Early Church Writers What they had to say about Empire and the Kingdom.

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For the past 1,700 years we have largely ignored a good portion of the teachings of Jesus. Starting in the third century the contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world became muddied when the two became fused. The Church lost it’s way. As we depart from this long period of history, it would be wise to look back at what early Christian writers had to say, before the Church got in bed with the Empire. Below are 50 quotes contemporarily undisputed from leaders in the Early Church on killingviolence, Kingdom allegiancepatriotism, warmilitary service, and enemy love.


“When individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state.” 1
St. Cyprian (200AD – 258AD)

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One… The more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.” 2
Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“The Church is an army of peace which sheds no blood.” 3
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“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 for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.” 4
Hippolytus (170AD – 236AD)

“We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.” 5
Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“We have rejected such spectacles as the Coliseum. How then, when we do not even look on killing lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?” 6
Athenagoras of Athens (133AD – 190AD)

“To those who ask us whence we have come or whom we have for a leader, we say that we have come in accordance with the counsels of Jesus to cut down our warlike and arrogant swords of argument into ploughshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take up ‘sword against nation,’ nor do we ‘learn war anymore,’ having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader, instead of those whom our fathers followed.” 7
Origen (185AD – 254AD)

“It is absolutely forbidden to repay evil with evil.” 8
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“Hitherto I have served you as a soldier; allow me now to become a soldier to God. Let the man who is to serve you receive your donative. I am a soldier of Christ; it is not permissible for me to fight.” 9
Martin of Tours (315AD – 397AD)

“Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.” 10
Athanasius of Alexandria (293AD – 373AD)

“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? Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, their case is different… yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer, and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of it, which has been the course with many; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God.” 11
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

The Christian poor are “an army without weapons, without war, without bloodshed, without anger, without defilement.”
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“It is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but so that they may reserve themselves for a more divine and more necessary service in the Church of God – the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right.” 12
Origen (185AD – 254AD)

“I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices connected with military command.”
Tatian of Assyria (120AD – 180AD)

“Above all Christians are not allowed to correct by violence sinful wrongdoings.”
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“The Christian does not hurt even his enemy.” 13
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“None of us offers resistance when he is seized, or avenges himself for your unjust violence, although our people are numerous and plentiful… it is not lawful for us to hate, and so we please God more when we render no requital for injury… we repay your hatred with kindness.”
St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (died 258AD)

“We Christians are a peaceful race… for it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.”
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished.” 14
Ignatius of Antioch (35AD – 108AD)

“Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: the Lord has abolished the sword.” 15
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers with the Emperor even if he demands this.” 16
Origen (185AD – 254AD)

“We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it. We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.” 17
Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established… brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator…give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.” 18
Hippolytus (170AD – 236AD)

“Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.” 19
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

Christians “love all people, and are persecuted by all;… they are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and are respectful.”
Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (late 2nd Century)

“I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors… It is not right for a Christian to serve the armies of this world.”
Mercellus the Centurion, spoken as he left the army of Emperor Diocletian in 298AD.

“Say to those that hate and curse you, You are our brothers!” 20
Theophilus of Antioch (died around 185AD)

“Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service.” 21
Archelaus (320AD)

“But now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts.” 22
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“Let the Athenian then follow the laws of Solon, the Argive those of Phoroneus, and the Spartan those of Lycurgus.  But if you record yourself among God’s people, then heaven is your fatherland and God your lawgiver.”
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth, for they acknowledge God…. They show love to their neighbors. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies… This, O Emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this is their manner of life.”
Aristides (written around 137AD)

“We Christians cannot endure to see a man being put to death, even justly.”
Athenagoras (133AD – 190AD)

“We do not wage war against our enemies.” 23
Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command… Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it.” 24
Tatian (120AD – 180AD)

“Learn about the incorruptible King, and know his heroes who never inflict slaughter on the peoples.”
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“Christians appeal to those who wrong them and make them friendly to themselves; they are eager to do good to their enemies; they are mild and conciliatory.”
Aristides of Athens (2nd Century)

“I recognize no empire of this present age.” 25
Speratus (martyred 180AD)

“When God prohibits killing, He not only forbids us to commit brigandage, which is not allowed even by the public laws; but He warns us that not even those things that are regarded as legal among men are to be done. And, so it will not be lawful for a just man to serve as a soldier, nor to accuse anyone of a capital offence, because it makes no difference whether thou kill with a sword or with a word, since killing itself is forbidden.”
Lactantius, instructor of Constantine’s son (260AD – 340AD)

“Shall we carry a flag? It is a rival to Christ.” 26
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“I am a Christian. He who answers thus has declared everything at once—his country, profession, family; the believer belongs to no city on earth but to the heavenly Jerusalem.”
John Chrysostom (347AD – 407AD)

“If anyone be a soldier or in authority, let him be taught not to oppress or to kill or to rob, or to be angry or to rage and afflict anyone. But let those rations suffice him which are given to him. But if they wish to be baptized in the Lord, let them cease from military service or from the [post of] authority, and if not let them not be received. Let a catechumen or a believer of the people, if he desire to be a soldier, either cease from his intention, or if not let him be rejected. For he hath despised God by his thought, and leaving the things of the Spirit, he hath perfected himself in the flesh and hath treated the faith with contempt.” 27
The Testament of Our Lord (4th or 5th Century AD)

“If you enroll as one of God’s people, then heaven is your country and God your lawgiver.”
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors. It is not right for a Christian to serve the armies of this world.”
Mercellus the Centurion, spoken as he left the army of Emperor Diocletian in 298AD.

“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? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?” 28
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

“That they may now understand that this is a new kind of warfare and not the usual custom of joining in battle, when He sent them with nothing He said: And so, marching on, show forth the meekness of lambs, although you are to go to wolves… For certainly it is a greater work and much more marvelous to change the minds of opponents and to bring about a change of soul than to kill them… We ought to be ashamed, therefore, who act far differently when as wolves we rush upon our adversaries. For as long as we are lambs we conquer; even when a thousand wolves stand about, we overcome and are victors. But if we act like wolves we are conquered, for then the aid of the Good Shepherd departs from us, for He does not foster wolves but sheep.” 29
John Chrysostom (347AD – 407AD)

“God called Abraham and commanded him to go out from the country where he was living. With this call God has roused us all, and now we have left the state. We have renounced all the things the world offers… The gods of the nations are demons.” 30
Justin the Martyr (100AD – 165AD)

“We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another.” 31
Arnobius (305AD)

“This is the way of life: first, thou shalt love the God who made thee, secondly, thy neighbor as thyself: and all things whatsoever thou wouldest not should happen to thee, do not thou to another. The teaching of these words is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast on behalf of those who persecute you: for what thanks will be due to you, if ye love only those who love you? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? But love ye those who hate you, and ye shall not have an enemy.”
The Didache, also known as The Teachings of the 12 Apostles, is an early Christian document written between 80AD – 90AD.

“The soldiers of Christ require neither arms nor spears of iron.”
Clement of Alexandria (150AD – 214AD)

“But now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts—for there is no agreement between the divine sacrament and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters—God and Caesar…But how will a Christian engage in war (indeed, how will a Christian even engage in military service during peacetime) without the sword, which the Lord has taken away?” 32
Tertullian (160AD – 220AD)

Footnotes

  1. To Donatus, chapter 6
  2. Dialogue with Trypho, 110.3.4
  3. Protrepticus XI, 116
  4. Hippolytos, Apostolic Tradition 16:17-19
  5. First Apology 1.14.3
  6. A Plea for the Christians
  7. Contra Celsus
  8. On Patience, 8
  9. Clement. “The Instructor,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff. Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Christian Ethereal Library, 1885)
  10. On the Incarnation. chapter 52
  11. De Corona Militis, On the chaplet 11
  12. Contra Celcus, chapter 75
  13. On Idolatry, 19; On the Chaplet 11-12
  14. Epistle to the Ephesians, c.108 AD
  15. On Idolatry, 19; On the Chaplet 11-12
  16. Against Celsus VIII. 7.3
  17. First Apology, 14
  18. Church Order in the Apostolic Tradition
  19. On Idolatry, 19
  20. To Autolycus 3.14.
  21. Disputation of Archelaus and Manes
  22. De idololatria, 19, in PL 1
  23. Dialogue with Trypho, 110.3.4
  24. Address to the Greeks
  25. Acts of Martyrs, official court minutes from Carthage, July 17, 180
  26. De Corona, Chapter 11
  27. Testamentum Domini, 118
  28. De Corona Militis, On the chaplet 11
  29. Epsistle Matt. Hom. 34, n.1:-Breviary
  30. Dialogue with Trypho, 83
  31. The Sacred Writings of Arnobius
  32. De idololatria, 19, in PL 1