Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Should Christians
join the army? /

Πρέπει οι χριστιανοί
να στρατεύονται;

Greek Orthodox Christian Chaplain
of the II Infantry Division in the Balkan Wars
and WWI, Fr. Eleutherios Nuphrákes
Greek Orthodox Christian Chaplains
during the Balkan Wars
Greek Orthodox Christian Chaplain
during the Balkan Wars
Greek Orthodox Christian Chaplain
in Albania during WWII


The controversy over whether Christianity sanctions violence has hounded the church from its very beginning. Some have argued that Christians were expected to follow Jesus' example of selfless love (agape), and "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5: 44). Those who took the other side have referred to the incident in which Jesus drove the money changers from the Temple, and to his enigmatic statement: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matt. 10:34; cf. also Luke 12:51-2). The early Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origcn, asserted that Christians were constrained from taking human life, a principle that prevented Christians from serving in the Roman army.

When Christianity was vaulted into the status of state religion by Constantine in the fourth century CE, it began to reject pacifism and accept the doctrine of just war, an idea first stated by Cicero and later developed by Ambrose and Augustine. The abuse of the concept in justifying military adventures and violent persecutions of heretical and minority groups led Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, to reaffirm that war is always sinful, even if it is occasionally waged for a just cause. Remarkably, the just war theory still stands today as the centerpiece of Christian understanding about the moral use of violence (see, e.g., Ramsay 1968; Potter 1969). Some Christian theologians have adapted the theory of just war to liberation theology, arguing that the church can embrace a "just revolution" (Brown 1987; Gutierrez 1988).

An American Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, showed the relevance of the just war theory to contemporary social struggles by relating it to the Christian requirement to fulfill social justice. When violence is employed for the sake of justice, Niebuhr explained, it must be used as swiftly and skillfully "as a surgeon's knife" (Niebuhr 1932:134). In a famous essay answering the question, "why the Christian Church is not pacifist", Niebuhr—who had himself been a pacifist earlier in his career—built his case on Augustine's understanding of original sin. Because of the sinful nature of humanity, Niebuhr argued, righteous force was sometimes necessary to extirpate injustice and subdue evil within a sinful world (Niebuhr 1940).

«Οι πρώτοι εκκλησιαστικοί πατέρες, περιλαμβανομένου του Τερτυλλιανού και του Ωριγένη, δήλωναν ότι απαγορευόταν στους Χριστιανούς να αφαιρέσουν ανθρώπινη ζωή, μια αρχή που τους εμπόδιζε να συμμετέχουν στο ρωμαϊκό στρατό».

* The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion,
Peter Bernard Clarke (ed.),
Oxford Handbooks Online, 2008,
p./σ. 899.

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