The Christian case against war
A ministry of reconciliation, love and nonviolence is at the core of Gospel teaching. The just war theory is one of the few Christian doctrines that lacks scriptural or dominical authority.
Although Robin Gill rightly looks back to Aquinas, Aquinas was writing in the period shortly after major crusades had won the fulsome blessing of the church. The crusade theology ignored the universalistic message of Christ, positively endorsed violence as an acceptable method of settling disputes and dehumanised the opposition. The just war approach tried to civilise warfare.
The early fathers do not often write directly about war. For them Jesus was Lord and so joining the Roman army, which would involve emperor worship, was unacceptable. When they do touch on it, there is an overwhelming pacifist witness. Justin Martyr states that ‘we have changed out instruments of war, our swords into ploughshares and our spears into farming tools and we cultivate piety, justice and love of humanity’. Tertullian wrote, ‘is it right to occupy oneself with the sword when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace…be engaged in battle?’ For Tertullian when Jesus disarmed Peter at Gethsemane He disarmed all soldiers.
St Martin took the view that when he became a soldier of Christ it was not lawful for him to fight.
Successive Lambeth conferences declared that war is contrary to the mind of Christ. One of the marks of mission includes challenging violence of every kind and pursuing peace and reconciliation.
Gospel nonviolence inspired Martin Luther King.
In a nuclear age there is a very strong preferential option for nonviolence as the consequences of the widescale use of weapons of mass destruction are horrific. Pope Francis has been clear in his witness against war.
Among the practical outworkings of such a Christian witness would be a major increase in expenditure on non-military defence, including training in nonviolent civilian resistance, renunciation of the possession with a conditional intent to use of weapons of mass destruction, a transition away from arms manufacture, a very serious challenge to Christians staffing and maintaining the Trident submarine fleet and British weapons of mass destruction and a continuing questioning as to whether serving in the armed forces and following Christ are compatible.
Fr David Mumford,
Innerwick, Dunbar EH42 1EF
A very nice Platinum Jubilee edition of ND – well done!
The Rev Dr Robert Beaken
Catsfield, Battle TN33 9DR