Did Jesus tell the Apostles to buy weapons? Yes. To use them?

I have been thinking through the “gun” controversy.  I am also thinking about what it means for me, a priest.

For example, what does a concealed carry weapon (CCW) mean for a priest versus for a layperson?

Some people will bring up a document of the USCCB which mentions handguns in a footnote and then claim that “the Church” forbids them.  The implication is that pretty much no one should have a hand gun.  I don’t find that convincing.  The USCCB doesn’t have the authority to tell me what I can have for breakfast, much less how I might defend my person or an innocent bystander.  Some people will bring up the 1917 Code which said that priests should not bear arms.  Fine.  The 1983 Code does not say that.  However, the tradition continues for military chaplains.  For example, since all Marines are by definition “riflemen”, though not all are combat infantry, Catholics chaplains are not in the Marine Corps.  Marines chaplains come from the Navy.  Marines are part of the Department of the Navy (the “Men’s Department” as Marines will remind us. ‘rah!)  Also, the 1917 Code was issued after WWI when clergy were pressed into military service even as infantry.  So, I agree that priests are not to serve as priest/infantry, etc.  That doesn’t say much to me about priests, bishops, and a CCW. Some people want to interpret the 1983 Code’s stricture that clerics should avoid things that are not in keeping with the clerical character in light of the 1917 Code’s prohibition against bearing arms. I am not convinced that that is a good argument.

I am trying to get my head around this working especially from my background in Patristics.  I am not done yet, but I have found a few interesting points.

First, let’s look at Luke 22, just as the Lord is concluding the Last Supper and about to head off to the next phase of His Passion in the garden.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.” 35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” 39 And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.

Review.  Satan is in the midst of this situation.  Peter boasts that he will heroically go with the Lord.  The Lord warns Peter.  The Lord instructs the Apostles to sell their clothing to buy swords.  Apparently they already have a couple.  Were they concealing them even from the Lord?  Probably not.  The Lord says, that’s enough (ikanón estin), probably indicating that two swords are enough for the moment or for his immediate purposes.  Also, it seems Jesus was not just being enigmatic.  Faced with Apostles with actual swords, He seems satisfied.

Furthermore, in the Gospel of John, after the unfortunate incident with the ear, Christ does not tell Peter to throw the sword away.  How many times have we heard on Good Friday the Lord tell Peter “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)  That could just mean, “don’t use it”, but it doesn’t mean “get rid of it”.  The Lord had told the Apostles to buy swords.  Thus, to have swords.  And, given that the Lord knew they were going to be hitting the road to fulfill His command to “teach all nations and baptize them”, were they to do teach and baptize while armed?   Hard to say.  But we probably shouldn’t say “Absolutely not!”

I guess another question to ask would be, in Roman occupied territory, could inhabitants own swords?  Could Roman citizens?  Was Christ telling the Apostles to do something illegal?  I suspect not.  Render under Caesar, etc. But let that pass.

Granting that Pope Benedict isn’t a Father of the Church, he is steeped in the Fathers.  In explaining this scene in his second part of  Jesus of Nazareth (on the period the Lord’s life from the entrance into Jerusalem to His resurrection), Benedict offers that Peter has to learn that his own wrong-headed heroism leads to his denial of the Lord.  Peter must learn to put aside worldly heroism and learn the humility of the disciple.  Benedict concludes that the exchange between Peter and the Lord his rushing in with the sword in the garden -and his subsequent betrayal when he again rushes in to the courtyard to be nearby is about “not telling God what to do, but learning to accept him as he reveals himself to us; not seeking to exalt ourselves to God’s level, but in humble service letting ourselves be slowly refashioned into God’s true image.”

Peter, thinking in human terms, was about to interfere with God’s plan.  So, in the garden, the Lord utters to Peter those famous words: “they that take the sword (labóntes máxairan) shall perish with the sword”.

So, Christ instructed the Apostles to buy swords, even at the cost of their own clothing.

Then Christ tells the chief of his Apostles not to use the sword he has, even in a moment when Peter seems to be defending Him.

Quaeritur: Was Peter defending the Lord, for the Lord’s sake, or was he doing something with the sword for his own sake?

Peter seems to try to defend not just a loved one, such as a child, spouse, friend or stranger, but one who is man and God.  If betrayal of God is worse than betrayal of a human being, then the defense of God is even more compelling than defense of a human being (including oneself).  On the other hand, God’s ways are not our ways (cf Isaiah 55).  Christ tells Peter not to use the sword He told Peter to buy.  But then the Lord says in the Matthew account of the same moment, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (22:53).  Peter has zeal, a strong arm, and a sword.  Christ has the entire arsenal of the angelic realm, in addition to His divinity.  Moreover, the Passion was not comparable to any other moment in human history.  Peter was not using the sword properly, that is, he was not aligning his motives to God’s plans.  The Apostles had, after all, been warned by Christ that He was to suffer.

I suspect that the lesson of the sword in the garden has to do with Peter, first, striking in anger, more even from a spirit of revenge than a desire to defend.  Also, Peter was applying earth-bound motives to a situation imbued with divine purpose unlike any other in human history.

Turning to the Fathers, I looked into what St. Ambrose says in his Commentary on Luke about the swords.  Among the Fathers we have commentaries on Luke by Ambrose, of course, homilies by Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede and some homiletic fragments in catenae.  I have Ambrose handy.

Keeping in mind that the Bishop of Milan focuses on revenge and contrasts revenge with “defense… defensio“, Ambrose starts out with a question: “Cur haberi praecipis quem vetas promi?

Why do you who forbid me to wield a sword now command me to buy one?  [Ambrose is clearly preaching a sermon.  He is speaking to Christ as if he were Peter… and probably as himself as well.] Why do you command me to have what you forbid me to draw?  Perhaps He may command this so that a defense may be prepared, not as necessary revenge, but that you may be seen to have been able to be avenged but to be unwilling to take revenge  (Nisi forte ut sit parata defensio, non ultio necessaria, ut videare potuisse vindicari, sed noluisse).  [There is a distinction to be made between “ready defense” and “necessary vengence”.] The law does not forbid me to strike back.  [In worldly terms, would have blamed Him?] You say to Peter when he offers two swords, “It is enough,” as if it were permitted even to the Gospel, so that there might be knowledge of just conduct in the Law, [e.g., lex talionis] but perfection of  goodness in the Gospel (ut sit in lege aequitatis eruditio, in evangelio bonitas perfectio). This seems wicked to many, [to contradict the Law] but the Lord is not wicked, he who when He could take revenge chose (instead) to be sacrificed.  [Now Ambrose does what Ambrose often does… he gets all allegorical on us….] There is also a spiritual sword, so that you may sell your inheritance and purchase the Word (cf Ephesians 6:11), which clothes the innermost parts of the mind.  There is also the sword of suffering, so that you may law aside the body…. The disciples may have offered two swords: one of the New and one of the Old Testament, with which we are armed against the deceits of the devil.  The the Lord says, “It is enough”, as if nothing is lacking to him who the teaching of each Testament has strengthened.” (Commentary on Luke 10:53-55)

In 10, 52, Ambrose also notes that the Passion of the Lord has not its equal (Passio Domini aemulos habet, pares non habet).

Review: Ambrose says that the Lord could have fought back, but that He wanted to be sacrificed.  But he also makes a distinction about “defense” and “revenge”.  Also, he acknowledges that, by the Law, one can use force –  for revenge – immediately and licitly, but adds that choosing not to is a more perfect way of acting.

Again, the situation in the garden is unlike any other situation any of us will face.  Some may face echoes of the Passion, as do actual martyrs, but the Lord’s Passion is qualitatively different from what we experience.  So, what might apply to Peter putting up his sword in this instance might not apply to Peter in some other situation.

All my Augustine is packed away in boxes at the moment, but I suspect that he, in using this passage from Luke, will explain not using the sword as meaning something about human weakness in the face of divine will.

So, I am in the process of working through some of the issues.

The combox is open but moderated.  I probably won’t let many comments through, but I will look at them, if they are pertinent and substantive.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    Since apparently there is no prohibition in Canon law, I complement you on giving this some very serious study and thought no matter your final decision.

    The use of the sword in the garden by someone in Jesus’ party may have been part of God’s plan because it gave Jesus one more public opportunity to perform a miracle by healing the ear of the slave of the high priest. (cf Lk 22:50-51)

  2. Susan says:

    If you haven’t seen them, I think you might enjoy Anne Barnhardt’s posts regarding Jesus and Guns. It’s a four-part post that she wrote starting on December 29th. http://barnhardt.biz/ (originally posted in November 2010) I’m a bit ignorant when it comes to language, knowing only my mother tongue of American English (having at this point pretty much forgotten what I learned in years of French classes growing up) so I’m always fascinated by the intricacies of translation – translation matters so much when trying to interpret intention, such as Jesus’ intentions when he spoke. But, the passages Ms. Barnhardt’s reflections are based on seem to indicate that Jesus knew his priests were armed and didn’t think too much of it. Personally, I’m comfortable with a priest who feels called to bear arms as well as a priest who doesn’t. Can’t say I know any who pack heat, but have to believe a priest would be an extremely responsible gun owner! Thank you for the sacrifice of your vocation, Fr. Z, and for your wonderful blog. You’re in my prayers!

  3. fvhale says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    A contribution for your noble study and prayer, whether you wish to make it visible on the blog or not, from St. Bonaventures Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 22:49-51, nn, 62-64 of Chapter 22 (English translation by Robert J. Karris, OFM, from series Works of St. Bonaventure, vol. viii, part iii, pp. 2092-2095.

    n 62. (v. 49) … For the disciples, burning with the zeal of their love for Christ, were enflamed by it to defend him. But they were in doubt because he had taught them to act with utmost patience, according to what Mt 5:39 reads: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Peter was so enkindled that he neither asked Christ nor waited for an answer.

    n. 63. (v. 50) … Peter’s zeal in this matter is praised. Wherefore, the Glossa comments: “Peter was burning with the same zeal of mind as Phineas” [attrib. to Bede] about whom it is said in Num 25:11-13 … on account of the zeal with which he slew the fornicators by the sword he obtained the everlasting priesthood [see also Ex 32:26-29, selection of the Levites as priests, because they were willing to take up sword and kill their brothers, friends and neighbors who worshipped the golden calf; see also Hugh of St. Cher on Phineas.] Here, however, Peter’s zeal is praised, but not his deed. For Mt 26:52 states “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all those who wield the sword will perish by the sword.” Although the deed does not receive praise, the mystery is commended. For in this is signified that the power of Peter’s priesthood took away the observance of the legal ritual of the priesthood, which was servitude [See Hilarius, Comm. on Mt. ch 32 n. 2: “…by the Apostle the ear of the servant of the high priest is cut off, that is, the disobedient hearing of the people serving the priesthood is cut off by Christ’s disciple. And that which was unable to hear the truth is amputated.”] …

    n. 64 (v. 51) …. But Jesus answered and said: Bear with the thus far, as if to say: Don’t proceed further. For what needs to be shown is patience, not anger; beneficence, not vengeance. … Here [Jesus] fulfilled in a special way what he had commanded in Mt 5:39: “Do good to those who hate you.” In this his wondrous power has appeared, for by a mere touch he united what had been sundered, doing something that neither human art nor nature could accomplish. And by this he showed that he was capable of resisting, giving life, and putting to death according to what Dt 32:39 reads. … in this the wondrous power of Christ was manifest, for together with omnipotence was such great patience. .. Thus the Glossa observes: “The Lord, who did not allow his enemies to be wounded, never forgets compassion” [attrib. Bede].

    Also, I suspect that the parenthetical citation of Lk 10:53-55 at the end of the quotation of St. Ambrose is laboring under the burden of a typographical error.

    Apparuit enim gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus,
    erudiens nos, ut abnegantes impietatem, et sæcularia desideria,
    sobrie, et juste, et pie vivamus in hoc sæculo,
    exspectantes beatam spem,
    et adventum gloriæ magni Dei, et Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi
    (Titus 2:11-13)

  4. Hidden One says:

    I think that the commentary of the Fathers on Luke 22:35-38 found in the great Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas (available here: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/CALuke.htm#22) settles the issue quite decisively. I cannot say that the teachings of the Fathers therein will necessarily be all that popular in these times, however.

  5. Tradster says:

    The Knox Bible has an interesting footnote about this passage:

    “Our Lord seems to suggest, in irony, that since he is to be apprehended like a robber, it is time his companions should go armed like robbers, no longer in the peaceable manner of apostles.”

  6. Weetabix says:

    If you want to consider it fully, I’d suggest reading the 1917 Code’s prohibition with an emphasis on context. I don’t know the Code, but there may be a difference between carrying arms for protection and serving in the military as a combatant. The apostles would count as priests, I’d think, and Jesus instructed them to buy side arms. Just a thought.

    Also, for me, CCW means being prepared to protect innocent life (whether my own or someone else’s) from someone attempting to take it violently. Carrying a weapon against that need is to accept a serious responsibility. I think that accepting that responsibility is honorable, though not for everyone. I think it would be honorable for a priest to take that physical protection on in addition to his duty to shepard souls.

  7. Andrew says:

    St. Bernard in his Ad Milites Templi de Laude Novae Militiae” under no. 5 has this: “Quid enim? Si percutere in gladio omnino fas non est christiano, cur ergo praeco Salvatoris contentos fore suis stipendiis militibus indixit, et non potius omnem eis militiam interdixit?” (If it is altogether illicit for a Christian to strike with a sword, why then did the Savior’s forerunner tell the soldiers to be content with their pay and not instead to give up the military service?”)

    However, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it there without mentioning that S. Bernard goes into great length about the question of force and its moral implications (too long for a short comment here but not negligible).

  8. James Joseph says:

    I am an 8-year veteran of the US Marine Corps (1MarDiv); both a sergeant and a disabled-war veteran from Iraqi Freedom and also I ‘served’ in Afghanistan Enduring Freedom, as a heavily bearded ‘civilian’ (who carried concealed weapons)

    True story: Females are an exception to the rule. They are actually admitted to the US Marine Corps only as an indult (so to speak) for the duration of World War I. True story.

    (I will now dodge bullets)

  9. EXCHIEF says:

    One of the responsibilities we have as Christians/Catholics is to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. In order to do that under some circumstances it is helpful to have the right tool and, once we have the toool, to use it only for the right reason.

    Firearms are nothing but tools and, unfortunately, there are times when in order to preserve innocent life it is necessary to use them. I have been in law enforcement longer than many believe possible (49 years). In that period, working much of it in the 2nd highest violent crime rate jurisdiction in the USA, I have only had to use that tool (as in fire it, not simply display it) just one time. For not having to use it more I am thankful…but I am likewise thankful that I had the tool and knew how to use it.

    While Catholic Priests, and their congregations, do not come under attack often in this country (unlike, for example, in Nigeria where Christians are being murdered by the hundreds) armed suspects in Churches are not completely unheard of in this country. I can think of two (Colorado and Pennsylvania) in recent memory. Protection of the innocent faithful may be something a Priest might have to engage in. Not having the right tool could make that impossible to the detriment of those threatened and to the Priest himself.

    I have taught concealed handgun classes over the years. They are a beginning, but not in and of themselves sufficient in my view. If one wants to assume the awesome responsibility which comes with CCW one should commit to the time and expense necessary to maintain a high degree of safety, weapon control, discipline, and proficiency. That cannot result from qualfying at the range once every 2-5 years when the CCW permit needs to be renewed. In my case, and I am rated as a distinguished expert with a handgun, it means no less than monthly practice.

    Finally if the faithful,including interested and qualified Clergy, were not intended to provide protection for others I wonder why those who do so (Warriors/Sheepdogs) have their own Patron Saint in St. Michael the Archangel.

  10. cyejbv says:

    I keep thinking of Peter O’ Toole’s character as a priest in “For Greater Glory”. Would the slaughter of Catholics in Mexico have been less had the shepherds been able to protect their flock and themselves? I don’t choose the word “willing” – this movie was based on events that were pre-1983 Code- but to bring the question I ask current and general: would the slaughter of sitting ducks in any church be less or prevented if the wackos know the shepherds are able and willing to protect their flocks and themselves?

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  12. Fr. Z- interesting and pertinent research. There’s nothing worse though when the books one wants are boxed away. Perhaps a generous donor will buy you some Logos software and you could access the same or similar texts on your computer?

    Behind this debate in your country is a perceived threat to the Second Amendment to your Constitution. The question you seek to answer could be phrased ‘Granted that this Amendment gives an American citizen the positive right to bear arms does it also him give a moral or fundamental right?’

    Some thoughts:
    I would think though that when applying any principles derived from such reflection one needs to also take into account how wide the term ‘weapon’ is, at least in English. A sword is a weapon of a very different type than the gun. The word ‘gun’ itself includes everything from a tiny pistol to the largest cannon. The sword can be used defensively (to block a blow) or with minimum striking force by using he flat of the blade or the butt. In telling His apostles to take swords Christ could therefore be telling them to be ready to use the minimum force necessary for self defence in a violent world. In addition I have come across an interpretation of Christ’s ‘It is enough’ as a declaration of exasperation at Peter’s lack of understanding. Peter takes Him literally when our Lord is speaking metaphorically. In this reading our Lord means we should be fully prepared for the difficulties we will face in a world opposed to the Gospel.

    Then there is also the question of what kind of sword is meant. The gladius was a short sword but there was also a longer cavalry sword. Does the Greek give any idea of what kind of sword is meant? In the Middle Ages the art of the quarterstaff developed because of the ban on the carrying of swords by those who where not knights. Now while this weapon can be lethal it is primarily a defensive weapon. Does Christ mean such a use? Would not a taser be a legitimate alternative to a gun?

    As regards applying these reflections to guns: “The bullet is a mad thing; only the bayonet knows what it is about.” General Alexander Suvorov – (From “The Science of Victory,” 1796). There is a world of difference between the blade and the bullet. A skilled swordsman can fend off an opponent without doing him any harm but I am not so sure about a gun user.

    Another consideration is that among the early Fathers the principle consideration was whether and how Christians could serve in the Roman army – a question complicated by the idolatry that permeated the Legions. I don’t know if they ever considered the morality of personal weapons carried by civilians. I would suspect that a lot of Catholic reflection has focused on the role of military force rather than on the limits and morality of civilian self-defence.

    As regards self-defence would it not be more morally acceptable for Christians to learn basic martial arts as a means to be able to defend themselves? This does depend on one’s culture and society – Karate is not much use against a bullet but where there are few guns it gives one a decided advantage.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    I am not sure I understand the problem. Surely, since the CCW would be used strictly for self-defense, it is licit at this point in history. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does NOT make a distinction between clergy and laity so the current thinking is that it is acceptible for clergy to defend themselves, which would include carrying a gun:

    “2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill,”62 and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies.63 He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.64

    Legitimate defense

    2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”65

    2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone [does not exclude clergy] who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

    If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.66

    2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

    2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67”

    It is true that Christ told his followers to turn the other cheek, but let’s look at this in more detail:

    1. The things Jesus mentioned as regards resisting evil were specified specified as stealing and striking. These concern worldy goods and honor. One is always supposed to be detached from them, in any case. That detachment is the primary focus of this passage. Attempted murder is another thing. Even Jesus escaped from those who sought to kill him, on numerous occasions. One does not have to make oneself available to a robber or assault. Running away is a form of self-defense, so these passages of Scripture, clearly, do not exclude all forms of self-defense. In this sense, the Catechism is clearly wrong, when it says that Jesus did not defend himself. Jesus defended himself non-violently until it was His Hour. Then, he stood his ground.

    2. Defending the innocent is a form of one of the corporal works of mercy: To ransom the captive. Someone who has a gun pointed at them is a captive. Ransoming does not mean, merely, paying money. The verb, ransom, comes from the Anglo- French, Rancun, which is related directly to the word, Redemption. To redeem means to pay a price for someone’s release, but this can be in two different ways. If the detention is lawful, then the redemption is lawful and just and the paying of money is justly mandated. If the detention is unlawful, then, since one is not required to participate in an unlawful act, onemay use any moral means necessary to abtain the release – this is a form of ransom by accident, since whatever moral means is used, if it results in the release of the captive, then it is equivalent to ransoming the captive. Clearly, coming to the aid of someone who is being held at gunpoint with equivalent firepower, if it is morally sanctioned (one can think of the case of two mobsters from two different mobs as an example where it would not be), is a form of mercy. In this sense, Jesus would certainly sanction the use of force, if there were no other way. We can be sure of this because the Church sanctions it.

    3. Priests are supposed to be exemplars of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, so it is fitting that a preist, if necessary, defend others, especially his congregation, by force of arms. The exception to this is if there is a higher good to be obtained by not so doing.

    4. As for Jesus telling Peter to put away his sword, there are two points to be remembered:

    a. This was Jesus’s Hour. Peter was doing what Peter sometimes did: get in Christ’s way. Using the sword would have made the situation less clear that Jesus was gving himself up, willingly.

    b. To live by something means that one is not living by God, but has substituted an idol. At that moment, Peter was looking to the sword to deliver Christ instead of looking to God, the Father, as Jesus was. If one lives apart from God (living by the sword) one will die apart from God. This is what this means, I suspect.

    c. When Jesus was thirsty, he did not hestitate to ask the woman at the well for a drink. He did not hestiate to pay the Temple Tax, so as to not cause the harm of scandal. These are both forms of defending either himself or others from harm. These are weak, but proper forms of self-defense. Peter was not defending himself or Christ, however, he was attacking. This can be seen because Jesus had no intention of escaping. He had committed this Hour to the Father, not Peter. Peter was acting with a good heart, but presumptively in attacking the guard. This is clear because Jesus had just said (John 18:9):

    Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

    Jesus gave them permission to arrest him. Peter then drew his sword. This is not self-defense. This is not ransoming the captive. Christ, very God, gave permission for the arrest. This is Peter doing what he did in Matt 16:23:

    “But he turned, and said to Peter, Get you behind me, Satan: you are an offense to me: for you mind not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

    5. Finally, all of the events mentioned for running away, etc. are close-range contact attacks. One can stop a fist; one can stop a sword. One cannot stop a bullet once it is fired. One can run from a sword or a fist and if one is fast enough or lucky, one can escape. It is much more difficult to escape from a bullet that has been fired. Indeed, those passages where it said that Jesus hid from those trying to kill him would have never been possible, today, with the means of finding and killing people that are possible. Things like poison gas, expolsives, etc. did not even exist during Biblical times. If this had been modern Isreal. Jesus would have been killed much quicker and without any public display. There is no witness to humility when not only can no one see you turn the other cheek, but you can’t even know the attack is coming.

    The 1917 Code was written for an era where wars were, effectively, fought in slow motion. Air warfare, tanks, etc., have changed how wars are prosecuted in ways unimaginable in 1917. the current Code is more flexible because the options for defense of the innocent have become so much more limited.

    These are my thoughts. This may not get published, but these are some things to think about.

    The Chicken

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  15. Weetabix says:

    Br. Tom,

    A small clarification: The 2nd Amendment does not “give” a right to bear arms; it acknowledges that the right to defend your life is given you by the Creator, and it forbids government from infringing on that right.



  16. cl00bie says:

    As someone in formal inquiry into the permanent diaconate, and a concealed weapons licensee. I’ve asked myself about whether carrying a gun is proper for an ordained deacon.

    Then I realized that deacons can be active police officers.

    If I were involved in a situation with the intention of stopping the injury or killing of innocents, I could in good conscience dispassionately stop a perpetrator, call 911 for an ambulance, hope it gets there in time, and pray for the repose of the soul of the perpetrator without a whiff of hypocrisy.

  17. Geoffrey says:

    I recall once hearing something, whether legend or fact I do not know, that long ago bishops carried maces as opposed to swords. It was seen that clerics should never spill blood, but crushing a skull was more… acceptable? Perhaps someone more learned that I knows whether this tale is fact or fiction.

    With this whole discussion I cannot help but think of martyrdom; “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Where would we be if all the apostles and martyrs were armed? Granted, protecting ones family does not fall into that category…

  18. florin says:

    Jan. 14th, I was thinking the same thing…what if martyrs were armed. I was so inspired by the courage and faith of the Monks in “Of Gods and Men” – they could have run away, they could have brought in armed guards or armed themselves…I don’t recall Jesus ever telling His followers to kill and Jesus Himself who had all the power and might in the universe did not defend Himself. I don’t say we should not defend ourselves or children…but I fear we are entering a very dangerous phase in this country…kill or be killed…please let us pray that this does not happen.

  19. Fr Michael says:

    Two months after I was ordained I received a late night/early morning emergency call to a very bad part of Tempe Arizona. As I got out of bed to get dressed, I was thinking what a bad part of town I was going to, so I reached under my pillow and grabbed my loaded .357 and tucked it in the small of my back. While I did not need it, I was so much more relaxed and unafraid as I went about the Lord’s work. 28 years later, it is still under my pillow and loaded. The only time I shoot it is on the target range.

  20. Bea says:

    It seems to me the Church and Heaven itself has supported the bearing of arms and even battle itself (armed battle). Besides St. Michael, himself, and the heavenly conflict we also have:


    Pope St. Pius V, himself, blessed the banner to be used then and there.
    He, being a Pope and later declared a saint, supported this ARMED conflict.

    He had his own league:
    The force of the Holy League consisted of the following fleets:[2]
    6 galleasses and 109 galleys of the Republic of Venice; 55 galleys of the Spanish Empire (including 23 galleys from Naples and 3 galleys from Savoy); 27 galleys from the Republic of Genoa; 12 galleys from the Papal States (including 3 from Tuscany) and 3 galleys from the Knights of Malta.

    He prayed for success in battle
    when he asked the Catholic World to pray the Rosary for its success.

    He was mystically advised of its success days before he received the actual notification so it seems to me that even Heaven approved.

    If Heaven, Popes who are Saints approve of being armed, who are we to disapprove?

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There were plenty of armed martyrs. Lots of Roman soldiers died for Our Lord as martyrs; most of them seem to have both served as fighting soldiers and died refusing to strike back against unjust orders to worship false gods or die. They went about it in a particularly legion-like stoic way, maintaining discipline while making pointedly snarky remarks.

    There were also some soldiers who decided that God didn’t permit them to kill, but then went to great lengths to prove that they were not cowards or deserters in either their manner of martyrdom or of living. St. Martin of Tours, for example — though his generation of soldiers’ sons weren’t permitted by law to choose any other career but the Legions, so he was trying to get out of the Legions to pursue his vocation as a monk before he got old. So he went on some daring missions to make the point that he wasn’t a coward, and wrung some sympathy and a ticket out of the Legions, and from Emperor Julian the Apostate of all people.

    These matters did create some controversy among Christians as to which attitude was preferable; but on the whole, both seem to have been seen as honorable Christian choices.

  22. Mdepie says:

    When I was a college student it was rumored than one of my Jesuit biology professors ( who I believe has since died, ( Lord rest his soul) was rumored to have foiled an attempted mugging by suddenly brandishing a concealed hand gun at the would be assailant. He was a very tough ( if fair) professor and not given to a lot of warmth so perhaps the tale was apocryphal… It did seem to fit with his personality however.

    I am not sure what the scripture passage means but I think the issue of whether a priest could have a hand gun for his personal protection is simpler. In the year 2000 a Priest in the diocese of Arlington was reported by the Washington Post (July 15th 2000) to have used a handgun to wound an intruder who broke into the rectory, at that time the chancellor of the Diocese, Stated that priests retain the same natural law right to defend themselves as anyone else, and that while a gun should be the last resort, it is not impermissible for a priest to defend themselves this way .

    Since the natural law is what gives one the right to defend oneself I would find it hard to imagine how one loses those rights just because one is a priest. I think in the middle ages it was seen as making one irregular in the exercise of orders, but was not a sin. The scripture passage in question is difficult to understand but the take home point to me is that Christ does not tell Peter that what he did was evil ( by striking the servant with the sword) but simply tells him to stop.

    All in All it seems to me that a priest has the same natural law right to self defense as anyone else.

  23. Gwen says:

    Chaplains in the military are unarmed so that they maintain their status as neutral under the Geneva Conventions. The First Geneva Convention, in 1864, guaranteed “the benefit of neutrality” to hospital and ambulance personnel, and chaplains. They are non-combatants, and are required to be identified as such (usually by a distinctive armband). This gives them access (theoretically) to the entire battlefield, to minister to troops of any force. In the U.S. military, chaplains aren’t armed, at least not officially. In my USAF experience, it was the duty of the chaplain’s assistant to carry the weapon(s) of self-defense. A chaplain who is found to have a weapon would quickly lose all perception of neutrality or non-combatant status.

    I don’t think that the conditions of a military chaplain are directly transferable to that of a secular priest in the civilian world. By tradition and regulation, the military chaplain is unarmed not for spiritual reasons, but for practical mission requirements and treaty obligations. Now, an individual chaplain might, for spiritual reasons, never want to be armed. But that’s a different subject, I think.

  24. I want to thank everyone here, particularly Father Z, The Chicken, Cloobie, and Geoffrey for their excellent contributions to this discussion. It’s helping me immensely to make sense of self-defense from a Catholic perspective, and also to formulate my own opinions on the matter. It would seem that protection of innocent life or lives, whether privately or in truly Just War, is a morally acceptable and even honorably masculine act, but that there is a more perfect way, if it is only your own life at stake, and that is laying it down sacrificially in martyrdom. Even in the latter case, there are many moments and situations in which it would seem imprudent to do so, for instance, if one’s wife and family were dependent on them, or if a Priest were the only Priest serving a certain area, just as it was not always prudent for martyrs to run out in the streets of pagan Rome begging for death.

  25. FrDulli says:

    The clergy have a right to self-defense. The Vatican has the Swiss guard. The use of a weapon directly by a cleric is a more trying question. A priest should avoid at all costs having to make the decision to strike an adversary, one who may yet be saved. When Peter uses the sword, the ear of Malchus falls off. This may represent that those wounded by the Church’s minister will be less likely to hear the words of the Gospel and be converted.

    It is not only weapons that we are talking about here, but power. Priests have power which must be used most judiciously, lest it be directed against persons to their peril and ours. So, own a gun, but pray you never have to use it. The consequences may not only effect the body but the soul.

  26. Black Jaque says:

    Fr. Z.

    I am looking forward to reading any more research and contemplation you may do on the above passages. I too have bounced these passages around in my head and having just read them anew still more jumps out at me. Food for thought:

    —“When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag”

    Basically Jesus is telling his apostles here that they’ll no longer be completely under his supernatural protection and they will have to make “worldly” preparations as they go about their travels.

    I think there can be an important distinction between personal protection and armed resistance of a tyrannical government. When Christ commands his apostles to buy swords it appears the context is for personal protection. Recall the story of the Good Samaritan. Getting waylayed along travel routes was a VERY REAL danger to people in those days. But when you oppose a highway robber with armed force you are opposing a universally recognized “bad guy”. Caesar would probably reward you for dispatching such a robber.

    The story of Jesus reprimanding Peter (if you could call it that) at the time of His arrest is a different context. Peter was resisting a “legitimate” authority. If Peter’s actions continued it could have sparked an armed rebellion which is definitely not the type of revolution Christ was initiating.

    Not that Christ is opposed to the idea of an armed rebellion – just not in the Garden of Gesthemene right before He was about to do something way more important.

    I think if I understand JPII’s Theology of the Body we can infer from the male body that doing violence to those who would harm our families is part of our nature. Its why little boys pick up sticks and play swords and guns. Its why I love watching westerns and cop shows. Its why we play violent sports like hockey, rugby, and football.

    And one final thought on the “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword,” comment. I think most everyone I meet reads that passage and just assumes that Jesus is warning Peter so that Peter would not die a violent death. HAH! If Peter knew what Jesus knew about how Peter would die (crucified upside down) I think Peter would have jumped right back into the melee and continued hacking body parts until he did die by the sword. Given the choice, the cowardly side of me would say that I’d rather die in a sword fight than getting nailed to a cross. Also note: and this I believe is HUGE, Christ does NOT say “he who lives by the sword will burn in the unquenchable fires of Gahenna”

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