Men of Violence
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.
The notion of being men of violence runs counter to the standard portrait of Christian men today. Christianity is not seen as a macho affair. After all, more women attend church regularly than men. And often the men who do attend do not inspire mental images of the phrase “men of violence.” This is because we lack a clear view of the faith. The Fathers of the church, however, understood that Matthew was “pressing and urging” us (to use John Chrysostom’s words) to something higher. Consider St. Basil’s exhortation from his discourse “On the Renunciation of the World”:
The kingdom of heaven is the prize of the violent and the violent bear it away. These are the words of the gospel. “Violence” means the affliction of the body that the disciples of Christ voluntary undergo in the denial of their own will, in the refusal of respite to the body, and in the observance of Christ’s precepts. If, then, you wish to bear away the kingdom of God, become a man of violence; bow your neck to the yoke of Christ’s service. Bind the strap of the yoke tightly about your throat. Let it pinch your neck. Rub it thin by labor in acquiring virtues, in fasting, in vigils, in obedience, in silence, in psalmody, in prayers, in tears, in manual labor, in bearing all the tribulations that befall you at the hands of men and demons.
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Thomas S. Buchanan is the George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. He has studied at UCSD, Northwestern University, and MIT, and has held visiting professorships at the University of Western Australia and the University of Aix-Marseille. He has served as department chairman, deputy dean, and institute director, president of the American Society of Biomechanics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics. He is on the Board of Trustees of Saint Katherine College, the editorial board of Touchstone, and the board of The Fellowship of St. James.
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