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Whether it is lawful to take up arms in defense of religion

Furthermore, in all fairness, we must necessarily answer those who hold that the church ought not to be defended by arms. According to them, it's no great mystery why God forbade in the law that the altar should be made or adorned with the help of any tool of iron. (Deut. 27:5) In like manner, at the building of the Solomon's temple, no sound of axe or hammer, nor other tools of iron was heard. (1 Ki. 6:7) From this they conclude that the church, which is the living temple of the Lord, ought not to be defended by arms; yea, as if the stones of the altar, and of the temple were hewed and taken out of the quarries without any instrument of iron, which the text of the holy scripture clearly refutes.

This allegorical explanation, though attractive, is not convincing: we cite the fourth chapter of the Book of Nehemiah, where we read that one part of the people carried mortar, and another part stood ready with their weapons, that some held in one hand their swords, and with the other carried the materials to the workmen, for the rebuilding of the temple. By this means, they hoped to prevent their enemies from ruining their work. We hold that the church is neither advanced nor edified by these material weapons. However, by these arms it is secured and preserved from the violence by enemies who will not by any means endure the increase of it. Briefly, there has been an infinite number of good kings and rulers (as histories testify) which by arms have maintained and defended the service of God against pagans. Our opponents readily reply that wars like these were allowable under the law; but since the time that grace has been offered by Jesus Christ, who would not enter into Jerusalem mounted on a brave horse, but meekly sitting on an ass, these "holy wars" are no longer lawful. I answer first, and all agree with me in this, that our Savior Christ, during all the time that He was in this world, took not on Him the office of a judge or king; but rather of a private person, and a lawbreaker by imputation of our transgressions; so that the fact that He did not carry nor use arms is quite irrelevant.

But I would willingly demand of such exceptionalists, whether that they think by the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh, that magistrates have lost their right in the sword of authority? If so, Saint Paul contradicts them. He says that the magistrates carry not the sword in vain, (Rom. 13:4) and did not refuse their assistance and power against the violence of those who had conspired his death. And if they agree with this, to what purpose do they think the magistrates should bear the sword, if it be not to serve God who has committed it to them, to defend the good and punish the bad? Can they do better service than to preserve the church from the violence of the wicked, and to deliver the flock of Christ from the swords of murderers? In addition, I would ask whether they think that all use of arms is forbidden to Christians? If this is their opinion, then I would know of them, why Christ did grant to the centurion his request? (Mat. 8:5-13) And why did He praise him so highly? Why does Saint John the Baptist command the men at arms to content themselves with their pay, and not to use extortion to get more, rather than persuading them to leave their calling? (Luke 3:14) Why did Saint Peter baptize Cornelius the Centurion, who was the first-fruits of the Gentiles? And why didn't he advise him to quit the army? (Acts 10:48)

Now, if to bear arms and to make war are lawful things, can there possibly be found any war more just than that which is, by the command of the superior, for the defence of the church, and the preservation of the faithful? Is there any greater tyranny than that which is exercised over the soul? Can there be imagined a war more commendable than that which suppresses such a tyranny? For the last point, I would willingly know of these men, whether it be absolutely prohibited Christians to make war upon any occasion whatsoever? If they say that it is forbidden them, then why is it that the men at arms, captains and centurions, who had no other occupation but the military, were always received into the church? Why do the ancient Fathers and Christian historians make so frequent mention of certain legions composed wholly of Christian soldiers, such as that of Malta, so renowned for the victory which they obtained, and of that of Thebes, of which Saint Mauritius was general, who suffered martyrdom, together with all his troops, for the confessing of the name of Jesus Christ? And if it be permitted to make war (as it may be they will confess) to keep the limits and towns of a country, and to repulse an invading enemy, isn't it much more reasonable to take arms to preserve and defend honest men, to suppress the wicked, and to keep and defend the limits and bounds of the church, which is the kingdom of Jesus Christ? If it were otherwise, to what purpose should Saint John have foretold that the whore of Babylon shall be finally ruined by the ten kings, whom she has bewitched? (Rev. 18) Furthermore, if we hold a contrary opinion, what shall we say of the wars of Constantine, against Maxentius, and Licimius, celebrated by so many public orations, and approved by the testimony of an infinite number of learned men? What ought we to make of the many crusades made by Christian rulers against the Turks and Saracens to conquer the Holy Land, who had ought not to have had any other end in their designs but to stop the enemy from ruining the temple of the land, and to restore the integrity of His service into those countries?

Although the church cannot be advanced by arms, it may be justly defended by the means of arms. I say further, that those that die in so holy a war are no less the martyrs of Jesus Christ than their brethren who were put to death for religion; nay, they who die in that war seem to have this disadvantage, that with a free will and well knowing the risks into which they cast themselves, notwithstanding, do courageously expose their lives to death and danger, whereas the other do only not refuse the death that it it is necessary for them to suffer. The Turks strive to advance their religion by force of arms, and if they subdue a country, they immediately enforce the impieties of Mohammed, who, in the Qu'ran, has so recommended arms, as they are not ashamed to say it is the ready way to heaven, yet the Turks constrain no man in matter of conscience. But he who is a much greater adversary to Christ and true religion, with all those kings whom he has enchanted, opposes fire and faggots, to the light of the gospel, tortures the Word of God, compelling by wracking and torments, as much as in him lies, all men to become idolaters, and finally is not ashamed to advance and maintain their faith and law by perfidious disloyalty, and their traditions by continual treasons.

Now, on the contrary, those good rulers and magistrates are said properly to defend themselves, when they surround and fortify, by all their means and industry, the vine of Christ, already planted, to be planted in places where it has not yet been, lest the wild boar of the forest should spoil or devour it. They do this (I say) in covering with their buckler, and defending with their sword, those who by the preaching of the gospel have been converted to true religion, and in fortifying with their best ability, by strong walls, moats, and ramparts, the temple of God built with living stones, until it have attained the full height, despite all the furious assaults of it's enemies. We have lengthened out this discourse thus far, to the end we might take away all scruple concerning this question. Set, then, the estates, and all the officers of a kingdom, or the greatest part of them, every one established in authority by the people: know, that if they do not contain within his bounds (or at the least, make every effort to do so) a king who seeks to corrupt the law of God, or hinders it's reestablishment, that they offend grievously against the Lord, with whom they have contracted covenants upon those conditions. Those of a town, or of a province, making a portion of a kingdom, let them know also, that they draw upon themselves the judgment of God if they do not drive impiety out of their walls and confines if the king seek to bring it in, or if they be wanting to preserve by all means, the pure doctrine of the Gospel, although for the it's defence they suffer banishment for a time, or any other misery. Finally, more private individuals must be informed that nothing can excuse them if they obey any command that offends God, and yet they have no right nor permission of any sort to take up arms by their private authority, unless it is absolutely clear that they have extraordinary vocation to do so — which we have confirmed by cogent testimonies drawn from scripture.


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