Peacemaking and Religious Violence: From Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Jefferson

By Roger A. Johnson

A penetrating study of the history of violence in Christianity, and the theological responses of five major Christian critics of religious violence.

ISBN: 9780718892401


This is a book about religious violence and peacemaking: a violence fostered by Church leadership and a violence repudiated by peace advocates of that same Church.
From the Introduction

From its very beginning, Christian faith has been engaged with religious violence. The first Christians were persecuted by their co-religionists and then by imperial Rome. Jesus taught them, in such circumstances, not to retaliate, but to be peacemakers, to love their enemies, and to pray for their persecutors. Although Jesus’s response to religious violence of the first century was often ignored by many of his followers, by others it was never forgotten. Even during those centuries when the church herself persecuted Christian heretics, Jews, and Muslims, some Christians still struggled to bear witness to the peace mandate of their Lord.

In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote a theology to help his Dominican brothers persuade Cathar Christians to return to their Catholic faith peacefully. Ramon Lull, a Christian student of Arabic and the Qur’an, sought to help his fellow Christians recognize the elements of belief they shared in common with the Muslims in their midst. In the fifteenth century, Nicholas of Cusa, a Church Cardinal and theologian, expanded Lull’s project to include the newly discovered religions of Asia. In the seventeenth century, Lord Herbert, an English diplomat and lay Christian, began to identify the political union of church and government as a causal factor in the religious warfare of post-Reformation Christendom. One and a half centuries later, Thomas Jefferson, a lay theologian of considerable political stature, won a political struggle in the American colonies to disestablish religion first in his home colony of Virginia and then in the new nation he helped to found.

Johnson sees the history of religious violence in Christianity as reflecting the alliance of Church and civil government prevalent during the Constantinian era in the West and still characteristic of most non-Western political-religious relations today. In some cases the wars were intra-Christian conflicts; in others the enemies were Muslim. All five of the thinkers he discusses in this book sought to reclaim the peace mandate of Jesus in their response to the religious violence of their own eras, and in the epilogue, he recounts some intriguing Christian responses to religious violence in our own century.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 262

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

Roger A. Johnson is the Elisabeth Luce Moore Professor of Christian Studies, Emeritus, Wellesley College. He is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.



1. Religious Violence and the Peace Mandate of Jesus
2. Christians Orthodox and Heterodox: Thomas Aquinas and the “Manichees”
3. Christians among Other God-Fearers: Ramon Lull’s Dialogue of a Christian, Jew, and Muslim
4. Christians and Other Religions: Nicholas of Cusa’s Vision of Global Religious Peace
5. Wars of Christians against Christians: Herbert of Cherbury’s Theological Antidote to Religious Warfare
6. Disestablishing Religion and the Waning of Christian Violence: The Political Theology of Thomas Jefferson
Epilogue: Reclaiming the Peace Mandate of Jesus for the Twenty-First Century

Name Index
Subject Index


Endorsements and Reviews

Peacemaking and Religious Violence brings careful scholarship and a refreshing clarity of expression to a burning contemporary concern: the way that religions either foster violence or defuse it. In a series of marvelously lucid historical vignettes, Johnson illuminates crucial moments in Christianity’s response to religious difference. … Peacemaking and Religious Violence is an extraordinary work: mature, balanced, original. Its unpretentious clarity will commend it to general readers. Its ability to throw striking new light on major figures and topics in Christian theology and history will impress academics. Anyone interested in questions of religious pluralism and social conflict will be enriched and instructed by this study.
S. Mark Heim, Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, Andover Newton Theological School

Roger Johnson utilizes in this volume his formidable historical and theological knowledge to appraise two contemporary tides in our culture: a growing Christian peace witness and a growing public concern about religious violence … This welcome study enriches our awareness of historical figures some of whom are less well-known and it connects them all in instructive ways. It brings the Constantinian and the contemporary eras into comparative focus, something too rarely done. This is a deeply illuminating and carefully researched text that deserves to be widely read and taken to heart.
Gene Outka, Dwight Professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics, Yale University

Sad to say, the peace ethic of Jesus long ago became a minor (some said heretical) part of Christian witness. Yet it has persisted. Today, when we are faced with growing inter-religious violence, Roger Johnson does us a huge service by shining the light of his research on five theological peacemakers in five different periods of Christian history. It takes theological courage to begin a book with Thomas Aquinas and end it with Thomas Jefferson. You will be hard put to find a more relevant theological study than Roger Johnson has provided in Peacemaking and Religious Violence.
Tom F. Driver, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology and Culture Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary