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Other Articles on 
War - Christian Responsibility In


Early Christian View
of War and
Military Service


Chapter 3

The Church’s Rise to Secular Power 
And Substitution of Human Decrees
For Original Bible Truths 
Leads to Abandonment
Of Early Pacifist Principles

“As the Church increased in wealth and power and the government gradually ceased to insist on Pagan rites in public service, objection to war declined. The conversion of Constantine virtually made the Church an agency of the Roman state.”[72]

“It is generally thought that, with the accession of Constantine to power, the Church as a whole definitely gave up her anti-military leanings, abandoned all her scruples, finally adopted the imperial point of view, and treated the ethical problem involved as a closed question. Allowing for a little exaggeration, this is broadly speaking true. The sign of that cross, to which Jesus had been led by his refusal to sanction or to lead a patriotic war, and on which he died for the salvation of men, was now an imperial emblem, bringing good fortune and victory. The supposed nails of the cross, which the Emperor’s mother found and sent to him, he had made into bridle-bits and a helmet, which he used in his military expeditions.

“In 314 A.D. the Synod of Arelate enacted a Canon, which, if it did not, as many suppose, threaten with excommunication Christian soldiers who insisted on quitting the army, at least left military service perfectly free and open to Christians. Athanasius, ‘the father of orthodoxy,’ declared that it was not only lawful, but praiseworthy, to kill enemies in war…In 416 A.D. non-Christians were forbidden to serve in the army. Historians have not failed to notice, and in some cases to deplore, the immense compromise to which the Church was now committed.”[73]

“In 416 A.D. an order was decreed with the result that pagans were not admitted to the army. All the soldiers had become Christians; or, in other words, all the Christians had, with few exceptions, denied Christ.”[74]

“Says Clarkson, ‘It was not till Christianity became corrupted that Christians became soldiers.’” (Essays on the Doctrines and Practice of the Early Christians.)[75]

“Christians…became soldiers…when? When their general fidelity to Christianity became relaxed: when, in other respects, they violated its principles…In a word, they became soldiers, when they had ceased to be Christians.”[76]

K.H.E.De Jong: “The increased worldliness of Christendom had naturally resulted in an increased number of Christian soldiers.” (Refusal of Military Service Among the Early Christians, Leiden, 1905.)[77]

“Another circumstance that operated in the same direction (Christians becoming soldiers) was the gradual and steady growth throughout the Church of a certain moral laxity, which engaged the serious and anxious attention of Christian leaders as early as the time of Hermas (140 A.D.) and had become an acute problem by the time of Pope Kallistos (216-222 A.D.): This abatement of the primitive moral rigor would naturally assist the process of conformity to the ways of the world.”[78]

“The departure from the original faithfulness was, however, not suddenly general. Like every other corruption, war was obtained by degrees. During the first two hundred years (approximately) not a Christian soldier is upon record. In the third century, when Christianity became partially corrupted, Christian soldiers were common. The number increased with the increase of the general profligacy, until at last, in the fourth century, Christians became soldiers without hesitation, and perhaps, without remorse. Here and there, however, an ancient father still lifted up his voice for peace; but these, one after another, dropping from the world, the tenet that war is unlawful ceased at length to be a tenet of the church.

“Such was the origin of the present belief in the lawfulness of war. It began in unfaithfulness, was nurtured by profligacy, and was confirmed by general corruption…Had the professors of Christianity continued in the purity and faithfulness of their forefathers, we should now have believed that war was forbidden.”[79]