Advice on Peacemaking from the Early Church

From Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and 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.

– St. Justin Martyr (100-165), First Apology, Chapter 39

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each throughout the whole earth changed our weapons of war — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.

– St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, Ch 110

What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust” …

Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? …

With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbors as themselves … We … cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly … We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him. So we have given up [gladiatorial] spectacles …

What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? … But we are altogether consistent in our conduct…

– Athenagoras of Athens (second half of the 2nd century), Legatio 11, 34-35

This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; and to those that disobey, judgement. The loud trumpet, when sounded, gathers the soldiers and proclaims war. And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? By His blood and word, He has gathered an army that sheds no blood and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven. The trumpet of Christ is His Gospel. He has blown it, and we have heard. “Let us array ourselves in the armor of peace, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and taking the shield of faith, and binding our brows with the helmet, of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” let us sharpen.

So the apostle in the spirit of peace commands. These are our invulnerable weapons: armed with these, let us face the evil one; “the fiery darts of the evil one” let us quench with the sword-points dipped in water, baptized by the Word, returning grateful thanks for the benefits we have received, and honoring God through the Divine Word.

– Clement of Alexandria (died 215), Protrepticus XI, 116

Abel, peaceable and just, while he was sacrificing to God innocently, taught others also, when they offer a gift at the altar, to come with fear of God, with simple heart, with the law of justice, with the peace of concord. Worthily did he, since he was such in God’s sacrifice, himself later become a sacrifice to God, so that being the first to manifest martyrdom he initiated the Lord’s passion by his blood, who had both the justice and peace of the Lord. Finally, such are crowned by the Lord; such on the day of judgement will be vindicated with the Lord. But the discordant and the dissident and he who has not peace with his brethren, according as the blessed Apostle and the Holy Scripture testify, not even if he be slain for His name, shall be able to escape the crime of fraternal dissension, because, as it is written: Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and a murderer does not arrive at the kingdom of heaven nor does he live with God. Whoever prefers to be an imitator of Judas, rather than of Christ, cannot be with Christ. What a sin that is which cannot be washed away by the baptism of blood; what a crime that is which cannot be expiated by martyrdom!

– St. Cyprian of Carthage (200?-258), On the Lord’s Prayer, Chapter 24

The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse. The offenders acquire impunity by increasing their ravaging.

– St. Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus, chapter 6

The Savior has taught men what they could never learn among the idols. It is also no small exposure of the weakness and nothingness of demons and idols, for it was because they knew their own weakness that the demons were always setting men to fight each other, fearing lest, if they ceased from mutual strife, they would turn to attack the demons themselves. For in truth the disciples of Christ, instead of fighting each other, stand arrayed against demons by their habits and virtuous actions, and chase them away and mock at their captain the devil. Even in youth they are chaste, they endure in times of testing and persevere in toils. When they are insulted, they are patient, when robbed they make light of it, and, marvelous to relate, they make light even of death itself, and become martyrs of Christ.

– St. Athanasius the Great (296-37)3, On the Incarnation, Chapter 8, 52

Both the Emperor’s commands and yours [any person in authority] must be obeyed if they are not contrary to the God of heaven. If they are, they must not only not be obeyed; they must be resisted.

– St. Euphemia, d. July 11, 303

I am a soldier of Christ. To fight is not permissible for me.

– St. Martin of Tours (316?-397), explaining his refusal to go to war

It is not virtue either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances.

What are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? — that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues — all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence.

How can a man be just who injures, hates, despoils and puts to death? Yet they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away….

God, in prohibiting killing, discountances not only brigandage, which is contrary to human law, but also that which men regard as legal. Thus participation in war will not be legitimate to a just man; his “military service” is justice itself.

– Lactantius (260?-339?), the Divine Institutes, Book 6 [Lactantius was tutor of the son of St. Constantine.]

I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ.

– St. Basil the Great (329-379, Letter 203,2

Someone who has defiled himself with murder — be it involuntarily — is considered impure through his impure deeds and the canon considers such a person unworthy of the grace of priesthood.

– St. Gregory of Nyssa (335?-394?), Canonical Epistle to St. Letoius of Melitene

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Who are these? Those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, thus also these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit: by charity, joy, peace, benignity, magnanimity, all the good things enumerated by the Apostle (Gal 5:22).

How then should the dispenser of the Divine gifts not be blessed, since he imitates the gifts of God and models his own good deeds on the Divine generosity?

But perhaps the beatitude does not only regard the good of others. I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, On The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes

If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Of our City “the Builder and Maker is God.” Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are withal but strangers and sojourners in it all. We are enrolled in heaven: our citizenship is there! Let us not, after the manner of little children, despise things that are great, and admire those which are little! Not our city’s greatness, but virtue of soul is our ornament and defense. If you suppose dignity to belong to a city, think how many persons must partake in this dignity, who are whoremongers, effeminate, depraved and full of ten thousand evil things, and at last despise such honor! But that City above is not of this kind; for it is impossible that he can be a partaker of it, who has not exhibited every virtue.

– St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Homily 17 on the Commissioners

As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! “Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!” ….

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart.

– St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20

How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from forgiving, even entreat God for vengeance on their enemies, and as it were diametrically transgress this law; and this while He is doing and contriving all, to hinder our being at variance one with another? For since love is the root of all that is good, He, removing from all sides whatever mars it, brings us together, and cements us to each other.

– St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on St. Matthew: On the Lord’s Prayer

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer… You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for the person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but only when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.

– St. John Climacus (525-606), The Ladder of Divine Ascent

When our hearts are reluctant we often have to compel ourselves to pray for our enemies, to pour out prayer for those who oppose us. Would that our hearts were filled with love! How frequently we offer a prayer for our enemies, but do it because we are commanded to, not out of love. We ask the gift of life for them even while we are afraid that our prayer may be heard. The judge of our soul considers our hearts rather than our words. Those who do not pray for their enemies out of love are not asking anything for their benefit.

Jesus, our advocate, has composed a prayer for our case. And our advocate is also our judge. He has inserted a condition in the prayer that reads: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sometimes we say these words without carrying them out. Thus our words bind us more tightly.

– St. Gregory the Great (540-604), “Be Friends of God”

“But I say to you,” the Lord says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.” Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.

– St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662), Centuries on Charity

Why are you disturbed? I will never willingly desert you, though if force is used, I cannot meet it. I shall be able to grieve, to weep, to groan; against weapons, soldiers, Goths, my tears are my weapons, for these are a priest’s defense.

I see that you are unusually disturbed, and that you are closely watching me. I wonder what the reason is? Is it that you saw or heard that I had received an imperial order at the hands of the tribunes, to the effect that I was to go hence, whither I would, and that all who wished might follow me? Were you afraid that I should desert the Church and forsake you in fear for my own safety? But you could note the message I sent, that the wish to desert the Church had never entered my mind; for I feared the Lord of the universe more than an earthly emperor; and if force were to drag me from the Church, my body indeed could be driven out, but not my mind. I was ready, if he were to do what royal power is wont to do, to undergo the fate a priest has to bear….

I ought not, I cannot resist in any other way; but to fly and forsake the Church is not my way; lest any one should suppose I did so from fear of some heavier punishment. You yourselves know that I am wont to show respect to our emperors, but not to yield to them, to offer myself freely to punishment, and not to fear what is prepared for me.

– St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397), Sermon On the Giving up of the Basilicas [In the year 385 Ambrose refused to obey an imperial decree ordering him to turn over basilicas to Arians. He led the people in peacefully resisting the decree.]

Some ask whether, in case of a shipwreck, a wise man ought to take away a plank from an ignorant sailor. Although it seems better for the common good that a wise man rather than a fool should escape from shipwreck, yet I do not think that a Christian, a just and a wise man, ought to save his own life by the death of another; just as when he meets with an armed robber he cannot return his blows, lest in defending his life he should stain his love toward his neighbor. The verdict on this is plain and clear in the books of the Gospel. “Put up thy sword, for every one that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword” (Mt 26,52). What robber is more hateful than the persecutor who came to kill Christ? But Christ would not be defended from the wounds of the persecutor, for He willed to heal all by His wounds.

– St. Ambrose of Milan, Duties of the Clergy 3,4,27

You detach yourself from the cross to which you have crucified yourself alongside the Savior if you go and hit your brother.

– St. Theodore Studite (759-826), Small Catechism

Note: A larger collection of patristic quotations is posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site.