Christians and War
The Early Church, the State, and War
from The Social Hope of the Christian Church, by Stanley G. Evans. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1965
Defence of the oppressed was bound up with the whole question of the relationship of the Church with the State which is in itself derived from the theory of the coming of the Kingdom. "It is better," said St. Clement "for you that you should occupy a humble but honourable place in the flock of Christ than that, being highly exalted, you should be cast out from the hope of his people." "Let us hate the error of the present times," said the Epistle of Barnabas, "that we may set our love on the world to come." The objection to the Roman state was fundamental, there was therefore to be no argument about subsidiary detail and the fact of citizenship with all that it implied in the payment of taxes and similar duties. "For what reason, men of Greece," asked Tatian "do you wish to bring the civil powers, as in a pugilistic encounter, into collision with us? And, if I am not disposed to comply with the usages of some of them, why am I to be abhorred as a vile miscreant? Does the sovereign order the payment of tribute, I am ready to render it. Does my master command me to act as a bondman and to serve, I acknowledge the serfdom. Man is to be honoured as a fellow- man. God alone is to be feared. ..only when I am commanded to deny Him, will I not obey." Later he went on, "I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich, I decline military command, I detest fornication. .." Theophilus of Antioch takes the same kind of line: "Wherefore I will rather honour the king than your Gods, not, indeed, worshipping him, but praying for him. But God, the living and true God, I worship, knowing that the king is made by Him. You will say, then, to me, 'Why do you not worship the king?' Because he is not made to be worshipped, but to be revered with lawful honour, for he is not a God, but a man appointed by God, not to be worshipped, but to judge justly. For in a kind of way his government is committed to him by God."
Sacrificing to the Emperor and to idols was regarded as a test issue of wrongful submission to authority and Irenaeus denounces heretics who eat meat which has been sacrificed to idols. His general attitude to the state comes later: "And if anyone will devote close attention to those things which are stated by the prophets with regard to the end, and those things which John the disciple of the Lord saw in the Apocalypse he will find that the nations are to receive the same plagues universally, as Egypt did then particularly." Tertullian deals with the matter by principle in this way: " 'Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's.' Such things are all like Caesar's denarius, that is to say, his image and similitude. That, therefore, which He commands to be rendered unto God, the creator, is man, who has been stamped with his image, like- ness, name and substance." He opposes "the world" and, like a good lawyer, defines: "The world, in the apostle's sense, here means life and conversation according to worldly principles." In another classic passage he sums up the whole matter:
"So, too, treason is falsely laid to our charge, though no one has ever been able to find followers of Albion, or Niger, or Cassius, among Christians while the very men who had sworn by the genii of the emperors, who had offered and vowed sacrifices for their safety, who had often pronounced condemnation on Christ's disciples, are till this day found traitors to the imperial throne. A Christian is enemy to none, least of all to the Emperor of Rome, whom he knows to be appointed by his God, and so cannot but love and honour, and whose well-being, moreover, he must needs desire, with that of the empire over which he reigns so long as the world shall stand-for so long as that shall Rome continue. To the emperor, therefore, we render such reverential homage as is lawful for us and good for him; regarding him as the human being next to God, who from God has received all his power, and is less than God alone. ..Your cruelty is our glory. ..When Arrius Antoninus was driving things hard in Asia, the whole Christians of the Province, in one united band, presented themselves before his judgement seat: on which ordering a few to be led forth to execution, he said to the rest, '0 miserable men, if you wish to die, you have precipices or halters'." If we should take into our hands to do the same thing here, what will you make of so many thousands, of such a multitude of men and women, persons of every sex and every age and every rank, when they present themselves before you? How many fires, how many swords will be required? What will be the anguish of Carthage itself, which you will have to decimate, as each one recognises there his relatives and companions. ..Spare yourself, if not us poor Christians! spare Carthage, if not thyself! spare the province. ..We have no master but God. He is before you." The Christian conscience was inalienable and it decided, and not the Emperors, how far it was prepared to go: if the authorities went too far they were overtly threatened that they would be driven to persecution and with this went the explicit statement that the Emperor would be respected and prayed for, while he lasted. "So long as the world shall stand", and it cannot have been a secret that the Christians held that 'the world' would pass away and be replaced by the Kingdom of Christ. Elsewhere Tertullian put more of the cards on the table and said: "We have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings: nor is there aught more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state. We acknowledge one all-embracing commonwealth -- the world." Here the word 'world' is used in the sense of the total community of the earth. The way Christians looked at history at this time is shown in another passage in Tertullian: "Until at last almost universal dominion has accrued to the Romans. It is the fortune of the times that has thus constantly shaken kingdoms with revolution. Inquire who has ordained these changes in the times. It is the same great Being who dispenses kingdoms, and has now put the supremacy of them into the hands of the Romans, very much as if the tribute of many nations were after its exaction amassed in one vast coffer. What he has determined concerning it, they know who are nearest to him." The idea here is clear: in the providence of God one kingdom after another has been subjected to Rome. As the Christians know, Rome, too, will fall, and out of the unity created by oppression may come the true unity of a society which is free and whole. . .
The other matter on which the practice of the state impinged deeply on Christian life was the use of force and the practice of war. "Nothing is more precious," said Ignatius, "than peace, by which all war both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end." The Canons of Hippolytus state categorically that it is not fit for a Christian to bear arms and the Clementine Recognitions quote the case of Christians choosing to be saughtered themselves rather than that they should defend themselves by killing others. "He nowhere teaches," says Origen, "that it is right for his own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For he did not deem it in keeping with such laws as his, which were derived from a Divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever." To those," he continues, "who inquire of us whence we come, or who is our founder, we reply that we are come, agreeably to the counsels of Jesus, to cut down our hostile and insolent 'worldly' swords into ploughshares, and to convert into pruning-hooks the spears formerly employed in war. For we no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of fesus, who is our leader." "It is necessary," said Lactantius, "for that which is good to have peace in religion and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned." Tertullian in his book On the Crown of a Soldier discussed the case of a soldier who, on the occasion of crowning with laurel wreaths, refused to put on his wreath because he was a Christian and was in prison awaiting execution and was criticised for seeking martyrdom. "Shall it be law- ful," asks Tertu1lian, "to make a living by the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he keep guard before the temples which he has renounced? ...Shall he carry a flag, too, hostile to Christ?" Athena- gorus instances the usages of an unjust war, the slaughter of myriads of men, the razing of cities, the burning of houses with their inhabitants, the devastation of land and the destruction of entire populations, as examples of the worst kinds of sins such as could not adequately be punished by any amount of suffering in this life. Christians, he said, cannot bear to see a man put to death even justly. "The world is wet with mutual bloodshed," said Cyprian, "and homicide is a crime when individuals commit it, but it is called a virtue when it is carried on publicly. Not the reason of innocence, but the magnitude of savagery, demands impunity for crimes." The series of rules in the Didascalia forbids the receipt of money for the Church from "any of the magistrates of the Roman Empire who are polluted with war". Arnobius again speaks of the moral iniquity of war and contrasts Christ with the rulers of the Roman Empire and asks, "Did he, claiming royal power for himself, occupy the whole world with fierce legions, and of nations at peace from the beginning, destroy and remove some, and compel others to put their necks beneath his yoke and obey him? What use is it to the world that there should be ...generals of the greatest experience in warfare, skilled in the capture of cities, and soldiers immovable and invincible in cavalry battles or in a fight on foot?" He denied that it was any part of the divine purpose that men's souls "forgetting that they are from one source, one parent and head, should tear up and break down the rights of kinship, overturn their cities, devastate lands in enmity, make slaves of freemen, violate maidens and other men's wives, hate one another, envy the joys and good fortune of others, in a word all curse, carp at, and rend one another with biting savage teeth." The idea of war at this time, was linked with the idea of murder and condemnation of this was uniform and those guilty of it were permanently excluded from the Church.
After the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, although the Church still had many vicissitudes ahead of it and persecutions were by no means over, there was a new situation and new possibilities began to emerge for it and many practical expressions of its basic beliefs became possible which earlier had been quite impossible or else possible only in limited forms. Church buildings now grew and proliferated and around them grew all kinds of Christian homes. Now, for example, it became a widespread practice for homes to be provided for the mentally sick, who were kept by the Christian community, and were expected to attend all the church services, which were regarded as having a healing value. Basil the Great, the Bishop of Caesarea (c. 330-379), built a great hospital for the housing and relief of travellers and the poor and was denounced for it in 372 to the Governor of Cappadocia for its size and importance. It was known as the "new town" and did enormous work in the famine and drought in Caesarea in 368. He took the view that "the Christian ought in all things to become superior to the righteousness existing under the law, and neither swear nor lie. He ought not to speak evil; to do violence; to fight; to avenge himself; to return evil for evil; to be angry"; and he worked out these principles in an active intervention in all kinds of political questions. So he denounced openly the apostate Emperor, Julian, and he expressed a basic strategic view in a letter58 to Athanasius in which he argued the necessity of their gaining the sympathy of the Bishops of the west if they were to win their cause, when he spoke of creating conditions for "our sovereigns treating the authority of the people with respect". It had become the general approach of the Church to build up the strength of the local commune and create real local self-government. He interceded vigorously with the Emperor Valens in an attempt to prevent the division of the province of Cappadocia and the general impoverishment which this was clearly going to bring with it. What Basil did at Caesarea, bishop after bishop did elsewhere and there is no more eloquent discourse of the fourth than the one delivered by Gregory of Nazianzen in a successful attempt to dissuade the Governor from a policy of wholesale reprisals after the people of Nazianzus, driven to exasperation by imperial exactions, had evolted in A.D. 373. "Food for just labour, said Gregory of Nyssa, is the Christian requirement.
The Incarnation and the World's Violence
from Manhood into God, by F. Hastings Smyth, SCC. New York, Roundtable Press, 1940
When any group or body of Catholics begins to consider the problem of militant revolutionary attack upon the world, there arises immediately an accompanying problem concerning those methods and tactics which are permissible to them. For one thing, violence and force are to be avoided, if this is possible. The reason for this may be found in the fundamental Catholic doctrine concerning the nature of man. Man is a rational animal, and if his free reason be violently overruled or constrained by force, even though force be employed to obtain a good end, he is rendered something less than human, in so far as that violence and force prevail. Overruling violence may be either in the form of social, economic or physical constraint, or it may be applied in the form of a lying and misleading propaganda. In either case, to force man into an action in which his free reason is prevented from as full a cooperation as is proper to it, is to damage his true nature at its highest point. This is precisely why, as we have already seen, God's method of the re-creation of the world is that of the extending Incarnation of His Son, which invites, but never compels, man's allegiance to its new order. Therefore the Church's method of trying to bring about radical social and economic changes within her environmental world must be based upon an appeal to human reason. Catholic methods must be educational and informative. There must be persuasion through intelligent presentation of the aims and plans for a new society, in such wise that men and women, even apart from Christianity, may understand them and may find them sufficiently desirable to wish to achieve them. Men and women must be shown that, using our present techniques and our present facilities for production, they are bound to be both materially better off and then, as material justice and order liberate them for other matters, culturally better off, in an economic system based upon the principles of the Incarnation.
It may here be added that there should be nothing to surprise us in this. Therefore these truths should be urged as an initial and cogent propaganda. After all, Our Lord fed the multitude before He preached to them. He also said categorically that if we really were to seek, as a primary goal, the establishment of His Kingdom upon a basis of His justice, then every material need, "what we should eat and what we should drink and wherewithal we should be clothed," would, as a matter of course, be abundantly supplied! The sayings of Our Lord are very clear upon this point. Therefore there is every reason for urging these material motives in order to convince the world in advance, of the desirability for economic and social change in the direction of a truly Catholic economy.
Those who work for a Catholic social order must also work with means which go beyond mere education, propaganda and persuasion. They must seek to organize men and women for political, social and economic action. They must seek also to take advantage of every current and movement of the day which in any hopeful degree would seem to be aiming in their desired direction. And this kind of work within the world, as well as every offer of cooperation with the world's own movement toward social change, is bound to give rise to additional questions about the means to be employed to gain certain ends. For example, the organization of the laboring masses in union activity holds out great promise of being a principal force in the fight for economic justice. Nevertheless, organized labor sometimes finds itself in violent conflict with those entrenched economic powers which, in the interest of a wider justice, it attempting to alter or even to overthrow. If it is a Christian principle that violence and force are evil, the question arises whether Christians must always withdraw their participation from movements in their environmental world at precisely the point at which peaceful persuasion leaves off and what is called open violence intervenes.
This is not the place for an extended discussion as to just how far a Catholic is justified in permitting himself to be involved in the world's violence, when he discovers himself becoming' so involved by the normal development of environmental situations with which he is cooperating. The problem must, however, be briefly faced, because Christians are sometimes suspected of shrinking from violence in secular action on dogmatic and absolute grounds. On the other hand, those outside the Church who are interested in social change today, while almost without exception they disclaim the use of violence and force as either useful or desirable in their normal tactics, nevertheless do not shrink from violence in particular situations, provided it does seem tactically necessary. For example, Communists and Socialists alike seek to bring about those economic changes which they desire by educating the masses of the people concerning their desirability, through the use of the legitimate ballot, and through democratic pressure upon ruling classes and governments. On the other hand, once a given change -- or even a partial change -- is accomplished, neither Communist nor Socialist, we may suppose, would refrain on doctrinaire or dogmatic grounds from forcefully defending a newly established economic organization, if this were to be violently attacked by surviving adherents of the supplanted older order who might thus seek to get themselves into power again. We may learn from history, both contemporary and past, that the forces of economic reaction and of the status quo hardly ever fail to counter-attack violently upon a regime which supplants them, provided they think that this is really necessary for the maintenance of their actual existence, and provided they believe they have the power to make the counter-attack effective.' Furthermore, in many situations of vastly lesser import, as for example, in organized labor strikes, which are far from being immediately revolutionary in intention, the employers of labor often either provoke violence or even deliberately use it in order to defeat a labor union aim. If Christians are found cooperating in situations which involve violent conflict on either a great or a small scale, the question arises as to whether or not they must condemn violence under any and all conditions and therefore always withdraw from situations in which it appears. The non-Christian environment of the Church sometimes suspects that Christians will adopt this latter view. Men and women of the secular world who have no moral or dogmatic scruples against the use of violence when it is considered tactically unavoidable, sometimes fear that Christians, who cooperate so long as things go peacefully, will nevertheless leave them in the lurch when ever any violence whatever comes into view.
Catholics should therefore make it clear that they are not opposed in principle to participation in violent situations which may develop within their still unredeemed or only partially redeemed environmental world. In the Catholic view, violence may be defined in very general terms as any kind of constraint or overruling of the free rational mind of man by his fellow men. Such constraint may be effected by physical or any other means. It is always a variety of violence. In a completely redeemed and re-created world, a world in which a perfected Process of Incarnation had become coincidental with the whole of human society, it is very clear that violence would have no place. In this limiting case, however, it would not be exactly correct to say that an overruling of man's rational freedom would be forbidden or prohibited. It would be truer to that violence could not possibly arise. There could be no occasion for constraint in a society in which perfectly redeemed men and women were freely and continuously giving their cooperative allegiance to Our Lord within a social expression of humanity which had come at last to take all the world in its own functional wholeness. In a state of affairs such that the Catholic social organism had succeeded in perfecting all its environment into itself, violence would be absent, as one might say, by definition, Surely a Catholic can hold, and with much better reason even than Marxists, that the human political state, which is the necessary organ of human constraint in a still disordered world, would "wither away" in very fact if a perfected Church commanded the equally perfect rational and free allegiance of all men, Whether this kind of complete re-creation of the world upon the natural level will ever be accomplished before the end of history, we may not know for certain. Catholics must work for it not only as if they thought it might be possible but as if it were to be expected. But in the meantime, particularly while we remain obviously very far from that goal, no Catholic can expect to find any absolutely perfected quality of a completely redeemed world, present in all its purity, within a worldly environment which remains terribly disordered. In other words, whenever a Catholic chooses a course of action within a world of disorder, even though that action be calculated to lead to an improvement in its disordered state, it is never possible to act in a way completely in accord with the principles of the perfected Kingdom of God. Choices of action in a world of disorder can never be between a course of action which is bad and another which is absolutely good. In the disordered world choices always lie only between two or more actions all of which are to some degree disordered and therefore evil. An action in the world has always to be chosen not because it is perfect, but because it is seen to be the least evil of all other possible actions within a given situation. Christians will go seriously astray if they imagine that the standards of Our Lord's perfection can be applied completely in situations which are themselves not yet perfected according to those standards. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" is an injunction which is applicable absolutely only to men and women living in a world which has itself been rendered completely perfect.
These considerations throw a clearer light upon the question as to whether Christians must always withdraw from violent situations. Actually, every situation which arises in the environmental world of the Incarnation, every action and process within that world, will always be found to contain elements of violence. To make absolute distinctions between forms of violence, saying, for instance, that physical violence is intrinsically more evil than any other variety, is highly arbitrary, and has no basis in the Catholic view of the nature of the fallen world and the necessary methods entailed in the redemption process. If, for example, certain factory workers, while on strike, attempt physically to interfere with other workers who would substitute for them on their jobs, violence may result. Catholics could scarcely give unqualified recommendation to such action in advance. However, in judging the relative evil of this, if it does happen to occur in a certain situation, a Catholic must always consider the alternatives. He must ask, for example, whether, if the strike had not been called at all, the workmen in the factory would not have been subjected to worse violence, in this case that of subjection to economic injustice which, if it were allowed to persist, could be considered an element of disorder in the world much worse than a litte temporary physical violence on the picket lines. Similar considerations apply equally to much larger matters. If, as a futther example, a revolutionary government, which shows signs bestowing a new justice and freedom upon the inhabitants a country, has succeeded in superseding an older and oppressive despotism, is it not right that it should defend itself by force against counter-revolution? To answer such a question Catholics must again judge as to which is the worse evil, a return the older injustice and cruelties, or a violent elimination of those who would recall them. Both choices may lead to certain dreadful evils, but if there are no other choices, a Catholic must choose the lesser set of evils and then act upon this choice. The decision must therefore be based upon intellectual analysis within a given situation. There are no absolute rules in practical Christian morality which can be invoked in order to give easy shortcuts to solutions of such difficulties. . .
The Catholic analysis of the relation of ends in view to the means chosen to attain those ends, must take account of the fact that every end, when it is once attained, also retains within itself many of the values or qualities of the means used in its attainment. Disorders which are introduced into the process of attaining an end, leave their mark on the sum total of the final accomplishment. Therefore, in so far as disorders or evils are present in the means to an end, by just so much is the end itself disordered and, therefore, at least partly vitiated. . .
Therefore, in working to reshape and re-order the relatively chaotic elements of the Church's environmental world, Catholics are compelled to subject both the immediate goals which they seek in every particular situation, together with the means which they propose to use in attaining those goals, to a careful analysis. The means which are finally chosen must certainly be as close to the standards of the ethics of Our Lord's Kingdom as it is possible to have them within a situation which is still partially or entirely outside of that Kingdom. But in making this analysis, Catholics must bear in mind that there are no means whatever available within the world which are perfect according to those standards. They must therefore guard themselves from being reduced to complete and impotent inaction, simply because of this undeniable latter fact. The world must be changed, altered, re-created. Plans for action in the world must be continually made. Ends and objectives must be set up which are closer to those required by the Kingdom than are the ecoonomic and social arrangements at present found in the world. And Catholics must seek to press forward to these improved goals, utilizing to their purpose those means which will least vitiate the desired ends, when once they have been wholly or partially attained. . .
It now remains to add that Catholics believe that they are in possession of certain potent means of working for the re-creation of the world, which are lacking to those who refuse to enter the Process of the Incarnation. Ultimately, it is the Divine Logos, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, incarnate in the humanity of Jesus Christ, who accomplishes the world's re-creation. Members of that humanity extending itself in the world can serve as bearers of Our Lord's redeeming action, provided they work within the world not in their own right or as if they were individual sources of a redeeming power, but only in so far as they became incorporated into Our Lord's life.
In the last analysis, the work of the world's redemption is accomplished by Our Lord. Individual Catholics can "work" for the Incarnation of the world only in so far as they serve as willingly cooperating instruments of that redeeming power which flows from Our Lord. "I am the vine, ye are the branches," He said. "He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing." The continuing means whereby Catholics must thus remain abiding in Our Lord and He in them, are the means of prayer. This is why prayer is so central in the Catholic life. This is why Christians are told that they must pray without ceasing! In the end, it is only through men and women who pray, who abide in Our Lord through prayer, that His re-creating power will be fully liberated and completely implemented in His work within the world. This must not be construed as implying that the method of prayer supersedes, still less, replaces, all other means which Christians must use to implement Our Lord's redeeming power. As has been pointed out, Catholics must also attempt to direct all the world's available means to gain whatever immediate ends the extension of the Incarnation may require at any particular time and place. Prayer does not replace, but rather crowns and makes effective all other legitimate plans and actions in the world. Men are required to use their intellectual and other natural capacities to the utmost. If prayer be resorted to in order to supplant, rather than to crown these capacities, in order to relieve men of effort in the natural order, rather than to liberate a supernatural power within those efforts which will carry them beyond the natural into the supernatural order, then prayer is in danger of lapsing into the realm of magical practice. The saying "God helps those who help themselves," although sometimes taken upon cynical lips, does in fact, if rightly interpreted and rightly applied, express a profound and necessary truth. All power is ultimately from God, but the power of the Incarnation crowns man's best and finest efforts in the natural order. The prayers of the Faithful are one of the principal channels of this crowning power of Our Lord. Prayer, then, is a means of attack upon the disorders of the world, which not only complements but, in its potentiality of liberated Divine power, goes infinitely beyond any such means which are available solely within the natural order itself. But there is another and highly practical method of action peculiar to the Process of the Incarnation, which Our Lord alone has made available to the members of His body in the world. This is the method of the Cross. . .
In reply to the world's misunderstanding and rejection of it, it is necessary to assert that Our Lord's Crucifixion was neither a weak capitulation to His enemies, nor an empty and tragic cutting short of what promised otherwise to be a long and increasingly useful life. In the Crucifixion God triumphed; not the world. And in the power of that triumph, Catholics have had bestowed upon them a final means of overwhelming the world's resistance. They have had placed in their hands a weapon against which the savage and disordered world cannot successfully arm itself. They possess a method of attack which the world can continue to resist only to its own eventual perdition. The Cross, properly understood, is no passive submission tothe world's hostile attacks. There is nothing supine about Cross. Neither is it adequately described merely as the brave submission to calamity, found in certain situations to be inevitable; nor is it the quiet but heroic bearing of suffering and death, from which it has been discovered there is no honorable method of escape. Men and women have suffered and bravely for multitudes of noble causes. They have uncomplainingly borne the pains of illness and have calmly faced natural death. They have been found nobly resolute in the presence of those frustrations and privations which are universallly present among all sorts and conditions of men within the world of nature. It is not necessary to be a Christian to show oneself nobly ready to die for a chosen cause. It is not necessary be a Christian in order to submit bravely to unavoidable deprivations and sufferings, or to death. The natural courage of mankind can often rise to these great heights. Our Lord's Cross implies something infinitely more than this.
We can begin to understand Our Lord's Crucifixion only when we begin to see it as a planned and positive accomplishment. And first, we must note that Our Lord did not need to be crucified apart from his own decisive choice. Nothing compelled led Him to permit Himself to be done to death by the ruling classes of the Jews who dwelt in Jerusalem. Nothing external to His own will forced Him to go upon His final and fateful journey to that city. Neither did He go in ignorant of what was about to happen there. He prophesied clearly disciples that He would certainly be arrested and then be judged and killed.
Furthermore, in many another dangerous situation, in the midst of hostile and infuriated crowds, He had previously saved Himself from being murdered. Even as late as Maundy Thursday evening, the very day before His Crucifixion, He made sure that His disciples should carry swords with them, in order to defend Himself and His company from the attacks of possible marauders, or of an all too possible government-hired assassin, as they went together out beyond the safe walls of Jerusalem to spend the night after the Last Supper praying at the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is therefore also reasonably clear that Our Lord never had the least intention of permitting Himself to be killed, except under special circumstances, circumstances in some sense carefully prepared and chosen by Himself. For on other previous occasions of danger He repeatedly saved Himself from attack, and, by implication at least, He was ready to defend Himself even by the sword, when, on His last night on earth, He walked along the dangerous country roads outside the Jerusalem city walls. On all these occasions He saved Himself because, as St. John asserts, "His hour was not yet come."
We may therefore conclude that the Cross by no means implies a dogma of universal giving-in in the presence of any and all violence. It means, instead, submission to murderous violence only under particular circumstances. The Cross implies submission to suffering incurred both at an appropriate time and within a well-matured situation. And the intention which lies behind such submission within such circumstances, makes all the difference between the acceptance of the Cross and the bearing of every other kind of adversity, suffering or death. . .
The mystery of the Cross is both profound and terrible. Any facile or over-simplified analysis of it must, of all things, be avoided. With all reverence, however, we may point to two aspects of it which concern it as a method of dealing with the world. It is a method which Our Lord used when the world counter-attacked, as soon as He had completed the task of initiating the Process of the Incarnation. And because, as we have seen, He has opened the way of the Cross to all succeeding members of His Incarnation, it is a method which is to be used by all those who, in union with Him, seek to implement that Process throughout history. . .
On the frontier between the Order of the Kingdom and the disorder of the world, Catholics must always be on the alert to embrace the Cross, not only as their most potent, but as their ultimate and final weapon against the world. What we have called the "Divine Snare" is still set before the world in every generation. It is committed to Catholics to spring this Trap, by getting themselves crucified whenever the time and place are come to an appropriate conjunction. On the other hand, Catholics may find themselves, more often than not, working in movements in their environmental world and with people who reject the method of the Cross. A situation might arise, for example, in which Catholics might find themselves in a revolutionary government, which was being attacked by the armed forces of a corrupt reaction. The battle would here be developing not between the Kingdom of God and its environment, but rather between two different group orders in the environmental world. The Catholics in question have given their allegiance to that order -- in this case that of the revolutionary government -- which they think is better adapted for the Kingdom's future use than is the order of the reactionary group. It is quite open to them, even here, to try to persuade their non- Catholic fellows that a method analogous to the Cross might actually be a better tactic than militant and violent defense with guns and bombs. Non-Christians have already proved for us that what is called non-violent resistance, sometimes termed passive resistance, can be exceedingly formidable. However, such a method if adopted in a conflict entirely within the world, would not be, strictly speaking, the Cross, but only a practical method upon the natural level analogous to the Cross. The Cross is available only within the Incarnation.
Furthermore, in the foregoing hypothetical situation, it is more than likely that the Catholics' advice of non-violent resistance would be rejected by the defenders of the revolution. In this case, since the Catholics in question are already pledged to this definite work with the outside world, it is likely that they will have to go along with their fellow non-Christians, and, if the latter deem it necessary, assist in a violent defense against the anti-revolutionary attack. In this situation, Catholics may find their individual Crosses as they are wounded or killed fo the sake of the future Kingdom, even though they now suffer upon a battleground within the outside world, and participate as individuals in a group resistance which itself falls short of the method of the Cross.
Entirely apart from any theoretical discussions of hypotherical cases, a glaringly ugly situation confronts us in the institutional Church of the present age. The Church has accumuated great wealth and properties in many lands. Also, in the aggregate, she wields a tremendous. material power which is both economic and political. It cannot, of course, be said that all of this wealth and power is at present being used for thoroughly bad immediate ends. On the contrary, many of the Church's resources are used for purposes which, in themselves and so far as they go, are good. The Church has her schools and colleges and hospitals and social centres. She has her Church buildings, her shrines and centres of worship, her convents and her monasteries. The fact remains, however, that in few, if in any, of the Church's activities does she intend deliberately to offer a radical criticism, still less a serious immediate threat to the established disorders of her environmental world. contrary, her educational institutions accept the status quo as a matter of course and defend it. Her hospitals and social agencies confine themselves to what might be called "ambulance work," caring for wounded behind the lines of un-Christian secular conflicts in which, with splendid neutrality, she supinely acquiesces. Her parishes and conventual establishments are almost completely given over to those pious practices which concern an individualistic salvation, to a religion of extrication from the world such as it has been the thesis of this book to decry.
The Church has thus fallen into the sad habit of clinging to her wealth and power for a purpose quite other than the revolutionary redemption of the world as a whole. She seems only to wish to be let alone, and she tends to use her material advantages largely as a defense of abuses within herself which she ought, instead, to be attacking in her environment. She forgets that the Church Militant is not the Kingdom of God already realized, but is, instead, always the Kingdom-in-the-making. The Church is that region of the Kingdom visible in earth, which is in process of re-creating the disorders of fallen creation. In so far as the Church has confused this region of process with an actualized Kingdom, she has committed what Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr calls the "Catholic Heresy." She has confused a means with an end, and a gTowing with a maturity.' It is because of this confusion that she has attempted to establish herself as a citadel, as if she had already achieved a perfection which must be kept apart and defended from the world. She has tried to surround herself with a wall of wealth and power.
Hence it comes about that the Church at the present time is using her wealth and power not solely for the advancement of Our Lord's Kingdom, but rather in her own self-interests, wickedly confounding those self-interests with the interests of her Lord. At the moment these interests are far from being identical. So far has this evil eaten into the Church that she almost appears to use her religion in behalf of her material resources, instead of spending her material resources on behalf of her Lord. It is clearly time to call a halt to this. The hour for the Cross came long ago, and the Church failed to recognize it. However, even at this more than eleventh hour, it is not yet quite too late to take it up.
In fact, the Church must speedily choose between, on the one hand, experiencing a terrible punishment in which the best elements of the secular world, infuriated by her perversities, will turn upon her and themselves act as the agent of God's retributive justice, and on the other hand, arousing herself to the present opportunity of the Cross. She must suffer in either event. How much more glorious to suffer with her Lord! Therefore, let the Faithful within the Church once more begin a thoroughgoing attack upon the fallen world, and particularly upon those points at which its disorders have invaded the Church herself. Let them champion the causes of Divine Justice and Divine Love, though this threaten, as a revolutionary threat must, all the Church's power and wealth now established upon injustice and hatred within the present order If the Church arouses herself to this, it is highly probable that ninety per cent of her nominal membership will drop away. Her faithful priests and laity will be persecuted by almost every authority, secular, lay and ecclesiastical. Her income will fall, her endowments, her beautiful buildings and ornaments will vanish in those very changes which she advocates and upon which she vigorously insists.
This will be Catholic force in action. This will be Christian violence. This will be militant Christianity. This will be warfare with the weapon of the Cross. It will be a strange warfare from a worldly point of view. There will be no bands to play or banners to fiy upon the Church's march. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem," said Our Lord. The hour is come faithful Catholics must both invite and embrace the violence of the world as did Our Lord Himself. The Church, with Him, must begin to stretch herself upon the Cross. She must place herself with Him on the under side of the nails. The world will not fail to drive them home as long ago it drove home other Nails. And now, as then, this will be to its own undoing. the Church must begin, again and quickly, her own journey to Jerusalem. That must be her present immediate objective precisely because at Jerusalem there stands the Cross.
The Church and War
by Evelyn Underhill. London, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, 1940
We are moving -- perhaps more rapidly than we realize -- towards a moment in which the Church, if she is to preserve her integrity and her spiritual influence, will be compelled to define her attitude towards war; to clear her own mind as to the true reason why her members, by the mere fact of their membership, are bound to repudiate war, not only in principle but also in fact. The reason, for there is only one, is simple and conclusive. The Christian Church is the Body of Christ. Her mission on earth is to spread the Spirit of Christ, which is the creative spirit of wisdom and love; and in so doing bring in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, she can never support or approve any human action, individual or collective, which is hostile to wisdom and love.
This is the first and last reason why, if she remains true to her supernatural call, the Church cannot acquiesce in war. For war, however camouflaged or excused, must always mean the effort of one group of men to achieve their purpose-get something which they want, or prevent something happening which they do not want -- by inflicting destruction and death on another group of men. When we trace war to its origin, that origin is always either mortal sin -- Pride, Anger, Envy; Greed -- or else that spirit of self regarding Fear, which is a worse infidelity to God than any mortal sin. The Christian cannot serve these masters, even though they are wearing national dress. His attitude to the use of violence "justifiable" or "unjustifiable," was settled once and for all in Gethsemane. Our Lord's rebuke to St. Peter condemns all "righteous" wars, all resort to arms, even in the defense of the just and holy. No cause indeed could have been more just and holy than that of his disciples who sought to defend the Redeemer from His enemies; from their point of view, they would have been fighting for the Kingdom of God, and the highest claims of patriotism must fade before this. Yet it was not by any resort to arms that the world was to be saved; but by the suffering, patience and sacrificial love of the Cross.
To defeat the power of evil by the health-giving power of love and thus open a channel for the inflow of the creative grace of God is therefore the only struggle in which the realistic Christian can take part. No retaliation. No revenge, national or personal. No "defensive wars" -- i.e., destroying our brother to prevent him from destroying us. "Fear not him that can kill the body" says the Church -- or so at least the Church ought to say. Yet armament factories working full time announce to the world that we do fear him very much indeed; and are determined, if it comes to the point, to kill his body before he can kill ours. This attitude is one with which the Christian Church must never come to terms; for questions of expediency, practicality, national prestige and national safety do not as such concern her. All these derive from human egotism and human fear. Her single business is to apply everywhere and at all times the law of charity; and so bring the will of man, whether national or individual, into harmony with the Will of God. Charity means a loving and selfless co-operation of man with God; and because of this, loving and selfless co-operation between men. In this the Church has a constructive programme far more complete, definite, and truly practical -- and also far more exacting -- than that of any political reformer; for she looks towards a transfigured world, in which the energies now wasted on conflict shall be turned to the purposes of life, and calls upon everyone of her members to work for this transfigured world. But she will not make her message effective until she shows the courage of her convictions, and makes her own life, individual and corporate, entirely consistent with the mandate she has received. She cannot minister with one hand the Chalice of Salvation, whilst with the other she blesses the instruments of death.
Certainly she can, and perhaps must, under present conditions, approve the use of such discipline as is needed to check the turbulent, protect the helpless, and keep order between man and man and between group and group. But such a use of force is never by intention destructive, and works for the ultimate good of those to whom it is applied. It is often difficult to define the boundary which divides this legitimate police action from military action: nevertheless, Christians must try to find that boundary, and having found it must observe it. Christianity is not anarchy; and the right ordering of society for the good of all is a part of her creative task. But on the question of war between man and man she cannot compromise; for this is in direct conflict with her law of brotherly love. Nor can the Church put this question aside as "none of her business," and create for herself a devotional bomb-proof shelter in which to take refuge and meditate upon God, whilst those to whom she is sent violate His laws.
The Church is in the world to save the world. The whole of human life is her province, because Christianity is not a religion of escape but a religion of incarnation, not standing alongside human life, but working in and through it. So, she is bound to make a choice and declare herself on the great issues of that life, and carry through her choice into action however great the cost.War means men pressing their own claims and demands, or resisting another's claims and demands, to the point of destruction. At best this is atavism, at worst it is devilry. The individual sacrifices for which it calls are sacrifices indeed, but they are not made at the only altar which Christians can acknowledge -- the altar of the Divine Love. Therefore the Church cannot acquiesce in war, nor can any communicant who is true to the costly realities of faith take part in it. Christianity stands for absolute values, and the Church falls from grace every time she compromises about them, for she is a supernatural society, consisting of persons who have crossed over from the world's side to God's side and have accepted service under the august standard of the Cross, with all that service of the Cross implies. Necessarily then, though in the world the Church can never be of it. For the world detests absolute values; they are so inconvenient. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you."
It is true that in this realistic sense the Church is a small body and Christians are a small party, but the Holy Spirit "works through minorities," and it may be that He is in this present hour giving the Church one of the greatest opportunities she has been off!ered in the course of her career. That stirring of men's minds to a desire for peace which is the most striking fact of our present situation is a manifest working of the Spirit of God. The first business of the Church is surely to give unlimited support to this movement wherever it appears, invest it with the fire, the passion, the beauty proper to humanity's greatest aspirations, invite all whom it has touched to a share in her sources of power, and offer them constructive work that they can do. Here each communicant has a direct obligation, for the decisive factor in the establishment of a peace-loving community is such a disciplining of the individual heart and mind as shall enable every circumstance of daily life to be received in a spirit of peaceful love, and made an occasion for the deepening of charity. The Church is, or should be, the rallying point for all those who believe in the creative and redeeming power of this tranquil and generous love, for those who trust God, and are sure that those hidden, spiritual forces which condition and support our life can and will intervene -- not to save us from suffering or material loss, not in the interest of personal or national selfishness, but to secure in the teeth of opposition the ultimate triumph of God's Will.
Now, as never before, men's consciences are moved and their fear is roused by the awful spectacle of war allied with science and allowed to work out unchecked the consequences of this dread partnership -- the mind of man, and the will of man, wreaking destruction on God's world. Only Christianity can say why these things are evil, and offer a method whereby this evil can be dealt with at the source, namely, in the hearts of men. Christianity alone holds the solution of humanity's most terrible and most pressing problem. She alone has something really practical to say, for to her has been confided the Word of God for men. It is the Church's hour; and she will not face it, because like the hour of birth it means risk, travail, inevitable pain. We are forced to the bitter conclusion that the members of the Visible Church as a body are not good enough, not brave enough to risk everything for that which they know to be the Will of God and the teaching of Christ. For it does mean risking everything, freedom, reputation, friendship, security -- life itself. It is the folly of the Cross, in the particular form in which our generation is asked to accept it; that absolute choice which the Rich Young Man could not make. "If I were still pleasing men, I should not be the slave of Christ," said St. Paul to the Galatians. The Church is still very busy pleasing men. She has yet to accept with all its penalties the fact of being in the world and not of it, of having renounced the world's methods and standards and put all her confidence in God's method and standards. Because of this, her supernatural life is weak and ineffective, and her influence on the nations is slight. Only when she does make that crucial act of acceptance will she become in the full sense that which she is meant to be: the organ on earth of the Divine transforming power.
Child's drawing source: Voices in the Wilderness