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“A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it.” – C. S. Lewis
Pacifism is one of three historic attitudes of the church toward war. In some form it has existed throughout the entire history of the Christian church. Since the fourth century it has often been overshadowed by the just war theory and the concept of crusade, or aggressive war for a holy cause. The early church was pacifist. Prior to A.D. 170-80 there are no records of soldiers in the Roman army. Following that epoch there are both Christians in the army and also writings which opposed the practice from church fathers such as Tertullian. Some Christian writers sanctioned police functions and military service, provided these did not entail bloodshed and killing. Under Emperor Constantine, who closely identified the interests of the empire with the interests of Christianity, Christian soldiers were common. During the rule of Theodosius II only Christians could serve as soldiers.
When confronted by the barbarian invasions that seemed to threaten Roman civilization and thus the Christianity identified with it, Augustine of Hippo developed the idea, rooted in Roman Stoic philosophy and first given a Christian formulation by Ambrose, which has come to be called the just war theory. It intended not to advocate war but to limit the conditions under which Christians could participate in war, accepting it as an unfortunately necessary tool for preserving the civilization to which Christianity belonged. Since Augustine some form of the just war theory has been the majority position of most Christian traditions.
In the Middle Ages the idea of the crusade developed from another attempt by the church to limit warfare. The peace of God and the truce of God limited times for fighting and banned clerical participation in war. To enforce these limitations the church itself came to conduct warring activity. This act associated war with a holy cause, namely the enforcement of peace. This association developed into the crusades, the holy cause of rescuing the
Holy Land from the Moslems. Pope Urban II preached the first crusade in 1095. In either religious or secular versions the crusade has been a part of the church’s tradition ever since.
All Protestant churches except the Anabaptists accepted the inherited tradition of the just war. Luther identified two kingdoms, of God and of the world. While he rejected the idea of crusade, his respect for the state as ordained by God to preserve order and to punish evil in the worldly realm made him a firm supporter of the just war approach. The Reformed tradition accepted the crusade concept, seeing the state not only as the preserver of order but also as a means of furthering the cause of true religion. Zwingli died in a religious war; Calvin left the door open to rebellion against an unjust ruler; and Beza developed not only the right but the duty of Christians to revolt against tyranny. Cromwell’s pronouncement of divine blessing on the massacre of Catholics at
Drogheda illustrates the crusade idea in English Puritanism.
Pacifism encompasses many kinds of oppositions to war, deriving support from a variety of overlapping philosophical, theological, and biblical sources, not all of which are explicitly Christian.
Pacifism may proceed from various pragmatic and utitarian arguments. Consideration of the destructiveness of modern warfare and the realization that it fails to resolve conflicts can lead to the conclusion that avoidance of war best serves the interests of humanity at all levels, from the individual person to the human race as a whole. The threat of nuclear war has given these arguments particular weight in recent times, resulting in what has been called nuclear pacifism.
Pacifism informs or is an outgrowth of a number of social and political strategies. Some argue that political measures such as the negotiation of nuclear weapons bans and promotion of international cooperation are more effective than war in promoting peace. Nonviolent techniques attempt not only to prevent the outbreak of violence but also to move society, even against its will, toward a more just disposition. Notable examples are the efforts of Gandhi and the movement of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the
United States to acquire civil rights for black people.
As the dominant view of the early church pacifism stands squarely within the Christian tradition and has theological and biblical bases more specific to Christianity. Pacifists appeal to the authority of the Bible, using specific texts such as the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount. The incarnation and the priestly office of Jesus make his specific teachings authoritative and therefore binding on his followers. Pacifism also finds support in broader biblical injunctions such as the call to express God’s love to all persons or to witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Read the entire essay by J. D. Weaver at
I have four poems in the August issue of Flutter: An Online Poetry Magazine. The first three, “Ode To a Passionflower,” “Then I Wander,” and “In the Forest Below” are from Windows Toward the World, a manuscript still in progress. “At Evensong” is from my new chapbook, Paper Snowflakes, due to be released soon from Southern Hum Press. Chapbooks can be preordered at this link.
To go directly to the poems press here.
The Trumpet of Conscience. 1967. Reprint, with a foreword by Coretta Scott King. San Francisco: Harper and Rowe Publishers, 1968. OOP. ISBN 0-06-250492-4.
all chapters but the first are in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and
Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James Melvin Washington. San
Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986. readily available. ISBN 0-06-064691-8
Conscience For Change. Canadian Broadcasting Company. 1967. 4 audiocassettes. Re-released 2001. ISBN 0-660-18329-3
The Trumpet of Conscience consists of four speeches and a final sermon on peace. Both the vision and the moral content of these speeches are as relevant today as they were in 1967. These speeches, given five and six months before his death, show King’s observations concerning the state of the world, his analysis of the status quo. Never wavering from his commitment to nonviolent confrontation, King poses hard questions and makes us think deeply.
“It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of true humility and its power in the spiritual life. For the beginning of humility is the beginning of blessedness and the consummation of humility is the perfection of all joy. Humility contains in itself the answer to all the great problems of the life of the soul. It is the only key to faith, with which the spiritual life begins: for faith and humility are inseparable. In perfect humility all selfishness disappears and your soul no longer lives for itself or in itself for God: and it is lost and submerged in Him and transformed into Him.”
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York 1961: Page 181
This posting was inspired by my brother Jack at Bereans.
Gathering the Broken Pieces
Life flows free in that place
where droplets glisten, where
released their rains.
fingers a part I cannot touch,
soaking deep to the very root, tenderly,
anointing a once-slavish soul.
After the surrender, life:
a gathering of broken pieces.
Stillness? Is that the home
from which I dare not wander?
Today—light, and the spattering
of a wet fern:
in that place I will bask,
though not yet fully yielded,
radiant, in the spring of
First published in Domicile
These are profoundly divisive times, when hope for negotiations has given way to despair and bombs, and the slow and painful work of building civil society is crumbling before those who choose the language of brutality and hate. How many more innocents shall we sacrifice on the altar of “justified” war?
We mourn for the newest victims of violence in the Middle East. Close to 500 civilians now lie in fresh graves in Lebanon, Israel, and Gaza. Twenty percent of Lebanese have become refugees, $4 billion in infrastructure has been destroyed in Lebanon, and the population of northern Israel is residing in bomb shelters.
In this time of escalating violence, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) calls on our government to work for an immediate cease-fire. Nothing good can be accomplished by authorizing the relentless progress of death.
Read the rest of the article from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)
The Dynamics of the Spiritual Life
Our emotional lives and our spiritual lives have different dynamics. The ups and downs of our emotional life depend a great deal on our past or present surroundings. We are happy, sad, angry, bored, excited, depressed, loving, caring, hateful, or vengeful because of what happened long ago or what is happening now.
The ups and downs of our spiritual lives depend on our obedience – that is, our attentive listening – to the movements of the Spirit of God within us. Without this listening our spiritual life eventually becomes subject to the windswept waves of our emotions.
Several times on this blog I have mentioned studying poetry at Wake Forest University with Jane Mead. Jane is a wonderfully talented poet and teacher who has written two books of poetry, The Lord and the General Din of the World (Sarabande Books, 1996) and House of Pored-Out Waters (University of Illinois, 2001). Winner of a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Kathryn A Morton Prize from Sarabande Books, a Completion Grant from the Lnnan Foundation, and a Guggenheim Fellow, she is poet of great merit.
I have missed Jane greatly during the past few years, while she has been living in Napa, California, where, since the death of her feather, she manages her family’s ranch. Jane has been back to Winston-Salem for a couple of brief periods to conduct short poetry workshops at Wake Forest. As a teacher, she has not only made a tremendous influence on my writing, but I also consider her a personal friend.
Today I would like to introduce my readers to one of Jane Mead’s poems, “Concerning That Prayer I Cannot Make,” taken from The Lord and the General Din of the World. (Be sure to follow the link to read the rest of the poem)
Jesus, I am cruely lonely
and I do not know what I have done
not do I supect that you will answer me.
And,what is more . . . (read the entire poem at Alsop Review)
Other poems may be found at The Poets on Alsop Review and by clicking on Jane Mead.
“…the gate of heaven is everywhere”.
From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton