When Jesus was raised from the dead, he still had the marks of violence on his body: the wounds from his crucifixion. Strangely enough, his disciples learned about forgiveness from this Christ who was risen with visible wounds. They saw his wounds, recognized him, and became aware that Jesus does not seek revenge. In fact, he had returned to these same friends, the very people who had run off and left him when he was most in danger. They learned that if they were to be found in Christ, they too were to take no revenge; instead, like Jesus they were to forgive.
London Street after Raid, c. 1941
Early Christians took to heart the belief that there is no room in God’s love for revenge or for violence, and therefore no room either in the body of Christ that is the community of believers for violence of any sort. One of the ways in which this was evident was that they tended to avoid military service. This was partly, but not entirely, due to the Roman army’s participation in idolatry. It was also because of the conviction that Christians must not kill or harm another person.
Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), in On Idolatry, concludes that making war has been impermissible for Christians ever since Jesus disarmed Peter, and by so doing, “unbelted every soldier” (see Mt 26:51ff; Lk 22:49ff; and for Peter identified as the swordsman, see John 18:10-11). Although by the late second century there appear to have been Christians in the Roman army, we do not know how prevalent this was; and before the time of Constantine we know of no Christian writing that argues the legitimacy of killing in any circumstance at all. (See Ronald J. Sider, The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.)
Hiroshima after Dropping of Atomic Bomb
In the century following the conversion of Constantine, Augustine of Hippo became an early advocate of what is called “just war” theory. (For the principles required for a war to be “just,” “What Is a Just War?”) The question that arises today, however, is whether it is really possible to wage a war that is just. Cardinal Walter Kasper ponders the question in his book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.
Because of the development of modern weapon systems, especially atomic weapons with their tremendous destructive force, a new situation has arisen. The question is whether the conditions of a justified war can be met at all with these weapons. Without being able in this context to explore the difficult and complex individual questions that are relevant, one must say at any rate that a total war, involving the destruction of entire cities or wide regions and their population, must be unconditionally condemned and proscribed.
And he adds:
Because the goal must be, not war, not even the so-called just war, but peace, people are talking today more appropriately about a just peace rather than about a just war. A just peace can be built neither with bayonets nor with panzers. Peace is the work of justice (Opus iustitiae pax, cf. Isa 32: 17…). In this sense, one seeks today to develop not an ethics of war, but an ethics of peace, whose goal is to do everything to make war impossible, not only in particular cases, but structurally impossible.
Yes, we need to embrace an “ethics of peace,” one that views peace as the absence of violence, of course, but more, as a condition of merciful justice for all people. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
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The WWII photos are in the public domain.