the Gospel argues against war—and yet we make war with … wild enthusiasm

 

The work we know today as the King James Bible (KJV, 1611) was strongly influenced by the first edition of the New Testament to appear in the English language, the work of William Tyndale (1526). In fact, 92% of the wording of Tyndale’s English NT was retained by the KJV’s translators. Tyndale’s English translation was based on the third edition of Desiderius Erasmus’ Greek New Testament (1522).

And so, it is interesting to note the view held by Erasmus – arguably the most learned man of his time in the entire world regarding the Greek NT – concerning Christian faith, the participation of Christians in military service and warfare, and the lust for war. His thoughts on such, quoted below, were penned in 1516 in a work created for the man who came to be known as King Charles V.

“Even if we allow that some wars are just, yet since we see that all mankind is plagued by this madness, it should be the role of wise priests to turn the minds of people and princes to other things. Nowadays we often see them as very firebrands of war. Bishops are not ashamed to frequent the camp; the cross is there, the body of Christ is there, the heavenly sacraments become mixed up in this worse than hellish business, and the symbols of perfect charity are brought into these bloody conflicts. Still more absurd, Christ is present in both camps, as if fighting against himself. It is not enough for war to be permitted between Christians; it must also be accorded the supreme honor.

“The Hebrews were allowed to engage in war, but with God’s permission. On the other hand, our oracle, which re-echoes again and again in the pages of the Gospel, argues against war—and yet we make war with more wild enthusiasm than the Hebrews.

“I would merely exhort the princes who bear the name of Christian to set aside all trumped-up claims and spurious pretexts and apply themselves seriously and whole-heartedly to making an end of this long-standing and terrible mania among Christians for war, and to establishing peace and harmony among those who are united by so many common interests.”

   Desiderius Erasmus (The Education of a Christian Prince)