Early Christian Views of War
Post Enlightenment Christianity often emphasizes the peaceful nature of Jesus, as opposed to the very numerous accounts of divinely sanctioned violence or warfare in the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament]. Proponents of the Christian pacifist position sometimes point to the early Church, the first three centuries of Christianity, and cite it as "pacifist" in arguing against Christian participation in warfare, under any circumstances. Such claims are often cited as a means of illuminating the supposedly un-Christian character of the crusades.This point was once brought up during an interview by Christianity Today with the highly respected crusades scholar Jonathan Riley-Smith. A partial transcript follows and the response by Dr. Riley-Smith is well worth reading.
Christian History Magazine: In the first three centuries, Christians were pacifists. By 1096, they had embarked on a holy war. What caused such a huge change?
Jonathan Riley-Smith: First, the early church was not entirely pacifist. In Romans 13, for example, Paul justifies the violence of the pagan emperor, for the emperor is yet a minister of God. And Christians served in the Roman army from the second century on. Following the conversion of the emperors, in the fourth century, the church became more open to using violence. Church leaders, after an initial shock, began supporting the use of force against heretics. Then Augustine formulated his theory of “just war,” but his terms effectively mean “holy war.” Augustine and the medieval world concluded that violence is not evil. Instead, violence is morally neutral. That makes a crusade possible. How did medieval Christians support their idea that violence was morally neutral? Augustine gave this example: Suppose a man has gangrene in the leg and is going to die. The surgeon believes the only way to save him is by amputating the leg. Against the man’s will, the surgeon straps him to a table and saws off the leg. That is an act of extreme violence.*
*Taken from "Holy Violence Then and Now : A historian looks at the causes and lingering effects of Christian warfare. an interview with Jonathan Riley-Smith ." Christianity Today, [Online] October 1, 1993 http://www.ctlibrary.com/3995 [Last viewed 12/22/2006].
Crusades - Encyclopedia