War: What is it Good for?

Author: John D. Barry

Does God call us to war? Ambrose of Milan used the story of David and Goliath as a starting point to discuss war and its social, political and spiritual implications. Ambrose argues that the character quality of fortitude (“the strength of mind that enables a person to encounter … adversity with courage,” Merriam-Webster) helps us respond to God’s leading when deciding to go to war or not.

“[L]et us discuss fortitude, which … is divided into two parts, as it concerns matters of war and matters at home.… Fortitude … is a loftier virtue than [others], but it is also one that never stands alone. For it never depends on itself alone. Moreover, fortitude without justice is the source of wickedness. For the stronger it is, the more ready is it to crush the weaker, whilst in matters of war one ought to see whether the war is just or unjust.

David never waged war unless he was driven to it. Thus prudence was combined in him with fortitude in the battle. For even when about to fight single-handed against Goliath, the enormous giant, he rejected the armor with which he was laden (1 Sam 17:39). His strength depended more on his own arm than on the weapons of others. Then, at a distance, to get a stronger throw, with one cast of a stone, he slew his enemy. After that he never entered on a war without seeking counsel of the Lord (2 Sam 5:19). Thus he was victorious in all wars, and even to his last years was ready to fight.

And when war arose with the Philistines, he joined battle with their fierce troops, being desirous of winning renown, whilst careless of his own safety. (2 Sam 11:15). But this is not the only kind of fortitude which is worthy of note. We consider their fortitude glorious, who, with greatness of mind, “through faith stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong” (Heb 11:33–34). They did not gain a victory in common with many, surrounded with comrades, and aided by the legions, but won their triumph alone over their treacherous foes by the mere courage of their own souls.”[1] 

Ambrose (ca. 333–397 AD) was the bishop of Milan, as well as St. Augustine’s teacher. He is most well known for his defense of the Holy Spirit as a divine part of the trinity. He also regularly discussed major political and social issues facing the church.

 [1] Ambrose, Three Books on the Duties of Clergy: Book 1. Translated from Phillip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. X (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), pg. 30. Learn more about the church fathers by visiting Logos.com/ChurchHistory

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.