Non-Violence in the Early Church

by Corey Farr

St. Moses the Black, a patron saint of nonviolence, 4th century CE; courtesy Orthodox Peace Fellowship;

The intent of this paper is to survey the attitudes of the early (pre-Constantinian) church towards violence, military service, and martyrdom and bring them into dialogue with contemporary US-American evangelical views and practices. I will examine this both in terms of the more passive and prohibitive critiques of culture and the more “active” affirmation of the merits of martyrdom. In doing so, I would hope to show that the church had not only the negative/passive witness of refusing to engage in violent acts, but also the positive/active witness of being willing to accept and even embrace violence done to themselves – in a way that is less pathological than it sounds – in imitation of their cruciform king.

As a long-time believer in nonviolence, I must admit that I was surprised to see the overwhelming evidence in favor of this position in the early church. Of course, I knew that there has always been a precedent for this belief throughout history, all the way back to the first century. That much, at least, I had learned from John Howard Yoder. (1) What surprised me was the wealth of quotes from patristics that spoke in no uncertain terms on the topic. My hope is that by doing this research and sharing it with those who are interested I might further reinforce and open opportunities to share my own Anabaptist inclinations with those in my generation who are burnt out, tired, and disillusioned with status quo evangelicalism ad nauseam. I remain an evangelical, despite my qualms with the stereotypes, because they are my people and I love them dearly – to misquote Luther, “Here I stand, and I can do no other.” But I do believe we have much to learn from the early church. For example, Jonathan Gorry notes that church fathers such as Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, who will each be featured in this paper, called for “pacifying forms of social engagement.” (2) Given the divisive and polarized political unrest among evangelicals today, such responses “can serve as useful antecedents for the regeneration of 21st century Christian critiques of state sovereignty.” (3) My prayer is that this paper shed a little light on those antecedents, thus lending credence to modern iterations of Christian nonviolence by demonstrating how in touch they are with the roots of the faith.

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For the Love of All: Ahimsa in Nonviolence and Radical Ecology

by Saskia van Goelst Meijer

St. Francis Preaching to the Birds; fresco by Giotto, courtesy

There is a difference here between proactive non-harming
and “doing nothing.”
 — Irina Aristarkhova (2012)

Our world is experiencing an ever-growing ecological crisis, which makes it necessary for humanity to reshape the way it is dealing with the planet. Grave challenges for the future of humanity and the earth as a whole have emerged as a result of ecological and economic conduct over the past few centuries. According to some, the environmental crisis is intertwined with other crises (financial, social, political), which has led both scholars and activists to call for a fundamental change in the global paradigm. Where socio-political change is concerned, part of this paradigm change has been attempted through nonviolence. Pioneered as a method in the early 20th century by Mohandas Gandhi for addressing injustice, it has since been taken up by many more individuals and organisations around the world. Nonviolence practices and notions can also be found in certain streams of ecology. One central element in the method of nonviolence is ahimsa, ‘the absence of the intention to do harm.’ In this article I will explore both ahimsa and radical ecology, to both explain the role and significance of ahimsa in nonviolence and to see if and how the two notions can clarify and supplement each other.

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Christians and Buddhists: Walking Together on the Path of Nonviolence

by Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue

Nonviolence logo courtesy

Editor’s Preface: On the occasion of the Buddhist feast of Vesakh, the Vatican issued the message that follows. Vesakh commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death, and is often referred to as “Buddha’s Birthday.” This is one in a series of recent statements the Vatican, and Pope Francis, have made on nonviolence. Please see Pope Francis’s statement, also posted here, and please see the note at the end for the names of the signatories, links, and acknowledgments.  JG

Message for the Feast of Vesakh, 2017

Dear Buddhist Friends,

(1) In the name of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, we extend our warmest greetings and prayerful good wishes on the occasion of Vesakh. May this feast bring joy and peace to all of you, to your families, communities and nations.

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Climate Change: Pope Francis’s Encyclical and the Dominion of Religion

by Vinay Lal

“Caring for Our Common Home”; artwork courtesy

The thinking person, as Walter Benjamin had occasion to remark, appears to experience crisis at every juncture of her or his life. How can this not be so if one were to experience the pain of someone else as one’s own? How can this not be so when, amidst growing stockpiles of food in many countries, millions continue to suffer from malnutrition, and the lengthening shadows of poverty give lie to the pious promises and pompous proclamations by the world’s leaders over the last several decades that humanity is determined to achieve victory in its quest to eradicate poverty? With war, violence, disease, and the myriad manifestations of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination which man’s ingenuity has wrought all around us, how might a person not be experiencing crisis? One foundation after another—whether it be named after Bill and Melinda Gates, the Clintons, Ford, Rockefeller, or other tycoons—has claimed to have helped “millions” of people around the world, but the crises appear to be multiplying.

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Message to the Conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace

by Pope Francis

Your Eminence [Cardinal Peter Turkson]

I am delighted to convey my most cordial greetings to you and to all the participants in the Conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence, which will take place in Rome from the 11th to 13th of April 2016.

This encounter, jointly organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, takes on a very special character and value during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In effect, mercy is “a source of joy, serenity and peace” (1), a peace which is essentially interior and flows from reconciliation with the Lord. (2) Nevertheless, the participants’ reflections must also take into account the current circumstances in the world at large and the historical moment in which the Conference is taking place, and of course these factors also heighten expectations for the Conference.

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Guest Editorial: “Do Unto Others”; Pope Francis’ Call to Action

by John Dear

Poster art courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Pope Francis is the first Pope to address the U. S. Congress, and his speech is already being heralded for its stand against poverty, the death penalty and other humanitarian and spiritual concerns central to his papacy. The full speech can be read at this link. Francis also singled out four persons for praise, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day, most notably the last three, major figures in the nonviolence movement. Please also see the editor’s note at the end. JG

“Hope and healing, peace and justice!” That’s what Pope Francis called us to this morning as he addressed Congress [24 September 2015]. “Summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises,” he said. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

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Gandhi’s Religion: A Few Thoughts

by Vinay Lal

Illustration courtesy

More so than any other major political figure of modern times, Mohandas Gandhi was a man of religion – though perhaps not in the most ordinary sense of the term. No political figure of the last few hundred years brought religion, or more properly the religious sensibility, into the public domain as much as Gandhi. He concluded his autobiography, first published in 1927, with the observation that those who sought to disassociate politics and religion understood the meaning of neither politics nor religion. Indeed, the most pointed inference we can draw from Gandhi’s life is the following: the only way to be religious at this juncture of human history is to engage in the political life, not politics in the debased sense of party affiliations, or the politics that one associates with being conservative or liberal, but politics in the sense of political awareness.  After Gandhi, we must clearly understand, as did Arnold Toynbee and George Orwell, that the saint’s religiosity can only be tested in the slums of life.

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An Unpublished Tolstoy Translation

by Vladimir Tchertkoff

Tolstoy, 1905; photographer unknown; courtesy IISG/WRI

Editor’s Preface: The document that follows, Thoughts on Life, Death, Love, Non-Resistance, Religion, Revolution, Socialism, Communism, etc. is an unpublished English translation of selections from Tolstoy’s diaries between the years 1907-1908. The selection was made by Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), Tolstoy’s literary agent and the editor-in-chief of his collected works. The date of the selection is not mentioned, although the typescript bears a date of 1934 (see heading below). The translator is also unnamed. There is however an accompanying note by Tchertkoff, “How to translate Tolstoy”, addressed to his secretary Alexander Sirnis, who, together with Charles James Hogarth, was responsible for the translation of The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy: Youth 1847 to 1852, New York: Dutton, 1917.  It is likely that Sirnis was responsible for this translation, and if so, it can be dated to between 1908 and 1918 (the death of Sirnis). This same note also mentions a Mrs. Mayo as providing corrections. Isabella Fyvie Mayo was an author who knew both Tolstoy and Gandhi, and had collaborated previously with Sirnis on several translations. If she was indeed responsible for the editing of the translation, the typescript must date to no later than 1914, the year of her death. In “How to translate Tolstoy” Tchertkoff insists that the translation be as literal as possible and must preserve the style and flavor of Tolstoy’s literary style and vocabulary. The phrasing is often quaint and differs radically from later translations of Tolstoy’s diaries, such as R.F. Christian’s Tolstoy’s Diaries, London: The Athlone Press, 1985.  It is not clear whether Tchertkoff intended Thoughts as a “manifesto” for the flourishing Tolstoyan movement, of which he was a leader, or as an appendix to The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), in which Tolstoy argued that Christians had not sufficiently recognized that love for everyone also required that evil not be resisted by violence, particularly in the form of war or state sanctioned coercion. The insistence on the notion that God is love and the overriding importance of non-resistance are certainly two key elements of these Thoughts. Although Tchertkoff edited two volumes of Tolstoy’s diaries, The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy: Youth, 1847 to 1852, New York: Dutton, 1917; translated by C.J. Hogarth and A. Sirnis, and The Journal of Leo Tolstoy: First Volume, 1895 to 1899, New York: Knopf, 1917; translated by Rose Strunsky, the document that follows has never been published. It forms part of a larger collection of Tchertkoff and Tolstoy material that was donated in the early 1970s to the War Resisters’ International by the daughter of Ludvig Perno, a Tolstoy scholar and translator, and is part of the WRI archive at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Further notes on the text and photographs are at the end of the transcript. A pdf scan of the original may be accessed by clicking on this link. Another pdf scan of the Perno acquisition letter can be accessed at this link. Gertjan Cobelens

Thoughts on Life, Death, Love, Non-Resistance, Religion,
Revolution, Socialism, Communism, etc.

  Unpublished Diaries and Notebooks of Leo Tolstoy;
supplied by V. G. Tchertkoff, Box 1234, Moscow, USSR;
no rights reserved.
Copy of this was sent to Russia, 12-11-34.

Tolstoy in the woods at Yasnaya Polyana; photo by Vladimir Tchertkoff; courtesy IISG/WRI

Tolstoy’s Diaries and Notebooks

[No date. GC] How strange it must be to feel oneself alone in the world, separated from everything else. No matter how far he may have strayed from the path, a man would not be able to live if he did not feel his spiritual bond with the world, with God. If he loses the consciousness of this bond, he is unable to live and kills himself. This explains almost all the cases of suicide.

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Islam as a Violence-Free Religion: the Teachings of Jawdat Said

by Bashar Humeid

Editor’s Preface: The Syrian philosopher and theologian Jawdat Said (b. 1931) is one of the most important theorists of Islamic nonviolence. There is an English language website devoted to his life and work, and also posts an English translation of his Nonviolence: the Basis of Settling Disputes in Islam that you may download for free. JG

Al Jazeera screen capture; courtesy of

Jawdat Said’s book The Doctrine of the First Son of Adam: The Problem of Violence in the Islamic World (1966) was the first publication in the modern Islamic movement to present a concept of nonviolence. Now in its fifth edition, the book is still in print. Said was born in Syria in 1931, but moved to Egypt at a young age to study Arabic language at Azhar University in Cairo. While there, he took an active part in the cultural life of Egypt, and was also closely connected to the Islamic movement of that period. Even back then, Said was already warning about the negative effects of the violence being carried out by the Islamic movement in Egypt. He wrote his book as a direct response to the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who died in 1966 and is considered the father of militant Islam. (1)

Other intellectuals of the Islamic world also disagreed with Qutb, including Hasan al-Hudaybi, the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. (2) In the early 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria began – in spite of Said’s warnings – to rebel against the government of Hafez al-Assad. (3) However, the revolt was put down with much bloodshed, and ended in 1982 with a massacre in the city of Hama. Following this defeat, the Syrian movement began seriously entertaining the idea of demilitarization, and the writings of Jawdat Said became increasingly influential in Islamic activist circles.

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On Environmental Protection

by Ogyen Thinley Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

Ogyen Thinley Dorje; photographer unknown; courtesy of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra

Ever since the human race first appeared on this earth, we have used this earth heavily. It is said that 99% of our resources come from the natural environment. We are using the earth up. The earth has given us immeasurable benefit, but what have we done for the earth in return? We always ask for something from the earth, but never give her anything back. We never have loving or protective thoughts for the earth. Whenever trees or anything else emerge from the ground, we cut them down. If there is a bit of level earth, we fight over it. To this day we perpetuate a continuous cycle of war and conflict over it. In fact, we have not done much of anything for the earth. Now the time has come when the earth is scowling at us; the time has come when the earth is giving up on us. The earth is about to treat us badly and give up on us. If she gives up on us, where can we live? There is talk of going to other planets that could support life, but only a few rich people could go. What would happen to all of us sentient beings who could not go?

What should we do now that the situation has become so critical? The sentient beings living on the earth and the elements of the natural world need to join their hands together—the earth must not give up on sentient beings, and sentient beings must not give up on the earth. Each needs to grasp the other’s hand. So doesn’t the Monlam logo look like two hands clasping each other?

Dream Flag design; courtesy of

Its shape is similar to the design of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa’s Dream Flag, of peace and serenity, which is used regularly among the Karma Kamtsang tradition. If I were to make up everything myself, I doubt it would have any blessings, but using the previous Karmapa’s design as a model probably gives this logo blessings. This is a symbol of our Kagyu Monlam that we hold for the benefit of the entire world. We will not give up on the earth! May there be peace on earth! May the earth be sustained for many thousands of years! These are the prayers we make at the Kagyu Monlam, which is why this symbol is the logo of the Monlam. (1) I think it also might become a symbol of people having affection for the earth and wanting to protect it.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi