Is Catholic proselytism essentially free or compelled?


As I’ve studied history, I’ve come to wonder about a crucial question:

When it comes to evangelizing, is the Catholic approach more about the free decisions of individuals, or more about compelling populations?

I’m referring to the actions of the Latin Church from approximately the age of the Great Schism (1050) until approximately the age of Enlightenment (1750). It accounts for a large chunk of Catholic history: 700 years.

During this time, the temporal influence of Rome seems to have combined with an ideal of a united & belligerent Christendom, to create a militant form of proselytism. Jews were compelled to leave Spain & England unless they converted. Protestants were systematically massacred unless they converted: the Dutch; the Huguenots; the Swiss; the Germans; Merindol. The Aztecs were not dealt with peacefully. Islam was considered an enemy to be beaten back into Arabia, rather than to be dealt with in a pacifistic or passive way.

Going deeper than the outward use of force, there has also been (and seems to be today) a mindset that encourages interdict, censure, and excommunication of heretics & schismatics, rather than engagement with them. This seems to be a way of compelling populations, rather than converting individuals. I refer to St. Pius V’s invalidation of Elizabeth’s right to rule England in 1570, and encouraging her people to rise up against her; to Jan Hus; to Martin Luther, et. al., and the way in which we dealt with them.

Has the Catholic idea of how to deal with “the world” - and those who disagree with us - been bad or negative before? Has it substantially changed, since Vatican II? I’ve met people who refuse to become Catholic because they see the Church as an essentially tyrannical institution, thanks to some apparently bad political decisions in our history. They think these weren’t just isolated events, but part of a broader mindset of force instead of peace.

I am not at all trying to be controversial. I am trying to understand what our idea of Evangelization has been, and what it is today. Does anyone have thoughts?

The Church has gone through many phases - from hiding out in the catechombs (early Church) to Popes personally leading armies into battle (Pope Julius-2) to the “live and let live” approach evident today.

Sorry, what was the question?

The question is: which is “The Catholic” way, the way of Christ, the way most faithful to our calling? Is there one? Do all of these ways of evangelization have validity in each age?

These are ethical questions, but also questions about the very nature and origin of our faith. Do we say compel, or do we say* convince*? Or is it both?

I think you might be interested in the following quotations from the following link:

Church Fathers and Medieval Doctors on Religious Liberty

1065 A.D. - Pope Alexander II said: “Although We have no doubt it stems from the zeal of devotion that your Nobility arranges to lead Jews to the worship of Christendom…you seem to do it with a zeal that is inordinate. For we do not read that our Lord Jesus Christ violently forced anyone into his service, but that by humble exhortation, leaving to each person his own freedom of choice, he recalled from error whomsoever he had predestined to eternal life, doing so not by judging them, but by shedding his own blood. Likewise, the blessed Gregory forbids, in one of his letters, that the said people should be drawn to the faith by violence.” (Letter Licet ex to Prince Landolfo of Benevento)

1199 A.D. - Pope Innocent III said: “We in fact decree that no Christian should compel [the Jews] by violence to come to baptism reluctantly or unwillingly; but if one of them of his own accord flees for refuge to Christians for the sake of the faith, after his wish is made known, he should without any abuse be made a Christian. For he who is known to come to the baptism of Christians, not spontaneously, but reluctantly is certainly not believed to have true faith in Christianity. … Furthermore in the celebration of their feasts, let no one disturb them in any way.” (Constitution Licet perfidia Iudaeorum)

1201 A.D. - Pope Innocent III said: “It is contrary to the Christian religion to force others to into accepting and practicing Christianity if they are always unwilling and totally opposed.” “The one who never consents and is absolutely unwilling receives neither the reality [rem] nor the character [characterem] of the sacrament because express dissent is something more than not consenting at all.” (Letter Maiores Ecclesiae causas to Archbishop Humbert of Arles)

1233 A.D. - Pope Gregory IX said: “Christians must show towards Jews the same good will which we desire to be shown to Christians in pagan lands.” (Cf. Auvray, “Le régistre de Grégoire IX”, n. 1216)

1272 A.D. - Pope Gregory X said: “We decree moreover that no Christian shall compel [the Jews] or any one of their group to come to baptism unwillingly… [For whoever] is known to have come to Christian baptism not freely, but unwillingly, is not believed to posses the Christian faith.”

1274 A.D. - St. Thomas Aquinas said: “[T]he heathens and the Jews…are by no means to be compelled to the faith, in order that they may believe, because to believe depends on the [free] will.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 8)

And: “Christ’s faithful…wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 8)

And: “Human government is derived from the Divine government, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue.” [Note: in classic Catholic theology, God doesn’t prevent all evil because doing so would take away a greater good, that being man’s free will.]] “Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 11)

1330 A.D. - Don Juan Manuel - “Christ never ordered that anyone should be killed or put under pressure in order to convert, for He does not wish for any obligatory service, only for that which is given voluntarily and with a good heart.” (Libro de Los Estados Book 1 Chapter 30)

1482 A.D. - Pope Sixtus IV condemned the violence of the Inquisitors, and intervened on behalf of the accused. He said: “In Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca, and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls but by lust for wealth. Many true and faithful Christians, on the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves, and other lower and even less proper persons, have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, tortured and condemned as relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and property and handed over to the secular arm to be executed, to the peril of souls, setting a pernicious example, and causing disgust to many. … Provoked by the complaints of many men against this, we desire to and are bound to provide that the office [of the Inquisition] itself is duly carried out by such means that no one is unnecessarily and unjustly harmed. … In the example of [Jesus], whose vicar we are on earth (cujus vices gerimus in terris), not willing the death of sinners but rather desiring to restore their salvation, we choose to show mercy rather than to punish.” (Papal Bull Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam, reproduced in page 587 of Volume 1 of Henry Charles Lea’s “A History of the Inquisition of Spain.”)

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I’d suggest the author Warren Carroll, an exceptional historian, and his series The History of Christendom. I can also recommend Hilaire Belloc and Regine Pernoud.

Actually, on the whole you are referring to military and political actions, not actions of the Church.

United, yes. Belligerent, no.

Not an act of the Church.

There were many wars of religion during this period, and many persecutions and casualties on both sides. These were wars of political factions, again not the Church.

Those saved from human sacrifice are probably quite glad of that. The Spaniards were quite horrified by what they witnessed. Cortes allied himself with other tribes who were enemies of the Aztecs.


When you are being attacked, you defend yourself.

I think you’d have to give some examples. I see a very tolerant Holy See who has reached out repeatedly to others.

Oh, you mean ancient history, not today. Nevermind.

The Pope believed this the best way to deal with these particular people. Whether or not it was can be debated, but I don’t think you can draw the conclusion you are trying to draw from it.

The world changes. The Church changes how she deals with the world.

I really think that Belloc’s books on the Reformation and the Crusades would be of benefit to you.

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1528 A.D. - St. Thomas More said: “[The princes] never in fact would have resorted so heavily to force and violence against heretics if the violent cruelty first used by the heretics themselves against good Catholic folk had not driven good princes to do it.” (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV, Chapter 13)

And: “[A]s I said before, if the heretics had never started with the violence, then even if they had used all the ways they could to lure the people by preaching…yet if they had left violence alone, good Christian people would perhaps all the way up to this day have used less violence toward them than they do now.” (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV, Chapter 13)

And: “[F]rom the beginning [heretics] were never by any temporal punishment of their bodies at all harshly treated until they began to be violent themselves.” (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV, Chapter 13)

And: “[Therefore] what the Church law on this calls for is good, reasonable, compassionate, and charitable, and in no way desirous of the death of anyone.” (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV, Chapter 13)

And: “[A]ll the severe punishment of heretics, with which such folk as favor them want so much to render the clergy infamous, is and has been…on account of the great outrages and temporal harms that such heretics have always been wont to make, besides the far surpassing spiritual hurts that they do to people’s souls.” (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV Chapter 18)

And: “[The severe punishments were] devised and executed against them of necessity by good Christian princes and prudent rulers of the secular sphere, because in their wisdom they well perceived that the people would not fail to fall into many grievous and intolerable troubles if such seditious sects of heretics were not by severe punishment repressed in the beginning, and the spark well extinguished before it was allowed to grow to too great a fire.” (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV Chapter 18)

Note: the quotes from St. Thomas More come from More, Thomas. Dialogue Concerning Heresies. Translated by Gottschalk, Mary. 2006. New York, NY: Scepter Publishers. p. 460-464, 485.

1557 A.D. - Francisco de Vitoria said: “[E]ven if [unbelievers] refuse to recognize any lordship of the Pope, that furnishes no ground for making war on them and seizing their property. … [And] even if the barbarians refuse to accept Christ as their lord, this does not justify making war on them or doing them any hurt. … The proof lies in the fact that belief is an operation of the will, which is free].” (De Indis Book 4 Section 2 #7, #15)

And: “Our conclusion is also proved by the canon de Judaeis (can. 5, Dist. 45), which says: ‘The holy synod also enjoins concerning the Jews that thenceforth force be not applied to any of them to make him believe; “for God has compassion on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”’ There is no doubt about the doctrine of the Council of Toledo, that threats and fears should not be employed against the Jews in order to make them receive the faith. And Gregory expressly says the same in the canon qui sincera (can. 3, Dist. 45): ‘Who with sincerity of purpose,’ says he, ‘desires to bring into the perfect faith those who are outside the Christian religion should labor in a manner that will attract and not with severity; … for whosoever does otherwise and under cover of the latter would turn them from their accustomed worship and ritual is demonstrably furthering his own end thereby and not God’s end.’ ” (ibid.)

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~1612 A.D. - Martin Becan, the religious advisor of Emperor Ferdinand II, argues, in the words of Cardinal Gibbons, that “[A Catholic] ruler may [legitimately] enter into a compact [which] secure[s] to his subjects…freedom in religious matters; and when once a compact [like this] is made it must be observed absolutely in every point, just as every other lawful and honest contract.” (Becanus, de Virtutibus Theologicis, c. 16, quaest. 4, No. 2, as cited in Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers, Chapter XXX)

1613 A.D. - Francisco Suarez - “[A]venging misdeeds pertains per se only to civil magistrates insofar these are contrary to the peace of the republic and human justice; but [the right] to coerce [people] as [far] they are contrary to religion and the salvation of the soul [belongs] per se to the [Church].” (Defense of the Catholic Faith Book 3 Chapter 23 Paragraph 19)

1634 A.D. - The state of Maryland is founded by Catholics with the express purpose of being a safe-haven where religious liberty will be respected.

1687 A.D. - The Catholic King James II issues the Declaration of Indulgence, granting religious liberty in England for both Catholics and Protestants. He states: “we think [the happiness of our subjects] can be [secured] by no means so effectually as by granting to them the free exercise of their religion for the time to come…[for] it is and has of long time been our constant sense and opinion (which upon divers occasions we have declared) that conscience ought not to be constrained…” (Declaration of Indulgence)

1689 A.D. - In this year the relation to France by Venier is published. It explains how, after the King of France revoked religious toleration for Protestants, and began to persecute them, Blessed Pope Innocent IX testified that the Church opposes religious violence, writing, “It was not of such methods that Christ availed himself: men must be led to the temple, not dragged into it.” (Venier, Relatione di Francia, 1689, as quoted in Ranke, History of the Popes Book VIII Section 16) The relation further states: “[T]he pope took it ill that this should have been undertaken without his consent, and conducted with the severities so well known, declaring that missions of armed apostles were not advisable; [and] that this new method was not the best, since Christ had not used such for the conversion of the world.”

~1701 A.D. - After the deposition of King James II, the last Catholic king of England, Bishop Fenelon advises James the Pretender to respect the religious liberty of his subjects: “Above all, never force your subjects to change their religion. No human power can reach the impenetrable recess of the free will of the heart. Violence can never persuade men; it serves only to make hypocrites. … Grant civil liberty to all, not in approving every thing as good, nor regarding everything as indifferent, but in tolerating with patience whatever Almighty God tolerates, and endeavoring to convert men by mild persuasion.”

1758 A.D. - Pope Clement XIII - “[Scripture] says: Love is patient and kind…it does not take offense and is not resentful. From this, we should clearly understand that where love is absent, there reigns…malice…proud contempt…[and] intolerance… The love of the bishop considers it a crime to burn with anger. [For] the man led astray by harmful desires [is not] an enemy…[but] a brother… [C]oax…him, encourag[e] him, and warn… him…call[ing] him back from error and lead[ing] him back to the path of righteousness. … [But let] severity abstain from every affront.” (A Quo Die)

1789 A.D. - John Carroll is appointed the first bishop of the United States and was a great promoter of religious liberty: "Under all these distressful feelings, one consideration alone relieved me in writing; and that was the hope of vindicating our religion to your own selves at least, and preserving the steadfastness of your faith. But even this prospect should not have induced me to engage in the controversy, if I could fear that it would disturb the harmony now subsisting amongst all Christians in this country, so blessed with civil and religious liberty; which if we have the wisdom and temper to preserve, America may come to exhibit a proof to the world, that general and equal toleration, by giving a free circulation to fair argument, is the most effectual method to bring all denominations of Christians to an unity of faith.” (Address to the Roman Catholics of the United States of America)The 1800s bring many modern voices for religious liberty, including St. John Henry Newman, Cardinal Gibbons, and Pope Leo XIII.

I think the violence of these ages can be explained in other ways than the theory that the Church didn’t believe in religious tolerance, because I think the evidence suggests that the Church did believe in religious tolerance. I hope that helps. God bless!

You didn’t have to post the entire page :stuck_out_tongue: – but thank you, I’ll bookmark & read it. :slight_smile:

What, then, is the Church? Do you mean to say that the political & military structures of Catholic states in Medieval & Early Modern Europe were not essentially Catholic in their outlook & loyalties?

It is dubious to make a strong distinction between the Church and the Political realms of that time. They were deeply intertwined with the Bishops & Papacy in policy & decision-making. The perpetrator of the Mérindol Massacre of 1545, for example, was given a knighthood and high praise by Paul III. Just stating “it was the state, not the church” isn’t very convincing to me.

There were many wars of religion during this period, and many persecutions and casualties on both sides. These were wars of political factions, again not the Church.

I’m talking, here, about mindset. The Lutheran mindset of Gustavus Adolphus, for example, forbid him from massacring or taking vengeance for the siege of Magdeburg. He was very clear on that, himself. The Catholic mindset of Alba, Tilly, Wallenstein, Ferdinand & Isabella, and all the powerful Catholics of that era seems to have urged them on to do the things that they did. They got their ideas about kingship and the illegitimacy of non-Catholic sects from some where.


When you are being attacked, you defend yourself.

Jesus Christ said different from this. Also, “duh” isn’t very helpful.

I think you’d have to give some examples. I see a very tolerant Holy See who has reached out repeatedly to others.

I hope to see that, too. I don’t know where to look.

Oh, you mean ancient history, not today. Nevermind.

That’s the question I’m asking, essentially. Is all that just ancient history, and have things changed in our view of The World & evangelization? Or not?

The world changes. The Church changes how she deals with the world.

Was it legitimate for bishops & popes to order and approve of massacres of innocent heretics?

I really think that Belloc’s books on the Reformation and the Crusades would be of benefit to you.

I’ll give them a try. Thank you.

Without context, a collection of quotes is merely a collection of quotes.

I think these quotes are particularly helpful for finding context. They are well-sourced, for example, which helps people to look up more context.

That rather does depend on what one means by the idea that something is ‘well-sourced’ - might be preferable to but the quotes are not in context at all and somebody might just decide to respond with with lists of counter-quotes from but they’d probably get into trouble for that, of course.

I suppose there might be one advantage to bombarding people with quotes - to take just one example - in that people might think “Oooh, Innocent III was nice about the Jews!” and then look him up and find some of the not at all nice things, in fact rather dreadful things, he said about Jews.

I don’t think either of those sites would be good sources. But primary sources are pretty good – e.g. most of the quotes above are from primary sources, and having their titles and some text from them in one place makes it easier to find that material, imo.

I suppose there might be one advantage to bombarding people with quotes - to take just one example - in that people might think “Oooh, Innocent III was nice about the Jews!” and then look him up and find some of the not at all nice things, in fact rather dreadful things, he said about Jews.

That is another good thing about quotes, although I think one would have a hard time finding something indefensible about Pope Innocent III.

In Europe, some Protestant states were mostly made up of Protestants.

England was not a case of a country of mostly Protestants led by a Protestant king or queen, or of a Protestant king ruling a Catholic populace benevolently.

England was a country of mostly Catholics, led by a king who outlawed their religion, made himself the English version of pope as well as king, and nationalized to himself all the money, goods, and property that had been donated to the English Catholic Church by the English people for centuries. (Also destroying the bits he couldn’t use for cash, including most of English literature that then existed. Yay.) Most of the English bishops went along with all this, in exchange for not being killed or thrown into prison, and received a certain amount of money and status by kowtowing. The English people were treated like disposable trash during the rest of the reigns of Henry VIII and his son.

Then Queen Mary came along, and put things back on the same footing as before. Some of the kings’ collaborators were put to death, but most were treated with mercy.

Then Mary died, and Elizabeth took over. She promised to be fair to both Catholics and Protestants, but she was lying from the get go. Catholics were persecuted and executed, Protestants of the wrong sorts were persecuted and executed, and a serial killer was given a government job with a government funded prison and murder house. (Look up Richard Topcliffe.) Meanwhile, Elizabeth enjoyed Catholic-style Anglican church services, and other practices which were forbidden to her other Anglican subjects.

Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were basically running totalitarian states, where the consent of the governed meant nothing, property rights meant nothing, and the social contract was continually broken. Both the American Revolution and the UK unwritten constitution are revolts against this kind of late Tudor government-by-terror.

So yes, of course Elizabeth’s government was illegitimate, and she treated the Magna Carta like paper, and Parliament should have done more about it. The only question is whether it was polite and useful for the Pope to point out the various reasons her government was no good, and that natural law permits one to overthrow tyrants. (Because it gave Elizabeth an excuse to murder even more Catholics.)

But since the American Revolution was based on Locke and Bellarmine, and St. Robert Bellarmine elaborated the theory of natural law further because of things like Elizabeth I, it would seem that history came to agree with the Pope.

:clapping: Brilliantly succinct, accurate, informative, and right minded post. Bravo! :clapping:

I didn’t think I was being that opaque - I was suggesting that your source was one of them.

That is another good thing about quotes, although I think one would have a hard time finding something indefensible about Pope Innocent III.

the Jews, by their own guilt, are consigned to perpetual servitude because they crucified the Lord…As slaves rejected by God, in whose death they wickedly conspire, they shall by the effect of this very action, recognize themselves as the slaves of those whom Christ’s death set free…

…the Jews, against whom the blood of Christ calls out, although they ought not to be killed, nevertheless, as wanderers they must remain upon the earth until their faces are filled with shame and they seek the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The more the christian religion is restrained from usurious practices, so much the more does the perfidy of the Jews grow in these matters, so that within a short time they are exhausting the resources of Christians. Wishing therefore to see that Christians are not savagely oppressed by Jews in this matter, we ordain by this synodal decree that if Jews in future, on any pretext, extort oppressive and excessive interest from Christians, then they are to be removed from contact with Christians until they have made adequate satisfaction for the immoderate burden. Christians too, if need be, shall be compelled by ecclesiastical censure, without the possibility of an appeal, to abstain from commerce with them. We enjoin upon princes not to be hostile to Christians on this account, but rather to be zealous in restraining Jews from so great oppression. We decree, under the same penalty, that Jews shall be compelled to make satisfaction to churches for tithes and offerings due to the churches, which the churches were accustomed to receive from Christians for houses and other possessions, before they passed by whatever title to the Jews, so that the churches may thus be preserved from loss.

The Lord made Cain a wanderer and a fugitive over the earth, but set a mark upon him, making his head to shake, lest any finding him should slay him. Thus the Jews, against whom the blood of Jesus Christ calls out, although they ought not be killed, lest the Christian people forget the Divine Law, yet as wanderers ought they to remain upon the earth, until their countenance be filled with shame and they seek the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord. That is why blasphemers of the Christian name ought . . . to be forced into the servitude of which they made themselves deserving when they raised sacrilegious hands against Him Who had come to confer true liberty upon them, thus calling down His blood upon themselves and upon their children.

When Jews are admitted out of pity into familiar intercourse with Christians, they repay their hosts, according to the popular proverb, after the fashion of the rat hidden in the sack, or the snake in the bosom, or of the burning brand in one’s lap.

Alternative history can be so interesting.

It is, and has always been, the way of The Church to convince, not coerce. Though not everyone has followed this perfectly.

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