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Trade Paperback
240 pages
Jun 2004
Kregel Publications

Christian Jihad: Two Former Muslims Look at the Crusades and Killing in the Name of Christ

by Ergun Mehmet Caner & Emir Fethi Caner

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1

We Shed No Blood but Our Own

The Early Church and Warfare (a.d. 30–300)

As Christians, we are forbidden to wage war, and that our loyalty to our country, to humanity, to the Church Universal, and to Jesus Christ our Lord and Master, calls us instead to a life-service for the enthronement of Love in personal, commercial and national life.1 —Fellowship of Reconciliation
(summer 1914 in Switzerland)

Popular culture—and the world of modern academia—purports 
     that the early Church, beginning with the institution of the church at Pentecost, was defiantly pacifist—that is, that Christians refused to participate in any conflict, including any defensive act of protection.  

Are they right?

The history of the Amish, Quaker, and Mennonite communities are built upon this premise.

The pacifist movement, consisting of millions of mainstream Christians, unites Christian tradition with the movements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and secular activists. They cite such church fathers as Tertullian and Origen, such medieval and Reformation authors as Francis of Assissi and Menno Simons, and such modern Christian authors as Thomas Merton.

In the United States, pacifist movements have been anchored in such groups as the American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Mennonite Central Committee. Those groups and others have joined with secular pacifists to protest acts perceived as violence to humanity—war, capital punishment, or defensive armament.

As the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) notes in their history, their justification is the centrality of Christianity itself:

The FoR was founded in Cambridge in 1914 by a group of pacifist Christians. During the summer of 1914 an ecumenical conference of Christians who wanted to avert the approaching war was held in Switzerland. However, war broke out before the end of the conference and, at Cologne station, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schulze, a German Lutheran, pledged themselves to a continued search for peace with the words, “We are at one in Christ and can never be at war.”2

The basis for their formation was explicitly Christian in nature, with references to the kingdom of Christ rather than nationalistic fervor. They continued the reasoning:

Inspired by that pledge, about 130 Christians of all denominations gathered in Cambridge at the end of 1914 and set up the FoR, recording their general agreement in a statement which became “The Basis” of the FoR, namely:

    1. That love as revealed and interpreted in the life and death of Jesus Christ involves more than we have yet seen, that is the only power by which evil can be overcome and the only sufficient basis of human society.

    2. That, in order to establish a world order based on Love, it is incumbent upon those who believe in this principle to accept it fully, both for themselves and in relation to others and to take the risks involved in doing so in a world which does not yet accept it.

    3. That therefore, as Christians, we are forbidden to wage war, and that our loyalty to our country, to humanity, to the Church Universal, and to Jesus Christ our Lord and Master, calls us instead to a life-service for the enthronement of Love in personal, commercial and national life.

    4. That the Power, Wisdom and Love of God stretch far beyond the limits of our present experience, and that he is ever waiting to break forth into human life in new and larger ways.

    5. That since God manifests himself in the world through men and women, we offer ourselves to his redemptive purpose to be used by him in whatever way he may reveal to us.

The FoR supported conscientious objectors during World War I and was a supporter of passive resistance during World War II. In 1919, representatives from a dozen countries met in Holland and established the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, which now has many branches on all five continents.3

Is their logic sound?

Is the history of Christianity clearly on the side of peaceful resistance against all warfare?

Certainly in the context of today’s conflicts on the world stage, such questions nag Christians even within the military.

It is our premise that, while early Christians certainly did not seek out conversion through conquest and bloodshed, they did not espouse a pacifistic stance as purported by modern pacifist theologies.

Instead, the Christian community slowly refined a position that allowed Christian participation in the military within certain parameters of combat—that defined as a “just war.” The Christian community moved from social and citizen passivity to a system that allowed Christians to be in the military. Explicit rules were designed to keep Christian soldiers from becoming drunk with blood and power. These rules would come to be known as the Just War criteria.

Tragically, any adherence to such a position was cast aside, once the leaders determined that holy war was more feasible and profitable than just war. It is this horrific junction in Church history that led to Christian declarations of jihad.

Was the Early Church Pacifistic?

In the generations following Jesus Christ’s ascension, pacifism was not held as an absolute demand of the Lord. Christians tended toward a strong pacifism, which was ironic, given the various Roman emperors’ proclivity to persecute them. The more vigorously the various Roman leaders immolated Christians as human torches, the less appealing any form of violence was to the believers. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs compiled early church writings about the brutal treatment of Christians by various emperors, such as Nero (reigned 54–68) and Diocletian (284–304). At times of local or world persecution, Romans condemned the Christians of treason, since they were unwilling to offer worship to the emperor as a god or promise absolute allegiance to his authority.

Under that overall criminality, Christians were assumed to be guilty of various crimes, many of which reflected their fellowship and doctrines. As early as a.d. 35, the Roman Senate issued a decree calling the Christians “strana et illicita,” meaning “strange and unlawful.” They were called cannibals, because the Lord’s Supper celebration included the words of Jesus Christ: “this is my body” and “this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28). They were called incestuous, because they referred to their spouses and children as “brothers” and “sisters.” Their genuine love for all humanity made them seem seditious to emperors bent upon world domination.

From this general time period comes a striking description of Christians that was received by a man identified only as Diognetus:

Christians are not different because of their country or the language they speak or the way they dress. They do not isolate themselves in their cities nor use a private language; even the life they lead has nothing strange. . . . They live in their own countries and are strangers. They loyally fulfill their duties as citizens, but are treated as foreigners. Every foreign land is for them a fatherland and every fatherland, foreign.

They marry like everyone, they have children, but they do not abandon their newborn. They have the table in common, but not the bed. They are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. . . . They dwell on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the laws of the state, but in their lives they go beyond the law. They love everyone, yet are persecuted by everyone. No one really knows them, but all condemn them. They are killed, but go on living. They are poor, but enrich many. They have nothing, but abound in everything. But in that contempt they find glory before God. Their honor is insulted, while their justice is acknowledged. When they are cursed, they bless. When they are insulted, they answer with kind words. They do good to others and are punished like evil-doers. When they are punished, they rejoice, as if they were given life. The Jews make war against them as if they were a foreign race. The Greek persecute them, but those who hate them cannot tell the reason for their hatred.4

Among the primary sources, there is no record until the time of Marcus Aurelius (160–180) of Christians in the military, except those soldiers who were converted under the apostles. Among the church leaders, it was clear that enlistment in military was problematic for the Christian, and participation in actual bloodshed and combat was against the very nature of the Christian life. Regional leaders such as Justin Martyr in Rome, writing in about 155, and Irenaeus in Gaul writing in about 180, saw the prophetic dimension of the Christian’s eternal citizenship as most important, over against participation in any military conflicts. Since eternity would last longer than any political regime, why should they invest themselves in warfare, which would demand they shed blood? Certainly the horrific persecution of the believers by the various emperors caused the Church as a whole to look somewhat skeptically at believers being forced into military service by the emperors.

Yet as the Church developed a history, the Christian in the military became an issue of detailed discussions among such leaders as Arnobius in North Africa and Lactantius. Clearly by the beginning of the fourth century, Christians were numbered in the military, as tales of their martyrdom and tomb inscriptions will attest. The nature and breadth of their service, however, was questioned, in light of the teachings of Christ concerning enemies on the one hand and loyal citizenry on the other hand.

While it can be said that this period culminated in the participation of believers in various armies, the protocols for such involvement did not develop until the fifth century. What did finally develop differed greatly from the rules of engagement for an actual “Christian army” that Pope Urban II commanded hundreds of years later.

Church Voices of Pacifism: Christ Is Returning Soon!

At the dawning of the second century after Christ, the attention of the Church was focused on the imminent return of Jesus Christ. As Christ had come to literally transform society and man’s relation to man, this kingdom work left no room for participation in warfare for his followers. Nowhere can this be more clearly illustrated than in the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Reading the preserved works of these leaders, one gets the impression that Jesus Christ’s coming had inaugurated an era of peace. The concept of warfare was, by its nature, antithetical to Christian life.

Justin Martyr, an apologist and minister writing from Rome around 150, implored a man named Trypho to understand this radical change in those who were followers of Jesus Christ. While the children of God may have, at one time, gloried in the horrors of warfare, they were now completely transformed and could no longer live by such violence. He notes:

[We] have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope.5

This shift in lifestyle did not justify the former actions of God’s people, but it did explain them. Indeed, with painful honesty, Justin cites the previous tendencies toward violence and the new repulsion to warfare as a sign of the Christians’ transformed hearts. The implication was clear—to become a believer, one must lay aside the former ways and become a warrior for peace. In Apologia, Justin further states:

We who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, “The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,” might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from him who is able to grant it.6

To Justin, the swearing of an oath to a military commander or country was more than just a violation of Scriptural injunction; it was also short-sighted. What can the country or emperor offer the soldier in return for his vow and allegiance? Nothing of any eternal significance. Since the believer has sworn himself only to Jesus Christ, his allegiance speaks to the inheritance of an incorruptible and perpetual reward. If death at the hands of those desiring to force the Christian to kill is the price for this inheritance, Justin argued, then the victor is actually the vanquished, and the martyr endures only brief pain.

Irenaeus, a pastor in Lyons, writing shortly after Justin, built upon the biblical imagery Justin had begun. Also citing Isaiah, Irenaeus continues the analogy of swords and plowshares. In Against Heresies, he argues that one of the major purposes for Christ coming to the earth was the complete end of warfare. Those who continue to fight, even after the conquest of death by Jesus Christ, are doing so in direct violation of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. He noted:

From the Lord’s advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight.”7

In the case of both Justin and Irenaeus, the citation from Isaiah had both prophetic and messianic connotations. Isaiah himself had said:

In the last days

        the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established

          as chief among the mountains;

        it will be raised above the hills,

          and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

        “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

          to the house of the God of Jacob.

        He will teach us his ways,

          so that we may walk in his paths.”

        The law will go out from Zion,

          the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

        He will judge between the nations

          and will settle disputes for many peoples.

        They will beat their swords into plowshares

          and their spears into pruning hooks.

        Nation will not take up sword against nation,

          nor will they train for war anymore.8

In the mind of Justin and Irenaeus, the coming of Christ not only brought redemption, but also a new geopolitical approach—loving your enemies and seeking peace, over the old ways of war and conquest. Even the preparation for warfare was paradoxical to the very purpose of the Incarnation.

If the early church fathers felt the pursuit of warfare did not befit the Christian life, then it would follow that such participation would be a betrayal of the Lord’s commission. A compatriot of Justin in Rome, Tatian (160), pointedly declined an invitation to become a military commander. He was clearly disgusted with the idea that he would have to participate in any type of warfare or conflict:

I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I declined military command; I detest fornication; I am not impelled by an insatiable love of gain to go to sea; I do not contend for chaplets; I am free from a mad thirst for fame; I despise death; I am superior to every kind of disease; grief does not consume my soul.9

By associating warfare with such sins as fornication and greed, Tatian suggested that all such acts are evil. Based on faulty motives and pursuits, the pursuit of adventure in military conflict is an arrogance (“mad thirst for fame”) of position, as opposed to a noble act of the defense of freedom.

Church Voices of Pacifism: Our Weapon Is Prayer!

As the Church entered the third century, the position of Christian pacifism remained intact, but the reasoning for the position slowly shifted. As the years passed without the return of Jesus Christ, the bishops and theologians began to teach an ethical pacifism. This position held that warfare and killing was inconsistent with the Christian’s call to unconditional love of all peoples, regardless of politics or positions. This view was especially evident in North Africa, where the bishops were explicit in their admonitions to their churches.

Clement of Alexandria, writing at the dawn of the third century, illustrated the transformed nature and ethic of the believer. He wrote in a letter entitled Paedagogus (“The Instructor”),

But let us . . . fulfill the Father’s will, listen to the Word, and take on the impress of the truly saving life of our Savior. . . . For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained. War needs great preparation, and luxury craves profusion; but peace and love, simple and quiet sisters, require no arms nor excessive preparation. The Word is their sustenance.10

His argument was that Christ as our Commander also prepares his troops, except that our battle is the battle for peace and love. Such training and preparation is imminently important and vital, and is the clarion call for all believers. To invert the argument, Christians fighting in a war disobey their own Commander and are guilty of insubordination for not explicitly following the commands of God. Our training is for peace, not war.

Clement’s pupil, and the subsequent leader in Alexandria, Origen (230) contributed to the argument toward Christian pacifism during his famous argument with the philosopher Celsus. Apparently, Celsus had claimed that, because of Christian pacifism, the king was “left in utter solitude and desertion” and that “the affairs of the world fall into the hands of the most impious and wild barbarians.”11 In Contra Celsus 8.69, Origen answers that by praying, Christians are in fact participating in a higher aim of victory. He advocates,

We say that “if two” of us “shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of the Father”of the just, “which is in heaven;” for God rejoices in the agreement of rational beings, and turns away from discord.12

This weapon of prayer, as designed by the Father, will cause men to put down arms, which is a far more esteemed victory than slaughter.

In returning to the topic of warfare later in the work, Origen dedicates an entire chapter to the explanation of their perceived insubordination. In fact, Origen would argue, Christians are doing their part by praying, which is the higher call and the more precise weapon. He enjoins:

In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labor with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armor of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority”; and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can.13

Origen regards those who demand military allegiance from the Christians to be “enemies of our faith.” To that end, he offers two explanations for their nonparticipation. First he notes that even the priests of pagan temples are excused from military service. “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods . . . keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained . . . offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army?”14

Secondly, Origen reasons that the warfare that Christians are fighting is far more dangerous and harmful, because they are battling the demonic realm itself. In fact, he explicitly states that the common soldier could not fight such a foe:

If that [military conflict], then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed! And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them.15

As Origen challenges at the end of his letter,

If Celsus would have us to lead armies in defense of our country, let him know that we do this too, and that not for the purpose of being seen by men, or of vain glory. For “in secret,” and in our own hearts, there are prayers which ascend as from priests in behalf of our fellow-citizens.16

In the first two centuries of the Christian church, perhaps no voice was as forcefully raised against Christian participation in warfare than that of Tertullian, Cyprian’s predecessor in Carthage. Writing at the beginning of the second century, Tertullian acknowledged that the question of whether to accept military personnel into Christian fellowship was an issue. In his opinion, military service in combat was a real ethical dilemma for a Christian, because all violence contradicts the Christian life. In his book On Idolatry, he wrote:

Now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Caesar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?17

As can be seen, the entire issue hinged on the question—could a person who was already a believer enlist in the military, even if their specific task in the military would not expressly involve the death of another? Tertullian sees this as an issue of idolatry. To serve in the military, the believer must swear allegiance to Caesar (the commander), which is impossible since Christians have sworn allegiance to Jesus Christ. This “dual citizenship” is not allowed in Tertullian’s position, and would bespeak a negation of any personal faith.

The problem with this dual citizenship is intrinsic to the nature of true Christianity, for Christ has disarmed all men. Tertullian concludes, “for albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, [unarmed] every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.”18

Elaborating on this theme further in De Corona Militis, Tertullian expands the discussion to involve many other forms of military service. In fact, he lists thirteen reasons why soldiers could not be allowed in the churches.

To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superintended to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honor and love next to God himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honor? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, (therefore), either keep watch for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord’s day, when he does not even do it for Christ himself? And shall he keep guard before the temples that he has renounced? And shall he take a meal where the apostle has forbidden him? And shall he diligently protect by night those whom in the daytime he has put to flight by his exorcisms, leaning and resting on the spear the while with which Christ’s side was pierced? Shall he carry a flag, too, hostile to Christ? And shall he ask a watchword from the emperor who has already received one from God? Shall he be disturbed in death by the trumpet of the trumpeter, who expects to be aroused by the angel’s trump? And shall the Christian be burned according to camp rule, when he was not permitted to burn incense to an idol, when to him Christ remitted the punishment of fire?19

These thirteen questions all seem to beg a negative answer from Tertullian’s view. Could a Christian, in good conscience,

        1.      swear an oath to another master?

        2.      be employed in a vocation that promises reciprocal death (“sword”)?

        3.      take part in battle when it is unlawful for him to even go to court?

        4.      fasten anyone in chains, when Christ is the only avenger of justice?

        5.      give more allegiance to anyone other than Christ (“keep watch”)?

Furthermore, could he,

        6.      fight on the Sabbath?

        7.      guard pagan temples?

        8.      eat forbidden food?

        9.      protect the demonic against whom he is to pray?

        10.     carry the flag of a regime that persecutes believers?

        11.     receive orders from a lesser commander (“watchword”)?

        12.     wake to the wrong trumpet?

        13.     be buried in an unchristian manner?

Tertullian sees all such acts as an expressed denial of Jesus Christ’s sovereignty over humanity, and the call for the Christian to act in a manner unfitting to his changed character. He continues:

Nowhere does the Christian change his character. There is one gospel, and the same Jesus, who will one day deny every one who denies, and acknowledge every one who acknowledges God,—who will save, too, the life which has been lost for his sake; but, on the other hand, destroy that which for gain has been saved to his dishonor. With him the faithful citizen is a soldier, just as the faithful soldier is a citizen. A state of faith admits no plea of necessity; they are under no necessity to sin, whose one necessity is, that they do not sin. For if one is pressed to . . . the sheer denial of Christ by the necessity of torture or of punishment, yet discipline does not connive even at that necessity; because there is a higher necessity to dread denying and to undergo martyrdom, than to escape from suffering, and to render the homage required.20

Still, an important point must be made here. It seems that Tertullian is unwilling to completely disallow the Christian service in the military. Instead, he leaves it to the conscience of the individual fellowships and Christians. He concludes the chapter:

Touching this primary aspect of the question, as to the unlawfulness even of a military life itself, I shall not add more. . . . Indeed, if, putting my strength to the question, I banish from us the military life, I should now to no purpose issue a challenge on the matter of the military crown. Suppose, then, that the military service is lawful, as far as the plea for the crown is concerned.21

Church Voices of Pacifism: Take No Blood!

Though it shall be illustrated that Christians were serving in the military by the third century of the church, the early pastors and ministers in the leading churches still held to an anti-warfare stance well into the fourth century. Arnobius, writing around 300, derided all forms of public violence as homicide, and called Christians to task for even participating in capital punishment trials. In Against the Heathen, he wrote:

It is not therefore befitting that those who strive to keep to the path of justice should be companions and sharers in this public homicide. For when God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but he warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.22

To Lactantius, even the testimony of a Christian in a trial which ends in the death of the accused is sinful, for it is participation in the process of death, which is to be left to God. Though his view may not have been in the majority, certainly he indicated a decided distaste for Christian cooperation in death.

In Book Six of The Divine Institutes, Lactantius takes perhaps the strongest pacifistic stance among the early church leaders:

For he who reckons it a pleasure, that a man, though justly condemned, should be slain in his sight, pollutes his conscience as much as if he should become a spectator and a sharer of a homicide which is secretly committed. . . . So far has the feeling of humanity departed from the men that when they destroy the lives of men, they think they are amusing themselves with sport, being more guilty than all those whose blood-shedding they esteem a pleasure.23

If violence and death is endemic to humankind, how then does the Christian avoid all contact with acts of violence? As complete isolation is not an option, the Christian is called upon to provide a visual example of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice when violence rises. Arnobius (300), writing from northern Africa, calls Christians to offer themselves in death, rather than cause the death of another human being. He writes:

For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from his teaching and his laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by his means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.24

Though a complete consensus of the opinion of the leadership of the early church cannot be stated emphatically, the common desire to avoid any participation in armed conflict is evident. Virtually every bishop who wrote treatises and addressed the subject spoke passionately against any Christian partaking in the shedding of blood, innocent or otherwise. Even in the midst of armed conflict, the Christian’s chief weapon was considered to be that of active prayer and labor for peace. As citizens of heaven (polituema), this was the Christian’s most effective service.

Conclusion: The Empathy of the Hunted

If the above ministers actually represented the majority of Christian opinion, what would the motivating factor for their universal love be? How could they be so irenic in the face of such a tumultuous time? Perhaps the answer can be found in the tumult itself. The Christians, in a profoundly visceral way, empathized with the vanquished.

All the Christians wanted to do was to worship their Savior and to share his love. Yet, at seemingly every turn, they were confronted with persecution, hatred, and scorn. While they—this minority band of followers of the Man who had been crucified—simply sought freedom, they were hounded by conscription and coercion. Perhaps their sympathy for the defeated foes, even to Rome’s throne, was actually empathy. They understood only too well what it meant to be on the receiving end of warfare.

John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs devotes the entire second chapter to stories he could collect of the horrors of the persecution of the early Christians. Though it is profoundly disturbing, perhaps it is good for Christians to once again visit the lives of our forefathers. In this final section of the chapter, he illuminates the torture of our fellow believers in the ten most intense periods of early Church persecution. From these selected and edited examples, the reasons early believers despised bloodshed become evident.

1. The First Persecution, Under Nero (67)

The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch . . . gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. . . . Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, [were] fixed to axle trees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.

2. The Second Persecution, Under Domitian (81)

The emperor Domitian, who was naturally inclined to cruelty, first slew his brother, and then raised the second persecution against the Christians. . . .Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the Church until a.d. 97. At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called Catagogion, Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he expired of the bruises two days later.

3. The Third Persecution, Under Trajan (108)

In this persecution suffered . . . [Ignatius,] being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured. . . . Having come to Smyrna, he wrote to the Church at Rome, exhorting them not to use means for his deliverance from martyrdom, lest they should deprive him of that which he most longed and hoped for. “Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!” And even when he was sentenced to be thrown to the beasts, such was the burning desire that he had to suffer, that he spake, what time he heard the lions roaring, saying: “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.”

In Mount Ararat many were crucified, crowned with thorns, and spears run into their sides, in imitation of Jesus Christ’s passion. Eustachius, a brave and successful Roman commander, was by the emperor ordered to join in an idolatrous sacrifice to celebrate some of his own victories; but his faith (being a Christian in his heart) was so much greater than his vanity, that he nobly refused it. Enraged at the denial, the ungrateful emperor forgot the service of this skillful commander, and ordered him and his whole family to be martyred.

4. The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (162)

The cruelties used in this persecution were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc. upon their points, others were scourged until their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.

Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude.

Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. . . . The proconsul then urged him, saying, “Swear, and I will release thee;
—reproach Christ.”

Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?” At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it Christian burial, rejected.

5. The Fifth Persecution, Commencing with Severus (192)

Perpetua, a married lady, of about twenty-two years was martyred at this time. Those who suffered with her were Felicitas, a married lady, big with child at the time of her being apprehended, and Revocatus, catechumen of Carthage, and a slave. The names of the other prisoners destined to suffer upon this occasion were Saturninus, Secundulus, and Satur. On the day appointed for their execution, they were led to the amphitheater. Satur, Saturninus, and Revocatus were ordered to run the gauntlet between the hunters, or such as had the care of the wild beasts. The hunters being drawn up in two ranks, they ran between, and were severely lashed as they passed. Felicitas and Perpetua were stripped, in order to be thrown to a mad bull, which made his first attack upon Perpetua, and stunned her; he then darted at Felicitas, and gored her dreadfully; but not killing them, the executioner did that office with a sword. Revocatus and Satur were destroyed by wild beasts; Saturninus was beheaded; and Secundulus died in prison. These executions were in the year 205, on the eighth day of March.

Speratus and twelve others were likewise beheaded; as was Andocles in France. Asclepiades, bishop of Antioch, suffered many tortures, but his life was spared.

Cecilia, a young lady of good family in Rome, was married to a gentleman named Valerian. She converted her husband and brother, who were beheaded; and the maximus, or officer, who led them to execution, becoming their convert, suffered the same fate. The lady was placed naked in a scalding bath, and having continued there a considerable time, her head was struck off with a sword (222).

6. The Sixth Persecution, Under Maximinus (235)

Calepodius, a Christian minister, thrown into the Tyber; Martina, a noble and beautiful virgin; and Hippolitus, a Christian prelate, tied to a wild horse, and dragged until he expired. During this persecution, raised by Maximinus, numberless Christians were slain without trial, and buried indiscriminately in heaps, sometimes fifty or sixty being cast into a pit together, without the least decency.

7. The Seventh Persecution, Under Decius (249)

Julian, a native of Cilicia, as we are informed by Chrysostom, was seized upon for being a Christian. He was put into a leather bag, together with a number of serpents and scorpions, and in that condition thrown into the sea.

Agatha, a Sicilian lady, was not more remarkable for her personal and acquired endowments, than her piety; her beauty was such, that Quintian, governor of Sicily, became enamored of her, and made many attempts upon her chastity without success. In order to gratify his passions with the greater conveniency, he put the virtuous lady into the hands of Aphrodica, a very infamous and licentious woman. This wretch tried every artifice to win her to the desired prostitution; but found all her efforts were vain; for her chastity was impregnable, and she well knew that virtue alone could procure true happiness. Aphrodica acquainted Quintian with the inefficacy of her endeavors, who, enraged to be foiled in his designs, changed his lust into resentment. On her confessing that she was a Christian, he determined to gratify his revenge, as he could not his passion. Pursuant to his orders, she was scourged, burnt with red-hot irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne these torments with admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live coals, intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she there expired on February 5, 251.

8. The Eighth Persecution, Under Valerian (257)

Began under Valerian, in the month of April 257, and continued for three years and six months. The martyrs that fell in this persecution were innumerable, and their tortures and deaths various and painful. The most eminent martyrs were the following, though neither rank, sex, nor age were regarded.

Stephen, bishop of Rome, was beheaded in the same year, and about that time Saturninus, the pious orthodox bishop of Toulouse, refusing to sacrifice to idols, was treated with all the barbarous indignities imaginable, and fastened by the feet to the tail of a bull. Upon a signal given, the enraged animal was driven down the steps of the temple, by which the worthy martyr’s brains were dashed out.

9. The Ninth Persecution, Under Aurelian (274)

Faith, a Christian female, of Acquitain, in France, was ordered to be broiled upon a gridiron, and then beheaded (287).

Quintin was a Christian, and a native of Rome, but determined to attempt the propagation of the gospel in Gaul, with one Lucian, they preached together in Amiens. Quintin remained in Picardy, and was very zealous in his ministry. Being seized upon as a Christian, he was stretched with pullies until his joints were dislocated; his body was then torn with wire scourges, and boiling oil and pitch poured on his naked flesh; lighted torches were applied to his sides and armpits; and after he had been thus tortured, he was remanded back to prison, and died of the barbarities he had suffered, October 31, 287. His body was sunk in the Somme.

10. The Tenth Persecution, Under Diocletian (303)

Victor was a Christian of a good family at Marseilles, in France; he spent a great part of the night in visiting the afflicted, and confirming the weak; which pious work he could not, consistently with his own safety, perform in the daytime; and his fortune he spent in relieving the distresses of poor Christians. He was at length, however, seized by the emperor Maximian’s decree, who ordered him to be bound, and dragged through the streets. During the execution of this order, he was treated with all manner of cruelties and indignities by the enraged populace. Remaining still inflexible, his courage was deemed obstinacy. Being by order stretched upon the rack, he turned his eyes toward heaven, and prayed to God to endue him with patience, after which he underwent the tortures with most admirable fortitude. After the executioners were tired with inflicting torments on him, he was conveyed to a dungeon. In his confinement, he converted his jailers, named Alexander, Felician, and Longinus. This affair coming to the ears of the emperor, he ordered them immediately to be put to death, and the jailers were accordingly beheaded. Victor was then again put to the rack, unmercifully beaten . . . and again sent to prison. Being a third time examined concerning his religion, he persevered in his principles; a small altar was then brought, and he was commanded to offer incense upon it immediately. Fired with indignation at the request, he boldly stepped forward, and with his foot overthrew both altar and idol. This so enraged the emperor Maximian, who was present, that he ordered the foot with which he had kicked the altar to be immediately cut off; and Victor was thrown into a mill, and crushed to pieces with the stones.

Timothy, a deacon of Mauritania, and Maura his wife, had not been united together by the bands of wedlock above three weeks, when they were separated from each other by the persecution. Timothy, being apprehended as a Christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures, commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, “Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part with the Word of God.” The governor being much incensed at this reply ordered his eyes to be put out, with red-hot irons, saying, “The books shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them.” His patience under the operation was so great that the governor grew more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied about his neck, and a gag in his mouth. In this state, Maura his wife, tenderly urged him for her sake to recant; but, when the gag was taken out of his mouth, instead of consenting to his wife’s entreaties, he greatly blamed her mistaken love, and declared his resolution of dying for the faith. The consequence was, that Maura resolved to imitate his courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory. The governor, after trying in vain to alter her resolution, ordered her to be tortured, which was executed with great severity. After this, Timothy and Maura were crucified near each other (304).


        1.      “Fellowship of Reconciliation, England (1916–1992),” in the British Library of Political and Economic Science, COLL MISC 0456. Found in many collections, and on the web at Accessed October 16, 2003.

        2.      Ibid.

        3.      Ibid.

        4.      Chrétiennes 33 bis, 62–67. Emphasis added.

        5.      Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 110, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 38 vols., ed. A. Cleveland Cox (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 1:254 (hereafter cited as ANF).

        6.      Justin Martyr, 1 Apologia 39, in ANF, 1:175–6.

        7.      Irenaeus, Contra Haereses 4.34.4, in ANF, 1:349.

        8.      Isaiah 2:2–4.

        9.      Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 2, in ANF, 2:381.

        10.     Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 1.12, in ANF, 2:511.

        11.     Ibid.

        12.     Origen, Contra Celsus 8.69, in ANF, 5:666. Origen also illustrates that the Lord to whom they are praying is the one who said to the Hebrews, “The Lord shall fight for you and ye shall hold your peace.” This citation from Exodus 14:14 (kjv) seemed to indicate a complete pacifism, which then calls God to the task of vengeance.

        13.     Ibid., 8.73.

        14.     Ibid.

        15.     Ibid.

        16.     Ibid.

        17.     Tertullian, On Idolatry 19, in ANF, 3:73.

        18.     Ibid.

        19.     Tertullian, De Corona Militis 11, in ANF, 3:99–100.

        20.     Ibid. Tertullian sees the Roman homage as a violation. He continues, “In fact, an excuse of this sort overturns the entire essence of our sacrament, removing even the obstacle to voluntary sins; for it would be possible also to maintain that inclination is a necessity, as involving in it, forsooth, a sort of compulsion.”

        21.     Ibid.

        22.     Arnobius, Against the Heathen 1.6, in ANF, 6:415.

        23.     Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 6.20, in ANF, 7:186.

        24.     Arnobius, Against the Heathen 1.6, in ANF, 6:415.