Early Church Fathers: 20 Thoughts On War, Violence and Nationalism

We live in interesting times. This election year has sent many into a frenzy of polarized politics and heated rhetoric. You have those on the left pushing for greater social change and stirring people up against the wealthy one percent (a demographic that they themselves are funded by), and you have the right, inciting animosity towards the immigrant and refugee as well as being ready to take up arms against enemies abroad (that their own country helped create). Yes, it is a year of information and misinformation. For myself, I feel caught in the proverbial crossfire of what to do. Do I go along with most of evangelicalism and throw my support behind someone who’s policies reflect almost the exact opposite of the Way I claim to follow? Or do I reluctantly support someone who is for all intensive purposes a moral and ethical black hole? (Now that I think about it, both statements seem to fit each candidate pretty well.)

Then there is the hot topic of gun control and “just war”. As Americans we are afford the right by the constitution to bear arms, but what I wonder is if we are afforded those rights by Jesus as well. If we put the constitution above the Way of Jesus then we have bigger problems that need an entirely other article to address, but for those of us who are earnestly desiring to follow Jesus we must look at this. In this article I simply want to present to you twenty quotes from the early church fathers regarding violence, nationalism, and war. The reason why I’m presenting quotes from them and not Jesus is because I think we’ve become fairly good at over spiritualizing and making metaphor, or just simply writing off what He says regarding these matters. By listening to the early church fathers we can gain a better understanding as to what the church’s position was and should be towards these issues. These are our roots. I hope this challenges and encourages you. I pray that you’ll begin to question what you’ve believed about these things and allow God to speak to you.

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One….The more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.”
~ Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.”
~ Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“Hitherto I have served you as a soldier; allow me now to become a soldier to God. Let the man who is to serve you receive your donative. I am a soldier of Christ; it is not permissible for me to fight.”
~ Martin of Tours (315AD – 397AD)

“Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.”
~ Athanasius of Alexandria (293AD – 373AD)

The Christian poor are “an army without weapons, without war, without bloodshed, without anger, without defilement.”
~ Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“Above all Christians are not allowed to correct by violence sinful wrongdoings.”
~ Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“The Christian does not hurt even his enemy.”
~ Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“None of us offers resistance when he is seized, or avenges himself for your unjust violence, although our people are numerous and plentiful…it is not lawful for us to hate, and so we please God more when we render no requital for injury…we repay your hatred with kindness.”
~ St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (died 258AD)

“You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers with the Emperor even if he demands this.”
~ Origen (185AD – 254AD)

A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.”
~ Hippolytus (170AD – 236AD)

“I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors…It is not right for a Christian to serve the armies of this world.”
~ Mercellus the Centurion, spoken as he left the army of Emperor Diocletian in 298AD.

“Say to those that hate and curse you, You are our brothers!”
~ Theophilus of Antioch (died around 185AD)

“We Christians cannot endure to see a man being put to death, even justly.”
~ Athenagoras (133AD – 190AD)

“I recognize no empire of this present age.”
~ Speratus (martyred 180AD)

“Shall we carry a flag? It is a rival to Christ.”
~ Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“I am a Christian. He who answers thus has declared everything at once—his country, profession, family; the believer belongs to no city on earth but to the heavenly Jerusalem.”
~ St. John Chrysostom (347AD – 407AD)

“If you enroll as one of God’s people, then heaven is your country and God your lawgiver.”
~ Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“But now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts.”
~ Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.”
~ St. Cyprian (200AD – 258AD)

“The soldiers of Christ require neither arms nor spears of iron.” “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the divine Providence.”
~ Theophilus of Antioch

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