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TESTIMONY AND PRACTICE OF THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANS.
We hold the argument from the New Testament to be entirely satisfactory and conclusive in itself. maintain, that it stands, unshakenly immovable on its own basis, without depending on collateral and adventitious aid. But still we are not at liberty to reject such aid; but are to avail ourselves of every incidental circumstance, which may tend to communicate light and strength. The minds of different individuals are in some respects differently constituted. And in the conflict of argument, a single circumstance, (perhaps a slight and unimportant one in itself,) may establish some minds in a correct result, who, without that particular view of the subject, would never have arrived at it.
Hence before quitting the subject, we are led to suggest another consideration. We naturally inquire, how did the Primitive Christians understand the subject? What was the impression of those, who stood nearest to the times of Christ, as to what was expected of his followers? Did they, with the example of the Savior and of the first disciples and Apostles so directly before them, feel at liberty to gird on the sword and to engage in the dreadful business of shedding human blood? If they did not, then the conclusion at which we have arrived, unanswerably strong as it is in itself, receives new strength,
and we are encouraged to act upon it with the greater confidence.
The statements, which follow, are taken from Clarkson's Essay on the Doctrines and Practice of the early Christians as they relate to War. They conclusively show, that the early Christians generally considered war as unlawful, and declined serving as soldiers. We say generally, because there are some expressions in Tertullian and Eusebius, that escaped the notice of Clarkson, which seem to indicate, that, about the year 174, there were some Christian soldiers in the Roman army. But such instances were exceptions to the general rule. They seldom occurred; and for the first century and a half at least, we may undoubtedly pronounce the Christian Church as a body, although there were some exceptions, clear of the unspeakable sin of slaughtering their fellow men in war. The extract which follows relates to two distinct points, viz, the Opinions or Doctrines of the early Christian writers on the subject of war, and the Practice of those who became Christians.
FIRST.-"With respect to the Opinions of the first Christian Writers after the Apostles, or of those who are usually called the Fathers of the Church, relative to War, I believe we shall find them alike for nearly three hundred years, if not for a longer period. JUSTIN the Martyr, one of the earliest of those in the second century, considers war as unlawful. He makes, also, the devil the au
thor of all war.
TATIAN, who was the disciple of Justin, in his oration to the Greeks, speaks in the same terms on the same subject.
From the different expressions of CLEMENS, of Alexandria, a contemporary of the latter, we collect his opinion to be decisive also against the lawfulness of war.
TERTULLIAN, who may be mentioned next in order of
time, strongly condemned the practice of bearing arms. I shall give one or two extracts from him on this subject. In his Dissertation "on the Worship of Idols," he says, "Though the soldiers came to John and received a certain form to be observed, and though the centurion believed, yet Jesus Christ, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier afterward; for custom never sanctions an unlawful act." And in his "Soldier's Garland," he says, "Can a soldier's life be lawful, when Christ has pronounced, that he, who lives by the sword, shall perish by the sword? Can one, who professes the peaceable doctrines of the Gospel, be a soldier, when it is his duty not so much as to go to law? And shall he, who is not to revenge his own wrongs, be instrumental in bringing others into chains, imprisonment, torment, death?
CYPRIAN, in his Epistle to Donatus, speaks thus"Suppose thyself with me on the top of some very exalted eminence, and from thence looking down upon the appearances of things below. Let our prospect take in the whole horizon, and let us view, with the indifference of persons not concerned in them, the various motions and agitations of human life. Thou wilt then, I dare say, have a real compassion for the circumstances of mankind, and for the posture in which this view will represent them. And when thou reflectest upon thy condition, thy thoughts will rise in transports of gratitude and praise to God for having made thy escape from the pollutions of the world. The things thou wilt principally observe will be the highways beset with robbers, the seas with pirates; encampments, marches, and all the terrible forms of war and bloodshed. When a single murder is committed it shall be deemed, perhaps, a crime; but that crime shall commence a virtue, when committed under the shelter of public authority: so that punishment is not rated by the measure of guilt; but the
more enormous the size of the wickedness is, so much the greater is the chance of impunity."
These are the sentiments of CYPRIAN; and that they were the result of his views of Christianity, as taken from the divine writings, there can be no doubt. If he had stood upon the same eminence, and beheld the same sights, previously to his conversion, he would, like others, have neither thought piracy dishonorable, nor war inglorious..
LACTANTIUS, who lived some time after Cyprian, in his Treatise concerning the true worship of God, says, "It can never be lawful for a righteous man to go to war, whose warfare is in righteousness itself."
To these may be added Archelaus, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerom, and Cyril, all of whom were of opinion, that it was unlawful for Christians to go to war.
SECOND. With respect to the Practice of the early Christians, which is the next point to be considered, it may be observed, that there is no well authenticated instance upon record of Christians entering into the army for nearly the two first centuries; but it is true, on the other hand, that they had declined the military profession, as one in which it was not lawful for them to engage.
The first species of evidence to this point may be found in the following facts, which reach from about the year 170, to about the year 195. Cassius had rebelled against the Emperor Verus, and was slain in a short time afterwards. Clodius Albinus in one part of the world, and Pescennius Niger in another, had rebelled against the Emperor Severus, and both were slain. Now suspicion fell, as it always did in these times, if any thing went wrong, upon the Christians, as having been concerned upon these occasions. But Tertullian tells us, in
his "Discourse to Scapula," that this suspicion was totally groundless. "You defamed us," (Christians) says he, "by charging us with having been guilty of treason to our emperors, but not a Christian could be found in any of the rebel armies, whether commanded by Cassius, Albinus, or Niger." These, then, are important facts, for the armies in question were very extensive. Cassius was master of all Syria with its four Legions; Niger, of the Asiatic and Egyptian Legions; and Albinus, of those of Britain; which Legions together contained between a third and a half of the standing Legions of Rome: and the circumstance, that no Christian was to be found in them, is the more remarkable, because, according to the same Tertullian, Christianity had then spread over almost the whole of the known world.
A second species of evidence may be collected from expressions and declarations in the works of certain authors of those times. Justin the Martyr, and Tatian, make distinctions between soldiers and Christians; and Clemens, of Alexandria, gives the Christians, who were contemporary with him, the appellation of the "Peacea ble," thus distinguishing them from others of the world; and he says expressly, that the "Peaceable" never used sword or bow, meaning by these the instruments of war.
A third species of evidence, may be found in the belief, which the writers of these times had, that the Prophecy of Isaiah, which predicted that men should turn their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning-hooks, was then in the act of completion.
Irenæus, who flourished about the year 180, affirms that this famous Prophecy had been completed in his time; "for the Christians," says he, "have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not how to fight." Justin the Martyr, who was contemporary with Irenæus, asserts the same thing,