Blessed are the Peacemakers

Ultimately, whether saints supported peace or war, Christ remains the ultimate authority. We are Christians, after all. Despite Christ's negative attitude towards all violence, at times Christ's words are used to justify warfare. Vladimir Putin, for example, on May 18, 2022, cited the New Testament in justifying the war, praising soldiers saying "No one has greater love than a person who is ready to lay down his life for a friend." This same verse is quoted in the catechism of the Moscow Patriarchate, in the context of a speech of St. Cyril. In the catechism, another quotation from Christ is cited immediately after this anecdote of St. Cyril,

Blessed are the Peacemakers

«They that take the sword shall perish with the sword» (Mt. 26:52). These words of the Saviour justify the idea of just war.

These two verses are perhaps the most abused scriptural verses in the Church. In the first case, Christ is not speaking of soldiers, but of himself, as the scriptural context makes clear. Christ is speaking to his disciples before his crucifixion. This is the interpretation that patristic authors give. Consider this interpretation from St. Augustine of Hippo: "What is the love of God for people, what a feeling - to love even sinners so much that from this love to die for them!" Or consider this quotation from St. Gregory the Dialogist:

He expresses the height of this love by adding: “there is no greater love than if someone lays down his life for his friends.” The Lord came to die even for enemies and, despite the fact that He said that He would lay down His life for friends, in order to clearly show us that when we can, through love, do good to enemies, then our friends are even those who persecute us.

Or this interpretation from St. John Chrysostom:

“He says: “There is no greater love than if someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Look how he cares about those who crucified Him, and who had so much fury over Him! Thus He spoke of them to the Father: "Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34)! And afterwards he sent more disciples to them."

As to the second verse, once again context reveals that Christ was not justifying war, but saying that St. Peter should not use force.

Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

Tertullian interpreted this scriptural passage as follows: "How will [a Christian man] war . . . without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?...The Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier"

Elsewhere Tertullian refers to this verse saying,

Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?

St. John Chryosostom in his interpretation of this passage draws attention to Jesus' healing of the man injured with the sword, and to Jesus' refusal to smite his enemies,

But another says, that they moreover asked, Shall we smite? (Luke 22:49) but that He forbade it, and healed the man, and rebuked His disciple, and threatened, that He might move him to obedience. For all they that take the sword, He said, shall die with the sword.

It is notable that Christ's last miracle before his crucifixion was healing the man injured by St. Peter. It is a strange irony that these two verses are cited as justifications for war. In the first case, Christ is choosing to die, even for his enemies, rather than kill and rule the nations of the world, as he was tempted to do. In the second case, Christ was literally disarming his disciples, commanding them not to use violence. These verses are among the most pacific in scripture. This irony also extends to the saints that are often cited in support of war, whom we may see as true peacemakers.

As Christ emphasized in the Beatitudes, it is the peacemakers who are blessed, for they shall be called the sons of God. Peace is one of the highest values that Christ taught, alongside mercy, purity of heart, meekness, and righteousness. As mirrors of Christ, saints are those who we should expect most to bear these qualities, and contrary to many popular stories, this is precisely what we find.