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Ecumenical Councils of War

David B. Hart

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The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West
by Alexander F. C. Webster & Darrell Cole
Regina Orthodox Press, 2004
(252 pages; $19.95, paperback)

An Antiochene Orthodox priest of my acquaintance recently told me, with every appearance of sincerity, that he had converted to the Eastern Church because he was a pacifist. For a moment, I was uncertain as to whether he was attempting to baffle me with some cunningly constructed paradox.

I would have found it a no more impenetrable non sequitur had he announced that he had joined the local Elks' lodge because of his passion for beautiful young women, or that he enjoyed reading Calvin for the witticisms. But it soon became clear that he had meant his remark not only in earnest, but without any sense at all of its absurdity; indeed, he was somewhat disconcerted to discover that, in my own conversion to Orthodoxy almost two decades earlier, I had not been inspired in the slightest by similar motives.

It strikes me as a singular sort of delusion to imagine that the Eastern Orthodox tradition is any more hospitable to pacifism than the Western Catholic tradition, given the utter absence of pacifist tenets from Orthodoxy's teachings, liturgy, or history. And yet, apparently, it is a delusion shared by a not inconsiderable number of (Western) Eastern Christians at present. Of course, it is something of a cottage industry in the Orthodox Church--especially among converts--to discover and "market" ever newer ancient differences between Eastern and Western Christian theology, morality, devotion, spirituality, politics, cuisine, or whatever else one can think of.

And, since an explicit and elaborate theory of "just war" is the special achievement of Western tradition, it has become received wisdom in some quarters of the Eastern Church that Orthodox tradition obviously regards all war as intrinsically "unjust" (which, for reasons obscure to me, is taken as proof of a certain spiritual superiority on the Eastern side). Thus has been born another fatuous myth regarding the division between the ancient Catholic Churches, one that--like all its predecessors--combines a refusal to learn the meaning of unfamiliar terms with a magnificent indifference to historical fact.

Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website.

Posted: 11/25/04



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