De Laicis — Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Treatise on Civil Government

Chapter 16

This question of a war against the Turks could have been omitted if Luther had not raised it, among his other paradoxes, and attempted to defend it: that it is not licit for Christians to wage war against the Turks, as is manifest in article 34, condemned in the Bull of Leo. Theodore Bibliander appears to agree with Luther, in Tabula 13 of the Chronology, where he says: “Urban, or rather one more savage than a mob impelled by an evil spirit delighted by homicides, urged a war aimed at recovering Judaea.”

It should be noted, however, that Luther did not deny that a war against the Turks is licit, because he judges in general that every war is illicit; for, in the assertion of the same article he urges a war against the Pope whom he says is the most Turkish of Turks; nor because he thinks Christians have no just cause; for it is manifest to everyone that the Turks had no right to occupy Christian kingdoms and that they want to occupy more every day. For it is clear that they want to obliterate every [non-Muslim] religion and that they make every effort to bring to about that men be changed from being Christian to being Muslim. Finally it is clear that former Pontiffs, like Urban the Second, Paschal the Second, Eugene the Third, and many others, and, in addition, General Councils, like the Lateran, Lyons, Vienne, and others, declared war on the Muslims, and that Saint Bernard and other holy men urged people to undertake this war, and that their sermons were confirmed by miracles, as Bernard modestly indicates at the beginning of Book II, de Consideratione. Nor does Luther deny any of this. But there are three reasons why he felt that it was not licit to go to war against the Turks.

First, because it seems to be the will of God that we are punished by the Turks, as it were by a kind of scourge, nor is it permissible for us to resist the will of God. That it is the will of God, moreover, he proves in the assertion of article 34, from the experience that has taught that no benefit has resulted to Christians from warring against the Turks.

But this first argument is worth little, for even if it were the will of God that our sins be punished by the Turks, it is not His will that we should cease to resist the Turk; rather, it is His will that we resist. This is proved by the purpose intended. For God does not permit the Turk to be enraged so that we perish but that we be converted. Then, however, we are led to conversion when we strive to resist the Turks who wage war against us. When we struggle to resist the attacks of the Turks, we recognize from our struggle our weakness and then we turn to God with our whole heart and implore His help. Therefore, from the purpose for which God permits the Turks to be enraged against us, it manifestly follows that He wills that we resist the Turks. Moreover, the warfare of the Turks is a scourge of God on the sense that a pestilence is, or hunger, or heresy, or incitements to sin, and the like. But no one is so stupid as therefore to think that there should be no search for medicines to fight pestilence, nor that the earth be not cultivated lest we die of hunger, nor that heresy or occasions of sin should not be resisted.

Nor is what Luther says true, that experience teaches that war against the Turks is ineffective; for if I omit the many victories reported for the Turks, certainly as soon as war was waged in the land of promise, a most gratifying outcome was our recovery of Jerusalem and a Christian rule over it for eighty-eight years. And they recovered more and more until conflicts broke out between the Christian Princes themselves, so that the Turk now occupies more by reason of discord among ours rather than by enemy power. And the most powerful source of these disagreements was Luther himself. For, as is clear from John Cochleus, in his Acts of Luther, of the 1526, Hungary perished because the Germans, called upon to help by the King of Hungary, preferred to obey Luther who was then preaching opposition to the war against the Turks. At least the war had this amount of good, that the Turk was prevented from doing as much harm as he wanted. Unless he was fought up to this point, he would already have obtained everything.

His second reason is that tribulation and persecution are more beneficial to the Church than victory and tranquillity; there, in a sermon on matrimony, he finds fault with the custom of the Church to pray for peace and quiet when instead there should have been prayer for tribulation. But, we reply, that tribulation and persecution are indeed useful but also perilous and, therefore, not be sought but to be tolerated when it could not be otherwise. Whence, in Matthew, chapter VI, we are commanded to pray: “And lead us not into temptation,” and in I Timothy, II, the Apostle commands prayer for kings, in order that we may lead a peaceful and tranquil life. And St. Augustine, in book X of the Confessions, in chapter 28, says that deplorable things are to be tolerated not to be loved, nor desired nor sought.

A third cause, and this appears to be the principal one, a hatred for the Pontiff, for with so great a hatred did Luther pursue the Pontiff that he clearly wished to see the Turk occupy all the kingdoms of Christendom, so that at least in that way the name of the Pontiff would be extinguished. Nor do we conjecture that this was his wish and desire but we conclude this from his words. For in his book addressed to the nobility of Germany, in chapter 25, that there was no more attractive regime up to now than that among the Turks who were governed by the laws of the Koran, and none more evil than the regime among Christians who are ruled by Canon and civil law. And in the assertion of Article 34, he says that the Pontiff and Pontifical acts are much more evil and more hostile than the Turks and that it is stupid to fight for more evil “Turks” against their betters, and in a certain letter opposed to two Imperial commands: “I beg,” he writes, all “devout Christians, that we in no way support nor enter into the military, nor give anything against the Turks, since the Turks are ten times more prudent and more honest than our Princes are.” By which words what else did he try to urge but that the Turks are to be helped against Christians?

But this opinion carries so great an absurdity and impiety that even the same Luther, when his fury had somewhat cooled, clearly wrote the contrary. For he thus writes in a book on a Saxon visit: “Some preachers,” he says, “dangerously cry out that the Turks should not be resisted. This talk is seditious and should neither be held nor permitted. The powers, therefore, are obliged to resist the Turks who not only long to devastate the provinces but to violate and kill wives and children and also to violate and abolish provincial rights, the worship of God, and every good ordinance. Because of this especially, rulers must wage war.” And, in the same place: “It would be much more tolerable for a good man to witness the death of his children than to see them imbued with the customs of the Turks: for the Turks neither know nor care for any decency whatever.”