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For a Lady Pope

Is Christianity a religion of peace?

It’s a question that deserves attention 

In a world where physical or moral violence is common and where religions are pointing the finger, we are entitled to ask whether Christianity is a source of peace or of savagery. Too many elements tend towards the second hypothesis, that of violence. So much so, that some believe that nothing is worse than the wars of religion.

In these troubled times, let us consider at least the case of Christianity. Its history is dotted with acts full of humanity but also with many particularly nasty acts. Did the Christians who behaved like barbarians apply the teaching of Jesus and the early apostles? Either the founding texts encouraged savagery, and are indeed the cause of defamatory behaviour, or they advocated peace and tolerance, and the men who use the teachings to justify their brutal acts betray them in practice.

On some websites, writers claim that physical violence is advocated in the Gospels. They argue that if Christians have a disreputable history and have not acted as pacifists, it is because numerous texts the New Testament call for barbarism. Taken at face value, this position seems somewhat contrary to what is generally understood to be the message of the Gospels, but lets accept the thesis and examine it.


Re-reading the Scriptures


First of all, let us re-read the scriptures. The teaching of Jesus seems, for the most part, to be linked to gestures of peace and love. It is based on the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who thirst for justice, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those persecuted for righteousness" (Matthew 5.3 to 10). In another verse, Mt 5,43; "But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for those who treat you badly and persecute you." It might be therefore appropriate to sum up Jesus’ teaching with the following quote: “This is my commandment:

love one another as I have loved you." (Jn15:12).

On top of this, Jesus never killed a man or a woman, he didn’t recommend stoning, he never took up a sword and violently attacked an opponent, he didn’t incite murder and nor did he invite his disciples to eliminate his opponents. Yes, it’s true that he didn’t always use the kindest words when talking to his contemporaries and yes, he did treat his religious opponents as hypocrites, but these were words not deeds. "Woe to you Pharisees, because you neglect justice and the love of God." (Lk 11,42). "Serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?” (Mt 23,33).

One can imagine that his followers adopted the message in Jesus’ teachings when writing their own epistles in the 1st century. Did these epistles call for brutality or for peace? Let's see what they write. St Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (12.17 to 18), "Repay no one evil for evil (...) If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all...". In the Epistle to the Corinthians (13.2), "If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." In the Epistle to the Galatians (6:10), "Let us do good towards all, especially our brothers in faith." In the Epistle to the Colossians (3:12), "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." These writings are clearly in line with the teaching of the Master; there is no call for revenge, no invitation to massacre.

It is true that the first disciples had conflicts and fought amongst themselves, but there are no allusions to murder anywhere.


The sword of Christ

In spite of the above evidence, some people do read exhortations to war and crime into the Gospels. They refer principally to the passage of Matthew 10.34 to 36: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” A phrase that screams out, when Jesus preached about peace and love.

Another evangelist, Luke, takes up this phrase, but uses the word "division" instead of "sword". Luke 12,51: "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." The “sword” of Matthew becomes a “division” for Luke; the term ‘sword’ would have been used symbolically. Jesus warns us that he will be the cause of division between generations, as Matthew also says in his extract (I have come to bring division), but he clearly doesn’t ask families to take a sword and kill themselves for him. It seems that he is emphasising the fact that the older generation would be less receptive to his message than the younger one. Hence the divisions between father and son, mother and daughter.

Luke himself uses the term ‘sword’ in another verse and in a symbolic sense, when he describes Simeon addressing a pregnant Mary (2: 34-35), “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  We know that Mary will find herself at the foot of the cross, cut to the heart ... by grief, not by a sword.

Jesus' call to war as such, isn’t very well argued.

However, Christians have been killing others and themselves with extraordinary complacency over the years, often in the name of Jesus!!! That is an indisputable and undisputed truth.


In the first centuries

During the first three centuries, Christians followed the teachings of Jesus and did not attack or kill those who did not share their beliefs. We can read a famous letter written to Diogenes (late 2nd century), the author of which remains anonymous. "Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language or custom ... They don’t speak some remarkable dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle (...) . They follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life (…) They live on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey established laws and in their private lives, they transcend the laws.. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted....”



The arrival of Emperor Constantine

What happened then in later centuries? Not only did Emperor Constantine’s reign mark the end of an era of persecution of Christians, but it also allowed the Christian Church to flourish by establishing freedom of worship through the Edict of Milan (313), and by placing the Christian God above the function of emperor.

Christianity, in becoming the religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, gave the emperor an authority that he exercised in the name of God. Christianity provided an essential element of cohesion. There was no longer a place for pagans living in the Roman Empire. The Popes appropriated the name of Pontifex Maximus. The Gospels were shelved. This is the drama of Christianity. The spiritual and the temporal was mingled. And to top it all off, the dogma factory was opened.


The religious wars and the abominable massacres

A few centuries later came the religious wars, both appalling and shameful. Next, we saw the abominable clashes between different Christian states, which continued right up until the 20th century. And what can we say about the passivity of the religious authorities when faced with these massacres…..

If Christianity is described by the history shaped out by Christians and Catholics in particular, we can hardly say that Christianity has been a peaceful religion…... On the other hand, if Christianity is represented by the founding texts, it is clear that religion promotes peace, tolerance, non-violence vis-a-vis the enemy and the love of one’s neighbour. There have been many Saint Francis’ of Assisi, Saint Vincents de Paul, Father Damiens and Mother Teresas who are all true examples of evangelicalism.


Why this paradox?

The paradox is that even if these texts do not call people to war, they did not prevent Christians from behaving like barbarians. The reason? The reason? The madness of men, their thirst for power, their instinct of domination, their fear of strangers, their almost innate, animal-like violence. On top of this comes their conviction that they are always right and there anti-feminism.

And the future?

These dark pages of history, are they turning? We'll see. For it was not until the 20th century that Rome rid itself of the designs of the Roman Empire and agreed to a separation of church and state, conceded to freedom of conscience, allowed the freedom of press, freedom of worship, ... and recognised secularism. The Roman Catholic Church applies always an inequality man-woman in her structure (the inequality is a form of moral violence). And the conversion to evangelical precepts isn’t over. Pope Francis indeed reminded us that the Curia is far from achieving its goals. A lot of work needs to be done in all areas, and this work needs to be done properly. And of course appearances aren’t to be overlooked: we still call a bishop, Monsignor (my Lord). Protocol continues to give the top spot to the cardinal. As Jesus said (Mark 9, 35): "Anyone wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all." Constantine isn’t dead. 

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