord, which was seen as undermining Roman authority. As we can see in Pliny’s letter to Trajan, they were to be punished if they proved to be Christian, but absolved of all guilt if they renounced their Christianity and sacrificed to the Roman gods.2 Christians, though, saw Jesus as their Lord, not Caesar. Although some certainly did back down, most Christians refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods because, despite promises death and torture. They maintained that it was their Lord who reigned and that Rome held no real power.

And now we are at a point in which we can look finally at these early Christian writers. They were under the control of an empire run on fear that demanded sacrifice to idols. Those who refused, were persecuted. When we discuss these writers’ views on war, it must be remembered that being part of the army meant sacrificing to the gods to ensure victory (at least for higher ranks). Thus, some argue that the early Christians’ distaste for war and the army was primarily focused on anti-idolatry rhetoric and was not anti-war in and of itself. Frankly, that is beyond the scope of this series.

I am not here to claim that all Christians were pacifists, and certainly not pacifists in the sense we commonly think it. It is also important to note that, though we have many writings from Christians rejecting violence and absolutely none that I’m aware of supporting it, that does not mean that all Christians refused to use violence. We simply cannot say what the masses believed. In fact, we do know that there were Christians in the military, increasingly so as time went on. Are we then to dismiss any notion that early Christianity was against using violence? I don’t think so, but it’s irrelevant to the series. This is not a scholarly work or opinion piece, but a resource.

 

  1. https://people.exeter.ac.uk/jda208/The%20Peace%20of%20the%20Ara%20Pacis.pdf
  2. http://www.mesacc.edu/~thoqh49081/handouts/pliny.html