Was the burning of heretics justified?


#1

Many people critisize the catholic church because it would hand heretics over to the authorites for their false teachings. from there the authorities would often execute heretics by burning at the stake.

I believe that these actions, at the time, were justified because heresy is the cause for the damnation of souls and we execute people for murdering the body but heretics murder thousands of souls with their false teachings. Think about it, which is worse, for one person to die or for thousands to be led astray into hell because of false teachers and descievers. Even our lord himself said

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
(matthew 18:6-7)

so here jesus says that it would be better for a person to be drowed (this was a form of execution) then for him to be allowed to lead others into sin. So when catholic governments would execute heretics, they were simply preserving the catholic faith and put down thoes who would interfere with the salvation of souls which is all that really matters in this world. And another thing that people need to realize is that when a person was tried for heresy, he was given many opertunities to confess. John Hus for instance was give countless opertunities to renounce his heresy, even when he was tied to the stake the clergyment pleaded with him to recant but when he refused they were left with no choice.

I think that there is a movement today to apologize for these kinds of events but I can’t help but feel that these actions were at least somewhat justified. Now today we have more humane ways with dealing with these problems but back then there may not have been as many options. Think about it, if the secular governments had dealt with luther the reformation might never have happened, think of all the problems and heesies we have had to deal with becuase of the reformation!

Please post your comments.


#2

A slippery slope this is. Proceed at your own risk.:cool:


#3

Yes indeed.


#4

Not touching this one with a 10 foot pole.

~Liza


#5

ditto.


#6

The more one opposes heresy, the more rampant heresy becomes. What one should do, is oppose unethical behavior, and let the false doctrines which sometimes underlie this be exposed in the process.

Sometimes dissenters have some truth, if only in the beginning of their dissent.

I’m not afraid. :stuck_out_tongue:


#7

Not touching this one with a 100ft poll.


#8

Cowards. :wink: I’ll take it on…

“Was the burning of heretics justified?”

Of course not, it was a barbaric undertaking. First of all, God is ready, willing and able to deal with heretics when HIS time comes. It is not our role, as individuals, society, the church or the government to dole out temporal punishment for heretical beliefs or acts. Second, to do so confuses the distinct roles of Church and State. Third, burning at the stake is a reprehensible means of execution. Today, the Catholic Church essentially holds that execution of criminals is justifiable in only the very limited cases where it is absolutely necessary to protect society. In other words, in the Church’s eyes, capital punishment today is ALMOST NEVER justified. That being the case, how can YOU justify literally torturing people to death for a variance in their religious faith.


#9

But many breaches of Mosaic law were punished by the death penalty, and arguably there could be an argument of necessity in executing a heretic, why should the just execution doctrine only apply to those who might cause physical destruction, why not spiritual?

Comments anyone?


#10

OK. I’ll bite.

(( I’m not too fmart, dee-dee-dee…! And I like slippery slopes. ))

Is it “charitable” to burn someone for what they believe?

No.

Would it be better to punish people for their “bad behavior”, based on (presumably) their beliefs?

Yes.

If all “societies” could simply kill off all dissent, where would that have left Christianity?

What made Christianity grow was “normal” people observing a group of good behaving people being killed for their good behavior.

That kind of thing tends to annoy people into taking sides with the good folks, against the bad folks.

What do you do with heretics? Laugh at them and point.

If they then behave badly, then punish them.

What is “behaving badly”? Check in with the Magisterium.

Mahalo ke Akua…!
E pili mau na pomaikai iaoe. Aloha nui.


#11

Under that reasoning, then the Romans were justified in killing Christians—they refused to recant their monotheistic heresy despite numerous opportunities, threatened the stability of the government by inciting people to impious behavior by not participating in the religious rituals that kept the city/empire under the protection of the Gods, promulgated false teachings, said the Gods were not real, etc.

Which is worse–that a small group of religious radicals promoting a foreign cult should die or that the entire Empire should lose the favor of the Gods that had made Rome great for a thousand years? They were simply protecting and preserving the religion that made the Empire great and held it together. It’s not as if the Christians were even asked to stop worshipping or believing in their own God, just that they continue to participate publicly in the rites that made the Empire strong—what was so hard about burning a little incense or making a small offering to the Gods? It made perfect sense to the Romans.

Think of all the death, destruction, wars of Christians on Christians (as well as others), etc we have had to deal with because the Romans were not efficient enough in stamping out Christianity when it was small and more easily contained.

It all depends on one’s perspective.:slight_smile:


#12

Although the death penalty was the penalty for many offenses, it was enforced on extremely rare occassions by the Jewish court. If it was enforced once in 7 years, that court was deemed to be especially bloody.


#13

Hear hear…!

…er,… about the “don’t kill people for their BELIEFS” part,… not the **“should have stomped out Christianity when we could have” **part.

Love 'ya, Karen…!! :slight_smile:

Mahalo ke Akua…!
E pili mau na pomaikai iaoe. Aloha nui.


#14

to

do so confuses the distinct roles of Church and State.

you have to remmeber that back in thoes days, there was no separation of church and state. Catholicism was looked upon as the only religion of the state and the states had an obligation to preserve catholicism. Not saying whether it is right or wrong, I’m just saying things were differen’t now than they were back then.

Today, the Catholic Church essentially holds that execution of criminals is justifiable in only the very limited cases where it is absolutely necessary to protect society. In other words, in the Church’s eyes, capital punishment today is ALMOST NEVER justified. That being the case, how can YOU justify literally torturing people to death for a variance in their religious faith.

notice though, **today ** the church holds that the execution of criminals is justifyable only in the case to protect society. Back durring the 14th-16th centuries there might not have been as many alternatives as there are today and execution may have been the only mechanism available to protect society from heretics. I agree that today burning heretics WOULD be unacceptable because today we have more alternatives to keeping people in line than execution, but seeing the situation people were in back then I believe that execution may have been nessesary to preserve the true faith.


#15

you have to remmeber that back in thoes days, there was no separation of church and state. Catholicism was looked upon as the only religion of the state and the states had an obligation to preserve catholicism. Not saying whether it is right or wrong, I’m just saying things were differen’t now than they were back then.

It really depended upon the country in question. It might be more precise to say that the boundaries between church and state issues were not as distinctly drawn at that time (and of course it depends upon the time period in question). Don’t forget the fate of Saint Thomas à Becket and the tension between medieval rulers and church officials.

Having said that, you are absolutely correct, that the context of the time period must be considered. Critics of the Church’s behavior in the medieval times should be careful about applying today’s standards to a completely different time period, where human rights and individual liberties simply did not exist and were not considered to be important.

I think that the question should be asked, what is the primary motive of the person who is criticizing the Church’s history? If it is honest and simply a search for historical truth then I don’t have a problem discussing it. If it is simply to antagonize the Church, then why bother? If not this issue, then another one will be found.

I will say that the Church took some drastic measures, but consider a world where the Church acted very softly. If Arian or Nestorian Christianity had dominated and been victorious, how would the world be different today? What if the Albigensians had come to dominate Southern France and Northern Italy?

Like it or not, the Church defended Christianity and the tenets that many non-Catholics hold dear today.


#16

:slight_smile: Understood. It is dangerous to attempt to justify a solution as permanent as death for something that is ultimately as subjective as religious belief. Particularly not death in such a horrific and intentionally cruel way, one specifically designed to cause as much torture and suffering as humanly possible–burning alive (and some of the other, more “creative” forms of persuasion used by the Inquisition) was certainly not the only form of punishment or execution available at any time in history. It’s hard to justify such as any sort of a “humanitarian” solution to the problem of differing on a few points of theology.

While it is true that there has been much death and destruction that can be laid at the door of Christianity (in all of its forms, including Catholic), many beneficial advances also belong there. The same can usually be said about any group.


#17

don’t tempt me.

the actual punishments were carried out by the civil authority because heresy represented a crime against the state and state authority. the role of the Church was limited to examining the subject to determine if they were indeed heretics. This was a safeguard to prevent the state from using heresy trials as political tools, which happened often enough to be a major problem. No one who was not Catholic could be condemned as a heretic, so part of the examination was determining whether someone who had ostensibly converted was in reality still a secret adherent of paganism, Islam, Judaism or whatever, because if they were, they could not be punished for Christian heresy.

the methods of punishment were chosen deliberately to be slow so that an opportunity of recanting, thereby saving the heretics immortal soul, was afforded, as gruesome as that sounds. Like anything else, in the wrong hands, terrible abuses arose. Thankfully the Church has developed to the point of actually evaluating how well tactics actually work in preventing the spread of heresy and in saving the souls of heretics.


#18

Ditto. It was a shame and a sin. A need to enforce religious orthodoxy by force demonstrates the weakness of either the religion, or those charged with preaching it. Thanks be to God that the Church has lost most of her temporal power. To be a Catholic today is about conversion of the heart and soul, not about preservation of your very life. That is as it should be.


#19

As an interesting aside while we are on the subject of the Inquisition, here’s a fascinating article on relatively recent scholarship (from 1998) on the subject of the witch hunts (often confused with the Inquisition), by a Neopagan with an MA in medieval history and a minor in the Great Hunt.

chass.colostate-pueblo.edu/natrel/pom/old/POM5a1.html

"For years, the responsibility for the Great Hunt has been dumped on the Catholic Church’s door-step. 19th century historians ascribed the persecution to religious hysteria. And when Margaret Murray proposed that witches were members of a Pagan sect, popular writers trumpeted that the Great Hunt was not a mere panic, but rather a deliberate attempt to exterminate Christianity’s rival religion.

Today, we know that there is absolutely no evidence to support this theory. When the Church was at the height of its power (11th-14th centuries) very few witches died. Persecutions did not reach epidemic levels until after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church had lost its position as Europe’s indisputable moral authority. Moreover most of the killing was done by secular courts. Church courts tried many witches but they usually imposed non-lethal penalties. A witch might be excommunicated, given penance, or imprisoned, but she was rarely killed. The Inquisition almost invariably pardoned any witch who confessed and repented."

The entire article is well worth reading (and bookmarking to share with any you encounter who still believe that the Catholic Church burned witches during the Inquisition–and that those “witches” were the equivalents of modern Neopagans, Wiccans in particular).


#20

I don’t know if this has already been said (sorry, I don’t have time to read the whole thread!:blush: ), but while reading “Isabella of Spain” for my history, the author pointed out that the punishments for treason at that time also seemed very excessive from our modern standpoint- for instance, being drawn and quartered in England. And from a religious standpoint, heresy is basically treason to the Church.
I don’t claim to be an expert- but it seems like a reasonable argument to me! :juggle:


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