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Religion

War, the Papacy, and Christianity

Tom Tai-Seale | Oct 13, 2021

PART 45 IN SERIES Ancient Plan Unfolding

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Tom Tai-Seale | Oct 13, 2021

PART 45 IN SERIES Ancient Plan Unfolding

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

King Charlemagne’s violent rule – even though it (forcibly) established Christianity in much of Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries – led to ever more flagrant and widespread uses of war by Christian rulers. 

Breaking the commandment of Christ not to kill, Charlemagne and other so-called “Christian” kings waged incessant war to gain land, money, and power, with these acquisitions often cloaked as religious purifications. While nominatively “religious,” these actions were hardly born of the promised Kingdom of God.

RELATED: Christianity’s King Charlemagne: Hero or Brutal Ruler?

As far back as Augustine, the Catholic Church had sanctioned the concept of “just war.” But in 1095 at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II codified a doctrine of holy war (bellum sacrum).  

From this point on, violence could be legally used against anyone of an opposing faith – even if they had not transgressed against Christians. A thousand years after Christ first proclaimed his peaceful and compassionate message, Christianity advanced its first doctrine of radical jihad against populations.

The Baha’i teachings speak out against this terrible misuse of Christ’s teachings to justify war, and counsel all humanity to stop such carnage. Abdu’l-Baha, in a talk he gave in Paris, said:

How grievous it is to see how man has used his God-given gift to frame instruments of war, for breaking the Commandment of God “Thou shalt not kill”, and for defying Christ’s injunction to “Love one another.”

God gave this power to man that it might be used for the advancement of civilization, for the good of humanity, to increase love and concord and peace. But man prefers to use this gift to destroy instead of to build, for injustice and oppression, for hatred and discord and devastation, for the destruction of his fellow-creatures, whom Christ has commanded that he should love as himself!

I hope that you will use your understanding to promote the unity and tranquillity of mankind, to give enlightenment and civilization to the people, to produce love in all around you, and to bring about the universal peace. …

Use your knowledge always for the benefit of others; so may war cease on the face of this beautiful earth, and a glorious edifice of peace and concord be raised. Strive that your high ideals may be realized in the Kingdom of God on earth, as they will be in Heaven.

However, in the 9th century Pope Gregory VII promised the remissions of sins to any warrior engaged in “holy war.” The Roman Catholic Church defined such a war as one “that is not only just, but justifying; that is, a war that confers positive spiritual merit on those who fight in it.” As an example of how holy war played out, in 1099 when the Crusaders finally captured Jerusalem, they slaughtered almost every inhabitant of the city.   

This does not represent the kingdom of God most of us have been looking for. Jesus Christ asked us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and never resort to killing or murder.

From a Baha’i perspective, holy war is completely prohibited by Baha’u’llah:

O people of the earth! The first Glad-Tidings which the Mother Book hath, in this Most Great Revelation, imparted unto all the peoples of the world is that the law of holy war hath been blotted out from the Book. Glorified be the All-Merciful, the Lord of grace abounding, through Whom the door of heavenly bounty hath been flung open in the face of all that are in heaven and on earth.

That Baha’i law, written by Baha’u’llah himself, prohibits Baha’is from taking human life. In fact, Baha’u’llah clearly advised everyone that:

… to be killed in the path of His good pleasure is better for you than to kill. The beloved of the Lord must, in this day, behave in such wise amidst His servants that they may by their very deeds and actions guide all men unto the paradise of the All-Glorious.

RELATED: Baha’u’llah Warns Germany, Russia–and the Pope

In the book Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha commented on the role of the Popes and their relationship to the rulers of this period in Christian history:

Among the popes there have indeed been some blessed souls who followed in the footsteps of Christ, particularly in the early centuries of the Christian era when earthly means were lacking and heaven-sent trails were severe. But when the means of temporal sovereignty were secured, and the worldly honour and prosperity were obtained, the papal government entirely forgot Christ and occupied itself with earthly dominion and grandeur, with material comforts and luxuries. It put people to death, opposed the diffusion of learning, persecuted men of science, obstructed the light of knowledge, and gave the order to slay and pillage. 

This factual account from Abdu’l-Baha leads to one of the central teachings of the Baha’i Faith – that religion must be renewed:

Our meaning is this: the religion of God is one, and it is the educator of humankind, but still, it needs must be made new. When thou dost plant a tree, its height increaseth day by day. It putteth forth blossoms and leaves and luscious fruits. But after a long time, it doth grow old, yielding no fruitage any more. Then doth the Husbandman of Truth take up the seed from that same tree, and plant it in a pure soil; and lo, there standeth the first tree, even as it was before.

This principle, called progressive revelation, explains the cycles of spiritual renewal that all religions are subject to, and that all natural phenomena undergo, as well. In that way, the kings and rulers of the past have something important to teach us – that their warlike behavior and murderous incursions no longer have to happen in the name of religion.

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