« PreviousContinue »
to hold any dignity in the army.” Achæus, the judge, asked Marinus if it was true that he had become a Christian? He acknowledged it; and three hours were allowed him to consider whether he would sacrifice or die. When the time expired, he chose the latter. The history of those times is full of such instances; and so desirous were the early Christians of keeping clear of idolatry in every shape, that they avoided every custom which appeared in the least degree connected with it. Thus when a largess was given in honor of the Emperors, L. Septimus Severus and his son, a solitary soldier, as we learn from TERTULLIAN, carried the garland given him on that occasion, in his hand, while the rest wore it on their heads. The Church then held it unlawful to wear the garland, because it belonged to the dress of the heathen priests, when sacrificing to their gods. On being interrogated by his commander why he refused wearing it, he replied, that he had become a Christian. He was immediately punished before the army, and sent into prison. But, while such idolatrous services hindered Christians from entering, and compelled them to leave the army, nothing is more true, than that the belief of its being unlawful for cians to fight, occasioned an equal abhorrence of military life.
There were three notions upon which this belief was grounded. 1. That it was their duty to love their enemies. The world
was then full of divisions and bitterness. The Jews looked upon the Gentiles as dogs and outcasts, so as not even to tell them their road when asked, or give them a draught of water; and the Gentiles, in turn, considered the Jews as the enemies of all nations, and haters of mankind. Nations, too, were set against each other on account of former and existing wars. Justin MARTYR says, who once hated each other, and delighted in mutual quarrels and slaughter, and, according to custom, refused to sit at the same fire with those who were not of our own trib and party, now since the appearance of Christ in the world, live familiarly with them, pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade them who hate us unjustly, to order their lives according to the excellent precepts of Christ.” Such was the practice of the early Christians, as founded on this tenet. TERTULLIAN says, “it was their peculiar character to love their enemies;” and ATHENAGORAS, JULIAN and LACTANTIUS, make “this their character to have been a proof of the divinity of their religion.” It was impossible for them, while embracing this heavenly tenet, even had the idolatrous services been dispensed with, to appear in the shape of warriors.
2. That it became them as Christians, to abstain from all manner of violence, and become distinguishable as the followers of peace. “ The great King of Heaven,” says ISIDORE of PELUSIUM,
came down from above to deliver rules for an heavenly conduct, which he has placed in a certain mode of contending quite contrary to that in the Olympic Games. There, he that fights, and gets the better, receives the Crown; here, he that is struck, and bears it meekly, has the honor and applause. There, he that returns blow
for blow; here, he that turns the other cheek, is celebrated in the theatre of Angels; for the victory is measured not by revenge, but by a wise
and generous patience. This is the new law of Crowns, the new way of contending for the mastery:" We find, accordingly, from ATHENAGORAS and other early writers, that the Christians of their time abstained, when they were struck, from striking again, and carried their principles so far as even to refuse going to law with those who injured them. It was impossible for them, while interpreting the Scriptures in this manner, “ to have used the sword or the bow in war."
3. That the slaughter of men in war was neither more nor less than direct murder. They had such an abhorrence of murder, and of being thought to be implicated at all in so atrocious a crime, that they refused to be present where the life of a fellow-creature was taken
away, whatever was the occasion. ATHENAGORAS, TATIAN, THEOPHILUS Antiochenus, and MInutius Felix, all agree in asserting this.
On these three grounds, independently of idolatrous practices in the army, the belief of the unlawfulness of war appears to have been universal among Christians of those times. Every Christian writer of the second century, who notices the subject, makes it unlawful for Christians to bear arms; and, as this belief seems to have been universal, so it operated as an impediment to a military life, quite as much as the idolatry connected with it, of which the following instances may suffice for illustration:
Let us first take a case on this principle alone. Maximilian having been brought before the tribunal to be enrolled as a soldier, Dion, the Proconsul, asked him his name. Maximilian, turning to him, replied, “ why wouldst thou know my name? I am a Christian, and cannot fight." Then Dion ordered him to be enrolled, and bade the officer mark him; but Maximilian refused to be marked, still asserting that he was a Christian; upon which Dion instantly replied, “ bear arms, or thou shalt die." To this Maximilian answered, “I cannot fight, if I die; I am not a soldier of this world, but a soldier of God.” Dion then said, “who has persuaded thee to behave thus ? ” Maximilian answered,“ my own mind, and he who called me.” Dion then spoke to his father, and bade him persuade his son; but his father observed, that his son knew his own mind, and what it was best for him to do. After this had passed, Dion addressed Maximilian again in these words, “take thy arms, and receive the mark.” “I can receive,” says Maximilian, “nó such mark. I have already the mark of Christ;" upon which Dion said, “ I will send thee quickly to thy Christ.” “Thou mayst do so,” says Maximilian; “but the glory will be mine.” Dion then bade the officer mark him; but Maximilian still persisted in refusing, and spoke thus, “I cannot receive the mark of this world; and, if thou shouldst give me the mark, I will destroy it. It will avail nothing. I am a Christian ; and it is not lawful for me to wear such a mark about my neck, when I have received the saving mark of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, whom thou knowest not, who died to give us life. Him all we Christians obey, and follow, as the Restorer of our life, and the Author of our salvation." Dion instantly replied, “take thy arms, and receive the mark, or thou shalt suffer a miserable death." “But I shall not perish,” says Maximilian; “my name is already enrolled with Christ;—
I cannot fight.” Dion said, “ consider then thy youth, and bear arms. The profession of arms becomes a young man.” Maximilian replied, “my arms are with the Lord. I cannot fight for any earthly consideration. I am now a Christian.” The Proconsul continued, “among the life-guards of our masters, Dioclesian and Maximinian, and Constantius and Maximus, there are Christian soldiers, and they fight.” Maximilian answered, “they know best what is expedient for them; but I am a Christian, and it is unlawful to do evil.” Dion said, “ take thy arms; despise not the profession of a soldier, lest thou perish miserably.” “But I shall not perish,” says Maximilian; “ and, if I should leave this world, my soul will live with Christ the Lord.” Dion then ordered his name to be struck from the roll, and proceeded, “ because out of thy rebellious spirit, thou hast refused to bear arms, thou shalt be punished according to thy deserts, for an example to others.” Then he delivered the following sentence: “ Maximilian ! because thou hast, with a rebellious spirit, refused to bear arms, thou art to die by the sword.” Maximilian replied, “ thanks be to God.”
He was little more than twenty years old; and, when he was led to the place of execution, he spoke thus, “ my dear brethren. endeavor with all your might, that it may be your portion to see the Lord, and that he may give you such a Crown.” Then, with a pleasant countenance, he said to his father, "give the executioner the soldier's coat thou hast gotten for me; and, when I shall receive thee in the company of the blessed martyrs, we may rejoice together with the Lord.” After this he suffered. His mother, Pompeiana, obtained his body from the judge, and conveyed it to Carthage, and buried it near the place where the body of Cyprian the martyr lay. Thirteen days after this his mother was buried in the same place; and Victor, his father, returned to his habitation, rejoicing and praising God, that he had sent before such a gift to the Lord, himself expecting to follow after.
Let us now turn to a mixed case, yet still avowing the same principle. Marcellus was a centurion in the Legion called Trajana. At a festival, given in honor of the birth-day of Galerius, he threw down his military belt at the head of the Legion, and declared with a loud voice, that he would no longer serve in the army, because he had become a Christian. “ I hold in detestation,” says he, addressing the soldiers, “the worship of your gods; gods, which are made of wood and stone ; gods, which are deaf and dumb.” So far, Marcellus seems to have been influenced by the idolatry of the military service. But let us hear him further : “ It is not lawful,” says he, "for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” After a delay of more than three months
in prison, allowed for the purpose of sparing him, he was brought before the Prefect, and had an opportunity of correcting his former expressions ; but, as he persisted in the same sentiments, he suffered. It is remarkable that, almost immediately after his execution, Cassian, the notary to the same Legion, refused to serve any longer, publicly throwing his pen and accompt-book on the ground, and declaring, that the sentence of Marcellus was unjust. When taken up by order of Aurelianus Agricolanus, he is described in the record preserved by Ruinart, to have avowed the same sentiments as Marcellus, and like him to have suffered death.
Here is another case on the same principle. Martin, of whom Sulpicius Severus says so much, had been bred to the profession of arms; but on his conversion to Christianity, he declined it. In his answer to Julian the Apostate for his conduct on this occasion, we find him using these words, “ I am a Christian, and therefore I cannot fight."
Let us quote the instance of Tarachus, another military man and martyr, and let this serve for all. He underwent his examination at Tarsus in Cilicia. Numerianus Maximus sat as President. “What is your name?” says Maximus. “I am called Tarachus,” says the prisoner, “ by my father ; but my military name is Victor.” “ And what is your condition?” “I have led a military life, and am a Roman. I was born at Claudiopolis, a city of Isauria, and, because I am a Christian, I have abandoned my prosession of a soldier.”
Such was the answer usually given on such occasions, without any specification as to which of the two principles had influenced the conduct of those who were brought before them; and, whenever we hear of such general apology or answer, we cannot doubt that they who made it, were actuated by both. The unlawfulness of fighting was as much a principle of religion in the early times of Christianity, as the refusal of sacrifice to the heathen gods; and they operated equally to prevent men from entering the army, and to drive them out of it on their conversion. Indeed, these principles always went together, where the profession of arms presented itself as an occupation for a Christian. lle who refused the profession on account of its idolatry, would have refused it on account of the unlawfulness of fighting; and he who refused it on account of the guilt of fighting, would have refused it on account of its idolatrous services. Both alike were impediments to a military life ; and, though the noble martyrs we have mentioned, grounded their apology for declining military service, some on its idolatry, and others on the unlawfulness of fighting, yet their common plea was, that having become Christians, they could be no longer soldiers.
III. We proceed now to the proof of our third point; that not till Christianity became corrupted, did its followers become soldiers. In the two first centuries, when Christianity was the purest, there are no Christian soldiers upon record; in the third century, when
it became less pure, there is frequent mention of such soldiers ; but in the fourth, when its corruption was fixed, Christians entered generally upon the profession of arms with as little hesitation as they entered upon any other occupation of life.
The excellent character of the first Christians is well known; but they sadly degenerated even in the third century. We have already stated that a Christian soldier was punished for refusing to wear a garland, like the rest of his comrades, on a public occasion. This man had been converted while in the army, and objected to the ceremony on that account. Now, TERTULLIAN tells us, that this soldier was blamed for his unseasonable zeal, as it was called, by some of the Christians at that time, though all Christians before considered the wearing of such a garland as unlawful and profane. This blame or censure is the first expression upon record, from which we may date the beginning of conformity on the part of the early Christians with the opinions of the world. There were then, as TERTULLIAN confesses, certain Christian casuists, who had so far degenerated as to think that many of the heathen customs might be complied with, though strictly forbidden by the Church ; in fact, that they might go any length, without the just imputation of idolatry, provided they did not sacrifice to the pagan gods, or become heathen priests. Indeed, his whole book on the Worship of Idols, is a continued satire on the occasional conformity of his brethren even in the third century; in other words, of an occasional mercenary compliance with the pagan worship. At this time there is no question but the Christian discipline began to relax. To the ease which the Christians enjoyed from the death of Antoninus to the tenth year of Severus, is to be ascribed the corruption that ensued. This corruption we find to have spread rapidly. TERTULLIAN lived long enough to see that several bearing the name of Christians, but who were no doubt the disciples of the casuista just mentioned, had entered the Roman armies. This fact we find in his Apology, one of his latest works ; for when the pagans charged the Christians, as they had pretty constantly done, with being useless to the commonwealth, he answers the accusation in part by saying, that there were then Christians in the military service.
We serve,” says he, “with you and your armies ;" a very different answer this, to that which Origen gave Celsus on a similar charge respecting what had been the state of things in the second century, as appears in a former page! But the corruption did not stop here. The same TERTULLIAN was enabled to furnish us with the extraordinary instance of manufacturers of idols being admitted into the ecclesiastical order! Many corruptions are also noticed in this century by other writers. CYPRIAN complained of them in the middle, and EUSEBIUS at the end of it: and both attributed them to the ease and security which the Christians had enjoyed. The latter gives us a melancholy account of their change. They had begun to live in fine houses, and to indulge in luxuries; but, above all
, to be envious and quarrelsome, to dissemble, and cheat, and