« PreviousContinue »
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 Tatachus, 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. He 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 cor· ruption we find to have spread rapidly, TERTULLIAN lived long enough see that several bearing the name of Christians, but who were no doubt the disciples of the casuists 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. 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
falsify their word, so that they had lost the character which Pliny, an adversary to their religion, had been obliged to give of them, and which they had retained for more than a century afterwards.
That there were Christian soldiers in this more corrupt century of the Church, it is impossible to deny ; for such frequent mention is made of them in the histories of this period, that there were in the armies either men who called themselves Christians, or men who had that name given them by others. That they were real Christians, is another question. They were probably such Christians as the casuists of TERTULLIAN, or such as Dion mentioned to have been among the life-guards of Dioclesian and Maximilian, of Constantius and Maximus, of whom Maximilian the martyr observed, “ these men may know what it is expedient for them to do; but I am a Christian, and therefore cannot fight.” That real Christians could have been found in the army in this /century is impossible; for the military oath full of idolatry, the worshipping of the standards, and the performance of sacrifice, still continued as services not to be dispensed with by the soldiery. No one, therefore, can believe, that men in the full practice of pagan idolatry, as every legionary soldier must then have been, were real Christians, merely because it is recorded in history, that men, calling themselves Christians, were found in the army in those times. On the other hand, if any soldiers professed Christianity at this period, or are related by authors to have professed it, and yet remained soldiers, it may be directly pronounced, that they could have been merely nominal or corrupted Christians.
Christianity was still more degenerate in the fourth century. Let us look at the evidence of LACTANtits in his book on the Death of the Persecuted. He tells us " the sacrifices did not do well, when any of the Christians attended them.” What! Christians present at the heathen sacrifices, and sitting at meat in the idol's temple! But this is not all. He gives us in the same book another piece of information about the Christian conformists of his time. “The Emperor," says he, “ while in the East, made a sacrifice of oxen, and endeavored to ascertain, by inspection of the entrails, what was about to happen. At this time, some Christians, who filled the inferior offices of the heathen) priesthood, while giving their assistance to the high priest on this occasion, marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross. The consequence was, that the aruspices were frightened, and could not collect their usual marks.” Here then we see not only that Christians were present at some of the heathen sacrifices, but that they filled offices belonging to the lowest order of the pagan hierarchy. We may go still further, and assert upon authority undeniable, that it was no uncommon thing in this age for Christians to accept heathen priesthoods ; for the Council of Elvira, in the beginning of the fourth century, was forced to make sereral canons to forbid such scandalous usages. But it is not necessary to detail these or other particulars; almost every body knows that more evils sprang up to the Church in this century, than in any other. Indeed, the corruption of Christianity
was then fixed as it were by law. Constantine, on his conversion, introduced many of the pagan ceremonies and superstitions in which he had been brought up. The Christians, rejoicing to see an Emperor of their own religious persuasion, submitted, in order to please or flatter him, to his idolatrous customs and opinions. Many who had always been heathens, professed themselves Christians at once, merely out of compliment to their Emperor. Thus there came to be a mixture of Christianity and Heathenism in the Church. Constantine, too, did not dispense with the blasphemous titles of Pontifex Maximus, Divinity and Eternity, given to his predecessors. After his death, he was considered also as a god; and, if Philostorgius is to be believed, the Christians, for so he calls them, prayed to and worshipped him as such.
Now, in this century, when the corruption of the Church was fixed, and Christians had submitted to certain innovations upon their religion, they were in a fit state to go greater lengths; and this they did in the relaxation of their religious scruples respecting
This relaxation was also promoted by other means. The existing government, in order to make the military service more palatable to them, dispensed with the old military oath, and allowed them to swear " by God, by Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, and by the Majesty of the Emperor, which, next to God, was to be loved and honored by mankind." This political maneuvre did away, in some measure, a part of the objection to a military life, which arose from its idolatries. The grand tenet on war began also to be frittered down by some of the leading clergy themselves. It had been formerly held unlawful for Christians to fight at all; it was now insinuated as if it was allowable if they fought under the banners of Christian Emperors, for bloodshed in war was more excusable in the cause of virtue and religion. This new interpretation of the old tenet afforded a salvo to the consciences of many, and helped to take off that other part of the objection to a military life, which consisted in the unlawfulness of fighting: Hence the unlawfulness of fighting began to be given up. We find, however, that here and there, an ancient Father still retained it as a religious tenet; but, these dropping off one after another, it ceased at length to be a doctrine of the Church, and left her to all the deep wardegeneracy of subsequent ages.
Thus have we proved every point essential to our main positions :
1. That the early Fathers generally use language which obviously condemns all war, and not a few of them explicitly denounce it as utterly unchristian :
2. That they all speak of the ancient prophecies concerning the prevalence of peace under the gospel, as actually fulfilled in the Christians of that age:
3. That Christians then abstained from war as unlawful for them, and suffered martyrdom for their refusal to bear arms :