Quotes: The Early Church on War and Violence
One of my best friends is studying in hopes of earning a Ph.D. in Early Church History. Thanks to his influence and my desire to study Christian Ethics I have become more and more interested in these early radical followers of the Way. In particular, I have come to love and appreciate their convictions about war and violence, especially in light of the persecution they faced for their faith.
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.”
Ignatius of Antioch, approx. 35-110 A.D.
“Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.”
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.
“The devil is the author of all war.” “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 now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts—for there is no agreement between the divine sacrament 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 serve two masters—God and Caesar…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.”
Origen of Alexandria, 185-254 A.D.
“We have come in accordance with the counsel of Jesus to cut down our arrogant swords of argument into plowshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take swords against a nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our Lord.”
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 (sacramentum) 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.”
“A person who has accepted the power of killing, or a soldier, may never be received [into the church] at all.”
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.”
Ambrose, 338-397 A.D.
“The soldiers of Christ require neither arms nor spears of iron.” “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the divine Providence.”
Theophilus of Antioch, approx. 412 A.D.
Say to those that hate and curse you, you are our brothers!
Tatian, 2nd Century A.D.
I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices of military command.
These are just a few quotes from the writings of early Christ-followers. I encourage you to look them up and find out more. Then ask questions like: Were these Christians right? What does this mean for the church today? Why does most of the church take a radically different position today? How can we revive this ancient spirit and way of life?