Historical facts are what they are, and most Protestants (and Catholics) are unaware of the following historical events and beliefs (while, on the other hand, one always hears about the embarrassing and scandalous Catholic stuff -- and not often very accurately or fairly at that). If (as I suspect might often be the case) readers are shocked or surprised by the very title of this paper, this would be a case in point, and justification enough for my purposes of education. With that end and stated outlook in mind, I offer this copiously-researched treatise, with all due respect to my Protestant brethren, yet not without some remaining trepidation.
C O N T E N T S
I. PROTESTANT INTOLERANCE: AN INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
II. PROTESTANT DIVISIONS AND MUTUAL ANIMOSITIES
III. PLUNDER AS AN AGENT OF RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION
IV. SYSTEMATIC SUPPRESSION OF CATHOLICISM
V. VIOLENT RADICALISM AND THE PROTESTANT REVOLUTION
VI. DEATH AND TORTURE FOR CATHOLICS, PROTESTANT DISSIDENTS, AND JEWS
VII. PROTESTANT CENSORSHIP
[Citations will refer to authors in the Bibliography; any additional information will appear right after the citation]
[P = Protestant scholar / S = secular scholar]
1. Views of Catholic and Protestant Historians
A. Johann von Dollinger
- Historically nothing is more incorrect than the assertion that the Reformation was a movement in favour of intellectual freedom. The exact contary is the truth. For themselves, it is true, Lutherans and Calvinists claimed liberty of conscience . . . but to grant it to others never occurred to them so long as they were the stronger side. The complete extirpation of the Catholic Church, and in fact of everything that stood in their way, was regarded by the reformers as something entirely natural.
(Grisar, VI, 268-269; Dollinger: Kirche und Kirchen, 1861, 68)
- If any one still harbors the traditional prejudice that the early Protestants were more liberal, he must be undeceived. Save for a few splendid sayings of Luther, confined to the early years when he was powerless, there is hardly anything to be found among the leading reformers in favor of freedom of conscience. As soon as they had the power to persecute they did.
- At Zurich, Zwingli's State-Church grew up much as Luther's did . . . Oecolampadius at Basle and Zwingli's successor, Bullinger, were strong compulsionists. Calvin's name is even more closely bound up with the idea of religious absolutism, while the task of handing down to posterity his harsh doctrine of religious compulsion was undertaken by Beza in his notorious work, On the Duty of Civil Magistrates to Punish Heretics. The annals of the Established Church of England were likewise at the outset written in blood.
(Grisar, VI, 278)
- The Reformers themselves . . . e.g., Luther, Beza, and especially Calvin, were as intolerant to dissentients as the Roman Catholic Church.
- Religious persecution usually continues till one of two causes rises to repress it. One is the sceptical notion that all religions are equally good or equally worthless; the other is an enlightened spirit of tolerance, exercised towards all varieties of sincere opinion . . . inspired by the conviction that it is useless to endeavor to compel belief in any form of religion whatsoever. Unhappily this enlightened, tolerant spirit is of slow growth, and never has been conspicuous in history, but if it be asserted that very few Catholics in the past have been inspired by it, the same thing can be said of Protestants.
This fact is forgotten by Protestants. They read blood-curdling stories of the Inquisition and of atrocities committed by Catholics, but what does the average Protestant know of Protestant atrocities in the centuries succeeding the Reformation? Nothing, unless he makes a special study of the subject . . . Yet they are perfectly well known to every scholar . . . If I do not enumerate here the persecutions carried on by Catholics in the past, it is because it is not necessary in this book to do so. This volume is addressed especially to Protestants, and Catholic persecutions are to them sufficiently well known . . .
Now granting for the sake of argument, that all that is usually said of Catholic persecutions is true, the fact remains that Protestants, as such, have no right to denounce them, as if such deeds were characteristic of Catholics only. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones . . .
It is unquestionable . . . that the champions of Protestantism - Luther, Calvin, Beza, Knox, Cranmer and Ridley -- advocated the right of the civil authorities to punish the 'crime' of heresy . . . Rousseau says truly:
- The Reformation was intolerant from its cradle, and its authors were universal persecutors . . .
Auguste Comte also writes:
The intolerance of Protestantism was certainly not less tyrannical than that with which Catholicism is so much reproached. (Philosophie Positive, IV, 51)
What makes, however, Protestant persecutions specially revolting is the fact that they were absolutely inconsistent with the primary doctrine of Protestantism -- the right of private judgment in matters of religious belief! Nothing can be more illogical than at one moment to assert that one may interpret the Bible to suit himself, and at the next to torture and kill him for having done so!
Nor should we ever forget that . . . the Protestants were the aggressors, the Catholics were the defenders. The Protestants were attempting to destroy the old, established Christian Church, which had existed 1500 years, and to replace it by something new, untried and revolutionary. The Catholics were upholding a Faith, hallowed by centuries of pious associations and sublime achievements; the Protestants, on the contrary, were fighting for a creed . . . which already was beginning to disintegrate into hostile sects, each of which, if it gained the upper hand, commenced to persecute the rest! . . . All religious persecution is bad; but in this case, of the two parties guilty of it, the Catholics certainly had the more defensible motives for their conduct.
At all events, the argument that the persecutions for heresy, perpetrated by the Catholics, constitute a reason why one should not enter the Catholic Church, has not a particle more force than a similar argument would have against one's entering the Protestant Church. In both there have been those deserving of blame in this respect, and what applies to one applies also to the other.
(Stoddard, 204-205, 209-210)
3. The 17th Century: Rutherford, Milton, Locke
The tradition of intolerance among Protestants did not soon die out. According to Protestant historian Owen Chadwick:
- The ablest defence of persecution during the 17th century came from the Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford (A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty Of Conscience, 1649).
4. The Persecuted Become the Persecutors
One of the many tragi-comic ironies of the Protestant Revolution is the fact that even persecuted Protestants failed to see the light:
- Often the resistance to tyranny and the demand for religious freedom are combined, as in the Puritan revolution in England; and the victors, having achieved supremacy, then set up a new tyranny and a fresh intolerance.
Multitudes of Non-Conformists fled from Ireland and England to America; . . . What is amazing is the fact that, after such experiences, those fugitives did not learn the lesson of toleration, and did not grant to those who differed . . . freedom . . . When they found themselves in a position to persecute, they tried to outdo what they had endured . . . Among those whom they attacked was . . . the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers.
5. Catholic Maryland: The First Tolerant American Colony
A. Martin Marty (P)
- Baltimore . . . welcomed, among other English people, even the Catholic-hating Puritans . . . In January of 1691 . . . the new regime brought hard times for Catholics as the Protestants closed their church, forbade them to teach in public . . . but . . . the little outpost of practical Catholic tolerance had left its mark of promise on the land.
(Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America, New York: Penguin, 1984, 83, 85-86)
B. John Tracy Ellis
- For the first time in history . . . all churches would be tolerated, and . . . none would be the agent of the government . . . Catholics and Protestants side by side on terms of equality and toleration unknown in the mother country . . . The effort proved vain; for . . . the Puritan element . . . October, 1654, repealed the Act of Toleration and outlawed the Catholics . . . condemning ten of them to death, four of whom were executed . . . From . . . 1718 down to the outbreak of the Revolution, the Catholics of Maryland were cut off from all participation in public life, to say nothing of the enactments against their religious services and . . . schools for Catholic instruction . . . During the half-century the Catholics had governed Maryland they had not been guilty of a single act of religious oppression.
(American Catholicism, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1956, 36, 38-39)
- In the 17th century the most notable instances of practical toleration were the colonies of Maryland, founded by Lord Baltimore in 1632 for persecuted Catholics, which offered asylum also to Protestants, and of Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams.
6. Conclusion (Will Durant)
- The principle which the Reformation had upheld in the youth of its rebellion -- the right of private judgment -- was as completely rejected by the Protestant leaders as by the Catholics . . . Toleration was now definitely less after the Reformation than before it.
(Durant, 456; referring to the year 1555)
1. General Observations
Dissensions plagued Protestantism from the start, even though one would think that a religion stressing individualism and conscience would be free from such shortcomings and would promote mutual respect. The myth of Protestant magnanimity and peaceful coexistence (especially in its infancy) dies an unequivocal death once all the facts are brought out.
2. Luther on Zwingli and His Followers
- Zwingli was greedy of honour . . . he had learnt nothing from me . . . Oecolampadius thought himself too learned to listen to me or to learn from me.
(Grisar, IV, 309; in Table Talk, 1540)
Zwinglians . . . are fighting against God and the sacraments as the most inveterate enemies of the Divine Word.
(Janssen, V, 220-221; LL, III, 454-456)
It would be better to announce eternal damnation than salvation after the style of Zwingli or Oecolampadius.
3. Luther on Bucer
- They think much of themselves, which, indeed, is the cause and wellspring of all heresies . . . Thus Zwingli and Bucer now put forward a new doctrine . . . So dangerous a thing is pride in the clergy.
(Grisar, VI, 283; WA, vol. 38, 177 ff.)
A gossip . . . a miscreant through and through . . . I trust him not at all, for Paul says [Titus 3:10] 'A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid.'
(Grisar, VI, 289; Table Talk, ed. Mathesius / Kroker, 154, 253)
- What to think of Luther I know not . . . with his firmness there is mixed up a good deal of obstinacy . . . Nothing can be safe as long as that rage for contention shall agitate us . . . Luther . . . will never be able to join along with us in . . . the pure truth of God. For he has sinned against it not only from vainglory . . . but also from ignorance and the grossest extravagance. For what absurdities he pawned upon us . . . when he said the bread is the very body! . . . a very foul error. What can I say of the partisans of that cause? Do they not romance more wildly than Marcion respecting the body of Christ? . . . Wherefore if you have an influence or authority over Martin, use it . . . that he himself submit to the truth which he is now manifestly attacking . . . Contrive that Luther . . . cease to bear himself so imperiously.
(Dillenberger, 46-48; letter to Martin Bucer, January 12, 1538)
I am carefully on the watch that Lutheranism gain no ground, nor be introduced into France. The best means . . . for checking the evil would be that the confession written by me . . . should be published.
(Dillenberger, 76; letter to Heinrich Bullinger, July 2, 1563)
The timid Melanchthon launched at least one salvo against Zwingli:
- Zwingli says almost nothing about Christian sanctity. He simply follows the Pelagians, the Papists and the philosophers.
- Heresiarchs . . . remain obdurate in their own conceit. They allow none to find fault with them and brook no opposition. This is the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there is no forgiveness.
(Grisar, VI, 282; WA, vol. 19, 609 ff.)
Those are heretics and apostates who follow their own ideas rather than the common tradition of Christendom, who . . . out of pure wantonness, invent new ways and methods.
(Grisar, VI, 282-283; WA, VII, 394)
- In his frame of mind it became at last an impossibility for him to realise that his hostility and intolerance towards 'heretics' within his fold could redound on himself.
(Grisar, VI, 283)
We must needs decry the fanatics as damned . . . They actually dare to pick holes in our doctrine; ah, the scoundrelly rabble do a great injury to our Evangel.
(Grisar, VI, 289; EA, vol. 61, 8 ff.)
I am on the heels of the Sacramentaries and the Anabaptists; . . . I shall challenge them to fight; and I shall trample them all underfoot.
Needless to say, Scripture condemns conceit: Romans 12:16: . . . "condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." (See also Prov 3:7, Rom 11:20, 12:3, 1 Cor 3:18, 8:2, Eph 2:9).
1. General Observations
A. Hilaire Belloc
- There came - round about 1536-40 -- a change . . . The temptation to loot Church property and the habit of doing so had appeared and was growing; and this rapidly created a vested interest in promoting the change of religion. Those who attacked Catholic doctrine, as, for instance, in the matters of celibacy in the monastic orders . . . opened the door for the seizure of the enormous clerical endowments . . . by the Princes . . . The property of convents and monasteries passed wholesale to the looters over great areas of Christendom: Scandinavia, the British Isles, the Northern Netherlands, much of the Germanies and many of the Swiss Cantons. The endowments of hospitals, colleges, schools, guilds, were largely though not wholly seized . . . Such an economic change in so short a time our civilization had never seen . . . The new adventurers and the older gentry who had so suddenly enriched themselves, saw, in the return of Catholicism, peril to their immense new fortunes.
- The cities found Protestantism profitable . . . for a slight alteration in their theological garb they escaped from episcopal taxes and courts, and could appropriate pleasant parcels of ecclesiastical property . . . The princes . . . could be spiritual as well as temporal lords, and all the wealth of the Church could be theirs . . . The Lutheran princes suppressed all monasteries in their territory except a few whose inmates had embraced the Protestant faith.
- Right from the beginning, Luther's spiritual revolt had let loose material greed. The German rulers, the Scandinavian monarchs and Henry VIII of England had all taken advantage of the break from papal tutelage to appropriate both the wealth and the control of their respective Churches.
- They do not care in the least about religion; they are only anxious to get dominion into their hands, to be free from the control of bishops . . . Under cover of the Gospel, the princes were only intent on the plunder of the Churches.
(Durant, 438, 440)
The Protestants had learned from the "Hussites", Bohemians who claimed to follow the heretic John Hus, whom Luther hailed as one of his forerunners. After Hus's execution in 1415, zealous ragtag armies:
- . . . passed up and down Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia . . . pillaging monasterles, massacring monks, and compelling the population to accept the Four Articles of Prague . . .
- In Sweden Gustavus Vasa deprived the Church of all its landed properties . . . The proportion of land held by the crown increased during his reign from 5.5% to 28%: that of the Church from 21% to nil.
- The great Scottish nobles . . . supported the religious revolution because it gave them the power to loot the Church and the monarchy wholesale.
6. Erasmus' Disdain of Protestant Plunder
The greatest scholar and man of letters in Europe at this time, Erasmus, who looked with some favor upon the "Reformation" initially, but came to despise it as he saw its fruits, wrote on May 10, 1521, just a few weeks after the Diet of Worms, about those who "covet the wealth of the churchmen." He goes on to say:
- This certainly is a fine turn of affairs, if property is wickedly taken away from priests so that soldiers may make use of it in worse fashion; and the latter squander their own wealth, and sometimes that of others, so that no one benefits.
1. General Observations
Janssen tells us the views of some leading "reformers" on this score:
- Luther was content with the expulsion of the Catholics. Melanchthon was in favour of proceeding against them with corporal penalties . . . Zwingli held that, in case of need, the massacre of bishops and priests was a work commanded by God.
(Janssen, V, 290)
Zwingli's Zurich was definitely not a haven of Christian freedom:
- The presence at sermons . . . was enjoined under pain of punishment; all teaching and church worship that deviated from the prescribed regulations was punishable. Even outside the district of Zurich the clergy were not allowed to read Mass or the laity to attend. And it was actually forbidden, 'under pain of severe punishment, to keep pictures and images even in private houses' . . . The example of Zurich was followed by other Swiss Cantons.
(Janssen, V, 134-135)
- Their progress was marked by the destruction of churches and the burning of monasteries. The bishops of Constance, Basle, Lausanne and Geneva were forced to abandon their sees.
William Farel, who preceded Calvin in Geneva, helped to abolish the Mass in August, 1535, seize all the churches, and close its four monasteries and nunnery. (Harkness, 8)
- His sermons in St. Peter's were the occasion of riots; statues were smashed, pictures destroyed, and the treasures of the church, to the amount of 10,000 crowns, disappeared.
- Martin Bucer . . . though anxious to be regarded as considerate and peaceable . . . advocated quite openly 'the power of the authorities over consciences' .He never rested until, in 1537 . . . he brought about the entire suppression of the Mass at Augsburg. At his instigation, many fine paintings, monuments and ancient works of art in the churches were wantonly torn, broken and smashed. Whoever refused to submit and attend public worship was obliged within eight days to quit the city boundaries. Catholic citizens were forbidden under severe penalties to attend Catholic worship elsewhere . . . In other . . . cities Bucer acted with no less violence and intolerance, for instance, at Ulm, where he supported Oecolampadius . . . in 1531, and at Strasburg . . . Here, in 1529, after the Town-Council had prohibited Catholic worship, the Councillors were requested by the preachers to help fill the empty churches by issuing regulations prescribing attendance at the sermons.
(Grisar, VI, 277-278)
In 1529 the Council of Strassburg also ordered the breaking in pieces of all remaining altars, images and crosses, and several churches and convents were destroyed (Janssen, V, 143-144). Similar events transpired also in Frankfurt-am-Main (Durant, 424). At a religious convention at Hamburg in April, 1535 the Lutheran towns of Lubeck, Bremen, Hamburg, Luneburg, Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar all voted to hang Anabaptists and flog Catholics and Zwinglians before banishing them (Janssen, V, 481). Luther's home territory of Saxony had instituted banishment for Catholics in 1527 (Grisar, VI, 241-242).
- In 1522 a rabble forced its way into the church at Wittenberg, on the doors of which Luther had nailed his theses, destroyed all its altars and statues, and . . . drove out the clergy. In Rotenburg also, in 1525, the figure of Christ was decapitated . . . On the 9th of February, 1529, everything previously revered in the fine old cathedral of Basle, Switzerland, was destroyed . . . Such instances of brutality and fanaticism could be cited by scores.
[In] Constance, on March 10, 1528, the Catholic faith was altogether interdicted . . . by the Council . . . 'There are no rights whatever beyond those laid down in the Gospel as it is now understood' . . . Altars were smashed . . . organs were removed as being works of idolatry . . . church treasures were to be sent to the mint.
(Janssen, V, 146)
In Scotland, John Knox and his ilk passed legislation in which:
- It was . . . forbidden to say Mass or to be present at Mass, with the punishment for a first offence of loss of all goods and a flogging; for the second offence, banishment; for the third, death.
. . . perfect hatred which the Holy Ghost engenders in the hearts of God's elect against the condemners of His holy statutes.In conflict with these damned opponents (i.e., Catholics) all means were justified -- lies, treachery (Ibid., I, 194 and note 2), flexible contradictions of policy. (Durant, 610; Knox, ibid., Introduction, 44. See also Edwin Muir, John Knox, London: 1920, 67, 300)
(John Knox, History of the Reformation in Scotland, New York: 1950, Introduction, 73)
Luther was at the forefront of this remarkable inquisition against Catholic practice:
- It is the duty of the authorities to resist and punish such public blasphemy.
(Grisar, VI, 240)
Not only the spiritual but also the secular power must yield to the Evangel, whether cheerfully or otherwise.
(Grisar, VI, 245)
- Men despise the Evangel and insist on being compelled by the law and the sword.
(Grisar, VI, 262; EA, III, 39; letter to Georg Spalatin)
Even though they do not believe, they must nevertheless . . . be driven to the preaching, so that they may at least learn the outward work of obedience.
(Grisar, VI, 262; in 1529)
Although we neither can nor should force anyone into the faith, yet the masses must be held and driven to it in order that they may know what is right or wrong.
(Grisar, VI, 263; WA, XXX, 1, 349; Preface to Smaller Catechism, 1531)
It is our custom to affright those who . . . fail to attend the preaching; and to threaten them with banishment and the law . . . In the event of their still proving contumacious, to excommunicate them . . . as if they were heathen.
(Grisar, VI, 263; EN, IX, 365; letter to Leonard Beyer, 1533)
Although excommunication in popedom has been shamefully abused . . . yet we must not suffer it to fall, but make right use of it, as Christ commanded.
8. Melanchthon and Calvin
Melanchthon asked the state to compel the people to attend Protestant services (Durant, 424). Later on, in Saxony (1623), even auricular confession and the Eucharist were made strictly obligatory by law, punishable by banishment. (Grisar, VI, 264) Calvin, in Geneva, also pushed religious compulsion to an absurd degree.
9. Conclusion (Owen Chadwick)
- The Protestant states did not question that teachers of disapproved doctrines should be prevented from preaching. Nor did they question that the state should use laws to encourage churchgoing. In Anglican England and Lutheran Germany, Reformed Holland . . . the citizens were alike liable to penalties if they failed for no good reason to attend the worship of their parish churches.
1. Luther's Revolutionary Invective
- If I had all the Franciscan friars in one house, I would set fire to it . . . To the fire with them!
(Grisar, VI, 247; Table Talk [edited by Mathesius], 180; summer 1540)
- It is a duty to suppress the Pope by force.
(Grisar, VI, 245; EN, IV, 298)
The spiritual powers . . . also the temporal ones, will have to succumb to the Gospel, either through love or through force, as is clearly proved by all Biblical history.
(Janssen, III, 267; letter to Frederick, Elector of Saxony, 1522)
Zwingli, too, had marked militaristic tendencies:
- Zwingli had gone the length of declaring that the massacre of the bishops was necessary for the establishment of the pure Gospel . . . He wrote on May 4, 1528,
- The bishops will not desist from their fraud . . . until a second Elijah appears to rain swords upon them . . . It is wiser to pluck out a blind eye than to let the whole body suffer corruption.
(Janssen, V, 180; Zwingli's Works, VII, 174-184)
3. Luther and Melanchthon Condone Slavery
Luther, hardened by the bitter pill of the Peasants' Revolt and his hand in it, sanctioned slavery, quoting the Old Testament:
- Sheep, cattle, men-servants were all possessions to be sold as it pleased their masters. It were a good thing were it still so. For else no man may compel nor tame the servile folk.
(Durant, 449; WA, XV, 276; Belfort Bax, The Peasants' War in Germany, London: 1899, 352)
- There are others who teach in opposition to some recognised article of faith which is manifestly grounded on Scripture and is believed by good Christians all over the world, such as are taught to children in the Creed . . . Heretics of this sort must not be tolerated, but punished as open blasphemers . . . If anyone wishes to preach or to teach, let him make known the call or the command which impels him to do so, or else let him keep silence. If he will not keep quiet, then let the civil authorities command the scoundrel to his rightful master - namely, Master Hans [i.e., the hangman].
(Janssen, X, 222; EA, Bd. 39, 250-258; Commentary on 82nd Psalm, 1530; cf. Durant, 423, Grisar, VI, 26-27)
That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration, which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it . . . Secular authorities are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine . . . For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized? . . . Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches . . . and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound . . . to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders . . . Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then . . . we conclude that . . . the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.
(Janssen, X, 222-223; pamphlet of 1536)
- . . . of the Church having so long held this . . . If Luther's argument, based on longstanding usage, be admitted . . . then the whole of Luther's own doctrine tumbles over, for his teaching is not that which the Roman Church has held for so long.
(Grisar, VI, 259; letter to Albert, Margrave of Brandenburg)
- That . . . every follower of his Evangel, were bound to regard all opinions which diverged from his own as godless heresies . . . he had never doubted from the moment he had discovered his new Evangel.
(Grisar, VI, 238)
- In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy . . . Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostles' Creed as blasphemy. In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated.
- It is instructive to observe how Luther moved from tolerance to dogma as his power and certainty grew . . . In . . . 1520 Luther ordained
'every man a priest' . . . and added, 'we should vanquish heretics with books, not with burning' . . .
(Open Letter to Christian Nobility, Luther's Works, Philadelphia, 1943, I, 76, 142)
But . . . a man who was sure that he had God's Word could not tolerate its contradiction . . . By 1529 he was drawing some delicate distinctions: . . .
Even unbelievers should be forced to obey the Ten Commandments, attend church, and outwardly conform . . .
(Letter of August 26, 1529 to Joseph Metsch)
In 1530, in his commentary on the 82nd Psalm, he advised governments to put to death all heretics who preached sedition or against private property, and
. . . those who teach against a manifest article of the faith . . .
(WA, XXXI, 1, 208 ff.)
We should note, however, that toward the end of his life Luther returned to his early feeling for toleration. In his last sermon he advised abandonment of all attempts to destroy heresy by force.
(Will Durant, 420-423)
Kurt Reinhardt, author of a two-volume history of Germany, wrote:
- The 'invisible' church that Luther had hoped to establish in the hearts of all the faithful had grown into a very visible human institution. Luther found himself compelled to maintain it by force and to turn against his own principles of individual freedom and toleration . . . Luther's ideals of spiritual freedom, individual judgment, and pure inwardness were never actually embodied in the completed structure of his church; most of the ideas that had brought about his break with Rome had to seek refuge in the shelter of those separatistic sects that were persecuted with fire and sword by the three reformed churches.
(Germany: 2000 Years, I, New York: Ungar, revised edition of 1961, 235, 237)
. . . Let their houses also be shattered and destroyed . . . Let their prayer books and Talmuds be taken from them, and their whole Bible too; let their rabbis be forbidden, on pain of death, to teach henceforth any more. Let the streets and highways be closed against them. Let them be forbidden to practice usury, and let all their money, and all their treasures of silver and gold be taken from them and put away in safety. And if all this be not enough, let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land.The sad thing is that previously Luther had spoken most tolerantly of the Jews. Now, as an old man who was besieged with illness, frustration, dissension, and disappointment (but at times racked with self-doubt), he let loose his tongue with untold consequences again.
(EA, XXXII, 217-233; Durant, 422; About the Jews and Their Lies, 1543; Durant cites as his source Janssen, III, 211-212)
- Melanchthon accepted the chairmanship of the secular inquisition that suppressed the Anabaptists in Germany with imprisonment or death. 'Why should we pity such men more than God does?' he asked, for he was convinced that God had destined all Anabaptists to hell.
A regular inquisition was set up in Saxony, with Melanchthon on the bench, and under it many persons were punished, some with death, some with life imprisonment, and some with exile.
"Even though the Anabaptists do not advocate anything seditious or openly blasphemous" it was, in his opinion, "the duty of the authorities to put them to death."
(Grisar, VI, 250; BR, II, 17 ff.; February 1530)
- Though it may appear cruel to punish them by the sword, yet it is even more cruel of them . . . not to teach any certain doctrine -- to persecute the true doctrine . . .
(Grisar, VI, 251)
- Melanchthon was wont to lose no time in having recourse to fire and sword. This forms a dark blot on his life. Many a man fell victim to his memorandum.
(Grisar, VI, 270; Die Theol. der Gegenwart, 1909, III, 3, 49)
- Young Bible students he once mentored were now advocating more radical reform . . . refusing to have their babies baptized, citing his own earlier ideas . . . In January, 1525, Zwingli agreed that they deserved capital punishment . . . for tearing the fabric of a seamless Christian society.
(John L Ruth., "America's Anabaptists: Who They Are," Christianity Today, October 22, 1990, 26 / cf. Dickens, 117; Lucas, 511)
54. In Muir, Ibid., (#30), 142.
- The persecution of the Anabaptists began in Zurich . . . The penalties enjoined by the Town Council of Zurich were 'drowning, burning, or beheading,' according as it seemed advisable . . . 'It is our will,' the Council proclaimed, 'that wherever they be found, whether singly or in companies, they shall be drowned to death, and that none of them shall be spared.'
(Janssen, V, 153-157)
In his Dialogues of 1535, Bucer called on governments to exterminate by fire and sword all professing a false religion, and even their wives, children and cattle.
(Janssen, V, 367-368, 290-291)
- His conviction . . . harked back to the darkest practices of the Inquisition . . . Every heretic was to be put to death, and cities predominantly heretical were to be smitten with the sword and utterly destroyed:
- To the carnal man this may appear a . . . severe judgment . . . Yet we find no exception, but all are appointed to the cruel death. But in such cases God wills that all . . . desist from reasoning when commandment is given to execute his judgments.
(Durant, 614; Edwin Muir, John Knox, London: 1920, 142)
- Elizabeth . . . is on record for the burning of two Dutch Anabaptists in 1575 . . . Henry VIII . . . had a score of them burned on one day in 1535.
Hugh Latimer, an English "reformer", had, remarks Will Durant, "tarnished his eloquent career by approving the burning of Anabaptists and obstinate Franciscans under Henry VIII." (Durant, 597)
Queen Elizabeth, writes Philip Hughes:
- . . . enacted a definition of heresy that made life safe for all who believed in the Trinity and the Incarnation. But the statute left intact that heresy was, by common law, an offense punishable by death. An English Servetus could have been burned under Elizabeth, and, in fact, in 1589 she burned an Arian.
John Stoddard gives an account of Henry VIII, who founded Anglicanism:
- . . . the murderer of two wives . . . and the executioner of many of the noblest Englishmen of the time, who had the conscience and the courage to oppose him. Among these were the venerable Bishop Fisher . . . and Sir Thomas More, one of the most distinguished men of his century . . .
When Henry began his persecution, there were about 1,000 Dominican monks in Ireland, only four of whom survived when Elizabeth came to the throne thirty years later . . .
Executions speedily began . . . At one time, . . . about 800 a year [roughly the last half of the 16th century]. Hallam [a Protestant] . . . says that the revolting tortures and executions of Jesuit priests in the reign of Elizabeth were characterised by a 'savageness and bigotry, which I am very sure no scribe of the Inquisition could have surpassed' . . . The details of these atrocities . . . would form very unpleasant reading for Protestants, accustomed as they are to think that all religious persecution has been done by Catholics. As Newman says:
- It is pleasanter (for them) to declaim against persecution, and to call the Inquisition a hell, than to consider their own devices and the work of their own hands.
(Stoddard, 131-132, 135; citing Henry Hallam, Constitutional History of England, I, 146)
In Ireland, Bishops were executed by the English in 1578 (two), 1585 and 1611. In 1652 "an attempt was made to exterminate the entire Irish Catholic priesthood . . .
- An Act signed by the Commissioners for the Parliament of England decreed that every Romish priest . . . should be . . . hanged . . . beheaded . . . quartered, his bowels drawn out and burned, and his head fixed on a pole in some public place . . . Finally, scarcely a Catholic prelate was left on the whole island.
Dissenters in Ireland . . . also endured apalling miseries . . . Instances are recorded of Dissenters whose fingers were wrenched asunder, whose bodies were seared with red-hot irons, and whose legs were broken . . . Their wives were also whipped in public.
- In the preface to the Institutes he admitted the right of the government to put heretics to death . . . He thought that Christians should hate the enemies of God . . . Those who defended heretics . . . should be equally punished.
- While he did not directly recommend the use of the death penalty for blasphemy, he defended its use among the Jews.
- The father should not spare his son . . . nor the husband his own wife. If he has some friend who is as dear to him as his own life, let him put him to death.
(Harknesss, 107; Calvin, Opera [Works], vol. 27, 251; Sermon on Deuteronomy 13:6-11)
- Persons who persist in the superstitions of the Roman Antichrist . . . deserve to be repressed by the sword.
(Harkness, 96; letter to Duke of Somerset, October 22, 1548)
In January, 1547 in Calvin's Geneva, one James Gruet, a kind of free-thinker of dubious morals, was alleged to have posted a note which implied that Calvin should leave the city:
- He was at once arrested and a house to house search made for his accomplices. This method failed to reveal anything except that Gruet had written on one of Calvin's tracts the words 'all rubbish.' The judges put him to the rack twice a day, morning and evening, for a whole month . . . He was sentenced to death for blasphemy and beheaded on July 26, 1547 . . . Evangelical freedom had now arrived at the point where its champions took a man's life . . . merely for writing a lampoon!
(Huizinga, 176; cf. Daniel-Rops, 82-83)
- Half dead, he was tied to a stake, his feet were nailed to it, and his head was cut off.
In May 1555, a drunken riot occurred, precipitated by a group which objected to the excess of foreign refugees in Geneva. Dissidents of Calvin were termed "Libertines."
- The brothers Comparet, two humble boatmen, were executed and pieces of their dismembered bodies nailed on the city gates.
The Comparet brothers, with Calvin's approval, were tortured . . . Under the rack they said the riot had . . . been premeditated, but denied this again before their execution. A number, including Francois Berthelier, were beheaded . . . Several others were banished, and the wives of the condemned were likewise driven from the city.
All the other leaders of the party took flight and were sentenced to death in their absence.
The most infamous execution in Geneva was that of Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician who denied the Trinity, and was a sort of Gnostic pantheist. He had met Calvin, and the latter declared on February 13, 1547 in a letter to Farel:
- If he comes, provided my authority prevails I will not suffer him to return home alive.
With Calvin's knowledge and probably at his instigation, . . . William Trie, of Geneva, denounced Servetus to the Catholic Inquisition at Vienne and forwarded the material sent by the heretic to Calvin.
- The fact cannot be dodged that Calvin delivered Servetus to the Inquisition,and then tried either by a lie or a subterfuge to cover his part in the matter.
Upon arriving at Geneva on August 13, 1553, he was detected almost immediately . . . through Calvin's instigation he was arrested and put in prison. Calvin . . . hoped for his execution.
On August 20 he wrote to Farel:
- 'I hope that Servetus will be condemned to death, but I should like him to be spared the worst part of the punishment,' meaning the fire.
- On October 26, the Council ordered that he be burned alive on the following day . . . That he desired Servetus' death . . . is clear.
Calvin's observations on this appalling death make horrifying reading: . . .
- He showed the dumb stupidity of a beast . . . He went on bellowing . . . in the Spanish fashion: "Misericordias!" . . .
- Servetus, in fact, was burned not so much for his heresies, as for personal offense he had several years before given to Calvin . . . which seems to have exasperated the great reformer's temper, so as to make him resolve on what he afterwards executed . . . Thus, in the second period of the Reformation, those ominous symptoms which had appeared in its earliest stage, disunion, virulence, bigotry, intolerance, . . . grew more inveterate and incurable.
(Hallam, ibid., I, 280)
'Servetus's death, for which Calvin bears much of the responsibility,' writes Wendel, 'marked the reformer with a bloody stigma which nothing has been able to efface.'
- Melanchthon, in a letter to Calvin and Bullinger, gave 'thanks to the Son of God' . . . and called the burning 'a pious and memorable example to all posterity.' Bucer declared from his pulpit in Strasbourg that Servetus had deserved to be disemboweled and torn to pieces. Bullinger, generally humane, agreed that civil magistrates must punish blasphemy with death.
- Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that (they allege) I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed. Not only am I indifferent to their comments, but I rejoice in the fact that they spit in my face.
8. Protestant Torture
As to the myth that torture was a tactic solely of Catholics, Janssen quotes a Protestant eyewitness to the contrary:
- The Protestant theologian Meyfart . . . described the tortures which he had personally witnessed . . . 'The subtle Spaniard and the wily Italian have a horror of these bestialities and brutalities, and at Rome it is not customary to subject a murderer . . . an incestuous person, or an adulterer to torture for the space of more than an hour'; but in Germany . . . torture is kept up for a whole day, for a day and a night, for two days . . . even also for four days . . . after which it begins again . . . 'There are stories extant so horrible and revolting that no true man can hear of them without a shudder.'
(Janssen, XVI, 516-518, 521)
- At Augsburg, in the first half of the year 1528, about 170 Anabaptists of both sexes were either imprisoned or expelled by order of the new-religionist Town Council. Some were . . . burnt through the cheeks with hot irons; many were beheaded; some had their tongues cut out.
(Janssen, V, 160)
Persecution, including death penalties for heresy, is not just a Catholic failing. It is clearly also a Protestant one, and a general "blind spot" of the Middle Ages, much like abortion is in our own supposedly "enlightened" age. Furthermore, it is an outright lie to assert that Protestantism in its initial appearance, advocated tolerance. The evidence thus far presented refutes this notion beyond any reasonable doubt.
The early Protestants were not the champions of free speech and freedom of the press, either, as we are led to believe, any more than they were for freedom of religion or assembly -- not by a long shot. Suppression of the Mass and forced Church attendance by civil law are examples of this intolerance regarding freedom of thought and action. Neither was Catholic and sectarian literature to be suffered:
- With isolated exceptions . . . we find everywhere the opinions which are exactly in harmony wlth those of the territorial prince of the day, striving their utmost to suppress all differing views. The theory of the absolute Church authority of the secular powers was in itself enough to make a system of tolerance impossible on the Protestant side...From the very first religious life among the Protestants was influenced by the hopeless contradiction that on the one hand Luther imposed it as a sacred duty on every individual, in all matters of faith, to set aside every authority, above all that of the Church, and to follow only his own judgment, while on the other hand the reformed theologians gave the secular princes power over the religion of their land and subjects . . . 'Luther never attempted to solve this contradiction. In practice he was content that the princes should have supreme control over religion, doctrine and Church, and that it was their right and their duty to suppress every religious creed which differed from their own.'
(Janssen, XIV, 230-231; citing Johann von Dollinger: Kirche und Kirchen, 1861, 52 ff.)
The Corpus doctrinae of Melanchthon had passed muster for a long time in Saxony, but on the occasion of the crypto-Calvinistic controversies the Elector Augustus forbade the work being printed . . .; the press control, which Melanchthon had advocated against others, now hit him himself.
(Janssen, XIV, 506)
In the Protestant towns numbers of preachers bestirred themselves zealously with the help of the municipal authorities to suppress the writings of all opposing parties. 'When first Luther began to write books, it was said,' so Frederick Staphylus recalled to mind (1560), 'that it would be contrary to Christian freedom if the Christian folk and the common people were not allowed to read all sorts of books. Now, however . . . the Lutherans themselves are . . . forbidding the purchase and reading of the books of their opponents, and of apostate members and sects.'
(Janssen, XIV, 506-507)
The Protestant princes . . . loved and encouraged the censorship because, with its help, they could suppress the well-merited complaint against their robbery of Church property, or other self-interested deeds, or even criminal acts.
(Janssen, XIV, 507)
Violation of the orders of the censorship was everywhere to be severely punished.
(Janssen, XIV, 234)
Janssen writes of a hypocritical instance of Luther's censorship (1529):
- Luther . . . set his pen in motion concerning this Catholic translation of the Bible. 'The freedom of the Word,' which he claimed for himself, was not to be accorded to his opponent Emser . . . When . . . he learnt that Emser's translation . . . was to be printed . . . at Rostock, he not only appealed himself to his follower, Duke Henry of Mecklenburg, with the request that 'for the glory of the evangel of Christ and the salvation of all souls' he would put a stop to this printing, but he also worked on the councillors of the Elector of Saxony to support his action. He denied the right and the power of the Catholic authorities to inhibit his books; on the other hand he invoked the arm of the secular authorities against all writings that were displeasing to him.
(Janssen, XIV, 503-504)
- When the controversy on the Lord's Supper was started at Wittenberg, the utmost precautions were taken to suppress the writings of the Swiss Reformed theologians and of the German preachers who shared the latter's views. At the instigation of Luther and Melanchthon there was issued, in 1528, by the Elector John of Saxony, an edict to the following effect:
Books and pamphlets (of the Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, etc.) must not be allowed to be bought or sold or read . . . also those who are aware of such breaches of the orders laid down herein, and do not give information, shall be punished by loss of life and property.
(Janssen, XIV, 232-233; BR, IV, 549)
(Janssen, XIV, 504; cf. Durant, 424)
- Moreover, antagonism had also grown up among the Protestant universities, and one reproached the other with being the fosterer and begetter of false doctrine . . . Wittenberg itself, but lately regarded as the birthplace of a new revelation and of the newly awakened Church of Christ, in 1567 was declared to be a 'stinking cesspool of the devil.'
(Janssen, XIV, 231-232)
- At Strassburg Catholic writings were suppressed as early as 1524 . . . The Council at Frankfort-on-the-Main exercised . . . strict censorship . . . At Rostock, in 1532, the printer of the Brethren of the Common Life was sent to prison, because he had used his printing press to the disadvantage of Protestantism.
(Janssen, XIV, 502)
Wherever the prince, according to old Byzantine fashion, thought himself a theologian, he managed the censorship in person.
(Janssen, XIV, 233)
[P = Protestant work / S = secular work]
WA = Weimar Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works (Werke) in German, 1883. "Br." = correspondence.
EA = Erlangen Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works (Werke) in German, 1868, 67 volumes.
HA= Werke, Halle edition, 1753, (J.G. Walch, editor).
LL = Luther's Letters (German), edited by M. De Wette, Berlin: 1828
EN = Enders, L., Dr. Martin Luther's Correspondence, Frankfurt, 1862
BR = Bretschneider, editor, Corpus Reformation, Halle, 1846.
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Harkness, Georgia (P), John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics, New York: Abingdon Press, 1931.
Hughes, Philip, A Popular History of the Reformation, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1957.
Huizinga, Johan (P), Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, tr. F. Hopman, New York: Harper & Bros., 1957 (orig. 1924).
Janssen, Johannes, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumess, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 (orig. 1891).
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Latourette, Kenneth Scott (P), A History of Christianity, 2 volumes, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1953.
Lucas, Henry S. (P), The Renaissance and the Reformation, New York: Harper & Bros., 1934.
O'Connor, Henry, Luther's Own Statements, New York: Benziger Bros., 3rd ed., 1884.
Rumble, Leslie & Charles M. Carty, Radio Replies, 3 vols., St. Paul, MN: Radio Replies Press, 1940.
Rumble, Leslie & Charles M. Carty , That Catholic Church, St. Paul, MN: Radio Replies Press, 1954.
Smith, Preserved (S), The Social Background of the Reformation, New York: Collier Books, 1962 (2nd part of author's The Age of the Reformation, New York: 1920).
Stoddard, John L., Rebuilding a Lost Faith, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1922.
Originally written in 1991 by Dave Armstrong. Thoroughly revised on "Reformation Day": 31 October 2003. Further revisions on 7 March 2007.