I’m not referencing the book. I’m reflecting on two states of being that exist as polar opposites.
When you hear the word peace, what comes to mind? Webster defines peace as freedom from disturbance or violence. With peace, we expect harmony and order. As I repeat the word—“Peace, peace, peace”—I rest and sink into a place of tranquility.
As this word cycles through my mind, I become still. The notion of peace invokes memories, thoughts and feelings which provide reprieve. I am somehow released from thoughts of fear, worry and doubt. I no longer wrestle as I contemplate the issues of life.
If we simply meditate on peace, does it manifest and become reality? Is it always this easily obtained?
If I happen upon two people engaged in hostile exchange and yell, “Peace!” will it descend and create harmony?
Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Ronald Johnson, Cedric Chapman,………were murdered.
They died as victims of unjust violence and racism, allegedly.
That word, synonymous with conflict and struggle, conjures within me feelings of angst and fear.
War is a state of armed conflict. Whoa! Armed conflict.
How do we fulfill the longing for peace in a world where war is a possibility? According to Flavius Vegetius Renatus, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” Translation, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In contrast, Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, promises, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”
Must we wage war in the defense of peace?
Just War Theory, Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.) is a theological and philosophical giant whose writings deeply influenced the development of Western Christianity. Justo Gonzalez, in his The Story of Christianity, credits Augustine as, not only one of the great doctors of the Roman Catholic Church, but a theologian equally favored by Protestants (252).
Augustine thoughts that Christians should be pacifists, believing that war and violence were unjustifiable. However, Augustine also believed that “peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence” is sin. Furthermore, he believed that “defense of one’s self or others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority.”
In short, the pursuit of peace must include the option to fight. Yet still, for Augustine, a just war could not be pre-emptive. We only engage in war as a defensive response that may restore peace. He called this the Just War Theory.
As history progressed, the Just War theory would eventually become the foundational precept behind the Church’s justification to instigate war.
On 12 November 2015, two suicide bombers detonated explosives in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, one that is inhabited mostly by Shia Muslims. The number of deaths ranges from 37 to 43. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks. The bombings were the worst terrorist attack in Beirut since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.
On the evening of 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, the capital of France, and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. The attackers killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre, where they took hostages before engaging in a stand-off with police. The attacks were the deadliest on France since World War II, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was in retaliation for the French airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq.
The fall of Rome provided both opportunities and severe challenges for Christianity. One such challenge was the growing schism between western Christianity and eastern Christianity. The constant power struggle between the Western and Eastern episcopate over theology and papal authority left the Church divided and therefore vulnerable to the threat of national invasion.
In time a rising religion from the South came to conquer the Holy Lands. As Gonzalez notes, “Early in the seventh century, it seemed that order was about to restored in most of the ancient Roman Empire. Then something unexpected happened … a tidal wave of conquests arose that threatened to engulf the world” (289). These conquests resulted in the desolation of the Persian Empire and control of ancient Roman territories fell into the hands of Muslim Arabs. As a result, by mid-eighth century, Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria and Carthage were under Muslim rule.
Feeling provoked to wrath, the Muslim invasions accelerated the militarization of Christianity. Two centuries later, these Christian soldiers launched an offensive against Islam through a series of invasions called the Crusades.
Though authorized by papal authority, some of the exploits of the Crusades can be characterized as both barbaric and merciless. Empowered by their battle cry, “God wills it,” the crusaders committed atrocities that contradicted the very doctrine they declared to uphold. While en route to Jerusalem, disorganized mobs trespassed and pillaged the land of fellow Christians. Some crusaders participated in the slaughter of innocent Jews as well as the rape and murder of captured women.
After a series of several campaigns against the Muslim regime, mistrust and enmity between Christian East and Christian West resurfaced and landed the final blow to the temporary unity established in the name of holy war.
While the Crusaders successfully recaptured the Holy Land for almost 100 years, in 1270 they were defeated and the Muslims regained occupancy of the Holy Lands. Conversely, following the Crusades, the Church reached its high point and transitioned into the Golden Age of Medieval Christianity, even as Europe witnessed significant growth and development.
Must we wage war in defense of peace?
When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.
Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.” Matthew 5:1-12
This blog was written by seminarian Tamekeyo House-Griffin for a history course at Northern Seminary on Early and Medieval Christianity