The Early Church on Violence

“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, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.” – Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Dialogue with Trypho 110

“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.” – Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD), Apology 1.39

“For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.”  – Clement of Alexandria (150-aprox 211 AD), The Instructor 1.12

“Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins.” – Clement of Alexandria (150-aprox 211 AD), Fragments: Maximus, Sermon 55

“The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.” – Hippolytus (170-236 AD), The Apostolic Tradition 16.11.

“But how will a Christian war, nay, how will he serve even in peace without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? 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, unbelted every soldier.” – Tertullian (160-225 AD), On Idolatry 19

“In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus in the womb.” – Tertullian (160-225 AD), Apology 9

“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?” – Tertullian (160-225 AD), The Chaplet 11

“We cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.” – Athenagoras of Athen (aprox 180 AD), A Plea for the Christians 35

“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… And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army – an army of piety – by offering our prayers to God.” – Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD), Against Celsus 8.73

“And to those who inquire of us whence we come, or who is our founder we reply that we are come, agreeably to the counsels of Jesus, to cut down our hostile and insolent wordy swords into ploughshares, and to convert into pruning-hooks the spears formerly employed in war. For we no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.” – Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD), Against Celsus 5.33

“Therefore they are to be accounted as savage beasts who injure man; who, in opposition to every law and right of human nature, plunder, torture, slay, and banish.”  – Lactantius of Bithynia (aprox 240-317 AD), Divine Institutes 6.10

“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.” – Lactantius of Bithynia (aprox 240-317 AD), Divine Institutes 6.20

“The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.” – Cyprian of Carthage (250 AD), Epistle 1.6

“And this is at least incredible, inasmuch as even now those Barbarians who have an innate savagery of manners . . . and cannot endure to be a single hour without weapons; but when they hear the teaching of Christ, straightway instead of fighting they turn to husbandry, and instead of arming their hands with weapons they raise them in prayer, and in a word, in place of fighting among themselves henceforth they arm against the devil and against evil spirits, subduing these by self-restrains and virtue of soul. Now this is at once a proof of the divinity of the Saviour, since what men could not learn among idols they have learned from him.” – Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 AD), On the Incarnation of the Word 52.2-4

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21 Responses to “The Early Church on Violence”

  1. Helen Says:

    Hi Rachel, I found your new blog! Am I first to find it? Do I get a prize?

    This is a great collection of early Christian quotes about non-violence – thanks for putting it together.

  2. Rachel Stanton Says:

    Welcome, Helen! My very first poster! Hurrah!

  3. Helen Says:

    I thought I’d start the ball rolling 🙂

  4. marta Says:

    Hi Rachel! It was so good to meet and talk with you this weekend. I really appreciated our conversation today at breakfast and yesterday in our afternoon group. God bless you. I plan to keep in touch with you in the blogosphere. 🙂

  5. The World According to Bruce » Blog Archive » Early Church Fathers Speak out concerning Violence and Military Service Says:

    […] ran across a list of Early Church Fathers Quotes concerning violence and Military Service. These quotes do lend some credibility to the notion that […]

  6. John Lamoreau Says:


    Great job. In 1980 I had published a small book called “Waging Peace a study in Biblical Pacifism”. If you would like a copy please let me know where to send it.

    God Pless,


  7. Rachel Stanton Says:

    John – Yes, I would LOVE to have a copy of your book. I will email you with my mailing address. Thanks so much!

  8. Sean Friend Says:

    Here’s one that you missed that I like a lot:
    The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.
    -Cyprian of Carthage – 250 AD
    This is an awesome collection of quotes! Thanks for sharing them!


  9. Rachel Stanton Says:

    Thanks for that quote, Sean! I will add it to my catena.

  10. Howard Russ Says:

    John I would like a copy of your book too.

  11. Ben Says:

    I enjoyed the quotes. Do you have citations for them? I am doing some research on non-violence in the early church and have found a number of these quotes, but have had trouble locating them in original documents. Thanks

  12. Aric Clark Says:

    Thanks for this great collection. I too would love to see citations if possible for my own research.

  13. ericdarylmeyer Says:

    Indeed, thank you for assembling this list of wonderful quotes and for sharing them with the rest of us.

    God’s peace,

  14. Matthew Forrest Lowe Says:

    If you’ve not read it already, check out Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s Jesus for President (Zondervan, 2008) for more thoughts from the early church that dovetail with (and in some cases include) yours. They go further, too, pointing out ways in which the modern church needs to oppose violence more consistently.

    Grace and peace, Matt

  15. Rachel Stanton Says:

    Yes, I have read Jesus for President, Matthew, and I thought it was excellent! Shane is an important prophetic voice for our generation.

  16. Matthew Forrest Lowe Says:

    True, and here, he’s doing a largely capable job of presenting a lot of ideas about specifically imperial violence (both ancient, especially as in Roman, and modern) that have typically been argued in more dense, scholarly, and often less accessible books (many of them are in his cleverly pictured bibliography, and on my bookshelf as well; I’ve often found myself grinning, while reading the book with my sister, as I know whom he’s going to quote before I look at the footnotes). But his argument is a tough one to make in a political climate where Democrat and Christian have been treated as mutually exclusive. It is difficult to see how to formulate the early church’s refusal of violence into state policy — which is why Tony Campolo, Shane’s teacher, continues to forward the model of the church speaking prophetically to the state, from outside of it. Walsh & Keesmaat’s adaptation of Wendell Berry’s “secession” stance is in close parallel here. – Matt

  17. theruinedfollower Says:

    Rachel, I love this blog. I recently finished reading “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. I have “Jesus For President” on order. I have to say that God is wrecking “my christianity” and replacing it with his own. Thanks so much for the quotes. I’m prayerfully seeking the Lord about the issues of violence and war. If you have any suggestions, please send them to me ( Thanks!

  18. >Response to bin Laden’s Death « A Better World Says:

    […] and theological context and are no substitute for the analysis in the books listed above:… […]

  19. Michael Snow Says:

    new resource and quotes blog on Christian non-retaliation

  20. mbizy1mbizy1 Says:

    Great resource. Thank you Rachel!

  21. The Church Fathers on war and military service – Gospel encounter Says:

    […] Rachel Stanton, “The Early Church on Violence“ […]

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