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Chapter 6: THE ESSENTIAL PEACEFULNESS OF CHRISTIANITY
The natural counterpart of the Christian disapproval of war was the conception of peace as being of the very stuff and substance of the Christian life.
Peace, of course, meant a number of different things to the early Christian. It meant reconciliation between himself and God; it meant the stilling of turbulent passions and evil desires in his own heart; it meant the harmony and concord that normally reigned within the Christian community; it meant (to Paul, for instance, in writing 'Ephesians') the reconciliation of Jew and gentile; it meant immunity from annoyance and persecution at the hands of pagans; it meant also freedom from the distractions, toils, and dangers of actual war.
Little purpose would be served by attempting an analysis of all occurrences of the word 'peace' in early Christian literature according to the particular shade of meaning in each case, with the object of dissolving out the exact amount said about peace as the antithesis and correlative of war. The result would be little more than a general impression of the Christian inclination towards, and approval of, peace. That fact in itself is not without significance: for, while there are many places in which peace is mentioned without any apparent reference to the military calling--for instance, where Peter, shortly before baptizing the centurion Cornelius, gave him the pith of the Christian gospel as "the word which God sent to the sons of Israel, giving the good news of peace
through Jesus Christ"(1) -- yet the close and repeated identification of Christianity with peace even in a vague sense (e.g., in the opening and closing salutations of letters, and in phrases like 'the God of Peace') has an important bearing on the Christian attitude to war, particularly in view of the many direct and explicit allusions we find to peace in the military sense.
It will be sufficient for our present purpose to quote only a few of the more explicit passages. Paul, for instance, tells the Romans "If possible, as far as lies in your power, be at peace with all men"(2): similarly, the author of Hebrews: "Pursue peace with all (men)."(3) The evangelist 'Matthew' quotes the words of Jesus: "Happy are the peace-makers"(4); and Luke tells us that at the birth of Jesus the host of angels sang: "Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace among men whom He favours,"(5) and represents Zacharias as praying God "to guide our feet into (the) way of peace."(6)
In the liturgical prayer at the end of the epistle of Clemens of Rome occurs a petition for world-wide peace among men generally: "Give concord and peace to us and to all who inhabit the earth, as Thou gavest to our fathers."(7) Then he prays specially for the rulers:
1. Ac x. 36, 48.
2. Rom xii. 18.
3. Heb xii. 14
4. Mt v. 9.
5. Lk ii. 14: are the anthropoi eudokias men generally, or Christians only, or Jews?
6. Lk i. 79; cf the reference to national enemies in vv. 71, 74.
7. I Clem lx. 4.
Ignatius exclaims: "Nothing is better than peace, by which all war of those in heaven and those on earth is abolished."(9) A Christian Elder quoted by Eirenaios said that King Solomon "announced to the nations that peace would come and prefigured the reign of Christ."(10) Justinus told the Emperors that the Christians were the best allies and helpers they had in promoting peace,(11) on the ground that their belief in future punishment and in the omniscience of God provided a stronger deterrent from wrongdoing than any laws could do.
The Christian Church appropriated to itself that old prophecy, found both in Isaiah and Micah, of the abolition of war in the Messianic age.
This prophecy is quoted, in whole or in part, by a succession of Christian writers, who all urge that it is being fulfilled in the extension of Christianity, the adherents of which are peace-loving people, who do not make war. Thus Justinus quotes it in his Apology, and goes on:
8. I Clem lxi. 1 f.
9. Ig E xiii. 2.
10. Eiren IV xxvii. i (ii. 240): the reference is apparently to Ps. lxxii. 7.
11. Just I Ap xii. I: 'Arogoi d'umin kai summachoi pros eirenen esmen panton mallon anthropon.
12. Isa ii. 3 f; cf Mic iv. 2 f.
He quotes it again in his Dialogue with Truphon the Jew, and insists in opposition to the Jewish interpretation that it is already being fulfilled: "and we," he goes on,
Eirenaios quotes it, and comments upon it as follows:
13. Just I Ap xxxix. 1-3.
14. Just Dial 109 f (728 f).
Tertullianus quotes it, and asks:
He quotes it again clause by clause in his treatise against Markion, inserting comments as he goes along:
and he goes on to insist that it is Christ who must be referred
15. Eiren IV xxxiv. 4 (ii. 271 f). Cf the use made by Eirenaios of Isa xi. 6-9 in Demonstr 61 (35).
16. Tert Jud 3 (ii. 604): the last words are in pacis obsequia eluxit.
to.(17) He adverts to the prophecy again a little later: "And then 'they beat their swords into ploughs . . . ,' that is, minds (that were) once wild and savage they change into feelings (that are) upright and productive of good fruit."(18) Origenes quotes it:
It is quoted in the Pseudo-Cyprianic treatise 'Against the Jews' and in the 'Dialogus de Recta Fidei' as a reference to the state of affairs inaugurated by Christ.(20) Lastly, Eusebios quotes it -- after referring to the multiplicity of rulers in pre-Christian times and the consequent frequency of wars and universality of military training--as prophesying the change that was actually introduced at the advent of Christ. True, he conceives the fulfilment to lie--in part at least--in the unification of all governments in that of Augustus and the resultant cessation of conflicts; but he goes on to point out that, while the demons goaded men into furious wars with one another, "at the same time, by our Saviour's most pious and most peaceful teaching, the destruction of polytheistic error
17. Tert Marc iii. 21 (ii. 351).
18. Tert Marc iv. I (ii. 361).
19. Orig Cels v. 33. What exactly Origenes means by tas polemikas emon logikas machairas kai ubristikas I do not know: anyhow, the reference to actual warfare is clear.
20. Ps-Cypr Jud 9; Adamant i. 10.
began to be accomplished, and the dissensions of the nations immediately began to find rest from former evils. Which (fact)," he concludes, "I regard as a very great proof of our Saviour's divine and irresistible power."(21)
Resuming our account of the various laudatory allusions of Christian authors to peace, we find Athenagoras saying to the Emperors: "By your sagacity the whole inhabited world enjoys profound peace."(22) Clemens of Alexandria says of the Christians: "We are being educated, not in war, but in peace"; "We, the peaceful race" are more temperate than "the warlike races"; among musical instruments, "man is in reality a pacific instrument," the others exciting military and amorous passions; "but we have made use of one instrument, the peaceful word only, wherewith we honour God."(23)
Tertullianus, defending the Christian meetings, asks: "To whose danger did we ever meet together? What we are when we are separated, that we are when we are gathered together: what we are as individuals, that we are as a body, hurting no one, troubling no one"(24): he calls the Christian "the son of peace."(25) The devil, says Hippolutos, "knows that the prayer of the saints produces peace for the world."(26) The Pseudo-Melitonian Apologist prescribed the knowledge and fear of the one God as the only means by which a kingdom could be peaceably governed.(27) The Bardesanic 'Book of the Laws of the Countries' foretold the coming
21. Eus PE 10b-11a, cf 179ab.
22. Athenag Legat I (892), cf 37 fin (972).
23. Clem Paed I xii. 98 fin, II ii. 32, iv. 42.
24. Tert Apol 39 (i. 478).
25. Tert Cor 11 (ii. 92).
26. Hipp. Dan III xxiv. 7.
27. Ps-Mel 10 (ANCL xxiib. 121.)
of universal peace as a result of the dissemination of new teaching and by a gift from God.(28) In the Pseudo-Justinian 'Address to the Greeks,' the Word of God is invoked as: "O trumpet of peace to the soul that is at war!"(29) Commodianus says to the Christian: "Make thyself a peace-maker to all men."(30) Cyprianus commends patience as that which "guards the peace."(31)
Arnobius tells the pagans:
28. ANCL xxiib. III.
29. Ps-Just Orat 5.
30. Commod Instr ii. 22.
31. Cypr Bon Pat 20: cf Clem Hom iii. 19, Recog ii. 27-31.
The martyr Lucianus told the judge at Nicomedia that one of the laws given by Christ to Christians was that they should "be keen on peace."(33)
It might of course be urged that these expressions or at least the bulk of them voiced the sentiments of a community that bore no political responsibility and had been disciplined by no political experience. "The opinions of the Christians of the first three centuries," says Lecky, "were usually formed without any regard to the necessities of civil or political life; but when the Church obtained an ascendancy, it was found necessary speedily to modify them."(34)
It must of course be frankly admitted that the passages we have quoted do not explicitly handle the ultimate problems with which the philosophy of war and penal justice has to deal: but it is quite another question whether the policy of conduct dictated by what many might consider this blind attachment to peace and this blind horror of war did not involve a better solution of those problems than had yet been given to the world. The modifications of which Lecky speaks were due to other causes than the enlargement of the Church's vision and experience. The grave relaxation of her early moral purity had a good deal to do with it: and, as we shall see later, the early Church was not without at least one competent thinker who was fully equal to giving a good account of the peace-loving views of himself and his brethren in face of the objections raised by the practical pagan critic.
32. Arnob i. 6: the general prevalence of peace since the time of Christ is alluded to by Methodios (Symp x. i fin).
33. Routh iv. 6 (studere paci).
34. Lecky ii. 39.