From the Confession of Schleitheim the Seven Articles of Schleitheim were written with Michael Sattler of Stauffen, Germany, as the chief author. The sixth article deals with use of force.
Sixth. concerning the sword:
The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same [sword] is [now] ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates. In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death, — simply the warning and the command to sin no more.
Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize [this as] the will of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword against the wicked for the defence and protection of the good, or for the sake of love.
Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls. Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the law of His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do), hut in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more. Such [an attitude] we also ought to take completely according to the rule of the ban.
Secondly, it will be asked, whether a Christian shall pass sentence in worldly disputes and strife such as unbelievers have with one another. This is our united answer: Christ did not wish to decide or pass judgment between brother and brother in the case of the inheritance, but refused to do so. Therefore we should do likewise.
Thirdly, it will be asked concerning the sword, Shall one be a magistrate if one should be chosen as such? The answer is as follows: They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow Him, and so shall we not walk in darkness. For He Himself says, He who wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Also, He Himself forbids the [employment of] the force of the sword saying, The worldly princes lord it over them, etc., but not so shall it be with you. Further, Paul says, Whom God did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc. Also Peter says, Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye should follow His steps.
Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christians’ is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christians’ are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, but the Christians’ citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christians’ weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. …
Nehemiah’s Wall serves as both metaphor and inspiration at Kingdom Defense.
The Book of Nehemiah tells the story of how Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem so that followers might once again worship God in safety. Nehemiah accomplishes this daunting task in a remarkably brief period of time using common folks who built with one hand while defending their actions from enemy attack with a weapon in their other hand.
The biblical account of “Nehemiah’s wall” is well known. Nehemiah was a Jew in Persian captivity. He was the cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes. In 444 b.c, Nehemiah was granted permission to return to Judah and rebuild the dilapidated walls and gates of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed during the Babylonian invasions in the early sixth century.
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he toured the city walls to assess the damage. He faced opposition as he made plans and directed the people in rebuilding the city walls. He was threatened as he persisted. Nehemiah had opposition from enemies and opposition from the people he was leading(1).
The Bible says that the threat was so great from outside the city Nehemiah posted armed guards along the walls to protect the city until the building was done. Men were armed and ready to fight while they worked daily to build the wall. The book of Nehemiah shows that Judah at the time was surrounded by enemies and under constant threat of attack. Nehemiah and his crew worked with great urgency and astonishing speed in order to rebuild the wall.
New Advent, sometimes referred to as the Catholic Encyclopedia, has summarized several resources that discuss the right of self-defense including that from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Sources are at the end.
The Right of Self Defense
Ethically the subject of self-defense regards the right of a private person to employ force against any one who unjustly attacks his life or person, his property or good name. While differing among themselves on some of the more subtle and less practical points comprised in this topic, our moralists may be said to be unanimous on the main principles and their application regarding the right of self-defense. The teaching may be summarized as follows:
Defense of life and person
Everyone has the right to defend his life against the attacks of an unjust aggressor. For this end he may employ whatever force is necessary and even take the life of an unjust assailant. As bodily integrity is included in the good of life, it may be defended in the same way as life itself. It must be observed however that no more injury may be inflicted on the assailant than is necessary to defeat his purpose. If, for example, he can be driven off by a call for help or by inflicting a slight wound on him, he may not lawfully be slain. Again the unjust attack must be actually begun, at least morally speaking, not merely planned or intended for some future time or occasion. generally speaking one is not bound to preserve one’s own life at the expense of the assailant’s; one may, out of charity, forego one’s right in the matter. Sometimes, however, one may be bound to defend one’s own life to the utmost on account of one’s duty of state or other obligations. The life of another person may be defended on the same conditions by us as our own. For since each person has the right to defend his life unjustly attacked, what he can lawfully do through his own efforts he may also do through the agency of others. Sometimes, too, charity, natural affection, or official duty imposed the obligation of defending others. A father ought, for example, to defend the lives of his children; a husband, his wife; and all ought to defend the life of one whose death would be a serious loss to the community. Soldiers, policemen, and private guards hired for that purpose are bound in justice to safeguard the lives of those entrusted to them.
Defense of property
It is lawful to defend one’s material goods even at the expense of the agressor’s life; for neither justice nor charity require that one should sacrifice possessions, even though they be of less value than humanlife in order to preserve the life of a man who wantonly exposes it in order to do an injustice. Here, however, we must recall the principle that in extreme necessity every man has a right to appropriate whatever is necessary to preserve his life. The starving man who snatches a meal is not an unjust agressor; consequently it is not lawful to use force against him. Again, the property which may be defended at the expense of the agressor’s life must be of considerable value; for charity forbids that in order to protect ourselves from a trivial loss we should deprive a neighbor of his life. Thefts or robberies, however, of small values are to be considered not in their individual, but in their cumulative, aspect. A thief may be slain in the act of carrying away stolenproperty provided that it cannot be recovered from him by any other means; if, for example, he can be made to abandon his spoil through fright, then it would not be lawful to shoot him. If he has carried the goods away to safety he cannot then be killed in order to recover them; but the owner may endeavor to take them from him, and if the thief resists with violence he may be killed in self-defense.
Since it is lawful to take life in the legitimate defense of one’s material goods, it is evidently also lawful to do so in defense of chastity which is a good of a much higher order. With regard to honor or reputation, it is not lawful to kill one to prevent an insult or an attack upon our reputation which we believe he intends, or threatens. Nor may we take a life to avenge an insult already offered. The proceeding would not be defense of our honor or reputation, but revenge. Besides, in the general estimation honor and reputation may be sufficiently protected without taking the life of the offender.
Zigliara, Summa Philosophica, III, I, iii; St. Thomas, Summa Theolgica, II-II, Q lxvii, a. 7; Billuart, Cursus Theolgiae: in II-II St. Thomae, d. X, a. V.
The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University produced a short study guide on violent parables and nonviolent Jesus.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount instructs us to not return violence for violence; instead, we should be like God, who offers boundless, gratuitous love to all. But in the same Gospel Jesus tells eight parables in which God deals violently with evildoers. Which of the divine ways are we to imitate?
Starting as a minister with working-class sympathies in the 1920s and sharing with many other ministers a commitment to pacifism and socialism, his thinking evolved during the 1930s to neo-orthodox realist theology as he developed the philosophical perspective known as Christian realism.[verification needed] He attacked utopianism as ineffectual for dealing with reality, writing in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Niebuhr’s realism deepened after 1945 and led him to support American efforts to confront Soviet communism around the world. A powerful speaker, he was one of the most influential thinkers of the 1940s and 1950s in public affairs. Niebuhr battled with religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of the contradictions of human nature and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with religious conservatives over what he viewed as their naïve view of scripture and their narrow definition of “true religion”. During this time he was viewed by many as the intellectual rival of John Dewey.
On the contrary, Augustine says in a sermon on the son of the centurion (cf. Ep. ad Marccl., cxxxviii.): If the Christian Religion forbade war altogether, those who sought salutary advice in the Gospel would rather have been counselled to cast aside their arms, and to give up soldiering altogether. On the contrary, they were told: ‘Do violence to no man; … and be content with your pay.’* If he commanded them to be content with their pay, he did not forbid soldiering.
I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rom. 13:4): He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii.): The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.
Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Q. X., super Jos.): A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.
Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom.*): True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandisement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good. For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii.): The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and suchlike things, all these are rightly condemned in war.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).
Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. NEH 4:17
The Wall is part blog, part journal, part bulletin board, and part archive I set up in order to further the discussion about the use of force in defense of church and community. Learn MORE ABOUT THE WALL.