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What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (III): Saint Ambrose’s Holy War Against Infidels

Note: This article is page III of a series on the Christian just war tradition.  If you haven’t already, might I suggest that you first read page I (the introduction) and page II (about the early Church).  

Saint Ambrose (Fourth Century)

The relationship between Christianity and imperialism traces itself all the way back to the early Church fathers who enlisted themselves as “prayer warriors” for the Roman armies (read page II: Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?).  However, even though they prayed for the success and preservation of the Pax Romana, the early Christians felt uncomfortable serving as soldiers in a largely pagan military.

This changed with the conversion to Christianity of Rome’s emperor, Constantine the Great (272-337 AD).  Wim Smit writes on p.108 of Just War and Terrorism:

With the reign of Constantine (306-337) and the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion, the attitude of most Christians towards military service changed. The question no longer was: can service to God be reconciled with service to the emperor, but what kind of conditions and rules should be satisfied during battle? This revolution in Christian thought started with Ambrose…and was later systematised by his pupil Augustine (354), who can be seen as the founder of the just war tradition.

Saint Ambrose (340-397 AD) served as a Roman imperial officer and sought to justify the Empire’s wars.  Prof. Christopher Tyerman writes on p.33 of God’s War:

The conversion of Constantine and the final recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire in 381 prompted the emergence of a set of limited principles of Christian just war which, by virtue of being fought by the Faithful, could be regarded as holy. The identification of the Roman empire with the church of God allowed Christians to see in the secular state their protector, the pax Romana being synonymous with Christian Peace. For the state, to its temporal hostes were added enemies of the Faith, pagan barbarians and, more immediately dangerous, religious heretics within the empire. Eusebius of Caesarea, historian of Constantine’s conversion, in the early fourth century reconciled traditional Christian pacifism with the new duties of the Christian citizen by pointing to the distinction between the clergy, immune from military service, and the laity, now fully encouraged to wage the just wars for the Christian empire. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), as befitted a former imperial official, consolidated this symbiosis of the Graeco-Roman and Christian: Rome and Christianity were indissolubly united, their fates inextricably linked. Thus the war of one was that of the other, all Rome’s wars were just in the same way that those of the Old Testament Israelites have been; even heresy could be depicted as treason. Ambrose’s version of the Christian empire and the wars to protect it which constituted perhaps the earliest formulation of Christian warfare was, therefore, based on the union of church and state; hatred of foreigners in the shape of barbarians and other external foes; and a sharp intolerance towards dissent and internal debate, religious and political.

The term “barbarian” comes from the Greek word barbaros, meaning “anyone who is not Greek.”  The Romans expanded the word to refer to anyone outside of the Greco-Roman world.  It was thought that the “civilized world” referred to the Roman Empire, which was surrounded by “barbarians.”  Prof. Glen Warren Bowersock writes on p.334 of Late Antiquity:

The term barbarian[ was] derived from Greek ideals of cultural “otherness”…The image of barbaricum began at the frontiers…There was the idea of a wall around the empire, separating Rome from the other gentes [nations]…Every “good” emperor set up inscriptions of himself as domitor gentium barbararum [conqueror of the barbarian nations]…Barbarians were contemptible, unworthy enemies…Many stereotypes were simply ethnocentric [racist]…Barbarians were natural slaves, animals, faithless, dishonest, treasonable, arrogant, drunken sots…

Christians were not detached from the construction of these images…Some, like Ambrose, projected barbarians as drunks and faithless savages…

The pax Romana had to be “defended” against these “barbarians,” something which was done by conquering their lands.  This imperial mentality was, from the very start, accepted by Christianity.  The early Church fathers, for example, believed that “God ordained the imperial powers” to “advanc[e] the gospel;” they appreciated “the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.”  The “barbarians” surrounding the Roman Empire threatened not just the state, but also the Church; their paganism and heresy was a threat against true belief.  Therefore, war against them had to be justified.  Who better to justify this than the former imperial officer Ambrose of Milan?  Prof. Frederick H. Russell writes on p.13 of The Just War in the Middle Ages:

The fuller development of a Christian just war theory was furthered in the writings of Ambrose, a new kind of Christian. Trained in imperial administration and the former prefect in Milan, Ambrose brought a Roman political orientation to his ministry…The courage of soldiers who defended the Empire against barbarians…was full of justice, and Ambrose prayed for the success of imperial armies.

Prof. Russell writes further:

To the Roman animosity toward the barbarian was added the element of religious animosity between believer and unbeliever, thus rendering the internal and external threats to the Pax Romana more politically explosive. To point the way out of this crisis Ambrose about 378 the De Fide Christiana for the Emperor Gratian, who was at the time attempting to consolidate Roman authority on the Danube after the defeat of the Arian Valens by the Visigoths. Ambrose assured Gratian of victory, for it had been foretold in the prophecies of Ezekiel and confirmed by Gratian’s faith. Ambrose even identified Gog, the wicked enemy of Ezekiel’s prophecies, with the contemporary Goths, who were thereby destined to destruction.

The just war theory was thus generated as a way “to point the way out of this crisis,” the crisis being the need “to consolidate Roman authority.”  Ambrose believed that “Christians engaged in combat against an alien faith should have the aid of an orthodox Emperor” (Ibid., p.14).  Prof. Russell goes on to say:

Ambrose instinctively regarded all barbarians as enemies (hostes) of the Roman people. Wherever heresy, or perfidia as Ambrose legalistically termed it, broke out, attacks on the Empire would soon follow. Thus in Ambrose’s mind catholic orthodoxy stood or fell with Pax Romana. Fides Romana and fides catholica were coextensive and mutually interdependent. Should the amalgam of those two qualities disintegrate, the world would come to an end. In response Ambrose desired a sort of perpetual holy war motivated by the bellicose virtues of Joshua and Maccabees who had fought for God and their rights.

Civil wars and rebellions within the Empire were to be avoided, whereas Rome’s foreign wars were to be justified.  Indeed, the emerging doctrine was to be applied to fellow Christians in order to prevent themselves from fighting each other when they could be fighting the infidel instead.  Prof. Alex J. Bellamy writes on p.24 of Just Wars:

Ambrose was the first thinker systematically to blend Christian teachings with Roman law and philosophy (Johnson 1987:54). He followed Cicero in acknowledging the possibility of justifiable wars and recognizing the difference between abhorrent civil wars and wars fought against barbarians (Swift 1970:533-4). Wars against barbarians, Ambrose argued, were legitimate because they protected both the empire and the Christian orthodoxy.

Ambrose, the first thinker behind the just war theory, justified his belief in two ways: (1) He was inspired by the wars in the Old Testament, and (2) He argued that Jesus’s non-violent teachings in the New Testament applied only to individuals but not to states.  Prof. Bellamy writes:

Ambrose argued that there were two grounds for justifying war. First, he found evidence in the Old Testament to support the view that not only was violence sometimes justified in order to protect others from harm, it was sometimes required on moral grounds or even directly commanded by God (Swift 1970:535). Second, Ambrose agreed that Jesus’ teaching forbade an individual from killing another in self-defence…Nevertheless he argued that whilst an individual may not kill to save himself, he must act in the defense of others…

Ambrose argued that “wars could only be fought in self-defense (broadly understood, as in the Roman tradition), when directly commanded by God, or in defence of religious orthodoxy”(Ibid.).  He “demanded that the state should not tolerate any religion other than Christianity” (p.112 of Ralph Blumenau’s Philosophy and Living).  Heretics and pagans should be fought, both within and outside the Empire.

Ambrose melded the Church to the state’s powerful military.  “Ambrose proposed that the incorporation of nails from the Cross into the imperial helmet and bridle symbolised Christianity’s support for enduring secular military authority” (p.77-78 of Prof. Michael Witby’s Rome at War).  He ”used Christianity to uphold imperial power” (Ibid.), but also used the imperial power to uphold Christianity.  The Church provided the state with the religious justification for war.  The Church, in return, benefited from these wars by using the state to enforce the faith and punish “barbarians” (pagans and heretics). Prof. Mary L. Foster writes on p.156 of Peace and War:

Ambrose, former praetorian prefect and then bishop of Milan (339-397)[ was] the first to formulate a “Christian ethic of war.” He drew upon the Stoics, particularly Cicero (106-43 B.C.), and legitimized the view by referring to holy wars spoken of in the Old Testament from Abraham and Moses to Maccaebus. Ambrose further justified the view by arguing that Christianity was, and must be, protected against the barbarians by the armed force of the Roman Empire. Both Augustine and Ambrose saw the Christian Empire as empowered to resist paganism and heresy.

For Ambrose, wars fought against pagans and heretics were, by definition, just: “if a Christian general fought a pagan army, he had a just cause” (Prof. Joseph F. Kelly on p.164 of The World of the Early Christians).  In fact, the machinery of the state should be used to conquer the world under the banner of Christianity.  Prof. Reinhard Bendix writes on p.244 of Embattled Reason:

Ambrose justified war against those who do not belong to the community of the faithful [pagans and heretics]…Warlike actions are justified [against the non-believer]…The goal of Ambrose was to establish a universal faith. All people should be brothers in the common, Christian faith, even if wars against non-believers were needed to accomplish this ideal…

Discrimination against pagans was justified in the eyes of Christian Fathers like Ambrose by the absolute belief in Christ as the only road to salvation. Accordingly, it is man’s religious duty to proclaim, and fight for, this truth in the whole world. Ambrose wrote his commentary decades after Christianity had become the dominant religion of the Roman world, recognized and supported publicly. With this support, Ambrose could presuppose a universal ethic based on a shared belief in [the Christian] God and on that basis fight in the name of the church against the heathens who were still the great majority [outside of the Roman Empire].

Ambrose declared an all-out war against paganism, and recruited the Roman emperors to do so.  ”No one was more determined to destroy paganism than Ambrose,” who was “a major influence upon both [Emperors] Gratian and Valentinian II” (Ted Byfield on p.92 of Darkness Descends).  In a letter addressed to the Roman emperor, Ambrose wrote:

Just as all men who live under Roman rule serve in the armies under you, the emperors and princes of the world, so too do you serve as soldiers of almighty God and of our holy faith. For there is no sureness of salvation unless everyone worships in truth the true God, that is, the God of the Christians, under whose sway are all things. For he alone is the true God, who is to be worshiped from the bottom of the heart, ‘for the gods of the heathen,’ as Scripture says, ‘are devils.’ (Ibid., p.93)

Here, we see a reciprocal relationship emerging between the Church and Roman state.  The Church legitimated Roman wars to expand the Empire and protect its hegemony, so long as the state enforced the Christian religion by fighting against heretics and pagans.

Jews, for example, were infidels worthy of death.  James Carroll writes on p.104 of Jerusalem, Jerusalemthat Ambrose “wanted to kill Jews (since, after all, Christian heretics were being killed for denying details of orthodoxy, while Jews rejected the whole of it).”  Prof. Jan Willem Drijvers writes on p.144 of Helena Augusta:

Ambrose evidently presents Judaism as a force by its nature opposed to Christianity. At the same time he identifies Christianity with the imperial rule…Ambrose is undoubtedly of the opinion that the emperors should combat Judaism and that the Church and the secular authorities should consider the ruin of Judaism their common cause.

Hand-in-hand then, Church and state were to combat pagans and heretics.  Prof. Daniel M. Jr. Bell writes in Just War as Christian Discipleship:

[F]or Ambrose just war was a deeply religious undertaking. This is to say, just war was undertaken for reasons of faith, including defending the faith against pagans as well as the spread of heresy, and the outcome of such wars was determined not by the strength of arms and guile of humans but by the Lord.

Prof. Madeleine P. Cosman writes on pp.262-263 of the Handbook to Life in the Medieval World (Vol.3):

The church’s attitude toward war would indelibly be changed by Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the so-called Edict of Milan (313), which recognized Christianity as a religion that could be practiced openly; church and state could now be conjoined in the same cause. A momentous meeting in the year 397 of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan (d. 397), and the emperor Gratian resulted in the declaration of Christianity as the official state religion and the concomitant outlawing of other “pagan superstitions.” Church leaders began to encourage rulers to wage a holy war on pagans for the sake of God and the church to defend the empire from heretical “traitors.”

Prof. Tomaz Mastnak writes on p.63 of Crusading Peace:

Along with Augustine, Ambrose of Milan before him and Pope Gregory I later in the sixth century may be credited with doctrinal formulations allowing–or demanding–the use of force against heretics and infidels. Ambrose, for example, eloquently defended Chrsitian violence against the Jews and heretics, representing it as “the judgement of God.” Because the believer had nothing to do with the unbeliever, he argued, the “instances of his unbelief ought to be done away with together with the unbeliever himself.” Inspired by victories granted to Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David, he wrote about the “presence of the divine assistance” in battles fought by emperors of his day. They went to war against the barbarians to safeguarded “under the shield of faith, and girt with the sword of the Spirit.” The Roman army was led to battle by “Thy Name, Lord Jesus, and They worship,” sure of victory that was given to it by the aid of the Might Supreme as the prize for the Faith. It was “sufficiently plain” that “they, who have broken faith, cannot be safe.”

Mastnak concludes:

In principle, war was permissible against heretics and pagans, for the protection of the purity of the Church within, and for the spread of the faith without.

Prof. James Turner Johnson, considered “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today,” notes on p.38 of The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions that the early Christian tradition accepted “[h]oly war as war fought to enforce religious conformity and/or to punish [religious] deviation. This is the sense of holy war found in Ambrose’s suggestion that war might be waged for the purpose of protecting Christian orthodoxy (Ambrose of Milan, On the Christian Faith 2.14.136-43, in Schaff et al. 1896; cf. Swift 1970, 534)” from heretics and pagans.

On p.79, Prof. Johnson notes that “Ambrose and Augustine called for the use of the Roman military…[T]heir calls to arms amounted to episcopal authorization for war against enemies of the faith (Ambrose, On the Christian Faith 2.14.136-43; Augustine, Contra Faustum 22.74-75; Russell 1975: 22-26; Swift 1970).”

There is much discussion, even in some scholarly circles, about “just war” vs. “holy war.”  I have read countless books wherein Western authors write of how it “was only during the Crusades that the Christians developed the concept of ‘holy war’ like the Islamic concept of jihad.”  These are all bogus discussions.  Quite clearly, the Christian just war tradition was the legitimization of “a holy war on pagans” from its very inception.  This is the case starting with the originator of the doctrine itself, Saint Ambrose, who harnessed imperial power to promote the Christian faith, a partnership that would outlast the Roman Empire itself.

*  *  *  *  *

Disclaimer:

None of this is meant to characterize Christianity as inherently violent.  Rather, it is meant to disabuse people of the notion that Christianity’s just war tradition has been any less troublesome than Islam’s jihad tradition.  This article is part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which answers the question (answered incorrectly by most Americans): Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?  

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  • Danios

    @ Michael:

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I will keep my response brief: I am not trying to be “anti-religion.” Rather, I am simply saying that religious traditions–of all faiths–have had their problems, and therefore it is not proper to pick on one of them (Islam) to the exclusion of others, which is what the Islamophobes do. Recognizing that a tradition has had problems does not entail denunciation or vilification of the faith itself.

  • Danios

    Apologies for taking so long to respond. I had been out of town attending a conference.

    @ Jetta Bob:

    Two of your authors seem to contradict one another – with one implying that Ambrose sought to wage perpetual, offensive war against non-believers to convert the world to Christianity while the other making clear that Ambrose’s views on waging war are in the spirit of self-defense of the state and Christianity.

    There is no contradiction. The only quote that uses the words “self-defense” is the quote by Prof. Alex Bellamy, in which he said:

    “wars could only be fought in self-defense (broadly understood, as in the Roman tradition), when directly commanded by God, or in defence of religious orthodoxy”

    Note the words in parenthesis: “self-defense” is “broadly understood, as in the Roman tradition”. This is a much more “permissive” understanding of “self-defense” than what we accept today.

    Furthermore, in addition to this Roman understanding of “self-defense,” Ambrose permitted war “in defence of religious orthodoxy.” Pagans and heretics could be warred against, because their very existence “threatened” true belief.

    Prof. Frederick H. Russel writes on p.112 of The Just War in the Middle Ages:

    “However, unlike the ordinary causes of war arising from some form of unjust violence, the cause of the Church’s just war was not necessarily linked to prior violent acts. Of course many heretics and infidels did commit acts of violence against Christians, but often their mere divergence from orthodox Christianity when coupled with de facto possession of property and dominion was sufficient to justify war against them…[A]ll pagans, infidels, heretics, schismatics and excommunicates posed an almost collective threat to Christianity from within and without.”

    I note you decided to exclude what Prof. Bellamy writes about of St. Ambrose’s beliefs regarding the conduct of war:

    “He [St. Ambrose] argued that combatants must respect treaties, show mercy to their enemies and treat the innocent amongst the enemy population with care, even when doing so risked the soldier’s own life…”

    I excluded this from my analysis because such considerations simply did not apply to pagans and heretics. Keith J. Gomes notes in “An Intellectual Genealogy of the Just War” that Ambrose advocated “showing compassion to his enemies,” but that such stipulations “were relaxed when dealing with heretical barbarians.”

    In fact, civilian immunity never applied to non-Christian populations. The first Christian theologian to extend such jus in bello conditions to “infidels” was Francisco de Vitoria in the sixteenth century–many, many centuries after Ambrose. (For the record, Vitoria’s views on this matter were ignored even into the nineteenth century.) I will discuss this topic in more detail in a later part of this article series.

    Historically, the Christian just war tradition overall did not apply to “infidels.” Prof. Helen Buss Mitchell writes:

    “In the time of its classic formulation, Christian Just War Theory applied only to conflicts between Christians and not to conflicts between Christians and Muslims, for instance.” (p.429 of Roots of Wisdom)

    Lastly, I have updated the article to include more quotes.

  • http://occidentalorientalist.tumblr.com Michael

    Thank you for giving your feedback. Although we probably don’t see eye-to-eye on this subject, I am sure we could have a very reasonable discussion.

    Just War traditions have largely been co-opted by those in power.

    My argument is that many of the thinkers credited for creating the just war tradition, including St. Ambrose and St. Augustine for instance, formulated the theory in such a way so as to facilitate it being “co-opted” by the imperial powers. Therefore, it is not just an issue of exploiting a doctrine. Rather, the doctrine itself was made to “be exploited.”

    You also very nicely skipped over Augustine, who (within the JWT) is considered much more of the founder than Ambrose.

    I did not skip over Augustine. He is the subject of Page IV of the series, entitled “Augustine, Just War, and Pax Romana.” Naturally, since Ambrose preceded Augustine, I spoke of Ambrose first.

    “Barbarians” applied to all outsiders

    Hi Danios,

    Many thanks for the quick response: apologies that mine did not come sooner.

    Yes, as I argued.

    What concerns me in your analysis is that you are judging just war tradition from an outsider’s perspective and allowing your interpretation of it to be considered as “the” interpretation of it. Whether or not you agree that JWT was or was not “intended” as a means to allow leaders to justify any kind of violence is irrelevant — the fact is that the tradition has been a part of the Catholic church and has been defined by it as specifically to be used to limit violence. It is also an evolving tradition which has, quite vocally at times, spoken out against the mainstream violence of ruling powers: the most recent being the Conference of Catholic bishops speaking out against the First and Second Gulf Wars. To suggest that, as a tradition (and here we must note that it is a “tradition” of the Church, NOT a “doctrine” — the distinction being that one evolves with time and circumstance, whereas others are immutable), JWT advocates violence in the medieval sense is to also give credence to the same people you argue against on this site. Spencer and the others you have argued so admirably against are guilty of cherrypicking from Islamic tradition and history and failing to properly contextualize their sources. They claim sinister intentions behind Muslims in much the same sense as you attribute the foundation of Just War traditions to merely being a system of justification demanded by emperors of the medieval Church. Neither is correct because it is imposing a predetermined supposition on a theology that is much broader, richer, and more nuanced that both of you allow.

    This is why your article troubles me. It seems to imply that the presence of violence in Christian history should somehow be an apologetic for violence in Islamic history; again, neither is true. And when you say that I have “internalized” the argument, aren’t you using Spencer’s method of redirected ignorance: that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m a victim of the tradition or its cohorts?

    Clarification on what I meant as “jihadist”: Yoder states early on there are a number of methods for justifying warfare — the “jihadist” or holy war mentality being one of them. You could call this a “crusader” mentality, if you like. But as far as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are concerned, neither was an act of just war — specifically because JWT limits warfare to enemy combatants, not civilians. These two instances of deliberate targeting of civilian lives are, in essence, more to the substance of a crusade or jihad mentality, which justifies the means with its trumpeting of the ideal — God, democracy, or whatever it is. I was simply stating that a better end to this series would be to explore how American government has co-opted the language of just war to justify what is, in substance, a holy war — with God and religion simply replaced by “protection of democracy.”

    I’m just more than a little disappointed at your methods: your picking and choosing through a very nuanced Catholic tradition not only indicates the cursory level of your research into JWT, but also the lack of nuance with which you’ve delved into it, and the shaky methodology with which you’ve approached it — one no less shaky than Spencer and the others you criticize. It also seems indicates a disdain for religion in general — proving the violence of other traditions by no means absolves a single religion of violence. It simply proves that religions can enact violence.

    I expected more.

    Regards,
    M

  • JettaBob

    I did include words directly from Ambrose. Please read the article more carefully.

    You did not include the words of Ambrose that pertain to his views on waging war. This is what I asked about. Perhaps you should read my words more carefully.

    Bringing up isolated quotes runs the risk of taking them out of context.

    Bringing up numerous snippets runs its own risks. Two of your authors seem to contradict one another – with one implying that Ambrose sought to wage perpetual, offensive war against non-believers to convert the world to Christianity while the other making clear that Ambrose’s views on waging war are in the spirit of self-defense of the state and Christianity.

    At one point you claim Ambrose’s views of self-defense were really invading “barbarian” lands without cause – even putting quotation marks around “defended”:

    The pax Romana had to be “defended” against these “barbarians,” something which was done by conquering their lands.

    The conclusion is absurd. Rome during the time of Ambrose was under attack from outside forces. Rome was not the invading force but was in decline during Ambrose’s life. Indeed, thirteen years after Ambrose’s death, Alaric would sack the capital.

    Your claim is grossly incorrect. Rome was not “defending” her territory by massive offensive land grabs during Ambrose’s writing. Rome was at the receiving end of outside attack.

    These are basic historical blunders you are making in your article. No amount of quotation marks or ranting is going to hide your historical errors.

    What you have not done in any of your quotes is establish what St. Ambrose’s clear beliefs of Just War really were. I don’t need nor desire your interpretation, bunny ears included, of what Ambrose believed. Just cite the historians themselves to detail what Just War for Ambrose actually entailed – both the reasons for going to war and how war is to be waged.

    I note you decided to exclude what Prof. Bellamy writes about of St. Ambrose’s beliefs regarding the conduct of war:

    He [St. Ambrose] argued that combatants must respect treaties, show mercy to their enemies and treat the innocent amongst the enemy population with care, even when doing so risked the soldier’s own life…

    Did St. Ambrose advocate unprovoked, perpetual offensive warfare or didn’t he? I’m left unsure what St. Ambrose actually advocated.

  • hitler and jesus

    “But Dr. Avalos is asking them to take seriously his claim that
    one of the men they think was among the most evil men of all time acted in a way that “was very consistent with what he [Hitler] saw Jesus…”

    Yes, I am asking them to take this seriously because you cannot
    explain why most German Christians who supported Hitler saw no problem between what Hitler was asking of them and what Jesus taught. You cannot explain why Jesus’ words in John 8:44 were posted on Nazi road signs unless the Nazis thought most German Christians would accept that Nazism and Jesus’ ethics were compatible.

    If many Americans think that Nazism and Jesus’ ethics were
    incompatible, it is because they are not informed about most of
    Christian history. After all, throughout most of Christian history,
    those persecuting heretics and Jews did so in the name of Jesus.

    If you listen to the broadcast, you will see that Luther did too. His
    first point says:

    “First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and
    cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again
    see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord
    and Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing,
    blaspheming of his son and of his Christians….”

    Note that Luther says that this is to be done in honor “of our Lord
    and Christendom.” So what makes you think the most Christians
    historically have not thought that killing and burning Jews was
    compatible with Jesus’ words?

    The fact is that what many modern American Christians think about
    Jesus’ ethics MAY NOT BE representative of what many, or most,
    Christians in the last 2000 years have thought about Jesus’ ethics
    towards Jews and toward those who disagreed with him.

    You might also read Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian
    Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press, 2008).

    In my book, Fighting Words, I have discussed at length the attempts of modern scholars to whitewash Jesus’ ethics, which, among other things, called for burning eternally those who did not agree with his religion (see Matthew 25:41ff) and for the transfer of allegiance from the biological family to him (Luke 14:26ff). Those actions are perfectly
    compatible with the desires of a dictator or cult leader.

    In my forthcoming book on slavery, I discuss how Jesus is seen as
    completely benign because most scholars, even seemingly secular ones, are still seeing Jesus through Christian eyes

    But what Jesus advocates in Matthew 25:41ff is ETERNAL TORTURE in a fiery lake of fire. If Hitler wanted your torture to last until you
    died, Jesus is advocating that you be tortured BEYOND DEATH and FOR ETERNITY. So can you explain to me how Jesus’ ethics are better in such a case?

  • SKhan

    Dear Danios,

    [Comment by Danios: yes, I will address those issues in the future. Thanks for your input.]

  • Garibaldi

    Good piece as usual Danios. Looking forward to the next piece in the series.

  • Danios

    @ JettaBob:

    I did include words directly from Ambrose. Please read the article more carefully.

    Having said that, please also read: http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/10/what-i-bet-you-didnt-know-about-the-christian-just-war-tradition-ii-was-the-early-church-really-pacifist/#comment-103761

    Bringing up isolated quotes runs the risk of taking them out of context. For example, one could find a quote from a Christian theologian that seems to imply just war conditions must be met, whereas in context one realizes that he is only speaking of this being the case with fellow Christian/European nations.

    Therefore, I largely rely on scholarly sources instead of just picking and choosing isolated primary quotes from here and there.

  • JettaBob

    So what were St. Ambrose’s own stated beliefs on Just War? The article actually seems to quote St. Ambrose very little if at all as far as I can tell.

    One should let St. Ambrose do the speaking rather than have others interpret his beliefs for him.

  • Danios

    @ Michael:

    Thank you for giving your feedback. Although we probably don’t see eye-to-eye on this subject, I am sure we could have a very reasonable discussion.

    Just War traditions have largely been co-opted by those in power.

    My argument is that many of the thinkers credited for creating the just war tradition, including St. Ambrose and St. Augustine for instance, formulated the theory in such a way so as to facilitate it being “co-opted” by the imperial powers. Therefore, it is not just an issue of exploiting a doctrine. Rather, the doctrine itself was made to “be exploited.”

    You also very nicely skipped over Augustine, who (within the JWT) is considered much more of the founder than Ambrose.

    I did not skip over Augustine. He is the subject of Page IV of the series, entitled “Augustine, Just War, and Pax Romana.” Naturally, since Ambrose preceded Augustine, I spoke of Ambrose first.

    “Barbarians” applied to all outsiders

    Yes, as I argued.

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only two instances of accepted and targeted violence of the US government toward civilians, supported by an inherently “jihadist” mindset (this being the idea that democracy “must be defended, no matter the cost,” just as much as “God wills it”)…
    Just War tradition, however, is unique among faiths in that it accepts a specifically limited violence as a means to an end.

    This is the reason why I need to write this series. Even though you seem to be a very nice guy, you have internalized many of the myths that surround the issue. For example, when the U.S. nukes two cities, then they are exhibiting a “jihadist mindset.” This, even though the American justifications for waging illegal wars is wholly consistent with the historical Christian just war tradition. So why bring Muslims into this?

    It is your last sentence, which I underlined, that really gets to me. That is why I am writing the series.

    Take care.

  • Danios

    @ JD:

    I do plan on writing on that topic.

  • http://occidentalorientalist.tumblr.com Michael

    I’m normally a fan of your site — we agree on a number of levels and, having made a life working with Arabic and living in the Middle East, I’m often the first in the conversation to become a Catholic apologist for unfair characterization of Muslims.

    That said, an article like this makes me question the end to which you are writing and, I think, hurts your credibility. It seems less like a feasible analysis of a viable subject (such as strident and rampant anti-Islamic jihadmongering) than a searching for a topic or religious tradition to disparage that is NOT Islam. There are two reasons for this:

    - Just War traditions have largely been co-opted by those in power. Here, I refer you to Yoder’s book on JWT (he’s a Mennonite scholar that taught at Notre Dame’s ROTC program for years), “When War is Unjust.” Yoder points out that, historically, you would find many wars engaged in by “Christendom” that employed the language of being just, but were in fact only “justified.” Truly “just war” has been few and far between, and largely an ideal that has been co-opted by those in power. The very idea of a just war places constraints on violence and limits its application to a class (namely, combatants). You also very nicely skipped over Augustine, who (within the JWT) is considered much more of the founder than Ambrose.

    - Outsider-insider ideas of culture, race, and nationhood evolved from the idea of a “Christendom.” Throughout this article, you are retroactively applying concepts of statehood and race that only came into widespread consciousness in the twentieth century. “Barbarians” applied to all outsiders — this was not a subtle racism, but one that lumped all outsiders together and set the “Empire” against all of them.

    If you are to employ further ventures into JWT in the future, I would instead hold it up as something to be achieved, and suggest that you look into the redefinitions Yoder proposes as being needed in a nuclear age. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only two instances of accepted and targeted violence of the US government toward civilians, supported by an inherently “jihadist” mindset (this being the idea that democracy “must be defended, no matter the cost,” just as much as “God wills it”).

    No one questions religions as violent — nor that they all, at some point or another, have supported their violence with religion. Just War tradition, however, is unique among faiths in that it accepts a specifically limited violence as a means to an end.

    Cheers, MJN

  • JD

    Danios I want to make a suggestion: I think Loonwatch should do a article on the claim that Islam is not just a religion, it is a complete social system with its own laws (Sharia), its own courts, its own form of theocratic government which replace the secular legal, judicial and government­al system once a Muslim majority is obtained.

  • mindy1

    Interesting-have you ever considered being a teacher??? You would be good at it.

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