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The Dove, the Fig Leaf and the Sword

Why Christianity Changes its Mind About War

by Alan Billings

A fascinating critique of the Church's varying response to the use of force over the centuries by a BBC Radio 4 broadcaster

    • Author

      Alan Billings

    • Book Format


    • Publisher

      SPCK Publishing

    • Published

      May 2014

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    The Dove, the Fig Leaf and the Sword

    Today's Price £10.47

    Product Description

    The Dove, the Fig Leaf, and the Sword is a fascinating critique of the Church's varying response to the use of force over the centuries. BBC Radio 4 broadcaster and former Director of the Centre for Ethics and Religion at Lancaster University, Alan Billings overs Christians a great understanding of the complexity of peacekeeping, and the stress of praying for those in authority.

    - Why does the pacifist movement of the first few centuries so quickly become an organization that supports emperors and finds reasons for fighting?
    - What leads the Church to formulate just war principles only to abandon them when in pursuit of heretics and infidels?
    - What is the relationship between Christianity and the idea of chivalry?
    - Did just war principles ever stay the hand of Christian rulers?
    - How could religious wars ever be fought?
    - Why did the churches capitulate so easily to nationalist sentiment?
    - What impact did two world wars have on Christian thinking?
    - Why have the churches in more recent years and a more secular age apparently taken a more cautious approach to war?

    These are the sort of questions this book sets out to answer. Its essential argument is that the movement begun by Jesus was never committed to pacifism in any absolute sense.


    • Author

      Alan Billings

    • Book Format


    • Publisher

      SPCK Publishing

    • Published

      May 2014

    • Weight


    • Page Count


    • Dimensions

      138 x 214 x 16 mm

    • ISBN


    • ISBN-10


    • Eden Code


    More Information

    • Author/Creator: Alan Billings

    • ISBN: 9780281072248

    • Publisher: SPCK Publishing

    • Release Date: May 2014

    • Weight: 232g

    • Dimensions: 138 x 214 x 16 mm

    • Eden Code: 4269064



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    9 years ago

    The Dove, The Fig Leaf And The Sword

    In support of his argument that the Church has changed its view of war over the centuries, Alan Billings divides Church history into three major periods and discusses the differences between them, as regards the Church’s broad moral stance on war.

    For its first 300 years or so, “the Church was without question a dove and its members practised the way of non-violence,” though without being ‘pacifist’, in an absolute sense.

    Billings does recognise a “more extensive repertoire”. Over the following centuries, the doctrine of a just war emerged, enabling the Church to move reluctantly from pacifism to a “qualified acceptance of coercion”. Augustine, Ambrose and Thomas Aquinas feature at some length in this section.

    Crusades, holy wars and persecution of Jews and ‘heretics’ were exempted from classification as ‘just wars’. Some Christians are quoted as opponents of Just War, among them Erasmus and Machiavelli. Those who view pacifism as the only legitimate Christian attitude will see the Just War as simply a “fig leaf disguising Christianity’s abject capitulation to power”.

    In the third period, that between the Reformation and the World Wars of the 20th century, the sword comes to represent the Church’s attitude to war. Violence would be embraced if the cause were righteous. “The traditions of both pacifism and just war were eclipsed in Christian thinking.”

    Billings’ eighth chapter—“Christian Responses to the First World War”—makes very interesting reading when so many events have been held to mark the centenary of 1914. Billings comments, “On both sides we find an almost unqualified identification of God’s interest with the national interest."

    But now since 1945 something remarkable has happened “A dove-ish spirit descended on the modern Church!” Alan Billings devotes the last chapter of this most stimulating book—and a brief ‘Afterword’—to the Church’s recovery of just war principles, expanded by measures to ensure security after war.

    Such jus post bellum—Latin for "Justice after war"—measures include ensuring a swift return to normal life, and the deterring of acts of retaliation and revenge.

    This book covers a vast amount of ground, delving into the distant past, but also focusing on matters that are right up to date. If you have any interest in the ethics and conduct of war, whether it’s just in the realm of theory or has practical consequences, I think you will enjoy reading it, as I did.

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