The Church Fathers on Government and Public Service

Granted, the Church Fathers – those early writers and proponents of the faith – were/are not infallible, but they stand here to show us the early tradition of the Faith. It was simply that this world is not our home, and politics not to be the profession of the Church. This newest doctrinal development, which confuses Church and State, would have been looked down upon by the men and women who descended from the Apostles.

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

All the powers and dignities of this world are only alien to, but are enemies of God. Through them, punishments have been determined against God’s servants. Through them, too, penalties prepared for the impious are ignored. – Tertullian

We are to scorn trying to ingratiate ourselves with kings or any other men – not only if theirfavor is to be won by murderers, licentiousness, or deeds of cruelty – but even if it involves impiety towards God, or any servile expressions of flattery and fawning. – Origen

Celsus also urges us to “take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.” But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation–that is, the Church–rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy. And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God–for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all–of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God. – Origen

“God might have bestowed upon his people both riches and kingdoms, as he had given previously to the Jews, whose successors and posterity we are. However, he would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness and prosperity, slide into luxury, and eventually despise the commandments of God. For this is what our ancestors did.” – Lactantius

Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sin – Clement of Alexandria

“The Lord will save them in that day – even His people – like sheep… No one gives the name of ‘sheep’ to those who fall in battle with arms in hand, or those who are killed when repelling force with force. Rather, it is given only to those who are slain, yielding themselves up in their own place of duty and with patience – rather than fighting in self-defense.” – Tertullian

“I owe no duty to forum, campaign, or senate. I stay awake for no public function. I make no effort to occupy a platform. I am no office seeker. I have no desire to smell out political corruption. I shun the voter’s booth, the juryman’s bench. I break no laws and push no lawsuits; I will not serve as a magistrate or judge. I refuse to do military service. I desire to rule over no one – I have withdrawn from worldly politics! Now my only politics is spiritual – how that I might be anxious for nothing except to root out all worldly anxieties and care.”- Tertullian

“Inquiry is made whether a believer is able to turn himself into military service… But how will a Christian wage war, indeed how will he serve even in peace without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? …The Lord in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” – Tertullian

“As for you, you are a foreigner in this world, a citizen of Jerusalem, the city above. Our citizenship, the apostle says, is in heaven.” – Tertullian

If anyone be a soldier or in authority, let him be taught not to oppress or to kill or to rob, or to be angry or to rage and afflict anyone. But let those rations suffice him which are given to him. But if they wish to be baptized in the Lord, let them cease from military service or from the authority, and if not let them not be received. – Testament of our Lord (Cadoux The Early Christian Attitude to War p. 121-126)

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16 Replies to “The Church Fathers on Government and Public Service”

    1. Not sure you are getting the point – on purpose perhaps? Of course, the same could be said of those who pick and choose to except the early Fathers when it suits them, but then creates a mythic history of Christian government as accepted by the Faith.

    2. What’s the matter? You don’t like what they say? Joel made clear his position on the Fathers in his introduction. Yet rather than interacting with post, it’s point, and what the Fathers say, you attack Joel for posting it. Isn’t that rather pointless?

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