Catholics and the Military in the Age of Catholic Rome (300 - 500 A.D.)

On my website I am trying to start a series on Catholics and the Military in each age of Church History. The second installment is up, and is called “Catholics and the Military in the Age of Catholic Rome”. I thought you guys might be interested in this series, so I’ll post the links here as I complete them. I hope you enjoy!

Catholics and the Military in the Age of Catholic Rome (300 - 500 A.D.)


Catholics in the Military
—The Thundering Legion

The Wars of Catholic Rome
—Constantine versus Licinius
—Wars against Barbarians
—Wars against the Persians
—Theodosius the Younger

The Fathers of Catholic Rome on Just War
—The Council of Arles on the Military
—Eusebius of Caesarea on Just War
—St. Lactantius on Just War
—St. Athanasius on Just War
—St. Basil the Great on Just War
—St. Gregory Nazianzen on Just War
—St. Ambrose on Just War
—St. Augustine on Just War

Catholics in the Military

The Thundering Legion

St. Basil of Caesarea - “Having considered the climate of that land, for it was bleak, and the season of year, for it was winter, [the governor] observed that during the nighttime the chill attained its highest intensity, and moreover that a northerly wind then blew: therefore he gave the command that [the Christian soldiers] all [should] be left naked in the open air in the midst of the city, and thus being frozen, they should die.” (Homily on the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, given in about 373 A.D.)

The Thundering Legion was martyred by Emperor Licinius in about 316 A.D. I believe their legion was connected through time to the regiment of the same name that was originally praised by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These men were known to be valiant warriors on the battlefield. St. Basil reports them as encouraging each other with the following words: “How many of our companions in arms fell on the battle front, preserving their loyalty to a corruptible king? Is it possible that we should fail to sacrifice our lives in fidelity to the True King?” (ibid.) The governor who executed them mentioned that they were customarily “distinguished in valor during battle.” (ibid.) From these indications it appears that Christians were true warriors in the Roman armies, and not pacifists.

The Wars of Catholic Rome

Constantine versus Licinius

Eusebius - “[Licinius] determined to raise a general persecution of the Christians: and he would have accomplished his purpose…had not He who defends His own anticipated the coming evil, and by His special guidance conducted His servant Constantine to this part of the empire… He took with him also the priests of God, feeling well assured that now, if ever, he stood in need of the efficacy of prayer, and thinking it right that they should constantly be near and about his person, as most trusty guardians of the soul. … [The] enemy soon fled before his victorious troops. And the emperor perceiving this, whenever he saw any part of his forces hard pressed, gave orders that the [image of the Cross] should be moved in that direction, like some triumphant charm against disasters: at which the combatants were divinely inspired, as it were, with fresh strength and courage, and immediate victory was the result.” (Life of Constantine Book 2 Chapters 2, 4, 7)

Wars against Barbarians

~378 A.D. - St. Ambrose - “Your sacred Majesty, being about to go forth to war, requires of me a book, expounding the Faith, since your Majesty knows that victories are gained more by faith in the commander, than by valour in the soldiers. … I must no further detain your Majesty, in this season of preparation for war, and the achievement of victory over the Barbarians. Go forth, sheltered, indeed, under the shield of faith, and girt with the sword of the Spirit; go forth to the victory.” (On the Christian Faith Book 1 Prologue, Book 2 Chapter 16)

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