January-February 1992

Yes, the Early Church Really Was Pacifist

I plead guilty to Glenn W. Olsen’s observation (letter, Nov.) that I am given to repeating myself with regard to my conviction that the early Church was nonviolent and pacifist. Some of my best friends have chided me for becoming something of a “Johnny One-Note” on the subject. Even so, letters like his — from persons of academic disjunction — serve as reminders of a need for such repetition. Of course there must have been individual Christians who went their deviant ways in those early centuries. Even Martin of Tours had served in the Roman forces before undergoing what our military procedures term the “crystallization of conscience” that led him to refuse to continue serving because, as a Christian, it was not “lawful” for him to fight.

However, one would expect Olsen — a university historian — to be more inclined to consider the balance of evidence in determining where “the mind of the Church” was in those days. just as today opposition to abortion on the part of Church leaders outweighs the contrary opinion within dissident segments of the “rank and file,” it is clear that the position of the Church Fathers, complemented by the nonviolent response of the Christian Romans in the Age of Martyrs, was unmistakably dominant until the Augustinian concessions took over following the “conversion” of Rome. Had there been documents, comparable in number and tone to those of Origen and so many others, calling instead for loyal acceptance of military responsibilities on the part of Christians, one may be sure the selectivity of history (always more sensitive to the secular power) would have operated to give them — not the Fathers’ condemnations — the advantage of preservation. Such, it seems, is not the case. A few burial inscriptions and the like really are not enough to disprove the Christian commitment to pacifism and nonviolence of those generations closest to the teachings, and example of the Founder.

Emeritus Prof. Gordon C. Zahn
Dept. of Sociology, University of Massachusetts




Coles, Suffering & the Pope

Reading Robert Coles’s column on suffering (“Vulnerability,” Nov.), I wished that all who suffer (alone or with others} could own and read On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvifici Doloris), an apostolic letter by Pope John Paul II. He too persuades us that suffering can have meaning and purpose. This 59-page booklet is available from St. Paul Editions, 50 St. Paul’s Ave., Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA 02130.

Ann Kocher
San Luis Obispo, California




Overly Sensitive

Pace Jean D. Brooks (letter, Nov.): She is overly sensitive to an alleged burn.

When I wrote in my essay “Some Serious Thoughts on Jewish Humor” (Sept.) that the principle of Wisdom is feminine in the Old Testament, in the classical Western languages, and in all modern Western languages, except English, I was not puzzled but delighted.

As for Man, it is not only Kant, but the Psalmist who asks the Lord: “What is Man that….” It is clear in the context, and in modern lexical usage, that Man is generic, embracing both men and women, and is not restricted to one half of the human race. A Testament that includes Sarah, Leah, and Rachel as “women of valor” (Prov. 31:10 et seq.) does not depreciate women, and I commend to all Proverbs 8.

(The text is from the new Jewish Publication Society Tanakh according to the traditional Hebrew text.)

Daniel Bell
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Cambridge, Massachusetts






Your unsigned review of Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (Nov.) was outrageous and full of tasteless word plays (yapping Fox, etc.). The concluding paragraph, purportedly “in gentle, Quakerly terms,” was especially offensive, particularly to Friends, but also, to all readers. Was there some underhanded connection suggested between George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, and Fr. Matthew Fox, whom your reviewer so blatantly excoriated?

Donald Goodman
Stony Brook, New York









Back to January-February 1992 Issue