Sunday, December 21, 2008

View of War and the Early Church

I came across some interesting thoughts on the early church's view of war and violence. Of particular note is the change in theological conviction coincided with the perception of Christian government.

"For the first three centuries no Christian writing which has survived to our time condoned Christian participation in war. Some Christians held that for them all blood shed, whether as soldiers or as executioners, was unlawful." (Latourette, A History of Christianity Vol. 1, 242)

Early church advocates for a pacifistic policy

  • Hippolytus (prominent in Rome)- a Christian soldier must refuse to kill, even under command from superiors.
  • Tertullian- being a Christian and member of an army puts the person under two masters, which cannot be permitted. He also argued that even in peace time a soldier is asked to inflict punishment on people which is a type of revenge which is not permissible. "He said that in disarming Peter Christ ungirded every soldier." (Latourette, A History of Christianity Vol. 1, 243)
  • Origen- Prominent Roman accused Christians of making the Empire weak due to their pacifistic convictions. Origen argued if all were to become Christians that would influence the barbarians to become Christians. And that Christians love, labor, and prayers did more for the Empire than the military. (Latourette, A History of Christianity Vol. 1, 243)


Transition to just war theory- ca 4th century

  • When the Emperors were Christian this changed the scene on war ethics. If the Emperor was acting on behalf of the church, then it was conceivable that war in pursuit of justice could be justified.
  • Ambrose and Augustine were proponents of this theory- "Augustine elaborated the theoretical basis for a just war. He held that wickedness must be restrained, by force if necessary, and that the sword of the magistrate is divinely commissioned. Not all wars are just. To be just, so Augustine said, a war must be waged under the authority of the prince, it must have as its object the punishment of injustice and the restoration of peace, and it must be fought without vindictiveness and without unnecessary violence…. Yet without the authority of the prince, Augustine taught, the civilian must not use force to defend even his own life." (Latourette, A History of Christianity Vol. 1, 244)



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