Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Christ our Hope: Part 6 - Witness of the Contemporary Church

This is Part 6 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 and Part 4 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war and . Part 5 looked at the witness of early Christianity and the changes which took place after Constantine along with the thought of Augustine and Aquinas on the issue.


After Vatican II, The Catholic Church adopted and updated the thought of Augustine and Aquinas in the Catechism of the Catholic Church officially teaching the just war theory,[1]but, as we previously mentioned, the Catechism also speaks of the evangelical witness of those who fully answer Jesus’ call and respond nonviolently. Furthermore, we know that the just war theory was one of the two most controversial and debated items in the Catechism.[2]Here, in the context of and discussion about the just war theory in the Catechism, we see the reappearance of a dilemma, an apparent dichotomous paradox within Church tradition. God is perfectly merciful. God is perfectly just. We can see this apparent contradiction in the words of each of the last two Popes. Pope John Paul II writes, “‘legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State’. Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life.”[3] However, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution,’…The revolution of love… Here is the heroism of the “lowly” who believe in God’s love and spread it, even at the cost of their lives!”[4]

What shall we make of this? We have seen already that Jesus clearly and irrevocably taught his disciples love of neighbor and nonviolent resistance. He showed us, by example, not to return evil with evil, but to love, and to forgive, and to pray. We have seen that the first Christians received Jesus’ call to holiness openly and without excuse or limit. For them Jesus’ teachings were not mere platitudes, but were life giving. We have also seen, in a unique way in the past one hundred years, what horrid evil and destruction mankind is capable of. Humanity has been further convinced of the apparent necessity of violent force to defend those who cannot defend themselves and to work for justice. In this respect we can quote the ancient Roman maxim as being accurate current American sensibility: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Forced into unease by this apparent contradiction, we shall attempt to accept the challenge put forth by the Church in Gaudium et Spes, and echoed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: we shall consider war with a new attitude.[5]

Before attempting a synthesis and determining a firm direction from which we can develop this new attitude, we would be remiss if we did not consider the recent Magisterial statements on war, peace, and violence. The diachronic response of the Magisterium to the atrocities of the last century has overwhelmingly begun to move in thought towards nonviolence: Pope Benedict XV, writing during WWI, speaks confidently that injustices can be rectified without violence and calls on all involved to lay down their weapons.[6] In 1944 Pope Pius XII proclaims, “The Church desires to win over peoples and to educate them to virtue and right social living, not by means of arms but with the truth. For ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God.’”[7] Pope Paul VI gives us a hint as to what alternative weapons we might employ:

“It is necessary before all else to provide Peace with other weapons - weapons different from those destined to kill and exterminate mankind. What is needed above all are moral weapons, those which give strength and prestige to international law...It is no longer a simple, ingenuous and dangerous utopia. It is the new Law of mankind which goes forward, and which arms Peace with a formidable principle: "You are all brethren."[8]

Additionally, predating, but adding to the thought of Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes condemns the notion of peace through an arms race[9] and teaches, “the Council wishes passionately to summon Christians to cooperate, under the help of Christ the author of peace, with all men in securing among themselves a peace based on justice and love and in setting up the instruments of peace.”[10]

Based on the above evidence, a shift in Church understanding of violence and war becomes evident. In light of teachings of our popes, no longer can we speak of a Christian war at all, at least not one which implies violent weapons aimed at the destruction of men. What might this new type of war be like? Is it even reasonable? Before we more fully concern ourselves with these questions, we must give heed to the opposite perspective.

[1] CCC 2309.

[2] Palermo, 2005.

[3] John Paul II, Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (1995), 55.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Feb. 18, 2007.

[5] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, (Rome:the Holy See, 1965), 80; CSDC, 497.

[6] Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, (1914), 4.

[7] Pius XII, Encyclical Summi Maeroris, (1950), 12.

[8] Paul VI, “The Real Weapons of Peace,” World Day of Peace Message, Jan 1, 1976.

[9] Gaudium et Spes, 81

[10] Ibid., 77.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Christ our Hope: Part 5 - Witness of Early Christianity

This is Part 5 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 and Part 4 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war.


Up until the time of Constantine, history bears witness to the lives of the first Christians’ taking to heart Jesus’ “third way” and rejecting violence in all situations. In their writing and in their lives Christians lived out Jesus’ commands to love to their enemies, to pray for them, to turn the other cheek, and in following his example, to pray for their enemies while being persecuted unto death in a witness to the efficacy and power of Jesus’ kenotic love. We do not here have time to explore the witness thoroughly, but a few poignant quotes and testimonies will suffice.

The Didache, considered to be the teachings of the Apostles, opens with a paraphrasing of Jesus’ non-violent commands in the Sermon on the Mount:

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference. Now this is the way of life: First, you must love God who made you, and second, your neighbor as yourself. And whatever you want people to refrain from doing to you, you must not do to them. What these maxims teach is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies. Moreover fast for those who persecute you…and you will be perfect…Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for others, and still others love more than your own life.”34

Clearly, the Apostles seem to be fully embracing Jesus’ witness of self-sacrificial love, exhorting their flock to be willing to sacrifice their lives out of love of others. Furthermore, their exhortation to love others more than one’s life is given in the context of those whom one might be tempted to hate, whom one might need to reprove, for whom one might need to pray. The Apostles are not calling Christians to merely die for Christ, although that is certainly primary; they are calling us to be willing to die out love for our enemies. St. Clement of Alexandria begins to clarify the difference between non-Christians and Christians. In this regard he shows that Christians no longer spend time training for war or in violent disputes. “We [Christians] are being educated not in war, but in peace... [For] man is really a [peaceful] instrument…we have made use of one instrument, the peaceful Word only, wherewith we honor God.”35 St. Clement calls us to respond with the Good News of Jesus Christ, but in order to do so we must be educated in peace.

This insight will have bearings on our conclusion. We could quote many more Church Fathers, and nearly all will speak similarly toward violence and Christian involvement in war. Before moving on however, we should reference a few of the Church fathers on specific issues: It is noteworthy that nowhere in patristics do we see any reference to using violence (or anything else) to defend the rights of others.

Tertullian, for example, accepts unreservedly that he would not use violence to avenge wrongs committed against him; therefore he never even considers using violence to avenge the wrongs committed against another.36 37 Cadoux explains well that, in spite of this, the early Christians were guilty of neither selfish negligence, nor cowardice38; rather, they lived and died in the image of Christ, reflecting his love and his refusal to avenge the deaths of John the Baptist39 or the slaughtered Galileans.40

In moving the discussion further towards war, we can refer to Origen. Writing around 248 in Contra Celsus, he admits the possibility of a just-war for non-Christian peoples,41 but consistently maintains that Christians should not take part, adding “[Jesus] nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to any one, however wicked.”42 Origen’s approach to the role of Christians living as citizens in a non-Christian country at war can provide a prophetic witness to our current call. We shall have cause revisit this later.

We have found, in our brief examination of the first two centuries of Christianity, that the followers of Christ indeed interpreted Jesus’ teachings to love the enemy, pray for the persecutor, and turn the other cheek literally. Christians, who had no power on their own and were not in any official way bonded to the state, received Christ’s call and responded generously with love of God and love of neighbor. Furthermore, for the early Christians these were not mere Christian idealisms. To be Christian was to be a man of peace, a man who had no weapon but the Word of the Christ and the Spirit of Love. So when did Christian’s begin to accept and participate in wars?


The first we see of a major development of a Christian “just war” theory43 is in St. Augustine’s City of God. Augustine began writing around 413, and much had changed for Christians since the time of Origen and Tertullian. Constantine had risen to power, thus ending the persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire, had been baptized, and died. Shortly thereafter, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. Herein lies a great temptation for Christendom. Christians are no longer merely an oft persecuted minority sect in a powerful Empire.

Rather, much of the Roman Empire became Christianized. The military and the politics were now related to the faith. Emperors and governors tried to mingle political interests with Church issues, bribing priests and bishops. For the first time a significant part of the military, including the banner, became Christian. For the first time, Christians had the power, the strength, to physically, violently fight their enemies. Around this time the empire had also suffered repeated attacks from barbarians. Writing in this context, Augustine was aware of having to defend Christianity from her critics and give the philosophical and theological foundations for Christians who are active citizens in the Roman Empire.44

Augustine, developing on the thought of Cicero and the Old Testament, describes the importance of the state as a keeper of peace and defender of persons.45 Rome, as a Christian state, must, at times, be able to war in the name of God as a defender of peace. Augustine attempts to answer the nonviolent apologies of Tertullian and others by arguing that killing is not evil in and of itself; rather what matters is the disposition of the person: one must never kill with motivations of hate or vengeance, but only for God’s will, that is, with the intent to defend. Augustine correlates this perspective of the spiritual disposition46 of a soldier to that of the state,47 thus justifying violent warfare. We must note however, that for Augustine war was only justifiable if it was absolutely necessary, that is, if the state found itself compelled to fight unjust attackers after nonviolent means of settling the issue, via communicating, had failed. Augustine explains, “Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace."48

However it is precisely on this point, of necessity, that Tertullian’s argument for Christian nonviolence seems to trump Augustine’s development of a just war theory. Tertullian writes, “A state of faith admits no plea of necessity. They are under no necessity to sin…because there is a higher necessity to dread denying and to undergo martyrdom than to escape from suffering.”49 As Christians the only thing that is necessary is following Christ. Christ does not directly forbid violence or violent warfare; instead, focusing on the positive, he commands kenotic love.50

Furthermore, McGuckin, explaining St. Basil's pastoral approach to the response of his dioceses to invading barbarians and the subsequent “necessity” of a violent response writes:

All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the kathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.**

Thus, even when Christians were pardoned on the basis of necessity and permitted to participate in a war, neither the war itself nor the violence was justified. In fact, the warriors were considered defiled and in need of penance before returning to the Altar.

Nevertheless, after Augustine, Christians were further assimilated into Rome, and wars were waged in the name of the Church. Although, Augustine’s teaching on just war was not intended to be used by the state (it was initially used by the Church for pastoral purposes to help to determine the guilt and penance for those returning from war),51before long war, even holy war, became a normal part of Christendom. Some of the wars waged in the name of the Church could be called “just,” others cannot.

The first prime example of a “Christian war”, began more than 600 years after Augustine, when, at the Council of Claremont in 1095, Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade. Admittedly, this war was, in a certain sense, a war waged in defense of the Byzantine Church, which had been under persecution by Muslims. Nevertheless, the sword, which Jesus had scolded Peter for taking up, became a Christian symbol,52meanwhile “Pope Urban II had brought together an international Catholic, war-loving Légion Étrangère.53

Clearly, this is a major shift, if not a complete reversal, from the faith lived out nonviolently by the early Christians. Previously, Christians had been ridiculed and persecuting for refusing to take part in the military; now they are called “war-loving.” This general attitude was predominant for as long as the Church and the state remained cohorts.54

Less than 200 years later and over 800 years after Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas would continue the discussion of the just war theory. Aquinas adds further depth to the theology of the just war theory and further weight to its authority. For Aquinas three things are necessary for a war to be just: the war must be declared by the proper sovereign authority55, the war must be waged on those who are guilty of injustice and refuse to make recompense, and those declaring and waging must intend the advancement of the good and deterrence of evil.56 Again we must add that for Aquinas war must always be a last resort, and for a war to be just, it must answer the objections he raises in the Summa.57

The Church would remain in bed, as it were, with the state, until the Papal States were taken by force in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Since the Church has been freed from the temptation of temporal power and military force, the Magisterium has slowly begun to revert to the nonviolent love and witness of the early Christians. But it has not yet discarded the just-war theory. Let us now consider the more recent proclamations of the Church on the issues of war, peace, violence, and mercy.

Works Cited

34 The “Didache,” 1:1-4, 2:7, cited from Early Christian Fathers, ed. Cyril C. Richardson (Library of Christian Classics Series), 1970, 171-172.

35 Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, 190-200 A.D, Book I Ch. xii, Book II Ch. ii. 32, Ch. iv. 42.

36 Tertullian, de Corona Militis, 211 A.D., 11 (ii. 92).

37 This is in stark contrast with the common thought of today, which assumes a legitimate defense of self and a duty to defend others, even unto death. We shall have cause to visit this thought in more detail when we consider the contemporary question of just war. (CCC 2263)

38 Cadoux, 70.

39 Matt 14:1-17

40 Luke 13:1-5

41 Origen, Contra Celsus, 248 A.D., vii, 26.

42 Ibid., iii, 7.

43 N.B. For the time being we are assuming that war includes violence, and may therefore be contrary to Jesus’ call.

44 Robert Brimlow, What about Hitler? Wrestling with Jesus’ Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World, (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), 23.

45 St. Augustine, City of God (Penguin Classics), (London: Penguin Classics, 2004) 19:7.

46 We can see this also in his exegesis of Matt 5:39, where he limits Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek to a mere inner disposition. Robert Brimlow, correctly I think sees this as introducing a false dichotomy into the human person. See Brimlow, p30-32 for more on this. While I think Brimlow may be correct, we shall not pursue his line of reasoning, which intends to do away with the just war theory.

47 Ibid.

48 St. Augustine, "CHURCH FATHERS: Letter 98 (St. Augustine to Boniface)," NEW ADVENT. (accessed April 22, 2008), clxxxix

49 Tertullian, De Corona XI.

50 Brimlow, 32.

**John McGuckin, "Nonviolence and Peace Traditions in Early & Eastern Christianity".

51 Michael Baxter, “Just War and Pacifism,” Houston Catholic Worker, Vol XXIV, No. 3, May-June 2004.

52 H. W. Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic – A 2,000-Year History, (Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing, 2001), 214.

53 Ibid.

54 Crocker points out another intriguing example, in addition to that of war, of the Empire’s influence on Christianity. He writes, “Christianity had distinguished itself, in the centuries before Constantine, by not making heresy a capital crime. After the empire and Christianity became one, the imperial penalty for heresy overruled Christian practice – though most of the leaders of the Catholic Church disapproved of such capital punishment.” Is it a coincidence that these two issues, war and capital punishment, were the most hotly debated topics in the development of the Catechism?

55 Here we see a subtle beginning of the move away from the pastoral focus of the just war theory.

56 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 2a 2ae, Q. 40, A

57 N.B. One of Thomas’ strongest objections quotes Jesus’ aforementioned teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Aquinas refutes this on basis of necessity, which as we have noted above, Tertullian shows is faulty logic for a Christian.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Christ Our Hope: Part 4 - Witness of Christ continued

This is Part 3 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war. We shall not continued those considerations.

Jesus’ Statements Which Seem to Support Violent Warfare

First let us consider the expulsion of the money changers from the Temple court, one of the pericopes sometimes cited by amateur theologians as evidence of Jesus' occasional use, or at least tolerance, of violence. Some claim this as an example of Jesus’ use of violent physical coercion to cleanse the temple, and conclude that if Jesus used “righteous” violence, then we certainly we can and should. However the use of the whip is mentioned only in John’s Gospel,1 and the Evangelist never says he used it on people. He merely says that Jesus made a whip out of cords and that he drove them, the moneychangers and animals, out of the temple area. The Gospel does not actually say that Jesus used violence on anyone. Furthermore, the Greek verb which is translated as “drove out” literally means “to cast out.” This same verb is used in many different, nonviolent, contexts: to speak of Jesus being sent into the wilderness by the Spirit,2 to speak of God sending his workers into the vineyard,3and to speak of a shepherd sending his sheep into the fold.4 Thus, it does not seem to have violent implications, but rather to imply an “authoritative dismissal.”5 This seems to necessarily be the case when we consider that it is impossible for a single man to drive out an entire crowd by threat of violence with merely a whip. Jesus must have awed the crowd by the presence and authority of his personality, expelling them by command rather than by violence.6

Second we shall consider the Lucan account, shortly before the Last Supper in which Jesus recommends that his apostles sell their cloak to purchase a sword if they do not already have one. The apostles respond that among them, they have two swords. Jesus replies abruptly: “It is enough!”7 While, if interpreted literally, this could be used to support a claim that Jesus was encouraging his disciples to have weapons handy for self-defense, the fact that the two swords were not sufficient to defend the apostles from the guards seems to disprove the notion that the two swords were enough. Furthermore, if Jesus was speaking literally why would he have shortly thereafter chastised Peter for using his sword? It seems unlikely that Jesus was speaking literally here, rendering the pericope unacceptable as an argument for Jesus’ approval of violence.

Many however, simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings against violence as being irrelevant or unrealistic. Loisy, for example, reasons “A country where all the good people conformed to these maxims would, instead of resembling the kingdom of heaven, be the paradise of thieves and criminals.”8 [This is the same reasoning often used to argue for the right to bear arms.] However popular this line of reasoning may be, these arguments seem to miss the point entirely and wind up expressing their faith and hope in human means of governing civilization, which history shows are doomed to corruption and failure, rather than in the teachings of Christ, the eternal Logos.

Furthermore those who argue against the plausibility and efficacy of living by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount neglect three important points: (1) Jesus directs these teachings not too humanity at large, but to those who are listening to him, namely his disciples. The closer one is in relation to Christ the more willing and able to one will be (or at least should be) to lovingly live out Jesus’ call to nonviolent resistance. (2) The success which the early Christians achieved in living out Jesus’ “third way” in a radical way surpasses the success of violent coercion in the effort curb human injustice and sinfulness. (3) The Christian community, the Kingdom of God, is to grow gradually and mysteriously, like seed planted in good soil,9 resulting in a gradual decrease of those who resort to violence to respond to evil. This decrease will occur simultaneously with a gradual decrease in those who seem to need be violently restrained.10 We shall return to the implications of these three points more fully later on, but for the moment we can suffice to say that Jesus’ life is a witness to the beauty and power of his message. Jesus Christ, the philosopher and the shepherd, the suffering servant and the king, calls all his disciples to love God, and in doing so, to love all those made in His image. Jesus shows us that love is a free gift of self, which is willing to accept self-sacrifice for the good of the other, even the enemy.

1 John 2:13-17.
2 Mark 1:12.
3 Matt 9:38.
4 John 10:4.
5 Cadoux, 42.
6 Ibid.
7 Luke 22: 36-38.
8 Quoted in Cadoux, 44.
9 Mark 4:1-9
10 Cadoux, 45.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Christ our Hope: Part 3 - Witness of Christ

This is Part 3 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Here we shall begin to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war.

At the outset we must admit that we have no evidence of an explicit teaching of Jesus or of his apostles on the issues of war.1
Nevertheless, simply because Jesus does not directly address the issue of war in the Gospels does not mean that we can claim that his silence expresses neutrality or implicit approval towards war, for many of his sayings do contain implications for violence and for peace.

It is not within the scope of this paper to pursue a complete or extensive exegetical study of the Biblical evidence on this matter. However, we shall consider a few of the key texts which have been used to support violent warfare, but first we shall look at some of the texts which have been interpreted as Jesus’ condemnation of violence.

Jesus’ Statements Which Seem to Conflict with Violent Warfare

First let us turn to the Sermon on the Mount during which Jesus is referencing traditional teachings of the Old Testament and Jewish tradition and is giving them their full and complete interpretation, as only he, the Word made flesh, can. Jesus recasts the traditional teachings, in every case, in a way which is more strict than the tradition and demands greater love and self-sacrifice. Three specific passages from the Sermon on the Mount concern us. Let us now examine the first.

Jesus begins to speak of the Fifth Commandment. He proclaims, “I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”4 He condemns the act of even being angry at another, as anger is the emotion which leads to killing another. In light of this we can with some confidence say that while Jesus has not condemned violence per se he has spoken against the emotions which generally lead to violent acts, classifying the emotions themselves as unacceptable for his followers.

Jesus continues: “I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”5 This statement is often misinterpreted as an order to Christians to be submissive. “Turn the other cheek. Do not react violently. Submit to your master or superior.” The implications of this would be staggering and would contradict the witness of Jesus’ own dealings with evil and injustice. Jesus never sits idly allowing evil to be done. He does not react violently, but he certainly does not merely submit. This passage has been used for generations to convince Christian peasants to submit to tyrant kings and to convince Christian wives and children to submit to abusive husbands. The implications of this for modern warfare are despicable and contrary to our natural inclinations to self-defense and to defending the weak and vulnerable. This interpretation will not do.

Walter Wink, in his book The Powers that Be, offers an excellent and convincing alternative exegesis of this passage. Wink shows that in order for a Jew in that culture to be struck on his right cheek, the “superior” must have backhanded him, an action which did not intend to harm but to humiliate and degrade, to put a slave or Jew back in his or her place. Wink says,

By turning the other cheek, the servant makes it impossible for the master to use the backhand again …This act of defiance renders the master incapable of asserting his dominance in the relationship. He can have the slave beaten, but he can no longer cow him. By turning the other cheek, the inferior is saying: 'I'm a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won't take it anymore.6

Jesus calls for us to use, what Wink calls, Jesus’ “third way:” a way of life, of dealing with conflict, which is based neither in passivity nor in violence. This “third way” consists in active nonviolent resistance to all that is evil and inconsistent with the dignity of the human person. This resistance renders the persecutor impotent, unable to denigrate the dignity of the Christian, who, while forcing the persecutor to recognize his equality, must also, like Jesus, be willing to make sacrifices, his own sacrifices, for this truth to be made known.

Jesus is not telling his listeners to merely submit to one who does evil. Rather, he is teaching them not to respond violently, not to respond to one (an individual or a nation-state or either?) with violent warfare. At the very least, based upon the overall context, we can affirm that Jesus seems to intend for his disciples to respond, to resist, in some non-violent fashion.

Let us turn now to our third text from the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus instructs his disciples: “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? …Do not the pagans do the same?”7 Again Jesus offers us another extraordinarily rich teaching. We do not here have the opportunity or the ability to fully explicate its meaning, but it does contain salience for our purpose and has a great deal to say to us. Jesus previously told us that anger, the emotion of desiring to bring harm upon another, specifically one’s “brother,” is sinful. Here, he takes it a step further, challenging his disciples to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors. Even evildoers love those who treat them well; Christians, who share a universal call to holiness, are called to love everyone, even their enemies and persecutors, for the Father is the Father of all. God wants to bring salvation to all men, including those who are presently the enemies of Christ, including those who are persecuting his followers, his body.

The Bible gives us several examples of proper Christian responses to our persecutors which may serve to evangelize a culture of violence.8 Jesus confronts Saul, asking “why are you persecuting me?”9 In doing so, Jesus not only communicated to Saul the very real unity of Christ and his disciples, but he also called him to conversion and to service of the Church. In reflecting upon this experience and on Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, St. Paul tells us that while we were still sinners, enemies of his kingdom, Christ proved the love of the Triune God for us in his passion and death.10 Thus, Jesus shows us by example what it means to love one’s enemies. Wink sums up Jesus’ alternative to both passivism and to violence well: “Jesus is not advocating nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just also.” Jesus calls us to love them which the kenotic love which leads to the cross and opens the door to conversion and salvation.

Before we move on to consider the Gospel evidence which could support violence, we should consider the witness of Jesus’ kenotic love as exemplary for all Christian love. St Paul, writing to the Philippians, tells us that Jesus emptied himself of power, becoming humble and obedient unto death. If we, following Cardinal Kasper and others, take Rahner’s Trinitarian axiom11 to be accurate, then the incarnation of the Son is a true and real self-communication or revelation of God the Father. And, if God is love,12then this Love, as revealed by Christ, is not love which covets power to subdue its enemies, rather this Love empties itself in a complete and total gift of self for the other, even the other who is enemy. This kenotic love, never fails.13

Thus we can offer a preliminary conclusion: in reflecting on the collective witness of the above passages we can say not only that Jesus personally rejected all violence, most prophetically in his passion and death, but that he also stipulated that his disciples -- all of them, not a select few -- do likewise. Nevertheless, there are a number of passages which many use to show that Jesus’ disuse of violence was either not absolute or not authoritative for modern Christians. We shall consider them in part 4 of this series.


1 John Cecil Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics,(London: Headly Bros, 1919), 36.

2 Wilma Ann Bailey, "You Shall Not Kill" or "You Shall Not Murder"? The Assault on a Biblical Text, (Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2005), 86.

3 Ibid., 24.

4 Matthew 5:21-22

5 Matthew 5:38-32.

6 Walter Wink, The Powers That Be, (New York, Doubleday, 1998), 102.

7 Matthew 5:43-48.

8 In a discussion on this topic, a colleague countered that at times killing someone can be an expression of love. He argued that, because the human person is not merely temporal, because we can eternal end, he hopes that if he were about to commit some heinous and evil crime, killing him before he committed the act would be an expression of love. However, I cannot understand how this would be consistent with love. It seems like a sort of “moral euthanasia” in which we kill someone out of mercy so that they have don’t undergo or self-inflict some moral evil or spiritual suffering. Jesus teaches us that violence is not salvific, but suffering, suffering with him, is.

9 Acts 9:4.

10 Romans 5:8.

11 “The economic is the immanent and the immanent is the economic.” quoted from Karl Rahner, The Trinity: trans. By Joseph Donceel,(NY: Herder and Herder, 1970), 22.

12 1 John 4:8.

13 1 Cor 13:8.