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Erasmus' Complaint of Peace

In my travels, I came across Erasmus’ article entitled “The Complaint of Peace.” In it, Erasmus personifies peace, and writes a formal complaint against humanity – especially against “Christian” rulers – who are perpetually engaged in warfare. Erasmus wrote immediately during and after the Reformation, and in this and other protests, attempted (unsuccessfully) to stem the tides of religious wars which would rock the Western world for over a century, and ultimately disillusion Western society completely of religion, and set it on its present course towards secularization.

This article is available for download here, and is worth reading in its entirety. I would encourage you not to be put off by Erasmus’ rather weak beginning, in which he attempts to prove his case for peace based on the peace of animal species towards one another (apparently he did not watch the Discovery Channel…). He becomes far more interesting after he turns to Scriptures, to Greek philosophy, and to history. He builds to a climax at the end which is worth reading the entire piece to hear.

I have cut-and-pasted two especially interesting portions for your reading pleasure below – enjoy! 😀


What induced the Son of God to come down from heaven to earth, but a gracious desire to reconcile the world to his Father? to cement the hearts of men by mutual and indissoluble love? and lastly, to reconcile man to himself and bid him be at peace with his own bosom? For my sake, then, he was sent on this gracious embassy; it was my business which he condescended to transact; and therefore he appointed Solomon to be a type of himself; the very name Solomon signifying a peace-maker. Great and illustrious as King David is represented; yet, because he was a king who delighted in war, and because he was polluted with human gore, he was not permitted to build the house of the Lord, he was not worthy to be made the type of Christ.
Now then, warrior, halt and consider; if wars, undertaken and carried on at the command of the Deity, (as was the case in David’s wars) pollute and render a man unholy, what will be the effect of wars of ambition, wars of revenge, and wars of furious anger? If the blood of heathens defiled the pious king who shed it, what will be the effect on christian kings, of so copious an effusion of the blood of christians, caused solely by royal revenge?


It is a circumstance which renders the evil less capable of remedy, that the clergy cover over this most irreligious conduct with the cloke of religion. The colours in the regiments, (consecrated by ministers of peace!) bear the figure of the cross painted upon them. The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or a wolf!
That cross is the standard of him who conquered, not by fighting, but by dying; who came, not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. It is a standard, the very sight of which might teach you what sort of enemies you have to war against, if you are a christian, and how you may be sure to gain the victory.
I see you, while the standard of salvation is in one hand, rushing on with a sword in the other, to the murder of your brother; and, under the banner of the cross, destroying the life of one who to the cross owes his salvation. Even from the holy sacrament itself, (for it is sometimes, at the same hour, administered in opposite camps) in which is signified the complete union of all christians, the warriors, who have just received it, run instantly to arms, and endeavour to plunge the dreadful steel into each other’s vitals. Of a scene thus infernal, and fit only for the eyes of accursed spirits, who delight in mischief and misery, the pious warriors would make Christ the spectator, if it could be supposed that he would be present at it.
The absurdest circumstance of all those respecting the use of the cross as a standard is, that you see it glittering and waving high in air in both the contending armies at once. Divine service is also performed to the same Christ in both armies at the same time. What a shocking sight? Lo! crosses dashing against crosses, and Christ on this side firing bullets at Christ on the other; cross against cross, and Christ against Christ. The banner of the cross, significant of the christian profession, is used on each side, to strike terror into the opposite enemy. How dare they, on this occasion, to attack what, on all others, they adore? Because they are unworthy to bear the true cross at all, and rather deserve to be themselves crucified.
Let us now imagine we hear a soldier, among these fighting christians, saying the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father,” says he; O hardened wretch! can you call him father, when you are just going to cut your brother’s throat? “Hallowed be thy name:” how can the name of God be more impiously unhallowed, than by mutual bloody murder among you, his sons? “Thy kingdom come:” do you pray for the coming of his kingdom, while you are endeavouring to establish an earthly despotism, by spilling the blood of God’s sons and subjects? “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven:” his will in heaven, is for peace, but you are now meditating war. Dare you to say to your Father in heaven “Give us this day our daily bread;” when you are going, the next minute perhaps, to burn up your brother’s corn-fields; and had rather lose the benefit of them yourself, than suffer him to enjoy them unmolested? With what face can you say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us,” when, so far from forgiving your own brother, you are going, with all the haste you can, to murder him in cold blood, for an alleged trespass that, after all, is but imaginary. Do you presume to deprecate the danger of temptation, who, not without great danger to yourself, are doing all you can to force your brother into danger? Do you deserve to be delivered from evil, that is, from the evil being, to whose impulse you submit yourself, and by whose spirit you are now guided, in contriving the greatest possible evil to your brother?
Plato somewhere says, that when Grecians war with Grecians, (notwithstanding they were separate and independent dynasties) it is not a war, but an insurrection. He would not consider them as a separate people, because they were united in name and by vicinity. And yet the christians will call it a war, and a just and necessary war too, which, on the most trifling occasion, with such soldiery and such weapons, one people professing christianity, wages war with another people holding exactly the same creed, and professing the same christianity.
The laws of some heathen nations ordained, that he who should stain his sword with a brother’s blood, should be sewed up in a sack, and thrown into the common sewer.
Now they are no less strongly united as brothers whom Christ has fraternized, than those who are related by consanguinity. And yet, in war, there is a reward instead of punishment for murdering a brother. Wretched is the alternative forced upon us by war. He who conquers is a murderer of his brother; and he who is conquered, dies equally guilty of fratricide, because he did his best to commit it.
After all this unchristian cruelty, and all this inconsistency, the christian warriors execrate the Turks as a tribe of unbelievers, strangers to Christ; just as if, while they act in this manner, they were christians themselves; or as if there could be a more agreeable sight to the Turks (Muslims) than to behold the christians running each other through the body with the bayonet. The Turks, say the christians, sacrifice to the devil; but, as there can be no victim so acceptable to the devil as a christian sacrificed by a christian, are not you, my good christian, sacrificing to the devil as much as the Turk? Indeed, the evil one has in this case the pleasure of two victims at a time, since he who sacrifices is no less his victim than he who is sacrificed by the hand of a christian and the sword of war. If any one favours the Turks, and wishes to be on good terms with the devil, let him offer up such victims as these.

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