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The Early Christian Attitude to War

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All the connections, hitherto studied, in which war received some sort of recognition from the early Christians, lay within ideal realms of thought remote from the concrete and practical duties of the times in which they lived. The Christian warfare was a purely spiritual struggle; the wars of the Old Testament belonged to a far-distant past; the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 soon receded into the background; the apocalyptic wars lay in the indefinite, even though possibly the near, future, and would be waged, so far as the Messiah's side was concerned, with armies of angels, not of men; even the idea of war being a divine

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chastisement was simply a general abstraction and a pious conviction.

But there was yet another connection in which the early Christians gave a quasi-recognition to war, a connection which was more nearly concerned than any of the foregoing with the practical affairs of their own day,--I mean the functions of the State in the maintenance of order and the suppression of crime. Though the severity of persecution (among other causes) led some to take up a position of uncompromising hostility towards the Roman Empire as a Satanic Beast-power,(1) the Church as a whole adopted the view that the State was a useful and necessary institution, ordained by God for the security of life and property, the preservation of peace, and the prevention and punishment of the grosser forms of human sin.(2)

The general adoption of this view was largely owing to the immense authority of the Apostle Paul. In writing to the Christians at Rome, Paul had occasion to warn them against an anarchical unwillingness to submit to the government and to pay their taxes. His specific reference to taxation suggests that he was enlarging on the Gospel precept: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." He drove his point home by insisting on the divine origin of civil government.

"There is no authority," he said,


except (that given) by God; and those that exist have been constituted by God . . . the rulers are not a terror to






1. This attitude appears mainly in the Apocalypse and in Hippolutos' Commentary on Daniel. Cf also P. Scill 112: ego imperium huius seculi non cognosco.

2. An inscription is preserved in which the (pagan) tenants of certain of the imperial estates in Africa express their appreciation of their landlord, the Emperor Hadrianus: they speak of "the sleepless vigilance with which he watches over the welfare of mankind" (H. Stuart Jones, The Roman Empire ('Story of the Nations' Series), p. 189).

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good work, but to evil. Dost thou wish not to be afraid of the magistracy (exousian)? do what is good, and thou shalt have praise from it: for he is to thee the servant of God for good. But if thou doest evil, be afraid, for he bears not the sword for nothing; for he is God's servant, for the infliction of (His) wrath as a punishment (ekdikos eis orgen) upon him who does evil. . . . They are God's officers, subsisting for this very (purpose).(3)

The view of Peter is substantially similar, though he calls the state a human, not a divine, institution.


Be submissive to every human institution (ktisei) for the Lord's sake, whether to the Emperor as supreme, or to governors as (men) sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers and (the) praise of those who do well. . . . Honour the Emperor.(4)  

The author of the Pastoral Epistles enjoins prayer


for Emperors and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life with all piety and gravity.(5)

The history of the Pauline theory of civil government as an arrangement instituted by God is one of fascinating interest, but a full study of it would take us far astray from our immediate enquiry. It is worth while, however, to note the fact that it appears, in a more or less definite form, in most of the representative writers of our period, viz. Clemens of Rome, the Fourth Gospel,(6) Polukarpos, Athenagoras, the apocryphal Acts of John, Theophilos, the Acts of Apollonius, Eirenaios, Tertullianus, Hippolutos,(7) Minucius Felix,







3. Rom xiii. 1b, 3 f, 6b.





4. 1 Pet ii. 13 f, 17.




5. 1 Tim ii. 1 f.



6. John xix. 11.

7. Mostly with reference to Nebuchadnezzar, but also generally. The idea is not so incompatible with Hippolutos' view of the Empire as a Satanic Beast-power, as appears at first sight. Weinel (24) has pointed out that Satan could be thought of as the servant of God.

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Origenes, Dionusios of Alexandria, the Didaskalia, the Clementine Recognitions, Lactantius, and Eusebios.(8) It is absent from Cyprianus and Arnobius.(9)

Such a view carried with it a recognition of the rightfulness of judicial penalties; and Christian writers, despite the nonresistance principles of their faith, are on the whole very frank in the way they express this recognition. Paul, as we have seen, connects the punitive functions of government with the Divine wrath against sin. The magistrate is "God's servant, for the infliction of (His) wrath as a punishment on him who does evil." Peter enjoins respectful submission to the Emperor's governors "as (men) sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers." The Christian belief in the future punishment of the wicked in eternal fire undoubtedly did something to facilitate this justification of judicial penalties. Thus Justinus, in reply to the criticisms levelled at the doctrine of eternal punishment, says that, if eternal punishment is unjust, then


lawgivers unjustly punish those who transgress the(ir) good ordinances. But since those (lawgivers) are not unjust, and neither is their Father, who teaches them by the Word to do the same (as Himself),(10) those who agree with them are not Unjust.(11)

Athenagoras speaks

8. In regard to Constantinus.

9. In Arnobius (i. 2) and the Pseudo-Cyprianic Quod Idola Dii non sint (4 f), we find a theory of the establishment of empires by chance or lot (cf Tert Pall I (ii. 1031) (At cum saecularium sortium variavit urna, et Romanis Deus maluit, . .); Lact Inst VI I xv. 13; Scullard 96 f). For a modern opinion on the Divine appointment of the State, see Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural, p. 12.







10. Or possibly, "who teaches (men) by the Word to do the same as they (i.e. the lawgivers) (do)" (ta auta autois [Otto: auto] prattein dia tou Logou didaskon).

11. Just 2 AP ix. I f. He goes on to say that the Logos had shown that some human laws were bad and some good.

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about a man being put to death justly.(12) Theophilos calls the Emperor "a man appointed by God . . . for the purpose of judging justly: for he has in a way been entrusted by God with a stewardship. . . . (My) son," he says, quoting Proverbs, "honour God and (the) Emperor, and be not disobedient to either of them; for they will speedily punish their enemies."(13) Eirenaios says that the devil, in claiming to have the control of the kingdoms of the world, was a liar and was claiming what did not belong to him. He reaffirms the doctrine of the divine appointment of rulers,(14) and continues:


Since man, (by) departing from God, grew so savage as to reckon even a kinsman his enemy, and to engage without fear in every (sort of) disturbance and murder and avarice, God imposed upon him the fear of man--for they did not know the fear of God--so that, being subjected to the power of men and restrained by their law, they might attain to some (measure) of justice and exercise mutual forbearance, in dread of the sword openly held forth, as the Apostle says: 'For not without cause does he bear the sword: for he is God's servant, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil.'


And for this reason, too, the magistrates themselves, wearing the laws as a garment of justice, shall not be questioned or punished for what they do justly and lawfully. But whatever they do for the overthrow of justice, unfairly and impiously and illegally and in a tyrannical fashion, in these things they shall perish, the just judgment of God coming upon all equally and failing in nothing. For the benefit of the gentiles,

12. Athenag Legat 35 (969): see below, p. 214.



13. Theoph i. 11: cf Prov xxiv. 21f.


14. Eiren V xxiv. 1 (ii. 388 f).


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therefore, was earthly rule established by God--but not by the devil, who is never quiet, nay, who does not wish even the (heathen) nations to live in tranquillity--in order that, fearing the rule of men, men might not consume one another like fishes, but by the establishment of laws they might smite down the manifold wrongdoing of the gentiles.

And accordingly, those who exact tribute from us are 'God's servants,' 'serving for this very purpose.'(15) 'The powers that are have been ordained by God': it is clear that the devil lies when he says: 'They have been handed over to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give them.' For by the order of Him, by whose order men are born, are kings also appointed, fitted for those who are ruled over by them at that time. For some of them are given for the correction and benefit of (their) subjects and the preservation of justice, but some for fear and punishment and rebuke, and some for deception and disgrace and pride, according as they (the subjects) deserve, the just judgment of God, as we have already said, coming upon all equally.(16)

Tertullianus, in protesting against Christians being tortured in order to make them deny their faith, says to the Roman rulers:

This (imperial) government whose servants ye are is the rule of a citizen, not of a tyrant. For with tyrants, torture is applied also as a penalty: with you it is confined solely to (extorting) evidence. Keep (to) your own law in (using) it (only) until confession (is obtained); and if it is anticipated by confession, there will be no occasion for it. There is need of sentence (being passed); the wrongdoer has to be marked off for the (penalty which is his) due, not








15. Eiren V xxiv. 2 (ii. 389).








16. Eiren V xxiv. 3 (ii. 389 f).


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to be released. No one is agitating for his acquittal; it is not lawful to desire that, and so no one is compelled to deny (his crime).(17) In attacking the gladiatorial fights, he makes the concession: "It is a good thing when evildoers are punished. Who but an evil-doer will deny this?"(18) He refers elsewhere to "the justice of the world, which even the Apostle testifies is not armed with the sword in vain, which in being severe (saeviendo) on man's behalf is a religious (justice)."(19) He quotes the words of Paul in Rom xiii, and says that the Apostle "bids thee be subject to the magistrates (potestatibus) . . . in consideration of their being as it were assistants of justice, as it were servants of the divine judgment, which here also judges of wrongdoers in advance."(20)

The Pseudo-Melitonian apologist tells Caracalla: "It is a shameful thing that a king, however badly he may conduct himself, should judge and condemn those who do amiss"(21) -- implying apparently that he would be perfectly right in doing so, if he lived uprightly.

In his Commentary on Romans, Origenes says, a propos of the question whether a persecuting government is included in the phrase 'There is no power except from God,' that persecution is a culpable misuse of a power which, like all powers, e.g. those of sight, hearing, etc., is given by God for a good purpose, in this case "for the punishment of evil men, and the praise of good men."(22) Discussing the question of the sense in which the earthly judge is God's servant, he observes that the Apostolic Decree in Acts xv. 23 f,


17. Tert Apol 2 (i. 276 f).


18. Tert Spect 19 (i. 651).


19. Tert Anim 33 (ii. 706).



20. Tert Scorp 14 (ii. 150).


21. Ps-Mel 10 (ANCL xxiib. 121).





22. Orig Comm in Rom t ix. 26 (Migne PG xiv. 1226 f).


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28f, does not forbid murder, adultery, theft, sodomy, and so forth: it might seem therefore that these are permitted.


But behold the ordinance of the Holy Spirit! Since indeed other crimes are punished by secular laws, and it seemed superfluous that those which are sufficiently embraced by human law should now be forbidden by a divine law, He decrees those alone concerning which the human law had said nothing and which seem to pertain to religion. Whence it appears that the earthly judge fulfils a very large part of the law of God. For all the crimes which God wishes to be punished, He wished to be punished not by the leaders and rulers of the churches, but by the earthly judge; and Paul, knowing this, rightly names him God's servant and an avenger against him who does what is evil. . . . We have shown that the Holy Spirit has given a place in many things to human law.(23)

Later, in his reply to Celsus, Origenes quotes Romans xiii. 1, 2a against Celsus' contention that kings were appointed by demons: he touches on the problem presented by the existence of evil kings, but passes it by, referring the reader to the Commentary on Romans.(24) He also says that the proceedings taken by bees against drones offer no fair comparison "with the judgments and punishments inflicted on the idle and evil in the cities."(25) He broaches the question whether evil demons may not have been appointed by the Logos "like the executioners in the cities and those who are appointed for gloomy but needful public duties."(26)













23. Orig Comm in Rom t ix. 28 (Migne PG xiv. 1227 f).



24. Orig Cels viii. 65.


25. Orig Cels iv. 82.


26. Orig Cels vii. 70.


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Many of the complaints made about the maladministration of justice, in persecution and otherwise, voice the Christian recognition of the need and value of good administration. Achatius said to the Prefect:


The public law punishes the fornicator, the adulterer, the thief, the corruptor of males, the evil-doer, and the murderer. If I am guilty of these, I condemn myself before (thou utterest) thy voice: but if I am led to punishment because I worship Him who is the true God, I am condemned by the will, not of the law, but of the judge.(27)


Cyprianus complained that, not only are the innocent often condemned in the law-courts, but the guilty do not even perish with them.(28)


A crime is committed by a wrongdoer, and no innocent man is found who will avenge it. There is no fear of accuser or judge: bad men secure impunity, while modest (men) are silent, accomplices are afraid, (and) those who are to judge (the case) are open to bribes.(29)

According to the Clementines, man has received wisdom to enable him to administer justice.(30) "Who is there among men," asks Clemens, "who does not covet his neighbour's goods? And yet he is restrained and acts with more self-control through fear of the punishment which is prescribed by the laws."(31)

Methodios says that adulterers ought to be tortured and punished.(32) Arnobius says that as the images of the gods do not deter men from crime, "recourse is had to the sanctions of laws, that from them there might be a most certain fear and a fixed and settled condemnation."(33) Lactantius re-echoes the sentiment of Cicero, who








27. Acta Disput Achat iii. 2 (Gebhardt I 17)



28. Cypr Donat 10.





29. Cypr Demetr 11.


30. Clem Hom iii. 36.


31. Clem Recog ix. 15.


32. Method Symp ii. 5.


33. Arnob vi. 26: cf iv. 34, vii. 39 ff, appx (punishment of a slave).

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"prefers to the teachers of philosophy the statesmen, who control public affairs. . . . who preserve the safety and liberty of citizens either by good laws or sound advice or weighty judgments (grauibus iudiciis)."(34) "Not from our number," he says, "but from theirs" (i.e. the pagan persecutors) "always arise those . . who, if they sit (as) judges, are corrupted by a bribe, and either destroy the innocent or discharge the guilty without punishment."(35)

He speaks of a man being condemned to death on account of his deserts.(36) He tells Constantinus that it is his task "to correct misdeeds" and to remove the evil men themselves from the State.(37) He comes much closer to the theory of the subject in his treatise 'On the Anger of God': "They are deceived by no small error," he says,


who defame censure, whether human or divine, with the name of bitterness and wickedness, thinking that he who visits wrongdoers with punishment ought to be called a wrongdoer. But if so, we have wrongful laws, which ordain punishments for sinners, and wrongful judges, who visit those convicted of crime with 'capital' punishment.(38) But if the law is just, which repays to the wrongdoer what he deserves, and (if) the judge is called upright and good, when he punishes evil deeds--for he who punishes evil men guards the safety of the good--therefore God, when He opposes evil men, is not a wrongdoer; but he is a wrongdoer, who either wrongs an innocent man, or spares a wrongdoer so that



34. Lact Inst III xvi. 2.


35. Lact Inst V ix. 15, 17.


36. Lact Inst VI xx. 10 (see p. 159).


37. Lact Inst VII xxvi. 12: cf I i. 13: taeterrimum aliorum facinus expiasti.






38. 'Capital' punishment, in ancient times, did not necessarily mean the death-penalty, though it might do so. It meant the complete loss of one's status as a citizen, either by death, or exile, or enslavement.

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he may wrong many.(39) The public laws condemn those who are manifestly guilty; but there are many whose sins are hidden, many who restrain the accuser either by prayers or by a bribe, many who elude judgment by favour or influence.(40) . . . Unless fear guards this earthly kingdom and empire, it is dissolved. Take away anger from a king, (and) not only will no one obey him, but he will even be cast down from his high rank.(41)

Eusebios accounts for the moral blindness with which primitive man glorified vices, by pointing out that "at that time laws were not yet being administered among men, nor did punishment threaten offenders."(42) He speaks of the hierophants and others, who confessed their impostures under torture in the Roman court at Antioch and were put to death by Licinius with torture, as "paying the just penalty of their pernicious deception."(43) The doctrine of Fate, he urges,


would upset the laws, which are made for men's advantage. For what must one enjoin or forbid to those who are held down by another constraint? Nor will one be obliged to punish offenders who have done no wrong against the same cause, nor to assign honours to those who act excellently--though each of these has furnished a cause for the repression of injustice and for the encouragement of well-doing (respectively).(44)

If the view that the government was an institution ordained by God implied the rightfulness, in some sense, of judicial penalties, it also implied the rightfulness, in some sense, of war. The fact that the police and the military were not distinguished, that the characteristic

39. Lact Ira Dei xvii. 6 f.




40. Lact Ira Dei xx. 7.


41. Lact Ira Dei xxiii. 10: cf xvii. 16, xviii. 1 f.



42. Eus PE 73cd.



43. Eus PE 135cd, cf HE IX xi. 5 f.






44. Eus PE 244d.


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work of each was done with the 'sword,' made it easy for ideas concerning the one to be transferred in the minds of Christians to the other.

The eulogistic terms in which Clemens of Rome spoke of the imperial armies and the discipline that made them so useful(45) are probably to be connected with his clear and repeated statements that the Emperors had been given their authority by God.(46) Eirenaios mentions 'the military arts' among human activities generally recognized as useful,(47) and says that God


requites most fairly according to (their) desert(s those who are) ungrateful and do not realize His kindness: He repays with entire justice: and accordingly it says: 'Sending His armies, He destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.' Now it says 'His armies,' because all men are God's . . . and for this reason the Apostle Paul . . . says: 'There is no power except from God'

--then follows a full quotation of Rom xiii. 1b-6, about the divinely ordained function of the magistrate in repressing evil.(48) Clemens of Alexandria deals at some length with generalship as being, like legislation and the administration of justice, one of the usual departments of the royal office, and in particular with the military genius of Moses, from whom, he says, Miltiades and Thrasuboulos borrowed their tactics.(49) Some of his military illustrations are more than mere illustrations, e.g.


(It is) not only the athletic warriors, (who) wage the contest of freedom in wars, but those who have been anointed by the Word (wage it) at banquets and in




45. I Clem xxxvii. 1-4 (kai en toutois chresis): see p. 163.

46. I Clem lxi. 1, 2. Guignebert (191 n 4), Harnack (MC 18 f, 52 f), and Weinel (26) have interesting remarks on Clemens' view of the Roman army.

47. Eiren II xxxii. 2 (i. 373).







48. Eiren IV xxxvi. 6 (ii. 282 f).



49. Clem Strom I xxiv. 158-163, xxvi. 168.


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bed and in the courts, being ashamed to become captives of pleasure.(50)  

Tertullianus speaks scornfully of the unwarlike habits of Puthagoras, "who avoided the battles that were then going on in Greece."(51) In trying to prove that the body as well as the soul can be morally guilty, he draws a contrast between the way in which "a sword drunk with acts of brigandage" would be shunned as guilty, and the way in which "a sword (which is) honourably bloodstained in war, and is a worthier slayer of men" (than the brigand's weapon) would receive praise and consecration.(52)

Julius Africanus dedicated to the Emperor Alexander Severus an encyclopaedia of all the natural sciences, and gave it the title of Kestoi ('Embroidered Girdles'): he included in it a section on military science, in which he treated frankly of the different means of destroying the enemy, and even included instructions for poisoning food, wine, wells, and air.(53) But Africanus is merely

50. Clem Strom Vl xiv. 112: cf also Paed III iii. 24 f, Strom I xxiii. 157, IV iv. 14, 16.

51. Tert Anim 31 (ii. 701): Ecce . . . Pythagoram vero tam residem et imbellem, ut praelia tunc Graeciae vitans, Italiac maluerit quietem.

52. Tert Res 16 (ii. 815): . . . gladius bene de hello cruentus et melior homicida laudem suam consecratione pensabit. Passing reference will suffice to the allusions in Tert Nat ii. 17 (i. 608) to the part played by war in the rise and fall of States under the control of Providence, in Pall 1 (ii. 1031) to the exemplification of this in the wars between Rome and Carthago, in Pall 2 (ii. 1036) to the repulse of the barbarians as a sign of God's favour to the Emperors, and in Anim 30 (ii. 700) to the useful purpose served by wars, pestilences, etc., as remedies for overpopulation.

53. The section on military tactics is to be found in Veterum Mathematicorum . . . Opera, Paris, 1693, pp. 227-303. A summary and partial translation of it into French was published at Berlin in 1774 by Charles Guischard, a Prussian infantry colonel, in a work entitled Mémoires critiques et historiques sur plusieurs points d'antiquités militaires. He censures Julius Africanus for his barbarity as well as for his superstition: "The Christian religion in its birth did not always cure men of their errors in point of morals," he says, "nor of this leaning which they then had to superstition. . . . Julius Africanus therefore could be orthodox, could compose commentaries on the Bible, and at the same time a book of magic charms, and could teach the art of poisoning wells" (p. 400).

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an individual curiosity in this matter, and represents no one but himself. Only the fact that he was nominally a Christian entitles him to be mentioned here. How little the ethical side of Christianity had touched him is clear from the fact that his Kestoi included a section on aphrodisiac secrets, which was full of obscenities.(54)

We have already had occasion to allude by way of anticipation to Origenes' relative justification of war(55); and it remains for us in this place to put together the relevant passages. Referring to the timely unification of all kingdoms in the Empire of Augustus, he says:


The existence of many kingdoms would have been an obstacle to the extension of Jesus' teaching to the whole world, . . . on account of people everywhere being compelled (dia to anagkazesthai) to serve as soldiers and to make war for the(ir) countries: and this (was what) happened before the time of Augustus and still earlier, when there was need (ote ge chreia en) that there should be war, for instance, between Peloponnesians and Athenians, and similarly between others.(56)  

He concedes to Celsus that "the so-called wars of the bees perhaps constitute a lesson for the conduct of just and orderly wars among men, if there should ever be need (for them)."(57) He mentions in a tone of protest that Celsus tries to "depreciate as far as he can not only our -- (the) Christians' -- but all men's, cities and constitutions and sovereignties and governments and wars for fatherlands."(58) He speaks of the




54. On Africanus, cf DCB i. 57a, Harnack MC 73 n 3; Bardenhewer Patrologie, 163.

55. See above, p. 137.







56. Orig Cels ii. 30. I pass over the casual allusion in i. 59 to stars portending revolutions, wars, or other events.

57. Orig Cels iv. 82 (ei pote deoi).

58. Orig Cels iv. 83. It hardly perhaps needs to be said that Origenes does not here imply the existence of Christian patriotic wars, as a less rigidly literal translation in better English would more strongly suggest. Such an idea is indeed impossible in view of what be says elsewhere, not to mention the obvious facts of the situation. The phrase is nothing more than a loosely worded enumeration of the standing institutions of Church and State.

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Emperor's soldiers as "those who render military service righteously."(59)

Cyprianus reckons it among the calamities of the time that the numbers and efficiency of the soldiers are decreasing.(60) The Clementine Recognitions speak of the obedience of armies as an instance of the beneficial effect of fear.(61) Methodios says that kings, rulers, generals, and various other classes of people, are useful to themselves and the community, if they are temperate.(62)

Lactantius says that God made man naked and unarmed, because he could be armed by his talent and clothed by his reason(63): he censures Epikouros for his policy of being all things to all men, by virtue of which he forbade the timid man to serve as a soldier(64): he criticizes Maximinus Daza as ignorant of military affairs,(65) while he eulogizes Constantinus for having endeared himself to his soldiers by his personal attractions and character and his "diligence in military matters."(66)

He describes with satisfaction and gratitude to God the victories of

59. Orig Cels viii. 73. His references in 69 f to the Romans praying to the one God and so being able to conquer their enemies more effectively (see above, p. 132) must not be pressed. He is dealing with an imaginary situation and omits for the moment to make allowance for that introduction of the Christian ethic which his hypothesis strictly required. In 70 be immediately corrects the omission: "or (rather) they will not fight at all," etc.

60. Cypr Demetr 3 (decrescit ac deficit in aruis agricola, in mari nauta, miles in castris), 17 (ruinis rerum, iacturis opum, dispendio militum, deminutione castrorum).

61. Clem Recog ix. 15.

62. Method Symp viii. 16.

63. Lact Opif Dei ii. 6: cf Inst VII iv. 14.

64. Lact Inst III xviii. 3.

65. Lact Mort Pers xix. 6. The loss of military discipline is mentioned in Inst VII xvii. 9 as one of the disasters of the time of Antichrist.

66. Lact Mort Pers xviii. 10.

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Constantinus and Licinius over Maxentius and Daza respectively,(67) mentions how Licinius prescribed a form of prayer for his soldiers to use before the battle,(68) tells us how Constantinus, in obedience to a dream, had the sacred monogram inscribed on his soldiers' shields,(69) and warmly congratulates him on his triumph.(70) Eusebios writes in a very similar strain. He criticizes Daza for rendering his soldiers wanton, rapacious, and effeminate,(71) and says that his death was not like "the brave endurance of a glorious end, such as often befalls generals who act bravely in war on behalf of virtue and friends."(72) The closing chapters of his Church History and the whole of his later Life of Constantinus abound in grateful and even fulsome eulogies of the sovereign who had overthrown the persecutors by force of arms and thereby secured peace for the Church.

It was quite in keeping with the foregoing view of the imperial armies that the Christians, who habitually prayed for the Emperor and his subordinates, not only as enemies and persecutors,(73) but also (and usually) as the guardians of law and order,(74) should pray also for the efficiency and success of his soldiers who helped him keep out the barbarian invader and administer justice throughout the Empire.(75) While prayer for

67. Lact Mort Pers xliv-xlviii.

68. Lact Mort Pers xlvi: cf Harnack MC 89 f.

69. Lact Mort Pers xliv. 5 f.

70. Lact Inst I i. 13-16, VII xxvi. 11-17.

71. Eus HE VIII xiv. 11. Cf Harnack ME ii. 55 n 2 ("Eusebius's feelings thus are those of a loyal citizen of the empire"), MC 73.

72. Eus HE IX x. 14.

73. e.g. Pol xii. 3.

74. 1 Tim ii. 1 f.

75. Harnack ME ii. 53 n. "The emperor, even from the apocalyptic standpoint, had a certain divine right of existence as a bulwark against anarchy and the barbarian hordes; for the "pax terrena" was a relative good, even from the strictest Christian standpoint. . . Now the emperor needed soldiers to maintain this "pax terrena." They were part and parcel of the "sword" which (Rom xiii. 4) is recognized as a divine attribute of authority, and which no church-father ever dared to deny, in so many words, to the emperor." Similarly MC 123.

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rulers in general appears at a very early point in Christian literature, prayers specifically for the army are not mentioned, as far as I have been able to discover, before the time of Tertullianus. This writer however refers to it as a standing Christian usage.


(We are) all (of us) always praying for all emperors, that their life may be prolonged, (their) rule secure, (their) household (kept) in safety, (their) armies strong, the senate faithful, the people upright, the world quiet, and whatever (else his) wishes are (as) man and (as) Caesar.(76)

Origenes says that it is the special province of Christians, who do not themselves fight, to


strive by prayers to God on behalf of those who render military service righteously and on behalf of him who is reigning righteously, in order that all things opposed and hostile to those that act righteously may be put down.(77)  

Achatius said to the judge in the Decian persecution:


Our prayer for him (the Emperor) is persistent and constant, that he may spend a long time in this life and rule the peoples with just power and pass the time of his reign in peace, then for the safety of the soldiers and the stability of the world.(78)

"We always ask," says Cyprianus, "and pour (out our) prayers for the repulse of enemies, for the obtaining of rain, and for the removal or moderation of troubles; and we beg constantly and urgently for your (the pagans') peace and safety, propitiating and appeasing God night and day."(79) "Why have our meetings deserved to be cruelly broken up," asks Arnobius, "seeing that in them the Supreme God is prayed to,








76. Tert Apol 30 (i. 443).






77. Orig Cels viii. 73: for the context, see pp. 134 f.





78. Acta Disput Achat i. 3: deinde pro salute militum et pro statu mundi et orbis (Gebhardt 115).




79. Cypr Demetr 20.


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peace and pardon are asked for all-magistrates, armies, kings, friends, enemies?"(80)

In estimating the meaning and value of the foregoing teaching in regard to the State, some allowance must be made for the immense authority of Paul's words, for the fact that they were written before the outbreak of imperial persecution in 64 A.D. and in order to counteract a strong tendency towards rebellious and aggressive anarchy in the Christian Church, particularly at Rome,(81) for immaturity of reflection in some of the writers we have quoted, and also for the natural habit, in controverting an opponent, of speaking ad hominem in a way that one would not speak if simply delivering a personal view. But all this takes us only a short way towards accounting for the language used.

We are brought here to the very heart of the Christian problem of the State. Nothing could be more clear and explicit than the declarations as to the origin and purpose of civil government. It is an institution ordained by God for the purpose of restraining, by means of coercion and penalty, the grosser forms of human sin. If this view was a fixed datum in Christian political theory, the rule that a Christian must never inflict an injury on his neighhour, however wicked that neighbour may be, was also a fixed datum in Christian ethical theory: and the problem consists in reconciling these two apparently conflicting data.

One thing is clear--that the fact of being appointed by God for a certain work or permitted by God to do it, did not, in the Christian view, guarantee the righteousness of

80. Arnob iv. 36.






81. Carlyle, Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, vol. i. 91-97.


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the agent or of his doings. The Apocalypse says that 'it was given' to the Beast to have authority over all peoples and to make war upon the saints, that is to say, he was in some sense allowed or authorized by God to do it, for the achievement of some good end, such as the chastisement or discipline of the Church.(82) But this did not mean that the Beast was righteous or that his persecution of the saints was not blameworthy. Eirenaios makes it fairly clear that he could as easily think of wicked rulers being appointed by God as he could of good ones.(83) God uses the wickedness of some as a chastisement for others.

But even this does not get to the bottom of the matter, for it refers only to the crimes of rulers, not to the just legal penalties they inflict. The key to the problem is simply this, that the just ruler who as the servant of God enforces the laws, punishes wrongdoers, and wages war against the unrighteous aggressor, is, in the thought of Paul and the early Fathers, always a pagan ruler, and therefore, though eligible for conversion, is yet, qua pagan, not to be expected to obey the distinctively Christian laws of conduct or to exercise the distinctively Christian restraint upon wrongdoing.

Not all the servants of God are necessarily Christians. God has a use for those in the sub-christian stage of moral development, as well as for those who enjoy the full light of the Gospel. Paul evidently had a genuine respect for the nobler elements in the gentile mind,(84)  




82. Ap xiii. 2, 4, 5, 7, 14, 15: see Moffatt's note on 7 in Expositor's Greek Test. ("The beast's world-wide authority goes back to the dragon's commission (2) but ultimately to the divine permission (so in 5). There is a providence higher even than the beast").

83. Eiren IV xxxvi. 6 (ii. 282 f) (quoted on p. 205), V xxiv. 3 (ii. 389) (quoted above p. 199).








84. Rom ii. 14 f; cf i. 19 1 f.

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including that sense of responsibility for the peace and well-being of society, that love of law and order, that appreciation of the elements of justice, which--with whatever admixture of baser motives and whatever crudity of unloving restrictive method--formed the fundamental principles of the Roman Empire.

In other words, the Christian justification of coercive government and of war, though real and sincere, was only a relative justification: it was relative to the non-christian condition of the agents concerned. It therefore furnished no model for Christian conduct and no justification for any departure on the part of the Christian from the gentler ethics characteristic of the religion of Jesus. That the matter in its various bearings was always fully understood in this light by Christian authors, I do not argue. Indeed, from the slowness of the modern mind to grasp the relativity of all moral acts to the subjective conditions of the agent concerned, one can easily understand how it was that this view of the divine appointment of rulers was by the end of our period widely understood to carry with it the Christian's right to participate in the violence and bloodshed of the State.

But I do maintain that this doctrine in its strict and proper meaning is perfectly consistent with the practice and advocacy of the completest abstention on the part of the Christian from such participation, and that the explanation of it which I have offered furnishes the key to a good many paradoxes in Christian literature. It explains, for instance, how Paul himself can forbid Christians to avenge themselves, telling them to stand aside and leave room for the wrath of God, to whom vengeance belongs, and to conquer evil with good by feeding the hungry enemy,

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and so forth, and then a few verses lower speak of the pagan magistrate as the servant of God for the infliction of His wrath as a punishment on the wrongdoer.(85) It explains how Hermas can speak of the persecuting command of the Emperor to the Christians: "Either keep my laws or go out of my country," as a just command.(86) It explains how Athenagoras can say that Christians cannot endure to see a man killed, even justly, and à fortiori cannot kill him.(87) It explains how Origenes can maintain that it is never right for a Christian to kill a man, and defend the Christian refusal to serve in the legions, and yet speak of the legionaries as "rendering military service righteously," can refer to the "just and orderly wars of men" as being sometimes necessary, can speak with approval of Judith's act in murdering Holofernes,(88) and can even argue for the right of the Christians to contravene the laws of the State on the analogy that it is right to conspire against and assassinate a tyrant.(89)

85. Rom xii. 17-xiii. 6: cf. especially the words of xii. 19 (me eautous ekdikountes, agapetoi, alla dote topon tu orge gegraptai gar emoi ekdikesis, ego antapodoso, legei Kurios) with those of xiii. 4 (Theou gar diakonos estin, ekdikos eis orgen toto kakon prassonti).

86. Herm S I 4: Legei gar soi dikaios o kurios tes choras tautes E tois nomois mou chro, e ekchorei ek tes choras mou.

87. Athenag Legat 35 (969) Ous gar isasin oud idein kan dikaios phoneuomenon upomenontas, touton tis an kateipoi e androphonian e anthropoborian; . . . all emeis plesion einai to idein ton phoneuomenon ton apokteinai nomizontes, apegoreusamen tas toiautas theas (i.e. the gladiatorial shows).

88. Orig Orat xiii. 2 f.

89. Orig Cels i. 1. It is a complete mistake to assume, as is apparently done by Bestmann (ii. 295) and Bigelmair (110), that Origenes meant that a Christian might justifiably conspire against and assassinate a tyrant. In the ordinary ethical code of historical Greece, to slay a tyrant was an act of the most laudable heroism (Grote, History of Greece, iii. 26 f); and Origenes simply accepts, for the purpose of his argument, this backward moral sentiment as admitted by his opponent and as relatively valid, without thereby implying that the act would be justified in the case of one on whom the full light of Christianity has come. Origenes also assumed the rightness of exempting pagan priests from military service in order that they might offer sacrifices (see above, p. 135): yet how absurd would it be to infer from this that he would have approved of Christians becoming pagan priests and offering sacrifices!

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While it may be confidently asserted that the relative justification accorded by Christians to the use of the sword by the pagan magistrate and soldier cannot logically be made to justify the use of it by themselves, we are still left with ultimate questions unsettled, viz. how to relate God's use of the pagan sword to the gentle love that He shows through Jesus, and how to harmonize the justice of it when regarded as a divine ordinance with the evil of it when looked at from the Christian point of view. These questions were never finally answered, but one or two things that were said in connection with them are interesting as bringing out the Christian attitude still more clearly.

We have already seen that Origenes broached the question whether the evil demons may not have been appointed by the Logos "like the executioners and those in the cities who are appointed for gloomy but needful public duties."(90) It is clear from this comparison that it is to the normal execution of justice--not to the maladministration of it--that Origenes attaches a quasi-demonic stigma. He expresses this view at greater length when replying to Celsus' contention that the Christian's opinion of what is evil is not necessarily true, for he does not know what is of advantage to himself or his neighbour or the world. Origenes replies that this argument


suggests that the nature of evil (things) is not absolutely wicked, for that which is regarded as evil in individual cases may be admitted to be of advantage to the whole (community). But lest anyone, misconstruing what has been said,











90. Orig Cels vii. 70: see p. 201.

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should find (in it) an incentive to violence, on the ground that his wickedness is an advantage to the whole (community) or may possibly be an advantage, it has to be said that, although God, without prejudice to the freewill of each of us, may use the wrongdoing of the wicked for the administration of the whole (community), appointing them for the service of the whole (community), nevertheless such a man is blameable, and, as blameable, has been appointed to a service (which is) abominable for an individual, but useful to the whole (community); just as in the cities one would say that a man who had committed certain crimes, and because of th(os)e crimes had been condemned to certain public works useful to the whole (community), was doing something useful to the whole city, but was himself engaged in an abominable task and (one) in which no one of moderate intelligence would wish to be engaged.(91)

Origenes does not explicitly mention the secular power in this connection, but there can be little doubt that he had it at the back of his mind; for on what other topic would his declared views have so obviously compelled him to admit that an act might be wrong for an individual but useful to the community as a whole?(92)

In the Clementine Homilies a quasi-manichaean view of the world is set forth.


God appointed two kingdoms and established two ages. . . . Two kingdoms have been appointed, the one (the kingdom) of what












91. Orig Cels iv. 70.



92. Yet Origenes was unable to do full justice to the relativity of morality (see Cels v. 28, where he insists overmuch on the absolute nature of what is right, and denies that differing customs and usages can be right for different nations): hence his attitude to governmental coercion lacks something to make it entirely sound.

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are called the heavens, and the other (the kingdom) of those who now reign upon earth. And two kings have been established, one of whom is chosen to reign by law over the present and temporary world, who has also been composed (so as) to rejoice over the destruction of (the) wicked; but the other, being king of the age to come, loves the whole nature of man.(93) Of these two, the one acts violently to the other, God having bidden (him).

But each man has power to obey whichever of them he wishes for the doing of good or evil. . . . If anyone does evil, he becomes the servant of the present evil (king), who, having by a just judgment received the power against him on account of (his) sins, and wishing to use it before the coming age, rejoices (in) inflicting punishment in the present life, and by thus indulging his own passion accomplishes the Will of God. . . .

But these two governors are the swift hands of God, eager to anticipate the accomplishment of His Will: that this is so has been said in the Law . . . 'I will kill, and I will make alive; I will strike, and I will heal.' For truly He kills, and brings to life. He kills by means of the left hand, that is, by means of the Evil One, who has been composed (so as) to rejoice over the evil treatment of the impious. But He saves and benefits by means of the right hand. . . . These do not have their beings outside of God; for there is no other source (of being besides God); nor are they cast forth from God like animals, for they were of the same mind with Him. . . . The wicked one, therefore, having served God blamelessly to the end of the present age, inasmuch as he is not of the one essence which is solely inclined to evil, can, by a change in his composition,






93. Clem Hom xx. 2.

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become good. For not even now does he do evil, though he is evil, having received power to do evil lawfully (nomimos kakouchein).(94)

This view, despite its crudity, is interesting as an apparent attempt to explain how it is that an act like the punishment of a criminal may be right and lawful when done by an imperfect creature of God, and might lead to good and useful consequences, and yet might have to be put right outside the pale of Christianity, and therefore be wrong if performed by Christian hands.

The problem of how to reconcile the Christian ethic with the Christian justification of the State was virtually the same as the problem of how to reconcile the former with the Christian reverence for the Mosaic Law as divinely inspired. Of the many things said on this question, by far the most important is a suggestion made by the unknown author of the 'Dialogus de Recta Fidei' (a work of the early years of the fourth century). He shows us Adamantios, who is apparently meant to be Origenes, in discussion with a Markionite. The latter argues from the discrepancy between the Old and New Testaments that there must be more than one God. Adamantios points out traces of gentleness, love, etc., in the Old Testament, and of severity and vengeance in the New, and thus upsets his opponent without really solving the problem.

At one point, however, he puts his finger for a moment on the real key to it. "I do not think it will seem absurd," he says,


if we use an illustration, in order that the sense of what we are saying may become clearer. Does not a woman, when she has borne a son, first nourish him with milk, and afterwards, when he has grown up, with more solid


94. Clem Hom xx. 3.

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foods? And I do not think the woman is on this account reckoned by anyone to act inconsistently, because she first gave her breasts to the baby with milk, (and) afterwards, when he had grown up, provided (him with) stronger foods. The Apostle Paul, too, knew how to promulgate laws to men according to their several progress, when he says: 'I gave you milk to drink, not food, for ye were not yet able (to take it); but not even yet are ye able, for ye are still carnal.' 


In the same way, therefore, God also gave laws to men according to the progress of their minds. To Adam he gave a law in one way as to a little child, but in another way to Noah, in another way to Abraham, in another way to the people of Israel through Moses. Through the Gospel also, according to the further progress of the world, the law-giving is different. Why therefore does God seem inconsistent, seeing that, in the same way as (He might treat) a man from (his) birth on to old age, He has so treated the whole world, which began from its first childhood, then after that, growing and progressing, came to middle age, and thence hastened to the maturity and perfection of old age, (and treated) each age of it with apt and adequate laws?


But lest ye should think that I affirm this without evidence, I (will) show that this is written, how one and the same God commands different things. God bids Abraham sacrifice his own son: afterwards by Moses, He forbids a man to be slain at all, but orders him who is caught in this act to be punished. Because therefore He orders at one time a son to be slain, but at another the slayer to be punished, do we say that there are two Gods contrary to one another?

Here Eutropios, the pagan arbiter of the discussion, asks: "Does He

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Himself order (a man) to be killed, and (yet) say: 'Thou shalt not kill'?" Adamantios replies:


Precisely. And not only is it found so in this, but also in many other things. For sometimes He orders sacrifices to be offered to Himself, and then again He forbids it. . . .(95)  

The passage is unique in early Christian literature for the place it gives to the differing subjective conditions of men in the determination of the content of the moral law.

We cannot pursue further the question of the early Christian view of the State; but enough has been said to show that there was nothing in the relative justification which Christians accorded to the ordinary functions of government, including even its punitive and coercive activities, which logically involved them in departing from the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and personally participating in those activities. If a modern reader be disposed to reject this doctrine as one which selfishly leaves the dirty work of society to non-Christians, it is right to remind him, firstly, that, so far as the endurance of hardship and danger went, the early Christians were far worse off than the magistrates, executioners, and soldiers; for not only had they to take their share as civilians in ordinary and special risks to which people are exposed alike in peace and war, but they had also to endure all the troubles and disabilities and persecutions which public odium heaped upon them; and secondly, that they had their own method of repressing crime, more thorough and effective than the method of the State, and that




95. Adamant i. 9: the discussion on the point occupies i. 9-16, 18 (cf ii. 15). For Tertullianus' view of the gradual development of righteousness, see above, p. 177, n 3.

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their power to remove occasions for the use of the sword increased directly in proportion to their numbers and their zeal.

None therefore of the various forms in which Christians may be said to have 'accepted' war necessarily committed them to participation in it. It cannot, however, be maintained that this fact was always adequately appreciated by them, or that their words and conduct were always consistent with the avowed ethics of their faith. We shall see in a later section how numbers of them came after a time to serve in the army; but, short of this, there are several cases of real or apparent compromise on which a word may be said. Some of these lie so near the borderline between the permissible and the impermissible as to be patient of different interpretations. The sudden death of Ananias and Sappheira, for instance, when their deceit was exposed by Peter, was not the execution of a death-sentence, but the natural consequence of a well-merited rebuke, and was doubtless looked upon as a divine visitation.(96)

Paul on the whole has a firm grasp of the real principles of Christian conduct, but his Roman citizenship, his legal type of mind, and his preoccupation with other aspects of Christian truth, led him at times into expressions and actions which are not easily harmonized with his words at the end of Rom. xii. His demand for the recognition of his legal rights, his readiness to plead his cause in a court of law, and his appeal to Caesar,(97) are not to be numbered amongst these; for they concerned simply his own immunity from injustice, and did not involve the












96. Ac v. 1-11.





97. Ac xvi. 35-39, xxii. 23-29, xxiv. 10 ff, xxv. 6-12.

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punishment of his accusers or enemies.

But his sentence of blindness on Elymas the sorcerer,(98) which reminds us of the case of Ananias and Sappheira, his apparent silence on the unchristian character of the Philippian gaoler's calling,(99) which again recalls the similar silence of Peter in the case of the centurion Cornelius,(100) his wish that the Judaizing errorists would castrate themselves,(101) his consignment of the incestuous Corinthian to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus,(102) the one-sidedness of the terms in which his doctrine of the State is set forth,(103) and his communication to the military commander of the plot against his life,(104)--are cases so near the border-line that much discussion would be needed to enable us to measure what degree of inconsistency, if any, was involved in each of them.

Many instances occur throughout our period of Christians pleading, protesting, appealing, etc., to pagan magistrates, and this has often been taken as showing that they were allowed by the Church to sue their enemies in pagan Courts in order to get them punished. So Bigelmair: "In disputes between Christians and non-Christians, the legal protection of the heathen courts, which was not denied to the Christians, had to be appealed to. . . . Recourse to heathen courts was never contested."(105) Similarly Bestmann.(106) But the cases quoted by Bigelmair prove nothing of the kind, for in all of them the Christians were the defendants, not the plaintiffs, and did not ask for the punishment of


98. Ac xiii. 9-11.


99. Ac xvi. 29-34.

100. Ac x, xi.

101. Gal v. 12.


102. 1 Cor v. 1-5.

103. Rom xiii. 1-6.

104. Ac xxiii. 12-24.







105. Bigelmair 94 f.

106. Bestmann i. 403-405.

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their enemies.

Justinus, indeed, sadly compromises the Christian position when, in his eagerness to disavow the wrongdoings of pseudo-Christians, he asks the Emperors to punish those who were Christians only in name, but who were not living in conformity with Christ's teachings.(107) Origenes has been criticized for his willingness to pray for the victory of the Emperor's soldiers, when he would not fight along with them.(108) But one who thinks it wrong to fight may well recognize that one of two warring parties is better than the other and may wish that, while neither is acting in a Christian way, one may prevail rather than the other: and if the wish is legitimate, so too may be the prayer for the fulfilment of that wish. Lactantius could have justified a good deal of what he said about the justice of anger, and so on, had he made allowance for the partial relativity of all morality to subjective conditions; but even so he would have had to find a larger place for love, expressing itself through non-resistance and gentleness and suffering, as the characteristically Christian policy for overcoming sin in others.

We are without exact information as to the extent to which Christians entered on political life in general, held office as magistrates, and brought suits to the pagan courts. There may have been a few cases of such action in the very early times. But broadly speaking, such cases were very rare before the middle of the third century. Athenagoras, Clemens of Alexandria, Tertullianus, and the Didaskalia, all regard it as forbidden to Christians to sue wrongdoers in the pagan courts. Origenes wrote in 248 A.D. as if Christians





107. Just 1 Ap xvi. 14.


108. Backhouse and Tylor, Early Church History, p. 130.

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generally refused public office.

But Christian feeling and practice grew laxer from that time onwards. The Clementines relate how the friends of Peter, being alarmed at the indignation which Simon of Samaria had excited against him at Antioch, sent for the Roman centurion Cornelius, who happened to be there with a message from the Emperor to the Governor of the province, and asked for his assistance. Cornelius offered to give it out that the Emperor had ordered sorcerers to be sought for and slain at Rome and in the provinces, that many had already been so dealt with, and that he (Cornelius) had been secretly sent by the Emperor to seize and punish Simon. This news being conveyed to Simon by Peter's spies, the former speedily departed in accordance with the Apostle's desire.(109) This amusing piece of fiction sheds an interesting sidelight on the author's view of the Christian's relations with the State and the army; but too much of course must not be made of it.

In 272 A.D. a synod of Christian bishops appealed to the Emperor Aurelianus to eject from the cathedral house and church of Antioch the bishop, Paulus of Samosata, who had been condemned for heresy and deposed some years earlier, but had kept his place under the protection of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra. The Emperor's decision was in favour of the appellants. "Thus," says Eusebios, "the aforesaid man was expelled from the church by the secular government with the utmost disgrace."(110) Under Diocletianus, before the persecution, Christians were appointed to the governorships of provinces,(111) which of course involved judicial and military duties.

One of the martyrs in the










109. Clem Hom xx. 13, Recog x. 54 f.







110. Eus HE VII xxx. 19.

111. Eus HE VIII i. 2.


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persecution was Philoromos, who "had been appointed to no mean office in the imperial administration of Alexandria, and daily administered justice, attended by soldiers according to his rank and Roman dignity."(112) Another case was that of the governor (strategos) of the Phrygian town, the population of which was martyred en masse.(113) Constantius, who governed Western Europe, regularly employed Christians as his ministers of state.(114) The Synod of Illiberis provided for Christians who held the annual office of duumvir in Spanish towns and took part in the violence and bloodshed of the law-courts.(115)

After the triumph of Constantinus all but a few remaining barriers were swept away. The clergy were not supposed to shed blood in war or to administer justice outside the ecclesiastical courts, and the ascetics and a few like-minded Christian laymen also refrained: but apart from these cases, it came to be taken for granted that the ordinary functions of civil government were as open to the average Christian as they had been to the average pagan.



112. Eus HE VIII ix. 7.

113. Eus HE VIII xi. 1: see above, p. 95.


114. Eus Vit Const i. 16 f.


115. See above, pp. 156 f.