Posted by: sean | May 11, 2007

Pacifism Will Never Work on a Large Scale

the following is taken from David W. Bercot’s fine article, The Early Christian View on War, The Journal for the Radical Reformation, Vol 1 Iss 3, Spring 1992

We may be inclined to call the early Christian pacifistic view unrealistic; the early Christians called it trust. Who is right? History indicates that perhaps those Christians were not so naive as they might seem to many today. During the period from the birth of Christ to 180 C.E., the Roman Empire experienced a period of general peace, and it did not even suffer one successful invasion of its frontiers. Historians call this the period of the Pax Romana or Roman Peace and view it as a rather extraordinary period in the history of western civilization. Of course no secular historian would credit this peace to the presence and prayers of the Christians, but they firmly believed that it was the result of divine intervention.

For example, Origen told the Romans: “How, then, was it possible for the Gospel doctrine of peace, which does not permit men to take vengeance even upon enemies, to prevail throughout the world, unless at the advent of Jesus a milder spirit had been everywhere introduced into the conduct of things?”21 In contrast, after the time of Constantine, when Christian teachers such as Augustine began teaching the doctrine of “just war” and Christians had come to support Rome with the sword, the Empire experienced serious invasions and within a century thereafter the collapse of the Western Roman Empire itself before barbarian hordes. Did the Roman Empire fall because the Church changed its position on war? No one can answer that question with certainty. But at the very least it is certainly a remarkable coincidence that Rome prospered and was safe from its enemies as long as the early Christians served as a “special army of righteousness,” trusting only in God for the Empire’s protection, but that once they began to wage physical war on behalf of Rome, the Empire collapsed.

The efficacy of loving one’s enemy is also demonstrated by the early Christians’ response to persecution. Even though the Church looked solely to God for protection, refusing to fight back against its persecutors, Rome was never able to annihilate it. In fact, the vast majority of early Christians never suffered imprisonment, torture, or death. Of course loving their persecutors took an enormous amount of faith and courage, for thousands were killed in persecution. But far more would have died had they fought or resisted violently. Far from annihilating the Church, persecution actually led to its rapid growth. As Tertullian reminded the Romans: “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. . . . For who that contemplates it [the constancy of Christians under persecution], is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? Who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? And when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become [a] partaker of God’s grace. . . ?”

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Responses

  1. Added to the above quote is the clear statement of our lord:

    Matthew 7:13-14
    13  “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

    Thus, until the kingdom comes the followers of Jesus will always comprise a minority. We have nothing to fear about pacifism becoming so popular that it is not workable on a large scale. Understanding the dichotomy between this age and the age to come helps to clarify the answer to this question. This age is evil and violence is the means by which justice is enforced. The wicked easily outwit the gullible. In the age to come there is only righteousness and the outcasts, the lame, the poor, those who refused to play the game the world’s way and suffered because of it, will be exalted to the positions of authority. There will be one grand act of violence (the judgment/day of the Lord) after which peace will reign eternally: no war, no violence, not in the human kingdom nor in the animal kingdom. We are the people of the coming age, we do not use this age’s tactics. We are restrained by the mandate of our lord, “Love your enemies.”

  2. There is an interesting statement about this by Jonathan Dymond from “An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity” that I found on the non-resistance.org website.

    It has been the ordinary practice of those who have colonized distant countries to force a footing, or to maintain it, with the sword. One of the first objects has been to build a fort and to provide a military. The adventurers became soldiers, and the colony was a garrison. Pennsylvania was, however, colonized by men who believed that war was absolutely incompatible with Christianity, and who therefore resolved not to practice it. Having determined not to fight, they maintained no soldiers and possessed no arms. They planted themselves in a country that was surrounded by savages, and by savages who knew they were unarmed. If easiness of conquest or incapability of defense could subject them to outrage, the Pennsylvanians might have been the very sport of violence. Plunderers might have robbed them without retaliation, and armies might have slaughtered them without resistance. If they did not give a temptation to outrage, no temptation could be given. But these were the people who possessed their country in security, while those around them were trembling for their existence. This was a land of peace, while every other was a land of war. The conclusion is inevitable, although it is extraordinary: they were in no need of arms because they would not use them.
    These Indians were sufficiently ready to commit outrages upon other states and often visited them with desolation and slaughter; with that sort of desolation, and that sort of slaughter, which might be expected from men whom civilization had not reclaimed from cruelty, and whom religion had not awed into forbearance. “But whatever the quarrels of the Pennsylvanian Indians were with others, they uniformly respected, and held as it were sacred, the territories of William Penn.” [71] “The Pennsylvanians never lost man, woman, or child by them, which neither the colony of Maryland, nor that of Virginia could say, nor could the great colony of New England claim such.”
    The security and quiet of Pennsylvania was not a transient freedom from war, such as might accidentally happen to any nation. She continued to enjoy it “for more than seventy years,” and subsisted in the midst of six Indian nations, “without so much as a militia for her defense.” “The Pennsylvanians became armed, though without arms; they became strong, though without strength; they became safe, without the ordinary means of safety. The constable’s staff was the only instrument of authority among them for the greater part of a century, and never, during the administration of Penn or that of his proper successors, was there a quarrel or a war.”
    I cannot wonder that these people were not molested, extraordinary and unexampled as their security was. There is something so noble in this perfect confidence in the Supreme Protector, in this utter exclusion of “slavish fear,” in this voluntary relinquishment of the means of injury or of defense, that I do not wonder that even ferocity could be disarmed by such virtue. A people, generously living without arms, amidst nations of warriors! Who would attack a people such as this? There are few men so abandoned as not to respect such confidence. It would be a peculiar and an unusual intensity of wickedness that would not even revere it.
    And when was the security of Pennsylvania molested, and its peace destroyed? When the men who had directed its counsels and who would not engage in war, were outvoted in its legislature; when they who supposed that there was greater security in the sword than in Christianity became the predominating body. From that hour, the Pennsylvanians transferred their confidence in Christian principles to a confidence in their arms; and from that hour to the present they have been subject to war.

    Dymond gave many examples of the peace that the Quakers had while caught in the middle of violence and war. I hope to share these with you soon.

    ~JP


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