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History of the Early Church
Changes in 4th Century Theology – Church and State
The Value of Historical Awareness
Introduction to the Early Church
The Apostolic Church, a House Church System
Fourth Century Changes in Church Meetings
Other Major Changes of the Post-Apostolic Church
Ideological Competitors of Early Christianity
Changes in 4th Century Theology – The Gospel
Changes in 4th Century Theology – Church and State
The Apostolic Church vs. Greek Mysticism
Changes in 4th Century Theology – Determinism, Divorce
Conclusions, Does God Care About These Changes?
Changes in Fourth Century, Christian Theology – The Christian State
The pagan, mystical rejection of an earthly salvation was not the only motivation behind the fourth century church’s change of view on the kingdom. Constantine, emperor of Rome, had also professed to have converted to Christianity and made Rome into a Christian empire. The idea of a Christian empire was directly at odds with the apostolic church’s view, which only allowed for an earthly Christian kingdom when Jesus returned from heaven. In order to get the church to participate in the society of the Roman Empire it was necessary not only to remove expectations of an earthly kingdom to be brought by the Messiah. It was also necessary to undo the earlier church teaching that Christians were not to participate in earthly government until Christ returned.
Before his death, Jesus explained to Pilate, the Roman procurator, that “his kingdom was not now of this world” (John 18:36). In Acts 1, after his resurrection, the apostles, still expecting the promised, earthly, Messianic kingdom, asked Jesus if he would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). In response, Jesus said that it was not permitted for the apostles to know the timetable for that event. Then Jesus ascended into heaven and the apostles were told by two angels that Jesus would one day return to the earth (Acts 1:9-11). Understanding this, Peter explains to a crowd of Jews in Acts 3 that Jesus must remain in heaven until the restoring of those things that had been prophesied and promised in the Old Testament (Acts 3:19-26). In Philippians 3:20, Paul states that our citizenship is in heaven until Christ returns. And Revelation 19:11-20:4 describe Jesus’ return, the destruction of the wicked, and the reign of Christ and the saints on the earth.
Paul explains in Romans 12:17-13:7, that in this age, the job of dispensing justice (vengeance, the Greek means legal justice and civil rights) has been appointed to the state (Romans 13:1-7). But using the same word, Paul says in Romans 12:19 that Christians are not to carry out justice. Paul’s instructions here in Romans 12 and 13 along with other factors lead the apostolic church to conclude that the church and the state were mutually exclusive entities.
The apostolic church also saw a separation between the church and those who “bear the sword” imposed by Jesus’ instruction in the gospels. Jesus’ commands that his followers “be harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-39), “put away the sword” (Matthew 26:52) and “not to fight because [his] kingdom is not now of this world” (John 18:36), were all understood in the Apostolic Age of the early church to prohibit Christians from enacting both personal and organized violence for the purposes of rectifying injustice. With these teachings in their mind, the apostolic church was avidly pacifistic. They saw themselves as foreigners in their own countries and withdrew from military and government service.
CHAP. V. For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe…They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers…They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.
THE EPISTLE OF MATHETES TO DIOGNETUS
CHAP. XXXIX. And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.
Justin Martyr, THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN
CHAP. CIX. "But that the Gentiles would repent of the evil in which they led erring lives, when they heard the doctrine preached by His apostles from Jerusalem, and which they learned(3) through them, suffer me to show you by quoting a short statement from the prophecy of Micah, one of the twelve [minor prophets]. This is as follows: 'And in the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be manifest, established on the top of the mountains; it shall be exalted above the hills, arid people shall flow unto it.(4) And many nations shall go, and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and they shall enlighten us in His way, and we shall walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many peoples, and shall rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. …CHAP. CX…Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,--our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, --and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.
Dialogue of Justin, PHILOSOPHER AND MARTYR, WITH TRYPHO, A JEW
CHAP. XXXII. …and not only not to strike, but even, when themselves struck, to present the other cheek [to those that maltreated them]; and not only not to refuse to give up the property of others, but even if their own were taken away, not to demand it back again from those that took it; and not only not to injure their neighbours, nor to do them any evil, but also, when themselves wickedly dealt with, to be long-suffering, and to show kindness towards those [that injured them], and to pray for them, that by means of repentance they might be saved--so that we should in no respect imitate the arrogance, lust, and pride of others.
Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK II
CHAP. XXXIV. 4. …but from the Lord's advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight."(1) If therefore another law and word, going forth from Jerusalem, brought in such a [reign of] peace among the Gentiles which received it (the word), and convinced, through them, many a nation of its folly, then [only] it appears that the prophets spake of some other person. But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these [nations] did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, [that is], into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek,(2) then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them.
Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK IV
"To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord's day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? ... Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, their case is different, as in the instance of those whom John used to receive for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions, I mean the centurion whom Christ approves, and the centurion whom Peter instructs; yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer, and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of it, which has been the course with many; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service... Touching this primary aspect of the question, as to the unlawfulness even of a military life itself, I shall not add more, that the secondary question may be restored to its place. Indeed, if, putting my strength to the question, I banish from us the military life, I should now to no purpose issue a challenge on the matter of the military crown."
Tertullian, The Chaplet, or De Corona c.204 CE)
Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith - even the rank and file (or any inferior grade), who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments…A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters - God and Ceasar…How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is also true that soldiers came to John [the Baptist] and received the instructions for their conduct. It is true also that a centurion believed. Nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.
Tertullian, circa 200 AD
"Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will no more learn to fight." Who else, therefore does this prophecy apply to, other than us? For we are fully taught by the new law, and therefore observe these practices…The teaching of the new law points to clemency. It changes the primitive ferocity of swords and lances to tranquility. It remodels the primitive execution of war upon the rivals and enemies of the Law into the peaceful actions of plowing and cultivating the land.
Tertullian, circa 200 AD
In us, all ardor in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead. So we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings. Nor is there anything more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state.
Tertullian, circa 200 AD
"We have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak."
Athenagorus, circa 177 AD, A Plea for the Christians
"But when beaten back as well by the faith as by the vigour of the combined army, he perceived that the soldiers of Christ are now watching, and stand sober and armed for the battle; that they cannot be conquered, but that they can die; and that by this very fact they are invincible, that they do not fear death; that they do not in turn assail their assailants, since it is not lawful for the innocent even to kill the guilty; but that they readily deliver up both their lives and their blood; that since such malice and cruelty rages in the world, they may the more quickly withdraw from the evil and cruel."
Cyprian, 200-258 AD, Epistle 56 to Cornelius
The hand must not be spotted with the sword and blood - not after the Eucharist is carried in it.
Cyprian, 200-258 AD,
"For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal."
Lactantius of Bythynia, 240-320 AD, The Devine Institutues, Book 6, Of True Worship
"What then, or where, or of what character is piety? Truly it is among those who are ignorant of wars, who maintain concord with all, who are friendly even to their enemies, who love all men as brethren, who know how to restrain their anger, and to soothe every passion of the mind with calm government."
Lactantius of Bythynia, 240-320 AD, The Devine Institutues, Book 6, Of True Worship
Why would [the just man] carry on war and mix himself with the passions of other when his mind is engaged in perpetual peace with men? Would he be delighted with foreign merchandise or with human blood - he who does not know how to seek gain? For the Christian is satisfied with his standard of living. He considers it unlawful not only to commit slaughter himself, but also to be present with those who do it.
Lactantius of Bythynia, 240-320 AD
All of these quotes show that prior to the time of Constantine and Augustine the church understood itself as separate from the societies, governments, and nations they lived among. This reality was bolstered by the fact that the early church suffered repeated persecutions including violent deaths and exiles for not giving their allegiance to the Roman state. This included some of the apostles like Paul, Peter, and John as well as some of the Apostolic Fathers like Polycarp and Ignatius. In those first three centuries, it was a martyr’s church where Christians were punished as seditious and treacherous for their lack of patriotism and allegiance to the state.
For 250 years it was a martyrs' church; the persecutions were fueled by the refusal of Christians to worship the state and the Roman emperor.
Justin Martyr, Saint –
Of his writings (in Greek), only two undisputed works remain, the Apology (with an appendix called the Second Apology) and the Dialogue. The Apology is a learned defense of Christians against charges of atheism and sedition in the Roman state;
In contrast to the apostolic church’s historic aversion to war, violence, and participation in earthly government before Christ’s return, there was the Gnostics and Roman imperialists. If the church was ever to be successfully merged into a stable union with Roman society the idea of an earthly, Messianic kingdom would have to change. But, more than this, there would also have to be a complete reinvention of the relationship of Christians to the state. Ambrose, Augustine, and Constantine’s court theologian Eusebius, successfully accomplished the necessary reinvention of Christian teaching on the church and the state.
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-c. 340) was the court theologian of Emperor Constantine the Great, who formed the Orthodox understanding of the mutual relationship of church and state. He saw the empire and the imperial church as sharing a close bond with one another; in the centre of the Christian empire stood the figure of the Christian emperor
“Augustine,” says Paul Johnson, “was the dark genius of imperial Christianity, the ideologue of the Church-State alliance, and the fabricator of the medieval mentality. Next to Paul, who supplied the basic theology, he did more to shape Christianity than any other human being.
Johnson, History of Christianity, 112, quoted from Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, p.51.
Ambrose, Saint –
born AD 339, Augusta Treverorum, Belgica, Gaul died 397, Milan; feast day December 7 Latin Ambrosius bishop of Milan, biblical critic, and initiator of ideas that provided a model for medieval conceptions of church-state relations…Ambrose is also remembered as the teacher who converted and baptized St. Augustine of Hippo
Thanks to Ambrose, Augustine, and Eusebius, the apostolic church’s centuries’ old prohibition against violence and Christian participation in the state was overturned. For 300 years, the earliest church, the apostolic church was pacifistic and withdrew from military service and political involvement as they waited for the coming earthly kingdom when Christ returned. But, the post-Constantinian church successfully merged with the Roman state. And participation in war became a question of the justness of the cause. In some case, war was even seen as a necessary duty to spread the fourth century understanding of the gospel.
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