More Quotes from Christians on Nonviolence
Asbury Theological Seminary has a new publishing and resourcing venture called Seedbed. They recently invited me to offer a short case for nonviolence. As a part of that post I offered some provocative quotes from a variety of voices throughout church history. However, because of the limited space many of them were cut from the final draft. So, I thought it would be helpful to post the rest of them here.*
Marcellus, ?-298 A.D.
“I threw down my arms for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it by earthly injuries.” “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.”
Irenaeus, approx. 180 A.D.
“Christians have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not now how to fight.”
Justin Martyr, approx. 138 A.D.
“We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.”
Tertullian, 155-230 A.D.
“But how will a Christian engage in war—indeed, how will a Christian even engage in military service during peacetime—without the sword, which the Lord has taken away? For although soldiers had approached John to receive instructions and a centurion believed, this does not change the fact that afterward, the Lord, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”
“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.”
Hippolytus, 170-236 A.D.
“A soldier, being inferior in rank to God, must not kill anyone. If ordered to, he must not carry out the order, nor may he take an oath to do so. If he does not accept this, let him be dismissed from the church. Anyone bearing the power of the sword, or any city magistrate, who wears purple, let him cease from wearing it at once or be dismissed from the church. Any catechumen or believer who wishes to become a soldier must be dismissed from the church because they have despised God.”
Cyprian, approx. 250 A.D.
“[Christians] are not allowed to kill, but they must be ready to be put to death themselves… it is not permitted the guiltless to put even the guilty to death.” “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”
St. Martin of Tours 316-397 A.D.
“I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight.”
Paulinas of Nola 325-431
“Do not go on loving this world and the military service that is part of it because Scripture bears witness that anyone who is ‘a friend of the world is an enemy of God.’ (James 4:44) The man who fights with the sword is an agent of death, and whoever sheds his own blood or someone else’s will have death as his wages. He will be responsible for his own death or for the crime of bringing it on another because of necessity, the soldier in war, even though he fights for someone else rather than himself, either meets death in defeat or attains victory through killing. One cannot be victorious except through shedding blood. For this reason the Lord says, ‘You cannot serve two masters’ (Matt. 6:24), that is, both the one God and mammon, both Christ and Caesar.”
Smaragdus d. c. 825
“For the world has its soldiers and Christ has his. Now the world’s soldiers take up weak and slippery weapons, whereas Christ’s soldiers take up strong and bright ones. The former fight against their enemies, and the result is they bring themselves and those they kill to eternal punishment; the latter fight against vices, so that after death they may be able to gain eternal life and its rewards; the former fight, and the result is they go down into hell, the latter fight that they may ascend to glory; the former fight so after death are enslaved with the demons of hell, the latter fight so that they may always rejoice with the angels; the former fight an so will always mourn with the devil, the latter fight so that they may always exult with Christ… For the former, to live is hard labor and to die is torment; for the latter, to live is Christ and to die is gain. The former battle against visible, the latter against invisible enemies.”
The Lollards Late 1300s
“Manslaughter in battle or by pretended law of justice for a temporal cause, without spiritual revelation, is expressly contrary to the New Testament, which is a law of grace and full of mercy. This conclusion is openly proved by the examples of Christ’s preaching here on earth, for he specially taught man to love and have mercy on his enemies and not to slay them… The law of mercy that is the New Testament forbids all manslaughter; in the Gospel, ‘it was said to them, thou shalt not kill.’ … For by meekness and patience was our faith multiplied, and Jesus Christ hates and threatens fighters and manslayers [when he says]: ‘He who lives by the sword, shall perish by the sword.’”
Desiderius Erasmus 1469-1536
“He should consider how desirable, how honorable, how wholesome a thing is peace; on the other hand, how calamitous as well as wicked a thing is war, and how even the most just of wars brings with it a train of evils – if indeed any war can really be called just.”
Peter Riedemann 1506-1556
“There is therefore no need for many words, for it is clear that Christians can neither go to war nor practice vengance. Whosoever doeth this hath forsaken and denied Christ and Christ’s nature.”
George Fox 1624-1691
“Therefore fighters are not of Christ’s kingdom, and are without Christ’s kingdom, for his kingdom stands for peace and righteousness.”
David Dodge 1774-1852
“In times of war thousands of virtuous women are deprived of their husbands and tens of thousands of helpless children of their fathers. … They are torn from their embraces by the cruelty of war, and they have no fathers left but their Father in heaven…. Surely Christians cannot be active in such measures without incurring the displeasure of God, who styles himself as the father of the fatherless and judge and avenger of the widow.”
Frederick Douglass 1818-1895
“I am opposed to war, because I am a believer in Christianity. … I believe, if there is one thing more than another that has brought reproach upon the Christian religion, it is the spirit of war.”
Evelyn Underhill 1875-1941
“The Christian Church is the Body of Christ. Her mission on earth is to spread the Spirit of Christ, which is the creative spirit of wisdom and love; and in so doing bring in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, she can never support or approve an human action, individual or collective, which is hostile to wisdom and love. This is the first and last reason why, if she remains true to her supernatural call, the Church cannot acquiesce to war.”
Jacques Ellul 1912-1994
“Thus violence can never be justified or acceptable before God. The Christian can only admit humbly that he could no do otherwise, that he took the easy way and yielded to necessity and the pressures of the world. That is why the Christian, even when he permits himself to use violence in what he considers the best of causes, cannot either feel or say that he is justified; he can only confess that he is a sinner, submit to God’s judgment, and hope for God’s grace and forgiveness.”
Ronald J. Sider 1939-
“If pacifism is not God’s will for all Christians, then it is not His will any. On the other hand, if the one who taught us to love our enemies is the eternal Son who became flesh in the carpenter who died and rose and now reigns as Lord of the universe, then the peaceful way of nonviolence is for all who believe and obey him. Do we have the courage to summon the entire church to forsake the way of violence?”
* Most of these quotes came from the following books: See Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) for some more introductory quotes regarding Christian nonviolence. For a more comprehensive study, I encourage you to see Michael G. Long, Christian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2011).
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