“One Soul Cannot Serve Two Lords: God and Caesar”: An investigation of pacifism in the moral discourse of the early church

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June 27, 2012 by jmar198013

This is a paper I wrote for the class Early and Medieval Church  at Harding Grad in fall 2008. I presented it at a paper reading there in early 2009.


Until recently, a broad consensus prevailed in the scholarly community concerning pacifism in the early church, often extending even to those scholars who were not pacifist. This consensus maintained that (1) Christian participation in military service was scant or nonexistent until the mid-to-late second century, (2) grew rapidly in the third century, until (3) the early Christian pacifism gave way to just war theory in the fourth and fifth centuries, after Constantine’s legitimization of Christianity. This consensus has been challenged by studies which claim that the evidence for the aforementioned scenario is scant at best, and that the older consensus needs to be revised. These recent challenges to the previous consensus invite a reappraisal of the early church data upon the matter, so that appropriate revisions may be made.

The Scandal of Pacifism in the Early Church

Church historian Roland Bainton presented an account of the morphing of attitudes concerning Christian participation in warfare that for many has become quite standard. Said he:

The three Christian positions with regard to war . . . matured in chronological sequence, moving from pacifism to the just war to the crusade. The age of persecution down to the time of Constantine was the age of pacifism to the degree that during this period no Christian author to our knowledge approved of Christian participation in battle.[1]

To this, in order to deliver a stronger rhetorical punch, Bainton added that it is best to trust the judgment of the early church upon the matter, “because the early church is frequently regarded as the best qualified to interpret the mind of the New Testament.”[2] Such an explanation of the peaceful church of the New Testament and apostolic times devolving into the Crusading mentality via a Constantinian infusion of political power in the fourth century A.D. is a story retold in many studies and histories which touch upon the subject, especially from those associated with a broad section of traditions dubbed “peace churches.”[3]

Regarding the pacifism of the early church, the vision offered by Bainton is essentially a concise articulation of the argument of peace churches since the early days of the Waldensians: “the apostles did not wield the sword; the Church’s preaching of crusade is condemned.”[4] The ecclesial legend observed by such peaceful traditions is one in which the church fell from its original purity in the wake of Constantine, and the loss of the pacifist outlook was but one symptom of this fall.[5] Though scholars such as Adolf von Harnack, James Moffat, and Umphrey Lee[6] had previously argued that a view such as the one expressed by Bainton was overly truncated and offered the illusion of more homogeneity on the subject than probably actually existed in the early church,[7] there still existed a broad consensus among scholars of formative Christianity concerning three essential matters:[8]

(1) When the matter of Christians serving in the military, or warfare in general, was directly addressed by Christian writers of the first three centuries, it was opposed on grounds essentially pacifist in scope (e.g., aversion to bloodshed).

(2) The end of the second century marked recognition of Christians serving in the military, with records of even more Christians serving in the third century.

(3) By the end of the fourth century, Christian just war theories were being formulated, most notably by Augustine.

That older broad consensus has been challenged by more recent investigations, however, with two studies standing out in particular as representatives of this challenge. The first is from John Helgeland, Robert J. Daly, and J. Patout Burns,[9] who argue that “Overly broad and uncritical pacifist assumptions often serve, ironically, to discredit pacifism and nonviolence and weaken the cause of peace.”[10] Eschewing pacifism as “a fully rounded religiophilosophical and political position,”[11] these authors instead opt to frame the NT passages from which the early church took its cues on this matter in terms of a call to love and nonviolence. This, they argue, is not precisely the same as anti-military service.[12] These authors also produce a broad set of evidences from the works of the Fathers and other early Christian documents to show that the witness of the early church on the matter of military service is, at best, ambiguous.[13] They conclude, ultimately, that the refusal of military service on the part of many Christians owed more to the idolatrous environment of the army than aversion to bloodshed.[14]

Perhaps more significant for our discussion is a 1984 article by James Childress exploring early Christian moral discourse on war up to and including Augustine.[15] Childress suggests that the exchange between Celsus and Origen (which will be explored later in this study), wherein Celsus faulted Christians for non-involvement in the protection of the Roman Empire’s interests, was an important factor in legitimizing Christian participation in warfare, as well as shaping Christian just-war theory. According to Childress, when Origen answered Celsus by saying that Christians did their share by praying for positive outcomes, he essentially opened the door for Christian participation in military service: “As Christianity spread and threats to the Pax Romana continued and increased, it was predictably harder to justify Christian participation only by prayer rather than through killing in conflict, especially under a Christian emperor.”[16]

Childress offers three motivating factors for the shift from the pacifism displayed by Christian writers of the second and third centuries of the church to the embrace of just war theory by the writers of the fourth and fifth centuries. First, the very love command that prompted the early Christians not to use violence against another (Matt. 7.11, 22.39; Mark 12.31, 33; Luke 10.27) also demanded that they seek to prevent or remove harm from others. Second, and related to the first, is the notion that people are liable for harm to others that they do not try to prevent. The third factor, already noted above in Celsus’ challenge to the Christians of his day, is the “generalization test”; that is, “If everyone did so [e.g., refused to fight], what would happen?”[17]

Although these factors nurtured a legitimization of Christian participation in warfare, certain tensions still existed for many between the realism that forced them to accept wars and the demands of non-violence found in Jesus’ teachings (e.g., Matt. 5.38-48). Childress argues that the Christian just war theory arose out of a need to ease those tensions, or as he puts it, “to reduce the scope or the weight of the radical demands.”[18]

These challenges to the older consensus invite us to return to the early Christian moral discourse concerning warfare. The key questions we will ask of the passages that follow are: (1) What is the scope of the argument (i.e., to what precisely is it referring, and how far does it go in establishing principles for Christian involvement or non-involvement in warfare?); and (2) What are the motivating factors behind the argument (i.e., scriptural or societal).

A Survey of Discourse Pertinent to Pacifism in the Early Church

The quotations below are ones most commonly cited in the discussion of moral discourse concerning warfare and pacifism in the early church.[19] I shall present the sources chronologically, in an effort to discern, if possible, whether there are major differences in approach or motivating factors as Christian thinking develops on the matter. The quotes from Justin Martyr and Athenagoras taken up below will be of a different order than those of Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Origen after them. This is because up until about 170 A.D., there is no record extant of Christians serving in the military.[20] Thus, it is only after 170 A.D. that Christian military service became a concrete issue.

Justin Martyr

[W]e who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares and our spears into implements of tillage,—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have through the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine.[21]

This quote, from Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, is from the mid-second century A.D. This section of the Dialogue is a commentary of sorts on Mic. 4.1-7, which Justin had quoted in the previous section. His application of the text seems fairly straightforward in this context: Justin sees the events subsequent to Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) as a fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. There is then, for Justin, a tacit presupposition that the embodiment of Micah 4.1-7 entails a posture of peacemaking. This passage in Justin’s Dialogue is the first time such an explicit connection was made between the church and the Micah passage, but this became something of a theme for later writers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen who also expanded the locus of application to its Isaiah parallel (Isa. 2.2-4) and analogues (4.2-6; 11.6-9).[22] To sum up, in this passage, Justin is not offering a condemnation of war (unless it be tacit); rather, he is offering a seminal biblical vision for a constructive peace ethic. The image of forging weapons into agricultural implements is an offer of an alternative reality.


For when they know that we cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly, who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism? . . . But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles. How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it.[23]

Admittedly, this passage, taken from A Plea for the Christians, is a refutation of the rumor that Christians engaged in ritual killings,[24] and is not referring to warfare but to gladiatorial contests. Yet, it does provide evidence for an aversion to bloodshed in early Christians. Athenagoras presents a general attitude toward state-sanctioned violence that has “natural implications for the Christian attitude in time of war.”[25] Note Athenagoras’ logic in the abortion analogy as well: it does not do to prohibit killing a person in the womb if one will then justify doing so after that same person is born.[26]

Aside from Athenagoras’ rhetoric concerning Christian aversion to bloodshed, the Plea is significant because of the stance he takes in it. Athenagoras argued that the Christian community was “a distinct people with its own politeia, which deserves the same rights as other peoples.”[27] Such an understanding of the church is in line with a strand of NT teaching (Phil. 3.20). The quote from Athenagoras, understood in its broader context of pleading for tolerance for the Christian politeia, would indicate that one of the distinctive features (at least for Athenagoras) of that politeia is a renunciation of bloodshed.[28]


Tertullian, writing in the early part of the third century, is a central figure to the discussion of pacifism in the early church. He is at once one of the earliest Christian sources confirming a Christian presence in the Roman military and the first vocal critic we have on record of Christians serving in the in such a role. The challenge of reading Tertullian on the matter is attempting to reconcile these two facts.

Tertullian makes passing reference to Christian presence in the Roman army in his Apology. On one occasion, he directs his readers to “refer to the letters of M. Aurelius, most venerable of Emperors, in which he testifies that the great drought in Germany was broken by the prayers of Christians, who, as it chanced, were among his soldiers.”[29] Elsewhere, he says, “We sail ships, we as well as you, and along with you; we go to the wars, to the country, to market with you.”[30]

In the latter of these two references, Tertullian is going to great lengths to show that Christians are not useless, but are indeed well-adjusted, integrated members of society. “[W]e are not Brahmans, naked savages of India, forest-dwellers, exiles from life,”[31] he claims. The former reference to the so-called “Thundering Legion,” who in A.D. 173 prayed up a storm (literally) that filled the Roman water casks and sent enemy soldiers scurrying from the lightning, has also been marshaled into Tertullian’s rhetoric for such an apologetic purpose. It is worthy of note because the event is further elaborated upon by the church historian Eusebius[32] and the pagan Cassius Dio, although the latter attributed the occurrence not to Christian soldiers, but an Egyptian magician.[33]

These passing references by Tertullian to Christians in the Roman military do not, however, amount to his approval of the practice. Elsewhere in the Apology, Tertullian, whilst explaining that the Romans have no need to fear a Christian uprising, offers the following smart assessment:

For if we wished to play the part of open enemies, and not merely hidden avengers, should we lack the power that numbers and battalions give? . . . We are but of yesterday, and we have filled everything you have—cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges, yes! and camps, tribes, decuries, palace, senate, forum. All we have left to you is the temples. [We can count your troops; the Christians of one province will be more in number.] For what war should we not have been fit and ready even if unequal in forces—we who are so glad to be butchered—were it not, of course, that in our doctrine we are given ampler liberty to be killed than to kill?[34]

To what aspect of Christian doctrine was Tertullian referring when he said, “we are given ampler liberty to be killed than to kill”? Two further readings from Tertullian should illuminate this inquiry. In his later writing On the Crown, while dealing with the matter of Christians in relation to imperial politics, Tertullian would say: “I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians . . . Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword?”[35] Again, in his treatise On Idolatry, Tertullian says:

But now the question at issue is whether a believer may enlist or whether military men can be admitted to the faith, even the private soldier or every lower rank, for whom there is no necessity to sacrifice or to pass capital judgment. . . But how will he wage war, nay, how will he even in peace do military service without the sword, which the Lord has taken away? For . . . every soldier of later times was ungirded by the Lord when He disarmed Peter.[36]

These two passages share a common inspiration in the account of Matt. 26.51-52. For Tertullian, this passage served a normative function for all believers, and that was the prohibition of doing violence to others. As military duty was implicated in violence, it too was prohibited.

What is even more interesting is that Tertullian’s thinking on the matter seems to have developed over time. As we have seen above, in his Apology, Tertullian mentions the fact of Christian soldiers, but also shares sentiments that betray his belief that Christians are not at liberty to take life. In On the Crown and On Idolatry, he spells out his reasons (on biblical grounds) for this belief.

An aversion to shedding blood, materially related to the example of Christ as seen above, was the primary reason for Tertullian’s rejection of military service for Christians. Yet there were many others: abandonment of the assembly of the saints, the pagan religion embedded in the military structure and ritual, and complicity with the very forces that persecute Christians.[37] And yet, even if these ostensibly non-pacifistic obstacles to military service were removed, there was still an overarching logic to Tertullian’s counsel against Christian participation in warfare, as seen in his On Idolatry: “One soul cannot serve two Lords: God and Caesar.”[38] Again, this is a biblically-motivated pronouncement (Matt. 6.24). For Tertullian, the all-encompassing claims of the military upon the life of the soldier would always be in tension with the all-encompassing claims of God upon the life of a disciple.


A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath; if he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected. A military commander or civic magistrate that wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If a catechumen or a believer seeks to become a soldier, they must be rejected, for they have despised God.[39]

This passage from Hippolytus’ church order comes from a list of occupations forbidden for Christian converts. Also on this list are prostitutes, gladiators, charioteers, magicians, pagan priests, and surprisingly, artists and teachers.[40] As Ferguson notes, however, in those days, “curriculum for children involved teaching the basic texts of polytheism.”[41] The list does add some qualifications to the forbidden practices, however. Artists could continue their trade as long as they did not sculpt idols; teachers, if they could find no other employment, could continue as long as they did not teach the pagan curriculum.

These sorts of distinctions are drawn for soldiers, as well. A convert who was already a soldier could continue as long as they could do so without swearing the oath or shedding blood. Choosing to join the army after conversion, however, was grounds for expulsion from the church. This particular passage is important because it demonstrates, contra Helgeland, Daly, and Burns,[42] that an aversion to killing was just as much a part of the antipathy of many leaders of the early church toward military service as the idolatrous atmosphere.


In his mid-third century treatise Against Celsus, Origen took up the charges of an anti-Christian polemicist of the previous generation and sought to refute them. Near the end of this work, he picked up a quote from Celsus regarding the non-participation of Christians in the military. Celsus was quoted by Origen as saying:

For if all were to do the same as you, there would be nothing left to prevent his [the emperor] being left in utter solitude and desertion, and the affairs of the earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians; and then there would no longer remain among men any of the glory of your religion or of the true wisdom.[43]

To this, Origen smartly replied:

In these circumstances the king will not “be left in utter solitude and desertion,” neither will the “affairs of the world fall into the hands of the most impious and wild barbarians.” For if, in the words of Celsus, “they do as I do,” then it is evident that even the barbarians, when they yield obedience to the word of God, will become most obedient to the law, and most humane.[44]

Whether or not one finds Origen’s reply to Celsus quite naïve, perhaps even cheeky, the matter taken up by Origen does provide evidence for pacifism in the early church: Celsus knew that Christians did not, as a rule, join the army. This is important, because Tertullian, in his Apology, does mention Christians serving in the military a few years before Celsus would have written his challenge. That Tertullian brought up this point at all in his rhetoric defending Christians from the charge of sectarian aloofness suggests that it was not a normal occurrence in his day; certainly, Celsus was unaware of it.

Two other statements of Origen from Against Celsus are worthy of note before we move on to draw conclusions, and they are related. “Christians are benefactors of their country more than others,” he states. “For they train up citizens, and inculcate piety to the Supreme Being; and they promote those whose lives have been good and worthy to a divine and heavenly city.”[45] Also, he says, “[W]e recognize in each state the existence of another national organization, founded by the Word of God.”[46] These statements seem to fall in line with what we observed in the rhetoric of Athenagoras above: the church perceived as a politeia, with its own distinctive features. Origen thus sees the Christian refusal to wield military dominance as part of the character of that community, and thus it is materially related to the training of its citizens and nurturing of piety among them.


Though the works of Helegeland, Daly, and Burns and Childress have challenged the former pacifist consensus, they have not fully supplanted it. Rather, their challenges have helped refine the discussion of pacifism in the early church. Helgeland, Daly, and Burns have admonished scholars that pacifism was not a monolithic assumption among early Christians. Childress informs that the Christian just war theory which emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries stands in continuity with a strand of early Christian thinking, and that is the call to neighbor-love.

With those caveats in mind, I wish to propose some refinements to the older consensus, which read as follows.

(1) We possess no clear evidence for or against the presence of Christians in the military up until about 170-180 A.D.

(2) The evidence we do possess from that time period (the first 150 years or so of the church) indicates that (a) early Christians displayed a marked aversion to capital punishment and violence in general (Athenagoras), while (b) they perceived their function as a community to act as peacemakers (Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Origen).

(3) When Christian presence in the military was first acknowledged by a Christian author, that same author also heavily criticized the practice (Tertullian).

(4) At least some Christian leaders excluded soldiers from fellowship on account of their profession (Hippolytus).

(5) Early Christian leaders discouraged participation in the military for a variety of reasons—not only bloodshed, but constant exposure to pagan religious trappings, complicity with persecutors of the church, and the threat of divided loyalties (Tertullian).

(6) Christians engaging in military service was not perceived as the norm by outsiders (Celsus).

Another caveat is in order as this study concludes, and this has to do with the fact that pacifism cannot be described as a monolithic assumption in the early church, because some Christians were soldiers, at least from about A.D. 170. This is true, but it should also be remembered that there is often a gap between popular and official religion, and that congregants are often less conservative than their leaders. Hence, that most of the voices of Christian leaders preserved for us from the first three centuries of the church’s existence betray overwhelmingly pacific tendencies should perhaps be granted more weight, in terms of what we view as normative for practice.



[1] Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (New York: Abingdon, 1960), 66.

[2] Ibid.

[3] These would include Anabaptists, Quakers, various brands of liberal Protestants, and up until just before World War II, many representatives from the Restoration Movement. A broad survey of the literature is as follows: C. J. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics (London: Headley Bros., 1919); T. S. K. Scott-Craig, Christian Attitudes to War and Peace: A Study of the Four Main Types (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1938); Gerrit Jan Heering, The Fall of Christianity: a study of Christianity, the state, and war (New York: Fellowship Publications, 1943); Jean‑Michel Hornus, It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes Toward War, Violence, and the State, rev. ed., trans. Alan Kreider and Oliver Coburn (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1980); Robert J. Daly, “The New Testament and the Early Church,” in Non-Violence: Central to Christian Spirituality, Toronto Studies in Theology 8, ed. Joseph T. Culliton (New York: Edwin Mellen, 1982), 34-62; Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, 3rd ed. (Abilene: ACU Press, 1999), 215-24; Bryan P. Stone, Evangelism after Christendom: the theory and practice of Christian witness (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007). It is worth noting that the Ecclesiastical History Society’s 1982 symposium discussions on the matter of the church and war begin coverage with Augustine; see R. A. Markus, “Saint Augustine’s Views on the ‘Just War,’” in The Church and War, Studies in Church History 20, ed. W. J. Sheils (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), 1-14.

[4] Peter Biller, “Medieval Waldensian Abhorrance of Killing Pre-c1400,” in The Church and War, 134.

[5] Bainton asserts that, “The accession of Constantine terminated the pacifist period in church history.” He adds that it is astounding that “neither the emperor nor the Church felt an impropriety in placing the cross upon the military labarum.” Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, 85, 86.

[6] Adolf von Harnack, Militia Christi: the Christian Religion and the Military in the first three centuries, trans. David McInnes Gracie (Tübingen: Mohr, 1905; reprint, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981); James Moffatt, “War,” in Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, ed. James Hastings (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1918), 2:646-73; Umphrey Lee, The Historic Church and Modern Pacifism (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1943), 41-68.

[7] In his defense, let it be noted that Bainton admits: “The position of the Church was not absolutist, however. There were some Christians in the army and they were not on that account excluded from communion.” In Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, 66.

[8] David G. Hunter, “A Decade of Research on Early Christians and Military Service,” Religious Studies Review 18 (April 1992): 87.

[9] John Helgeland, Robert J. Daly, and J. Patout Burns, Christians and the Military: The Early Experience (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).

[10] Ibid. 1.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. 10-16.

[13] Ibid. 16-47.

[14] Ibid. 48-51.

[15] James F. Childress, “Moral discourse about war in the early church,” Journal of Religious Ethics 12 (Spring 1984): 2‑18.

[16] Ibid. 11.

[17] Ibid. 4-8.

[18] James F. Childress, “Moral discourse about war,” 15.

[19] The particular citations observed in this study are suggested in Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 215-17. However, these have long been fixtures in the discussion of the matter. See Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, 66-84; J. Daryl Charles, Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and the Christian Tradition (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 34‑37; Jean-Michel Hornus, It is Not Lawful for Me to Fight, 29, 62-63, 85-87, 109, 124, 214; Helegeland, Daly, and Burns, Christians and the Military, 21-30, 35-44; C. J. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War, 51-52, 58-64, 75-75, 78-81. It should be noted such a proof-text methodology carries as much danger of misinterpretation with early Christian sources as it does in biblical interpretation. So Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, viii: “The gathering of many texts with limited comments may leave a false impression of homogeneity. Sometimes even when texts seem to agree, the different contexts from which they come may show a diversity in doctrinal viewpoint.”

[20] So C. J. Cadoux, “Apart from Cornelius and the one or two soldiers who may have been baptized with him by Peter at Caesarea (? 40 A.D.) and the gaoler baptized by Paul at Philippi (circ A.D. 49), we have no direct or reliable evidence for the existence of a single Christian soldier until shortly after 170 A. D.” In The Early Christian Attitude to War, 97; cf. 96-119. Also, Roland Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, 67-68, who states, “From the end of the New Testament period to the decade A.D. 170-80, there is no evidence whatever of Christians in the army. The question of military service obviously was not at that time controverted. The reason may have been that participation was assumed or that abstention was taken for granted. The latter is more probable.” Cf. Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 217-18. Yet, this lack of evidence should also merit caution: “If this thesis is accepted, it obviously requires one to temper statements about the witness of the early church. The fact is that we have almost no solid information about how the followers of Christ for the first 150 years viewed military service in the Roman army.” James J. Megivern, “Early Christianity and Military Service,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 12 (Fall 1985): 178.

[21] Justin Martyr, Dialogue 110. Note that Helegeland, Daly, and Burns do not offer a treatment of Justin’s words here in their Christians and the Military. This is perhaps a function of those authors’ distaste for typological readings (see their discussion of the matter regarding Origen’s hermeneutics on pp. 41-42). However, if the task is to assess the incidence of pacifism in the early church—and this is a purely descriptive task—then typological hermeneutics cannot be dismissed, as they were employed by early Christians.

[22] For a discussion, see especially C. J. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude To War, 60-66; also, Jean-Michel Hornus, It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight, 85-88.

[23] Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, 35.

[24] Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 217.

[25] Hornus, It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight, 109; cf. Cadoux, Early Christian Attitude to War, 104, 213.

[26] Athenagoras does extend the analogy thus: “and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it.”

[27] Frances Young, “Greek Apologists of the Second Century,” in Apologetics in the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews, and Christians, ed. Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 81-104.

[28] And indeed, violence in general, even in self-defense. For previously, in A Plea for the Christians, Athenagoras had described Christians as those “to whom it even is not lawful, when they are struck, not to offer themselves for more blows, nor when defamed, not to bless: for it is not enough to be just (and justice is to return like for like), but it is incumbent upon us to be good and patient of evil.” Athenagoras’ moral reasoning here is thus based upon a negative form of Matt. 5.38-41; Luke 6.27-29.

[29] Tertullian, Apology 5.6.

[30] Ibid. 42.3

[31] Ibid. 42.1.

[32] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.5. Eusebius seems to have been under the impression that the (a) entire legion was made up of Christians, and (b) they were called the “Thundering Legion” only after this event took place. Said he, “[T]hose soldiers that belonged to the Melitine legion, as it was called, by a faith which has continued from that time to this, bending their knees upon the earth whilst drawn up in battle array against the enemy . . . entered into prayer before God.” Following the miraculous storm, Eusebius (relying on Apolinarius), states that the legion “received an appellation appropriate to the event, from the emperor, being called the fulminea, or thundering legion.” Those two elements are legendary, especially since the legion had been called by that appellation well before the event described by Apolinarius, Tertullian, and Eusebius. See Helgeland, Daly, and Burns, Christians in the Military, 32-34; Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 223 n.8.

[33] For a discussion, see Helegeland, Daly, and Burns, Christians and the Military, 31-34, though they dismiss Dio’s version; Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War, 229-31; Bainton, Christian Attitudes to War and Peace, 68; see also Hunter, “Decade of Research,” 88, who says that Tertullian’s mention of the Thundering Legion reads “more like rhetorical arguments advanced for apologetic purposes than as ethical guidelines for Christians.”

[34] Tertullian, Apology 37.4-5.

[35] Tertullian, De Corona 11.

[36] Tertullian, De Idololatria 19.1, 3.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Tertullian, De Idololatria 19.2.

[39] Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 19.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 220.

[42] Helegeland, Daly, and Burns, Christians and the Military, 48-55.

[43] Origen, Against Celsus 8.68.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid. 8.74.

[46] Ibid. 8.75.


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