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Monday, 21 March 2011

Tertullian and Christian non-violence

Dipping my way through Jean-Michel Hornus's fascinating source book on early Christianity It is Not Lawful For Me To Fight: Early Christian Attitudes Toward War, Violence and the State (Herald Press, 1982) brought to my attention his conclusion that Tertullian, Origen and Lactantius during the early centuries of the Christian movement were developing a doctrine of positive non-violence. Hornus is a church historian from the Reformed church so he could not be accused as an Anabaptist might of reading back his/her commitments into the original sources.

Hornus argues that their approach was rooted in a conviction that there was another power at work in history beyond that of brute force. He finds in Tertullian an account of how believers might resist injustice without having to resort to unjust methods. Tertullian in his admonition to the proconsul Scapula referred to a historical precedent.
In Asia, under Arrius Antonius, the Christians had responded to persecution by going en masse to the tribunal o be condemned. The prosecutor's embarrassment and confusion had been comical. What would Scapula do "if thousands of those under his administration men and women of all ages and conditions , were to come and offer themselves voluntarily for martyrdom?"(p.215)

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