How Was It Possible?
ONE of the paradoxes of history is that some of the worst crimes against humanity—equaled only by 20th-century concentration camps—were committed by Dominican or Franciscan friars belonging to two preaching orders purported to be dedicated to preaching Christ’s message of love.
It is difficult to understand how a church that subscribes to the inspired statement, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” could itself become a persecutor. (2 Timothy 3:12, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition) How was it possible?
First, Catholic teaching made it possible. How so? It can be summed up by Catholic “Saint” Augustine’s famous statement: “Salus extra ecclesiam non est” (No salvation exists outside the church). Recently, A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson states of Augustine: “He not only accepted, he became the theorist of, persecution; and his defences were later to be those on which all defences of the Inquisition rested.”
In the 13th century, “Saint” Thomas Aquinas, called the Angelic Doctor, advocated the death sentence for heresy. The Catholic Encyclopedia explained this by saying: “Theologians and jurists based their attitude to some extent on the similarity between heresy and high treason.” The same work admits: “There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Church claimed the right to use physical coercion against formal apostates.”
The “right” of the church to torture and burn heretics was, in fact, a horrible corollary to the unscriptural doctrines of hell and purgatory. The church tortured in the name of a God whom she blasphemously claims is a torturer.—Compare Jeremiah 7:31; Romans 6:23.
The other reason why the Inquisition was possible was the deep involvement of the church in politics. Medieval Europe was, in fact, a totalitarian society in which Church and State, while often vying with each other, united their forces against any person who dared criticize priest or prince. From this adulterous relationship the Inquisition was born. In the French Encyclopædia Universalis we read: “The Inquisition could never have carried out its task without the collaboration of the civil authorities who supplied it with its resources and carried out the sentences.”
This is not to say that Protestants were blameless. Unbiased historical records show that at times they were just as intolerant as the Catholics. They, too, committed terrible atrocities in the name of Christ, even burning dissenters at the stake, often with the help of the secular authorities. And Protestant atrocities were possible for the same reasons: Protestants are also part of a religious system that includes in its theology the unscriptural doctrine of God-inflicted eternal torment and that has maintained throughout the centuries an unclean spiritual relationship with the secular powers.
A Modern-Day Legacy
Could the Inquisition happen again? Doubtless no, in today’s secular-oriented society. However, The New Encyclopædia Britannica makes this interesting comment: “The legacy of Christian intolerance and the methods it developed (e.g., inquisition, or brainwashing) operates in the intolerance of the ideology and techniques of modern political revolutions.”
Yes, “the legacy of [apostate] Christian intolerance and the methods it developed” can be seen in present-day secular intolerance. In some countries, methods reminiscent of the Inquisition have already been used by the political powers against representatives of the Catholic Church. This is a foretaste of what is to come.
The Bible shows that “the kings of the earth,” or the world rulers, with whom such worldly religions have committed spiritual “fornication,” will turn against the entire world empire of false religion, symbolized by the “harlot,” “Babylon the Great.” (Revelation 17:1-6) They will tire of her meddling in their political affairs. God will use such antireligious political elements to mete out judgment to this iniquitous religious system. They will “strip off her clothes and leave her naked; then they will eat her flesh and burn the remains in the fire.” (Revelation 17:12, 16-18, The Jerusalem Bible) The blood she has shed by means of religious wars, crusades, and inquisitions will thus be avenged.—Revelation 18:24; 19:2.
It therefore behooves all sincere Catholics and Protestants who are ashamed still to be a part of a religious system that has shed so much innocent blood to heed God’s call: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.”—Revelation 18:4.
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The “right” of the church to torture and burn heretics was, in fact, a horrible consequence of the unscriptural doctrines of hell and purgatory