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Development of Peace Idea

Peace is not only a fundamental doctrine of Christianity; it is equally a fundamental doctrine of humanity in its essential constitution. Hence peace, both as an idea and as a social attainment, has had a natural historic development, in which other forces than Christian teaching, or any other religious teaching, technically such, have played a powerful and incessant part. These natural forces began to act earlier, perhaps, than the religious, and though dependent on the religious for their vitalization, they seem to have acted more steadily than the latter.

The religious conception of peace as a moral demand, though in its use by religious teachers it has had a very fluctuating history, has nevertheless since the time of Christ led the whole historic development of the peace movement. It has been a sort of headmaster to the movement, giving to it now and then impulse, inspiration and direction, and stirring the natural peace forces into stronger and more effective activity. It is only as the religious and the natural phases of the movement are both taken into account that the historic development of the principle and practice of peace can be properly understood.

The ideas of peace as a matter of moral obligation and the practical application of pacific methods in social and international affairs have developed at about the same rate. The growth and extension of the idea can therefore be fairly well traced in terms of its practical application in conciliation, mediation, arbitration, and the evolution of law and order in society. The idea of universal and perpetual peace, which has taken such a wide and deep hold upon the thought of recent times, was unknown to the ancient world.

The controlling principle among all the ancient peoples as to peace and war was that of family or race. Within a patriarchal group, a tribe, or collection of tribes within a common race, the idea of peace as useful and even obligatory was usually considerably developed. This is the case now among the unchristianized peoples of the world. Tribes, which fight like fiends with one another, manage, in spite of their ignorance, unrestraint and animalism, to keep up within themselves a fair amount of friendship and pacific life and cooperation.

The forces, which operated among the ancient peoples in producing this measure of pacific life, were sense of kinship, contiguity of dwelling, interdependence and some realized community of interests. Beyond this sphere of race or family, war, pillage, conquests, enslavement, were considered not only permissible but also obligatory. Often the obligations of peace were felt only within very narrow limits, the tendency being, until Christianity began to operate, to reduce the feeling of obligation to the minimum of family relationship rather than to expand it to the limits of racial kinship.

The religions of the ancient peoples, growing as they did largely out of the characters of the peoples and their environments, deepened and strengthened these conceptions. The national gods were looked upon as protecting and favoring the home people, but as hostile to all others. Where strange gods were brought in and domesticated, the purpose was probably nearly always to secure the most help in war or the greatest security against hostile inroads from without. The principal use of gods was for war purposes. The same principle of race governed the Jewish people in the matter of peace and war.

The peace for which their psalmists and prophets sighed was peace upon Israel, the peace of Jerusalem, not the peace of the world, of nation with nation. War against heathen peoples was considered not only lawful but also obligatory. Love of other peoples and rational treatment of them was scarcely dreamed of amongst the Hebrews. Love of neighbor was as far as they got, and their theory of this was much better than their practice. In their conception of God, in regard to some of his attributes, they rose, or were lifted, vastly higher than any other nation of their time.

Their God, the one true and living God, was the creator of all nations and peoples, as well as of the heavens and of the earth. But it is curious that this conception of God never led them to see and feel the real kinship and oneness of humanity, as one might expect it would have done. They drew from it rather the selfish notion of great superiority over other peoples. They believed that this God, their God, meant them to bring all other nations under their sway, and that the Messiah whom he was to send would do this service for them.

Not even their greatest prophets were able wholly to divest themselves of the racial narrowness of view. They now and then, as in the case of Isaiah, Micah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, had glimpses of the larger peace of the world, but its true nature and method of attainment they failed to grasp. It was to come by their God rebuking the other nations and causing them to flow to the mountain of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob. It was in the holy mountain of Israel that the lamb and the lion were to lie down together, and the cow and the bear to feed in friendship.

The larger meaning, which we see in the prophetic peace passages, was in them, but it was not the prophets themselves who put it there, or who even understood that it was there. It was not until Jesus Christ had unfolded the idea of the universal brotherhood of men as the corollary of the Fatherhood of God that any Jew was able to see “the middle wall of partition” broken down and to comprehend the true basis of a universal peace founded on the equal rights of all men and all nations.

The nearest approach to modern peace conceptions, outside of two or three of the Jewish prophets and rabbis, was found among the Greek philosophers and poets. There was something of this nature in both Confucius and Buddha, but it is doubtful if the “universal benevolence” of the one or the “fraternity of humanity” of the other went beyond the great races to which they belonged. Their teachings certainly had no social effect in the relations of these peoples to others. Pride of race and contempt of other peoples have not been deeper anywhere else than in India and China.

The reputed peaceful character of the Chinese, among whom the soldier has held a place very inferior to that of the scholar, has been due in part to sluggishness and immobility, and not largely to active love and benevolence, or even to pacific instincts. Greece, though a small country, came into close touch with a number of nations. Her sages therefore — Socrates, Plato, Democritus, Diogenes, Theodorus and later ones — had a larger and truer conception of humanity and a deeper perception of the need of peace than was found elsewhere.

But still the teachings of these sages had no discoverable effect on the relations of the Greek people to others. The Greek mind in general, in its pride of race, seemed incapable of grasping — at any rate it was unwilling to grasp — the idea of a common universal humanity. In the case of the sages themselves, this conception seems to have been rather a pleasurable picture of the imagination than a commanding ethical idea.

The world is my country,” a saying attributed to Socrates, meant in the mouth of a Greek, at home or in exile, not that the citizens of other countries were his equals and brethren, but that he as a superior being had a right to stride abroad wherever he pleased, and that all others ought to accept and treat him as such. However, there was among the best of the Greeks, as among the most spiritual of the Hebrew prophets, some partially developed consciousness of the common humanity. Among Roman thinkers there was something of the larger peace conception found among the wise men of Greece.

But this was in large measure an imitation of Greek thought, and was therefore fruitless for good. The general idea of peace among the Romans, the pax Romana, was wholly a political conception, being expressive of the relations of the parts of the empire to one another and to the overlord at Rome. It was, however, not wholly without moral quality. It is impossible to keep this quality out of the relations of men, even though their conduct towards one another are in considerable measure dictated by a superior.

The adjudications -they can hardly be called arbitrations — between various subject states of the Rontan empire, made by the emperor or his subordinates, trained these peoples in self-restraint, in resort to reason, and in the use of pacific methods. Thus, in spite of the fact that the Roman Empire was a huge system of political slavery, a real contribution was made to the development of the peace idea through the practical use of pacific methods. In general, in the ancient world, the use of pacific methods of settling disputes was as limited as the idea of peace.

In the case of Rome, as we have just seen, it was purely internal and political. Rome never arbitrated with other nations, or acted as arbitrator for them. When two contending states appealed to her, she ended the controversy as the judge did that about the oyster. She ate the oyster; she annexed the states. Among other peoples the use of conciliation or arbitration was purely a family or race affair. The herdsmen of Lot and of Abraham were to cease their strife because they were brethren.

The herdsmen of either might fight those of an outsider as much as they liked, when it was safe or expedient to do so. The Amphictyonic councils among the Greeks were family tribunals, set up for the purpose of adjusting differences and preventing war among brethren, among peoples of kindred blood. Greece as a whole, or even in parts, did not arbitrate with outside nations. The arbitration of the dispute between the two sons of Darius as to which should have the throne, referred to their uncle and decided by him, was still more of this domestic type.

Beyond this limited racial sphere the idea of peace (except in the case of a few prophets and sages) and the practical application of peace methods never went, in pre-Christian times. There does not seem to have been any tendency, so far as can be traced, to anything of a wider and more universal nature, to anything of a truly international character. Even within this limited sphere the practical pacific effects of the sense of kinship were very small.

The principle of kinship, though lying at the basis of the whole pacific development of human society, was not naturally strong enough to accomplish much anywhere until it was elevated, purified and strengthened by the revelation of the fact that it is not of merely earthly origin, but is rooted in the divine Fatherhood in which alone the oneness of humanity finds its rational explanation. The true and complete conception of peace, both as to its motives and its scope, was given to the world for the first time by Jesus Christ and his early followers.

They taught such doctrines of God as the Father and of men everywhere as brothers and neighbors as naturally broke down among the Christians, after a little time, racial distinctions and international barriers. Perhaps practised would be a better word than taught. Love of God and of fellow men was their life. Jesus himself gave the idea of peace in its deepest and fullest sense. But he did more; he made it intensely vital by his life of self-sacrificing love. His teaching came out of his life. The inspiration of his example, of his life and death, was worth a thousand Sermons-on-the Mount, unsurpassed as the mountain instruction was.

The Sermon on the Mount does not seem to have been much used in the earliest Christian days, though after the New Testament books were written and collected it had a large place. In the earliest period it was entirely overshadowed by the Teacher himself. It was the inspiration of his personality, of his living example, the transfusing of his personal spirit into them, that made the early Christians, for a hundred years and more, the enthusiastic exemplars of a fraternity, which knew neither class nor race nor national boundaries.

Followers of the Master in every land recognized their spiritual kin, and their human kin also, in every other land. Their homes, their purses, their lives, were at each other’s service. War between them, or between them and non-Christians, was unthinkable. It will be so again when the Christian Church once more becomes really Christian. International and inter-racial hatred between them was even more completely broken down than local dislike and friction. Among themselves difficulties, of which there were many, were settled by conciliation or the arbitration of friends, not even the courts of law being often resorted to.

Thus came into existence the conception of universal peace as the demand of universal brotherhood and universal love. It is a disappointing fact that early Christianity, during the whole of this wonderful period, pure and fresh and masterful as it was, working its way with marvelous rapidity into all lands, had practically no pacific social effect beyond its own circles. Its current ran within itself. The nations in their relations to each other were untouched by it. They despised each other and fought on as before.

Where Rome ruled, the pax Romana was all the international peace that was known. Among other peoples the idea of race or family still controlled. The cause of this failure of Christianity to produce any pacific effect outside of its own borders, if failure it may be called, was that the kingdom of heaven was conceived as something beyond this world and its affairs, with which it was thought that Christians should have little to do. Terrestrial affairs were to be wound up soon, by the early return of the Lord.

No effort was made, therefore, to bring Christianity to bear upon existing political institutions. Perhaps none was possible under the circumstances of the times. From the opening of the fourth century, Christianity, when it had become popular and was in a position to begin to control general social and international relations, fell away from its previous spirit and practice. Christian men went to war alongside unchristian men. They fell into the narrow patriotism, which prevailed. The high ideal of Jesus and his early followers gradually passed out of sight.

Their doctrine of universal brotherhood gave way in practice to the old notion of race or family kinship and superiority, a principle which, narrowly and selfishly used, has probably caused almost half the mischief ever done. Thus the Christian practice of peace and opposition to the whole business of war, which seemed on the point of mastering the world, ceased in large measure. There follows a long period of darkness, extending to and overlapping the Reformation, in which humanity touched about as low depths of division and strife as it ever reached.

The pax Romana, the peace of dominion, of political slavery, continued in measure until the fall of the empire. When this was destroyed during the fierce struggles of the barbarian invasions, Europe was broken up, and the efforts to restore the empire succeeded only for brief periods. During the confusion, which followed, and the period of the feudal lordships, both public and private wars were well nigh incessant. This period includes the long struggle of the papacy for universal political dominion.

It was the period of the “holy wars,” when Christianity itself was perverted into an instrument of cruelty and bloodshed. It must not be inferred that during this long period of twelve hundred years Christianity, though stripped of its early purity and power, ceased to be operative toward the ultimate peace of the world. It was working away like leaven, cultivating the intellect, developing the instincts of freedom, and preparing the ground for the building of modern independent, self-governing nations.

Between Christians themselves, particularly those in private life, much of the early peace spirit and practice remained. The New Testament with its teaching of love and peace continued the same. They heard it read and expounded. The Saviour’s life and example were often before them. Those who entered into official positions carried something of the Christian spirit with them. The pax Romana of the empire was softened and considerably humanized through the influence of the popes and bishops.

They served as arbitrators in disputes between subject kings and feudal lords. They even dictated peace to emperors themselves. Though they did this often in the interest of their own dominion, substituting a pax ecclesiastica for the Roman imperial peace, nevertheless something of the real Christian spirit accompanied their work. During the interminable strifes of feudalism and the private wars of the Middle Ages, the bishops and church councils were about the only peace power which remained to check in any way the everlasting work of the sword.

They proclaimed the “Peace of God,” rendering sacred from bloodshed certain days and places. They hurled their anathemas at those wild barons who persisted in the practice of private war and the wager of battle. They denounced the duel, as the Church has always done. It was chiefly through their influence that private war, the wager of battle and the cruel “ordeal” were finally abolished — the first great triumph in the direction of political peace. They offered their services as conciliators, and created peace associations and church courts of arbitration.

The Christian Church in its worst days never lost entirely the great peace conceptions of the Master, and never failed to show in some measure his spirit of peace. During these dark times the instincts of pure humanity were at work also. No one retaining any remnants of human feeling could remain untouched by the cruel and never-ending carnage and massacre, which characterized the first hundred years of the Reformation period, the sixteenth century. The very darkness of the period created the demand for light.

The appalling contrast between the religion professed and the inhuman things daily done, between the demand of the human heart and the heartless deeds of the human hand, between the fraternal workings of trade and commerce, then first entering upon their grand modern development, and the unending disturbances and waste of wars, combined to bring about during the next century one of the greatest reactions known to history, the full force of which we have only in recent years begun to comprehend.

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