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Other Articles on 
War - Christian Responsibility In


Early Christian View
of War and
Military Service


Chapter 4

Pacifist Principles Retained 
Only by Religious Minorities 
After Third Century A.D.


A. Minority Church Groups
Retaining Early Christian Attitude

“The Church herself later became identified with the state; with the result that conscientious objection to governmental coercion has been transmitted to the modern world by a line of obscure peace sects. The Albigenses, Waldenses, Bohemian Brethren, and Moravians carried on the early Christian tradition of non-violence from the Edict of Constantine to the Reformation. Outstanding among the post-Reformation groups are the Mennonites, Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, Shakers, Quakers (Society of Friends), Molokans and Dukhobors. These groups, together with a few more recent religious movements such as the Christadelphians and International Bible Students, constitute most conscientious objectors of the religious type in modern times.”[80]

B. Major Church Groups Opposing This Stand

“The medieval Catholic Church resolved the tension between the Gospel counsels of non-resistance…on the one hand, and the apparent needs of ordinary human society on the other, by ear-marking the former as the exclusive business of the “religious” par excellence, i.e., the clergy, the monks and the friars…The Christian layman was not only not required to take this yoke upon him; he was in a certain measure forbidden to do so. Men who in view of the Sermon on the Mount insisted that the Christian must not wield the sword either as soldier or as magistrate were regularly adjudged heretical and were sharply persecuted for their pains. When the Reformation brought to the rank and file of church members fresh and first hand acquaintance with the New Testament, the problem cropped up again; but, although the Catholic solution of it was felt to be unsatisfactory, neither the Lutheran nor the Calvinist group managed to do any better than to bar out the non-resistance teaching from the Christian’s practical life and to confine it strictly to his inner personal temper and disposition. Only the Anabaptists insisted on applying it practically, regardless of the social and political difficulties which such an application might raise; and they accordingly incurred the disapproval of Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist alike.”[81]

“Periodically, dissident sects arose having as one of their principles conscientious objection to all war. Such were the Albigensians of the 11th and 12th centuries, against whom Pope Innocent III directed a crusade. The Albigensians were annihilated. During the Reformation, principles of conscientious objection were at one time enunciated by a large proportion of the Anabaptists, and for this and other reasons they were wiped out by a political combination led by orthodox Protestants and Roman Catholics.”[82]

“Testimony is not wanting to show that the absolutist conscientious objectors found their bitterest opponents in religious leaders of almost every kind. The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, the separate denominational establishments, and the YMCA all neglected to bespeak mercy for the conscientious objectors, much less to defend them, while they suffered under excessive prison sentences. This attitude of organized religion reflects the almost universal hostility of the public toward conscientious objectors.”[83]

C. Recent Changes in Traditional Attitude
of Major Church Groups

“This popular hostility (against expressions of conscientious objections) was followed after the war by widespread admiration for the work done by religious objectors and by an extraordinary revulsion against war on the part of the great Christian denominations.”[84]

“Due partly to the general increase of knowledge through a more widespread education of the masses, and because some of the prejudices of the past have been forgotten, even the larger church groups are now recognizing the right of their members to be opposed to war. Practically all the major denominations, as well as the Federal Council of Churches in the U.S.A., and the World Council of Churches, have passed resolutions setting forth their position on this issue and declaring their readiness to stand by and assist any of their individual members who may be conscientiously opposed to participation in war. To mention some who have passed resolutions, there are the American Baptists; the Southern Baptists; the Christian Scientists; the Congregational Christian Churches; the Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.; the Protestant Episcopal Church; and the United Lutheran Church.”[85]

Excerpts taken from a review of Pierre Lorson’s Can a Christian be a Conscientious Objector? Paris, 1950:

“When an eminent Catholic theologian (Pierre Lorson) devotes a book of 200 pages to the problem of conscientious objection, one must feel that pacifist history is being made. Hitherto the Roman Church has refrained from expressing an official view on the subject…The Catholic view…was laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century, when he specified the conditions of a ‘just war’ in which alone Christians might lawfully participate. Some modern Catholic theologians, such as the Austrian, Professor Ude, have contended that no modern war can fulfill those conditions and that therefore every Christian should refuse to take part. The Church, however, has never officially taken this line…Lorson examines the historic instances of conscientious objectors whom the (Catholic) Church has recognized as saints and martyrs…He admits that the character of modern war makes the case for conscientious objection much stronger (than in former times)…The book concludes with a powerful plea for the legal recognition of conscientious objection (in France, where the Assembly was about to consider a bill on the subject).”[86]