Posted by: sean | April 16, 2008

Adolf Harnack on the 1st Generation of Christianity

Adolf Harnack, Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 27. [This is translation of Militia Christi: Die christliche Religion und der Soldatenstand in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1905).]
Sayings of Jesus point in a quite different direction, and the nature of the gospel itself as it must have been understood by the first generation appears to be opposed to everything warlike. Patience, meekness, readiness for service, renunciation of one’s own right–these are the virtues which ought to distinguish the Christian; even self-defense was not recognized. Those who endured injustice are called blessed, the meek are promised the inheritance of the earthly realm, peace is proclaimed to all people, and the gospel itself is called “the gospel of peace.” The disciples of Jesus are not to behave the way the almighty and powerful do; their attitude is supposed to be opposite to the attitude of the ones who rule. We need say nothing more to confirm that the gospel excluded all force and had nothing warlike about it, nor would it endure the same. How apparently unnecessary it was to speak the words of Matt. 26:52 (although it certainly was necessary): “Put up your sword, for he who takes the sword will perish by the sword.”

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