The Law of War and Peace (1625)
by Hugo Grotius
Whether It Is Ever Lawful to Wage War
I. That war is not in conflict with the law of nature is proved by several considerations.
1. HAVING seen what the sources of law are, let us come to the first and most general question, which is this: whether any war is lawful, or whether it is ever permissible to war. This question, as also the others which will follow, must first be taken up from the point of view of the law of nature.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, both in the third book of his treatise On Ends and in other places, following Stoic writings learnedly argues that there are certain first principles of nature ‘first according to nature,’ as the Greeks phrased it and certain other principles which are later manifest but which are to have the preference over those first principles. He calls first principles of nature those in accordance with which every animal from the moment of its birth has regard for itself and is impelled to preserve itself, to have zealous consideration for its own condition and for those things which tend to preserve it, and also shrinks from destruction and things which appear likely to cause destruction. Hence also it happens, he says, that there is no one who, if the choice were presented to him, would not prefer to have all the parts of his body in proper order and whole rather than dwarfed or deformed; and that it is one’s first duty to keep oneself in the condition which nature gave to him, then to hold to those things which are in conformity with nature and reject those things that are contrary thereto.
2. Put after these things have received due consideration, there follows a notion of the conformity of things with reason, which is superior to the body. Now this conformity, in which moral goodness becomes the paramount object, ought to be accounted of higher import than the things to which alone instinct first directed itself, because the first principles of nature commend us to right reason, and right reason ought to be more dear to us than those things through whose instrumentality we have been brought to it.
Since this is true and without other demonstration would easily receive the assent of all who are endowed with sound judgement, it follows that in investigating the law of nature it is necessary first to see what is consistent with those fundamental principles of nature, and then to come to that which, though of later origin, is nevertheless more worthy that which ought not only to be grasped, if it appear, but to be sought out by every effort.
3. According to the diversity of the matter, that which we call moral goodness at times consists of a point, so to speak, so that if you depart from it even the least possible distance you turn aside in the direction of wrong-doing; at times it has a wider range, so that an act may be praiseworthy if performed, yet if it be omitted altogether or performed in some other way no blame would attach, the distinction being generally without an intermediate stage, like the transition from being to not-being. Between things opposed in a different way, however, as white and black, a mean may be found either by effecting a combination of the two or by finding an intermediate between them.
It is with this latter class of actions that both divine and human laws are wont to concern themselves, in order that those acts which were in themselves merely praiseworthy might become also obligatory, But we said above, in discussing the law of nature, that the question is this, whether an act can be performed without injustice; and injustice is understood to be that which is utterly repugnant to a rational and social nature.
4. In the first principles of nature there is nothing which is opposed to war; rather, all points are in its favor. The end and aim of war being the preservation of life and limb, and the keeping or acquiring of things useful to life, war is in perfect accord with those first principles of nature. If in order to achieve these ends it is necessary to use force, no inconsistency with the first principles of nature is involved, since nature has given to each animal strength sufficient for self-defense and self-assistance. ‘All kinds of animals,’ says Xenophon, ‘understand some mode of fighting, and they have learned this from no other source than nature.’ In the fragment of the Piscation we read:
- To all has it been given
To recognize a foe, likewise to know
Their safeguards each its own, and power and use
Each of its weapon.
Horace had said:
- With tooth the wolf, with horn the bull attacks;
And why, unless by inner feeling guided?
Lucretius presents the thought more fully:
- Each creature feels the strength which it can use.
Felt by the calf his horns are, ere they stand
Upon his forehead; and with them he butts
Angrily, and, threatening, forward thrusts?
The same idea is thus expressed by Galen: ‘We see that each animal uses for its protection that in which it is strongest. For the calf whose horns have not yet sprouted threatens with that part, and the colt kicks before its hoofs are hard, and the puppy tries to bite when its teeth are not yet strong.’ Galen also remarks (On the Use of Parts) that man is an animal born for peace and war. Weapons, to be sure, are not born with him, but he has hands suited for fashioning and handling weapons; and we see that babies of their own accord, and without being taught by any one, use their hands in place of weapons. So Aristotle, too (On the Parts of Animals, IV. 10), says that in the case of man the hand has the place of spear, sword, and all other weapons, because he is able to take and hold everything with the hand.
5. Right reason, moreover, and the nature of society, which must be studied in the second place and are of even greater importance, do not prohibit all use of force, but only that use of force which is in conflict with society, that is which attempts to take away the rights of another. For society has in view this object, that through community of resource and effort each individual be safeguarded in the possession, of what belongs to him.
It is easy to understand that this consideration would hold even if private ownership (as we now call it) had not been introduced; for life, limbs, and liberty would in that case be the possessions belonging to each, and no attack could be made upon these by another without injustice. Under such conditions the first one taking possession would have the right to use things not claimed and to consume them up to the limit of his needs, and any one depriving him of that right would commit an unjust act. But now that private ownership has by law or usage assumed a definite form, the matter is much easier to understand. I shall express the thought in the words of Cicero:
Just as, in case each member of the body should have a feeling of its own, so that it might think that it could gain in vigor by drawing to itself the vigor of the nearest member, the whole body would of necessity be weakened and utterly perish, so, if every one of us should seize upon the possessions of others for himself and carry off from each whatever he could, for his own gain, human society and the community of life would of necessity be absolutely destroyed. For, since nature does not oppose, it has been granted that each prefer that whatever contributes to the advantage of life be acquired for himself rather than for another; but nature does not allow us to increase our means of subsistence, our resources, and our riches, from the spoil of others.
6. It is not, then, contrary to the nature of society to look out for oneself and advance one’s own interests, provided the rights of others are not infringed; and consequently the use of force which does not violate the rights of others is not unjust. This thought also Cicero has presented: ‘Since there are two ways of settling a difference, the one by argument, the other by force, and since the former is characteristic of man, the latter of brutes, we should have recourse to the second only when it is not permitted to use the first.’ ‘What can be done,’ says the same writer in another passage, ‘against force without force?’
In Ulpian we read: ‘Cassius writes that it is permissible to repel force by force, and this right is bestowed by nature. From this moreover it appears, he says, that it is permissible to repel arms by means of arms.’ Ovid had said:
The laws permit arms ‘gainst armed men to bear.
II. That war is not in conflict with the law of nature is proved from history.
1. Our statement that not all war is in conflict with the law of nature is more fully proved from sacred history. For Abraham with his servants and allies had taken up arms and had won the victory over the four kings who had sacked Sodom; and God approved the deed through his priest Melchizedek. Thus in fact Melchizedek addressed him (Genesis 14:20): ‘Praise be to God Most High, who has delivered thine enemies into thine hand.’ But Abraham had taken up arms, as is evident from the narrative, without a special command of God; in accordance with the law of nature, therefore, did he act, a man not only most holy but also most wise so recognized even by the testimony of foreigners, Berosus and Orpheus.
I shall not appeal to the history of the seven peoples whom God delivered to the Israelites to be destroyed; for in that case there was a special command to execute a judgement of God upon peoples guilty of the greatest crimes. These wars therefore in holy writ are properly called the wars of God, since they were undertaken by the command of God, not at the discretion of men. Having a more direct bearing on our subject is the war in which the Jews, under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, by arms repelled the Amalekites who were attacking them (Exodus 17). This act, which God had not commanded in advance, He approved afterward.
2. But further, God laid down for His own people general and perpetual laws in regard. to the mode of carrying on war (Deuteronomy 20:10, 15), showing by this very act that a war can be just even without having been specifically commanded by Him. For in these passages He plainly distinguishes the case of the seven peoples from that of other peoples; and since in the same passages He presents no ordinance dealing with the just causes for undertaking war, by this very fact He shows that these are clearly enough known from nature. A just cause of war, for example, is the defense of territory, in the war of Jephthah against the Ammonites (Judges 11); another is the maltreatment of envoys, in the war of David against the same people (1 Samuel 10).
In the same connection we should note what the inspired writer to the Hebrews says, that Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and others ‘through faith subdued kingdoms, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens’ (Hebrews 11:33, 34). In this passage, as the context makes plain, he includes in the term ‘faith’ the conviction that what is done is pleasing to God. So also a wise woman says that David ‘fights the battles of God’ (1 Samuel 25:28), that is, battles that are righteous and. just.
III. That war is not in conflict with the law of nature is proved from general agreement.
1. Our thesis is proved also by the general agreement of all nations, and especially among the wise. Well known is the passage of Cicero in regard to force used in the defense of life, in which he bears witness to nature herself:
There is this law which is not written, but born with us; which we have not learned, have not received, have not read, but which we have caught up, have sucked in, yes have wrung out from nature herself; a law regarding which we have not been instructed, but in accord with which we have been made; to which we have not been trained, but with which we are imbued the law that if our life has been placed in jeopardy by any snare, or violence, or weapons either of brigands or of enemies, every possible means of securing safety is morally right.
The same writer in another passage adds:
This law reason has enjoined upon the learned, necessity upon barbarians, custom upon nations, and nature herself upon wild beasts, that always, with whatever means of defense they possess, they ward off all violence from. body, from head, from life itself.
The jurist Gaius says: ‘Natural reason permits defense of oneself against danger’; the jurist Florentinus, ‘In accordance with this law it comes about that whatever each may have done in defense of his person he is thought to have done lawfully.’ ‘For there is,’ says Josephus, ‘that law of nature which applies in the case of all creatures, that they wish to live; and therein lies the reason why we consider those as enemies who clearly wish to rob us of life.’
2. So obvious is the fairness of this principle that even among brutes which, as we have said, have not the substance of legal rights but only a shadowy appearance of them, we may distinguish between the use of force which attempts an injury and that which wards it off. For Ulpian, having said that an animal devoid of sense, that is, of the use of reason, is incapable of doing what is legally wrong, nevertheless immediately adds that when rams or hulls have fought, and one has killed the other, on the authority of Quintus Mucius a distinction ought to be made. If the animal which started the fight should be killed, an action would not lie; but if the animal which had not started the fight should be killed, an action would lie. A passage of Pliny will serve to throw light on what has been said:
The fierceness of lions does not manifest itself in attacks upon lions, the bites of serpents are not directed to serpents; but if violence is attempted there is no creature which does not manifest anger, which does not possess a spirit impatient of injury and will not show a ready liveliness in defending itself if you do it harm.
IV. Proof is adduced that war is not in conflict with the law of nations.
1. It is sufficiently well established, therefore, that not all wars are at variance with the law of nature; and this may also be said to be true of the law of nations.
2. That wars, moreover, are not condemned by the volitional law of nations, histories, and the laws and customs of all peoples fully teach us. Rather, Hermogenianus said that wars were introduced by the law of nations; but I think that this statement ought to be understood as having a meaning slightly different from that ordinarily given to it, namely, that a definite formality in the conduct of war was introduced by the law of nations, and that particular effects follow wars waged in accordance with such formality under the law of nations. Hence arises the distinction, which we shall have to make use of later, between a war which, according to the law of nations, is formally declared and is called legal, that is a complete war; and a war not formally declared, which nevertheless does not on that account cease to be a legal war, that is according to law. For as regards other wars, provided the cause be just, the law of nations does not indeed lend them support, but it does not oppose them, as will be explained more fully later. ‘It has been established by the law of nations,’ says Livy, ‘that arms are to be warded off by arms.’ And Florentinus declares that the law of nations authorizes us to ward off violence and injury in order to protect our body.
V. Proof is adduced that war was not in conflict with the divine volitional law before the time of the Gospel, and objections are answered.
1. A greater difficulty presents itself in connection with the divine volitional law. Let no one at this point raise the objection that the law of nature is unchangeable, and that in consequence nothing can be established by God which is contrary to it. For this holds true in respect to those things which the law of nature forbids or enjoins, but not in respect to the things which by the law of nature are permissible only. Things of the latter class, since they do not properly belong to the sphere of the law of nature but are outside that sphere, can be both forbidden and enjoined.
2. First, therefore, as against war some are accustomed to bring forward the law given to Noah and his posterity, in which God thus speaks (Genesis 9:5, 6):
And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; from every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed for in the image of God made He man.
The first part of this passage, then, in which the requiring of blood is mentioned, they understand as altogether general; and they suppose that the second part, about the shedding of blood in turn, is in the nature of a menace, not an expression of approval. Neither interpretation is to me convincing. For the prohibition in regard to the shedding of blood has no wider application than the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; but this commandment, it is clear, has not proved to be an obstacle either to capital punishment or to wars. The latter rule of law then, as well as the former, had in view not so much the ordaining of something new as the declaration and repetition of a rule of the law of nature which had been effaced by degenerate usage. Hence these words are to be taken in a sense which conveys the idea of a moral fault, just as by the word homicide we understand not the slaying of a man in general, but a premeditated murder of an innocent man. What follows in regard to the shedding of blood in turn seems to me to contain not a statement of a bare fact, but a provision of law.
3. I explain the matter thus. According to nature it is not unfair that each suffer to the full extent of the evil he has committed, in accordance with the principle which is called the law of Radamanthus:
- If each shall suffer all that he has done,
It will be fair and right.
Seneca the father phrased the idea thus: ‘By a most just recompense of suffering each through his own punishment undergoes what he devised for another.’ In accordance with the view-point of this natural equity Cain, conscious of parricide, had said (Genesis 4:14) ‘Whosoever findeth me shall slay me.’
In those first times, however, either on account of the scarcity of men or because criminals were few in number and so there was less need of an example, that which seemed to be permitted by nature God repressed by a command; He desired that contact and intercourse with a murderer be avoided, but that life be not taken from him. A similar regulation Plato established among his laws; that such was the practice formerly in vogue in Greece Euripides informs us in these verses:
- How well the prescient age of our forebears
Decreed, that whoso murder had committed
Should far from way and sight of men depart,
By flight, not death, his dreadful crime atone!
To the same point the following passage of Thucydides relates ‘It is believable that in antiquity penalties were light even for great crimes; but as these in the course of time came to be viewed with. contempt, recourse was had to the death. penalty.’ ‘Until now,’ says Lactantius, ‘it seemed in fact wicked to inflict the punishment of death upon criminals who, no matter how bad, are nevertheless men.’
4. Upon the one striking example was based a conclusion in regard to the divine will, and this passed over into a law. Thus Lamech, having committed a similar crime, in the light of that example promised himself exemption from punishment (Genesis 4:24).
5. But since already before the Flood, in the period of the giants, a general orgy of murders had prevailed, in the renewal of the human race after the Flood God judged that severer measures must be taken, in order that the same custom might not become fixed; and having done away with the mildness of the former age, He Himself permitted that the man who had killed a murderer should be innocent a measure which nature declared was not unfair. Afterward, when courts were established, for very weighty reasons this permission was restricted to judges alone. Nevertheless, a trace of the older custom remained in the right of the next of kin of a murdered man; this right was recognized even after the law of Moses, as will be more fully discussed later.
6. In favor of our interpretation we have the great authority of Abraham who, being not ignorant of the law given to Noah, took up arms against the four kings, obviously in the belief that his action was not in conflict with that law. In like manner also Moses ordered that the Amalekites, who were attacking the people, be resisted by force of arms; he made use, as we see, of the law of nature, for it does not appear that God had been specifically consulted in regard to this act (Exodus 17:9). Furthermore, it is clear that capital punishment was already applied not only to murderers but also to other criminals, and not merely among foreign peoples but among the favored recipients of the holy teaching (Genesis 38:24).
7. Beyond doubt interpretation of the divine will, with the help of natural reason, had proceeded from like to like, so that it seemed not unfair to apply to others who were guilty of exceptional crimes the penalty which had been appointed for the murderer. For there are certain things which are rated of equal value with life, as reputation, maidenly chastity, and conjugal fidelity; and things without which life cannot be safe, such as respect for the governing power which maintains the social order. Those who attack these things seem no better than murderers.
8. In this connection belongs the ancient tradition which is found among the Jews, that several laws were given by God to the sons of Noah, of which not all were recorded by Moses, because it was sufficient for his purpose that these were afterwards included in the particular law of the Jews. Thus it is evident that there was an old law against incestuous marriages (Leviticus 18), although this was not mentioned by Moses in the proper place. Among the ordinances which God gave to the sons of Noah they say that the following also had a place, that not only murder but also adultery, incest, and robbery with violence should be punished with death. This is confirmed by the words of job (31:11).
9. Now the law which was given through the agency of Moses justifies the inflicting of capital punishment by reasons which carry not less weight among other peoples than with the Jewish people; examples are to be found in Leviticus 18:24, 25, 27, 28; Psalms 101:5; and Proverbs 20:8. Of murder it is specifically said that no expiation can be made for the land except by shedding the blood of the murderer (Numbers 35:31, 33). Besides, it is absurd to think that on the one hand the Jewish people were allowed to protect their moral code and the safety both of the state and of individuals by means of capital punishment and to defend themselves by war, and that, on the other hand, the same course of action was not at the same time permissible to other kings and nations, while, nevertheless, those kings or nations were never warned by the prophets, as they were frequently warned in regard to other sins, that the use of capital punishment and wars of every kind were viewed with disapproval by God.
10. Who, on the contrary, would not believe that, since the law of Moses with reference to judgements embodied a faithful expression of the divine will, the nations would have acted rightly and fittingly in taking this as a model for themselves? It is believable that at any rate the Greeks, the Attic Greeks in particular, did this; thence it came about that there is so great similarity between the ancient Attic law, together with the part of the Roman law of the Twelve Tables derived from it, and the Hebraic laws. These considerations seem sufficient to make it plain that the law given to Noah did not have the meaning attributed to it by those who on the strength of it oppose all wars.
VI. Preliminary considerations bearing upon the question whether war is in conflict with the law of the Gospel.
1. The arguments against war which are drawn from the Gospel have greater plausibility. In examining them I shall not assume, as many do, that in the Gospel outside of the ordinances relating to belief and to the sacraments there is nothing which does not belong to the law of nature; for I do not think that this is true, at least in the sense in which most people take it.
2. I willingly recognize the fact that in the Gospel nothing is enjoined upon us which does not have the quality of natural moral goodness; but I do not see why I should grant that we are not bound by the laws of Christ beyond the limit of obligation imposed by the law of nature of and by itself. It is amazing to see how those who think differently labor in the effort to prove that things which are forbidden by the Gospel are not permissible by the law of nature, as concubinage, divorce, and polygamy. These things in fact are of such a nature that reason itself declares that it is morally better to abstain from them, but they are not such that wickedness would be manifest in them without divine law. Again, who would say that we are bound by the law of nature to do that which the law of Christ enjoins, that we expose ourselves to the danger of death for others (1 John 3:16)? Pertinent is the saying of Justin: ‘To live according to nature is the problem of him who has not yet become a believer.’
3. I shall not even follow those who make another by no means slight assumption, that Christ, in delivering the precepts which are found in the fifth chapter of Matthew and immediately thereafter, was speaking only as an expounder of the law given through the agency of Moses. Of an altogether different import are the words so often repeated: ‘Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time but I say unto you.’ The contrast here, as in the Syriac and other versions, shows that the meaning is, ‘to them of old time,’ not ‘by them of old time’; so ‘to you,’ not ‘by you.’ Now ‘they of old time’ were none other than those who were living in the time of Moses. For the things which are declared to have been said ‘to them of old time’ are not utterances of men learned in the law but of Moses, either word for word, or in substance. These utterances are:
Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:30); Whoso hath killed a man shall be held in judgement (Leviticus 21:21; Numbers 35:16, 17, 30); Thou shalt not commit adultery (Exodus 20:30); Whoso putteth away his wife, let him give to her a bill of divorcement (Deuteronomy 24:1); Thou shalt not swear falsely, but thou shalt render unto the Lord that which thou hast sworn (Exodus 20:7; Numbers 30:2); An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth supply ‘it may be permitted to demand in judgement’ (Leviticus 14:20; Deuteronomy 19:21); Thou shalt love thy neighbor (that is, an Israelite; Leviticus 19:18), and shalt hate thine enemy (for example, the seven peoples, with whom the Israelites are forbidden to have friendship and to whom they are to show no mercy; Exodus 34:1; (Deuteronomy 7:1. To these the Amalekites are to be added, against whom the Jews are bidden to wage implacable war; Exodus27:19; Deuteronomy 25:19).
4. For the understanding of the words of Christ, however, we must once for all observe that the law given through the agency of Moses may be considered in two ways. First, it may be viewed in relation to that which it has in common with other laws customarily established by men, in so far, surely, as it restrains the graver crimes by the fear of visible punishments (Hebrews 2:2) and by this means holds the Jewish people in a state of civil society; from this point of view it is called ‘the law of a carnal commandment’ (Hebrews 7:13), and law ‘of works’ (Romans 3:27). Or, in the second place, the Mosaic law may be viewed in relation to that which is peculiar to divine law, in so far, at any rate, as it demands purity of soul and certain actions which can be omitted without a temporal penalty; from this point of view it is called ‘spiritual law’ (Romans 7:14), ‘restoring the soul’ (Psalms 19:9; Vulgate 18:9). The scribes and the Pharisees, contenting themselves with the first point of view, paid small heed to the second, which is more important, and did not impress it upon the people; the truth of this statement can be shown not only from our books but also from Josephus and the learned men of the Jews.
5. Even in relation to the second point of view, however, it is important to know that the virtues required of Christians were also either commended to the Jews, or enjoined upon them; but they were not enjoined upon the Jews with the same emphasis and with so great breadth of application as upon Christians. In both respects moreover Christ sets His teachings over against those of the old time; whence it is clear that His words do not embody a mere interpretation. Recognition of this fact is important not merely with reference to the point now under consideration, but many others as well, that we may not make use of the authority of the Hebraic law to a greater extent than is just.
VII. Arguments drawn from Holy Writ on behalf of the negative view, that war is not in conflict with the law of the Gospel.
1. Passing by the arguments, then, which seem to us untenable, the first and weightiest evidence by which we prove that the right to war was not completely annulled by the law of Christ, shall be that passage of Paul in 1 Timothy (3:1-3):
I exhort, therefore, first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.
In this passage we are taught three things: that it is acceptable to God that kings become Christians; also that, having become Christians, they remain kings (the thought was thus expressed by Justin Martyr: ‘For this we pray, that kings and princes along with their royal power may possess a sound mind’; and in the book entitled Constitutions of Clement the Church prays for ‘Christian authorities,’ that is, for Christian magistrates; finally, that this also is acceptable to God, that Christian kings enable other Christians to lead a tranquil life.
2. But how shall the ruler do this? Paul explains elsewhere (Romans 13:4): ‘For he is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for He beareth not the sword in vain. For he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil.’ By the right of the sword through a figure of speech every form of compulsion is understood, as also sometimes in the writings of the jurists; but in such a way, nevertheless, that the right to impose the extreme penalty, that is the actual use of the sword, is not excluded.
The second Psalm serves to throw not a little light upon this passage; for although it had its true application in the person of David, nevertheless it is more fully and more completely applicable to Christ, as we may learn from Acts (4:25; 13:33) and Hebrews (5:5). This Psalm exhorts all kings to receive the Son of God with reverence; that is, that as kings they show themselves also His ministers, as St. Augustine rightly explains.
The words of Augustine on this point I quote: ‘In this way kings serve God in the capacity of kings if, just as is divinely enjoined upon them, in their kingdoms they ordain good and prohibit evil, not only in respect to matters which relate to human society but also matters that concern the divine religion.’ In another passage he says: ‘In what way, then, do kings serve the Lord in fear, except by prohibiting and punishing with religious severity the things that are done contrary to the commandments of the Lord? For it is one thing to serve the Lord as man, another to serve Him as king.’ ‘Kings,’ he says, a little further on, ‘serve the Lord in the capacity of kings when in serving Him they do those things which they cannot do except as kings.’
3. A second argument is furnished to us by that very passage of which we have quoted a portion (Romans 13), wherein the highest power, such as that of the king, is said to be from God, and is called an ordinance of God. From this follows the inference that obedience should be rendered to it, and respect paid to it that, too, whole-heartedly and that he who resists it is resisting God.
If by the word ‘ordinance’ a thing should be understood which God merely does not will to prevent, as the attitude of God is with reference to wicked actions, there would follow no obligation to pay respect or to render obedience, least of all, whole-heartedly; and the Apostle in proclaiming and in magnifying this power so earnestly would be saying nothing which would not be appropriate to acts of brigandage and thievery. It follows, therefore, that this power is understood to have been ordained by the approval of the will of God; hence the inference, since God does not will that which is contrary to Himself, that this power is not in conflict with the will of God revealed through the Gospel and binding upon all men.
4. The force of this argument, furthermore, is not weakened by the objection that those who were in authority at the time when Paul wrote were strangers to the Christian. faith. For, in the first place, the statement is not unreservedly true, since Sergius Paulus, propraetor of Cyprus, had long before professed Christ (Acts 13:1, 2); not to speak of the ancient tradition in regard to the king of Edessa, which to some extent may be tinged with falsehood, yet seems to have had its origin in truth. Then, again, the question is not whether the individuals were unrighteous but whether the function exercised by them was in itself unrighteous. That it was not, we maintain, was declared by the Apostle when, speaking even of his own time, he said that this function was ordained of God, and therefore should be honored even in the inmost feelings of the soul, which in a proper sense are subject to God alone. Consequently both Nero, and King Agrippa, whom Paul so earnestly urges to embrace the Christian religion (Acts 26), could have subjected themselves to Christ and have retained in the latter case a royal, in the former an imperial power, the maintenance of which without the right of the sword and of arms is inconceivable. Just as the sacrifices in the olden time were sacred according to the law even though offered by wicked priests, so sovereign power is a righteous thing even though it is held by a wicked man.
5. A third argument is drawn from the words of John the Baptist. When he was earnestly asked by Jewish soldiers (from Josephus and other writers it is perfectly clear that many thousands of this race were in the military service of the Romans) what they must do to escape the wrath of God, he did not bid them withdraw from military service, as he must have done if such was the will of God, but to abstain from extortions and deceit, and to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14).
In regard to these words of the Baptist, which clearly enough imply an approval of military service, many make answer that what the Baptist enjoined differs so greatly from the precepts of Christ that it was quite possible for the Baptist to teach one thing, and Christ another. The validity of this objection I cannot admit. The gist of the doctrine which John and Christ brought to men they set forth with the same introductory plea: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Christ himself said that the kingdom of heaven (that is, the new law, for the Jews have the custom of calling the law by the name of the kingdom) commenced to be taken by violence from the days of the Baptist (Matthew 11:12). It is said that John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4); the Apostles did the same, it is said, in the name of Christ (Acts 2:38). John demands fruits worthy of repentance, and threatens destruction to those who do not bring forth such fruits (Matthew 3:8 and 10. He demands works of love beyond the law (Luke 3:11). It is said that the law lasted until John, that is, that a more perfect doctrine began with him (Matthew 11:13). And the beginning of the Gospel is traced to John (Mark 1:1; Luke 1:77). John himself by this title is reckoned greater than the prophets (Matthew 11:9; Luke 7:26), since he was sent to give a knowledge of salvation to the people (Luke 2:77), to announce the Gospel (Luke 3:18).
Nowhere, in fact, does John distinguish Jesus from himself by the difference in their teachings, although the things which were taught by John in a more general and vague way, as rudiments, were clearly set forth by Christ, the true Light. The difference which John recognized between them lay rather in this, that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Acts 19:4; John 1:29), the king of the Heavenly Kingdom, who would give the power of the Holy Spirit to them that believe on him (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).
6. The fourth argument, which seems to me to have no slight weight, is this. If the right to inflict capital punishment and to defend citizens by arms against brigands and robbers should be taken away, there would follow a riot of crimes and a deluge, so to speak, of evils, since even now, with regularly constituted courts in operation, the force of evil is with difficulty restrained. Wherefore if it had been the purpose of Christ to bring about such a state of affairs as had never been heard of, beyond doubt with the most direct and explicit words he would have laid down the rules that no one should pass a sentence of death, and that no one should bear arms. We nowhere read that he did this; for the statements which are brought forward to that effect are either exceedingly general, or obscure. But fairness itself and common sense teach not only that general statements should be limited, and ambiguous expressions favorably interpreted, but even that in a degree there may be a departure from the strict signification and ordinary use of words, in order to avoid an interpretation which would involve extremely grave consequences.
7. Fifth, by no argument can it be shown that the law of Moses relating to judgements ceased to be in force before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and with it alike the form of the Jewish state and the hope of its re-establishment. For neither in the law of Moses is any term set for this law, nor do Christ or the Apostles ever speak of the abolition of it, except in so far as this may seem to be included in the destruction of the state, as we have said. On the contrary Paul says that the high priest was appointed in order that he might render judgement according to the law of Moses (Acts 24:3). Christ himself in words introductory to his teachings says that he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17).
What bearing this has on the part of the law relating to rituals is not obscure; for shadowy outlines are filled out when the perfect form of the thing is shown. But in what way can this be true of the laws relating to judgements, if Christ, as some think, by his coming did away with them? If, however, the obligation of the law remained so long as the Jewish state continued to exist, it follows that Jews, even when converted to Christianity, if they were summoned before a magistrate could not escape service, and that they were bound to judge not otherwise than as Moses had commanded.
8. Weighing all the arguments deliberately I do not find even the most trivial consideration which could have influenced any upright man, who heard those words of Christ as they were spoken, to form a different opinion. I recognize the fact that before the time of Christ some things were permitted, as a matter of external freedom from punishment or even of purity of mind we have neither need nor leisure to deal with those details more fully here which Christ did not permit to those who followed his doctrine; as, for example, to put away a wife for any sort of offence whatsoever, and to exact vengeance in court from him who had inflicted an injury. But while between the teachings of Christ and those permissions there is indeed a difference, there is no conflict. For the man who keeps his wife, or who renounces his right as an individual to exact vengeance, does nothing contrary to the law; he does in fact what the law above all desires. Far different, on the other hand, is the case of the judge whom the law does not permit, but commands, to punish the murderer with death; if he fails in this duty, he will himself become guilty before God. If Christ forbids the judge to punish the murderer with death, he enjoins what is absolutely contrary to the law, he destroys the law.
9. The sixth argument shall be drawn from the example of Cornelius, the Centurion. He received the Holy Spirit, an infallible sign of justification, from Christ, and was baptized a Christian by the Apostle Peter; nevertheless we do not read that he gave up his military service, or was advised by Peter that he was obliged to give it up.
Some may answer that, when Cornelius received instruction from Peter in the Christian religion we must suppose that he was at the same time instructed in regard to the abandonment of military life. These would have an argument if it were certain and beyond cavil that any prohibition of military service is to be found among the teachings of Christ. Such a prohibition in plain words nowhere appears; but surely in case Christ wished to lay down a rule opposed to current usage, it was necessary that something be said on the subject, at any rate in this connection, where it was specially required, in order that the age to come might not be ignorant of the rules controlling its duty. And it is not the practice of Luke, when the quality of persons required some particular change in manner of life, to pass this by without mention, as may be seen in Acts 19:19 and elsewhere.
10. The seventh argument, similar to the preceding, is taken from the case of Sergius Paulus, of whom we have already made mention. For in the record of his conversion there is no indication that he gave up his office, or was instructed to give it up. What is not mentioned when, as we have said, it would be of the utmost importance that mention be made, ought to be considered as not having happened.
11. The eighth argument is that Paul the Apostle, understanding that there was a plot of the Jews against him, desired that this be reported to the tribune; and when the tribune had given him soldiers, under whose protection on his journey he would be safe against all violence, he raised no objection. He did not admonish the tribune, or the soldiers, that the repelling of force by force was not pleasing to God. And yet this was the Paul who himself never let slip any opportunity to point out one’s duty, or wished that such opportunity be let slip by others (2 Timothy 4:2).
12. The ninth argument lies in this, that the proper end of a thing that is honorable and obligatory cannot be otherwise than honorable and obligatory. The payment of taxes is honorable it is even an ordinance binding conscience, as the Apostle Paul explains; but the purpose of taxation is to provide the public administration with funds upon which it may draw in order to protect good men and check evil-doers (Romans 13:3, 4, 6). Quite to the point Tacitus remarks: ‘The peace of the nations cannot be had without arms, nor arms without pay, nor pay without taxes.’ Similar is the observation of Augustine: ‘We pay taxes in order that pay may be provided for the soldiery, for the necessaries of life.’
13. The tenth argument is furnished by the passage in Acts 25:11 in which Paul thus speaks: ‘If I have wronged any one, and have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die.’ Paul held the view, as I infer from this statement, that even after the publishing abroad of the law of the Gospel, there were certain crimes for which justice permitted, or even demanded, punishment by death. This is also the teaching of Peter (2 Peter 2:19, 20). If at that time it had been the will of God that capital punishment be abstained from, Paul might, to be sure, have cleared himself, but it was his duty not to leave in men’s minds the belief that it was then not less permissible than previously to punish criminals with death.
Now when it is once proved that the inflicting of capital punishment could be lawfully retained after the coming of Christ, it is, I think, proved at the same time that in some cases war is lawfully waged, as, for example, against criminals gathered in a great number and armed, who must be conquered in battle in order that they may be brought to trial. For while the strength of criminals and their boldness in resistance may be taken into account in prudent deliberation, the force of the law is not thereby diminished.
14. The eleventh argument is based on the fact that the law of Christ did away with the law of Moses only in respect to the separation of the Gentiles from the Jews (Ephesians 2:14). But it by no means did away with the things which are honorable by nature and by the common agreement of the more civilized Gentiles; rather it included them in the general teaching of all that is honorable and virtuous (Philippians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 11:13, 14). Now in truth the punishment of crimes, and the use of arms which prevent wrongdoing, are by nature considered praiseworthy and are referred to the virtues of justice and beneficence.
Here in passing it is worth while to note an error on the part of those who maintain that the right of the Israelites to wage war came merely from the fact that God had given them the land of Canaan. This is, to be sure, a just cause, but not the only one. For before those times under the guidance of reason, righteous men carried on wars; and afterwards the Israelites themselves waged wars on account of other causes, as David did, because of the affront offered to his envoys. For the possessions which each has by human law are not less his than if God had given them to him; this right, moreover, is not taken away by the Gospel.
VIII. Answering of the arguments from Holy Writ on behalf of the affirmative view, that war is in conflict with the law of the Gospel.
1. Let us now see by what considerations the contrary opinion is supported, in order that the serious-minded appraiser may be able the more easily to decide which of the two views has the weight of argument in its favor.
First of all it is customary to bring forward the prophecy of Isaac, who says that it will come to pass that the people will beat their swords into mattocks and their spears into pruning-hooks; ‘and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ (Isaiah 2:4). But this prophecy, as many others, may be taken in a conditional sense. With such an interpretation undoubtedly we are to understand that such will be the state of affairs if all peoples receive and fulfill the law of Christ; to this end God will not suffer that there be any lack of assistance on His part. It is moreover certain that if all men were Christians, and were living the Christian life, there would be no wars. This thought Arnobius expresses as follows:
If all who consider themselves men, on the ground not of bodily shape but of the possession of reason, would be willing for a little while to lend ear to His wholesome and pacific dictates, and would not, swollen with pride and arrogance, entrust themselves to the guidance of their passions rather than of His admonitions, the whole world, having long ago turned its iron to milder uses, would be living in the most delightful tranquillity, and through mutual confidence in inviolable treaties would be united in a beneficent concord.
Lactantius speaks on this wise:
What will happen if all men shall agree to live in perfect accord? This surely can happen, if men would only cast aside their destructive and impious fury and be willing to be innocent and just.
Or, again, the prophecy can be understood literally. If it is interpreted in this way, the facts show that it has not yet been fulfilled, but that the fulfillment of it, like the general conversion of the Jews, is to be expected. But in whichever way you interpret the prophecy, no inference can be drawn from it against the justice of wars, so long as there are men who do not suffer those that love peace to enjoy peace, but do violence to them.
2. Several arguments are ordinarily taken from the fifth chapter of Matthew. In order to form a proper judgement in regard to them it is necessary to recall what we said a little before, that if it had been Christ’s purpose absolutely to do away with capital punishment and the right to carry on war, he would have expressed this purpose with words as plain and explicit as possible, on account of the importance of the ruling, and its newness. All the more would he have been led to do this for the reason that no Jew could think otherwise than that the laws of Moses relating to judicial proceedings and public administration must retain their validity in respect to all Jews so long as their state endured. With this general observation in mind, let us discuss the bearing of the several passages in order.
3. The contrary view, then, in the second place fortifies itself with these words: ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil’ (in Hebrew, ‘the wicked man,’ which the Greeks translate ‘him that doeth a wrong,’ Exodus 2:13); ‘but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ From this some infer that no injury ought to be warded off, or made the subject of a demand for requital, whether as a public or as a private matter. And yet, that is not the meaning of the words. Christ is here addressing not the magistrates, but those who are assailed; and he is not treating of injuries in general, but of a specific sort of injury, such as a slap on the cheek; for the latter part of the statement restricts the generality of the earlier part.
4. Similarly in the precept which follows, ‘And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also,’ not every appeal to a judge or arbitrator is forbidden. Such at any rate is the interpretation of Paul, who does not prohibit all lawsuits (I Corinthians 6:4), but does forbid Christians to sue one another in pagan court-rooms. In this he follows the example of the Jews, among whom the maxim was current that ‘He who refers matters of the Israelites to strangers dishonors the name of God.’ Now Christ, in order to train us in forbearance, wishes us not to go to law about things easy to replace, as a coat, or a cloak in addition to the coat if need be; but though our legal rights be absolutely perfect, he wishes us to abstain from enforcing them.
Apollonius of Tyana used to say that it was unworthy of a philosopher ‘to engage in a lawsuit about a small sum of money.’ ‘The praetor,’ says Ulpian, ‘does not disapprove the act of him who considered it worth the while to deprive himself of property that he might not have to engage too frequently in lawsuits in regard to it. This attitude of restraint, on the part of a man who has an aversion to lawsuits, is not to be criticized.’ What Ulpian here mentions as approved by good men, Christ enjoins, selecting the matter of his teachings from the most honorable and universally approved examples.
From this, however, you would not rightly infer that it would be wrong even for a parent or guardian in case of necessity to defend before a judge that which involved the means of subsistence of children or of wards. For a coat and a cloak are one thing; entire means of subsistence is quite another. In the Constitutions of Clement it is said of the Christian, if he has a lawsuit, ‘Let him try to settle it, even if thereby he be compelled to suffer some loss.’ Here also that is applicable which is customarily said of things moral, that they do not consist in a point, but have a certain latitude.
5. In like manner, in what follows, ‘And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two,’ our Lord did not speak of a hundred miles, a journey which would take a man too far from his business, but of one mile, and, if need be, of two, involving an amount of walking which would seem like nothing at all. The meaning, therefore, is that in matters which are not likely to inconvenience us very much we ought not to insist upon our rights, but to give up even more than is demanded, in order that our patience and kindness may become manifest to all.
6. There follow the words: ‘Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.’ If you should put this into practice without limitation, nothing could be more harsh. He who does not take care of those of his own house ‘is worse than an unbeliever,’ says Paul (I Timothy 5:8). Let us then follow the same Paul, a most excellent interpreter of the law laid down by the Master. In urging the Corinthians to exercise a spirit of liberality toward those that were in Jerusalem he says ‘Not that others may be eased and ye distressed, but that by equalization your abundance may be a supply for their want’ (2 Corinthians 8:13); that is adopting the words of Livy in respect to a not dissimilar case that from the superabundance of your resources you minister to the necessities of others. The same point of view appears also in Xenophon’s Cyrus: ‘Whatever I see that I have beyond my needs I use to supply the wants of my friends.’ A similar principle of equalization we may apply to the interpretation of the precept which we have just quoted.
7. Just as the Hebraic law favored freedom of divorce in order that it might mitigate the harsh treatment of wives by their husbands, so also in order to restrain private vengeance, to which that nation was specially prone, it had conferred upon an injured person the right to exact retaliation from the wrongdoer, not, however, by his own hand, but before the judge. This rule the law of the Twelve Tables also followed: ‘If a man breaks a limb of another, let there be like injury in turn.’ But Christ, who enjoined a greater degree of forbearance, so far from expressing approval of the demanding of vengeance by a man who is already the victim of an injury, wishes that some injuries be not even warded off, either by violence or by judicial procedure. But what sort of injuries? Such, we see, as are bearable not that such action is not also praise-worthy in the case of more dreadful injuries, ‘but that Christ is satisfied with forbearance of a more restricted scope. So he took for illustration a slap on the cheek; this does not endanger life, or mutilate the person, but merely indicates a kind of contempt for us, which makes us not a whit the worse. Seneca, in his treatise On the Steadfastness of the Wise Man, distinguishes injury from insult’
‘The former,’ Seneca says, ‘is in its nature more serious; the latter is of less import, and serious only for the thin-skinned, who are not hurt by it, only offended. So great is the feebleness and emptiness of men’s minds that some think nothing more bitter. Thus you may find a slave who would rather be cut with a scourge than have his ears boxed.’ In another passage the same philosopher remarks: ‘Insult is a lesser injury, which we can complain of rather than take into court. The laws have not thought it worthy of penalty.’
In Pacuvius a character says: ‘Easily I suffer wrong if it is free from insult.’ And in Caecilius another remarks:
- Misery I can endure if only free from injury;
And injury as well, except when insult adds indignity.
Demosthenes has a similar thought: ‘For freemen it is not so dreadful a thing to be scourged, dreadful though that is, as it is to be lashed with insult.’ The same Seneca, of whom I have spoken, a little farther on says that the pain arising from insult is a mental disturbance produced by a sense of humiliation as the mind contracts on account of a deed or word reflecting dishonor.
8. Under such conditions, then, Christ enjoins forbearance. And that no one may urge as an objection that hackneyed maxim, ‘By enduring a long-standing wrong you invite a new one,’ he adds that it is better to suffer even a second injury than to repel the first, because, of course, we receive no harm from it except that which exists in foolish imagining. ‘To turn the cheek to another’ in Hebrew idiom means ‘to suffer patiently,’ as is clear from Isaiah 30:6 and Jeremiah 3:3; the phrase ‘to expose one’s face to insults’ Tacitus used in the third book of his Histories.
9. The third argument is wont to be taken from the passage which follows in Matthew: ‘Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.’ For there are men who think that with such love and well-doing toward enemies and them that despitefully use us, both capital punishment and wars are irreconcilable.
The argument, however, is easily refuted if we take into consideration the precise provision of the Hebraic law. It was enjoined upon the Jews to love their neighbor, that is a Jew; that the word ‘neighbor’ is to be taken in this sense is evident from a comparison of the seventeenth verse of the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, with the eighteenth verse of the same chapter. But magistrates were none the less commanded to put to death murderers and others guilty of heinous crimes; the eleven tribes none the less attacked the tribe of Benjamin in a just war on account of a monstrous crime (Judges 21); none the less did David, who ‘fought the battles of the Lord,’ undertake to wrest from Ishbosheth by arms, and rightly, the kingdom which had been promised to him.
10. Let us concede, then, a broader signification of the word ‘neighbor,’ to include all men for all men have now been received into a common dispensation, there are no peoples doomed by God to destruction nevertheless that will be permitted with respect to all men which was then permitted with respect to the Israelites; they were bidden to love one another, just as now all men are. And if you wish to believe also that a greater degree of love is commanded in the law of the Gospel, let this too be granted, provided also the fact is recognized that love is not due to all in the same degree, but that a greater love is due to a father than to a stranger. In like manner also, in accordance with the law of a well-ordered love, the good of an innocent person should receive consideration before the good of one who is guilty, and the public good before that of the individual.
Now it is in the love of innocent men that both capital punishment and just wars have their origin. Reference may be made to the moral sentiment expressed in Proverbs 24:11. The teachings of Christ in regard to loving and helping men ought, therefore, to be carried into effect unless a greater and more just love stand in the way. Familiar is the old saying: ‘It is as much a cruelty to spare all as to spare none.’
11. There is the further consideration that we are bidden to love our enemies by the example of God, who ‘maketh his sun to rise upon the unjust.’ But the same God inflicts punishments upon some wicked men even in this life, and will inflict most severe punishments hereafter. The same argument meets also the difficulty presented by the injunctions laid upon Christians in regard to mercy, which are usually brought to bear upon this point. For God is called gracious, merciful, and long-suffering (Jonah 4:2; Exodus 34:6). But the sacred writings in various places describe His wrath against them that set themselves against Him, that is, His will to punish them (Numbers 14:18; Romans 2:8). And of this anger the magistrate has been appointed minister (Romans 13:4). Moses is commended for his extraordinary mercifulness; yet he inflicted punishments on the guilty, even capital punishments. The mercy and long-suffering of Christ we are everywhere bidden to imitate; yet it is Christ who inflicts the severest punishments upon the disobedient Jews a (Matthew 22:7), and will condemn the wicked according to their deserts in the Day of Judgement. The mercifulness of the Master was imitated by the Apostles, who nevertheless used the power, which had been given them by God, for the punishment of wrongdoers I Corinthians 4:21 and 5:5; 2 Timothy 1:20).
12. A fourth passage presented in opposition is in Romans 12:17.
Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, live in peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, ‘beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.’
Here also the same answer may be made as in the case of the preceding passage. For at the very time when it was said by God, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ both the penalty of capital punishment was being imposed and laws had been written for the conduct, of wars. Moreover it is ordered that kindness be shown to enemies, belonging, of course, to the same nation (Exodus 23:4, 5); but this nevertheless, as we have said, put no obstacle in the way either of capital punishment or of lawful wars, even against the Israelites themselves. Wherefore not even now ought the same words, or similar teachings, even though given a broader application, to be violently forced into such a meaning.
Such an interpretation is the less tenable for the reason that the chapter divisions of the Biblical writings were not made by the Apostles, nor in their time, but much later, in order to break up the text and make the citation of passages easier. Hence it has come about that the words at the beginning of chapter xii, ‘Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers,’ and those that follow, are to be taken with the teachings which forbid the exacting of vengeance.
13. Now in this part of his exposition Paul says that the public authorities are the ministers of God and His avengers for wrath against evil-doers, that is, for the punishment of evil-doers. In this way with perfect clearness he distinguishes between vengeance in the public interest, which is inflicted by a public authority acting in place of God, and which is to be traced back to the vengeance reserved for God; and revenge, which has as its purpose to satisfy resentment, and which he had forbidden just a little before. For if you maintain that in the prohibition of revenge is included also the vengeance which is exacted in the public interest, what would be more absurd than to add, after saying that capital punishment must be refrained from, that public authorities have been established by God, in order that they may inflict punishments in place of God?
14. A fifth passage, which some make use of, is in 2 Corinthians 10:3: ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh,’ but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds,’ and what follows.
This has no bearing on the point under discussion. For the passages which precede and follow show that by the term ‘flesh’ in that connection Paul understood a weak condition of his body, of a sort that attracted attention and brought him into contempt. To this Paul opposed his own weapons, that is, the power given to him as an Apostle to restrain the refractory, such as he made use of against Elymas, against the Corinthian guilty of incest, Hymenaeus, and Alexander. This power, then, he says, is not of the flesh, that is, weak; on the contrary he declares that it is most mighty. What has this to do with the right to inflict capital punishment, or to wage war? Nothing whatever. Because the Church at that time was without the backing of public authorities, for its protection God had called forth that supernatural power; that power, again, began to fail at about the time when Christian emperors came to the support of the Church, just as the manna failed when the Jewish people reached fertile lands.
15. In the sixth place Ephesians 6:12 is quoted: ‘Wherefore put ye on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil; for your wrestling is not against flesh and blood’ (supply ‘only,’ as in Hebrew idiom), ‘but against principalities,’ and what follows. This has reference to the warfare which Christians are obliged to wage as Christians, not the warfare which under certain conditions they may be able to wage in common with other men.
16. In the seventh place a passage of James 4:1 is brought forward:
Whence come wars and whence come fightings among you?
Come they not hence, even of your pleasures that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not; ye envy and covet, and cannot obtain; ye fight and wage war, and receive not, because ye ask not; ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your own pleasures.
This passage contains nothing of universal application. It says only that the wars and fightings in which at that time the Jews, scattered, were wretchedly contending among themselves (a history of a part of these strifes may be found in Josephus) had their origin in causes that were not righteous; that such a condition exists even at the present time we know, and we grieve that it is so.
A couplet of Tibullus contains an implication not unlike that of the passage of James:
- Curse of rich gold this is; and wars were not
When beechen cups beside men’s victuals stood.
In Strabo you may find in several places the comment that peoples whose food is the simplest live in greatest innocency. Not far from this point of view are the lines of Lucan:
- O lavish luxury,
Never with modest outlay satisfied;
Vainglorious craving for those viands rare
Which quest on land and in the sea procures,
And glamour of the sumptuous board: learn ye
Upon how little life can be sustained,
How little nature craves. Not high-born wine,
Put up so long the Consul is forgot,
Restores the sick; from gold and crystal cups
They drink not, but with water pure their life
Comes back. Enough for men the stream and grain
Of Ceres. Oh wretched men, whom wars engage!
To this may be added the statement of Plutarch in the Contradictions of the Stoics: ‘There is no war among men which does not originate in a fault. One is kindled by an eager desire for pleasures, another by avarice, another by an overmastering passion for public office or supreme power.’ Justin, having praised the institutions of the Scythians, says: ‘If only other mortals would exercise a like self-restraint, and have the same respect for the property of others! Surely in that case so many wars would not be following one after the other through all the ages in all the world, and steel and weapons would not be carrying off more men than the term of fate as fixed by nature.’ In Cicero we read, in the first book On Ends: ‘Out of passionate desires arise hatreds, disagreements, dissensions, strifes, and wars.’ Says Maximus of Tyre: ‘Now all places are full of wars. For everywhere passionate desires are rife and throughout all lands they arouse covetousness for the things which belong to others.’ ‘The body,’ says Iamblichus,’ and the passionate desires of the body cause wars, fightings, and dissensions. For wars have their origin in the effort to obtain possession of things that are useful.’
17. There remains what was said to Peter: ‘He that smiteth with the sword shall perish by the sword.’ This relates, however, not to war in general, but specifically to private war; for Christ in not allowing a defense of himself to be made, or in neglecting to defend himself, presents as the reason that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). This will be more appropriately treated in another connection.
IX. The agreement of the early Christians in regard to the subject under discussion is examined.
1. Whenever question is raised in regard to the interpretation of a writing, great weight is commonly attributed both to subsequent usage and to the authority of wise men. This point of view ought to be maintained also in the interpretation of Holy Writ. For it is not probable that the churches which had been founded by the Apostles either suddenly, or in all cases, fell away from those teachings which, though written down in concise form, the Apostles had more fully explained by word of mouth or had even introduced into practice. Now those who oppose wars are wont to bring forward several sayings of the early Christians in regard to which I have three things to say.
2. In the first place, any inference based upon these sayings represents nothing more than the private opinion of certain individuals, not the opinion of the churches publicly expressed. Further, the authors of the sayings referred to are for the most part men who like to follow a road different from that of others and to set forth a teaching on some point in rather a lofty strain. Such are Origen and Tertullian; and these writers are, in fact, not self-consistent. For Origen says that bees were given by God as an example to show ‘how wars, if ever there should arise a necessity for them, should be waged in a just and orderly manner among men’; and the same Tertullian, who elsewhere seems to be less in favor of capital punishment, said: ‘No one denies that it is a good thing when the guilty are punished.’
In regard to military service Tertullian hesitates. For in his book On Idolatry he says: ‘The question is raised whether the faithful can turn to military service, and whether the military can be admitted to the faith’; and in this connection he seems inclined to a view adverse to military service. But in the book On the Soldier’s Chaplet, having presented some considerations adverse to military service, he immediately distinguishes those who were enrolled in military service before baptism from those who enlisted after they were baptized. ‘Evidently,’ he says, ‘the condition of those whom the faith finds already engaged in military service is altogether different, as was the condition of those whom John admitted to baptism, also that of the very faithful centurions, of whom one was commended by Christ, the other instructed by Peter. Nevertheless, having received the faith and having been confirmed in it, either they must at once abandon the profession of arms, as many have done, or they must resort to cleverness in every possible way (that is, they must ” take every precaution “) that no offence be committed against God.’ He recognized the fact, therefore, that the latter class remained in military service after baptism; but this they would by no means have done if they had understood that military service had been forbidden by Christ no more than the soothsayers, the magicians, and other practicers of forbidden arts a were permitted to remain in the practice of their art after baptism. In the same book, praising a certain soldier, and that too a Christian, he says, ‘Oh soldier, glorious before God!’
3. My second observation is that Christians have often disapproved or avoided military service on account of the condition of the times, which hardly permitted them to engage in such service without committing certain acts in conflict with Christian law. In the letters of Dolabella to the Ephesians, which are found in Josephus, we see that the Jews demanded exemption from service on military expeditions, for the reason that, mingled with foreigners, they would not be able properly to keep up the rites of their law, and because they would be forced to carry arms and make long marches on the Sabbath day. Josephus further informs us that for the same reasons Jews requested and obtained exemption from Lucius Lentulus. Elsewhere he relates that when the Jews were bidden to leave the city of Rome some were enrolled in military service, others were punished because they would not serve on account of respect for the laws of their forefathers, that is, for the reasons which we have mentioned.
Sometimes there was also a third reason, that they thought they would have to fight against those of their own people; but from their point of view ‘to take up arms against those of their own people was a crime,’ especially at a time when men of their own people were risking their lives in order to keep the law of their forefathers. Whenever the Jews were able to safeguard themselves against these disadvantages, they would engage in military service even under foreign kings, but ‘continuing in the practices of their forefathers and living in accordance with their statutes’; and this they were accustomed to stipulate in advance, as we know on the authority of Josephus.
Very similar to these hazards are those which Tertullian urges against the military service of his day. In the book On Idolatry he says: ‘Incompatible are the oath of allegiance to God and that to man, the standard of Christ and the standard of the Devil’; the reason is that soldiers were bidden to take oath in the name of the gods of the nations, as Jupiter, Mars, and other divinities. But in the book On the Soldier’s Chaplet he writes: ‘Shall he keep guard in front of temples whose worship he has abjured, and sup in a place not acceptable to the Apostle, and defend by night those whom in the daytime he has put to flight by means of exorcisms? ‘A little further on he adds: ‘How many other things can be descried among the offences arising from the activities of the camp, which must be regarded as transgressions?’
4. In the third place we note that the Christians of the earliest time were fired by so great zeal to attain to the most excellent things that they often interpreted divine counsels as commands. ‘The Christians,’ says Athenagoras, ‘do not avail themselves of judicial procedure against those who seize their property.’ Salvianus asserts that we are enjoined by Christ to abandon things which are the subject of a lawsuit, provided only we get rid of litigation. And yet that principle, thus broadly stated, is a matter of counsel, and a concern of the higher life; it was not laid down as a command.
The case is similar in respect to the taking of an oath, which most of the early Christians disapprove without making any exception, although Paul used an oath, on an important occasion. The Christian in Tatian says: ‘I refuse the office of praetor’; in Tertullian we read, ‘The Christian does not aspire to the aedileship.’ In like manner Lactantius declares that the just man, such as he wishes the Christian to be, will not engage in war; but at the same time and in the same way he declares that the just man will not travel on the sea. How many of the early writers try to dissuade Christians from second marriages. All the things recommended are praiseworthy, excellent, and in a high degree pleasing to God; but they are not exacted of us by the required observance of any law.
These observations, then, will be adequate to meet the objections which are urged.
5. In order to establish our case, first, on our side there is no lack of writers, and very early writers, too, who hold the opinion that both capital punishment and war, the legitimacy of which depends on the justification of capital punishment, may be lawfully resorted to by Christians. For Clement of Alexandria says that the Christian, if he is summoned to power, as Moses was, will be for his subjects a living law, and that he will reward the good, inflict punishment on the bad. And elsewhere, describing the dress of the Christian, he says that it is seemly for a man to go barefoot, unless perchance he be in military service. In the Constitutions which bear the name of Clement of Rome we read (Book VII, chap. 3): ‘Not as though all putting to death were unlawful, but only that of an innocent person; nevertheless, even when justifiable, this has been reserved for magistrates alone.’
6. But let us leave the expressions of opinion by individuals and come to the authoritative public practice of the church, which ought to be of very great weight. I say, then, that men engaged in military service have never been refused baptism, or excommunicated from the Church; nevertheless such action ought to have been taken, and would have been taken, if military service had been irreconcilable with the provisions of the New Covenant.
In the Constitutions just quoted (Book VIII, chap. 22), the writer treats of those who in the olden days were from time to time admitted to baptism, or excluded from it: ‘Let the soldier who asks for baptism be taught to abstain from unjust acts and false accusations, and to be content with his wages. If he obey these instructions, let him be admitted.’ Tertullian in his Apology, speaking in the name of the Christians, says: ‘We sail with you and we engage in military service with you.’ A little before he had said: ‘We are not of you, and we have filled all places belonging to you, your cities, islands, fortified posts, towns, places of assembly, even your camps.’ In the same book he had related that in answer to the prayers of Christian soldiers a rainstorm was sent to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In the Chaplet he says that the soldier who had cast away his chaplet manifested a more steadfast courage than his brethren, and shows that the man had many fellow soldiers who were Christians.
7. Furthermore, there were some soldiers who, having suffered tortures and death for Christ, received from the Church the same honor as the other martyrs. Among them are mentioned three companions of Paul; Cerialis under Decius, and Marinus under Valerian; fifty soldier martyrs under Aurelian; Victor, Maurus, and Valentine, a chief of soldiers, under Maximian, and about the same time Marcellus the centurion; and Severianus, under Licinius. In regard to Laurentinus and Ignatius, natives of Africa, Cyprian writes:
They once served as soldiers in the warfare of this world, but afterward as true and spiritual soldiers of God they routed the Devil by confessing Christ, and through martyrdom won the palms and glorious crowns bestowed by the Lord.
From all this it is clear what opinion the body of Christians held in regard to military service, even before there were Christian emperors.
8. It ought not to seem strange if in those times Christians did not willingly take part in criminal proceedings, since very frequently judgement was to be passed upon Christians themselves. There is the further consideration that in respect to other matters also the Roman laws were harsher than accorded with Christian lenity; this is evident enough from a single instance, the senatus consultum Silanianum. But after Constantine began to view the Christian religion with approval and advance its interests, the infliction of capital punishment did not on that account cease. Constantine himself, in fact, among other laws promulgated a law in regard to sewing up parricides in a leather bag, and this law is extant in the Code, in the title Concerning those who have killed Parents or Children; although, for the rest, in inflicting punishments Constantine was exceedingly mild, so that he is criticized by not a few historical writers because of his excessive leniency.’ Also he had in his army a great many Christians, as history teaches us, and he inscribed the name of Christ upon his banner. In consequence the military oath also was changed into the form which is found in Vegetius: ‘By God and Christ and the Holy Spirit, and by the Majesty of the Emperor, which, next after God, ought to be for mankind the object of love and respect.’
9. And at that time among so many bishops, of whom a number had passed through the most cruel sufferings for their religion, we do not read that there was a single one who by arousing fear of the wrath of God sought to deter either Constantine from inflicting the death penalty and engaging in war, or Christians from military service; this, too, in face of the fact that a great many of the bishops were very alert guardians of discipline, and not at all disposed to hold back any suggestion regarding the duty either of the emperors or of other persons. Such a bishop, in the time of Theodosius, was Ambrose, who in his seventh discourse speaks as follows: ‘To serve as a soldier is not an offence, but to serve as a soldier in order to obtain booty is a sin’; and in his work On Duties he says, ‘Bravery, which by means of war defends one’s native land from barbarians, or at home protects the weak, or safeguards one’s associates from brigands, is complete justice.’ This argument seems to me to be of so great force that I do not need to add anything to it.
10. Nevertheless I am not unmindful of the fact that frequently bishops and Christian people by interposing their supplications have averted punishments, and death penalties especially; also that the custom had been introduced that they who had taken refuge in a church, should not be given up except under a pledge that their lives would be spared, and that about Easter time those who were being kept in prison on account of their crimes should be set free. But he who will take the pains to weigh all the facts cited, and others like them, will find that these are the manifestations of Christian goodness which seizes every opportunity to show mercy, not of a spirit that condemns all judicial proceedings involving the death penalty. Hence such kindnesses, and even intercessions, were restricted by various exceptions1 arising from both place and time.
11. At this point in opposition to the view advocated by us some present the twelfth canon of the Council of Nicaea, which runs as follows:
Those who, having been called by grace, at first manifested their zeal and faith and laid off their soldier’s belt, but afterward returned as dogs to their vomit, some even having given money and offered inducements in order to get back into military service let them, after having been hearers for three years, remain in penitence for ten years. In the case of all of them, however, it is needful that the purpose and the manner of their repentance be kept in view. They who through fear, and tears, and long-suffering, and good works do show forth a sincere conversion shall, on completing their term as hearers, be permitted to take part in the prayers, and after that it shall be permissible for the bishop to be more kindly disposed toward them. But they that have acted with indifference, and have thought that the formality of entering a church was alone sufficient for conversion, are to complete the appointed term without any reduction.
The period of thirteen years clearly enough indicates that we are here dealing not with a fault that is trivial or open to question but with a serious and undoubted offence.
12. Now the matter here dealt with is beyond doubt idolatry. For the mention of the times of Licinius in the eleventh canon, which precedes, ought to be considered as silently repeated in this canon. It often happens that the meaning of canons which follow depends on the meaning of those which precede; for an example reference may be made to the eleventh canon of the Council of Elvira.
Licinius, in fact, in the words of Eusebius, ‘forced men out of military service unless they would offer sacrifice to the gods.’ His example was afterward imitated by Julian, and for that reason Victricius and others, we read, cast away the soldier’s belt for Christ. The same thing had been done previously, under Diocletian, by eleven hundred and four soldiers in Armenia, of whom mention is made in the martyrologies, and in Egypt by Mennas and Hesychius. Under such conditions in the time of Licinius many cast away their belts; among them was Arsacius, who is named among the confessors, and Auxentius, who afterward became bishop of Mopsuestia.
In consequence, soldiers who, pricked in conscience, had once cast away their belts, could not return to military service under Licinius except by adjuring their Christian faith; and since that step was all the more reprehensible for the reason that their former act evidenced in them a fuller knowledge of the divine law, such backsliders are punished more severely even than those dealt with in the preceding canon, who had renounced Christianity without running any risk of the loss of life or of property. To interpret the canon which we have quoted as referring broadly to all military service is altogether unreasonable. History in fact plainly testifies that those who had renounced military service under Licinius, and, in order that they might not do violence to their Christian faith, had not returned to it while Licinius was in power, received from Constantine an option, to remain exempt from military service if they so desired, or to return to military service; beyond doubt many chose the latter alternative.
13. Some urge in opposition also the letter of Leo, which says ‘It is contrary to the rules of the Church, after an act of penitence, to return to secular service of arms.’ But we must know that in the case of penitents no less than in that of the clergy and ascetics there was required a mode of life not merely Christian, but of conspicuous holiness, in order that their example might be as effective for correction as it had previously been for the committing of sin.’ Similarly in the most ancient formulated customs of the Church which, to render them more acceptable through a more impressive name, were commonly called the Apostolic Canons, in the eighty-second canon the rule is laid down: ‘Let no bishop, priest or deacon devote himself to the profession of arms, and at the same time remain in the service of Rome and retain his priestly function. To Caesar belong the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ By this very statement it is made clear that Christians who did not aspire to the honor of the clerical profession were not forbidden to engage in military service.
14. It was, furthermore, forbidden to admit to the clerical profession those who, after baptism, had taken office as magistrates or had assumed military responsibilities, as may be seen in the letters of Syricius and Innocent, and in the canons of the Council of Toledo. Candidates for orders, as we know, were chosen not from among Christians of any and every sort but only from among those who had presented an example of the most correct life. Again, the obligation imposed by military service and by some magistracies was permanent; but those who were set aside for the sacred office were not to allow themselves to be distracted by any outside responsibility or daily task. For this reason the sixth canon ordered that no bishop, priest or deacon should administer secular interests, the eightieth that they should not become involved in public administration. The sixth of the African canons ordered that they should not assume charge of the interests of others, or the defense of others’ causes. Consistently with this decree Cyprian thinks it altogether wrong for these officers of the Church to be appointed guardians.
15. In support of our view we have the clearly formulated judgement of the Church in the first Council of Arles, which was held under Constantine. The third canon of that Council reads thus: ‘In regard to those who cast away their arms in time of peace, it was decreed that they abstain from the communion.’ This has reference to those who deserted from the army in times when there was no persecution; for that is what Christians meant by the term peace, as is apparent from Cyprian and others. There is the further example of the soldiers under Julian, whose progress in Christianity was so great that they were ready to bear witness to Christ by their death. Ambrose speaks of them in these words:
The Emperor Julian, although an apostate, nevertheless had Christian soldiers under him. When he said to them, ‘Go into battle in defense of the state,’ they were obedient to him; but when he would say to them, ‘Bear arms against Christians,’ they recognized as their leader the ruler of heaven.
Such spirit long before had been manifested by the Theban legion, which in the reign of Diocletian had received the Christian religion from Zabdas, thirtieth bishop of Jerusalem, and afterward gave an example of Christian steadfastness and long-suffering memorable for all time. To this example we shall refer later.
16. Here it may suffice to quote the utterance of the members of the Theban legion, which with compact brevity sets forth the duty of the Christian soldier:
To oppose any foe whatsoever we offer our hands, which we deem it impious to stain with the blood of the innocent. Our right hands themselves know how to fight against wicked men and enemies; they do not know how to tear in pieces righteous men and fellow citizens. We remember that we took up arms on behalf of citizens rather than against citizens. We have always fought on behalf of justice, on behalf of loyalty, on behalf of the safety of the innocent; up to the present time this has been the reward for our dangers. We have fought on behalf of the faith; and how are we to keep our faith toward you the words are addressed to the Emperor if we do not show forth faith toward God?
Basil spoke thus of the Christians of the earlier time:
Slayings in war our ancestors did not consider as murder; they considered that those who fight in defense of virtue and righteousness are absolved.