The Inquisition & the Church
Calvin sought to persecute heretics (particularly Roman Catholics) so as to keep Protestant believers in the lands divided by the Reformation faithful to his new teachings. He viciously persecuted the Spaniard, Michael Servetus, having him burnt alive on October 27, 1553. As early as 1545, Calvin had written, “If he [Servetus] comes to Geneva, I will never allow him to depart alive.” He kept his promise.
Melancthon, one of the more mild reformers and the editor for Luther’s many works and teachings, would write to Bullinger, “I am astonished that some persons denounce the severity that was so justly used in that case.”
Theodore of Beza wrote: “What crime can be greater or more heinous than heresy, which sets at nought the word of God and all ecclesiastic discipline? Christian magistrates, do your duty to God [speaking in Calvin's Geneva of 1554], who has put the sword into your hands for the honor of His majesty; strike valiantly these monsters in the guise of men.” He went on to characterize those who demanded freedom of conscience “worse than the tyranny of the pope. It is better to have a tyrant, no matter how cruel he may be, than to let everyone do as he pleases.”
Martin Luther also fanned the flames of intolerance, “Whoever teaches otherwise than I teach, condemns God, and must remain a child of hell.”
King Henry VIII of England, who took upon himself the role of grand royal inquisitor, took the lives of some 72,000 Catholics, many who were cruelly tortured.*
Queen Elizabeth, proved herself the former’s daughter by putting to death more people in one year than the Inquisition had done in 331 years!*
Yes, there is more than enough blame to go around. Maybe it is time for respect and dialogue and if need be, the charitable anathema, instead of mockery and half-truths?
*CORRECTION? The figures here come from O’Brien’s booklet (see first post) of the 1950’s. But I received the following information by email:
Henry’s victims were John Fisher and Thomas More, the Carthusian abbots and monks, and a few more Catholics, plus all those (several hundred) executed after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Plus, he had a number of Protestants executed for denying the Six Articles of 1540 approx. But he certainly didn’t kill 72,000.
In England and Wales, we have about 500 martyrs and confessors in total over the period 1534 – 1679. I believe the last Catholic died in prison about 1720.
Elizabeth’s victims may have been about 300, plus those executed after the rising of the Northern Earls of 1569-70. But this is over the whole of her reign, 1558-1603.
If the death toll of the Inquisition is in the range 2000-5000.
Fr Francis Marsden MA PhD STL
St Joseph’s Parish
Anderton nr Chorley Lancs.
It has been some time since I looked at this question. The old Catholic Encyclopedia merely said that numerous Catholics were killed. As I recall, this post was part of a response in 1996 or 1997 to a fundamentalist webpage against Catholicism. O’Brien’s booklet was used from Paulist Press because the material was handy and public domain. I would not know what sources he used for the higher death figures.
Here is what others have added:
A person claimed that one of Thomas More’s own letters makes mention of the death of 4,000 Catholics in the minor port town of Chelsea. However, another critic corrected that in 1528 the population of Chelsea was reported to be 190 adults and children, including 16 households which grew no corn, and Sir Thomas More reported that 100 were fed daily in his household, 49 though not all those would have been living in the parish. In 1548 there were 75 communicants (16 years and over).
The Catholic Truth Society reckoned that 318 men and woman were put to death for the Faith in England between the reigns of Henry VII and Charles II. After being hanged up, they were cut down, ripped up, and their bowels were burned in their faces.”
The entire population of England and Wales at that time was only around 4 million.
The best estimate from Wikipedia is that approximately 70,000 people were executed during the reign of Henry VIII. That is for all offenses, ….
There may perhaps have been 4,000 Catholics killed under Henry VIII, not “judicially” executed, but killed by agents of the Crown, soldiers and the like. There were some Catholic revolts put down by force. Wasn’t one called “the Pilgrimage of Grace”?
Maybe O’Brien means the whole vicious enmity that would bring persecution and deaths for centuries? Remember, Henry VIII got the ball rolling and even had himself declared head of the Church in Ireland. Monasteries were closed and destroyed, monks were imprisoned, dispersed and executed, and lands were confiscated. It was a Protestant England that committed genocide upon a starving Catholic Ireland. The guilt for that blood is on the hands of many, including the one who initiated the break with the true Church.