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Waging Peace - War, Christianity, & the Divine Order
Touchstone Magazine ^ | October, 2002 | Louis R. Tarsitano

Posted on 01/12/2003 11:17:37 AM PST by Salem

Waging Peace
War, Christianity, & the Divine Order

by Louis R. Tarsitano

I hesitate to mention the "works" of Sylvester Stallone, but back in 1993, in the days when many historians were discussing "the end of history" and the "inevitable triumph" of democracy, he made a movie called Demolition Man. The movie was rather funny, in a crude sort of way, since it told the story of a future, pacifistic, academically designed society suddenly faced with a mad-dog killer. In order to save itself, this politically correct Utopia had to thaw out a brutish, violent policeman from cryogenic storage, on the strength of the theory that it takes a ruthless killer to stop a ruthless killer.

As of September 11, 2001, the end of history appears to have been indefinitely postponed. Jokes about political correctness have also lost their charm, as clergyman after clergyman (not to mention the new breed of clergypersons) has climbed into the pulpit to caution us that we must avoid violence, understand our enemies’ anger, turn the other cheek, and think pleasant thoughts about the redistribution of wealth until the war goes away.

This sort of thing did not happen in my own parish, by the way. First of all, I don’t agree with it. Second of all, my parishioners are sensible people, and I would have been lynched. I am ashamed to admit, however, that most of the clerical leaders of Western Christianity lined up to invite Western civilization to schedule its own wake and funeral. Their gormless inability to interact with reality has even revived the Demolition Man scenario, if in a slightly more sophisticated way.


A Pagan Ethos?

In January, Robert D. Kaplan, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, published his answer to our cultural weakness, a book entitled Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. I don’t disagree with Kaplan that the clergy or their academic and political equivalents have been childish and basically immoral in their failure to comprehend the necessity of force to preserve Western civilization in a hostile world. Nor can I disagree with him that human nature is corrupt and violent. As a Christian who believes in Original Sin, I could hardly believe anything else.

But there’s the rub. Because I am a Christian, I also cannot accept his analysis that it is biblical Judaism and biblical Christianity that have left the West morally flabby, or that a return to paganism is the cure. Edward Gibbon made much the same case for Christianity’s manhood-sapping effect in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the most beautifully written book with which I have ever had to disagree, but in the two centuries since Gibbon wrote, the Enlightenment jettison of biblical Christianity as a basis for our civilization has neither led to a revival of the Classical component of our culture nor produced a sturdier civic virtue.

On the contrary, romantic paganism and the Enlightenment are the problem—the sources of our intellectual and moral debility today. It is a fine thing to study Classical authors, whom every educated person ought to have read, but it is foolishness to forget that we possess them today only because Christian monks read them, appreciated them, and copied them. One needn’t be a pagan to learn from Livy, Caesar, or Tacitus about the conduct of war. Nor are the ten centuries between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance silent about civic duty or the intelligent use of force. Half an education, whether encouraged by neo-pagans or by Christians ignorant of their own traditions, is not enough either to understand or to defend Western culture.

Meanwhile, the Enlightenment insistence on inevitable progress and on the mind of man as the measure of all things has undercut any sort of instruction by the past, pagan or Christian. Furthermore, the Enlightenment focus on the mind inclines toward a contempt, or at least a lack of concern, for the physical world and its duties. The human body itself becomes a mere instrument of amoral pleasure, to be protected from pain or societal obligations.


A Newfangled Peace

St. Anselm’s "I believe that I may understand" (d. 1109) becomes Descartes’s "I think, therefore I am" (d. 1650). Without a reference outside himself, deracinated "modern man" produces a newfangled definition of "peace": "an absence of war, achieved by the rational efforts of mankind." It follows from this definition that if nobody fights, or fights back when attacked, there will be no war, and mankind will have established "peace" on earth, and all without the need of the Prince of Peace. The homiletic capitulation of the clergy to "peace as the absence of war" may make them modern men, but it also leaves them no kind of Christians.

I recognize the harshness of this accusation, as well as the existence of a heroic tradition of Christian pacifism. But pacifism has always been a fringe movement in Christianity, and true pacifists, willing to die without defending themselves or their families, have been somewhat rare. (Few of today’s self-styled pacifists would pass this test—withhold their paychecks and see what they do next.)

Let us, therefore, be very clear. The Christian religion, as taught by the Scriptures, the church fathers, the medieval Schoolmen, and the Reformation divines, is not a species of pacifism. On the contrary, Christian morality is a system of obligations owed both to God and to man, imposed and abetted by the grace of God. One of these obligations, in particular, is the duty to make war, when warfare is necessary and unavoidable.


The Duty of War

A simple summary of this consistent Christian doctrine regarding war may be found in the Articles of Religion of the Church of England, adopted in their present form in 1571: "It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons and serve in the wars." Behind this summary lies the whole history of what is called "the just war doctrine."

Some, of course, will protest that the Bible teaches "Thou shalt not kill" and think that they have put an end to the matter. But the Scripture doesn’t say this at all, even though the Sixth Commandment (the Fifth, in the Roman reckoning) is mistranslated in most English versions of the Bible, including the Authorized Version. The original Hebrew says, as the traditional Book of Common Prayer renders it correctly, "Thou shalt do no murder." The Hebrew word at issue is ratsach, and it means "murder"—to kill another human being for malice, personal gain, or perverse pleasure.

Someone else might counter that a different, higher standard applies in the New Testament, where "all is love." The same God governs both Testaments, however, which form together a single, inspired expression of his will. It is the New Testament, moreover, that establishes the Christian doctrine of the just war. St. Paul writes to the Romans, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1). He goes on to add about the king/magistrate: "For he is the 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 the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake" (Rom. 13:4–5).

St. Peter expresses the same doctrine of the divine appointment of earthly governments to do justice and to punish evil: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Pet. 2:13–14).

From a Christian perspective, therefore, war is not the mere multiplication of private enmities and strifes, as so many seem to believe in our overly personalized and self-centered age. War is a positive duty of nations, administered by those who have received the divine calling to govern, for the purpose of correcting and punishing evil.

Such a great calling is obviously open to abuse, and it needs to be said that the apostles were not endorsing the so-called divine right of kings, but declaring the Christian obligation to respect the authority of rulers, including the power of the sword, whether those rulers are Christians or not. The king, however is God’s servant, and not his equal, and the subordination of kings to God and God’s law is the necessary context for understanding Christ’s pronouncement, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s" (Matt. 22:21). The ancient martyrs died, not because they would not obey Caesar’s laws, but because they would not worship him as a god.


Waging Peace

A Christian conscience is certainly not a blank check rendered to the state. Over the centuries, great theologians, most notably Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274), worked to define the requirements and limits of a just war. The key elements are these: (1) the declaration of war by the proper governing authorities; (2) a just cause, namely some clear and objective evil to be corrected or averted; and (3) a rightful intention on the part of those who fight, "so that they intend to advancement of good or the avoidance of evil."1

Under these rules, a Christian nation or a Christian soldier is waging war only to wage peace. Augustine explains this apparent contradiction:

Think, then, of this first of all, when you are arming for the battle, that even your bodily strength is a gift of God; for, considering this, you will not employ the gift of God against God. For if, when faith is pledged, it is to be kept even with the enemy against whom the war is waged, how much more with the friend for whom the battle is fought! Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not sought in order to the kindling of war, but war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace. (Letter 189, 6)

Just war is fought as much for the benefit of the opponent as for the benefit of one’s own nation, since to be ruled by evil men and to be engaged in doing evil at their command is the worst condition possible on earth. Thus, Augustine writes:

Those whom we have to punish with a kindly severity, it is necessary to handle in many ways against their will. For when we are stripping a man of the lawlessness of sin, it is good for him to be vanquished, since nothing is more hopeless than the happiness of sinners, whence arises a guilty impunity, and an evil will, like an internal enemy. (To Marcellinus, Letter 138, quoted in Summa Theologica 2)


Peace with God

To reduce two thousand years of thought to a few lines, Christians have traditionally held that "peace" is a right relation to God the Father, in and through Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine put the matter poetically in the opening prayer of his Confessions, where he wrote "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Aquinas put it analytically, when he defined true peace as a freedom from outward distractions in the love and enjoyment of God, who is the sole and perfect object of our love.3

Peace, therefore, is not an achievable human goal, but a divine gift of grace, to be perfected at the Second Coming, when all the distractions of sin (and the human weakness that gives them power over us) will be done away (cf. Rom. 8). Under such a definition, moreover, "an absence of war" is not necessarily peace at all. A failure by nations to fight when the weak and the helpless are harmed is actually war against God, who is Justice, Mercy, and Love.

Most important of all, to seek peace in relation to God in this way is to aspire to something more than being ruled either by the state or by self-preservation. Peace with God is love, and peace in God is love towards our neighbors, even when they are also our enemies. We helped the people of Germany and Japan when we defeated them in World War II, and we are helping the people of the Middle East now by seeking to defeat their worst enemies, whether they recognize them as enemies or not. And it is for this reason that Aquinas places his entire discussion of just war under the heading of "Charity," the divine sort of love that St. Paul describes as the greatest of all virtues (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13).


A Ministry for the Good of All

So where does that leave our soldiers today? A Christian soldier is a subordinate minister of God, deriving his authority to make war from the divine appointment of his superiors. In terms of his derived authority to act, he is little different from the Christian priest. The ministerial priest receives his authority to minister to the spiritual needs of God’s people from God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, and at the hands of his superiors in the ministry. The Christian soldier receives his authority to bear arms in a just cause from God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, and by the appointment of those earthly governors that God has made his ministers for the restraint of evil.

The spiritual ministry and the temporal ministry also have this in common: They exist for the sake of those they serve, and not as ends in themselves. The medieval system of Estates reflected this reality. The First Estate consisted of those ministers who protected the spiritual welfare of the nation. The Second Estate, second because the kingdom of God is eternal and the kingdoms of this world are temporary, included all those ministers (soldiers, constables, and so forth) who protected their nation’s physical welfare. The Third Estate was the nation itself, the commonwealth, whose people were to be protected as God’s own, and it possessed the highest dignity of all, since the members of the ministerial Estates had been called to sacrifice themselves to serve their people in the Name of God.

The principles of a just war, it must also be said, have value for any human being, and not just for Christians, since they are true whether anyone assents to them or not. These are not principles of piety or political science, but of reality. They can certainly be discovered in the Old Testament alone, and many of them, perhaps most of them, can also be derived from those common or cardinal virtues discovered by Plato and Aristotle in their contemplation of the same reality we all share by virtue of our being human: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.

The advantage to the Christian is simply this—a hope that goes beyond the nobility of self-sacrifice in a good cause and a clarity of purpose that comes from submitting to a God who leads from a Cross. A reversion to a pagan ethos to fight our wars will not make us better warriors, and it will make us poorer men. Sixteen centuries ago, when the doom of the Western Roman Empire was clear, Augustine had this to say about war:

Wherefore, let those who say that the doctrine of Christ is incompatible with the State’s well-being, give us an army composed of soldiers such as the doctrine of Christ requires them to be; let them give us such subjects, such husbands and wives, such parents and children, such masters and servants, such kings, such judges—in fine, even such taxpayers and tax-gatherers, as the Christian religion has taught that men should be, and then let them dare to say that it is adverse to the State’s well-being; yea, rather, let them no longer hesitate to confess that this doctrine, if it were obeyed, would be the salvation of the commonwealth. (To Marcellinus, Letter 138, 15)


The Order of Love & Obedience

And as for my clerical colleagues, I would urge them to speak as emissaries of Jesus Christ and as protectors of the divine order of love, rather than as representatives of their secular education or political parties. The next time they are tempted to use their pulpits to undercut our servicemen at war, burdened with our mutual obligations and engaged in the arduous, just, and sacred duties laid out for them in Scripture and in the Christian tradition, they might want to recall the muscular reality of historic Christianity, as Aquinas summarized it:

Prelates and clerics may, by the authority of their superiors, take part in wars, not indeed by taking up arms themselves, but by affording spiritual help to those who fight justly, by exhorting and absolving them, and by other like spiritual helps. Thus in the Old Testament (Joshua 6:4) the priests were commanded to sound the sacred trumpets in the battle. It was for this purpose that bishops or clerics were first allowed to go to the front. . . .4


Now, among the faithful, carnal wars should be considered as having for their end the Divine spiritual good to which clerics are deputed. Wherefore it is the duty of clerics to dispose and counsel other men to engage in just wars.5

I hope that I have done some of my own clerical duty in chronicling these matters. War is a terrible business, and it is right to seek to avoid it. Indeed, the most peaceful men that I have known have been professional soldiers. Such men harbor no illusions about the "glory of war," and I am grateful to them for curing me of any such fantasies.

A just war is not about glory, except the glory given to God by obedience to him in difficult things. It is not jingoism for a Christian to support the military in the conduct of a war that meets the requirements of justice, and it is certainly not to thirst for blood. Rather, a just war is a humble plea for the beatitude of being filled when the faithful have hungered and thirsted after God’s righteousness.   


Louis R. Tarsitano is an associate editor of Touchstone.


1. Summa Theologica (ST), P(2b)-Q(40)-A(1).

2. P(2b)-Q(40)-A(1)-RO(2).

3. See ST, P(2a)-Q(70)-A(3).

4. ST, P(2b)-Q(40)-A(2)-RO(2).

5. ST, P(2b)-Q(40)-A(2)-RO(3).

TOPICS: Activism; Apologetics
KEYWORDS: christianity; hussein; iraq; islam; justification; selfdefense; terror; terrorism; war
In light of the protests directed against the Bush Administration concerning the impending war with Iraq, some led by church "leaders," I thought this article insightful.
1 posted on 01/12/2003 11:17:37 AM PST by Salem
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To: SJackson
Bump for the Middle East ping list.
2 posted on 01/12/2003 11:24:28 AM PST by Salem
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To: dennisw; Cachelot; Yehuda; Alouette; Nix 2; veronica; Catspaw; knighthawk; Optimist; weikel; ...
If you'd like to be on or off this middle east/political ping list, please FR mail me.


G-d bless America, and those who defend her.

3 posted on 01/12/2003 11:30:35 AM PST by SJackson
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To: Salem
I wrote various parts of this from the discussion that arose from an article I wrote when I was attending seminary and later posted here on Free Republic.

The Gulf War; A Just War Or The Church's Shame?

You don’t have to read the article, but I would just want your opinion on the Scriptures I've posted below and how you believe they relate to the current discussion on war and peace and non-violence, and what our attitude towards peace, espically as followers of Christ, should be.

“Depart from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it.” Ps 34:14

“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Prov 16:7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” Matt. 5:7

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” Matt 5:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Matt 5:38-45a

“And do not fear those who kill the body; but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in hell.” Matt 10:28

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence.” Acts 4:29

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and not curse.” Rom 12:14

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ Says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom 12:17-21

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Eph 6:12

“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:10

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Heb 12:14

So, how then shall we live? Do we just throw all these verses out the window? Can the desire to pursue a peaceful, Christ-centered resolution to violent conflict really be seen as some lame, utopian, unworkable peacenik ideology? And, if so, what of these verses then? Can they merely be tossed aside under the guise that they are simply for another time, or do we have to just break out our respective exegetical hammer and chisels to carve them into the forms and shapes that we want to see, rather than view them in the light in which they are written?

How, then shall we live? With the Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other? Is that really how the apostle’s lived? While Luke 22:36 is used by some to justify armed force to protect themselves, how many in the book of Acts really lived that out? I would strongly disagree with the author’s statement that, “pacifism has always been a fringe movement in Christianity, and true pacifists, willing to die without defending themselves or their families, have been somewhat rare.”

For instance, look at the Apostle's prayer in Acts 4:23-31. They prayed "And now, Lord, take not of their treats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence." (Acts 4:29) Here is an instance where direct threats are being made against the apostles, and as you probably know, they were not just idle threats; there was a very good chance that when the Apostles went out to preach, there would be terrible violence against them. But they do not pray to counter violence with violence, or threat with threat, or force with force. They seek something higher, a trust in God through ALL situations, which is what we, as Christians, should be doing.

How many of the believers in the early Church, or even today, use this particular method of armed evangelism? What of the believers in China, Indonesia, India, throughout Africa (Sudan especially) who are persecuted unto death every single day of the week without taking up arms against their persecutors? "Well", you might say, "I'm not a missionary". However, I would argue, once we have accepted Christ as our Savior, we ALL become missionaries. When a person decides to follow Christ, he becomes a representative of the Kingdom, and that commitment to the Kingdom should supercede their commitment as a representative of any particular nation-state. I understand that Paul says that "we are to be in subjection to the governing authorities" (Rom. 13:1). However, he does go on to say that "there is no authoritiy except from God, and those which exist are established by God." Which, of course, means that Nero (that emperor who was sooo tolerant to Christians) during Paul's time as well as Saddam in ours were BOTH established by God, right? What are we to make of this then?

The question only now, after considering all this, becomes, not how are we to live in response to the world around us, for then we would still live like those who are unsaved. Rather, how are we to live in response to the mercy and love and peace and grace that has been given to us? Using the light of God's Word through the Holy Spirit we can understand more about how we should live, and then find out how best to share the gifts of God's mercy, love, peace and grace with others. Are we lights shining upon hills, or trusting in our guns more than our God?

4 posted on 01/12/2003 1:58:56 PM PST by ponyespresso
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To: Salem
as clergyman after clergyman (not to mention the new breed of clergypersons) has climbed into the pulpit to caution us that we must avoid violence, understand our enemies’ anger, turn the other cheek, and think pleasant thoughts about the redistribution of wealth until the war goes away.

The only reason I want to "understand" our enemies (radical Islam) is so we can kill them more efficiently with the lowest cost to ourselves. Then get back to the important things in life, watcking the children grow, playing slap and tickle with the wife, watching football, beer and nachos.
5 posted on 01/12/2003 3:49:25 PM PST by Valin (Grab em by the balls their hearts and minds will follow)
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To: Salem
read later
6 posted on 01/12/2003 7:34:24 PM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: ponyespresso
"...Are we lights shining upon hills, or trusting in our guns more than our God?"

I read your article and the responses from our fellow FReepers. There's really not a whole lot more I could offer, because it seems most have weighed in on this and many are more eloquent than I. But this might be helpful. I captured this debate on a well-respected law-enforcement email list a few years back. I enlisted the aid of an associate to articulate a response to the people who, well, voiced some of the same views you mentioned concerning self-defense, weapons (guns are just the modern day equivalent of swords in the first century), and the Biblical justification for all. I found it very insightful, and his commentary immediately ended the "debate."

A Biblical Response To Gun Control

And yes, I believe the Apostles conducted their outreaches, when traveling, armed. It was a dangerous world back then, as it is today.

My associate also addressed some of these pacifist and self-defense issues in this debate, which I also captured. It was between him, a high profile Militia commander, and a private company of about seventy people, prior to the turn of the century and in the midst of the Millenium hysteria.

A Debate Between The Warriors

This same gentleman also addresses the issues of self-defense in this article here, on his personal site:

TN Satanic Gun Control

And, I also have an extensive interview with this same gentleman posted on my personal site, concerning the war, and Constitutional and Biblical issues. You might also find that helpful. He addresses some of the concerns you mentioned.

America at War ~ An interview with Lt. Col. Tom Pardue Sr. (USA Ret.)

In the bulk of your commentary, you seem to be mixing up personal and community relationships with international affairs and our nations dealings with rogue nations. (?) We dealt with Tojo, before Japan's tyranny spread worldwide, we dealt with Hitler, before Germany's tyranny spread worldwide, and now we're going to deal with Hussein, before his tyranny spreads worldwide.

No, the US hasn't always been virtuous in her international dealings, and we should hold our leaders accountable, but Iraq and Hussein today, regardless of anyone's opinion of the morality of the Gulf War (yeah, the US thought they could "manage" him; oh well, our bad), is a done deal. I have links to the online resources linking Iraq to the 9/11 assault. The Bush Administration no doubt has the same evidence. That's why the combined forces of the US Military are on his doorstep.

Outside of this, we'll have to agree to disagree. In my opinion, pacifism gets more people killed than defending ourselves, whether on a personal level, or a national one.

7 posted on 01/12/2003 8:57:05 PM PST by Salem (For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded... (Nehemiah 4:19))
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To: Valin
"The only reason I want to "understand" our enemies (radical Islam) is so we can kill them more efficiently with the lowest cost to ourselves..."

Well, hopefully Gen. Franks and the boys will have them moving to the rear area in short order, all ready to be fed and sent back to their homes.

And the hardliners?

Oh, well....

8 posted on 01/12/2003 9:00:58 PM PST by Salem (For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded... (Nehemiah 4:19))
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