Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Canon 12: Those who, called by grace, have shown the first zeal, and have laid aside their belts, but afterwards have returned like dogs to their vomit, and have gone so far as to give money and presents to be readmitted into military service, shall remain three years among the audientes and ten years among the substrati.

But in the case of these penitents, their intention and the character of their repentance must be tried. In fact, those among them who, by fear and with tears, together with patience and good works, show by deeds that their conversion is real, and not merely in appearance, after having finished the time of their penance among the audientes, may perhaps take part among those who pray, and it is in the power of the bishop to treat them with greater lenity... (from The Ecumenical Council of Nicea; 325 c.e.)


It's pretty obvious that during the first few centuries the Church took Christian involvement in violent action pretty seriously. In the beginning of the early church, all Christians were pacifists. There were two reasons for this. First, they interpreted the teachings of Jesus as prohibiting violent acts (such as the Sermon on the Mount, or Matt. 5: 38-48). Second, joining the Roman Army entailed taking an oath to the pagan gods of Rome, which included the Emperor. That was an act of blasphemy and idolatry that the Church could not tolerate and that no Christian would do.

Christian peace keeping served the Church quite well when it consisted mainly of working-class people and slaves, but by the early part of the fourth century, Christianity had not only become legal, it had spread to all social classes, including political leaders in power. If for no other reason, nonviolence was an immediate and pressing problem because of the conflict it imposed for those Christians who were now in power ruling over a nation state (darn you Jesus and your idealistic community). How was (and is) a Christian guard/policeman to apprehend a violent criminal? How was (and is) a Christian ruler to deal with an armed insurrection or a military invasion?

Christian theologians were therefore dealing with a pressing, practical issue: if Christians are in political leadership roles, how do they run the police force, the army, or a nation state?

My friends, when WE the Church took on MORE than simply BEING faithful to BEING Christ's embodiment in the world- The Church, we traded in Christ centered practices (which nurtures and sustains a Christ centered life together) for a different set of practices that don't quite look like the teachings nor the lifestyle of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Anyone else looking for leaders in the church and congregations who love justice, love their enemies, love the poor, walk alongside the dispossessed and displaced, and are simply trying to live out a faithful life ever so humbly even if its imperfect and tainted at times? I'll walk with ya. Gee, I might even drink out of the same cup as you. :) at this point i have inserted my tongue into my cheek.

a great read for more on pacifism in the christian tradition is jaroslav pelikan's jesus through the centuries.

i love you,


Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm just now remembering this reference, but one of the best points I've seen about Christian pacifism was in the book my World Religions class studied this semester (The World's Religions - Huston Smith).

In short, it says that Christ taught to Love, including enemies. But what happens when loving others through saving their lives requires taking the life of another? Christ left that area grey.

I long for leaders in churches and the Church who follow Christ. I long for a Christ-centered world. But at the same time, I also recognize the unfortunate need for the profession of arms.


St.Phransus said...

When does saving someone's life "absolutely require" taking another's life without the slightest/most remote chance that there might be another way to save that person?

Can you really name a situation of conflict now or ever where there "definitely" "absolutely" was not even a slight possibility for more than one option for resolution?

I have much respect for you Drew. Thanks for engaging these discussions. I appreciate your perspective and honestly think these are worthwhile discussions to be had within the church. Because they do affect our "practices" in life.


Anonymous said...

Jonathan, thank you for these posts.

Anonymous said...

This is definitely one of the hardest topics in the Church, and something I'm glad is being discussed as I look to post-college and the possibility of the military chaplaincy.

As for situations requiring the taking of life, World War II strikes me as the most obvious example. Of course, there was very little between the attempts at appeasement and all-out war. The most obvious examples in the past twelve years are Rwanda (the UN's unwillingness to use force, while not the cause of the genocide, allowed it to continue, eventually causing 800,000 their lives) and Sudan (the world sits and talks about various sanctions while various militias commit genocide). Obviously, if there is another way, it should be taken, as most wars are definitely avoidable.