The Early Church: Not as Pacifist as Some Would Have us Believe

June 30, 2018

“The Early Church: Not as Pacifist as Some Would Have us Believe,” first appeared in the March/April 2017 edition of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.  You can read it in full here.

 

Following a recent gathering in Rome sponsored by Pax Christi International, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and a number of other international Catholic organizations, educators and activists from all over the world issued a statement calling, among other things, for the Church to “no longer use or teach ‘just war theory.’”  In its place, they proposed, the Church should commit itself to “a Just Peace approach based on Gospel Nonviolence.”  Specifically, the conference participants called for Pope Francis to issue an encyclical on nonviolence, integrate Gospel nonviolence into the life and work of the Church, promote nonviolent practices and strategies, and initiate a global conversation on nonviolence. Although the concluding conference statement does not mention it explicitly, one of the main arguments behind this call to abandon the Catholic Just War tradition and embrace in its place the centrality of Gospel nonviolence is the claim that, before its “Constantinian fall”, the Church uniformly preached and practiced an ethic of Gospel nonviolence. Indeed, in the run-up to the conference Terrence Rynne, professor of Peace Studies at Marquette University and one of the conference participants published an essay in the online version of the National Catholic Reporter in which he argued in favor of abandoning Catholic Just War Theory on several grounds, including the argument that the early Church – that is, the Church as it existed prior to the Constantinian settlement– proved that an absolute commitment to nonviolence is not only desirable (in the sense that it reflects the true teachings of Christ), but practical as well.  As he put it, for “the first three-plus centuries of the early church, Christians followed the nonviolent, positive way taught by Jesus.  They demonstrated that it was not dreamy idealism, but politically effective.”  According to Professor Rynne, the witness of the early Christians through nonviolent resistance and martyrdom was so compelling that it ultimately resulted in the conversion of the entire Roman Empire to the Christian faith.  He concluded from this that nonviolence and “positive peace” should replace Catholic Just War Theory as basic Church teaching with respect to war and peace.

 

What are we to make of this claim?  Or, put slightly differently, what are we to make of the assertion that during the first three-plus centuries of the early Church, Christians embraced nonviolence in both theory and practice?...  You can read the rest here.  

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