War, Christian Views of

War, Christian Views Of.

I. History of Opinion The question whether war is allowable to Christians divides itself into two, which are intimately related to each other: (a) Is it right for a Christian government to carry on war? and (b) is a Christian subject obliged to serve as a soldier? Christianity always breathes the spirit of peace among individuals and nations, and likewise the spirit of freedom and personal respect, yet never by command does it do away with either slavery or war, nor does it forbid civil government using the sword. The objections of early Christians to serve in war were based principally upon the text "Whosoever sheddeth blood," etc. But there were also other reasons. The early Christians did not feel obligated to serve a government that constantly persecuted them, and they also dreaded the idolatry connected with the service of war. Tertullian forbids serving as a common soldier, although such were not so imperatively required to engage in idolatry as we-re those of higher rank; yet it was sufficient for Tertullian to know that the Roman ensigns bore images and pictures of idols (see Tertull. De Idololatria, c. 19; De Corona Militis, c. 11; Apol. c. 42; Ad Scapulam, c. 4). Notwithstanding these objections, a great many Christians served as soldiers. The conversion of Constantine and the exchange of the idol standards for the banner of the Cross laid every Christian under obligations to serve as a soldier; the interests of the Church and State having now become common.

Augustine speaks of himself as holding no conscientious scruples concerning Christians serving as soldiers (Ep. 138, ad Marcellinum, 12). The opinions of the early Christians do not entirely disapprove military service except in reference to the clergy. The opinion of Origen is now limited to the clergy (Cont. Celsum, 7:73, 74); In the Romish Church the clergy assume the same attitude that the earlier Christians held, namely, that the services of the sanctuary forbid the shedding of blood; yet they hold that the more closely Church and State are united, the more justifiable is war. Referring, also, to the Old Test. and to the Church fathers, they make the following distinctions: (1) prosecution of war in itself is no sin; (2) the clergy are not personally to handle the sword, although they may. incite others to do so. This was the doctrine of the Middle Ages, and has continued, to a great extent, the doctrine of the Romish Church to-day (Richter, 4 § 94, note 12).

Yet the oft-repeated threatenings and rebukes in early Christian documents .(Apost. Can. 82, c. 4, 23, qu. 8; Cone. Tolet. 4, 100, 45, ann. 633; Conc. Meldense, c. 37, ann. 845; 100, 2, 10; 100, 25, 10:5, 39) indicate that the warlike inclinations of many of the clergy transgressed one of the above rules. Athanasius already lamented that bishops engaged in war. There were three causes that produced this spirit: (a) zealotism, which was anxious to exterminate heretics; (b) self-defense in case of necessity; (c) the feudal system (see Ziegler, Συδη ρόξυλον Ecclesiasticum [Wittenberg, 1672]). In the time of Chrysostom the monks traveled in large companies from place to place with imperial authority to exterminate heathenism; and that which had a rough unsystematic commencement became very effectually systematized in after-ages. During the crusades bishops became renowned as military men (Raumer, libhenstaufen, ch.1); and these holy wars were carried on by the Church to such an extent that it became part, so to speak, of the Church itself, in the form of the different orders of knights. This warlike spirit became so common among the clergy that whenever anything was to be gained, they were ever ready for war.

The question as to whether individuals are obligated to serve as soldiers depends largely upon the government of the country in which they live. So far as the Evangelical Church is concerned in the question whether war is allowable to Christians, we have sufficient proof that the Reformers believed it to be right for Christians to use the sword. The Augsburg Confession refers to this subject in art. 16 ("Docent quod Christianis liceat jure bellare"). Only a few small sects are opposed to Christians engaging in war. The evangelical doctrine has generally been on the affirmative side of the question (see Reinhard, Moracl. § 244, 302; Aumon, Handb. d. christl. Sitenlehre, § 181, Harless, Christl. Ethik, p. 250). Schleiermacher (Die christl. Sitte, p. 273) contends that every, individual is bound to obedience when a call to war is made; so also Hegel, "The agitation of war purifies a nation" (Rechtsphilos. p. 324). The Evangelical Church at large has no ban against clergy serving in war. —Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 8:81 sq.

II. Dogmatic View. — These modern opinions in defense of warfare, however, have evidently grown out of a desire to conciliate the civil power, and are clearly opposed to the ancient Christian doctrine and to the whole spirit of the Gospel, as well as to specific precepts in the New Test. (Mt 5:39; Ro 12:17-21. etc.). The appeal to a few passages is futile against this (e.g. Lu 22:26; comp. Mt 26:52. Ro 13:4 refers only to magisterial or municipal justice). The lame effort to avoid the force especially of Christ's command may be strikingly seen in Stier's inconclusive argument (Words of the Lord Jesus: [Amer. ed.], 1, 74), who contends that because they live in an evil world Christians are justified in resorting to arms; as if two wrongs made one right! Doubtless all men have a natural and even a political right to take up arms in a just cause; but as Christians they are required to hold these rights in abeyance, and trust to the divine protection. Whether in absolute self-defense they may not exert physical force, even to the extent of homicide, may, indeed, be left an open question; but warfare, as usually carried on by nations, scarcely ever comes under this extreme category. On the other hand, no humane much less godly man, can look abroad at the diabolism of war, as systematically practiced in ancient or modern times, without the most intense horror and deprecation. That lie should deliberately enter upon such a course of action, involving, as it must, not only the immense destruction of human life and property, but also the ruin and misery of helpless and innocent families, cannot for a moment be reconciled with the impulses of philanthropy, much less with the principles of Christianity, which teach universal love and beneficence. To justify such conduct from considerations of personal, local, or temporary advantage, or even of national gain and advancement, is clearly to adopt the damnable doctrine that "we may do evil in order that good may come" (Ro 3:8). Least of all call a Christian consistently adopt warfare as a profession, and hold himself subject to even his country's call in any cause, without the privilege of deciding for himself the justice of the quarrel.

Casuists have usually relieved the Christian conscience in such cases by throwing the responsibility of war upon "the powers that be," i.e. the civil or military authorities; in other words, the government itself. But such a course of reasoning would excuse the Christian in committing any enormity, even idolatry, at the dictation of secular or political rulers. The will of a majority under democratic or republican government makes no essential difference in this responsibility. Each man must act for himself in the fear of God in moral cases.

III. Schemes for the Abolition of War. — The invention of gunpowder and recent improvements in artillery, while they have greatly shortened the periods of warfare, have immensely increased its destructiveness. Hence victory now usually depends rather upon numbers, equipment, and strategic skill than upon personal bravery. At the same time, arbitration has more frequently been resorted to, in settlement of national disputes, instead of the sword. Still the history of the present century, and the "armed neutrality" of the nations, especially of Europe at the present time, do not favor the hope that war will soon be abandoned in such cases. On this continent likewise, and within the existing generation, we have had fearful evidence of the liability to this dernier ressort. The methods by which philanthriopists and statesmen have proposed to supersede the necessity of a recourse to arms in modern times are chiefly two, aside from the usual efforts of diplomatic correspondence and the intervention of arbitrament.

1. Peace Congresses. — These are conventions of representatives from allied, or interested nations, to which have been referred, or which have voluntarily assumed, the discussion and adjustment of difficulties between particular states. An account of them may be found at length in a recent work (Amos, Political and Legal Remedies for War [N.Y. 1880]), from which it does not appear that this method has been particularly successful in preventing the occurrence of war. It is to be hoped, however, that, as the principles of international law extend and are more generally recognized, this means of averting collisions between contiguous as well as remote nations may become more efficacious.

2. Peace Societies. — These are purely voluntary associations, which labor in moral and social lines to promote harmony and fraternity among the peoples of the earth, especially in civilized lands, and thus aim privately and gradually to extinguish the spirit of animosity and contest. The exciting scenes of "the Eastern question," the Franco-German struggle in Europe, and the rebellion in this country have greatly retarded the success of this movement. Nevertheless, organizations of this kind have been in operation for many years in Great Britain, and others in the United States, which are securely but lowly laying the foundation for a future reform on this subject. As in the case of the temperance movement, the passions and habits of mankind are in the opposite direction, and hence the effort must be protracted and even precarious. But the enlarged views of modern statesmanship, together with the increasing ties that bind nations together, must continue to supplement the moral arguments advanced in favor of the abolition of war, so that we may anticipate an eventual millennium in this as well as in the general diffusion of the Gospel.

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