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In hoc signo–Oh really?

April 30, 2012

There’s quite a gulf between the Christianity of today and that of yesteryear.  You know, when Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus used to chuck Christians to the lions.  But of course modern Christians have an overly simplistic view of why dear old Leo went to brunch.  The usual explanations include personal hostility on the part of an emperor, being a convenient scapegoat for anything that went wrong, or general Roman religious bigotry.  Actually those had nothing whatsoever in common with the official Roman view on Christians.  Rome was notoriously cosmopolitan in religious matters and even sent offerings to the Jewish temple at Jerusalem on a regular basis.  No, Rome tried to check the spread of Christianity because of a terribly destructive doctrine of that creed: Christians were not allowed to fight.  Their faith prohibited them from taking up arms against their fellow man, even in defense of their country.  They didn’t even run away from Leo in the arena.  For Rome, drawing its imperium from levies of citizen soldiers, the spread of the this doctrine of nonviolence was not a religious matter but a serious social and political threat.  Result: attempted expulsion of the Christians from existence.

Fast forward to the nineteenth century.  At the moment a noted American poetess is penning a soon to be famous ballad which explicitly identifies Christians as soldiers on God’s behalf, with a duty to embark on physical violence of their own accord in order to carry out His will.  Christianity has already passed through the intermediate stages of being thought compatible with military life in general, allowing Christians to fight in defense of their country, encouraging Christians to fight in defense of their faith, and even prompting them to fight to spread their faith.  Julia Domna, however, has defined a new high point in the development of the Church Militant, which is that Christians may now fight without any religious restraint at all because they believe their cause is justified by God, while their enemies’ cause is not.  Soon this will be morphed into a vaguer doctrine of Christians even having a duty to fight for the good of humanity, whatever that is (consult the taciturn Princeton law professor with a passion for Leagues).  Whatever the occasion, though, it is clear that Christians are now allowed to indulge in violence without having to worry about the details of their faith.

And all this from a religion that originally forbade its adherents to kill at all!  But then, they say that time cures all ills.

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