Posted by: Kenn Hermann | August 12, 2006

Erasmus’ Indictment of Christian War-Mongering

Many of us find ourselves groaning to express our ‘sickness unto death’ in the midst of the wars in the Middle East. None seems as grievous as the vigorous support of warfare as the principle strategy of statecraft among many of our Christian brothers and sisters. Perhaps we can find our voice in Erasmus’ contempt for the Church’s pandering to the drum-beats of war in the early 16th century. Erasmus, the famous Dutch Christian humanist, lived during a time, not unlike our own, when wars and rumors of war darkened all of Europe, from England to the boot of Italy and from Spain to the Balkans. The Muslim Turks were also a constant threat. Even his hopes that the ascension of Pope Leo X would bring peace were soon dashed by Leo’s own military campaigns to increase the papal and Medici holdings. His despair over the complicity of the Church and Christian princes in fomenting a constant state of war led him to write The Complaint of Peace in 1521. Grievously, little has changed in the subsequent 485 years. This is another old book that illuminates today’s headlines.

The entire pamphlet is worth reading. To whet your appetite meditate on the following excerpts:

  • “Though there were no other motive to preserve peace, one would imagine that the common name of man might be sufficient to secure concord between all who claim it. But be it granted that Nature has no effect on men as men, (though we have seen that Nature rules as she ought to do in the brute creation), yet, must not Christ therefore avail with christians? Be it granted that the suggestions of nature have no effect with a rational being, (though we see them have great weight even on inanimate things without sense) yet, as the suggestions of the christian religion are far more excellent than those of nature, why does not the christian religion persuade those who profess it, of a truth which it recommends above all others, that is, the expediency and necessity of peace on earth, and good-will towards men; or at least, why does it fail of effectually dissuading from the unnatural, and more than brutal, madness of waging war?”
  • “…when I also hear the title of Christian added to the name of Man, I fly with additional speed, hoping that with christians I may build an adamantine throne, and establish an everlasting empire.

    But here also, with shame and sorrow, I am compelled to declare the result. Among Christians, the courts of justice, the palaces of princes, the senate-houses, and the churches, resound with the voice of strife, more loudly than was ever heard among nations who knew not Christ. Insomuch that though the multitude of wrangling advocates always constituted a great part of the world’s misfortune, yet even this number is nothing compared with the successive inundation of suitors always at law.”

  • “…ought not men to blush at the appellation of christians, differing, as they do essentially, from the peculiar and distinguishing excellence of Christ? Consider the whole of his life; what is it, but one lesson of concord and mutual love? What do his precepts, what do his parables inculcate, but peace and charity? Did that excellent prophet Isaiah, when he foretold the coming of Christ as an universal reconciler, represent him as an earthly lord, a satrap, a grandee, or courtier? Did he announce him as a mighty conqueror, a burner of villages, a destroyer of towns, as one who was to triumph over the slaughter and misery of wretched mortals? No. How then did he announce him? As the Prince of Peace.”
  • “What induced the Son of God to come down from heaven to earth, but a gracious desire to reconcile the world to his Father? to cement the hearts of men by mutual and indissoluble love? and lastly, to reconcile man to himself and bid him be at peace with his own bosom? For my sake, then, he was sent on this gracious embassy; it was my business which he condescended to transact; and therefore he appointed Solomon to be a type of himself; the very name Solomon signifying a peace-maker. Great and illustrious as King David is represented; yet, because he was a king who delighted in war, and because he was polluted with human gore, he was not permitted to build the house of the Lord, he was not worthy to be made the type of Christ.

    Now then, warrior, halt and consider; if wars, undertaken and carried on at the command of the Deity, (as was the case in David’s wars) pollute and render a man unholy, what will be the effect of wars of ambition, wars of revenge, and wars of furious anger? If the blood of heathens defiled the pious king who shed it, what will be the effect on christian kings, of so copious an effusion of the blood of christians, caused solely by royal revenge?”

  • “Every page of the christian scriptures, whether you read those parts of the Old Testament which have a reference to christianity, or the New, speaks of little else but peace and concord; and yet the whole life of the greater portion of christians is employed in nothing so much as the concerns of war. It is really more than brutal ferocity which can neither be broken in, nor mitigated in its violence, by so many concurrent circumstances. It were best to lay aside the name of christian at once; or else to give proof of the doctrine of Christ, by its only criterion, brotherly love. How long shall your lives contradict your profession and appellation? You may mark your houses, your vestments, and your churches, with the cross, as much as you please; but Christ will recognize no other badge, than that which he himself prescribed, love of one another.”

    More . . . .

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