Ancient Christians and the Military?

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Jax
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Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by Jax » Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:19 pm

What ancient references do we have for this?

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DCHindley
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by DCHindley » Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:05 am

Jax wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:19 pm
What ancient references do we have for this?
Jax,

I know there have been modern studies that cover the subject.

My recollection was that they surveyed early Christian statements regarding christians who did serve as soldiers, and I believe that at first Christians did not seek to serve in the armies maintained by the Romans (Legions & Auxiliaries). There is the pagan worship of military standards and oaths of loyalty to the genius of the emperor that soldiers had to perform in public, and of course, the fact that a soldiers' job was to kill the enemy.

This aversion to killing in war is also what drives Mennonites to shave off their mustaches but also grow beards, as symbolic of their passivism. European soldiers of the time of Menno Simon, the founder of this sect, *all* grew big bushy mustaches but not beards.

Then that started to change, IIRC, in the 3rd centuries (possibly pagan soldiers who converted while in service (the service term was 20+ years!). The authorities seem to have had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In one case, a Christian serving in a Legion, went along with a private lottery in which soldiers of his Legion made an oath that whoever of them upon whom the lot fell would kill himself by cutting his own throat. The Christian went along with the lottery, until he was the person selected by lot, upon which he confessed his faith, as he could not in good conscience commit suicide. Whether he was drummed out dishonorably or was sentenced to execution I do not recall.

Tertullian was the son of a retired Centurion, and he had no problem considering himself a faithful Roman, but it does not seem he condoned service in the Army for Christians.

I don't think that it was until the early 4th century and the accession of Constantine the Great as sole emperor that Christians could openly serve.

If you are correct in your hunch that Paul's language was like a soldier (retired) speaking to other soldiers (also retired) then it has to still explain all the Christ talk in them.

DCH

andrewcriddle
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by andrewcriddle » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:01 am

DCHindley wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:05 am
.....................................

In one case, a Christian serving in a Legion, went along with a private lottery in which soldiers of his Legion made an oath that whoever of them upon whom the lot fell would kill himself by cutting his own throat. The Christian went along with the lottery, until he was the person selected by lot, upon which he confessed his faith, as he could not in good conscience commit suicide. Whether he was drummed out dishonorably or was sentenced to execution I do not recall.

I think you are referring to the Martyrdom of Dasius
This is a very strange story of questionable historicity.

Andrew Criddle

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DCHindley
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by DCHindley » Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:11 pm

andrewcriddle wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:01 am
DCHindley wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:05 am
.....................................

In one case, a Christian serving in a Legion, went along with a private lottery in which soldiers of his Legion made an oath that whoever of them upon whom the lot fell would kill himself by cutting his own throat. The Christian went along with the lottery, until he was the person selected by lot, upon which he confessed his faith, as he could not in good conscience commit suicide. Whether he was drummed out dishonorably or was sentenced to execution I do not recall.

I think you are referring to the Martyrdom of Dasius
This is a very strange story of questionable historicity.

Andrew Criddle
I agree, it is kind of strange, but not totally unbelievable. What benefit would Christians have realized to justify making it up?

DCH

StephenGoranson
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by StephenGoranson » Wed Jun 06, 2018 4:27 am

Celsus accused Christians of avoiding military service. But some soldiers were also attracted to Christianity, as suggested by the finds at Legio near Megiddo (at whatever later date).

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Secret Alias
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Jun 06, 2018 5:56 am

At some point in the late second/early third century the Christian religion was transformed with the introduction of sacramenta (sing. sacramentum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacramentum_(oath)). These took the place of the original mysteries of Christianity. This seems to have gone hand in hand with an emphasis on 'credal' formulae - i.e. that all Christians believe in X, Y, Z. This is still the shape of the religion with the formal Nicene Creed. This seems to have 'militarized' Christianity and IMHO is related to the stories of swearing by genus of the Emperor etc. This seems again in my opinion to confirm an Imperial reshaping of Christianity at the time of Irenaeus. Irenaeus is big on creeds. The anonymous Treatise on Baptism (which ultimately in some form goes back to Irenaeus) speaks about the oaths. It is difficult to understand why Christians were treated as soldiers but they were. In the same way as Irenaeus defines heresy as straying from monarchianism or the worship of one power/one rule/one ruler the religion was treated as a military body or at least forced to behave in the manner of a military unit. Why isn't clear.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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Secret Alias
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:04 am

This statement in Irenaeus is particular interesting about the use of oaths/creeds/sacramenta and illiterate barbarians:
To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established.
It seems to connect Polycarp or intimate a relationship with Polycarp and the conversion/militarization of the barbarian converts. My sense is that:

a) the heresies were treated in the manner of runaway soldiers (i.e. failing to adhere to the 'one rule' of the Emperor)
b) creeds/sacramenta were established to make all Christians swear by the one ruler/one rule
c) this militarization of Christianity could only have taken place in this manner with the encouragement of the Imperial court/Roman state
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

andrewcriddle
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by andrewcriddle » Wed Jun 06, 2018 11:40 am

DCHindley wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:11 pm
andrewcriddle wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:01 am


I think you are referring to the Martyrdom of Dasius
This is a very strange story of questionable historicity.

Andrew Criddle
I agree, it is kind of strange, but not totally unbelievable. What benefit would Christians have realized to justify making it up?

DCH
IMVHO the original story has Dasius refusing as a Christian to take a leading part in a pagan festival and being executed as a consequence.
The idea that his participation on the Saturnalia would culminate in his death is probably slander against pagan festivals.

Andrew Criddle

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Jax
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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by Jax » Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:18 am

DCHindley wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:05 am
Jax wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:19 pm
What ancient references do we have for this?
Jax,

I know there have been modern studies that cover the subject.

My recollection was that they surveyed early Christian statements regarding christians who did serve as soldiers, and I believe that at first Christians did not seek to serve in the armies maintained by the Romans (Legions & Auxiliaries). There is the pagan worship of military standards and oaths of loyalty to the genius of the emperor that soldiers had to perform in public, and of course, the fact that a soldiers' job was to kill the enemy.

This aversion to killing in war is also what drives Mennonites to shave off their mustaches but also grow beards, as symbolic of their passivism. European soldiers of the time of Menno Simon, the founder of this sect, *all* grew big bushy mustaches but not beards.

Then that started to change, IIRC, in the 3rd centuries (possibly pagan soldiers who converted while in service (the service term was 20+ years!). The authorities seem to have had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In one case, a Christian serving in a Legion, went along with a private lottery in which soldiers of his Legion made an oath that whoever of them upon whom the lot fell would kill himself by cutting his own throat. The Christian went along with the lottery, until he was the person selected by lot, upon which he confessed his faith, as he could not in good conscience commit suicide. Whether he was drummed out dishonorably or was sentenced to execution I do not recall.

Tertullian was the son of a retired Centurion, and he had no problem considering himself a faithful Roman, but it does not seem he condoned service in the Army for Christians.

I don't think that it was until the early 4th century and the accession of Constantine the Great as sole emperor that Christians could openly serve.

If you are correct in your hunch that Paul's language was like a soldier (retired) speaking to other soldiers (also retired) then it has to still explain all the Christ talk in them.

DCH
But why does this need to be reconciled? Why can't Paul be both a retired soldier and a advocate for Christ? What is his message after all? That God will make things right for those that believe in the Christ (the people that Paul is writing to) that the bad people will get their come uppings and that even though some of the good people have died already (fallen asleep) they too will get reborn with heavenly bodies and be rewarded.

All that these people that Paul is talking to need to do is believe, get along with each other, refrain from bad sex, put their heads down and work, and "oh, yeah" put a little money aside for Paul to take back to Jerusalem with him. ;)

Or am I missing something?

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Re: Ancient Christians and the Military?

Post by DCHindley » Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:31 pm

Jax wrote:
Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:18 am
DCHindley wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:05 am
If you are correct in your hunch that Paul's language was like a soldier (retired) speaking to other soldiers (also retired) then it has to still explain all the Christ talk in them.
But why does this need to be reconciled? Why can't Paul be both a retired soldier and a advocate for Christ? What is his message after all? That God will make things right for those that believe in the Christ (the people that Paul is writing to) that the bad people will get their come uppings and that even though some of the good people have died already (fallen asleep) they too will get reborn with heavenly bodies and be rewarded.

All that these people that Paul is talking to need to do is believe, get along with each other, refrain from bad sex, put their heads down and work, and "oh, yeah" put a little money aside for Paul to take back to Jerusalem with him. ;)

Or am I missing something?
Well, I just wanted to stress that Christians didn't seem to me military minded types until about the time of Tertullian. Now there's a guy who was a super duper macho male chauvinist pig who kept his wife out of sight, the son of a long retired Legionary Centurion, and he was all gung ho for the Roman state as an institution. However, military participation was not an option for him for the reasons I had previously expressed. Possibly a few choice words were spoken by his dad over evening meals as a family. It doesn't seem T's dad was alive when he wrote, nor his mom, but he was raised a Christian, possibly by his mother as a widow.

He thought the fact that the state frowned upon those who held Christian beliefs was a tragedy that would be soon overcome. In his day, in North Africa, most local authorities simply looked the other way at private associations that were considered "burial" associations. Tertullian says that the Christians he associated with met in the cave tombs where they would hold monthly pot luck dinners and had scripture readings, paid for by dues paid to a nominal leader of the association. He felt that those local officials were taking the better path, but the tolerance, and hopefully acceptance, would slowly rise up the ranks to the Provincial governors.

Now you are right, we cannot be sure whether or not Paul ever served in the military. Military language was all around in the popular culture of the times. There were the gladiatorial shows (these were usually carefully choreographed to give the appearance of a raucous fight, but in reality it was a show for the crowd). The owners of those gladiators had a lot invested in them. They were the "professional wrestlers" of antiquity, and were trained to use the dress and weapons of already conquered peoples, but the closest thing to actual danger they experienced would be fighting with condemned criminals. These condemned criminals were fighting for their very lives, with maybe 1 in 100 ever prevailing against a trained gladiator, even where there was a decision and not a kill, and were allowed to train to become showman-grade gladiator. Needless to say, as the fights were going on, there was an announcer giving play-by-play analysis of what was going on.

Based on what I have been reading about "voluntary associations" in that period, was that many were considered "household" associations. The slaves, freedmen and retainers of a household would regularly gather in a manner similar to the one described above, but met with the master's knowledge and approval. Public variety voluntary associations were technically illegal, but household voluntary associations were perfectly legal and actually encouraged by the authorities.

Paul seems to me to have been a retainer in a prominent household, probably one that was "Herodian." There were all sorts of possibilities: Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, the Herodian or at least Jewish client kings of Chalkis and other exotic places in Asia Minor. As a joke, I posted to one thread a way back that Antipas, who himself wanted to be the anointed king over Herod the Great's revived realm, could well have considered that Agrippa I was an "anti-Christ" in that he was handed that honor instead of him, who more richly deserved it. Antipas, nagged by his wife, had hired Agrippa as the head of the Agora in a major city, where he got himself caught taking a bribe and fired. So, to Antipas, Agrippa was unworthy of the anointment to kingship.

You can well imagine how his retainers, slaves and freedmen, might have felt similarly. Agrippa was the anti-Christ. Now I don't necessarily buy into this hypothetical situation exactly as stated, but Paul was most certainly always talking in household terms. I think that whatever his previous history, he was a household retainer. My guess would be Paul was the son of a freedman of a Herodian household, his father having converted to Judaism by circumcision in exchange for his manumission, and Paul had been circumcised himself on the 8th day after his birth, and was making every effort to mind the laws of his people.

I can well imagine him lashing out, at first, against those who were advocating that gentiles should be considered brothers with Judeans without circumcision or law observance. Until, that is, he has his breakdown and realizes that despite all his trying he just could not adopt the law 100% or even close. He has his "vision" in which the perfect solution presented itself to him: Gentiles could inherit the promised land along with natural born, circumcised Judeans, by the simple profession of faith that one day God will realize it for everybody who was good.

Use of military jargon was just part of the culture as he rallied his friends to fight for a share of the inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed. "Onward gentile so-oh-oh-ol-dier marching as to war, with the faith of Abe-raham going on before ..."

DCH

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