Religious coercion

The topic is religious coercion, specifically religious coercion for which the Catholic Church is responsible. I will do my best to define terms appropriately and ask questions without attacking Catholicism as a whole. It is fallacious reasoning to use embarrassing incidents to “prove” that a religion is false- and this is not what I am doing. I will define terms and ask specific questions which are not to that effect.

First, you may be wondering, what do I mean by religious coercion and how could the Catholic Church be responsible for this? What I mean by that is the forcible silencing, banishment, imprisonment, or death of a person or persons on account of their religious beliefs, including and especially beliefs which fall within the scope of Christianity but are dissident beliefs, doctrines, or points of view. This has very little to do with how Catholics throughout their history have interacted with Muslims or Jews or pagans or the irreligious. This has very much to do with how the Catholic Church has handled dissent and how it’s handled heretics. Now, how could the Catholic Church be held responsible for religious coercion? Well, let me put it this way. The Catholic Church takes full credit (and rightly so) for fighting, condemning, and silencing all sorts of heresies. It takes full credit (and rightly so) for ending heresies and maintaining doctrinal unity within itself. All credit goes to the Catholic Church. Now, if one of those heretics happens to be banished and forcibly removed from his country of origin- if the heretic is forced into silence and his work is destroyed to the point where there is virtually no historical record of his own voice, but only the voices of his opponents- these would be examples of religious coercion, and that’s also on the Catholic Church. Generally speaking, a person or entity cannot take all the credit for fighting someone in the interest of silencing them and then selectively avoid all the blame for how it’s done if the methods happen to be coercive.

My question, in general, is this. From a Catholic perspective, how do you (really, truly) interact with some of these examples of coercion and fit it into the overall narrative of Catholics fighting heretics? If you were to take a step back from individual events and fit it into a larger narrative, what would it look like?

I have a few specific examples as well. I’ll start with the Arianism and Trinitarianism. Athanasius and Arius were both banished, Athanasius (basically) because Emperor Constantine and his son were both Arians, and Arius was banished (basically) because the Catholic Church was Trinitarian. More specifically, Athanasius was exiled once by Constantine to Trier, twice by Constantinius to Rome and the Egyptian desert, once by Julian (who acted coercively against Christianity as a whole), and once by Valens, who also favored Arius. I do not hold the Catholic Church responsible for any of these, but I use these examples of a baseline for what religious coercion can look like.

Arius did not live as long as Athanasius, and the circumstances of his death are exceptional and highly questionable. He may have been killed on account of his religious beliefs; he was certainly exiled to Illyricum and only permitted to return once he altered his teaching a bit.

Next, Pelagianism. In 418, Emperor Honorius banished all Pelagians from Rome. The Catholic Church technically did not pull the trigger, but it aimed the gun. I wonder if the Catholic Church ever condemned that banishing specifically, or even in general? This is something that you might tell me. Pelagius himself was apparently not in Rome at this time (according to New Advent), however he was later expelled from Jerusalem and disappeared in Egypt. The actual teachings of Pelagius were destroyed, altered, and suppressed to the point where the study of his teachings consists almost entirely of studying what his opponents had to say about them.

Next, Catharism. In fairness, Popes Eugene III and Innocent III tried a variety of peaceful methods in attempts to halt the progress of Catharism (or Albigensianism). This also gave rise to the Dominican order- quite a fantastic order, but mostly unsuccessful in converting Cathars peacefully. Then in 1208, a papal legate was murdered. (Murder is wrong). This was the tipping point that led to the Albigensian Crusade, which Pope Innocent III is entirely responsible for initiating. For 20 years, Catholics killed Cathars on account of refusing to convert for all those years, and Pope Innocent III effectively claimed control of whatever land the Cathars owned, offering it to any French nobleman willing to fight. There were eight local church councils that condemned Catharism, the last of which included the statement that all Albigensians “should be imprisoned and their property confiscated.” (newadvent.org/cathen/01267e.htm). The murder of the legate was wrong, but so is religious coercion.

Finally, Protestantism. It is very dense and complicated, and there was much in the way of religious coercion on both sides. But in the end, everyone learned to get along without religious coercion- for the most part, anyway- and to finally start seeing it as a bad thing. Meaning it’s something that should never be done, even if you are right and some other person is stubborn. Religious coercion is still wrong.

Coercive things have happened, let’s evaluate them in the interest of a more well-informed historical perspective. And let’s do so without making it a debate about if the Catholic Church is evil. Let me put that to bed right quick- the Catholic Church is a good church that has done a few bad things. Please take note of that, I just said the Catholic Church is a good church. But now, let’s talk about how some of these issues of religious coercion ought to be handled as a part of the historical record.

Why don’t we talk about what the English Protestants did to the Irish?
Let he who is without sin…
:cool:

Op,
you really need to get your history right. You also need to consider the times that you are talking about and consider that the idea of religous freedom, free speech etc. was not a political reality. Having different religious groups in a state was deemed unstable by the political authorities at those times. Persecution of “heretics” was done by the state, maybe in the name or on behalf of the Catholic Church but a number of excessive persecutions were condemned by Popes and bishops. It is also curious to me that an evangelical wants to come on a Catholic forum and talk about bad things done by the Catholic Church yet ignore coercion done by Protestant kings and queens such as in England and in other countries like Netherlands etc. Likewise you want to talk about the past yet ignore real religious coercion done in the name of Islam. I would like to know what persons were beheaded last year by the Catholic Church or what people were forced to convert by the Catholic Church last year but it isn’t too hard to find new headlines on Islam. Again you need to get your facts correct before you want to point to past mistakes 500+ years ago.

It isn’t PC to hate on Protestants…

Who’s “hating on” (Lord, I hate that phrase) Protestants? I was attacking the Brits. :smiley:

I don’t see how this topic, as you have framed it, can be discussed dispassionately in an apologetics setting such as this. Regardless of what you have said about the CC, this is going to be regarded as provocative.

Unless I am entirely mistaken. :shrug:

Jon

In that case, why don’t you frame the discussion as being about religious coercion in general, no matter who is (or is alleged to be) responsible for it?

Oh boy. :popcorn:

Because evil does not excuse evil.

Ahhhh, bingo! :thumbsup:
Now the thread can be closed. :smiley:

The OP does actually refer to this, albeit not in detail: “there was much in the way of religious coercion on both sides” (penultimate paragraph).

I’m not so sure. My personal reaction to a number of the things done to the Irish by the British is to look for a time machine and a machine gun. The knowledge that doing that would be evil (and, I admit, the difficulty with the time machine part) forestalls me, but it does not alter the feeling itself.

There is a big difference between the philosophical truth and the emotional one, I think, and that makes such things worth discussing.

Regarding the Arian and Pelagian issues, the label “religious coercion” elides the roles of politics and ethnicity in those conflicts: the ascendant Arian Goths versus the declining orthodox Romans, not to mention the many and various internecine struggles. Unless we can somehow magically isolate religion as the only factor in the violence, we cannot describe the violence as the result of religion, not least because we have more than enough evidence of the role of politics within the Church to demonstrate that religion is frequently a victim of politics.

As for the Cathars, they were, according at least to the reports of the victors, perceived to be a threat to the population, and so the action taken against them could best be described as police violence. There, once again, we have politics at work: officials in one location perpetrating acts of violence which are not fairly indicative of the system as a whole.

The European Wars of Religion, meanwhile, were great examples of politics using religion as a cloak: the waxing of Northern Europe taking the new religious movement as the opportunity to overthrow the dominance of Southern Europe, and then stumbling into centuries of bloodshed for the usual reasons (land, money, power). The English reinvasion of Ireland in the C16th, for example, used religion as the excuse for what functioned as a naked land-grab on the part of the English aristocracy.

So, yes, religious violence is wrong, but it is worth considering that the religion can be the victim of its own believers.

Op took the usual and generalized sweeping accusations about religious coercion done by the big old bad Catholic Church, mostly from the middle age time period and then wants to imply how one can be Catholic. First of all, sweeping statements does not equate historical facts. Second, there is a complete lack of understanding of the time period op is referring to and thirdly, Op complelely ignores coercion by Protestants and Islam. So why doesn’t Op go on and talk about what King Henry the 8th did or even Queen Elizabeth the first? Why do you think the Pilgrims came to the new world, to get away from Catholics or the Anglican Church? And even in the colonies, new ones were formed by Protestants trying to escape each other. It’s one thing to talk about a specific incident from the past, it is another to make ignorant blanket statements and ask Catholics how they justify it that live in the here and now not 1512?

This is true.

Op complelely ignores coercion by Protestants

This is not. Violence by Protestants is not ignored there, although it is treated far more briefly.

Humans tend to minimise the crimes of “their own” side, something of which we all must be careful.

Coercion in itself isn’t actually moral or immoral. It simply means forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do either through force or the threat of force. Are you talking about the unjust or just application of coercion to heretics or both?

So I guess I would like to know if you can cite when the last time the Catholic Church forcible silenced, banished, imprisoned, or executed a person or persons on account of their religious beliefs, including and especially beliefs which fall within the scope of Christianity but are dissident beliefs, doctrines, or points of view.

I think there is an important historical insight related to what you said about property. You wrote:

Pope Innocent III effectively claimed control of whatever land the Cathars owned, offering it to any French nobleman willing to fight. There were eight local church councils that condemned Catharism, the last of which included the statement that all Albigensians "should be imprisoned and their property confiscated.

I agree that religious coercion is and always has been wrong, but I think that if we look at the issue of property in the context of the time, we must try hard not to overlook the issue of who owned the property. It’s not always whoever is in immediate possession of it. It is my understanding that the Cathars took over ancient Catholic churches and monasteries by converting their occupants. But I don’t think that would make that property “Cathar property.” I think it would still belong, by right, to the Church. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the fiefdoms where Catharism became dominant had landed obligations to the prince of France. In other words, I don’t think they had a right to do whatever they wanted in that land. It wasn’t theirs – unless I’ve missed something. Therefore, I think the Church (and France) can be defended for wanting to recover property that they thought was theirs after the Cathars refused to give it back.

The Catholic Church takes full credit (and rightly so) for fighting, condemning, and silencing all sorts of heresies. It takes full credit (and rightly so) for ending heresies and maintaining doctrinal unity within itself. All credit goes to the Catholic Church. Now, if one of those heretics happens to be banished and forcibly removed from his country of origin- if the heretic is forced into silence and his work is destroyed to the point where there is virtually no historical record of his own voice, but only the voices of his opponents- these would be examples of religious coercion, and that’s also on the Catholic Church.

I think I see a potential problem with this. Let me put my objection into the form of a syllogism:

(1) Burning a book seems to be the right of whoever legitimately has control over that book.
(2) The Church legitimately acquired control over the bulk of heretical writings,
(3) If both of those are true, it seems to follow that the Church had a right to burn the bulk of heretical writings, and therefore burning them does not, I think, coerce the author.

I think Premise #2 in that syllogism is the most likely to be rejected, but I think there is evidence for it. It is my understanding that the Church commanded people to hand over the books, and the people who it commanded had a legitimate duty to obey the Church in religious matters. I say this because it is my understanding that the people who the Church commanded to hand over heretical books were under the Church’s religious jurisdiction, and it had authority over them in religious matters.

I am reminded of the scene in Acts where the former magicians came to St. Paul to confess their sins and subsequently burned their books – Acts 19:18-19. I do not know if he told them to do this or not, but I think anyone can see that this would be his right as the religious superior of his spiritual children, and I think a similar situation applies to the Church and the bulk of heretical books.

Let me know what you think of that.

Generally speaking, a person or entity cannot take all the credit for fighting someone in the interest of silencing them and then selectively avoid all the blame for how it’s done if the methods happen to be coercive.

I think there may be more to the story here. If some of the leaders of the Church used immoral means to achieve a good end, I think the Church can both assert that the end was good and assert that the means were contrary to Church teaching. Does that sound reasonable?

My question, in general, is this. From a Catholic perspective, how do you (really, truly) interact with some of these examples of coercion and fit it into the overall narrative of Catholics fighting heretics? If you were to take a step back from individual events and fit it into a larger narrative, what would it look like?

I think you could provide an overall narrative with two main categories of fighting heretics: fighting that met the conditions of just warfare and fighting that did not. I think one would have to sort each individual case into those categories based on whether they met the conditions for a just war or not, and I think some examples of fighting heretics did meet those conditions and therefore can be defended.

I think St. Athanasius explained how Arius died, and if I remember correctly he says it was due to a bowel rupture. If there was fowl play, I’m pretty sure it’s not okay to poison people just because they disagree with you, and I think the Church made that clear.

Regarding Arius’ banishment, I’d like to know more about how the people of the time justified banishing heretics. I think banishing heretics can be justified in some theoretical circumstances, such as if a heretical group taught people to revolt against the government. I’d like to know the reasons that were given for Arius’ banishment.

Next, Pelagianism. In 418, Emperor Honorius banished all Pelagians from Rome.

Same as above: I’d like to know the reasons they gave for banishing them in order to evaluate their judgment. What source are you getting your information from? (Apply that to the Arius case as well.)

The Catholic Church technically did not pull the trigger, but it aimed the gun.

Do you mean by excommunicating the heretics? How did they aim the gun?

I wonder if the Catholic Church ever condemned that banishing specifically, or even in general?

At present it is my understanding that Catholic countries are ordinarily supposed to allow non-Catholics to practice their religions without being thrown out. Like I said before, I think there are extraordinary cases where throwing someone out can be justified. I think this same attitude is largely parallel to the general attitude of the early Church, because I think the early Church supported religious tolerance. See here for examples.

The actual teachings of Pelagius were destroyed, altered, and suppressed to the point where the study of his teachings consists almost entirely of studying what his opponents had to say about them.

I mentioned this in the syllogism section above. What did you think of that argument?

Next, Catharism. In fairness, Popes Eugene III and Innocent III tried a variety of peaceful methods in attempts to halt the progress of Catharism (or Albigensianism). This also gave rise to the Dominican order- quite a fantastic order, but mostly unsuccessful in converting Cathars peacefully. Then in 1208, a papal legate was murdered. (Murder is wrong). This was the tipping point that led to the Albigensian Crusade, which Pope Innocent III is entirely responsible for initiating. For 20 years, Catholics killed Cathars on account of refusing to convert for all those years

I dealt with the Cathar case above. I think the Albigensian crusade can be at least partly defended on the grounds that they were trying to recover lost property. If the Church had wanted to persecute merely because the Cathars taught false doctrine, I don’t think they would have waited so long and tried to use peaceful means to recover the land to Christendom. Does that make sense?

Finally, Protestantism. It is very dense and complicated, and there was much in the way of religious coercion on both sides. But in the end, everyone learned to get along without religious coercion- for the most part, anyway- and to finally start seeing it as a bad thing. Meaning it’s something that should never be done, even if you are right and some other person is stubborn. Religious coercion is still wrong.

I agree. I also think the Protestants were similar to the Cathars in stealing Church property. In Germany and in England, it is my understanding that the Church’s property, especially cathedrals and monasteries but also fiefdoms, was systematically stolen. It is my understanding that military efforts were called in order to recover that property. I think they can be at least partly defended for those efforts. But I don’t say that to justify violence. I think violence is bad.

Coercive things have happened, let’s evaluate them in the interest of a more well-informed historical perspective.

I hope my contribution is helpful. Please let me know your thoughts.

badnewsbarrett #1
the Catholic Church is a good church that has done a few bad things.

The first truth to learn is that the Church is ‘held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy’ [Vatican II, *Lumen Gentium, art 39].

So the reality is that it is people in the Church who may do bad things. So, in *First Things *(November 1997), Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon wrote that “the Pope himself has acknowledged the mistakes and sins of Christians in connection with, among other things, the Crusades, the Inquisition, persecution of the Jews, religious wars, Galileo, and the treatment of women. Thus, though the Pope himself is careful to speak of sin or error on the part of the Church’s members or representatives, rather than the Church in its fullness, that important theological distinction is almost always lost in the transmission.”

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