Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Christianity the Promoter of International Law

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Christianity the Promoter of International Law

By James Kent (1763–1847)

[Commentaries on American Law. Revised Edition. 1832.]

OF all these causes of reformation, the most weight is to be attributed to the intimate alliance of the great powers as one Christian community. The influence of Christianity was very efficient towards the introduction of a better and more enlightened sense of right and justice among the governments of Europe. It taught the duty of benevolence to strangers, of humanity to the vanquished, of the obligation of good faith, and of the sin of murder, revenge, and rapacity. The history of Europe, during the early periods of modern history, abounds with interesting and strong cases, to show the authority of the church over turbulent princes and fierce warriors, and the effect of that authority in meliorating manners, checking violence, and introducing a system of morals which inculcated peace, moderation, and justice. The church had its councils or convocations of the clergy, which formed the nations professing Christianity into a connection resembling a federal alliance, and those councils sometimes settled the titles and claims of princes, and regulated the temporal affairs of the Christian powers. The confederacy of the Christian nations was bound together by a sense of common duty and interest in respect to the rest of mankind. It became a general principle of belief and action, that it was not only a right, but a duty, to reduce to obedience, for the sake of conversion, every people who professed a religious faith different from their own. To make war upon infidels was, for many ages, a conspicuous part of European public law; and this gross perversion of the doctrines and spirit of Christianity had at least one propitious effect upon the Christian powers, inasmuch as it led to the cultivation of peace and union between them, and to a more free and civilized intercourse. The notion that it was lawful to invade and subdue Mahometan and Pagan countries, continued very long to sway the minds of men; and it was not until after the age of Grotius and Bacon, that this error was entirely eradicated. Lord Coke held that an alliance for mutual defence was unlawful between Christians and Turks; and Grotius was very cautious as to the admission of the lawfulness of alliances with infidels, and he had no doubt that all Christian nations were bound to assist one another against the attacks of infidels. Even Lord Bacon thought it a matter of so much doubt, as to propound it seriously as a question, whether a war with infidels was not first in order of dignity, and to be preferred to all other just temporal quarrels; and whether a war with infidels might not be undertaken merely for the propagation of the Christian faith, without other cause of hostility.