Poll: Protestants, is there any justification to the Protestant inquisition


Is there any justification to the assorted Protestant historical inquisitions (example Catholic in Britain and Ireland, Anabaptist in Europe). This poll is primarily directed at Protestants, but I will frame the answers so that Catholics can chime in also.


Note: upon reflection I probably should have added a fifth line…“What Protestant Inquistion?”. So if anyone is honestly unaware of any Protestant inquistion, please comment this thread. Mea Culpa.


Why leave out other religions and no religion?


On this poll, I am limiting it to the inquisitions perpetuated both the Protestant and Catholics in the general timeframe 1300-1700.

Muslim inquisitions and the Nazi holocaust (for example) are outside the scope of this poll.


Erm, we (Jews) didn’t exactly have a great deal of fun during the ‘inquisition’ period from either side.


Oh…now I see your point.

I was referring to the perpetrators of the inquistions not the victims.

Catholic/Protestant led inquisitions with the Jews or Muslims as victims is within the scope of this poll.


There never was such a thing as a “Protestant inquisition.” That is an infelicitous phrase of Dave Armstrong’s intended to express the truth that Protestants persecuted people.

Of course, since Protestants have no problem admitting that our churches have erred and erred gravely, this really doesn’t pose any serious problems for Protestantism (except insofar as having a loose relationship to one’s own history is a problem).

An “Inquisition” is a church court using Roman law to investigate and prosecute heresy, handing convicted and impenitent (or relapsed) heretics over to the secular arm for execution. It is not synonymous with “persecution.”

Protestants never had an Inquisition because Protestant churches never had that kind of autonomy, though the Calvinists came close at times. Still, if you look at the Servetus case, for instance, you see that Calvin accused Servetus before the civil authorities. The Consistory (the company of pastors, led by Calvin) had no authority to try Servetus themselves, as the Inquisition would have done.

I am not claiming that this lets Protestants off the hook. I’m simply contending for accuracy. We can debate the moral implications once we get our facts straight. If we use sloppy language then all our judgments will be skewed.



There is never any justification for the followers of Christ to resort to torture, brutality, murder, coersion and execution “in the name of God”…

It doesn’t matter who commits the evil…Protestant or Catholic…their leaders were corrupt.

In the thread on the “Burning of Heretics”, I saw such a disparity between that and the “good works” thread…one we have many Catholics trying to defend the churches policy of torture and execution of heretics, yet on the other affirm the necessity of good works for salvation and being judged by our works…

Protestant atrocities are still atrocities…same with Catholic atrocities…it doesn’t matter who does it or by what “authority” they claim to have from God…it’s still evil.


Ok…mea culpa.

Substitute “Protestant torture and killing of Catholics and anabaptists” for inquisition if you wish. I could have worded this better. Of course this is my first “poll” and I learned that once you submit it, you can’t go back and edit it.


Contarini posted:

There never was such a thing as a "Protestant inquisition.

Go tell that to the millions of Catholic souls who suffered terrible tortures, mutilations and deaths by being hanged then cut down while still alive and having their stomach slit open and their entire entrails removed.

If that was not Inquisition what was it?

Catholics never did anything so barbaric to Protestants


I’m rather confused. Some Catholic posters on these forums seem to indicate that for almost 1500 years, all of Christianity was Catholic. In other words, non-Catholic Christians would have been extremely few. Now you seem to indicate that there were such large numbers of non-Catholic Christians that they were able to torture, mutilate and kill millions of Catholics.

So which is it? Was Christianity all Catholic for 1500 years, or had there been large numbers of non-Catholic Christians prior to that time? It seems rather difficult to believe that all of Christianity was Catholic for amost 1500 years, and suddenly there were enough Protestants or non-Catholic Christians to torture, mutiliate and kill millions of Catholics.

Can you clarify?


There were no Protestants for 1500 years: true.
The large numbers of non-Catholic Christians came later, and yes, killed Catholics. (And Jews, & Moslems, &:eek: each other…Try googling Calvin + Servetus for a prominent example…).


As soon as Prodestants gained control of an area, they started persecting/killing Catholics.


That would be cruelty, torture, and sadism.

Technically, not all cruelty, torture, and sadism in the name of Christ against other faiths (or their own) is an inquisition. Technically.

But what Protestants object to in the inquistion, what they really object to was the cruelty, torture, and sadism in the name of Christ by Catholics. The term Protestant Inquistion I guess would just be shorthand to say that the pot is the same as the kettle here as far as objectionable conduct.

BTW I notice that two Catholics voted the Catholic Inquistion can not be justified but the Protestant one can. I initially thought they probably made a mistake. Then I figured out that the answers were ambiguous.

By Catholic inquisition I meant the Catholics as perpetrators and by Protestant inquisition I meant the Protestants as perpetrators. But I just figured out it can be interpreted the other way.

Lesson learned…really think out the wording of your possible answers on a poll question before submitting. You can’t change it.


The OP is right.

That Protestants did unpleasant things to Catholics (& others) is not denied - that there were Protestant tribunals comparable in constitution & character, origin, or purpose
to the various Inquisitions, is quite rightly being denied. That, was the OP’s point.


  1. "millions of Catholic souls who suffered terrible tortures, mutilations and deaths " is as much an exaggeration as when Jack Chick & those who imitate him say “millions of people were killed by the Inquisition” (or some such phrase) . It’s as untrue as a description of Catholic casualties, as it is of Protestant casualties.

  2. That unpleasant manner of death was not devised by Protestants for Catholics. Those Protestants who used it, were applying the usual penalties provided for the punishment of commoners guilty of high treason
    by the English penal law of the time - penalties which had been laid down by a Catholic king: Edward I (1272-1307) devised this unpleasant punishment in 1283. It’s probably meant to be a combination of the deaths of Judas Iscariot.

  3. If it is unfair to judge the punishments of the Spanish Inquisition by the standards of a more humane age, this must also apply to the punishment of Catholics as traitors & their execution by the methods provided by the law of their times. There cannot be one standard for the Spanish Catholics who burned Protestants in (say) 1590, & for the English Protestants who disembowelled Catholics at the same time: if one group is to be excused, why is the other to be condemned ?

  4. Male traitors in England were hanged, castrated, disembowelled (while living), beheaded, & their bodies quartered; regicides in France were torn apart by horses (as happened to the assassin of Henri IV in 1610; & to the man who wounded Louis XV in 1757). AFAIK, the clergy never objected to these barbarities. People are cruel: & the Churches did very little to moderate the cruelty of the death penalties :frowning: - for that, unbelievers, & opponents of Christianity, deserve a great deal of the credit.


As a starting point, you might google “English Martyrs” and see what you find…the picture in Britain was not very pretty…

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


I did google “Calvin + Servetus”. This is what I found:



I did check it out. However, I still find no evidence that “millions of Catholics were tortured, mutilated and killed”.


[quote=Ignatius]It is really a matter of whose ox is being gored. There is plenty of blame on all sides. The simple fact is that at the time some accuse Catholics of religious cruelties, Protestants, and non-denoms were doing the same or worse.

In actual fact, as reputable histories will tell you. Anti-Catholic propaganda magnified the Inquisition beyond all measure. The Spanish Inquisition in 500 years executed around 3,000 - 6,000 people. Fewer than the Catholics Cromwell killed in one week in Ireland!

King Henry erected a system built on fear, torture and death to back his attack on the Catholic Church. Criticizing the king, calling him a heretic, or failing to agree that Henry was head of the church, were punished by **disembowelment whilst still alive, hanging and quartering. **In the end, even failing to denounce anyone else who criticized these things became treason. Guilty verdicts were ensured by the introduction of the “Double Grand Jury” which made the jury trying a case liable to face trial themselves by a second jury if they came up with the wrong verdict. Acts of Attainder, allowing the execution of victims without any trial whatsoever, were also introduced. All these things were needed to enforce the Reformation in England.

Abbots who refused to surrender their monasteries also fell victim: Letter of Richard Pollard to Thomas Cromwell, November 16, 1539

Pleaseth it your Lordship to be advertised that…[On November 15] the late abbot of Glastonbury went from Wells to Glastonbury, and there was drawn through the town upon a hurdle to the hill called the Torre, where he was put to execution; …Afore his execution [he] was examined upon divers articles and interrogatories to him ministered by me, but he could accuse no man of himself of any offence against the king’s highness, nor would he confess no more gold nor silver nor any other thing more than he did before your Lordship in the Tower…I suppose it will be near Christmas before I shall have surveyed the lands at Glastonbury, and take the audit there….

On 8 April, 1538, Friar Forrest was taken to Lambeth, where, before Cranmer, he was required to state that King Henry was Head of the Church. This, however, he firmly refused to do. Forrest was sentenced to death, and on the 22nd of May he was taken to Smithfield and burned. To add to the “godly” humour of this public spectacle, the friar was burnt over a bonfire of religious statuary.

After Catholics rose up in protest at the closing of the Monasteries in 1536, King Henry wrote: [font color=blue]Our pleasure is that . . . you shall cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village, and hamlet that have offended, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all others hereafter that would practice any like matter. Hundreds were massacred at random in the Catholic areas.

Others disembowelled or burnt within months included:1534: Elizabeth Barton, q.v. (The Holy Maid of Kent), with five companions;John Dering, O.S.B., Edward Bocking, O.S.B., Hugh Rich, O.S.F., Richard Masters p., Henry Gold p., 1537. Monks, 28. - After the pilgrimage of grace and the rising of Lincolnshire many, probably several hundred, were executed, of whom no record remains. The following names, which do survive, are grouped under their respective abbeys or priories. - Barling: Matthew Mackerel, abbot and Bishop of Chalcedon, Ord. Præm. Bardney: John Tenent, William Cole, John Francis, William Cowper, Richard Laynton, Hugh Londale, monks. Bridlington: William Wood, Prior. Fountains: William Thyrsk, O. Cist. Guisborough: James Cockerel, Prior.Jervaulx: Adam Sedbar, Abbot; George Asleby, monk. Kirkstead: Richard Harrison, Abbott, Richard Wade, William Swale, Henry Jenkinson, monks. Lenten: Nicholas Heath, Prior; William Gylham, monk. Sawlet: William Trafford, Abbott; Richard Eastgate, monk. Whalley: John Paslew, Abbott; John Eastgate, William Haydock, monks. Woburn: Robert Hobbes, Abbott; Ralph Barnes, sub-prior; Laurence Blonham, monk. York: John Pickering, O.S.D., Prior. Place unknown: George ab Alba Rose, O.S.A. Priests: William Burraby, Thomas Kendale, John Henmarsh, James Mallet, John Pickering, Thomas Redforth. Lords: Darcy and Hussey.


[quote=Ignatius]Over the next few reigns around 600 Catholic priests alone, and thousands of ordinary Catholics were disembowelled or otherwise murdered by Protestants because of their faith. Topcliffe, Elizabeth’s chief torturer, had a special house full of torture equipment to be used on Catholic priests. One elderly priest was tortured 12 separate times to gain information on other priests and believers.

Within a few years of Calvin coming to power in Geneva fifty-eight sentences of death and seventy-six of exile took place. Two examples:

  1. James Gruet, 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.

  2. The Spanish Reformer Servetus had dared to criticize Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” and began an angry correspondence with him. Calvin had his critic arrested. Calvin drew up forty articles of charges concerning the nature of God, infant baptism, and the attacks on his own teaching. On August 20, 1553, Calvin wrote: “I hope that Servetus will be condemned to death”

On October 26, the Council ordered that he be burned alive on the following day. Servetus took half an hour to die. Calvin noted: "'He showed the dumb stupidity of a beast . . . He went on bellowing . . . in the Spanish fashion: “Misericordias!” .
In 1554 Calvin wrote the treatise Against the Errors of Servetus, in which he tried to justify the execution: "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."
The modern-day Congregational, Prebyterian, Reformed, Baptist and many of the Charismatic churches, all look to this same Calvin as their founding spiritual authority.

Most of the other Reformers. Luther, Knox, Zwingli, also burnt, hung, drowned or otherwise executed their opponents.

The simple fact is that at the time some accuse Catholics of religious cruelties, Protestants, and non-denoms were doing the same or worse.

One would expect leaders of a new movement “reforming” the Church and supposedly correcting the “errors” of the historic Church to be beyond reproach in their behaviour and Christian lives. But what do we see? The opposite.

Luther was well known for his hot temper, pride and violent language, rather than for his saintliness and humility. He even heaped abuse on fellow-reformers like Zwingli and Bucer who disagreed with him. He encouraged the German Princes to seize church property in return for protection for the Reformation. Along with others, he issued a licence permitting the Landgrave of Hesse to keep 2 wives simultaneously. However worse was to come.
Inspired by the writings of Luther and others, which declared the Freedom of the Christian Man, and led by Thomas Muntzer, an ex-pupil of Luther’s, German peasants demanded to be freed from Serfdom, joining in the Great Peasants Revolt. They hoped for Luther’s support. But Luther owed his protection and high position to the German aristocrats. So instead, in a pamphlet entitled Against the Murderous Peasants, Luther told the princes and the nobility that it was right and lawful to slay at the first opportunity a rebellious person, “just as one must slay a mad dog.” Let all who are able, cut them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel… For we are come upon such strange times that a prince may more easily win heaven by the shedding of blood than others by prayers.
Urged on by their spiritual leader, the nobles and their armies suppressed the revolts with great savagery. In all more than 100,000 peasants were slain.

No excuse, but the fact is that the hands of the protestants was equally bloody if not more so.

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