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Christianity and violence

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns fought mainly between European Christians and Muslims. Shown here is a battle scene from the First Crusade.
The Crusades were a series of military campaigns fought mainly between European Christians and Muslims. Shown here is a battle scene from the First Crusade.

Christians have held diverse views towards violence and non-violence through time. Currently and historically there have been four views and practices within Christianity toward violence and war: non-resistance, Christian pacifism, Just war theory, and the Crusade (Holy or preventive war).[1] The early church in the Roman empire adopted a nonviolent stance when it came to war since imitating Jesus's sacrificial life was preferable.[2] The concept of "Just war", whereby limited uses of war were considered acceptable originated with earlier non-Christian Roman and Greek thinkers such as Cicero and Plato.[3][4] This theory was adapted later by Christian thinkers such as St Augustine, who like other Christians, borrowed much of the justification from Roman writers like Cicero and Roman Law.[5][6][7] Even though "Just War" concept was widely accepted early on, warfare was not regarded as a virtuous activity and expressing concern for the salvation of those who killed enemies in battle, regardless of the cause for which they fought, was common.[8] Concepts such as "Holy war", whereby fighting itself might be considered a penitential and spiritually meritorious act, did not emerge before the 11th century.[8][9]

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  • ✪ Christianity from Judaism to Constantine: Crash Course World History #11
  • ✪ Shattering the Holy Hush: Domestic Violence and Christianity
  • ✪ Early Christian Schisms - Before Imperium - Extra History - #1
  • ✪ British Government Calls Christianity a Religion of Violence in Rejection of Iranian Asylum Seeker
  • ✪ Religion, Terrorism and Warfare: ISIS, Islam, Christianity and Cultures in Conflict


Hi there my name’s John Green, this is Crash Course: World History and today we’re going to talk about Jesus. This is a Roman coin from around the time Jesus was born in the Roman Empire, and it calls Augustus, the emperor, the son of God. So let’s just state at the outset that in 4 BCE, being the son of God, or at least being the son of a god was not such an unusual thing. But a poor Jew being the son of God— that was news. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] Any understanding of Christianity has to start with Judaism, because Jesus was born a Jew, and he grew up in the Jewish tradition. He was one of many teachers spreading his ideas in the Roman province of Judea at the time, and he was part of a messianic tradition that helps us understand why he was thought of not only teacher but something much, much more. Let’s go straight to the Thought Bubble today. The people who would become the Jews, were just one of many tribal peoples eeking out an existence in that not-very fertile crescent world of Mesopotamia after the agricultural revolution. The Hebrews initially worshipped many gods, making sacrifices to them in order to bring good weather and good fortune. But they eventually developed a religion centered around an idea that would become key to the other great western religions. This was monotheism, the idea that there is only one true god (or at least that if there are other gods around, they are total lameoids). The Hebrews developed a second concept that is key to their religion as well: the idea of the covenant, a deal with God. The main man in this, the big macher was Abraham. Not to make this too much of a scripture lesson, but it’s kind of hard to understand the Jews without understanding Abraham, or Abram as he was known before he had his big conversation with God, recorded in Genesis 17: When Abram was ninety years and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect." And I’m a make a covenant with you and a bunch of cool things will happen like you’re gonna have kids and your descendants will number the stars and you can have all the land of Canaan forever, it’s gonna be awesome. I’m paraphrasing by the way, Thought Bubble. So God promised that Abram would have kids with his wife even though the dude was already like 99, but there was a catch: This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. Keep it PG-13, Thought Bubble. Now that is asking a lot from a guy, especially a 99 year old geezer like Abram living in a time before general anesthesia. But those were the terms of the deal, and in exchange God had chosen Abraham and his descendants to be a great nation. From this we get the expression that the Jews are the Chosen people. Thanks for keeping it clean, Thought Bubble. So, some important things about this god: 1. Singularity. He—and I’m using the masculine pronoun because that’s what Hebrew prayers use—does not want you to put any gods before Him. He is also transcendent, having always existed and he is deeply personal – he chats with prophets, sends locusts, etc. But he doesn’t take corporeal form like the Greek and Roman Gods do. He is also involved in history, like he will destroy cities, and bring floods, and determine the outcomes of wars, and possibly football games. Stan, no! FOOTBALL games! Probably most important to us today, and certainly most important to Jesus, this god demands moral righteousness and social justice. So, this is the god of the Hebrews, Yahweh, and despite many ups and downs, the Jewish people have stuck with him for- according to the Hebrew calendar, at least- over 5700 years. And he has stuck by them too, despite the Jews being, on occasion, something of a disappointment to him, which leads to various miseries, and also to a tradition of prophets who speak for God and warn the people to get back on the right path lest there be more miseries. Which brings us back to our friends, the Romans. By the time that Jesus was born, the land of the Israelites had been absorbed into the Roman Empire as the province of Judea. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Judea was under the control of Herod the Great, best known for building the massive temple in Jerusalem, that the Romans would later destroy. And by the time Jesus died, an expanded Judea was under the rule of Herod Antipater. Also, unhelpfully, known as Herod. Both Herods ultimately took their orders from the Romans, and they both show up on the list of rulers who are oppressive to the Jews, partly because there’s never that much religious freedom in an empire. Unless you are, wait for it... The Mongols or the Persians. Also, they were Hellenizers, bringing in Greek theater and architecture, and rationalism. And in response to those Hellenistic influences, there were a lot of preachers trying to get the Jews to return to the traditions and the godly ways of the past, including the Sadducees, and the Pharisees, and the Essenes, and the Zealots. And one of those preachers, who didn’t fit comfortably into any of these four groups, was Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was a preacher who spread his message of peace, love and, above all, justice, across Judea over the course of his actually average-length life for his time. He was remarkably charismatic, attracting a small but incredibly loyal group of followers, and he was said to perform miracles—although it’s worth noting that miracles weren’t terribly uncommon at the time. Jesus’s message was particularly resonant to the poor and downtrodden and pretty radical in its anti-authoritarian stance. He said it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven, he said the meek were blessed, that the last would be first and the first would be last— All of which was kind of threatening to the powers that be, who accordingly had him arrested, tried and then executed in the normal method of killing rebels at that time, crucifixion. Also, just to put this question to bed, the Romans that crucified Jesus, because he was a threat to their authority. Later traditions saying that the Jews killed Jesus? Very unfortunate. Also, very untrue. We’re not going to discuss Jesus’s divinity, because 1. This isn’t a theology class, and 2. Flame wars on the Internet make me so uncomfortable I have to turn to camera 2, Hi there camera 2, I’m here to remind you that 3. Fighting over such things, like fighting over whether the proverbial cake is a lie, rarely accomplishes anything, Plus 4. What matters to us is the historical fact that people at the time believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the son of God. And they believed that he would return some day to redeem the world. Which leads us to two questions about Christianity: First, Why did this small group of people believe this, and Why and how did that belief become so widespread? So why would people believe that Jesus was the Messiah? First, the Jews had a long tradition of believing that a savior who would come to them in a time of trouble. And Judea under the rule of Herod and the Romans… definitely a time of trouble. And many of the prophecies about this savior point to someone whose life looks a lot like Jesus'. For instance, Isaiah 53 says the person will be misunderstood and mistreated, just like Jesus was: “He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we didn't respect him.” And a lot of the prophecies like Daniel 7:14, for instance, explained that when the Messiah comes there will be this awesome new, everlasting kingdom. And that had to sound pretty good to people who’d had their autonomy taken away from them. So some religious Jews saw Jesus in those prophecies and came to believe either during his life or shortly thereafter, that he was the messiah. Most of them thought the new everlasting kingdom was right around the corner, which is probably why no one bothered to write down much about the life of Jesus for several decades, by which time it was clear that we might have to wait a bit for this brilliant new everlasting kingdom. I should note, by the way, that the idea of a messiah was not unique to the Jews at the time. Even the Romans got in on the action. For Instance, the Roman poet Vergil wrote of a boy who: “Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear. He shall receive the life of gods, and see Heroes with gods commingling.” Sound familiar? But Vergil was writing about Emperor Augustus in that poem, not Jesus, which points again to the similarities between the two. Both called sons of God. Both sent to free the earth from never-ceasing fear. But one ruled the largest empire in the world; and the other believed that empire, and the world, needed to change dramatically. So why did the less wealthy and famous son of God become by far the more influential? Well, here are three possible historical reasons: Reason #1: The Romans continued to make things bad for the Jews. In fact, things got much worse for the Jews, especially after they launched a revolt between 66-73 CE, which did not go well. By the time the dust settled, the Romans had destroyed the Temple and expelled the Jews from Judaea, beginning what we now know as the Jewish Diaspora. And without a Temple or geographic unity, the Jews had to solidify what it meant to be a Jew and what the basic tenants of the religion were. This forced the followers of Jesus to make a decision; Were they going to continue to be Jews following stricter laws set forth by rabbis, or were they going to be something else. The decision to open up their religion to non-Jews, people who weren’t part of the covenant, is the central reason that Christianity could become a world religion instead of just a sect of Judaism. And it probably didn’t hurt that the main proponent of sticking with Judaism was James, Jesus’s brother, who was killed by the Romans. Reason #2: Is related to reason number 1 and it’s all about a dude named Saul. No, not that Saul. Yes, Saul of Tarsus, thank you. Saul, having received a vision on the road to Damascus, became Paul and began visiting and sending letters to Jesus followers throughout the Mediterranean. And it was Paul who emphatically declared that Jesus followers did NOT have to be Jews, that they did not have to be circumcised or keep to Jewish laws or any of that stuff. This opened the floodgates for thousands of people to convert to this new religion. And the other thing to remember about Paul is that he was a Roman citizen. Which meant that he could travel freely throughout the Roman Empire. This allowed him to make his case to lots of different people and facilitated the geographic spread of Christianity. Oh, it’s time for the open letter? Alright. An open letter, to the fish. But first, lets see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, Stan. [JCSS-esque music briefly plays] It’s my favorite album Jesus Christ Superstar, finally available in my favorite format, the cassette. Did I color-coordinate my shirt to Jesus Christ Superstar? Yes. Dear Ichthys, So check this out: In the first century when it was still super underground and hipster to be a Christian, you were a secret symbol of Christianity, used to kind of hide from the Romans. Ichthys, the Greek word for fish was an acronym and it was a super clever way to talk about religion without anyone knowing that you were talking about it. But you’ll never guess what happened- even in places where it’s completely fine to talk about Christianity now and to use, you know, regular Christian symbols, like the cross You have had a huge resurgence thanks to the plastic automobile decal industry. I mean seriously, Ichthys, I haven’t seen a comeback like this since Jesus. Best wishes, John Green And lastly, Christianity was born and flourished an empire with a common language that allowed for its spread. And crucially, it was also an Empire in decline. Like even by the end of the first century CE, Rome was on its way down. And for the average person, and even for some elites, things weren’t as good as they had been, if fact they were getting worse so fast that you might have thought the end of the world was coming. And Roman religion offered no promise of an afterlife, and a bunch of squabbling whiny gods- sorry if I offended adherents to Roman religion, but seriously, they squabble. So even though early Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire and sometimes fed to the lions and other animals, the religion continued to grow, albeit slowly. But then as the Roman decline continued, Emperor Constantine allowed the worship of Jesus and then eventually converted to Christianity himself. And then the religion really took off. I mean, Rome wasn’t what it used to be, but everybody still wanted to be like the Emperor. And soon enough there was a new son of God on coins. Thanks for watching. See you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. As only 62 million of you guessed last week, the Phrase of the Week was "Chipotle Burrito" if you want to guess at this week’s Phrase of the Week or suggest future ones, you can do so in Comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered, hopefully, by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course, and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome. Ow... again.



Having Their Fling (1917) by Art Young
Having Their Fling (1917) by Art Young

The Bible includes several texts regarding and describing violence.[10][11]

Leigh Gibson[who?] and Shelly Matthews, associate professor of Religion at Furman University,[12] write that some scholars, such as René Girard, "lift up the New Testament as somehow containing the antidote for Old Testament violence". According to John Gager, such an analysis risks advocating the views of the heresiarch Marcion of Sinope (c. 85–160), who made a distinction between the God of the Old Testament responsible for violence and the God of mercy found in the New Testament.[13]

Mahatma Gandhi embraced the concept of nonviolence which he had found in both Indian Religions and the New Testament (e.g. Sermon on the Mount), which he then utilized in his strategy for social and political struggles.[14]

Christian violence

I Believe in the Sword and Almighty God (1914). Anti-militaristic cartoon by Boardman Robinson
I Believe in the Sword and Almighty God (1914). Anti-militaristic cartoon by Boardman Robinson

J. Denny Weaver, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Bluffton University, suggests that there are numerous evolving views on violence and nonviolence throughout the history of Christian theology.[15] According to the view of many historians, the Constantinian shift turned Christianity from a persecuted into a persecuting religion.[16]

Miroslav Volf has identified the intervention of a "new creation", as in the Second Coming, as a particular aspect of Christianity that generates violence.[17] Writing about the latter, Volf says: "Beginning at least with Constantine's conversion, the followers of the Crucified have perpetrated gruesome acts of violence under the sign of the cross. Over the centuries, the seasons of Lent and Holy Week were, for the Jews, times of fear and trepidation. Muslims also associate the cross with violence; crusaders' rampages were undertaken under the sign of the cross."[18]

The statement attributed to Jesus "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" has been interpreted by some as a call to arms for Christians.[19] Mark Juergensmeyer argues that "despite its central tenets of love and peace, Christianity—like most traditions—has always had a violent side. The bloody history of the tradition has provided disturbing images and violent conflict is vividly portrayed in the Bible. This history and these biblical images have provided the raw material for theologically justifying the violence of contemporary Christian groups. For example, attacks on abortion clinics have been viewed not only as assaults on a practice that Christians regard as immoral, but also as skirmishes in a grand confrontation between forces of evil and good that has social and political implications.",[19]:19–20 sometimes referred to as Spiritual warfare.

Higher law has been used to justify violence by Christians.[20]

Historically, according to René Girard, many Christians embraced violence when it became the state religion of the Roman Empire: "Beginning with Constantine, Christianity triumphed at the level of the state and soon began to cloak with its authority persecutions similar to those in which the early Christians were victims."[21]


Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on the concept of just war
Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on the concept of just war

Attitudes towards the military before Constantine

The study of Christian participation in military service in the pre-Constantinian era has been highly contested and has generated a great deal of literature.[22][23]:4

Through most of the twentieth century, a consensus formed around Adolf von Harnack's view that the early church was pacifist, that over the second and third centuries a growing accommodation with military service occurred, and by the time of Constantine a just war ethic had arisen.[23]:4[24][25]

This consensus was challenged mostly by the work of John Helgeland[26] in the 1970s and 1980s. He said that early Christians mostly opposed military service due to the Roman religion and rituals of the Roman army, and not because of killing.[22][23]:5[27] Helgeland also stated that there is a diversity of voices in the written literature, as well as evidence of a diversity of practices by Christians.[23]:5 George Kalantzis, Professor of Theology at Wheaton College,[28] sided with Harnack in the debate writing that "literary evidence confirms the very strong internal coherence of the Church's non-violent stance for the first three centuries."[23]:7

David Hunter has proposed that a "new consensus" has emerged including aspects from both Helgeland and Harnack's views. Hunter suggests that early Christians based their opposition to military service upon both their "aboherrence of Roman army religion" (Helgeland's view) and their opposition to bloodshood (Harnack's view). Hunter notes that there is evidence that by the 2nd century Christian practices had started to diverge from the theological principles espoused in early Christian literature. Hunter's third point of the "new consensus" is the assertion that Augustinian just war theory reflects at least one pre-Constantinian view. Finally, to these three points, Kreider added that Christian attitudes towards violence were likely varied in different geographic locations, pointing out that pro-militarist views were stronger in border areas then they were in "heartland" areas more strongly aligned with the Empire.[23]:6

There is little evidence concerning the extent of Christian participation in the military; generalizations are usually speculation.[29][30] A few gravestones of Christian soldiers have been found.[31][30]

Just war

Just war theory is a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin[32][33] studied by moral theologians, ethicists, and international policy makers, that holds that a conflict can and ought to meet the criteria of philosophical, religious or political justice, provided it follows certain conditions.

The concept of justification for war under certain conditions goes back at least to Roman and Greek thinkers such as Cicero and Plato.[3] However its importance is connected to Christian medieval theory beginning from Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas.[34] According to Jared Diamond, Augustine of Hippo played a critical role in delineating Christian thinking about what constitutes a just war, and about how to reconcile Christian teachings of peace with the need for war in certain situations.[35] Partly inspired by Cicero's writings, Augustine held that war could be justified in order to preserve the state, rectify wrongs by neighboring nations, and expand the state if a tyrant will lose power in doing so.[6]

Forward with God! (1915). Anti-militaristic cartoon by Boardman Robinson
Forward with God! (1915). Anti-militaristic cartoon by Boardman Robinson

In Ulrich Luz's formulation; "After Constantine, the Christians too had a responsibility for war and peace. Already Celsus asked bitterly whether Christians, by aloofness from society, wanted to increase the political power of wild and lawless barbarians. His question constituted a new actuality; from now on, Christians and churches had to choose between the testimony of the gospel, which included renunciation of violence, and responsible participation in political power, which was understood as an act of love toward the world." Augustine of Hippo's Epistle to Marcellinus (Ep 138) is the most influential example of the "new type of interpretation."[36]

Just war theorists combine both a moral abhorrence towards war with a readiness to accept that war may sometimes be necessary. The criteria of the just war tradition act as an aid to determining whether resorting to arms is morally permissible. Just War theories are attempts "to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable uses of organized armed forces"; they attempt "to conceive of how the use of arms might be restrained, made more humane, and ultimately directed towards the aim of establishing lasting peace and justice."[37]

The just war tradition addresses the morality of the use of force in two parts: when it is right to resort to armed force (the concern of jus ad bellum) and what is acceptable in using such force (the concern of jus in bello).[38] In more recent years, a third category — jus post bellum — has been added, which governs the justice of war termination and peace agreements, as well as the prosecution of war criminals.

Holy War

In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II declared that some wars could be deemed as not only a bellum iustum ("just war"), but could, in certain cases, rise to the level of a bellum sacrum (holy war).[39] Jill Claster, dean of New York University College of Arts and Science,[40] characterizes this as a "remarkable transformation in the ideology of war", shifting the justification of war from being not only "just" but "spiritually beneficial".[41] Thomas Murphy[who?] examined the Christian concept of Holy War, asking "how a culture formally dedicated to fulfilling the injunction to 'love thy neighbor as thyself' could move to a point where it sanctioned the use of violence against the alien both outside and inside society". The religious sanctioning of the concept of "holy war" was a turning point in Christian attitudes towards violence; "Pope Gregory VII made the Holy War possible by drastically altering the attitude of the church towards war... Hitherto a knight could obtain remission of sins only by giving up arms, but Urban invited him to gain forgiveness 'in and through the exercise of his martial skills'." A holy war was defined by the Roman Catholic Church as "war that is not only just, but justifying; that is, a war that confers positive spiritual merit on those who fight in it".[42][43]

In the 12th century, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: "'The knight of Christ may strike with confidence and die yet more confidently; for he serves Christ when he strikes, and saves himself when he falls.... When he inflicts death, it is to Christ's profit, and when he suffers death, it is his own gain."[44]

Jonathan Riley-Smith writes,

The consensus among Christians on the use of violence has changed radically since the crusades were fought. The just war theory prevailing for most of the last two centuries — that violence is an evil which can in certain situations be condoned as the lesser of evils — is relatively young. Although it has inherited some elements (the criteria of legitimate authority, just cause, right intention) from the older war theory that first evolved around a.d. 400, it has rejected two premises that underpinned all medieval just wars, including crusades: first, that violence could be employed on behalf of Christ's intentions for mankind and could even be directly authorized by him; and second, that it was a morally neutral force which drew whatever ethical coloring it had from the intentions of the perpetrators.[45]

Genocidal warfare

Pope Innocent III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders
Pope Innocent III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders

The Biblical account of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho was used by Oliver Cromwell to justify genocide against Catholics.[46]:3[47] Daniel Chirot, professor of Russian and Eurasian studies at the University of Washington,[48] interprets 1 Samuel 15:1–15:3 as "the sentiment, so clearly expressed, that because a historical wrong was committed, justice demands genocidal retribution."[46]:7–8


The Inquisition is a group of institutions within the judicial system of the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy[49] The Spanish Inquisition is often cited in popular literature and history as an example of Catholic intolerance and repression. The total number of people who were processed by the Inquisition throughout its history was approximately 150,000; applying the percentages of executions that appeared in the trials of 1560–1700—about 2%—the approximate total would be about 3,000 of them were put to death. Nevertheless, it is likely that the actual death toll was higher, keeping in mind the data provided by Dedieu and García Cárcel for the tribunals of Toledo and Valencia, respectively.[citation needed] It is likely that between 3,000 and 5,000 people were executed.[50] About 50 people were executed by the Mexican Inquisition.[51] Included in that total are 29 people who were executed as "Judaizers" between 1571 and 1700 out of 324 people who were prosecuted for practicing the Jewish religion.[52]

Contemporary illustration of the auto-da-fé of Valladolid, in which fourteen Protestants were burned at the stake for their faith, on May 21, 1559
Contemporary illustration of the auto-da-fé of Valladolid, in which fourteen Protestants were burned at the stake for their faith, on May 21, 1559

In the Portuguese Inquisition the major targets were those who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, the Conversos, also known as New Christians or Marranos, were suspected of secretly practising Judaism. Many of these were originally Spanish Jews, who had left Spain for Portugal. The number of victims is estimated to be around 40,000.[53][54] One particular focus of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions was the issue of Jewish anusim and Muslim converts to Catholicism, partly because these minority groups were more numerous in Spain and Portugal than they were in many other parts of Europe, and partly because they were often considered suspect due to the assumption that they had secretly reverted to their previous religions. The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Portuguese Inquisition acting in Portuguese India, and in the rest of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, briefly suppressed from 1774–1778, and finally abolished in 1812.[55] Based on the records that survive, H. P. Salomon and Rabbi Isaac S.D. Sassoon state that between the Inquisition's beginning in 1561 and its temporary abolition in 1774, some 16,202 persons were brought to trial by the Inquisition. Of this number, it is known that 57 were sentenced to death and executed, and another 64 were burned in effigy (this sentence was applied to those who had fled or died in prison; in the latter case, the remains were burned in a coffin at the same time as the effigy).[56] Others were subjected to lesser punishments or penance, but the fate of many of those who were tried by the Inquisition is unknown.[57]

The Roman Inquisition, during the second half of the 16th century, was responsible for prosecuting individuals accused of a wide array of crimes relating to religious doctrine or alternate religious doctrine or alternate religious beliefs. Out of 51,000 — 75,000 cases judged by the Inquisition in Italy after 1542, around 1,250 resulted in a death sentence.[58]

The period of witch trials in Early Modern Europe[59] was a widespread moral panic caused by the belief that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom from the 15th to the 18th centuries.[60] A variety of punishments was imposed upon those who were found guilty of witchcraft, including imprisonment, flogging, fines, or exile.[61] In the Old Testament, Exodus 22:18 states that "Thou shalt not permit a sorceress to live".[62] Many people faced capital punishment if they were convicted of witchcraft during this period, either by being burned at the stake, hanged on the gallows, or beheaded.[63] Similarly, in the New England Colonies, people convicted of witchcraft were hanged (See Salem witch trials).[64] The scholarly consensus on the total number of executions for witchcraft ranges from 40,000 to 60,000.[65]

The legal basis for some inquisitorial activity came from Pope Innocent IV's papal bull Ad extirpanda of 1252, which explicitly authorized (and defined the appropriate circumstances for) the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics.[66] By 1256, inquisitors were given absolution if they used instruments of torture.[67] "The overwhelming majority of sentences seem to have consisted of penances like wearing a cross sewn on one's clothes, going on pilgrimage, etc."[68] When a suspect was convicted of unrepentant heresy, the inquisitorial tribunal was required by law to hand the person over to the secular authorities for final sentencing, at which point a magistrate would determine the penalty, which was usually burning at the stake although the penalty varied based on local law.[69][70] The laws were inclusive of proscriptions against certain religious crimes (heresy, etc.), and the punishments included death by burning, although imprisonment for life or banishment would usually be used. Thus the inquisitors generally knew what would be the fate of anyone so remanded, and cannot be considered to have divorced the means of determining guilt from its effects.[71]

Except for the Papal States, the institution of the Inquisition was abolished in Europe in the early 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars and in the Americas, it was abolished after the Spanish American wars of independence. The institution survived as part of the Roman Curia, but in 1904, it was renamed the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office". In 1965, it was renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[72][73]

Christian terrorism

Christian terrorism comprises terrorist acts that are committed by groups or individuals who use Christian motivations or goals as a justification for their actions. As with other forms of religious terrorism, Christian terrorists have relied on interpretations of the tenets of their faith – in this case, the Bible. Such groups have cited Old Testament and New Testament scriptures to justify violence and killing or to seek to bring about the "end times" described in the New Testament.[74]

Forced conversions

After the Constantinian shift, Christianity became entangled in government. While anthropologists have shown that throughout history the relationship between religion and politics has been complex, there is no doubt that religious institutions, including Christian ones, have been used coercively by governments, and that they have used coercion themselves.[75] Augustine found that persuasion by argument was insufficient to the task of correcting heresy.[76] He advocated government force in his Epistle 185, A Treatise Concerning the Correction of the Donatists, justifying coercion from scripture. He cites Jesus striking Paul during Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. He also cites the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:22–23. Such short term pain for the sake of eternal salvation was an act of charity and love, in his view.[77]

Examples of forced conversion to Christianity include: the Christian persecution of paganism under Theodosius I,[78] the forced conversion and violent assimilation of pagan tribes in medieval Europe,[79] the Inquisition, including its manifestations in Goa, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, the forced conversion of indigenous children in North America[80] and Australia,[81] and, since 1992, the forced conversion of Hindus in Northeast India.[82]

Support of slavery

Early Christianity variously opposed, accepted, or ignored slavery.[83] The early Christian perspectives on slavery were formed in the contexts of Christianity's roots in Judaism, and they were also shaped by the wider culture of the Roman Empire. Both the Old and New Testaments recognize the existence of the institution of slavery.

The earliest surviving Christian teachings about slavery are from Paul the Apostle. Paul did not renounce the institution of slavery, though perhaps this was not for personal reasons (similar to Aristotle). He taught that Christian slaves ought to serve their masters wholeheartedly.[84] Nothing in the passage affirms slavery as a naturally valid or divinely mandated institution. Rather, Paul's discussion about the duties of Christian slaves and the responsibilities of Christian masters transforms the institution, even if it falls short of calling for slavery's outright abolition. In the ancient world the slave was a thing. Aristotle wrote that there could never be friendship between a master and a slave, for a master and a slave have nothing in common: “a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.” Paul's words are entirely different. He calls the slave a “slave of Christ,” one who wants to do “the will of God” and who will receive a “reward” for “whatever good he does”. Likewise, the master is responsible to God for how he treats his slave, who is ultimately God's property rather than his own. This is another way of saying that the slave, no less than the master, has been made in God's image. As such, he possesses inestimable worth and great dignity. He is to be treated properly. In such a framework slavery, even though it was still slavery, could never be the same type of institution that was imposed on non-Christians. It was this transformation (which came from viewing all persons as being made in God's image) that ultimately destroyed slavery.[85] Tradition describes Pope Pius I (term c. 158–167) and Pope Callixtus I (term c. 217–222) as former slaves.[86]

Nearly all Christian leaders before the late 17th century recognised the institution of slavery, within specific Biblical limitations, as being consistent with Christian theology.[citation needed] [87][better source needed] That changed in 1452, when Pope Nicholas V instituted the hereditary slavery of captured Muslims and pagans, regarding all non-Christians as "enemies of Christ."[88]

Genesis 9:25–27, the Curse of Ham, says: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem." This verse has been used to justify racialized slavery, since "Christians and even some Muslims eventually identified Ham's descendents as black Africans".[83][89] Anthony Pagden argued that "This reading of the Book of Genesis merged easily into a medieval iconographic tradition in which devils were always depicted as black. Later pseudo-scientific theories would be built around African skull shapes, dental structure, and body postures, in an attempt to find an unassailable argument—rooted in whatever the most persuasive contemporary idiom happened to be: law, theology, genealogy, or natural science—why one part of the human race should live in perpetual indebtedness to another."[90]

Rodney Stark makes the argument in For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery,[91] that Christianity helped to end slavery worldwide, as does Lamin Sanneh in Abolitionists Abroad.[92] These authors point out that Christians who viewed slavery as wrong on the basis of their religious convictions spearheaded abolitionism, and many of the early campaigners for the abolition of slavery were driven by their Christian faith and a desire to realize their view that all people are equal under God.[93]

Modern-day Christians generally condemn slavery as wrong and contrary to God's will. Only peripheral groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other Christian hate groups on the racist fringes of the Christian Reconstructionist and Christian Identity movements advocate the reinstitution of slavery.[83] Full adherents of Christian Reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians.[94][95][96] With these exceptions, all Christian faith groups now condemn slavery, and they see the practice as incompatible with basic Christian principles.[83][87]

Violence against Jews

Jews burned alive for the alleged host desecration in Deggendorf, Bavaria, in 1337
Jews burned alive for the alleged host desecration in Deggendorf, Bavaria, in 1337

A strain of hostility among Christians towards Judaism and the Jewish people developed in the early years of Christianity, persisted over the ensuing centuries, was driven by numerous factors including theological differences, the Christian drive for converts[97] decreed by the Great Commission, a misunderstanding of Jewish beliefs and practices, and a perceived Jewish hostility towards Christians, and culminated in The Holocaust, which has driven many within Christianity to reflect on the relationship between theology, practices, and the genocide.[98]

These attitudes were reinforced in Christian preaching, art and popular teaching over the centuries which contained contempt for Jews.[99]

Modern Antisemitism has primarily been described as hatred against Jews as a race with its modern expression rooted in 18th century racial theories, while anti-Judaism is described as hostility towards the Jewish religion, but in Western Christianity it effectively merged into antisemitism during the 12th century.[100]

Domestic violence

Christian opposition to violence

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent advocate of Christian nonviolence
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent advocate of Christian nonviolence

Historian Roland Bainton described the early church as pacifist – a period that ended with the accession of Constantine.[101]

In the first few centuries of Christianity, many Christians refused to engage in military service. In fact, there were a number of famous examples of soldiers who became Christians and refused to engage in combat afterwards. They were subsequently executed for their refusal to fight.[102] The commitment to pacifism and the rejection of military service are attributed by Mark J. Allman, professor in the Department of Religious and Theological Studies at Merrimack College,[103] to two principles: "(1) the use of force (violence) was seen as antithetical to Jesus' teachings and service in the Roman military required worship of the emperor as a god which was a form of idolatry."[104]

In the 3rd century, Origen wrote: "Christians could not slay their enemies."[105] Clement of Alexandria wrote: "Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins."[106][107] Tertullian argued forcefully against all forms of violence, considering abortion, warfare and even judicial death penalties to be forms of murder.[108][109]

Pacifist and violence-resisting traditions have continued into contemporary times.[110][111][112]

Several present-day Christian churches and communities were established specifically with nonviolence, including conscientious objection to military service, as foundations of their beliefs.[113] Members of the Historic Peace Churches such as Quakers, Mennonites, Amish or Church of the Brethren object to war from the conviction that Christian life is incompatible with military action, because Jesus enjoins his followers to love their enemies and to refuse violence.[114]

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr. adapted the nonviolent ideas of Gandhi to a Baptist theology and politics.[115]

In the 21st century, Christian feminist thinkers have drawn attention to opposing violence against women.[116]

See also


  1. ^ Clouse, Robert G. (1986). War Four Christian views. Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books. pp. 12–22.
  2. ^ Duffey, Michael (2015-06-22). "2. Christianity From Peacemaking to Violence to Home Again". In Omar, Irfan; Duffey, Michael (eds.). Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781118953426.
  3. ^ a b "Religion & Ethics – Just War Theory -introduction". BBC. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  4. ^ Syse, Henrik (2010). "The Platonic roots of just war doctrine: a reading of Plato's Republic". Diametros. 23: 104–123.
  5. ^ Duffey, Michael (2015-06-22). "2. Christianity From Peacemaking to Violence to Home Again". In Omar, Irfan; Duffey, Michael (eds.). Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 58. ISBN 9781118953426. The purpose of war for Augustine was to preserve "good order". It was a long lasting influence of St. Augustine's teaching on war and violence that shaped mainstream Christianity for 1500 years. Augustine fathered the mainstream Christian view that violence was just a means for political ends...Indeed, Augustine's perspective was not based on the New Testament.
  6. ^ a b Wells, Donald, ed. (1996). An Encyclopedia of War and Ethics. Greenwood Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 9780313291166. In 383, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, and Christians who had previously been aloof from political and social responsibility were compelled to rethink their role. Augustine, and his teacher St. Ambrose (340-397), in part inspired by the writings of Cicero (106-43 s.c.), developed just war criteria to show why Christians could consistently serve in the military as armed soldiers, at least in some wars. Although Augustine deplored the ambitions that promoted wars for sovereignty over others, he believed that there were conditions under which it was just to extend an empire... As instances of worthy causes Augustine named preservation of the well-being of the state, punishment of neighbor nations that had refused to make amends for wrongs committed by their subjects, to restore what had been taken unjustly, and even to expand an empire if one was taking land a way from a tyrant (Questions Concerning the Heputteuch. Question 10; and City of God. Book 4, Part 15).
  7. ^ Bonney, Richard (2011). Just War. Encyclopedia of Wars. doi:10.1002/9781444338232.wbeow328. ISBN 9781405190374. Questions such as under which circumstances war may be legitimized, and the rules of war controlled, are the concern of just war theory in the Christian tradition from the writings of St. Augustine in the fourth century, through the scholastics of the Middle Ages (above all, St. Thomas Aquinas) and early modern period (Vitoria, Sua´rez, and Grotius) to modern commentators such as George Weigel and Michael Walzer. The early Christian writers in turn drew upon Roman Law and the writings of Cicero; indeed, in the view of Alex J. Bellamy, they “added little that was substantially new” (Bellamy 2006: 8).
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  11. ^ Jenkins, Philip (March 8, 2009). "Dark Passages". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-11-26. the Bible overflows with "texts of terror," to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery. … If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery.
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  110. ^ "Members of several small Christian sects who try to literally follow the precepts of Jesus Christ have refused to participate in military service in many nations and they have been willing to suffer the criminal or civil penalties that followed."Encyclopædia Britannica 2004 CD Rom Edition — Pacifism.
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  114. ^ "5 Beliefs That Set the Bruderhof Apart From Other Christians". Newsmax. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  115. ^ King, Jr., Martin Luther; Clayborne Carson; Peter Holloran; Ralph Luker; Penny A. Russell (1992). The papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-07950-2.
  116. ^ Hood, Helen (2003). "Speaking Out and Doing Justice: It's No Longer a Secret but What are the Churches Doing about Overcoming Violence against Women?" (PDF). EBSCO Publishing. pp. 216–225. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 10, 2011. Retrieved May 19, 2010.


  • Avalos, Hector. Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005.
  • Schwartz, Regina M. The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Further reading

  • Bekkenkamp, Jonneke and Sherwood, Yvonne, ed. Sanctified Aggression. Legacies of Biblical and Postbiblical Vocabularies of Violence. London/New York: T. & T. Clark International, 2003.
  • Collins, John J. Does the Bible Justify Violence? Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004.
  • Hedges, Chris. 2007. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Free Press.
  • Lea, Henry Charles. 1961. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages. Abridged. New York: Macmillan.
  • MacMullen, Ramsay, 1989 "Christianizing the Roman Empire: AD 100–400"
  • MacMullen, Ramsay, 1997, "Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries"
  • Mason, Carol. 2002. Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • McTernan, Oliver J. 2003. Violence in God's name: religion in an age of conflict. Orbis Books.
  • Nakashian, Craig M. Warrior Churchmen of Medieval England, 1000-1250: Theory and Reality. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2016
  • Thiery, Daniel E. Polluting the Sacred: Violence, Faith and the Civilizing of Parishioners in Late Medieval England. Leiden: Brill, 2009.
  • Tyerman, Christopher. 2006. God's War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Belknap.
  • Zeskind, Leonard. 1987. The ‘Christian Identity’ Movement, [booklet]. Atlanta, Georgia: Center for Democratic Renewal/Division of Church and Society, National Council of Churches.
  • Robert Spencer Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't, Regnery Publishing, 2007, ISBN 1-59698-515-1
  • Rodney Stark God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, HarperOne, 2010,
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