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The Early Christian Attitude to War

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Page 119, cont.


We have now to consider the evidence of the Canons of Hippolutos; but in order to do so, it is necessary to say something, by way of introduction, on a tiresome and as yet unsolved literary problem.

Hippolutos was a learned Roman Christian, who flourished during the first thirty years of the third century. He was the critic and rival of Pope Kallistos (218-223 A.D.), and for a time headed a separate congregation, as opposition-bishop; in 235 A.D. he was exiled to Sardinia, where probably he died. He is known to have interested

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himself in ecclesiastical regulations and to have written peri charismaton apostolike paradosis. Whether this is the title of one work or of two ('Concerning Ministerial Gifts' and 'Apostolic Tradition') we do not know; neither do we know the exact meaning he attached to charismata. These uncertainties have added to the difficulty of identifying Hippolutos' composition among the various extant works possessing some sort of claim to embody it. The works concerned are members of a large family of documents and fragments in different languages and of different dates, but all closely related to one another and all dealing with rules and regulations to be observed in the government of the Church.

Without attempting to enter into the tangled details of the problem, we may briefly outline the chief points. Three documents are in question: (1) the so-called 'Hippolytean Canons,' which cannot have come from Hippolutos as they stand, but must in any case have been heavily interpolated:(1) (2) the so-called 'Egyptian Church-Order,' the contents of which closely resemble those of the Hippolytean Canons, and which is usually assigned to the first half of the fourth century, though it has recently been claimed (by Dom Conolly) as virtually the composition of Hippolutos himself(2): (3) 'The Testament of our Lord,' a Syrian or Cilician version of the same general collection of rules, dating about









1. Achelis, in Texte und Untersuchungen VI 4 (38-137) gives a Latin version of the Canones Hippolyti, and argues for the authorship, in the main, of Hippolutos. Riedel, in Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien (Leipzig, 1900) (193-230), gives a German version based on better MSS than those used by Achelis.

2. See Krueger 360; Maclean 160 f: Dom R. H. Conolly in Texts and Studies VIII 4 (1916). The text is given in the last-named work, pp. 175-194, and also by Funk in Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostalorum (Paderborn, 1905) ii. 97-119.

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the middle of the fourth century,(3) but in some respects preserving older material than either of the two last-named works.

Even if we cannot take Conolly's theory as proven, we may yet well believe that Hippolutos did actually compose detailed regulations for Church-management, particularly if apostolike paradosis is to be regarded as the title of a separate work, distinct from peri charismaton, and that these regulations found their way to the East and are contained in a more or less modified form in the 'Egyptian Church-Order,' and the 'Hippolytean Canons' and also lie at the basis of 'The Testament of our Lord' and the still later Apostolic Constitutions (circ. 375 A.D.). It would be difficult to account for the connection of Hippolutos' name with this body of documents, unless we could regard him as the author of some of the material contained in them.(4)

The reader will easily see that no investigation of the ruling given by Hippolutos on any point is adequate without a full quotation of what is said on it in each of the three documents mentioned. We must therefore proceed next to quote their respective regulations on the subject of Christians acting as magistrates and soldiers. These regulations occur in that part of each document which deals with the acceptance of new members into the Church and with the question of the trades and professions which it is legitimate or otherwise for Church-members to follow. As several versions are in question, I have set forth their contents in tabular form (pp. 122, 123) to facilitate the comparison of one with another.

3. Cooper and Maclean 41; Maclean 166.










4. The subject is more fully dealt with by the authors already quoted cf also Krueger 341 f; Harnack C ii. 501-517; Funk op cit ii. xix-xxviii; Bardenhewer, Patrologie, 219, 353-357; Maclean 156 ff.



Pages 122-123 [In Cadoux, the following five excerpts occur in five separate horizontal columns across two pages.]
The EGYPTIAN CHURCH-ORDER. According to Funk (Latin, based on Coptic).(5)

xi. 9. The soldier, who is under authority, thou mayest not allow him to kill men; if he is ordered (to do so), thou mayest not allow him to thrust himself forward,(6) nor to swear; if however he is unwilling (to comply), let him be rejected.


The EGYPTIAN CHURCH-ORDER. According to Ethiopic Version as given by Horner.(7)

A soldier of the prince they shall not receive, and if indeed they received him, if he was commanded to kill, he shall not do (it); and if he does not leave off, he shall he rejected. . . .


THE 'HIPPOLYTEAN CANONS'. According to Achelis (Latin, based on Arabic).(8)

xiii. 71. A man who has accepted the power of killing, or a soldier, may never be received at all.

xiii. 72. But those who, when they were soldiers, were ordered to fight, but otherwise have abstained from all evil speech, and have not placed garlands on their heads, but have acquired every mark of distinction (omne signum autem adepti sunt) [? may be received].


THE 'HIPPOLYTEAN CANONS'. According to Riedel (German based on other Arabic MSS).(9)

13. Persons who possess authority to kill, or soldiers, should not kill at all [parallel to xiii. 72] even when it is commanded them, and (should) not utter any evil word.

They should not carry on their heads garlands, which they receive as marks of distinction.



If anyone be a soldier or in authority, let him be taught not to oppress or to kill or to rob, or to be angry or to rage and afflict anyone. But let those rations suffice him which are given to him. But if they wish to be baptized in the Lord, let them cease from military service or from the [ post of] authority, and if not let them not be received.


xi. 10. He who has the power of the sword or is ruler of a city, clad in purple, let him either leave off or be rejected.






xi. 11. If a catechumen or a believer wishes to become a soldier, let them be rejected, for they have despised God.

He who is a soldier among the believers and among the instructed, or a stargazer or magician and the like, and a magistrate with the sword or chief of praefects, and he who is clad in red, let him leave off or be rejected.



And a catechumen or believer, if they wish to be a soldier, shall be rejected, because it is far from God.



xiii. 73. But every man, who, having been raised to the rank of prefecture or precedence or power, is not clothed with the adornment of justice which is according to the gospel, let him be separated from the flock, and let not the bishop pray in his presence.


xiv. 74. Let not the Christian become a soldier of his own will, unless he is compelled by a commander. Let him have the sword; but let him beware lest he become guilty of the charge of shedding blood.

xiv. 75. If it be found out that blood has been shed by him, let him abstain from participation in the mysteries, unless perchance he shall be corrected by a singular change in his manners, accompanied by tears and lamentation. Nevertheless, let his gift be, not a mere sham, but (given) with the fear of God.

Every one who receives a distinctive (and) leading position, or a magisterial power, and does not clothe himself with the unarmedness (Waffenlosigkeit), which is becoming to the gospel, should be separated from the flock, and the bishop should not pray with him.

14. No Christian should go and become a soldier, unless he is compelled to.(10) Let not a commander, who has a sword, draw any (guilt of) bloodshed upon himself. If he has shed blood, he should not take part in the mysteries, until he is cleansed by chastisement and tears and sighs. Let him not clothe his office as commander with deceit, but with the fear of God.












Let a catechumen or a believer of the people, if he desire to be a soldier, either cease from his intention, or if not let him be rejected. For he hath despised God by his thought, and leaving the things of the Spirit, he hath perfected himself in the flesh, and hath treated the faith with contempt.

Footnotes to pp. 122-123 

5. Funk op cit 107: cf Horner 312 f.

6. se obtrudere. Maclean (146) and Horner (l.c.) translate "hasten to the work."

7. Horner 149. The Ethiopic version is often nearer the original than the Coptic, on which the Latin of Funk is here based. It is adopted here by Conolly in his tentative version of the Egyptian Church-Order (Texts and Studies VIII 4. 181). The preceding clause in the Ethiopic excludes him who teaches hunting, or fighting, or war.

8. Achelis op cit 81-83.

9. Riedel op cit 206 f.

10. Harnack MC 73) brackets this clause (wenn es nicht notwendig für ihn ist) as 'certainly a later addition.' Riedel gives as an alternative rendering: "unless a commander, who has a sword, compels him: let him not draw," and so on.

11. Cooper and Maclean 118, cf 208 f.

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It will be observed that only 'The Testament of our Lord' is consistently rigorous in refusing baptism to soldiers and magistrates except on condition of their quitting their offices, and forbidding a Christian to become a soldier on pain of rejection. All the other documents introduce some sort of modification.

The Ethiopic version of the Egyptian Church-Order seems to allow a soldier already received to remain as such in the Church, on condition that he kills no one; but immediately afterwards it goes back on this concession by requiring a soldier among the believers to leave off or be rejected. The Coptic version of the Egyptian Church-Order first forbids the Christian soldier to kill men, and then says that, if he is commanded to kill men, he is not to thrust himself forward; but, like 'The Testament,' it refuses to admit a magistrate, and forbids the Christian to become a soldier on pain of rejection. The 'Hippolytean Canons' in one form forbid soldiers and magistrates to kill, even when commanded to do so, and prescribe 'unarmedness' for the latter; in the other form they first forbid the admission of magistrates and soldiers, and then apparently accept soldiers who have fought but who have neither used bad language nor worn garlands, and magistrates who are clothed with the adornment of justice.

While we are unfortunately not able to extract with any confidence from this bewildering maze of contradictions and modifications the exact words of Hippolutos himself, or of the original regulation, by whomsoever it was framed, it is not very difficult to see what the provisions of that original regulation must have been. All that we know from other sources--and from the inherent probabilities of the case--goes to

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show that the constant trend of Christian thought on this and similar questions was from strictness towards relaxation, from an almost complete abstention to an almost equally complete freedom to participate.(12)

An incidental confirmation of this view comes from the Apostolic Constitutions, which are certainly later than the Egyptian Church-Order and almost certainly later than the other two documents we have been dealing with. In those Constitutions we can see that the movement towards leniency has got still further, and all that is required of a soldier applying for Church-membership is that he shall "inflict injury on no one, make no false accusation, and be content with the pay given to him."(13) This is of course simply a repetition of the precepts of John the Baptist, and clearly does not imply that soldier-candidates would have to leave the army.

We shall therefore not go far wrong in seeking for the original terms of Hippolutos' Church-Order in the most stringent of the requirements still embedded in the documents as we have them. As the demand for a relaxation of this stringency made itself felt, the terms of the original would be little by little abbreviated, added to, or otherwise modified, so as to provide loopholes in favour of a laxer policy. Hence would arise that weird mixture of inconsistent

12. Professor B.-Baker is undoubtedly mistaken in treating the Christian objection to war on the ground of bloodshed as a comparatively new development belonging to "the last forty years of the third century, when the practical life and example of Christ and the Apostles was receding far into the background," etc. (ICW 31; cf 29: "By this time, therefore," (i.e. 249 A.D.), "many Christians shrank from military service"). Archdeacon Cunningham (253) follows Professor B.-Baker in this error: "there seems to have been an increasing aversion to military service on the part of Christians in the third century." The evidence of Celsus (see p. 104) shows that the Christians as a general rule refused service at least as early as 180 A.D.

13. Apostolic Constitutions VIII xxxii. 10.


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permissions and prohibitions which gives such a curious appearance of vacillation to most of the existing codes. The only one of them which has kept the full strictness--whether or no in the actual words--of the original is 'The Testament of our Lord,' which dates in its present form from the middle of the fourth century or a little later, and arose among the conservative Christians of Syria or south-eastern Asia Minor.(14)

The substance of that original regulation must have been that a soldier or a magistrate who wielded the power of the sword could not be admitted by baptism to membership in the Christian Church, unless he had first resigned his military or quasi-military calling, that if a catechumen or a baptized Christian became a soldier, he must give it up or else suffer exclusion from the Church, and that similarly a mere desire on his part to become a soldier, showing, as it was thought, contempt for God, must be relinquished on pain of rejection or excommunication.

That some such regulations as these should have emanated--as they probably did--from so influential and representative a Churchman as Hippolutus of Rome, that the document embodying them should have been made the basis of virtually all subsequent Church-Orders, including some that were apparently highly esteemed and closely followed throughout whole regions of eastern Christendom, and that these particular rules should have survived unmodified in at least one such Church-Order until late in the fourth century and should still be so clearly visible as they are, under the moss-growths of successive editions, in other Church-Orders of approximately the same date--are facts of the first importance in the history of our subject, and





14. Cooper and Maclean 41-45.

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facts, too, which as yet have not received anything like the attention they deserve.

The comparative recency of the investigation of the Church-Orders accounts, in part at least, for the total omission of all reference to them in many of the writings that deal with this topic.(15) But even in the most recent and scholarly works the place assigned to them is scarcely adequate. Bigelmair quotes the passages from the Egyptian Church-Order, the 'Hippolytean Canons,' and 'The Testament of our Lord,' and admits that "they mark clearly and distinctly the views which prevailed in wide circles": but he describes them as emanating from circles where "tertullianic views" were prevalent (aus tertullianischen Anschauungskreisen), and says that they possessed no generally binding power.(16) Even Harnack, whose work is that of an impartial, thorough, and accurate scholar, confines himself to a quotation of the 'Hippolytean Canons,' Nos. 13 and 14, as given by Riedel, combining it in a single paragraph with quotations from Origenes and Lactantius, and then remarks: "But these injunctions of the moralists were by no means followed in the third century," adding as his grounds for this statement sundry pieces of evidence showing that many Christians of the

15. Grotius goes so far as to argue from the absence of regulations. He contends that "nothing more can be gathered from those sayings (of the Fathers) than the private opinion of certain people, not the public (opinion) of the Churches, and says: "But setting aside private authorities, let us come to the public (authority) of the Church, which ought to be of the greatest weight (with us). I say therefore that those who served as soldiers were never rejected from baptism or excommunicated by the Church, which nevertheless ought to have been done and would have keen done, if military service conflicted with the conditions of the new faith" (Grotius, De Jure Belli ac Pacis, I ii. ix, 2 and x, 2). Cf Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, ii. 718 ("The Church as a whole never sanctioned this prohibition, or called on its converts to abandon the ranks or on its adherents to refuse to enter them").

16. Bigelmair 133, 171-173.


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third century and later were either in the army themselves or knew of no objection to Christians being there.(17)

But this latter fact, the nature and extent of which we shall have to examine later, in no wise invalidates the conclusion to be drawn from the Church-Orders, viz. that in the third century the conviction that Christianity was incompatible with the shedding of blood, either in war or in the administration of justice, was not only maintained and vigorously defended by eminent individuals like Tertullianus of Carthago, Hippolutus of Rome, and Origenes of Palestine and Egypt, but was widely held and acted on in the Churches up and down Christendom.(18) For reasons to be stated later, the conviction was not unanimous; but the various indications of its absence can quite easily be explained without adopting Harnack's view that it was simply the personal opinion of a few uninfluential 'moralists.' That view seems to me, in face of the evidence we have just had before us, and even in face of the facts on the other side of the case, not only unnecessary, but also erroneous.

Minucius Felix says: "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."(19)


17. Harnack MC 72 f.







18. Cooper and Maclean 209: "The Church-Orders lean to the stricter view. But we cannot therefore ascribe them to sectarian bodies, who kept themselves aloof from ordinary Christian life"; etc.






19. Minuc xxx. 6, xxxi. 6.