The Scriptural Picture
Introduction: The charge is made that Isaiah 2:1 contradicts Joel 4:10 (RSV
= 3:10). For Isaiah says they will beat their swords into ploughshares, but
Joel says: Beat your ploughshares into swords.
There is really no contradiction if one takes the trouble to look - so many
seem to want to find contradictions,and do not really try. Two different
occasions are meant in the two texts. Isaiah speaks of the Messianic age,
in a highly colored, poetically idealized picture, as we see from 11:6-9
which says the wolf will be the guest of the lamb, the lion will eat hay
etc. Had the Jews accepted Christ, this picture, minus of course some
poetic exaggeration, would have been fulfilled. But the picture in Joel is
quite different, referring as we said, to a different occasion. A note in
"New American Bible" on the passage of Joel says that the warlike weapons
are made in response to God's call for armies, which He picked to expel
forever the unlawful invaders from the promised land. After that, swords
would no longer be needed, and could be turned into ploughshares.
Certainly Isaiah is not forbidding all war. If one thought that, we could
quote, in an equally simplistic way, the text of Joel.
1. Really, in the OT, God Himself not only permitted, but commanded many a
war. So St. Augustine told Faustus (22.74): "And let no one wonder or
shudder that wars were waged by Moses, for in them he followed divine
commands. He was not raging, but obedient.... wars are undertaken against
the violence of those who resist, at the order of God, or some legitimate
In fact, God at times ordered even the extermination of the enemy. The
purpose was to eradicate idolatry from the land, for fear the Jews would
fall into it - which as a matter of fact they did. As a result of this
divine command we read in 1 Sam 15:10-23 that God rejected Saul as king of
the Jews not for not being pacifist, but for not executing Agag, conquered
King of Amalek.
In general, of course, we would not exterminate an enemy. That can only be
done by direct order of the Master of Life and Death, God. He did order it
in some cases, as we said, to root out the danger of idolatry. Also,in
Genesis 15:16 He promised to take the land away from the Amorites, but
would not do it at once, "because the sins of the Amorites have not yet
reached their fullness." When they did, the deaths were a punishment for
2. Objection: That was the imperfect Old Testament. We should be better.
It is one thing to be less perfect, another to be evil. To say it is evil
is to blame God Himself. It is the heresy of Marcion who rejected the
entire OT, and much of the New as well.
3. Objection: Did not Jesus teach nonviolence? Turn other cheek; if your
cloak is demanded give your shirt too?
1) He Himself at His trial before Annas was struck in the face
by a guard. Instead of turning the other cheek, He rebuked them
all (John 18:23): "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the
wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"
2) St. Thomas is right in quoting the interpretation given by
St. Augustine to the nonviolent texts (Summa II.II.40.1.ad 2):
"These precepts are always to be observed in attitude of mind,
namely, that a man should always be prepared not to
resist....but at times one must act otherwise because of the
common good..... Hence Augustine says...nothing is more unhappy
than the happiness of sinners, in that impunity is nourished,
and an evil will is strengthened" (Augustine, "On the Sermon on
the Mount" 1.19; Epistle 138.2.14).
3) While a private person should take the nonviolent attitude,
and at suitable times act on it as well, a state is in a
different case. It has no right to abandon its obligation to
defend its citizens, using moral means of course.
4. Objection: Did not Jesus tell Peter (Mt 26:52): "Put your sword back
into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
Jesus seems to be quoting a proverb. W. F. Albright in "Anchor Bible" on
this text quotes an old Jewish Targum on Scripture with just such a saying.
And if we tried to take the words of Jesus as an absolute prohibition of
all use of the sword, then the Church for centuries would have taught
error, and the promises of Jesus to protect the Church would be void.
Rather, St. Thomas in II.II. 40.1 ad 1 quotes with approval the
interpretation of St. Augustine on this point: To "take the sword" means to
do so without proper authority.
Further, if we took Mt 26:52 simplistically it would contradict the words
of Jesus in Luke 22:35-38: "Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and
buy one." This seems to be a symbolic way of warning that persecution was
coming. The Apostles, as so often, did not grasp it, and so replied: "Here
are two swords." As if giving up on their dullness, Jesus just replied: It
5. Objection: In John 8:11 Jesus refuses to allow the death sentence even
though the law of Moses called for it: He did not permit the adulteress to
We must avoid the old mistake of ignoring the setting and context. The
Pharisees were out to trap Jesus. If He told them to stone her, the Romans
would arrest Him, for they had taken away from the Jews the right of
capital punishment (cf. Jn 18:31). But if Jesus told them to release her,
He would contradict the law of Moses. So He cleverly avoided both parts of
the dilemma by saying: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
Also, St. Paul, writing under inspiration of the Spirit sent by Jesus, told
the Romans (Rom 13:4): "If you do wrong, be afraid, for he [the civil
authority] does not carry the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to
execute His wrath on the evildoer." The chief civil authority then was
Nero. Nero was not at his worst then (57-58 AD). But in Titus 3:1 we find:
"Remind them to subject themselves to government officials, to obey." That
was 65 AD when Nero was a mad tyrant. Of course it did not mean to obey
immoral commands - but other things, yes.
Still further, in 1 Cor 7:17 St. Paul gave the general principle: Each one
should so live as God has given to each one, as God has called each one
[into the Church]." That is, stay in the same external form of life as you
had when called into the Church. Even to slaves he said (7:21): "Were you
called as a slave? Let it not concern you, but even if you are able to
become free, rather use it." There was no mention that soldier converts
must stop being soldiers. - This fits with the fact that St.John the
Baptist (Lk 3:14) just told soldiers to rob no one, to avoid false charges,
to be content with their pay. - And the centurion who asked Jesus to cure
his servant was not rejected or told to quit the army - rather, Jesus
praised him highly (Mt 8:10): "I have not found such faith in Israel." And
in Acts 10 God sent an angel to speak to the good centurion Cornelius to
tell him what to do - the instruction did not include getting out of the
NON PACIFIST FATHERS OF THE CHURCH BEFORE THE CHRISTIAN EMPERORS
Introduction: Under pagan rulers, there were real dangers for Christian
soldiers. Emperor worship was very strong in the army. Officers had to
sacrifice, soldiers assisted. Even the military standards, eagles, were
considered divinities. And soldiers could not legally marry. - It would
not, then, have been strange if the Church had spoken against being a
soldier. Yet it did not.
1. St. Justin Martyr
"Apology" 1.17: Speaking to the emperor: "Only God do we
worship, but in other things we joyfully obey you." He made no
exception for military service.
2. Tertullian while still Catholic: (When a Montanist, he changed)
"Apology" 42: "We are soldiers with you".
"Apology" 37: We are of just yesterday, and we have filled the
world and everything: the cities, the islands, the fortresses,
the towns, the marketplaces, the very camps...we have left
nothing to you but the temples of your gods."
"Apology" 30: "We ask for them [the Emperors - in prayers] long
life, undisturbed power, security at home, brave armies."
"Apology" 5: Tells now the Legio Fulminata XII was in danger
from the Marcomanni and the Quadi in Germany, on a campaign of
Marcus Aurelius, but was saved when the prayers of the Christian
soldiers brought a storm that scattered the enemy. (More in his
"To Scapula" 4, on the same incident).
"To Demetrian" 3: "The farmer decreases and fails in the fields,
the sailor on the sea, the soldier in the camps, innocence in
the forum" (cf. also ibid. cap 17). This implies it is too bad
the soldiers are few.
4. Eusebius of Caesarea
Church History 6.41.22: "A whole band of soldiers, Ammon and
Zeno and Ptolemy and Ingenuus and with them an old man
Theophilus had taken their stand before the court. Now a certain
man was being tried as a Christian and...was tending towards
denial, when these men standing by ground their teeth, and gave
looks at him, and stretched out their hands, made gestures. And
when everyone turned toward them, before anyone could seize
them, of their own accord they went to the prisoner's dock, and
said they were Christians." We see there were Christian soldiers
Church History 8.1: Tells that for a time under Diocletian
Christians even got governorships of provinces, and were
dispensed from offering sacrifice. But later (8.4) a
persecution came: "Then one could see great numbers of those in
the army most gladly embracing civil life, so that they might
not prove renegades in their piety." (Easier to escape in
"On the Deaths of the Persecutors" 10: Diocletian tried to learn
the future by liver divination. "While he offered sacrifice,
some attendants of his, who were Christians, stood by, and they
put the immortal sign on their foreheads. At this the demons
were chased away, and the holy rites interrupted. The
soothsayers trembled, unable to investigate the usual marks on
the entrails of the victims....Finally Tages, chief of the
soothsayers...said: There are profane persons here who obstruct
the rites." Diocletian was angry: "By letters to the commanding
officers, he ordered that all soldiers be forced to the same
impiety under pain of being dismissed from the army." So it is
clear there were Christian soldiers in his army. Note: See text
below from Lactantius, which is both pacifist and heretical.
PACIFIST HERETICS BEFORE CHRISTIAN EMPERORS
He not only rejected war, but also rejected all of the Old
Testament, and much of the New Testament. He kept only parts of
Luke's Gospel, and ten Epistles of St.Paul.
"Against the Greeks" 11: "I do not want to be a king, I do not
desire to be rich, I refuse being a general, I hate sexual
COMMENTS: Tatian is not explicitly rejecting all military service. In
context, he is rejecting riches and honors, and being a general. It is
likely, of course, that he would reject that, given his mental set. He
ridicules everything Greek, e.g., in 26 he said to the Greeks: "Stop making
a parade of sayings which you have taken from others.... Why do you divide
time and say that one part is past, and another present, and another
future?....Why do you handle the builder's tools without knowing how to
build?" [The Greeks built the splendid Parthenon in Athens].
3. Tertullian as a heretical Montanist
"On idolatry" 19: "How will a Christian man make war, even, how
will he serve even in time of peace, without a sword, for the
Lord has taken that from him? For even though soldiers had come
to John [the Baptist] and had received the formula of their
rule...still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, ungirt
"On the chaplet" 11:" Is it likely we are permitted to carry a
sword when our Lord said that he who takes the sword will perish
by the sword? Will those who are forbidden to engage in a
lawsuit espouse the deeds of war? Will a Christian who is told
to turn the other cheek when struck unjustly, guard prisoners in
chains, and administer torture and capital punishment?"
COMMENTS: Tertullian also forbids a Christian to be a schoolmaster, a
teacher of literature, a seller of frankincense, and condemns all forms of
painting, modelling, sculpture, participation in national festivals, and
holding any state offices, since the state is the enemy of God--in "On
idolatry," caps 9-24, passim.
"Institutes" 6.20: "It will neither be permitted for a just man
to engage in war..or to accuse anyone of a capital charge, for
it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word or
by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death which is
COMMENT: This is heresy, since in Romans 13.4 St.Paul, as we saw above,
affirms the right of the state to inflict capital punishment.
THE SPECIAL CASE OF ORIGEN
In "Against Celsus" 8.73, Origen wrote: "To those enemies of our faith who
require us to bear arms for the state and to kill men, we can reply: Do not
those who are [pagan] priests at certain shrines...keep their hands free
from blood? ...If, then that is a laudable custom, how much more so that
these [Christians] too should engage as priests and ministers of God...
wrestling in prayers for those who are fighting in a righteous cause.... We
do not indeed fight under him, even though he require it, but we fight on
his behalf...by offering our prayers to God."
1) It is only a laudable custom - not a moral requirement - for
pagan priests to avoid war. It is mere fittingness. So it is
only fitting that Christians do the same.
2) Christians do pray for those who are fighting in a righteous
cause. They could not pray for success if war were wrong - and
he speaks of a righteous cause.
3) As to the fittingness we compare 1 Chronicles 22:8 where God
tells David not to build the temple because his hands were
stained with blood: You have shed much blood and have waged
great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, since you
have shed so much blood." But yet this is only fittingness as we
can see from the words of God to David in 1 Kings 14:8 where God
says David was a perfect man who "followed me with all his
heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes."
NONPACIFISTS UNDER CHRISTIAN EMPERORS
1. "Theodosian Code" 16.10.21, (from after 416 A.D.), excluded pagans from
service as soldiers.
2. "Synod of Arles," Canon 3: "As to those who cast down their arms in time
of peace, it is decided they should abstain from Communion." (Written in
3. Eusebius of Caesarea
"Demonstratio Evangelica" 1.8 (written 316-22): He explains that
there are two ways of life in the Church. One is, beyond nature
and the ordinary human way of living, not accepting marriage,
children, possessions." The other is "more human" and includes
marriages and having children and "describes what is to be done
for those who serve justly as soldiers."
"Letter to Amun" (before 356 AD): "For in other things that
occur in this life, we find distinctions: such as, it is not
permitted to murder, but to kill the enemy in war is both lawful
and worthy of praise. So then those who perform in the best way
in war are given great rewards, and monuments are erected to
proclaim their deeds."
"First Canonical Letter, To Amphilocius" (c.374 A.D.): "Our
Fathers did not reckon killings in war as murders, but granted
pardon, as it seems to me, to those who were fighting in defence
of virtue and piety. Perhaps however they should be advised
that since their hands are not clean they should abstain from
Communion for a period of three years."
COMMENTS: This is the same as the attitude shown in the case of David cited
above in commenting on Origen, i.e., David was praised as perfect by God,
yet told not to build the temple - out of fittingness. W. A. Jurgens ("The
Faith of the Early Fathers," Collegeville, 1979, II. 11. n. 20 says that
according to the canonists Balsamon and Zonaras the advice of this Canon
was never put into practice.
"On Luke" II.77 (c.389 AD): "St.John the Baptist also gave a
suitable reply to each class of men.... to soldiers, that they
should not slander or plunder, teaching that there was pay for
soldiering so there should be no plunder for gain."
"Duties of Ministers" 24.114 (c.391 AD): "David too was brave in
war." Ibid 27.129: "For the fortitude which in war defends the
fatherland from barbarians or defends the weak at home, or
companions from thieves is full of justice."
"Against Faustus" 22.74: "Let not anyone wonder or shudder that
wars were waged by Moses, for in them he followed divine
commands. He was not raging, but obedient.... wars are
undertaken against the violence of those who resist, at the
order of God, or some lawful authority.... Otherwise John, when
the soldiers came to him to be baptized saying, 'What should we
do' would have replied: 'Cast away your arms.' But since he knew
that they, when they did these things ,were not murderers, but
ministers of the law...he replied...." [And, referring to the
centurion asking a cure, ibid]: "He praised his faith, and did
not command him to desert the military...." Ibid, cap.76: "If
however they think God could not have ordered wars, because the
Lord Jesus Christ later said, 'I say to you, not to resist
evil,' let them understand that this attitude is not in the body
but in the heart."
Epistle 138. to Marcellinus (411-12 AD): "So these precepts of
patience are always to be kept in attitude of heart, and in the
will. But many things must be done, even in striking the
unwilling with a kind harshness [cf."tough love"]. Thought is to
be taken rather for what is good for them than for what they
want.... If Christianity blamed all wars, the counsel would have
been given to the soldiers seeking salvation in the Gospel that
they cast away their arms.... He who ordered them to be content
with their pay, surely did not prohibit their being soldiers."
Epistle 189, to Boniface, a Soldier (AD 417/18): "Do not think
that no one can please God who is a soldier in military arms.
Holy David was among these, to whom the Lord gave such great
witness [cf. 1 Kings 14.7, where God says David, "followed me
with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes:] and
many just men of that time among them. Among these was Cornelius
[Acts 10] to whom the angel was sent.... Among these were those
who came to John for baptism.... Surely he did not forbid them
to serve in arms, to whom he ordered to be content with their
pay. ....Some therefore fight for you by praying against
invisible enemies; you work for them by fighting against visible
barbarians.... So think first of this, when you arm yourself for
battle,that even your bodily strength is a gift of God...."
"Questions on the Heptateuch" 6.10 (AD 420): "Just wars are
usually defined as those in which injustices are avenged if any
nation or city, attacked in war, either neglects to avenge what
was done wickedly by its own, or to recover what was taken away
unjustly. But also this kind of war is without doubt just, which
Origen and St. Basil say it is unfitting for a Christian to fight in war,
but they also make clear it is not morally wrong.
It would certainly not be correct to speak of a tradition of pacifism in
the Church. Our survey shows only four early writers - not all should be
called Fathers - who are absolute pacifists. They are: Marcion, who is a
formal heretic; Tatian, also a formal heretic, Tertullian, who expressed
pacifism only after becoming a heretical Montanist, before that he was not
pacifistic; and Lactantius who in the passage in which he expressed
pacifism also contradicted St. Paul, which is substantially the same as
heresy. So there is not even one respectable example of pacifism in the